Escaping the Otherworld: The Reenchantment of Paganism

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“There is another world and it is this one.”

attributed to the French surrealist and communist poet, Paul Éluard

A Message from an “Awakened Elf”

Recently, I received a personal message on Facebook from someone I don’t know promoting a book, The Elves from Ancient Times to Our Days: The Magical Heritage of Starry People and Their Continuation into the Modern World.  The full message is too long to reproduce here, but I will share a few excerpts from it.

The author describes the book as “a distinctive and comprehensive combination of both scientific and historical research along with also philosophical and esoterical discussions, dedicated to all elves: ancient and modern ones” which includes “the history, scientific origin, psychology, philosophy and life style [sic] of the elves, both in the past and present.”

The truth about elves, says the author, is that they are not just characters of fairy tales and legends, but “real persons who always have existed and never disappeared and continue to live among the common people in our days!”  According to the author, The Elves from Ancient Times to Our Days is for those who have only started their acquaintance with elves and those who deny their existence, as well as for “the awakened elf”, among whom he counts himself.

The One Eyed Man is King

Reading about The Elves from Ancient Times to Our Days, I was conflicted.  My first reaction–my gut reaction–was that this person had lost touch with reality and was possibly suffering from a mental disorder–being benignly delusional, at least.  This is probably how most non-Pagans would view the book.

But after some reflection, I recognized this possibly as an attempt at re-enchantment[1], or restoration of our sense of connection with the sacred and mysterious.  If The Elves from Ancient Times to Our Days is indeed part of the project of re-enchanting a disenchanted world, then it is possible that the “awakened elf”, far from being insane, might actually be among a minority of sane people in an insane world.  This is probably how most Pagans would view the book.

I wonder if perhaps both perspectives might be true.

What if the awakened elf is indeed attempting to re-enchant the world, but has also lost touch with reality?  What if his attempt at re-enchantment is actually contributing to the disenchantment of the world?  What if, as Rhyd Wildermuth has recently written here, our Paganism is not a cure for disenchantment, but a placebo?

This is the question that I keep coming back to.  It’s the question at the root of my ambivalent relationship with the Pagan community.  It’s the question that keeps me walking away from Paganism and walking back again in short order.  Over the years, I have wrestled with this question in various online fora, and my often unskilled (and sometimes ham-handed) attempts to articulate this question has earned me a lot of criticism (often justified and constructive).  But I feel like I am inching closer and closer to being able to say it right …

There is something fundamentally wrong with the world, or at least the way we experience the world through the lens of the overculture[2].   I think most Pagans would recognize that as true.  We call it “disenchantment”.  Existentialists call it “alienation”.  “Soul sick” is a more poetic way to describe it.  Whatever we call it, Pagans know something is deeply wrong with the world.

But the fact that we recognize the problem doesn’t necessarily mean that we know the solution.  In fact, it’s possible that some of the solutions we offer might actually contribute to the problem.  It’s possible that some, or even a lot, of contemporary Paganism might be a manifestation of the illness, rather than its cure.

The Intuition of An “Other World”

There are a lot of theories about how religion got started among homo sapiens–psychological, sociological, and even biological explanations. I think at least part of the explanation has to be that religion is the way that we human beings account for the feeling that there is something wrong with this world and the intuition that there is something more.

Of course, not all human beings have this intuition, but many–perhaps the majority–seem to.  I know I’ve always had it–just this feeling that there is something “off” about the everyday world I inhabit and a sense that there “more” going on that what is readily apparent.

Different religions have different ways of making sense of this intuition.  Many of the dharmic religions, for example, posit that apparent reality is an illusion, and that the otherness that we intuit is in fact the real world.  Transcendental religions (not to be confused with Transcendentalism) posit that there are two realities, the apparent world which is real, but temporary, and the invisible “other world” which is eternal and therefore more real–the two worlds being radically separate.  Both responses–the dharmic and the transcendental–dismiss, or even denigrate, the present world as ontologically inferior to the other world.

I was raised in one such transcendental religion, and I left it behind because I rejected that view of the other world.  In fact, I came to see transcendental religion as dangerous–at least to me personally.  I’ve always had a propensity for escapism, and transcendental religion just seemed to feed that propensity.

But, still, I had this sense of “otherness,” the sense of there being something more.  In Paganism, I found another explanation for this intuition.  Paganism, at least as I came to understand it, rejected the dharmic notion that this world is an illusion, while also rejecting the transcendental notion of a separation of the other world from this one. Paganism posited that there is another world, but it is this one.[3]  The other world is right here, right now …

… only we don’t see it, at least not usually.

In the Land of the Blind

The reason why we don’t see the other-world-that-is-this-one is that we are blinded to it. We are blinded by the trifecta of reductionist positivism, consumer capitalism, and transcendental religion–which collectively are responsible for the disenchantment of the world.

We are blinded by a positivism which makes it impossible for us to recognize anything as real which is not mechanism and which makes it impossible for us to value anything which cannot be measured.  We are blinded by a capitalism which makes it impossible for us to recognize anything as real which is not commodity and which makes it impossible for us to value anything unless it can be bought and sold.  And we are blinded by the myriad diversions which are offered to us by consumer society to fill the gaping hole left in our souls: meaningless work, compulsive shopping, and mindless entertainment.

We are also blinded by religion, by dharmic religions (or their New Age interpretations) and transcendental religions (like most forms of Christianity).  According to these religions, the present world is either unreal or unworthy and the real world is “somewhere else”.  It was to such religions that Marx addressed his critique of religion as the “opium of the people”, as a means of maintaining the political and economic status quo by directing people’s attention away from worldly concerns, thus preventing them from taking action to change it.

Paganism, at least as I discovered it, is not one of those religions.  Like many Pagans, I came to Paganism in reaction to a world-denigrating religion, but also in reaction to a soulless overculture.  As Rhyd Wildermuth has written recently here,

“The search for authentic meaning and ways of being which draws people to Paganism springs from a rejection of what else is on offer, a malaise of what is available to us by mundane, Modern means: 40-hour work weeks, concrete housing blocks, relentlessly mediated life in which too many of us only see breath-taking views of forests or communal celebrations on screens.”

Paganism offered me not escape, but immersion–immersion in this life, in the here and now.  As the Pagan poet Ruby Sara has written, Paganism is “a religion of Right Here This Body This Planet Beautiful Beautiful Right Now, rooted in the Mama, the present, the Real”. Paganism, for me, was a rediscovery of this world, the world of flesh and blood, of taste and touch–and, yes, of something “more”.  But that “otherness” was now very present, sensible, tangible even[4].

George Orwell wrote, “To see what is in front of one’s nose needs a constant struggle.”  Paganism offered me techniques for refocusing and seeing what had always been right in front of my nose.  It opened my eyes (and my other senses) to the “other world” that is right here and right now, but which is invisible to an overculture dominated by reductionist positivism, consumer capitalism, and transcendental religion.  This awakening is what we Pagans mean when we talk about the “re-enchantment” of the world, and it’s what I mean when I talk about “magic”.

The Disenchantment of Paganism

But there is another side to Paganism.  Sometimes our Paganism mirrors the disenchanting techniques of the overculture.  When it cuts us off from the earth, our bodies, or other people, our Paganism becomes disenchanted.  When it perpetuates alienated modes of discourse and alienated ways of relating to the world and the other beings who inhabit it, our Paganism becomes disenchanted.

Our Paganism is disenchanted when we revert to scientistic terminology (like spurious analogies to quantum physics or chaos theory) to explain magic. Rather than seeing magic as a way of expanding consciousness, it is described as a kind of technology, yet another way of achieving dominion over nature.  Rather than being a way of celebrating the unpredictable, wildness of life, disenchanted magic[5] becomes another way of reducing our anxiety through the (false) promise of control. As Trudy Frisk has observed in her article “Paganism, Magic, and the Control Of Nature”:

“Paganism’s reluctance to distinguish between symbols and living creatures is not just playful fantasy; it perpetuates the utilitarian view of nature. Expecting natural objects to fulfill human desires leads to disregard for maintaining nature in all its complexity.”

And as Barbara Walker writes in The Woman’s Dictionary of Symbols & Sacred Objects, the real aim of disenchanted magic is

“to retreat from a troublesome reality into a world of pure symbol. However difficult, uncontrollable or indifferent the external universe may seem, symbolism is manipulatible and so provides at least the illusion of comfort.”

Our Paganism is disenchanted when our attempts to “connect with nature” actually place obstacles between ourselves and nature, such as Wheel of the Year celebrations which are routinely held indoors and blissfully ignore the reality of the present (albeit sometimes unpleasant) seasonal conditions, invocations of abstract Platonic “elements”, directional invocations which ignore the local landforms, ritual circles which position us–literally and figuratively–with our backs to the world, and worship of idealized Mother Earth goddesses, while never getting our hands dirty, like with actual dirt.

Our Paganism becomes disenchanted when (both theist and atheist) Pagans promulgate facile understandings of deity which perpetuate Western dualisms and alienated and objectified definitions of what is “real”.  Words like “god”, “spirit”, and “fairy”–and yes, even “elf”–can be attempts to (tentatively) name the other-than-human presences which fill the natural world and to which reductionist positivism blinds us.  But they can also refer to the figments of our imagination, which are, in the end, no better than other distractions offered up by the overculture.  Rather than expanding our lifeworld and connecting us with the wider web of life, a disenchanted Paganism shrinks it, leaving us talking to ourselves alone in the dark.

Our Paganism is disenchanted when we create and consume images of pagan deities which reproduce the patriarchal, heteronormative, racist, and imperialistic aspects of the overculture.  Far from disclosing the “other” to us, these images merely reflect our own egos back at us.

Our Paganism is disenchanted when our idolization of individualism and self-expression undermines any form of social organization, rendering it impossible to create sustained solidarity with one another, and when our ethical lives are guided by a libertarian rule of freedom of expression and avoidance of harm, divorced from corresponding ethic of mutual responsibility and care–which are the hallmarks of relationship and reciprocity.

Our Paganism is disenchanted when our rituals routinely culminate in a counter-revolutionary cathartic release of energy, rather than channeling that energy into constructive social action, and when we hermetically seal our Paganism off the rest of our lives, insisting that the spiritual is not political.

Paganism as Escapism

When we fall into these traps, our Paganism becomes disenchanted.  Rather than revealing the “other world” that is here and now–it obscures it.  Disenchanted Paganism does not empower us to change the world–it perpetuates the status quo.  Our Paganism becomes a placebo, yet another form of escapism, a negative enchantment which fascinates us and distracts us from the other-world-that-is-this-one.  As has been observed by Thorn Mooney, our Paganism can become just another way of avoiding our problems, of making ourselves feel special, of alleviating boredom,or  even of justifying leaving mental illness untreated.

There’s nothing wrong with escapism, per se.  A little escapism can even be therapeutic.  But it’s another thing to build an entire religion around it.  As Neil Postman, author of Amusing Ouselves to Death, wrote, “There is nothing wrong with entertainment. As some psychiatrist once put it, we all build castles in the air. The problems come when we try to live in them.”

This is what Starhawk was describing in The Spiral Dance (in a quote that I think gets far too little attention in Pagan discussions):

“Fascination with the psychic–or the psychological–can be a dangerous sidetrack on any spiritual path. When inner visions become a way of escaping contact with others, we are better off simply watching television. When ‘expanded consciousness’ does not deepen our bonds with people and with life, it is worse than useless: It is spiritual self-destruction.

“If Goddess religion is not to become mindless idiocy, we must win clear of the tendency of magic to become superstition. …

“The value of magical metaphors is that through them we identify ourselves and connect with larger forces; we partake of the elements, the cosmic process, the movement of the stars.  But if we use them for glib explanations and cheap categorizations, they narrow the mind instead of expanding it and reduce experience to a set of formulas that separate us from each other and our own power.”

The Co-optation of Paganism

We know something is wrong.  The world is disenchanted.  Or more accurately, the world as it is disclosed by the overculture is disenchanted.  It is disenchanted because it recognizes only one very narrow and objectified definition of the real and only one very narrow and alienated way of relating to that reality.  It is disenchanted because it embraces only one vary narrow definition of what it is to be human–one that is patriarchal, heteronormative, racist, and ethnocentric.  It is disenchanted because of the myriad ways it separates us from contact with wild nature, both the nature within and the nature without.

But in spite of the disenchantment of the overculture, the intuition of another world persists.  Our challenge is to distinguish the genuine “other world” from the myriad counterfeit “other worlds” which a disenchanted overculture offers to us (often for a price).  At its best, Paganism points the way to the other-world-that-is-this one.  Yet, like every other aspect of contemporary culture, Paganism is susceptible to co-optation by the overculture.  Paganism is itself susceptible to disenchantment.

The fact that we Pagans have rejected transcendental religion like Christianity does not insulate us against the gnostic temptation which pervades the overculture.  Nor does it insulate us against the other forces of disenchantment: reductionist positivism and consumer capitalism.  These forces are insidious in the way they mimic genuine re-enchantment. As Patacelsus’ recently observed here, “A corporation doesn’t need to convert anyone to destroy a person’s spirituality, it only needs to hollow out your spirituality and then sell you back the rotten guts.”

We Pagans have a habit of thinking of ourselves as under siege. While there is still discrimination and harassment of Pagans in the public sphere, today many of us are more likely to be dismissed as a joke than to be actively persecuted.  It’s possible that the greatest threat to Paganism today is not from a Christian dominionist attack on our freedom of religious expression, but from something far more subtle, something more likely to come from within than from without.

