“Mother earth will go on without us, one way or another. So get your shit together fellow earthlings because unless we collectively come together, there may not be another option to avoid becoming fossils like our Dino-brethren.”
From J.D. Lee
Whether you are a Pagan, Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Jain, Zoroastrian, Buddhist, or any other practitioner under the sun, you may acknowledge the fact that a portion (if not all) of what you have been taught was corroborated, co-opted, or used for malicious purposes. We’ll I’m here to tell you that it’s both okay, and not okay. Whatever you may believe, someone, somewhere started it all. Whether it was an oral tradition that was later written and collected into a book, or possibly chronicled as it was happening, chances are it was used as a manipulation tool at some point. But it doesn’t have to be that way more.
I grew up being preached at, with the southern Baptist gospel. Hellfire and Brimstone for those who disobeyed God, and a reunion with family and loved ones as a reward. As I aged I took an interest in learning about other religions and their effects on people. My grandparents thought I’d be a new age preacher, or a politician. Well, today I’m neither. And for damn good reasons. Although I quit going to church (going on 6 years now), I can’t help remembering the beautiful glass panes in the Lutheran church I attended for 2 years, or the Catholic Church I would visit later with it’s magnificent artwork and seemingly kind people. I still feel for those old bluesy hymns from that vitriolic Baptist church from so long ago. But as I learned about my heritage, (Cherokee, Inuit, Aleutian, Siouan, and Norse) I came to a realization. What if everything I’ve been taught in Sunday school and Mass was bullshit? Of course, not all of it was but if you look hard enough, there are overlapping features of all religions, good and bad. I could just no longer believe in something that I never really felt was true and full of so many contradictions. I don’t believe in A god. I believe in forces of nature which I cannot, and should not have to fully explain. To me, they are the ghosts, the energies, the surge of the wind after an incantation in the graveyard with a coven. They are what bind our reality together. The energy that leaves the body after death has to go some where. But where? That’s for you to decide!
Promises of an afterlife full of freedoms in exchange for your earthly life’s happiness sounds all fine and dandy. But why not be happy now, and when you’re dead? No matter your creed, each individual should be free to choose their own path. If the key to life and the afterlife is happiness, then why should we suffer now or later? I’m not going to claim that any religion or spiritual path is not worth pursuing, because I understand that each individual will find their own contentment in some form or another. I will say however that forcing a belief upon anyone will land you in the fire, so to speak. As with current conservative modes of thought, forcing people to give birth to a child which they either cannot take care of, do not want, or could possibly cause life threatening complication is very much wrong. Keeping people from accessing birth control, and other contraceptives aimed at decreasing STI’s is also WRONG. Telling your neighbors that they are an “abomination in the eyes of the lord” is not helping your standing in the community, no matter what your local corner preacher is telling you about butt sex.
My biggest qualm with organized belief systems is that of it’s automatic need to sustain itself and it’s order. Tithes and offerings are part of it, but so is obedience to authority. What human needs an authority figure to pass judgment? Are we not all our own masters? If I so pleased I would go against all teachings of the Christian religion, and nothing would stop me. Would an almighty god not smite me for even thinking of such things and threatening to disobey? The answer is no. One might argue this is the concept of free will, that the consequences of my actions would be on me and me alone. But how would this argument play out against God’s will? If he is omnipotent, omnipresent, and omniscient, he would know of my life and how it plays out regardless of my actions. I would end up in the same place no matter what choices I made. We all should know that this is false, we make our fates with our individual choices.
Suppose for a minute we are alive because the universe itself was alive and experiencing itself through all living beings. Would the actions you committed be an experiment? Or something necessary to the butterfly effect? The great spirit as some of my ancestors might say, is all around, or that God is all around professed by my family. GOD is in you, me and everyone and everything. It is everything and nothing. Even the vastness of space is filled with unique surprises, celestial beings, and massive unknown energies. The unknowable cannot be claimed to be known by anyone. So while the annoying atheist in the back of my head screams that there is no creator, no puppet master, no god; the preachy agnostic in me says to keep looking, observing, and learning. We are social creatures, looking to related and confirm ourselves. But more than that, we are dynamic, and more than capable of changing our circumstances to make things easier on ALL of us.
The supposed masters of our fates are in public office, employed as CEO’s, or behind the pulpit in front of a congregation. They give us the false sense of choice, they decide what we get to choose from. With all disrespect, I say FUCK THEM! We are free to choose however we want, whether that be what food we eat, our source of income, or our individual spiritual journeys. New England was formed by Puritans and Calvinists who we know burned suspected witches at the stake but had achieved more democracy than any prior European style government at the time. Pennsylvania was founded by Quakers, overran by Scots-Irish Catholics and Protestants alike, and ultimately ended up as a tolerant place for Christians of all stripes. Maryland was originally occupied and ran by Catholics. Even Salt Lake City was founded as a Utopia for the much hated Mormons who could not help but be chased out of every city and county they occupied for fear of ending up like their founder. People have been trying to practice their spiritual learnings freely without reprisal for thousands of years.