I think the real danger to Paganism is not so much that our religion will be outlawed, but that there will be no reason to outlaw it.  The danger is not that guardians of the overculture will go to war with Pagans in a second “Burning Times”, but that they will have no reason to go to war with Paganism, because any difference between the two will have become merely superficial.  The danger is not that we will forced to consume some counterfeit experience for the genuine re-enchantment, but that we will no longer be able to tell the difference.

Will the Phony Elf Please Sit Down?

Pagans attach a strong stigma to judging other people’s spirituality, especially other each others’.  And yet, we have to judge.  We have to discriminate.  Should I listen to this teacher or that one?  Should I adopt this practice or that one?  Should I spend my time reading this book or that one?  Is The Elves from Ancient Times to Our Days going to reveal the other-world-that-is-this-one or is it going to be a waste of time?  Or worse, might it lead me astray?

There are many counterfeit “other worlds” offered to us by the overculture, and sometimes the Pagan Otherworld is one of them. How to distinguish the real thing is the question.  How do we tell the difference between genuine re-enchantment and what Starhawk calls “mindless idiocy”?

I don’t have a complete answer to that question.  If I did, I would probably be some kind of spiritual guru.  But I have learned some ways not to do it.

I can’t judge it by the surface.

It’s tempting to dismiss as disenchanted any aspect of Paganism that doesn’t immediately resonate with me.  But if my fifteen years of Paganism has taught me anything, it’s that I can’t divine depth from the surface.  As much as I am tempted to, I can’t judge The Elves from Ancient Times to Our Days from its cover.

I can’t judge it with my mind only.

And while I can’t judge The Elves from Ancient Times to Our Days from its title, I also probably can’t judge it by just reading it either.  I have to live it or at least try to.  I have to put it into practice and test it for myself.  Because whether it works or not may depend more on me and where I am in my spiritual journey than anything else.  To one person, perhaps it may lead to expanded consciousness and connection with the other-world-that-is-this-one, while for another it may have the opposite effect.

I can’t buy or sell it (at least not reliably).

“Magic, connection to the earth, the experience of the Other—these things the merchants of Paganism™ cannot sell us …” — Rhyd Wildermuth, “Paganism™”

Oh, I can buy the book, of course. And the book may or may not help connect me with the other-world-that-is-this-one. But the amount of money I spend will not increase my chances. In fact, I very well could spend no money and get the same effect. Of course, teachers and artists should be compensated for their services and the work. But the fact that money has changed hands is really irrelevant to whether those services or that work will be conducive of the re-enchantment of the world.

Will the Real Elf Please Stand Up?

Still, we can’t read every book or study under every teacher.  There must be some criteria to separate the wheat from the chaff.  I’m no expert on distinguishing genuine re-enchantment from its myriad imitators.  But I have at various times in my life experienced the real thing, and there have been some common characteristics of those experiences.  I don’t know if they are generalizable to everyone, but I offer them for your consideration:

Genuine re-enchantment gets me out of my head.

“Resistance begins in your body.” — Peter Grey

In my experience, real re-enchantment–or, if you will, real magic–always connects me with my body, with the earth, and ultimately with community.  Disenchantment manifests as a disconnection with these things.  My body is the door that leads me out of the prison of my mind.  That door opens onto the natural world.  And that world is populated by other beings, both human and other-than-human.

Genuine re-enchantment grounds me–literally.

Live a three-dimensioned life;
stay away from screens.
Stay away from anything
that obscures the place it is in.
There are no unsacred places;
there are only sacred places
and desecrated places.
–Wendell Berry, “How to Be a Poet”

The “other world”, as I have said, is right here, right now.  Therefore, one indicia of genuine re-enchantment is a heightened sense of place.  So I strive to, in the words of Wendell Berry, to “live a three-dimensional life” and, in my religious life, to “stay away from anything that obscures the place it is in.”

Genuine re-enchantment connects me with others.

“The danger of mysticism is that it can become an escape from concerns about other people. Entranced by the cosmic oneness of it all, we end up forgetting or ignoring the other people in the room, on our block, or on our globe.” — Roger Gottlieb, “The Transcendence of Justice and the Justice of Transcendence”

Since disenchantment breeds disconnection from one’s body and from the natural world, it leaves us trapped in a kind of mental prison of solipsism.  Disenchanted forms of spirituality perpetuate this, while genuine re-enchantment brings us into intimate contact with others and fosters community.

Genuine re-enchantment is transformative.

Because it can’t be bought and sold, and because it puts us in touch with our bodies, with nature, and with each other, genuine re-enchantment is radical (meaning it goes to the “root” of things), it is transformative, and ultimately it is revolutionary. Genuine re-enchantment fosters profound change, starting with ourselves and moving outward to transform the world through us.

These are my touchstones.  If it gets me out of my head, if it grounds me, if it connects me with others, if it is transformative–then chances are that it will be conducive of genuine re-enchantment … even if it has a picture elves on the cover.

But there come times—perhaps this is one of them –
when we have to take ourselves more seriously or die;
when we have to pull back from the incantations,
rhythms we’ve moved to thoughtlessly,
and disenthrall ourselves, bestow
ourselves to silence, or a deeper listening, cleansed
of oratory, formulas, choruses, laments, static
crowding the wires.
— Adrienne Rich, “Transcendental Etude”

 


Notes:

[1] I have found no better description of re-enchantment than that of Joshua Landy and Michael Saler in The Re-Enchantment of the World: Secular Magic in a Rational Age:

“If the world is to be re-enchanted, it must accordingly be reimbued not only with mystery and wonder but also with order, perhaps even with purpose; there must be a hierarchy of significance attaching to objects and events encountered; individual lives, and moments within those lives must be susceptible again to redemption; there must be a new, intelligible locus for the infinite; there must be a way of carving out, within the fully profane world, a set of spaces which somehow possess the allure of the sacred; there must be everyday miracles, exceptional events which go against (and perhaps even alter) the accepted order of things; and there must be secular epiphanies, moments of being in which, for a brief instant, the center appears to hold, and the promise is help out of a quasi-mystical union with something larger than oneself.” (emphasis original)

[2] The overculture refers generally to the dominant culture.  Here, it refers to the outcome of a Western cultural paradigm which incorporates reductionist positivism, consumer capitalism, and transcendental religion.  This paradigm exists primarily in the form of implicit or tacitly held assumptions, rather than explicitly held beliefs.  It is, for the most part, culturally invisible and personally unconscious, so it is insulated from critique.  It creates and maintains the political, social, economic, ecological, and even spiritual status quo.

[3] Interestingly, the ambiguous etymology of one of the Welsh names for the Otherwold, Annwfn, lends itself to this interpretation. Two different etymologies of annwfn are given:

an- (intensifying prefix) + dwfn: deep = “The Very-Deep Place”
an- (negating prefix) + dwfn: world = “The Not-World”

Combining these etymologies, we may understand the Otherworld to be in this world, and yet not, manifest not on the surface, but “under” or at the roots of our experience of the world.

[4] This may be what French feminist philosopher Luce Irigaray referred to as the “sensible transcendental”.

[5] Religious studies scholar, Wouter Hanegraaff, has argued that magic survived the Enlightenment by becoming itself disenchanted.


John Halstead

halsteadJohn Halstead was the principal facilitator of “A Pagan Community Statement on the Environment,” which represents the most successful effort to date to harmonize the diverse voices of the Pagan community in defense of the Earth. John is one of the founding members of 350 Indiana, which works to organize resistance to the fossil fuel industry. John is a Shaper of the fledgling Earthseed community.  John is also the editor of the anthology, Godless Paganism: Voices of Non-Theistic Pagans.  John writes about Paganism, activism, and life at AllergicPagan.com, Huffington Post, and here at Gods & Radicals.


Click Here to pre-order the fourth issue of A Beautiful Resistance.

On Reconciliation and Capitalism

“We are born into a way of life that none of us have chosen, raised on it, weaned on it until it feels almost natural, until our own naturalness is something to be ashamed of.”

From Emma Kathryn

Sometimes my bluntness gets me into trouble. Sometimes it alienates me from others.

Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that sometimes, I think the simple answer is the best, that waffling on obscure points that don’t really mean anything or achieve anything other than generate more idle chatter. It is nothing but noise, offers nothing. You can use archaic language or a complicated play on words to make it seem more poetic if you like, but it’s still just noise.

Capitalism within witchcraft and the wider pagan sphere is rampant, indeed capitalism dominates, or tries to dominate almost every avenue of human existence. I’ve written an article or two on the subject and I won’t rehash them here.

However, whenever I write or debate capitalism within witchcraft and Paganism, there always seem to be those that would level the accusation of hypocrisy at me. Afterall, don’t I have a full-time job? Don’t I live within this very system? Don’t I spend money?

Let me be clear: I abhor capitalism and the greed and oppression it represents.

But what exactly does that mean, and how can I reconcile my hatred for the system with my existence within it?

To me, the answer is very simple and clear-cut. I do not need to reconcile the two, nor do I want to, because to me that in itself smacks of hypocrisy. To reconcile the two would mean that I just get on with it, accept it, let it be.

Perhaps the real question is, how do you not reconcile the two? Isn’t it this friction that spurs us into action, that motivates us and inspires us to be better and do better? I would say it is. Those first stirrings of unrest may not be welcome, but they just cannot be ignored until eventually, you have to examine them, identify them. You have to tell yourself some harsh home truths.

And besides, why should we have to be the ones doing the reconciling?

We are born into a way of life that none of us have chosen, raised on it, weaned on it until it feels almost natural, until our own naturalness is something to be ashamed of. Money and thus Power are the Gods of today, worshipped on the altar that is Capitalism and everything else is relative. Everything else can be bought.

The system is such that life outside of it, at least while it exists, is almost impossible. It’s almost laughable that in order to live like you have no money you must have money, and lots of it too. What do I mean by this? Well, for starters, to have the land to do so requires money to buy said land, and even then, permission for its intended use must be sought from the relevant councils or government office.

To work the land requires both money to purchase the necessary equipment, and the time that doing so requires. To live off grid requires money for alternative energy sources such as solar or wind power. To eat well requires higher welfare standards for animals and more readily available organic food. If you want to escape the system as it is today, you need money to do it. It’s a funny old world, ain’t it?

For the poor, and I include the working poor here, this lifestyle is nothing but a dream, never to be realised.

We are not free to just walk away from the system if we so choose, don’t believe the bullcrap. Instead we must tear ourselves away from it, working our way out of it from the inside, like a cancer destroying its host. We must endeavour to smash the system, leaving in its place a world where people are not divided by race or class or any other man-made castes, where the many are not oppressed by the few, where nature is given the respect she deserves.

When I talk about anti-capitalism in regards to witchcraft and Paganism I’m not talking about crafts people, artists, or anyone who performs a service. I get asked if I think they should do so for free, because, you know, its money they’re earning? Or what’s the alternative, a barter system, or a regression to the middle ages?

No, no and no.

If anything, it’s these folk, the crafts people, the artists, those who make quality items, who work hard at what they do, who deserve our custom, not some chain store owned by a larger amalgamation of companies that often exploit their workers, their customers and  nature. These artists and crafts people are the antithesis of capitalism. For example, my step father is a wood worker. He works for himself, in his own workshop, on his own land with reclaimed wood. This way of creating is in stark contrast to mass-produced cheap wooden furniture, where massive parts of forests are destroyed.

I have no qualms with a fair day’s graft for a fair day’s pay.

The problem is that quite often, it isn’t a fair day’s work for a fair wage. Maximum profit is the be all and end all in the capitalist system. The chain store prices out the independent worker. The full-time labourer whose wife also works full-time in a menial job can’t afford life’s basic necessities, and are forced to shop in these cheaper, chain store places. They can’t afford organic food, or to buy something beautifully crafted. They are forced to buy cheaper, they are forced to rely on these companies that abuse the Earth, humans and animals, else they cannot possibly survive.

I know, I’ve been there before. To have no control over your life, to feel so bad everytime you are forced to make decisions that go against your nature is soul destroying.

Sometimes I think the people who ask “how can I reconcile my hatred for capitalism and my life within it” have never had to make the choice between eating and heating when it’s the middle of winter (a real choice made by millions, daily, and no, not because they’re dossers bumming off taxpayers).

When I talk about anti capitalism in not only witchcraft, but life in general, I’m not on about going back to the stone age. The issue get’s dumbed down so that people equate it with regression, with the result that we spend countless hours debating online with those who just can’t or don’t want to accept the problems inherent within the capitalist system, who see any alternative as a step backwards in human development.

I believe that there is an alternative to the capitalist system, one where profit isn’t the be all and end, where people are not treated as commodities, where nature is not raped for profit, where the laws are for the protection of the people and not big business. I think the technology is here to maintain our current levels of  comfortable existence without the depletion and destruction of the Earth.

Somewhere along the line, things have been muddled, so that the economy instead of being something that served us is now something we serve. Humans must put the economy before all else, including other life, human and animal, and all to protect capitalism.

There is no other society for us who hate the system. I cannot take myself away from the capitalist state because it controls everything. Where would I go? I don’t even own my own home. There is no alternative while capitalism exists, because it doesn’t allow for it. If we are not slaves to the system, then we have no use.

Capitalism will come to an end one day. With the day already gone when we have consumed more resources within a year than nature can produce, it’s inevitable really. When the land is barren, and the waters poisoned with pollution and empty of life, what will your money buy you then?

I think we all know the answer to that one.


Emma Kathryn

My name is Emma Kathryn, an eclectic witch, my path is a mixture of traditional European witchcraft, voodoo and obeah, a mixture representing my heritage. I live in the middle of England in a little town in Nottinghamshire, with my partner, two teenage sons and two crazy dogs, Boo and Dexter. When not working in a bookshop full time, I like to spend time with my family outdoors, with the dogs. And weaving magick, of course!