This Nation was founded on ideals that were not equally agreed upon at the time of it’s inception. For example, the dutch colony of New Netherlands had a policy to allow freedom of religion, so long as it’s inhabitants did not cause a commotion in public. That colony was since overtaken by the British, but the people in charge kept this policy as to keep the peace. The Puritans on the other hand mutilated Quakers as to distinguish them from “their own”, and were deeply opposed to this kind of tolerance. Whether or not our course of action should be to dismantle prior belief systems, or move into the woods and find our own beliefs with fellow spirituality seekers, I do not know. Do we form our own sects within pre-existing religions? Should we accept Scientology’s ghastly forms of social control? I say do what you will without forcing it onto other people.
While the practices, traditions, and perspectives of these religions has changed (or remained the same in the case of fundamentalists), we should not forget that many times religion has been pushed onto conquered peoples or mandated by a central authority figure. This was most definitely the case for Native Americans whose varied belief systems were thought brutish by European colonizers, and for the subjects of the Roman Empire during the transition period under Constantine. We have been systematically educated to believe what we are told and that if we don’t there will be consequences doled out by either the government or by God. Enough is enough of these laws of morality. Who is to say that premarital sex, homosexuality, idolatry, lying for a good reason, or killing in self defense is immoral? Our oppressors surely do not have the right to claim what is divine and good in the world, we as individuals must decide for ourselves.
I respect the various pagan religions more than any monotheistic religion simply because the gods spirits are supernatural representations of the physical world. Vikings may have raided, plundered, and murdered but they are no more evil than the Anglican church. Norse tradition is filled with tales of splendor, the people were gracious, and the drink was plenty. Native Americans may have warred, stolen from and conquered other tribes, but it makes them no more immoral than the Christians who enslaved, massacred, and raped the first nation peoples. Native tribes were much less savage than Europeans thought previously, having an Anarcho-Communist economic system with communication, trade, and a rich history of peace making. No religion may claim superiority over another simply because all religions are based in concepts which seek to explain things that which we have no other explanation for. The Cherokee myth of creation bears resemblance to the Christian myth of creation in that the earth was created in 7 days, but that is where the similarity ends. In my limited understanding of Islam, Jesus was a prophet like Muhammad. He may not have been considered the son of god but the religion still has ties to Abraham, whom Judaism reveres just as highly. So how is it that these 3 mainstream religions still hold resentment for one another? While those practicing Judaism are still awaiting the messiah, the other two hold onto their beliefs that the savior has already came. The big 3 are certainly plagued with their own mishaps, and draconian laws. While I do not claim that less organized religion will make the world a more peaceful place, I still cannot help imagining that it would the case. If we were to abandon all traces of control from these preordained religions and cast aside all the new cults in favor of personal spiritual exploration, we would be better off. All attempts of recuperating for power under these existing structures should be thwarted by any means. Then again, that is just my BELIEF.
So what is the point of all this? I simply want to show that no matter what your beliefs, no one truly knows what happens after death. Whatever path you take, I hope that you come away with a sense of skepticism towards all organized religion (read as cult) and follow your inner being instead of blindly following a higher power. We all have conscience which tells us what to do, we all have that intuition. If yours, like mine, tells you we are all connected to each other and the universe around us through a shared consciousness, then that’s fine. If you think we are all separate entities fumbling around trying to find meaning in a possibly meaningless world, then you are not alone either. We must each blaze our own trails and hopefully we’ll all find intersections that correspond to our own at some point instead of just running parallel to each other all the damn time. These seemingly irreconcilable differences we all experience are just an illusion and we must recognize that before we wipe ourselves out. Then again, mother earth will go on without us, one way or another. So get your shit together fellow earthlings because unless we collectively come together, there may not be another option to avoid becoming fossils like our Dino-brethren. Go smoke a joint, take some LSD, pop some molly, go drinking with some friends, or read a fucking book for Christ’s sake. Just do something which fills you with happiness and brings you closer to an understanding with your fellow (wo)man. There is a thin line between life and death, but let’s cross that bridge when we come to it, eh? I’ll see you on the other side, wherever that may be.