 

Radical Semiotics and The Need For Ontological Anarchism

“radical semiotics can be seen as an existentialist activity for meaning-making”

From Julian Langer

 

“The repression of an individual by the iron machinery of the State has rarely been so powerfully depicted. Yet this is only the beginning of the story.” Fredy Perlman

Anarchists have beautifully and articulately expressed many of the same criticisms and theories of classical anarchist and economic theories (predominantly classical liberalism and anti-state Marxist-style socialism), on repeat, in an eternal return that can appear never ending (and can get extremely boring). What have received far less attention within anarchist discourse are questions regarding what-it-is-we-are-actually-opposing and how do we make meaning while trapped within the culture we supposedly oppose.

This situation is basically that which Walter Benjamin discussed in his essay ‘The Work Of Art In The Age Of Mechanical Reproduction’, where the perpetual reproduction of the same critiques, ideas and theories leads to their losing their unique existence and presence in time and space.

So this piece might be considered as being an operation in friendly-fire, but as I move on to the following sections I’d like to emphasis the intended friendliness in this piece.

Well Known Feuds: Ancaps vs. Social-Anarchists

As I start this section, I want to get something “off my chest” – I am so fucking bored of arguments between anarcho-capitalists and social-anarchists, and this is largely why I avoid the bother of debating with either of these milieus (in real life or online). My choice to not bother debating them is largely because of the unending moral dogmatism that comes from both sides of this supposed cosmic-dualism, which appears more and more like theological disputes between varying sects of the same religious orders.

What do I mean by this? I mean that both of these ideological variants of anarchism worship the same deity, while remaining unable to agree on the exact meaning behind its teachings, nor the exact dimensions of its facial features. This deity is one we are all abundantly familiar with, as we navigate its body daily, through the business-as-usual of this culture. And whether or not you call it the Leviathan, the state, the economy, the nation, or civilisation, its body, with its means of consumption and excretion, regardless of who owns the means or who doesn’t, who gets paid what or whether or not they are communally shared, remains the same within both of these discourses.

This feature of social-ontics is one that green-anarchists of varying schools, as well as non-anarchist anti-civ schools of thought pick up on, but fail to fully account for; while often allying with Marxist-style and social-anarchist projects, out of a general anti-capitalist ideological commonality.

Christianity, Science, Paganism and Attacks on Wild-Being

Agriculture necessitates civilisation, which then necessitates organised religion and scientific means of technological advancement; both of which largely surmount to the same phenomenon. The unity of these apparently differing social-narratives stems from their both serving as means of violating wild-Being – the transient, organic flow of nature (for a quick definition). In the individual this surmounts to the repression of the self – as civilisation lover Freud identified – and direct technological mediation from naked immediateness, into the dressings of their narratives – the self becomes clothed and adorned with labels and categories of civilisation’s means of production.

Paganism, as a religious order distinguished from animism, arrives as a response to this violation of the wild-Being pagans long to return to. As such, paganism often stems from a desire to live outside of civilisation, but from the gaze of civilisation – so that wild-Being is something separate and not just the unrepressed metaphysical flow of Being. And because of this, while paganism can serve as a means of weakening and challenging the narratives of civilisation, unless pagans complete the process and abandon nature-as-Other, paganism can only be a practice in liberation theology, which doesn’t bring down its target.

The Christianised mask of civilisation is undoubtedly the one that has for the most part won-out, with its humanist dressings elevating science to the level of Christ, where science stands as a bridge for the civilised to cross over, in avoidance of hell on route to heaven. And industrialism and technology stand as means of transcendence from wild-Being, which civilisation attempts to escape, as it is seen as a cosmic evil Other for civilisation to overcome. This is marked by Christian morals regarding rights and scientific narratives regarding progress, whose Christian mirror is the manifest destiny of Christianised civilisation.

The reason why attacks on wild-Being largely go unnoticed is because wild-Being is viewed as the Other, rather than as part of the immediate naked self. As such, embracing the self as an extension of wild-Being, immersed in its transient flow, is of the utmost importance, if we are actual opponents of this culture that seeks to mediate us from this, through narratives that tie the self to the collective and its dressings.

Screw Society, We Want Situations and Events

Anarchism generally values society above all else – even pseudo-individualist ancap ideologies. But with this rejection of the social-ontology of civilisation we’ve arrived at as green-anarchists, society needs to be rejected too. This need not be vulgar misanthropy that deifies humans to the level of demons to be exorcised. No! Society has very little to do with those who inhabit it.

Rather, society is a set of mechanical means of perpetuating its own existence, whose physicality is the very social ontology we oppose. This might be maintained by active human participants, but their activity is largely of a passive nature and any invading force would likely see the same technological-mechanical apparatus perpetuating the same processes – so it largely doesn’t matter who it is operating it, just that it exists in-itself is the issue.

Wild-Being is the transient flow of situations through events, which are produced through the emergence of differential geo-spatial vectors – the active creation of new geographies, new topologies and new sets of relations between living beings. Semiotically, these are defined in a fluid state of ever changing meaning, which each living being will interpret based in their own subject-sensitive rationality, which makes them far messier for discussion, but makes discussion far more honest.

Neither Reform Nor Revolution: Involution (or Fuck Dialectics and Fuck Conservatism)

Time and history have largely consumed life into the slow meliorist project of progress, whether or not that is via reform (loved by liberals) or revolution (loved by anarchists and Marxists). Improvement of conditions via progress is always marked by an ideal that we remain alienated from at all points, but must strive towards. And under the name of civilisation, technology and the conditions of living in society, life is abandoned in favour of the historical project of progress.

Liberals, leftists and the right wing are all consumed by history and its slow march. History is shaped by politics and history needs to be abandoned.

History relies on a form of metaphysics, where the future exists as a destination to arrive at, whose form exists as an idealist truism, to become actual. Wild-Being is entirely physical though, and as such contradicts this notion. Rather wild-Being exists prior to time and history, in the transient present, which authentic consciousness perceives egoistically.

Because of this metaphysical rejection, our green-anarchist ontological anarchism needs to be based outside of time, in a transient-egoistic-presentism – the immediate phenomenology of the now.

This will largely involve collapsing the project of progress, in ways that are desirable in the immediate moment, so as to work towards the involutionary collapse of history and civilisation. This could be done through acts of poetic terrorism or eco-radical acts of direct action, but will ultimately look like something and be something very different from the projects of leftist revolutionaries or liberal reformists.

Meaningless Civilisation: Totalitarian Signs

The crisis of meaning currently underway within this hyperactive “stage” of civilisation, this “dialectic” of mass-technological mediation, daily terrorist violence and nuclear horror, is the totalitarianism of a semiology whose signs dictate nearly all aspects of lived experiences.

It is easy enough to recognise the construction of meaning through mediums such as the media, education, television, the internet or many other well known examples. But everyday totalitarian semiotics largely go unnoticed.

This is least noticed through the material dynamics of ideology, where the physicality of the social-environment of the techno-sphere and its means of consumption infect consciousness, so as to produce a world where meanings are nothing more than the perpetuation of its Symbolic ideology. And it largely goes unnoticed within groups and movements, unless an outsider remarks and upsets the semiotic field  (Christian means of meaning-making are unquestioned within Christianity, liberal means of meaning-making are unquestioned within liberalism etc.) and we arrive in a totalitarian situation, where other semiologies are considered as threats to be stamped out at any opportunity. The shallow dogmatism of this ideological narrative is obvious to individualists, non-conformists and other “outsiders”, but remains something unchanging within this culture.

If we are to challenge this culture, we need to challenge totalitarian semiotics and actively create our own signs and means of meaning-making.

On Radical Semiotics and Ontological Anarchism

The inescapable potentialism of what I am to write about means that I will never be able to do justice to the topics of radical semiotics and ontological anarchism.

At the very least, these projects are based in a sense of self, value and allyship drawn from wild-Being, an involutionary rejection of history and progress, the active creation of situations and events and the rejection of totalitarian semiotics and their dogmatisms.

Regarding radical semiotics, these signs cannot be limited to the dictates of socially-normative Symbolic-culture, that seeks to define all of life into the categories of its signs. Rather they are best served challenging these signs, in ways that do not become amalgamated into the Spectacle of progress and history.

In this sense, radical semiotics are largely a nihilist project; or rather they would be, if it weren’t for the fact that they include the creation of subject-sensitive signs, whose beauty is found in the authenticity of the aesthetics of the poetry of the creator. As such, radical semiotics can be seen as an existentialist activity for meaning-making – an existentialism that arrived ultimately at eco-radicalism (rather than humanism) in embrace of the responsibility of our condemnation to freedom.

The project of ontological anarchism, following from all of this, then becomes one of the active creation of radical semiotics, so as to collapse civilisation by undermining its own means of meaning-making – in the sense described in the second paragraph of this section. And ontological anarchism becomes an activity of metaphysical-terrorism, working towards collapsing civilisation/history and its social-ontics.

Within my own lexicon, the project of radical semiotics is a feral activity and the project of ontological anarchism is an iconoclastic activity. So what I am describing here I choose to call feral iconoclasm and seems to me to be the project of eco-radicals and guerrilla ontologists, within the horrors of our contemporary situation.

“In the horrible extremity of today we can see the need to return all the way to the earth, to the multi-sensual intimacy of nature that obtained before symbolisation made living a reified, separated caricature of itself.”

John Zerzan


Julian Langer

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.

When is Paganism not Paganism?

From Emma Porter: “what Capitalism tries to hide from the seeker, is that Paganism is free.”

When it’s paganism with a small p, that’s when.

What can that possibly mean? Well, let me try and explain. Recently in a well known pagan fb group (at least well known in good old Blighty), I stumbled upon a discussion on what Paganism means to the individual in terms of deity and beliefs. I was struck by a response that seemed to be quite popular, and it was along the lines of having atheist beliefs but living the pagan lifestyle.

This is when paganism is not Paganism, at least to me. Is this what our spirituality has become? A lifestyle choice? Online debates about the reality of deity? Oh no, hell no!

Surely as Pagans, the Earth, nature herself, is sacred. You can feel it, can’t you, when you’re outside in the wild with the wind in your face, the rain on your skin, the heat of the sun or the cold of the snow. Surely this is the very essence of Paganism, our connection to and our own place in this, the web of life. “A pagan lifestyle” without any of this is empty and meaningless.

I would like to think that the contributor to said Facebook discussion simply meant that her path does not necessarily revolve around the worship of deity. Worship of and to deity is a personal choice, a personal belief, and I do believe that one can truly have a meaningful Pagan practice without deity, literal Gods and Goddesses.

But what if this isn’t what she meant, and indeed she meant what she said? What is a pagan lifestyle without the spiritual side?

I love the idea of a witchcraft shop that sells herbs, parchment, inks and the like;however, most of the shops I have encountered have been massive disappointments, selling the usual array of crystals, candles, synthetic incense and angel ornaments. This is what I think of when I think of paganism as a lifestyle without the spirituality.

And what’s wrong with that? you may well ask. Well nothing….if you just so happen to like the smell of incense, even if it’s just chemicals and perfume, or the shine of crystals, mined from the earth. There’s nothing wrong with that if that’s what you like (well there is, but that’s another article for another day). But it is not Paganism. Do not be fooled.

This is the work of a system that seeks to keep us dulled down, that seeks to keep us busy with mindless, empty, cheap shit that has no practical or spiritual purpose. When mothers and fathers have to work full time jobs and still ends cannot be met, here, have some cheap shit to take your mind off your own slavery, slavery to a system that many within it, even those at the bottom, defend.

We Pagans are not exempt from this lie either, are not exempt from the self delusions that enable this lie. We’ve all fell for it, at the beginning, when we first start out on the Pagan path. It’s a difficult pitfall to avoid, when you’re new and everything seems so beautiful and shiny. But then you take home your crystal, your incense, and display them and burn them, but what then? Nothing, that’s what, and after a while you see that these trinkets, whilst look the part, add nothing at all to your practise.

And so you head back out to the New Age shop or market stall and you buy something else in the hope that it might make you feel more of a Pagan. And so it goes on and on, in a cycle, until you are ready to break that cycle. Some never do, and some don’t want to, they are happy with their illusions.

What the system, what Capitalism tries to hide from the seeker, is that Paganism is free. You do not have to spend a penny. However capitalism serves the lazy pagan. Why go out and connect with the earth when you can buy this or that to make you feel more pagany? It makes the person with the most money, able to buy the biggest pentacle ring or necklace or crystal seem holier than thou, more genuine and authentic. It is everywhere in pagan culture. Look how much fellow seekers charge for their works. The poor are often priced out.

This isn’t to say that Pagans must give up money, or give freely their own works and endeavours – I’m all for a fair wage for a fair day’s work, but as someone for who, especially in the past when my own children were young, has nothing left at the end of every month, thirty pounds for a working or for supplies is unheard of, a luxury to be dreamed about but never realised. What about those in that situation? Are they to be left out, forgotten? Is their belief and spirituality less than someone who can afford all of the trappings? Yes, if the pagan lifestyle is empty of spirituality, another prospect for capitalism to take people’s hard earned cash for things made in China for as cheaply as possible.

Pagans can no longer afford to be lazy if we want our spirituality to mean something. This earth is our home, and so our paganism must be nature-centred. It is simply not enough to say that we are a part of this universe and that the universe returns to us what we send out, as a well known New Age book seems to think. It is not enough to be grateful, not today when this precious earth of our, when our Mother Nature, whom we worship as Pagans, is under constant attack. Untold damage is wreaked on this earth in the name of capitalism, in the quest for newer and more efficient ways to separate the people from their hard earned money.

I too have been guilty of this. It is a relatively new aspect to my craft, environmental activism. Don’t get me wrong, I’m big on recycling and reusing and reducing my waste and carbon footprint and the like, but it isn’t enough. There’s more I need to do, but I’ve started, and that’s the important part, the hard part, finding your voice, your confidence to speak out against injustices perpetrated by the strong against the week.

Part of what prompted me to act is the fracking of local beauty spots and countryside, but that’s not all. I’m tired of feeling helpless as I watch the destruction of the very nature I worship, all for the sake of profit, profit that benefits the few and leaves the many grateful for whatever scraps they are thrown. Everyday, that part of myself grows stronger, more self assured and confident, and it will for you too. Taking the first step, the first real step, is hard, but each successive step becomes easier.

We Pagans must act, and our actions must serve and protect nature. The alternative is paganism as a lifestyle, and that isn’t worth a damn.


Emma Kathryn

My name is Emma Kathryn, an eclectic witch, my path is a mixture of traditional European witchcraft, voodoo and obeah, a mixture representing my heritage. I live in the middle of England in a little town in Nottinghamshire, with my partner, two teenage sons and two crazy dogs, Boo and Dexter. When not working in a bookshop full time, I like to spend time with my family outdoors, with the dogs. And weaving magick, of course!


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Ash, Oak and Thorn: Clarification on the Death of British Paganism

The crisis of Paganism is directly tied to Capitalism

Cultural and religious analysis, from Jonathan Woolley


Ash die-back

Last month, I wrote an article in which I argued that the British Pagan Movement was dying. I was pleased to see it provoked(1) quite(2) a bit of(3) interest(4). As I expected, some people agreed with what I had to say, while others did not. Whenever you broach a controversial topic – and my article most certainly did so – there will always be some measure of disagreement. So before I move forward and offer some solutions to the problem as I see it, I thought it might be worthwhile to make some points of clarification.

This is what I shall attempt to do below; by means of a naturalistic metaphor. Much of my academic research has been concerned by exploring the ways in which the human and non-human worlds affect one another; how the forces of belief, profit, and bureaucracy percolate out through the landscape, and create patterns in the land and its people that closely mirror one another. Although I agreed with much of what John Beckett had to say in his response to my article*, what I found rather iffy about it was his use of evolution as a way of thinking about the development of religious communities. Using evolution as a model for understanding the spread or decline of human societies has a long and rather dubious history in anthropology, and contemporary social science has generally left metaphors of this particular kind behind.

While I still think nature can be – to use Levi-Strauss’ famous phrase – “good to think with” regarding social relations, I’d deploy it in a rather different way to John. So I thought I might demonstrate this, here, before I move on.

It will show, I hope, three things. One, it will help us appreciate what kinds of social groups I am talking about – in short, what I mean by “The British Pagan Movement.” Two, it will help us understand what “death” means here; what conclusions the evidence supports, and what conclusions it does not. Three, it will help us to understand why this process is inextricably bound-up with global flows of capital.

Clarification 1) Primroses

pagan things are not (necessarily) Paganism

There is a little wood, not far from where I live, that is mostly ash trees. As of this moment, the place is in a state much like many other ancient woodlands in the UK, managed for conservation; the branches are alive with birdsong, the forest floor is covered with a carpet of bluebells, primroses and lush spring grass. New life is flourishing everywhere you look. But if you look up, you see that a good number of the trees have brown lesions on their bark, and that last year’s withered leaf stalks are still clinging to their branches. Many of the older saplings are dead. Signs on the gate posts at the entry to the wood warn you – the whole place is suffering from Chalara, or Ash dieback. This fungus has already hit 90% of Denmark’s ash trees, and it is now spreading rapidly across the British Isles. Although mature trees can survive with an infection for many years, it decimates saplings, preventing the ash population from regenerating.

But remember – we are at the height of spring, and the forest is green, and many of the older trees will still put out leaves this year. So the majority of human visitors might imagine – even those who know the wood well – that there is no problem; hence the need for signs. But unless a solution is found, Britain’s glorious ash woods will die out. This does not mean the end of woodlands in general, nor does Chalara affect all plant species that live in ash woods – many of whom can and do thrive in woods of other sorts of trees. But if the ash trees all die out, then the woodlands defined by them will likewise disappear.

My previous article on Gods and Radicals made a similar diagnosis regarding British Paganism. I observed that – like the ebullient undergrowth in my ash woodland – the level of interest in “pagan” (note the small p) things is flourishing like never before. We’ve just celebrated May Day here in England, and there have been festivities up and down the country of a decidedly “pagan” feel. Despite many of these traditions have deep roots, I cannot remember them being celebrated so widely, or being publicised so much in the media.

I myself spent May Morning in Oxford with some friends, and 27,000 other people, who listened to the choir of Magdalene College sing to the rising sun, before a blessing was called out upon the Earth, our Mother, and the flourishing of the verdure for which the English springtime is famed. As the bells rang in the day, and Morris Men and other folk dancers jangled their way down across the Radcliffe Camera, the people of Oxford spread out to pubs and cafes – open especially early for that Morning – to toast the summer. And although there were initiated Pagans like myself present, by far and away the majority of those out on May Morning were not. The blessing was called out by an Anglican vicar, after all, and the choir were singing Hymnus Eucharisticus, a 500 year-old hymn about the Incarnation of Christ.

Events and activities of this kind, though undoubtedly “pagan” in a sense, should not be conflated with the Pagan Movement in Britain – which, as I stated in my original article, is a network of historically-related initiatory traditions, membership organisations, mailing lists, moots, and shops, all built around a genre of spiritual books, published from the late 19th to the present-day. This retail and voluntary framework supports a group of small religions and mystery schools that have grown dramatically in size during the 1980s and 1990s.

In the comments, a number of people suggested that because interest in pagan things like May Morning were doing so well the Pagan Movement itself must be flourishing. This reveals a common tendency  within both the advocacy and the study of Paganisms to claim pagan groups, ideas, and customs as part of the Pagan Movement, in a way that bolsters the Movement’s perceived size. An extreme version of this approach is represented in Michael York’s Pagan Theology, where he argues that indigenous religions, Hinduism, Shinto, African Traditional and Diasporic Religions, and Chinese Traditional Religions should all be reclassified as Pagan. This view has been heavily criticised for being a wild oversimplification of theological and ritual diversity in the traditions concerned, and for appropriating the independent philosophies of people of colour for confessional ends – despite the fact that followers in those philosophies would certainly reject the “Pagan” label.

I suggest we see a similar mistake being made when cultural events like May Morning, or the Stonehenge gathering at the Solstice, are treated as evidence for initiatory Pagan traditions themselves being in fine fettle. True, small-p paganism might encourage some people to seek out deeper mysteries, but I see little evidence that supports the view that the former necessarily leads to the latter in all cases. To dismiss the prospect of a gradual decline in popularity of initiatory Pagan groups or membership associations in Britain out of hand, simply because of the popularity of “pagan” cultural themes in Britain today is a bit like saying the ash trees can’t be dying from Chalara, because the primroses are doing awfully well.

Clarification 2) Saplings:

A lack of young people, and a lack of volunteerism are the problems; not an immediate collapse in membership

In my article, I identified evidence of decline with two observations; that there appear to be fewer people under 40 attending events organised by British Pagan traditions than previously, and that far fewer members of our community are volunteering to organise events. In the comments to my article – and in some rather frantic critiques published elsewhere – a lot of people went on to assume that the actual number of new members had collapsed, and that the existing membership figures of organisations like OBOD were falling. I have subsequently received clarification that – at least in the case of OBOD – this isn’t the case.

OBOD is increasing its membership rapidly to the point that the office is positively bustling; I have been informed that there are now nearly 20,000 members worldwide, an increase of roughly 4,000 over the past four years. Though reassuring, this bit of quantitative detail doesn’t necessarily affect my original observations – as OBOD doesn’t record the age of its members, it could be that this growth in membership is taking place solely amongst the over 40s. And as I argued in my original piece, if young people are joining the Order, but not coming to events, that still represents a problem. If millennials and younger members of Generation X are not being reached by the Order now, we have no guarantee that this will change as they get older – so the lack of young people at events could still indicate a problem that needs to be resolved. Nor does this continued growth indicate the extent to which people are willing to volunteer their time to organise moots, camps, or rituals.

With our ash woodland, the point is not that all the ash trees are dead already, or that no new seeds are able to germinate – rather, the problem is that Chalara is preventing the trees from flourishing as well as they might, to the point that a almost a whole generation of saplings has withered away, and this will have consequences long-term. The lack of young people at events, and the lack of ready volunteers, indicates that such a process may be ongoing in the British Pagan Community.

Clarification 3) Biosecurity:

Capitalism is, in fact, the causal factor

One might imagine that a fungal disease attacking ash trees and the combination of market forces I identified as being so deleterious to Britain’s initiatory Pagan traditions would have very little to do with one another. But in fact, both track the impact of global capitalism on local communities of different kinds.

Chalara – a species native to Asian forests, where it does no harm whatsoever – was imported into Europe in mass-produced furniture and ornamental plants. Rather than put in place adequate biosecurity measures to protect our forests from such diseases, the UK government opted for deregulation, preferring to protect the free movement of goods over the safety of our forests. It was neoliberal ideology – the religion of late capitalism – that brought Chalara to our shores. Just as Britain’s trees are blighted by the demands of capital, so our mysteries are deprived of the means of their reproduction by those self-same demands.

In the epic poem by Rudyard Kipling, Puck of Pook’s Hill, the nature spirit Puck explains that – apart from himself – all the magical people of England have left

“The People of the Hills have all left. I saw them come into Old England and I saw them go. Giants, trolls, kelpies, brownies, goblins, imps; wood, tree, mound, and water spirits; heath-people, hill-watchers, treasure-guards, good people, little people, pishogues, leprechauns, night-riders, pixies, nixies, gnomes and the rest — gone, all gone!”

Only he remains, for “I came into England with Oak, Ash, and Thorn, and when Oak, Ash, and Thorn are gone I shall go too”. This powerful poem contains, I suggest, the seeds of the sort of radical “saving vision” that John Halstead suggests we must pursue, not just to save our Movement from long-term decline, but to make it worth saving. While Britain’s ash trees wither due to the spread of Chalara, other threats – like the devastating Emerald Ash Borer – lurk on the horizon. Britain’s oak trees, too, are in danger – with Sudden Oak Death being another species introduced by the trade in exotic plants, without adequate biosecurity. It is the responsibility of initiated Pagans to lead the charge in protecting Oak, Ash, and Thorn, making the land welcoming again for The People of the Hills.

For if we do not, then who shall?

*However, as he believed his remarks were in disagreement with my own, I suspect he wrote more of a response to the title of my article, rather than its content.


Jonathan Woolley

1b&w copyJonathan is a social anthropologist and human ecologist, based at the University of Cambridge. He is a specialist in the political economy of the British landscape, and in the relationship between spirituality, the environment, and climate change. A member of the Order of Bards, Ovates, and Druids, and an eco-animist, Jonathan maintains a blog about his academic fieldwork called BROAD PATHWAYS.


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Of Mead And Molotov

It is the first of May.

For Pagans, witches, and druids, this is Beltane, a celebration of the beginning of summer observed almost continuously in much of the European world for centuries.

For Marxists, Anarchists, and revolutionaries of all sorts, it is international workers’ day, a commemoration of the Haymarket Massacre in Chicago which birthed a modern uprising against Capitalism and the police state.

Pagans and witches dance, light bonfires and drink mead today, or those of them who don’t have to go to work.

Anarchists and rebels march, throw bricks and molotovs today in hopes of making a world where no one must ever go to work.

For decades, the leaders and philosophers of both groups have eyed the other with suspicion, derision, and even hatred. Wiccan and Dianic elders cautioned their followers never to pursue much more than an esoteric path towards making the world they wished to see. Likewise, Communist and Anarchist theorists have belittled those in their groups who read Tarot or refused to believe that the natural world was little more than raw material substance exploited by the market.

Sure, there were always the heretics in each camp, the self-taught witches who burned incense at shrines the night before joining an anti-war march; the Latino Black Bloc members who’d give offerings to Santa Meuerta before masking up to stand against police oppression. Little could be spoken of these acts without facing ridicule or worse, but witches and anarchists aren’t know for caring much what others think.

Certainly, both sides had their reasons for suspicion. Many of the theorists who first iterated the political framework for anarchism and communism hailed from European countries, where the struggle against capitalism and authority was often slowed and even stopped by established Protestant and Catholic leaders deeply in the pockets of rulers, merchants, and landlords. The founder of Methodism, John Wesley, spent much of his time writing primers and giving sermons to indoctrinate the poor into submission to their bosses in the name of submission to God. Martin Luther and John Calvin both ordered the massacre of rebellious peasants, and in the Americas, slavery and colonial subjugation derived its moral justification from opportunistic priests and ministers eager to partake in the spoils of Empire.

Such virulent opposition to religious thought obviously ran counter to the spiritual projects of modern Pagan thinkers. While some (including many of the founders of modern Druidry) where themselves leftists and sought to fight industrial capitalism through a return to nature veneration, they were not taken seriously by their non-Pagan leftist comrades. To make things more complicated, however, many of the founders of modern Pagan traditions (Gerald Gardner, for instance) were themselves deeply invested in the systems of exploitation which anarchists sought to end.

Another reason for Pagans to fear political engagement through their spirituality came from within. Germanic reconstructionist movements such as Heathenry and Asatru began as overtly political–and deeply racist–movements: as they became more and more popular within the military and with young white males, many elders likely saw that taking a leftist, anti-racist, and anti-imperialist position in public could cost them the apparent unity they needed to convince governments and non-Pagans to take them seriously.