A Carolina Native who seeks to inform the community and world at large of the mass manipulation we face. This an-com hillbilly is not your run of the mill, bootlickin’, shitstain. Sure, sometimes he’s an asshole, but you’ve got to be when you’re literally surrounded by Klansmen. When he’s not trading his time for money, you can find him burning a sage stick and/or blunt while praying to mother anarchy to show all her children the way.
‘Where we are now is a state of ruin. Ruins typify the geography of the world. And ruin is the apparent destination of History, God’s story for “Man”, as “Man” plunges into the Future’s abyss.”
From Julian Langer
“And I saw the wild beast and the kings of the earth and their armies gathered together to wage war against the one seated on the horse and against his army. And the wild beast was caught, and along with it the false prophet that performed in front of it the signs with which he misled those who received the mark of the wild beast and those who worship its image. While still alive, they both were hurled into the fiery lake that burns with sulfur.”
“And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away.”
–Two quotes from The Book of Revelations
What greater symbol of manhood, manliness, “Man’s” strength, “Man’s” relevance, “Man’s” status in the world, “Man’s” authority, “Man’s” dominance, the awesome might of “Man’s” mighty cosmic cock, has there even been, than that of God? “Man” was made in God’s image and God signifies all power, all morality; God is the great, cosmic determiner. All is under God’s will and, as “Man” is made in God’s image, “Man’s” determination of how the world ought to be is within God’s image of what “Man” ought to construct, build, etc.
But as we stand in the aftermath of The Enlightenment, in the continuing Scientific and Industrial-Technological Revolutions, and the nihilism that has been found within the spaces between the great icons of the Leviathan, it feels reasonable to embrace the famed Nietzschean adage of “God is dead”.
With God being dead, we also find that “Man” has been slain in the process, with his mighty cosmic phallus decaying over the past couple centuries. The monarchies, churches and most other institutions that upheld “Man’s” image in God’s eyes have largely succumbed to ruin. In their place, “Man” has built great houses of Republicanism, laboratories and expanded the dominion over the earth promised to “Man” by God, through expansion of its roads, cities and national boundaries; through erecting great architectural monuments in the form of skyscrapers, in an apparent attempt to build a Neo-Tower of Babel to re-join God in heaven (or will that be through the great space elevator?); and through territorialising the entirety of the body of the earth under the singular locality of Production and Markets. This has all been done within the narrative of the myth of “Man’s” manifest destiny, as an attempt to regain “Man’s” Godliness.
What this has led us to is ruin and Death. Where we are now is a state of ruin. Ruins typify the geography of the world. And ruin is the apparent destination of History, God’s story for “Man”, as “Man” plunges into the Future’s abyss.
Can we honestly deny this? The weather over the past few years is an obvious sign of the ruin “Man” has created, as it makes ruins of the Reality “Man” has constructed. The evident collapsing of this culture is apparent within the escalating warfare between differing nations, in a dance whose choreography seems to originate through events in Europe and the world-made-European within the 15th century.
This dance, in the early days of the Scientific Revolution, as God’s face started looking old and tired to “Man”, followed from event the Dark/Middle Age of European History (in a Derridean sense, this is a sequence of différance that will likely never become whole, but … whatever). It manifested the colonialism we are abundantly aware of, as we find ourselves caged within History, through the centuries and into the early 20th century. Following the mighty cosmic cockiness of “Man”, manifested through the Technological-Industrial Revolution, the ruination of “Man’s” manifest destiny started tipping into the abyss of the Future we see as the manifest-geography “Man” has created. And out of this two World Wars, the Cold War and wars between the Euro-American “world” and the Communist and Islamist “worlds”, as this singular locality of “Man” made God through the Leviathan consumes itself, in an act of self-cannibalisation.
And we arrive at ruin. The ruin of the environment. The ruin of the Leviathan and the Reality “Man” has constructed, its buildings and markets, its roads and politics. Will God return reborn, like the bible preaches, to wipe away Man’s tears? I doubt it!
“There I saw a woman riding upon a scarlet animal, covered with blasphemous titles and having seven heads and ten horns. The woman herself was dressed in purple and scarlet, glittering with gold, jewels and pearls. In her hand she held a golden cup full of the earth’s filthiness and her own foul impurity. On her forehead is written a name with a secret meaning—BABYLON THE GREAT, MOTHER OF ALL HARLOTS AND OF THE EARTH’S ABOMINATIONS.”
–Another quote from the Book of Revelations
Within this narrative of the death of God and “Man” as an image of God, we’ve seen, in many ways, the image of Woman rise up, liberated, taking the mighty cosmic cock of “Man” and flinging it to the floor. And, while this might have been made part of the myths of History, the Leviathan, with Woman’s liberation being-made politicised and many technological phallus being made to replace “Man’s” fleshier one (some vibrating, others not), this has, in many ways, left Man’s image in ruins. (This is not to deny the manifestation of patriarchy in our present situation, but to simply acknowledge the effects of the forms of liberation that have been attained, in whatever ways they may be.)
But Woman’s liberation, in all the senses that entails, has not just led to the obvious resurgences of “Man’s” grasping for his mighty cosmic Godly wang, as the alt-right, populism and Trump-style politics attempts to masturbate all over the world (even through artificial virtual cocks, like Twitter and 4chan – cocks which don’t vibrate). No, there exists far more subtle ways of “Man” trying to retain his wang, as History nose-dives into ruin. They might often do it under the guise of being allies to Woman’s liberation and enemies of God, in the name of Secularism and Humanism. They virtually always retain their (virtual) allegiance (subservience) to History(/God/the Leviathan/the mighty cosmic cock of “Man” that was revealed, within the myths of civilisation, at the dawn of agriculture).
In the ruin that “Man” has constructed, through “Man” constructing the Reality of the Leviathan, “Man” has subsequently hidden himself away from the world through virtuality, alienating himself further from the immediacy of his flesh and the Living Real, in technological inauthenticity. And within this virtuality, this artificial cosmic wang for man to masturbate with (which does not vibrate), “Man” has attempted to erect himself as the image of History’s salvation, through the revolutionary icon of the Left.
Through this icon of Leftism, “Man” erects, “Man” attempts to save the world from ruin. We see this every day, through endless hashtags, callouts and social media campaigns. “Man” (predominantly white “Man”, the great writers of History, within colonialism’s racist narrative) will save Woman from his own fist (as he saves the world from the racists who uphold his image). These men of the Leftist image of “Man” claim this constructed Reality History has made as their own, their capital for them to have dominion over, for them to police and to condemn those who defy their image of how History ought to be.
No names will be stated here – this is no call out. These men of “Man” know who they are. We see them try to erect themselves as icons of the Leviathan and we know who they are. They are no-one. They are no-thing. They are constructions of the machine, symbolic phalluses. So their names shan’t be stated here.
These men find themselves alone, alienated from their flesh and the Real, caged by the Reality constructed by History, the Reality of a mass grave.
“God is engaged in three kinds of activity: creation, preservation and destruction. Death is inevitable. All will be destroyed at the time of dissolution. Nothing will remain. At that time the Divine Mother will gather up the seeds for the future creation, even as the elderly mistress of the house keeps in her hotchpotch-pot little bags of cucumber seeds, ‘sea-foam’, blue pills, and other miscellaneous things. The Divine Mother will take her seeds out again at the time of the new creation.”
“She was a normal wild beast, whose power is dangerous, whose anger can kill, they had said. Be more careful of her, they advised. Allow her less excitement. Perhaps let her exercise more. She understood none of this. She understood only the look of fear in her keeper’s eyes. And now she paces. Paces as if she were angry, as if she were on the edge of frenzy. The spectators imagine she is going through the movements of the hunt, or that she is readying her body for survival. But she knows no life outside the garden. She has no notion of anger over what she could have been, or might be. No idea of rebellion.It is only her body that knows of these things, moving her, daily, hourly, back and forth, back and forth, before the bars of her cage.”
In the eyes of God, though many of God’s worshippers of a more liberal disposition will seek to deny this, Woman signifies unrepressed wild animality. Eve takes the apple from the tree, ignoring the will of God, the will of the machine, the will of the Leviathan. Delilah cuts the hair of God’s servant Samson, in an act of betrayal towards the will of God. Jezebel doesn’t worship God who burns the body of bulls to prove his might, consuming the sacrifice instantly, but worships Baal, a god who, myths appear to reveal, didn’t want to consume the bodies of living beings in reverence of their own image (for authenticity’s sake I feel to acknowledge here that I am non-theistic in my belief systems (sympathetic to panpsychist/hylozoic metaphysics) so don’t actually believe in the existence of any gods).
Woman represents, in this way, the creative-destructive Mother Earthly energies of wild-Being.
And here we arrive at the crux of what I have intended to convey here. I suggest that we do not follow these men who uphold the image of “Man” and History, sacrificing Woman upon its alter, in their pursuit of the dominion over the earth granted to them by God. I suggest that we embrace the wild-feminine, rather than the sacred-feminine. This embrace of wild-feminine is the embrace of our bare naked flesh; our honest, impulsive, unrepressed, authentic desires; the animal creative-nothing of wild-Being.
I am not intending within the term wild-feminine to signify something inherently engendered or sexualised. Rather, as the Reality of civilisation the Leviathan of Man has attempted to construct is manifested through the phallus of “Mans” mighty cosmic phallus, I am intending to signify that which this Reality attempts to dominate, repress and domesticate.