While each side had their reasons for opposing the other, they each also ignored their own contradictions. Pagans of any sort who claim to venerate nature have no easy way to square these proclaimed beliefs with acceptance of capitalist and industrialist destruction of the planet. Druids who claim to worship forests yet do not fight the systems of profit which are destroying forests all over the world become hypocrites at best. Likewise, the anarchist or communist who claims to be anti-imperialist whilst insisting belief in spirits or gods is ‘primitive’ is merely replicating the same colonial subjugation of indigenous beliefs which European empires perfected.

Despite these obvious contradictions, few efforts were ever made to embody both realities, let alone plant seeds of conversation at the crossroads where Paganism and Anti-Capitalism intersect for a future forest in which both could thrive.

That is, until now.

Of Land and People, Tree and Fist

 

On the first of May, 2015, Gods&Radicals began, bearing a banner of tree and fist. We are not the first to hold aloft the standard of the land and the people against the soldiers of Profit and Oppression, only another front in the struggle enjoined everywhere on the earth. Holding in our hands the threads of anarchist, Marxist, anti-colonialist, druidic, feminist, occult, environmentalist, and esoteric thought, we began a dance around a center constantly plaiting, constantly weaving in fierce celebration of all that makes the world beautiful and all that we refuse to let be taken from us.

The forests are dying, but we join those who refuse to let them be killed. Water and air are being poisoned, but we hold in our own hands poison which can stop those who have done so. The poor and dispossessed of the world are ground in the works of Empire’s machines, but like the saboteurs of old we know how simple it can be to stop those gears from turning forever.

We know the power of mead and molotov, the beauty of ancient forest and shattered window, the sacred celebration of spiral dance and protest march. We speak in the quiet whispers of conspiracy and graveyard, swim in the currents of tumultuous ocean and political dissent, read the future in the bones of animals and the pale faces of politicians.

We know our human and non-human comrades die daily on the bloody altars of finance and war, and we also know we are no comrades to them at all if we do not rise up with sharpened blades and whetted minds against the priest and police who preside over such foul sacrifice.

It is the first of May. Beltane to some, a day a resistance to others, and both to us.

May the scent of hawthorne blossom and tear gas be the incense we offer to the earth, the laughter of children around maypoles and the chants against police be the melodies which wake the summer, may the light from burning bonfires and barricades greet the strengthening sun, and may this be the Beltane upon which we look back and smile, remembering what new world we woke with our endless dance.


Rhyd Wildermuth

Rhyd is the managing editor and a co-founder of Gods&Radicals. He is a poet, a writer, a theorist, and a pretty decent chef. He can be supported on Patreon, and his other work can be found at Paganarch, and shirtless selfies occasionally seen on his FB. and also his Instagram

British Paganism is Dying. Why?

A few years ago, I gave a talk to the OBOD Summer Gathering about the role of young people in Druidry. I began by pointing out that the average lifespan for an adult during the Iron Age was about 30 years – even if the sky-high rates of infant mortality were excluded. Today, we tend to think of elderhood as something reserved for those over 65; but to our ancestors, anyone over 30 would have been looked upon as an invaluable source of wisdom and experience. To accentuate the point, I invited the audience to stand up, and then asked all those over 35 to sit down again. If we were Iron Age druids, the majority of those seated, I explained, would be dead. Although the point I was making about the relativity of youth and eldership is an important one, this little experiment – getting anybody over 35 to sit down – revealed something else. Of a room full of 150 people, only about 9 were left standing. If this sample is taken to be indicative of the Order as a whole, that means only around 6% of OBOD’s members are aged between 16 and 35. By contrast, this age bracket covers some 26.4% of the UK’s general population.

This lack of young people at OBOD gatherings made manifest something that had been lingering in the back of my mind for some time; something that had previously only been whispered over campfires, on kitchen tables, late at night when the wine was flowing. Not only are few younger people coming to OBOD events, but some of my friends report that there seem to be fewer people of all ages taking an active role in organising events and rituals. While people are still coming to big public rituals at seasonal festivals, they are less and less inclined to volunteer to organise them, or to take on regular commitments of any kind. Moots are shrinking, it’s harder to fill up workshops, and getting enough volunteers to set up and run camps and gatherings is a struggle. For a long time, I suspected that this was confined to OBOD – Druidry, after all, has a powerful association with old white men with old white beards – but having spoken to friends of mine involved in other traditions, it appears to be more widespread, if not as extreme in other parts of the community. I’ve been told that the number of registered members of the Pagan Federation has gone down for the first time. At the Harvest Moon Conference in 2016, Melissa Harrington confessed that she felt that this decline in active participation was indicative of Paganism “going underground” again. Most of the Pagan Federation events I’ve been to recently have shown a similar demographic spread to OBOD ones.

All this is developing in the context of our experience of the most recent UK census in 2011. Ronald Hutton calculated in Triumph of the Moonpublished in the mid-ninetiesthat the number of initiated Pagans was around 17,000 – 20,000, with a larger number of “active engagers” of about 120,000; people who may revere Pagan gods, practice magic, and mark seasonal festivals, but are not initiated into any Pagan group. When the 2001 census recorded some 44,000 Pagans across Scotland, England, and Wales, this figure attracted considerable press attention, both positive and negative. Hutton speculated that if 44,000 people were sufficiently invested to identify themselves as Pagan on a censusdouble his figure in Triumphthe number of more loosely affiliated “active engagers” could have doubled too; creating a figure of 250,000 people.

In advance of the 2011 census, major Pagan organisations in Britain led the Pagan-dash campaign, encouraging people to identify themselves as Pagan on the census. However, the number who reported themselves as “Pagan” increased to only 56,620 peopleand depending upon how broadly one defines “Paganism,” the number of those identifying as a member of a Pagan or esoteric tradition increased to around 80,000 people. As Vivienne Crowley pointed out, this indicates that the meteoric growth of the 1990s had slowed. My concern is that the declining number of young participants in the Pagan community in Britain, and the general diminution of those taking an active role in the community as a whole, indicates that that growth has stalled. British Paganismas a subculture and as a movementis in trouble.

The clickbait-y title of the piecechosen to encourage you to read what I have to say (sorry)is doubtless an exaggeration. As such, I’ll need to make a couple of caveats. The problem I mention above is not some catastrophic dissolution of the social relations from which the Pagan Movement in Britain is forged; there is no imminent disaster, we’re not all in schism or at each other’s throats. The fact that this crisis is a slow crisis, I suggest, is what makes it so easy to ignore. But communities are not just vulnerable to feuds and disruption; time itself is an enemy. It is said that we are all dying, one day at a time—but communities have ways of warding off the parabolic curve toward the grave, by recruiting new members from new generations. If none of these ways are followed, however, then a community will necessarily disappear, subjected to the remorseless attrition of the passing of years. The death of the Pagan Movement is some way off; my aim here is not to pronounce its imminent demise, but rather to draw attention to a set of problems that, if unaddressed, will necessarily lead to the movement dying away.

I’d also stress that the scope of my observations above is necessarily quite limited. This situation applies solely to British Paganisms, and not to those of other countries. On a recent trip to Australia, for example, I witnessed a quite different realityin which a great many of people my own age are getting involved in and leading Pagan traditions. In European countries, I know, the demography is similarly diverse. Are there thriving covens and groves, recruiting many members under 30, out there in the UK somewhere, that I have yet to meet? Very possibly. If they do exist, I’d very much like to meet them; it’d be fascinating to learn how they’ve managed to buck the trend that I’ve observed in my own experience of the British Pagan Movement.

I also think it’s important to point out that the decline in British Paganism does not mean in the slightest that magical practice, animistic beliefs and ritual, British folkways, or the celebration of the wild and mythic heritage of these islands as a whole is under threat. Indeed, I would suggest to the contrary; that all these cultural practices are very much alive, and growing, amongst the younger generations as anywhereindeed, witchy stuff, hippy vibes, eco-activism, and nature mysticism are more on trend than ever. Which makes it all the more bizarre, to my mind, that existing British Orders, Traditions, and Camps are not riding the wave of the neo-folk, authenticity-seeking, sustainability-conscious zeitgeist. Hutton’s distinction between initiated Pagans and “active engagers” is very useful hereit is important to stress that becoming an initiate of a mystery school, and actively engaging in a broader cultural tradition of enchantment do not necessarily relate to one another. They are two rather different things.

What is in decline, then, is something quite specificthe Pagan Movement; a collection of organisations, publications, ceremonial genres, training courses. That collection is no longer feeding the appetite of the general public for the magical. That appetite has not gone away; indeed, it has potentially increasedso we must ask ourselves what has changed.

Dealing with some existing explanations

When I’ve raised this issue in the past, some of those I’ve spoken to tend to comment upon it in a number of ways. Firstly, they tend to argue that young people are just inherently less interested in spiritualitybeing more concerned with enjoying themselves, having children, or workingand that they will find Druidry when they become more spiritually-inclined as they get older. Secondly, the argument is made that there are probably many younger druids, but they just don’t come to the existing selection of events. Finally, some druids argue that most people are fundamentally ignorant and insensitive to the subtle forces and immanent power of wild places. Each of these commentaries serves to minimise the problem; the assumption being that the absence of younger people will resolve itself in time. With regard to the dip in the number of people prepared to take on organisational responsibilities, people tend to simply shake their heads, and mutter darkly about adverse economic conditions. I’ll deal with each of these responses in turn.

The suggestion that young people are necessarily less spiritual is one that doesn’t reflect my own experience, nor does it chime with the history of Paganism as a movement. I routinely meet people my own age with a deep and profound engagement with religious and spiritual practicebut they’re just normally involved other organisationssuch as Western Buddhist Orders, the Brahma Kumaris, or even liberal churchesover Pagan ones. As I’ve already pointed out, much of what Paganism is all about is very popular amongst young adults today. This reflects a long and passionate history of youthful involvement with magical and mystery traditions; the 1990s “Teen Witch” phenomenon demonstrated an enthusiastic appetite for enchantment amongst teenagers, and as Helen Berger and Doug Ezzy eloquently point out, the derisory views of this phenomenon by more experienced practitioners was largely ill-founded. As I pointed out at the beginning of this article, if you go far back, pretty much all the Druids and priests of pre-Christian times would have been in their 20s. And although many people will get more inclined to involve themselves in spiritual practice as they get older, the same could be said in the reverseit is a well known phenomenon for spiritual ardour to cool with age.

The more moderate claimthat young Pagans are out there, but they aren’t coming to events or undertaking coursesis more plausible. As I’ve said, there’s plenty of evidence to suggest a large population of “active engagers” in Pagan materialeven if they aren’t accessing that material through active participation in the community itself. But that begs a further question: why are British Pagan community leaders not organising events and courses that better cater to the majority of people? What might resources of this kind look like? The fact that the majority of those interested in “Pagan” themes in Britain aren’t being catered to by what’s already on offer within our community is not a reason for complacency; if anything, it should be the opposite. I would suggest that we’re simply doing as we’ve always done, even though it clearly isn’t working in the way that it once did.

The final claimthat most people simply don’t appreciate what the Pagan movement has to offeris, I think, the reason for this complacency about the narrow appeal of our movement in Britain. For much of the 20th century, Pagans have been viewed with thinly-veiled hostility by British society at large, with most of our valuesfrom respect for nature to equality for women, from sexual liberation to a valorisation of the imaginationbeing decidedly countercultural in nature. This had direct consequences; in custody battles, in dealings with the police, in employment and at home. This experiencepart of living memory for most Pagans todayhas reinforced the perception that the rest of society simply “doesn’t get” what we’re all about.

But the fact is that British society and its values have changed dramatically since the 1980s. Much of what once made Paganism radical is now widely accepted by those of all religions and none. It is no longer particularly progressive to believe in the central importance of the natural world, or in basic equality for all. Though these values are under attack from corporations and far-right populist movements, the very fact that the opposition to these values has crystallised at this moment demonstrates the broadening of their appeal. People would have no need of the gurning outrages of Nigel Farage and Katy Hopkins if everyone still took their regressive views as common sense, as they once did. While British Pagan organisations have concentrated on mainstreaming, it has escaped the notice of many of us that the mainstream is now increasingly flowing in our direction. We are winning the argument.

And yet, rather than harness this tectonic shift in the soul of Britain, some Pagans have remained pretty insular in their thinking. The recent memory of bigotry shown toward our community has become a shield for other, less edifying attitudes. Like members of most subcultures, it’s tempting for Pagans to look down on those outside of our small community, characterising the general public as mindless, uncritical “sheeple” or “muggles,” enslaved to societal expectations. We are all familiar with the extreme form this attitude can take; the British Pagan Community has its fair share of what an American friend of mine referred to as “Grand High Poobahs.” But I would suggest that we all need to be vigilant against this tendency within ourselvesmyself included. In the past few years, I have met so many people who shared identical values to those of contemporary British Pagans. Though lapsing into a bit of mild snobbery is a ubiquitous trait in British society, I suggest that it has led us initiated Pagans into underestimating the current reach and appeal of the things we care about most. As such, we’ve become vulnerable to a sort of Religious Hipsterismtreating our religion less as a vision of a better world, and more as a mode of personal distinction that lifts us upward in the unending churn of the class system.