Let us leave “Man” alone with his followers in their mass grave of ruins. We will embrace the Living world of creative-destruction, the wild-feminine that gives Life birth.
Writer of Feral Consciousness: Deconstruction of the Modern Myth and Return to the Woods, blogger at Eco-Revolt, and has been published on a number of other sites. Eco-anarchist and guerilla ontologist philosopher. Lover of woods, deer, badgers and other wild Beings. Musician and activist.
We all must begin in our own way. How does a pagan address capitalism?
To answer this question I feel the need to make clear and sure the foundation of my own views on paganism’s relation to politics. If, as pagans, we are called to a social mission and not just a spiritual one then we must get clear on how the one translates into the other. So, I will attempt here to investigate the meeting of politics and paganism in preparation for more concrete adventures later. So let us go and see what wars amongst the gods settled by human juries, the imperialism of Athens and Rome, and the community councils of the Akan people can teach us about where and who we are.
Politics and Metaphysics
Each aspect of our lives reflects, whether we see it or not, our deepest beliefs about the nature of reality and the place of humans within it. Our ethics, our politics, our religion all enshrine our most basic grasp of what exists and how these existents relate to each other. It is tempting to think that religion has, or need have, nothing to do with politics. Yet every politics rests on an ethics, a belief about the nature of right and wrong or, even more basically, a belief about the nature of the good life and every ethics is based on a metaphysics. Until we have some ideas about what the universe is like we cannot know how we are to live in it and amongst one another. Often our metaphysical commitments are most clear in our religion and, to that extent, religion and politics are inseparable.
If I think that humanity is vicious, brutal, lacking in self-control and natural harmony I will likely favor a powerful centralized government or totalitarian regime that alone can rule the unruly with might. With similar views I might favor the same form of government out of the belief that power alone is valuable and worthy of pursuit, and so seek at all costs to make myself ruler over the vicious. If my view of human nature is of a gentler creature, prone to harmony and capable of self-organization, I will favor a moderate or minimal government seeking to interfere as little as possible with humanity’s natural affections.
These are, of course, simplifications and the complex weave of anyone’s views of reality are not so easily untangled. They do, however, allow us to ask the question I would like, here, to begin answering. What politics flows from the metaphysical beliefs of Paganism and how does Capitalism stand in relation to this politics?
I don’t presume to speak for all pagans, it is a term that covers so expansive and fertile a ground that any generalization will be hazardous at best, but I do hope to offer some suggestive glimpses at the unique view of reality and politics that some aspects of paganism offer. I don’t claim my usage to be exclusive, but by paganism I will mean polytheism or the belief in a plurality of independent gods.
There is a fundamental difference between paganism and monotheism that is so simple and basic that it is frequently forgotten or overlooked. From a uniquely pagan perspective reality and truth are irreducibly plural. Monotheism in its many forms, on the other hand, asserts that reality is ultimately one and so too is truth. There is one god, one truth, often one creator and so one purpose, and ultimately one totalizing picture within which all being can be united, simplified and explained. It is hard to appreciate the incredible difference between this view, the historically later one, and the view of a reality that is never reducible to one final explanation, one rule or purpose, and one source or structure.
Paganism is the thinking or worship of the many and, after the rise of monotheism, the rejection of the reductive, totalizing one. Where there are many gods we find many purposes, if any, for existence and many ways in which one might exist well or poorly. A rather direct statement of this belief might be that there is no one right way to live and so, too, no one proper politics or collection of traditions. The politics of paganism, then, must be a politics of resistance to totalization, an assertion of the inherent value of the many ways of human life. For this reason, paganism must be committed to the complexity of all reality while casting a suspicious eye on simplifying reductions and explanations.
Conflict and its Preservation
The commitment to complex plurality is the reason that, oddly, pagan mythology is a story of conflict. For a pluralistic view of reality, conflict must be basic, whether it be the conflict of play or that of war. Any wholesale rejection of conflict can only be put forward by means of some one final totalizing view of how all people must behave and what values all people must share. The plurality of gods, and the traditions and practices of worship and value those gods teach, must embrace the productive inter-relations amongst these often dramatically different forces and truths whether those relations are friendly or more contentious.
We see a clear example of this in the story of Orestes in Aeschylus’ trilogy of plays, the Oresteia. We see here, as well, a political response to the conflict inherent within paganism that rejects any ultimate unification or simplification of reality’s complexity and pluralism.
In the final stage of the story, Orestes has killed his mother who had previously killed his father. Apollo, having inspired him to avenge his father in the first place, officially cleanses him of the crime of matricide. The Furies, an older order of gods sworn to a different set of values, refuse to accept Apollo’s judgment and instead insist that the crime of killing one’s mother must be punished and Orestes must pay with his sanity or, eventually, his life. There is no sense throughout the story that either the values of Apollo or those of the Furies are wrong. Both are legitimate and deeply enshrined in the complex power struggles of the Ancient Greek tradition. Neither the Furies nor Apollo are willing to back down nor, indeed, should either give up their basic commitments and view of the fundamental truths of reality. Violence, and ultimately a new war between the younger and older gods, threatens to break out due to the actions of a human son.
The solution to this inescapable conflict is found in Athens with its patron goddess. Apollo, Orestes and the Furies gather there before Athena and present their case for her judgment. But she, too, cannot achieve any final absolute judgment– for she is just as much a party to the issue as Apollo or the Furies. As a goddess herself, and the child of Zeus, her own values can not allow her to judge against Apollo, the rule of the father, and the younger gods. Her solution, then, is a political one. She gives up the absolute authority to judge the case even as Apollo and the Furies had given up their authority to her. Instead, she assembles a jury of human citizens and has the case presented to them. We see here the use of democracy to settle the problem of irreducible conflicts amidst truths, none of which can be rejected.
Council and Consensus
There are a few points we should consider in response to Athenian democracy as a model of pagan politics. First, this can’t of course be the one and only model because the numerous Pagan Greek City States all had their own version of political organization– from military rule in Sparta, Tyrannies, Oligarchies, Aristocracies and Monarchies to the radical majoritarian Democracy of Athens. We will have something to say about this plurality of pagan political forms later. Second, democracy cannot be understood as a neutral position free of values from which the conflicting norms of the multiple gods can be judged. Rather, democracy can itself be understood as embodying the basic valuing of difference and pluralism. Without diversity in views of truth democracy is neither possible nor necessary. In our contemporary world democracy is often thought necessary because of an inability to come to agreement on certain unanswered questions or questions which have no answer. Thus, one can still assert that there is always one right answer but because we either don’t always know it or some people refuse to see it we turn to the compromise of democracy. In a pagan context, however, democracy is predicated on the rejection of any final reductive truth. Because reality is made up of many conflicting forces and truths the necessary political form is one that can embrace these conflicts without, at the same time, surrendering decision-making capabilities.
Third, and finally, we must recognize that the term democracy covers a variety of political formulations. Athenian democracy was direct, majoritarian and contained very few checks on the power of the majority. For example, the political majority could in many cases vote their representatives and generals to death. Modern American democracy is representative rather than direct, still majoritarian, but contains basic limitations on the power of the majority through the concept of rights. Other forms of democracy limit the majoritarian aspects of democracy by insisting on higher percentages of votes for a decision to be put into action, forcing representatives to form temporary coalitions out of their diverse interests, or set up proportional representation such that a party with twenty percent of the vote would hold twenty percent of the representatives in the legislative body. In a majoritarian system twenty percent simply represents a loss.
We see a nice counter model to the urban empire oriented majoritarian politics of Athens in some of the traditional pagan cultures found in Africa. The Akan culture traditionally governed itself through communal councils made up of the leaders of the community. Each council was presided over by a leader whose primary job was to moderate the discussion of the council and execute its decisions. For this reason Akan sayings capture such wisdom as “There are no bad leaders, only bad advisors”. Since the leader only acted on the decision of the council, any failure in action was a failure of the council.
This form of government, similar to many forms found in North American Native cultures, was democratic in the sense that the members of the council were representatives of the people and open to the judgment of the community should they fail in their representation. Perhaps most importantly, however, these councils were overtly non-majoritarian. The aim of the council was to arrive at consensus. The councils did not recognize majority will, but rather sought to bring any points of contention to a place where each side of the issue was willing to agree. The process of council was not complete until this agreement was reached. Despite this, however, the belief was not that consensus arrived at the one ultimate truth, but rather that it was the best means of bringing conflicting truths into harmony. For the Akan “One head does not go into council”, making clear that council itself requires a multiple of irreducibly different views, and “Wisdom does not reside in one head”, meaning that only a collection of these different non-totalizing grasps of reality allow for wisdom.
We might say, in this regard, that Akan communitarianism represents the idea that while there are many conflicting truths, wisdom consists in the ability to appreciate and see as many of these truths as possible without allowing any of them to dominate. While the ability to do this is limited in individuals, it is possible in a community of those seeking wisdom. There is no reduction or normalization of difference here, but rather an embrace of the productive play amongst difference. Only in difference is there truth.
Empire and Domination
We can find models, then, in pagan cultures for how their religion feeds into what my early representation of pagan metaphysics might expect us to see in politics.