To return to Hutton’s formulation, then, it appears the problem is not the decline of all cultural practices that can be connected to the Pagan revival. Rather it is a disjuncture between the orders, traditions, newsletters, groups, literatures, and organisations that make up the “Pagan Movement”and a broader audience of “active engagers” that is larger than ever. But how has this rift emerged? I suggest that, of the comments I’ve mentioned so far, the one that sets us on the path to understanding this process is the lastthose grim reflections upon economic adversity, and its impact on people’s ability to engage in the time-consuming task of organising and volunteering for community activities.

The Political Economy of Paganism

In one of my first essays on Gods and Radicals, I explored the political economy of contemporary Paganism. There I argued that Paganism is quite unlike more established religions, in that the prevailing economic structure is not a church, or a monastic order, or an ashrambut rather a fandom. It is a group of avid enthusiasts, who consume content produced by a smaller circle of creators, who distribute their content through an open marketwith that content being celebrated through events organised by enthusiast-volunteers. My aim in producing this description was to provide the most accurate picture of how goods, services, labour and authority circulate in our community. The point is not that individual British Pagan authors, workshop leaders, diviners, and shopkeepers are greedy capitalists. In fact, all the creators on the British scene that I have met are generous and altruistic, with spiritual rather than profit-motives. The point is that the system in which they all work is a market-oriented one. And as it lives by the market, I suggest, so our community is now dying by it.

Within the British Pagan Community, two kinds of organisation played a key role: the Independent Small Business and the Unincorporated Association. Mind Body Spirit Shops and Bookshops are all small businesses; institutions that rely upon commerce, but provide a hub for existing initiates, and, crucially, allow new seekers a means of finding their way into the community. Through the gateway represented by the MBS Shop, the seeker would find their way into a network of covens, orders, groves, moots, ceremonies, and camps. All of these are forms of Unincorporated Associations, run by volunteers, usually at costif any money changes hands at all. The key feature to both these types of organisationSmall Private Companies and Unincorporated Associationsis that they’re both very vulnerable to fluctuations in the wider market.

The fate of the MBS Bookshop makes this vulnerability plain. Like all small, independent shops, a great many pagan or MBS bookshops have been forced to close, afflicted by economic instability in the wake of the Great Recession, rising business rates, andmost importantlyout-competed by internet retailers. The Internet has now largely replaced the bookshop as the first place seekers go to find out about our traditions. Pagans were early-adopters of the Internet, and the web provided an invaluable means for Pagan groups to meet and work with one another. But the Internet itself has transformed drastically since the 1990s. Web design, search-engine optimisation, and e-marketing have become tremendously advanced, funded by vast amounts of corporate capital. In the crowded marketplace of online content, it’s easy for your brand to be drowned out unless you can successfully deploy a rich supply of fresh, original content, distributed adroitly through social mediamuch of which consumers expect for free. British Pagan organisations have been slow to adapt to this environment; and while being slightly dated and tatty adds to the charm of an independent bookshop, a website that is poorly designed or has late 90s coding won’t look any better for it. To those of us who have grown up with the internet, an old-fashioned website is downright off-putting.

A further problem from a commercial standpoint is the fact that Paganism’s “brand” has suffered in recent years. As John Halstead has pointed out, we’ve gone from being perceived as a threat, to being seen as a joke. Although efforts to mainstream the Pagan movement have brought undoubted benefits, it has nonetheless had the unintended side-effect of removing some of the edgy charisma that was once part of the movement’s appeal. This effect has been compounded by the fact the British Pagans who most assiduously court publicity are amongst the most eccentric, with the lowest production values. Those of us who are less inclined to dress up crushed velvet, or give ourselves grand titles exceeding our actual accomplishments have ended up avoiding the limelight entirely. Though understandable, this reaction has meant that the British public now have a mental image of Paganism that amounts to little more than bad cosplay at the Summer Solstice.

If we turn away from the shop front, towards the community meeting in the function room upstairs, we run into a different set of issuesbut ones that can nonetheless be traced back to market forces. The Pagan Community is reliant upon the voluntary labour of enthusiasts, as the events rarely collect enough cash to pay the going rate for the labour involved. During the 1990s, when many camps and moots were being set up, this was not a problembenefits and wages were generous enough to allow people copious spare time that they could devote towards voluntary activities. But after decades of cuts in state finances and stagnant wages, paired with a rising cost of living, people across the country are struggling to make ends meet, and are working longer hours. With their increasingly limited time off, they now need to focus upon domestic labour, spending time with their loved ones, and on recreationactivities that “recharge the batteries,” allowing them to continue working.

Voluntary labour and extra-curricular learning have both suffered, as people no longer have the time or energy to spare to engage in them. Unfortunately, these are precisely the two types of activity upon which the Pagan community was built in the mid-20th century. As the amount of spare time available has collapsed, so have the number of people prepared who can find the time to become initiated, learn the mysteries, and then enact them for others for free. The only exception are those who have already secured sufficient assets so that they no longer need to work for a living; that is, retired people.

In short, the same reason lies behind the aging of British Paganism, and the decline in the number of active initiates prepared to run events. The Pagan Movement was constructed, quite unintentionally, as a network of commercial relations, that in turn stimulated a thriving voluntary scene, all gathered around a common genre of writing and ritual. But as market conditions have changed in the past few decades, this delicate arrangement has been yanked out of alignment. The Movement has not remained competitive in the crowded marketplace of online content, and has not made the most of its distinctive brand. Given that people are more pressed for time and money than ever, fewer young, working people are attracted to it, and there are no longer enough volunteers available to run its events.

Beyond Commerce, beyond work: The way forward

Although I have taken pains to reveal the commercial underpinnings to British Paganism, this does not mean that I think this situation is an ideal, or even good state of affairs. There are a great many alternative ways of organising ourselves that would make our core activities much less vulnerable to shifts in the wider economy. Equally, in saying this, I do not mean to criticise anybody’s individual way of making a livingas I’ve said, I have not met anybody on the British scene who I would describe as a profiteer, exploiting their spirituality to collect a tidy sum. Instead, what I’ve experienced is lots of passionate, enthusiastic people, aspiring to earn a wage in a fulfilling way. But it is interesting that the social structure that developed organically around our Movement was in the first instance a capitalist one. Even our voluntary arrangements, as I have argued, have been directly affected by adverse market conditions. This just goes to show that the British Pagan Movement is not exempt from the prevailing capitalist logics that structure British society in general. And these same logics are now placing the very longevity of our community in question.

To lay out the issues before us plainly, there are two things with which the market once supplied the Pagan Movement in Britain. Namely, a means for “active engagers” to find out about the Movement and become initiates within it; a shop-front, in other wordsand sufficiently generous and un-taxing sources of income to allow for initiates to pursue the mysteries in their spare time. The market in Britain no-longer provides us with these things, and so our community is withering on the vine. Although there are, perhaps, more “active engagers” than ever, we are cut off from them. The question that now lies before us is this: How can we better connect with this large pool of active engagers, of all ages, and how can we better sustain the practice of the mysteries, now that people’s time and energy is so short?

I cannot provide a comprehensive programme of solutions here, though I will venture some suggestions in future articles. But there are some key observations I wish to make, by way of concluding remarks:

  • It is clear that our movement’s focus around long-term, expensive, extra-curricular pedagogy – that is, upon initiation pursued in one’s spare time, with one’s spare incomeis becoming harder to sustain. In these trying times, active engagers need healing and well-being as much as they need initiations. Now is the time for us to reflect more than ever upon our responsibilities as magicians, rather than our rights as religionists. We must care for the Earth and its peoples.
  • This does not mean we should abandon our drive to initiate more people into the mysteries; but it means we should re-think how and why we do this. If we are serious about broadening the reach of what we do, we need to find ways of making it accessible and feasible for people to learn about it.
  • This, if anything, shows us one thingBritish Paganism is being killed by capitalism. Although I have cast it in quite stark, commercial terms, at the heart of the Pagan community sits a utopian vision of free-association: a Bookchinite imagined village, in which individuals are free to interact with one another regarding matters of mutual interest, and to exchange goods and services in a similar manner. There are many ways in which this vision has been put into practice; particularly in the voluntaristic dimensions to the Pagan experience. I have lived and breathed this sort of lifestyle at Pagan camps I have attended. But it has become increasingly hard to sustain in the cut-throat landscape of post-recession Britain. If we’re serious about wanting to build a village-like community in contemporary Paganism here, we’ll need to destroy capitalism in order to do it.

Jonathan Woolley

1b&w copyJonathan is a social anthropologist and human ecologist, based at the University of Cambridge. He is a specialist in the political economy of the British landscape, and in the relationship between spirituality, the environment, and climate change. A member of the Order of Bards, Ovates, and Druids, and an eco-animist, Jonathan maintains a blog about his academic fieldwork called BROAD PATHWAYS.

With Enemies at the Gate

A Discussion Between Alexander Reid Ross and Shane Burley on Paganism and the Resistance to Fascism


SB: For people that are uninitiated, what role has paganism played in what we call the “broad fascist movement?”  What importance has it had?

ARR: Historically, I think it has had quite an impact. You don’t look at Mussolini’s attitudes, his speeches in the in the late 1910s and early 1920s and see paganism. You just don’t. You see even some atheism, and a wholesale rejection of the church’s power. And, in a way, a sort of sacralized politics that is there to replace the power of the church and the state as we know it and transform it into a total entity.

It isn’t until Hitler’s party rises out of the great depression that paganism starts to influence the fascist movement, because Hitler’s background is in Guido von Liste and people who were recreating that kind of ethnic pagan narrative in the volkish movement and out of the ultra-nationalist tendencies in Germany at the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century.  So it’s not intrinsic to fascism, but it did have a huge impact and it changed the game.

So today we find ourselves in the midst of all of these spiritual takes on fascism, and one of the strongest of them is paganism.  More specifically Asatru or Odinism.

My question to you would then be, we talk a lot about Asatru and Odinism and we get to the exclusionary differentialism of it, but Else Christensen who created this new weird faith, racialist paganism, came out of the anarcho-syndicalist movement. She tried to sort of racialize anarcho-syndicalism with paganism, what is your take on that?  Its so different today with ecology and paganism being the things we identify the most, but what about workerism and paganism?

SB: Well I think the first thing is it confronts the notion that fascism is synonymous with authoritarianism or with specific political choices.   That is a narrative that was obscured by the Cold War and by free market “libertarianism” in general, which wants to position itself both as anti-Left and as anti-fascist.

What it also shows is that the center of those politics has always been race, and it’s always been a sense that if you stripped away social forms you would come to an innate inequality.  That there’s something really baked into people, not just on a biological level, but in this case a spiritual level as well.

So with Elsie Christiansen, she held onto some anarcho-syndicalist ideas, but they were superficial in comparison to her underlying beliefs.  She wanted ethnocentric tribal communities, ones that came out of a mythological version of the past.  Maybe to recreate a Viking past that she believed to be true, which isn’t necessarily historically true.

It also speaks to the fact that anarcho-syndicalism was popular inside of revolutionary movements that were undefined.  So anarcho-syndicalism itself is defined as anti-fascist, I don’t think that’s debatable, but that doesn’t mean that the people who came in constellation with it were universally anti-fascist.  And today we see the same thing happening with National Anarchism because its synonymous with what Elsie Christiansen was talking about.  It’s almost identical.  But what happens is that people develop that idea after coming in contact with post-left anarchism, coming in contact with social anarchism, and coming in contact with social movements through things like Occupy, and then bringing in a right-wing populism or a right-wing understanding of the natural world.  So it’s the same interaction [between left-wing surface politics and right-wing ideas] that we have today.  Elsie Christiansen’s just happened to be uniquely focused on Odinism.

It also needs to be said that she was not a uniquely spiritual person.  She didn’t necessarily see Odinism in the way that people see Christianity traditionally.  She saw it specifically as an archetypal force to “save the white race.”  And she thought that it was going to be an injection of a “warrior spirit,” and in that way it was useful more than it was true, in the metaphysical sense, though I don’t doubt that she grew to believe that it was metaphysically true, at least in the Jungian sense.

This is also true of Odinism broadly, maybe less true of people who use the term Asatru.  For those that use the term Odinism or Wotanism it has always been much more about the effect a religion like that has rather than the actual spirituality itself.

AAR: Like the Church of the Creator.

SB: The Church of the Creator is a good example because not only does it not have a spiritual foundation, it doesn’t have a philosophical foundation either.  It has no ideas.  Its ideas are that white people are superior and must reign over others.  Creativity is just a name that’s given to a very primitive white supremacist concept.

In the modern context, and when you start seeing these strange different strands of fascist politics like the New Right in Europe and the Alt Right in the U.S., what role does paganism continue to play in the extreme right?

AAR:  For a while National Anarchism looked like something that was going to be a significant entryist trend.  It sort of fizzled out a little bit.  It was shut down.  People like Spencer Sunshine and New York City Antifa did a really good job of putting the kibosh on their attempts, at least in New York, and publicizing why that was urgent.  But you still have similar groups, like Jack Donovan’s group the Wolves of Vinland and the anti-Muslim Soldier of Odin, a sort of biker gang operation, and this group in Ukraine, the Misanthropic Division.  These sort of formations springing up, sort of like biker gangs, pretty violent seeming, in a lot of ways “anti-civ” leaning.  Drawing on a lot of those National Anarchist ideas.

Pan-secessionism is another great example.  There is also the Asatru Folk Assembly, which seems to be holding numbers, though they may have been falling off since the recent controversy.

I don’t see it as leading, though.  I don’t see Odinism or paganism as coming out in front of the new fascist movement.  Part of that is the robust resistance within pagan groups to the steps that the AFA, especially, has taken in recent months, if not years, to clarify their stance on immigration and gender.  That is sort of what it takes, recognizing where and how fascist tendencies within each of these milieu’s creeps up.  Whether it’s Odinism or whether it is the ecology movement or whether it is the workers movement.  It means identifying it and confronting it, using the internal truth of those milieus to isolate and push out the fascists so they can’t organize in them.