However, there is a problem we need to face: not all pagan cultures gave rise to democratic or communitarian forms of government. Certainly these are the most common forms we find in traditional pagan cultures in Africa, Northern Europe and the Americas but history is replete with counter-examples. The Athenian empire, cherishing democracy for itself but frequently refusing it to its vassal states, is such a counter-example as is, perhaps most notably, the Roman Empire.
The Roman Empire, like the Athenian, harbored democratic institutions within it for much of its history while showing the world a face of domination and absolutism, to of course say nothing of the internal failures of both democracies to offer real freedom to the majority of their peoples.
Part of the internal domination found in pagan cultures can be explained by a failure to adequately navigate the pluralism of their metaphysics and religion and the necessary conflicts arising from this pluralism. It is clearly an aspect of paganism for many to believe their own god or cultic practice to be superior to the others. It is clear that the conflict between Apollo and the Furies could have just as easily not been successfully navigated, giving rise to wars seeking supremacy or settling into the enslavement of one part of the community by others. This is one reason to rise from the religious perspective to the metaphysical, for the metaphysical allows us to see the contours of pagan culture irrespective of particular religious commitments while at the same time admitting the limited and fallible nature of our metaphysics in light of its own pluralistic commitments. Even this metaphysics will be just one amongst many, as it would itself predict.
The paradox we are attempting to address between a pluralistic metaphysics that fails to embody a pluralistic politics can be seen most clearly in the contrast between the exceptionally common cultural and religious tolerance of pagan cultures and their not infrequent political intolerance. Despite what you might expect, Athenian and Roman cultures were consistently open to cultural and religious variety. We could go even further and point out that they were almost greedy for new religious ideas. There are exceptions, of course, people were still put to death for impiety from time to time, but the appearance of new gods and new religious practices within both cultures was constant. We see similar elements throughout Greece, with many of the Greek gods originating from foreign cultures. Rome, while busy conquering the known world, did not impose its gods upon conquered people along side its political dominance and, instead, liked to bring new divinities and traditions to Rome to enrich its own cultural complexity. We can see this aspect of Roman culture most clearly if we consider it in contrast with the events following the conversion of the Roman Emperor Constantine to Christianity. Almost immediately the forces of monotheism resorted to rioting and the destruction of pagan temples and documents. Political suppression of paganism took a bit longer to be put in place, but it too soon followed and eventual gave rise to the goal of Catholic monoculture and the destruction off all other religious practices.
The pluralism we see in Rome and Athens is even more obvious when we look at the more recent interaction between Christian monotheism and traditional African cultures. The interaction between Africans and Christian missionaries and slavers played out the way it did at least partially because of the radically different way each side of the conflict treated the other. Most traditional African cultures had been prone, amongst themselves, to an open-minded curiosity about the beliefs and practices of their distant neighbors. As has been pointed out by numerous African philosophers and anthropologists, the attitude of most traditional African communities towards both their own gods and the gods of others, tended to be highly experimental and practically- minded. Gods were respected to the extent that they provided material benefits and wisdom. These gods, then, could be tested to see which worked better or worse for certain goals. When a god or religious practice repeatedly failed to deliver, when it no longer proved useful, it was frequently abandoned. The same thing went for the gods of foreign peoples. They were openly accepted as new proposals for useful ways to navigate the world. When they proved to not be useful they were rejected, though that did not mean those who still found them useful were in any way forced to “convert”.
We can see in the interaction of African communities with Christian missionaries a key example of the conflict between pagan and monotheist metaphysics. The conversation between missionaries and their prey is strikingly one-sided. The traditional Africans are curious about the newcomers and willing to discuss their views and debate the possible usefulness and plausibility of the new god they propose. The missionaries, on the other hand, do not accept that they have anything to learn or gain from the Africans and repeatedly insist that their own god is not just a god, but rather the One and Only God. This proposal is generally met with laughter by the Africans who found the very idea obviously ridiculous. The Africans are at a clear disadvantage for, while they are seeking to understand and expand their own wisdom, their interlocutors are seeking only to dominate, convert and destroy.
Within pagan cultures we frequently see similar conflicts between cultural openness and the drive for political domination and power without, nonetheless, the particularly pernicious metaphysical commitment to access to the One Truth. We might say, then, that within paganism, domination arises as a conflict amidst powers; while, within a monotheistic culture domination takes the form of a conflict amidst claims to truth. For Christian missionaries, someone was right and someone was wrong. For the Roman conqueror someone was strong and someone else was weak.
The failure that arises in the case of pagan domination of others, we might suggest, is a failure to see the extent to which a pagan metaphysics teaches that there is a plurality of types of power, all of which are important, useful and worthy of a type of respect because each derives from a different truth and reality. This clarifies the way in which pagan religion, and the metaphysics it contains, holds the potential for an open culture and politics while this potential has too often been only partially actualized. We might propose, then, that it has been left to us to more fully develop and achieve what previous cultures have frequently only imperfectly envisioned.
Paganism and Capitalism
Communitarian or democratic views with a focus on the value and inescapable nature of robust difference are not the only existing proposal on the table for how to navigate the diversity of interests and values existing in a complex society. If pagan cultures seek to elevate difference to the point of its greatest creativity, capitalism exists as a way in which to reduce all values and views to a base line of control and comparison. In other words, capitalism can be seen as a way to navigate pluralism through the reduction of differences to the one totalizing value of money. The power of numbers and mathematics is that they provide a standard lens through which all things can be ordered. In natural science mathematics provides the basis for a totalizing theory of nature. In economics and especially capitalism mathematics is applied to all human interaction and belief. The dream of capitalism is that all things can be numbered and, in being so numbered, owned, bought, sold and ultimately controlled. Capitalism is, in its essential nature, dominating and leveling. It always reduces to one level of value and rejects any resistance to this leveling reduction, this totalizing.
Despite claims to the contrary, the market is not democratic because it is predicated upon the necessity that not all agents in the market share the same buying power or selling power. There must always be centers of control in every market: the wealthy and the less wealthy, the owners and the workers, etc. In reducing all ways of life to monetary exchange, and positing this exchange upon necessary inequality, capitalism opposes communitarian and democratic concerns. As we can see in the history of politics and economics, the move to capitalism was not a neutral or natural transition but rather the outcome of one force in society – the landed wealthy and/or business classes – attempting to defeat other forces and dominate the people as a whole. This is why, for example, hereditary aristocracies and capitalism were frequently historically in conflict as were military regimes and capitalism. What we witness is a war amongst the powerful for which segment of the population will rule.
Capitalism is, to put it bluntly, monotheist in its metaphysics and, whether directly or indirectly, must be opposed to the pagan assertion of inescapable differences irreducible to any one system of values. Pagan cultures have gods of commerce and religious practices to govern such human activities, but it was clear that these gods could never rule over all the others and that, in fact, commercial and monetary values were minor in comparison to a vast plethora of others. We can see this when we notice how, in comparison to our own prejudices, many pagan cultures had a much more limited conception of ownership especially over such things as land and natural resources. In some cultures, such as the African Akan culture and many Native American cultures, the words often taken to mean “ownership” mean rather something more like “trusteeship”. To own is rather to be entrusted with the responsibility of protecting and developing something for the sake of the community and the world as a whole. Even very personal goods were entrusted to one by the gods who had granted you with personal guardianship. The goal of your own well-being existed beside the much larger claims of the well-being of the full diversity of entities and truths.
Pagan Politics, an Outline
What, then, might be pagan politics and how does it relate to capitalism? I will draw here a few tentative principles from what I have said so far and am anxious to hear any suggestions, thoughts, objections or disagreements you might have. At the very least, I hope this will be part of a productive ongoing conversation.
A Pagan Metaphysics might Assert that:
1. Reality is irreducibly multiple, made up of numerous different forces. In other words, truth and reality are always plural.
2. Insofar as these truths are irreducible there is no one final truth or god and conflict (whether constructive or destructive, whether play or war) is an unavoidable aspect of reality.
3. There is no one right way to live, best culture, highest value or single purpose.
4. Wisdom consists in a gathering of diverse truths beyond that attainable by any one individual, “Wisdom does not reside in one head.”
A Pagan Politics might be Committed to:
1. The rejection of all totalizing claims and authorities.
2. The promotion of productive rather than negative conflict (play over war) and an increase in different ways of life.
3. The commitment to creating an environment where each way of life can reach its fullest most creative form as far as is possible, thus rejecting the Roman model of one type of power ruling over all others.
4. The insistence that no one standard of evaluation can be applied to all things.
5. The recognition that most things should not be characterized in terms of monetary value and so the resistance to the reduction of all values to market values.
6. In a World Without Council, i.e. one already under the domination of one reductive way of life, pagan politics would be committed to the pursuit of the actions necessary to make pluralism possible.
Kadmus is a practicing ceremonial magician with a long standing relationship to the ancient Celtic deities. His interests and practice are highly eclectic but a deep commitment to paganism is the bedrock upon which they all rest. Kadmus is also a published academic with a Ph.D. in philosophy teaching at the college level. You can find some of his reflections on the occult at http://starandsystem.blogspot.com/ or look him up on twitter at @starandsystem .
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