Can you talk a little bit about what the Left Hand Path is, what has been going on regarding Augustus Sol Invictus, and what your opinions on that are?

SB: So the Left Hand Path traditionally meant not being tied to conventional morality, and in that way it meant a sort of  “selfishness” or “self-worship.”  In a lot of ways it was associated with right-wing politics that were not necessarily racialized, but they were hierarchical and sometimes libertarian.  So you see figures, a lot of which are kind of cartoonish like Anton Salvador LaVey, who writes these silly books that plagiarize other books like Might is Right.  Its all about a will to power, its about gaining power.

With occult stuff it sometimes means gaining power through black magic, and not judging your spiritual morality on allegiance to a God since you, yourself, can be that God, in a lot of ways.  And that’s not, I don’t think, dominant in occult or pagan circles.  Traditionally, it seems like you come across a lot of people who have a strict Karmic set of ethics when it comes to those sort of things.  This idea that we should put out what we want to get in, and the Left Hand Path is often really against that.

It needs to be said really clearly that 90% of Left Hand Path people would have nothing to do with those fascist politics.  It’s very sexually libertine, so homophobic and transphobic politics have usually been out.  As have Traditionalist gender roles, those are often gone.

But I think, someone like Augustus Sol Invictus is the logical ideological conclusion of these things.  It makes perfect sense.  His entire notion has been about regaining a sort of warrior power, one that takes power over others.  Augustus Invictus’ actually spirituality is pan-European.  What he believes is that different European pantheons of Gods are different names for the same Gods, but culturally interpreted.  So he would like to return to something closer to pagan Rome.  Which is something that people like Richard Spencer (Alt Right leader) probably have a fondness for too.  Though I don’t think that they believe in literal pagan Gods in the way that August Invictus does.

So I think that those circles have that element, and after all his negative publicity he has been pretty much expelled from pagan circles.  But there is also a reckoning inside of paganism, broadly.  Its not just Heathenry or Left Hand Path.

Obviously, inside of Heathenry it’s happening.  The Asatru Folk Assembly finally drew a line in the sand by saying that they were for “white children,” that they stand for traditional gender roles, and also showing support for the Soldiers of Odin.  Asatru Alliance and the Odinic Rite, which is one of the largest Odinist specific groups, are all of the “folkish” camp, but every other Heathen group has admonished them, saying that Heathenry is for everybody.   That’s happening inside Left Hand Path circles too.  They’re having a reckoning.

It doesn’t mean that I don’t personally find parts of Left Hand Path stuff problematic.  I always have.  I think that there is a problematic element anytime your sense of ethnics is based on a “might is right” concept.  I think that has what you see on a macro-modern scale in fascist movements.

It means that for those in pagan circles you have to look at the core ideas of why you are there, which is incredibly challenging.  For Heathenry specifically, the entire theology, the philosophy that has been constructed to give it depth, has been done by racists.  That work has been done, historically, was done by nationalists.  It’s not true of Celtic paganism, Wicca, and a lot of other traditions.  But for Reconstructionist Germanic paganism, the reason it was reconstructed was to embolden a national identity.  It was reconstructed out of a romantic nationalism.  That was its entire function for being, so it’s harder to decouple that, but absolutely not impossible.

There is a lot of other, even Traditionalist reasons, to join Heathenry that is not necessarily of that racist tradition.  For example, start by looking at the use of archetypal Gods and decouple that from the older racial doctrines.  What underlies this fascist interpretation of Heathenry was that archetypes were racial.  So that Odin, and Thor, and Freyja were the racial ideas of the collective unconscious of Aryan people.  But if you take away that notion and say no, the Gods themselves are archetypal spiritual concepts, but they aren’t unique to racial groups, and say instead they are unique to personalities, you have a concept that underlies a lot of Universalist Heathenry.  That on its own is a real challenge to the folkish ideas that run underneath many of those more problem groups.

AAR: You could argue that in books like Man and His Symbols that Jung actually goes in that Universalist direction rather than in a racial one.

SB:  Modern Jungianism is much more indebted to things like feminist Goddess worship.  Its walked away from those racial ideas, because the racial science that inspired them has been completely discredited.  And so has most of these racist spiritual ideas, they have not proven justifiable.

Even for anti-racist pagans, one of the things that drive it is a quest for pre-modern folkways.  For a lot of people the idea of centering on a tradition that you have a history with because you have a history with it has some problematic associations.   Eclectic paganism that takes pieces from non-white cultures is also often identified as problematic for its cultural appropriation.  What answers do you have for people who are on this search and both believe that these spiritualties are not rooted in their genetics and hold critiques of cultural appropriation?

AAR: That’s a good question.  It goes back to me personally, and I’ve always hung out with people that are very spiritual, and I’ve always been close to people with these ideas, but I’ve always been agnostic.  An agnostic leaning atheist, or an atheist leaning agnostic.  So, it’s difficult for me to provide advice to other people about it since I have such a different association with spirituality.

I do think that in my experience, the people I have been able to have affinity with, have been people who have generally opened up their identity and beliefs to all different kinds of people.

On the cultural appropriations side of things, the most important thing is to have a lot of respect for other cultures’ autonomy and sovereignty.  In the 19th Century, the “spiritual awakening,” a lot of that happened because of colonialism.  They were bringing in new spiritual ideas from areas that had been colonized.  So there was an influx of Native shamanic ideas imported from America or Brazil.  These Hindi ideas from India and the subcontinent, which was an English colony at the time.  The fascination with African masks, and other spiritual pieces that were seen as mystical oddities.  So this sort of eclectic fascination was, in a way, a result of the parasitic spirit of colonial Europe in the late 19th century.

People like Renee Guenon, the far-right Traditionalist thinker, tried to say, “No, what we’re saying is ‘modernism’ isn’t that cool and we think Sufism is really interesting.  And Islam is really interesting.”  Back then it was much more open than it is today, for a variety of reasons.

Of course, their assessments of these things were very partial, very Orientalist.  They were trying to make an effort to open up the modern sensibilities of Europe to other ideas that could, in some ways, be more creative.  Or an “exit strategy” to the factory system or scientific thinking that was, at the time, very racist.  And remains, in many ways, innately white supremacist.

So its possible to have this sort of open minded respect for other spiritualties, and how, in some ways, when you read about them they are sort of integrated into your life.  That is what happens when you read a book.  That is what happens when you learn about different traditions.  It’s easy to go way too far and to all of a sudden think that you’re some kind of Druidic or Dervish wonder.  And a lot of that is just based on racist interpretations of people one never encounters.  So I think the advice I would have would be to keep an open mind in regard to other spiritual practices, without taking things too far and adopting these practices as if they were one’s own, when in fact the relationship is just not there.  And all the baggage of white supremacy and privilege weighs down the interpretation.

A lot of that goes back to the big palingenisis word, which I think you were sort of breaking the issue down to.  This desire to go back to a pre or post-modern period, a return to something that happened before and could re-manifest as a renaissance or a reawakening for all people.  I wonder, to what extent, you see paganism in things like the bioregionalist movement or in various Traditionalist sects.

My question is to what extent does paganism play a role in the modern fascist movement?  How are those two things the same, and how are they different?

SB: On the one hand, it’s artificial because Traditionalism, in the Evolian sense, rejected neo-paganism.  It rejected it completely because it lacked the chain of initiation and thought that traditions could only be “true” if they could be traced back.  So the only major modern pagan traditions that they thought were valid were Hinduism and Shinto, and various constellations and other smaller religions.  Shinto itself had a uniquely Japanese context, but they thought Hinduism descended from an ancient, Indo-Aryan white tribe.  So they thought that Hinduism was a white, ethnic religion.

Traditionally, while Evola might have venerated European paganism, he thought it was useless nature worship.

AAR:  Right. Anarchic, in fact.

SB:  So its not Traditionalist in any way.  There’s an irony about this when you look at some of these journals that either claim Heathenry or claim Traditionalism.  TYR is a good example.  Michael Moynihan edits it, and it describes itself as a “journal of radical Traditionalism.”  Colin Cleary, who wrote The Gods Who Summon and What is a Rune?, published by the white nationalist publishing house Counter-Currents, also edits it.  Those two books are very complicated studies of heathenry on the one hand, and really complicated looks at people like Heidegger on the other.  It gives the sense of depth when it comes to these traditions, relaying the idea that Heathenry is not just symbolism but instead has a deep underlying philosophy.

But what you see in places like Tyr are discussions about Evola, and specifically republishing of Evola, and then, in the very next article, discussions on what it means to be an Odinist.  These two ideas are in very clear contradiction with each other, since Evola’s Traditionalism excluded heathenry.  What is not in contradiction, however, is the racism implicit in both ideas.  So that is where they are able to find a common idea, it is not in the Heathenry or in the Traditionalism.  That’s the defining quality of journals like Tyr; it’s the reactionary politics and social views.  This is true of the spirituality of the whole New Right, or Alt Right as it were today in America.

So Traditionalism is a great sounding label they use, and they can point to really big and complicated books that cite it as a key influence, but many of the people using the term are not Traditionalists in any way that you would normally understand it (Not that there is anything to be proud of there anyway.).

So, the people who run the Traditionalist Workers Party are both Orthodox Christians as well as Presbyterians.  These have been the most public religious affiliations mentioned, though there may be others.  They have also had some involvement by National Anarchist, which is part of their conscious recruitment of skinheads, many of which are identifying as Odinists or with Asatru.  Matthew Heimbach, the leader of the Traditionalist Workers Party and the Traditionalist Youth Network, had a lot of respect for those beliefs (even though he is an Orthodox Christian) because he sees them as folkish religions.  He disagrees, he thinks that Christ is for everyone, but he understands and respects the attempt of moving towards a pre-modern folkway.  What he likes to say is that “modernity ruins everything,” and will ruin your paganism too.

So, one thing that you said is that Odinism is not going to be out front of the Alt Right or new fascist movement, but I think that it will be behind it.  I no longer think that there is going to be a dominant faction of religious pagans, but I think it will always be the clothing that they choose to wear.  It’s what they want to bring into their holiday celebrations.  It’s in the music they prefer, genres like neofolk.  There are even neofolk bands playing at the National Policy Institute conference the last couple of years.  What they talk about a lot if that they want to reclaim those traditions even if they don’t believe in it religiously.  They think that it represents an authentic, European theological and philosophical rebirth.

So in that way they are traditional pagans, because a large part of the modern pagan movement has used paganism as a tool to reclaim things that are “para-spiritual.”  That may be true of any religion, a lot of people return to traditional Christianity because they want a certain type of family or memory about their past.  A lot of people turn to paganism because of the desire for connection, maybe with nature and history.  So its not disingenuous in any way, but what many of the nationalists are now starting to say that they are not really religious pagans but paganism is how I think of myself in an identitarian way.

That’s true of the European New Right as well.  What Alain de Benoist was arguing in On Being a Pagan was not arguing that we should literally believe in them, but that they were archetypes for European people.  Someone like Stephen McNallen, on the other hand, would agree with his analysis of where these Gods come from, but also believes that they are literally true.

AAR: But they are sort of a metaphor.  A sort of story that we tell ourselves.

SB: And that is a sort of Evolian concept as well, the beliefs that myths were true only in a sense.  That’s why in his anti-Semitism he knew that the Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion was a fabrication, but he said it didn’t matter because it was a myth that proved itself true.

AAR: And that is perhaps why people like Moynihan, or Troy Southgate, can claim Evola and paganism.  While the Traditionalism and the paganism are incommensurate, in some ways paganism becomes one of those mytho-poetic things that can reinforce Traditionalism even though they are at odds.

SB:  It is kind of like the left-right synthesis, because they are at odds, but they are both “anti-imperial” or have other types of surface level agreement.  They are both, theoretically, “against the modern world.”

Satanism is a great example too.  What does Satanism, in any way, have in common with Asatru? Or have in common with Rene Guenon’s understanding of Sufism?  Absolutely nothing.  There is no correlation, whatsoever, other than maybe a valoration of strength.

AAR: And people like Anton LaVey saying that Odinism was a Satanic idea.

SB: It’s more of a cultural force to say, “we reject your world.”  It’s more of a cross-religious alliance, really.  And then when those spiritual ideas mingle enough they end up having ideological crossover, because they develop theory together.  Whenever people take spiritual ideas like this seriously, it develops a body of philosophy that pairs with it and progresses on and further develops.  No matter what the intentions are, when these different spiritual paths mingle enough they begin to meld together, in some ways.

AAR:  Isn’t there an idea that Satanism itself is a sort of paganism?  That Satan himself was ushered into the Christian religion later on through the church, not so much through the scriptures, as this Pan God.  This Demi God.  Cloven hooves, horns, the “God of fun.”

SB:  It goes back to this anti-Semitic caricature that has come back into resurgence.  It is sort of a Gnostic idea that Yahweh, the Jewish God, was a sort of demon.  That is where the Alt Right joke of the Jewish “Volcano God” comes from.  It’s close to the ideas of Esoteric Hitlerism and Miguel Serrano that the Jewish God is a demiurgic demon that has taken over the Earth.  It was the Jewish ethnic God who has taken over, and dethroned, all other Gods, so whites must reclaim their ethnic Gods to fight their demonic, lesser God.  Though a few probably believe that narrative literally true, it is often believed on the radical right as metaphorically true.   And a lot of the Alt Right seems to believe that metaphorically, that the Jewish religion is evil and their religious values have basically colonized the rest of the world and made whites work against their interests, which were conscious when they were manifested in their Nordic ethnic Gods.  This drives from really deep Nazi anti-Semitism that says that the power for Jews to destroy Western man comes deep in their race and religion.

AAR:  Sure, it was even Jared Taylor who went on one of those podcasts to say that he thought there was a case to be made that the Jew had a plan to take down Western Civilization, and that it should be looked into and taken seriously.

SB: Because Christianity has waned on the far right, there is this idea that Christianity is a Jewish disease has permeated their ranks.  The alternative to that would then be a white ethnic religion.  In that sensibility, the image of Lucifer as a “God insulted” or a deity that has been lied about by Judeo-Christianity is a Gnostic idea because it is reinterpreting the scriptures to mean its opposite.  There is theistic Satanist groups that do believe that, like The Order of Nine Angels and the Joy of Satan, which believe something similar.  It also has an underlying idea that Jewish religion made universal through Christianity tells people to behave altruistically or with forgiveness when instead we should be exerting force to destroy our enemies to create a white empire.  That is one of the key aspects of Satanic fascism, which is about rejecting Jewish ideas of compassion and reclaiming a warrior spirit.

AAR:  How should pagans interact with this tacit theme of “the Judeo-Christian menace,” rationalism, legalism, etc?  These different sorts of catchwords ascribed to Judeo-Christian ideas, as if there is a pure lineage of oppression from Christianity that has to be overcome.  How can pagans interact with some of the anti-Semitic themes that are often in this discourse of rejecting Christianity’s modern influence?

SB: I think if paganism is a sort of “protest vote” for you, then it might be important to look at what the protest vote is against.  There are these workshops that I have seen going around with names like “Decolonizing Whiteness,” which are problematic in some ways, but also come from a real place of Christianity’s colonial history in Europe as well as the rest of the world.  Take Mjonir, the Thor’s hammer pendant, which became really cemented in heathen culture after Christianity was cemented in the Nordic world, barring Christians from trading with heathens.  It was then that Mjornir was used by Vikings to show allegiance to the Old Gods rather than this new imperial religion.  There’s an impulse now to maintain that narrative, a resistance to Christianity’s colonizing effect.

What often happens, however, is that some people will use that idea as a tool to say “We are victims imperialist colonialism too, just like people of color.”  And that is a factually untrue idea.  It doesn’t’ mean that there wasn’t an imperialist history of Christianity in Europe, but it does not have a comparable history and ongoing legacy that white colonialism has in the global South.

What paganism can act as, for some, is a form of spirituality that is just untainted.  A lot of people discuss the switching to Yule celebrations instead of Christmas because when they were growing up Christmas was a time when you went to a scary church with violent rhetoric with abusive family members.  That was a very unhappy holiday.  But we still want a Winter holiday, and since paganism is such a reconstructed religion, it is often people reconstructing something for themselves that is unique to their needs and condition that may be without some of the baggage of their earlier experiences of religion.  Also having something that feels old can be important and therapeutic.

So having a clear idea of what you are doing and why can help to avoid that problematic dimension.  If the problem with Christianity is that it is Judaic in origin, or that it is universalist or destructive to nations, then it is a problem no matter what religion it is tied to.  That is true of Atheism as well (New Atheism especially).  What drives a lot of those far right critiques of Christianity is that the religion is problematic because of its own internal logic, a criticism that I think is patently untrue.

Also, whether or not the value systems implicit in a person’s paganism are shared with the more questionable avenues is worth exploring.  Sometimes I will walk into a pagan or New Age shop, and you will see some Asatru items, and a lot of Wiccan stuff, and various Welsh, Celtic, and other items.  And then all of a sudden you will see a Baphomet, or stuff for the Temple of Set.  The ideological, philosophical, and spiritual core of those religions could not be more different.  It would be like having statues to Satan inside of a Christian bookshop because Christians believe in Satan.  We shouldn’t revel in those contradictions anymore, we should be spiritually consistent.  We reject “Might is Right” logic seen in a lot of left-hand path religions.  If you have a warrior dimension in your pagan spirituality and that means that it is a ferocious spirit against the challenges of life, then great.  But that is worlds away from a warrior spirit whose manifestation is domination over others, yet both spiritual philosophies are often represented inside of pagan spaces since they have similar iconography and myths.  I think drawing those lines and saying “we believe this, but we do not believe that” is the kind of consistency that really blocks out problematic elements.

AAR:  Yeah, for example, indigenous warrior societies in North America who are resisting oil pipelines.  They are going up against police in very serious ways, though blockades, and other actions.  It can be associated with a kind of warrior identity, but it is not an authoritarian and hierarchical warrior character that takes their power on top of the peasantry. Instead with fascist warrior spiritual image, the kind that Evola invoked regularly, it is about fighting to enforce a caste structure of the wolves over the sheep.

It was very baked into the Years of Lead in the 1970s, where Evolian terrorists were going around bombing civilian sites, infrastructure and what not, in order to act out this kind of fantasy of the warrior spirit.  What would later become known as the “political soldier.”  And it is really in that realm that Roberto Fiore from Terza Posizione went up to England to escape charges for bombing the Bologne train station, which was the worst act of terrorism during the Years of Lead.  I think they killed over 80 people.  In England he was sheltered by Michael Walter of the National Front, with Patrick Harrington and Nick Griffin (former leader of the British National Party) they formed the Political Soldier faction of the National Front.  This later became known as the Official National Front, a sort of splinter group.  They were the ones who were recruiting the skinheads.

Through that time period, the mid to late 1980s, Blood and Honor came about, the racist skinhead movement was shipped from England to German and France and the United States.  That’s why even white nationalist skinheads have these weird crossover spiritualties between Odinism, Creativity, and hard line Christianity.  The warrior culture was for them a tool to reclaim their belief that they were the authority in an oppressive social structure.

SB:  What this conversation brings me back to the Wolves of Vinland.  They have gotten a lot of attention in pagan circles because they have an evolving tradition; they define their own specific spirituality.  A lot of Heathens get criticizes for their reconstructionist use of ancient rituals, which some critics like to call “reenactments.”  The Wolves of Vinland instead try to do their own thing, like the funeral to Baldur they hold every year where they ritualistically set a wooden boat on fire.  It is a unique tradition, they develop the rituals themselves, and they have their own evolving esoteric understanding of what they call “tribal spirituality.”  They often discuss it as an effort to embody the “Germanic hero aesthetic.”  They use the Gods in a way that secularly would be a sort of inspiration, but in a spiritual sense it would be a type of “becoming.”  Through the rituals and folkways they hope to internalize the spirit of Odin, which is the name for this kind of Germanic spirit based on the acquisition of knowledge and the discovery of power.

I think that that idea, when decoupled from its obviously problematic aspects, is actually one that is very striking and attractive in pagan circles.  On the one hand, it is a very well thought out form of mysticism, and it provides a very fresh reading of the lore.  So when we talk about the warrior culture, embodying the spirits of those Gods and stories does not have to be done in this oppressive way and can instead be spun into a positive, and maybe even revolutionary, context.

You see in paths like the Reclaiming Tradition, the effort to take stories about care and community, especially between women, the inspiration that you live out in your own life.  In a way its unquestionably true since it is putting a name, in this case Gods or spirits, on a quality that is very much alive in people’s communities.  It gives people an image to meditate on, to decide they want to bring it into their own life.  In that way it can be incredibly empowering, it can be the opposite of the way the far right attempts to co-opt those myths.

You see that with Circle Ansuz, the anarchist Heathen collective that was very big on taking the Viking warrior culture and using it to fight for a just community.  It was a war against reactionary forces, a war against inequality and fascism.  That kind of “warlike feature” was not baked in implicit violence and oppression, and instead seems like the concept of “spiritual warfare,” the war we have in our lives to become the better version of ourselves.

That’s not unique to paganism either; you see it in a lot of left-wing Christianities. There, the concept of salvation is really critical to overcoming oppression, on the one hand, but also overcoming yourself, and finding the best way to live your life.

AAR:  “I have come not to bring you peace, but a sword.” It has been interpreted various ways, of course, but there’s an obvious sort of militant aspect to that sort of evangelism.

I think the one person that we have really sort of passed over in this discussion is Alexandr Dugin.  Talk about your spiritual warfare!  Dugin, like no one else, has been on top of these themes.  War, sacrifice, violence.  Also couched in the language of National Conservatism, which is a trend I have seen increase in recent years. Especially with people like Gianfranco Fini the Italian post-fascist. Dugin is sort of post-fascist with his own idea of the “Fourth Position.” This idea that you have had democracy, communism, and fascism, they have all gone by the wayside, and we are all scrambling to piece together this Phoenix rising from the ashes that will truly embody the human spirit.  They are trying to dance around the fact that it is just repackaged fascism.

Dugin’s big concept is geopolitics, and he has a similar sort of openness to intersecting occult far-right ideas, kind of like people such as Michael Moynihan. Where he takes what he needs to get his own idea of power and tradition.

SB:  I see Alexandr Dugin as the new Rasputin. Sort of the empire’s mystic.

As has been reported, Dugin has switched his focus from Evolian Traditionalism to Chaos Magick.  On its simplest level, Chaos Magick often takes on the power of specific thinking.  If we create our own reality, then maybe we can give ourselves spiritual placebos directly into our own subconscious.  You do sigil work, maybe that sigil will go deep into your subconscious and become manifest.  Perhaps you do a hyper sigil, maybe a piece of fiction that you want your life to become and you put your energy into it.  Some of it is undeniably true; if you envision your goals then you are more likely to manifest it.  Then there is the harder edge version that sees it more magically, and it is that harder edge that Dugin seems to be invested in.  And some of that banks up on the “Might is Right” occult perspective.

The dividing line I have often heard from occultists is if you believe there is no moral consequence for your magical behavior.  Most people do, for example, the Wiccan Rede of “Do what thou whilt, but harm none.”  Instead, in Thelema’s Book of the Law, written by Aliester Crowley, it just says “Do what thou whilt.”  That is a massive philosophical distinction.  The Left Hand Path religions would call the Right Hand Path ones beholden to false morality, we do not believe in those responsibilities because we don’t believe in your false Gods.  That would seem to be the angle that Dugin is taking, seeing that he simply wants to claim power.  A Will to Power.  He is invested then in whatever tradition he believes will give him power over others.

In some ways, it shows that this Will to Power may be a key part of the Left Hand Path tradition broadly, and it outlines why it bothers me when people focus only on  Invictus’ racism.  Augustus Invictus is a racist by anyone’s standards. But is he completely invested in this racialist understanding of the world? Probably not.  But that is not the only thing that is important.  The racism is the low hanging fruit.  We can almost always agree that racism is atrocious and needs to be confronted, both interpersonally and systemically.  What we cannot seem to agree on is the myriad of other aspects of their politics that are problematic. Their views on gender. Their view of bodies, how they want to wipe out fat and differently abled bodies. Invictus hits this hierarchical and unequal view of the world in a whole host of ways, with race only being a small part of his overall worldview.

This makes it an intersectional fascism. It is about finding all the ways you can have an oppressed identity and then creating a reactionary opposition to progress on the lines of that identity. If it is gender, it is the Men’s Rights movement. If its bodies, it is about valorizing a specific body ideal.  With someone like Dugin, it is about maintaining oppression and hierarchies wherever they arise.  At least he is more honest about it: he wants to build those hierarchies under himself.  He wants to be at the center of this, it is not a universalist politic.  Invictus is honest about this in some ways as well in that he admits that his vision of an oppressive warrior empire is something that would benefit himself, not necessary most people in the world.  He thinks he would do pretty well in that type of world.  So I think that Dugin represents a strange philosophical current that is all about Will to Power, and ties in those other reactionary ideas about maintaining inequality and hierarchy.

The racism is obvious, but if you focus on more than just the racism you start to see that there is a whole complex ideological undercurrent that, even if they tone down the racism, is still frightening.  It also shows that fascists expand beyond just the racism.  Their ideology is larger and more pervasive than many have considered because the logic of it has been baked into different counter-cultural circles that no one has analyzed and identified.  If your spiritual idea is to institute a Will to Power dominance over others, if you believe human beings are not all equal, and you believe that hierarchy is a natural structure, then you are holding a fascist politic no matter how you color it.

What do you think a way for pagans to really confront these issues would be?

AAR:  You have to go where you’re most powerful.  I’ve talked to some people from Anti-Racist Action, and they would confront Nazis on the street and say, “You have to get out of here.”  But there would be five of them, and one Nazi.  They would carry a point, not just one Baldie going up against five white power skinheads.  That’s suicide.  Similarly, you don’t want to be the one person jumping into a hall full of Nazis.  You have to get people together, and you have to do that where your interests already lie and where you power is.

So it is important for pagans to turn around and have a real reckoning about who is in this movement, why they are here, and what to do about it.  Getting events shut down when people like Augustus Sol Invictus are speaking at them, especially when venues are not responding to community concerns.  It is not going to work every single time, but there is an opportunity there to build a community against this trend, and that is really important.

Marginalizing and isolating the Asatru Folk Assembly, and groups like it, is an important thing.  This can play out in a number of ways.  People could show up to AFA gatherings and try and disrupt them.  Earth First!, the radical environmental movement, had a real right-wing pitch to it I the early 1980s.  This got turned around in the late 1980s for a number of reasons, one of which was that some anarchists from Olympia calling themselves Alien Nation went down to an Earth First! meeting and started blaring rap music and confronting and getting in arguments with people.  Edward Abbey came up to antagonize them, calling them “sissies” and stuff like that.  They just argued with him until he was blue in the face and finally left defeated.  Later that night there was a “Buckaroo Squad” that went through the camp, cracking bullwhips and yelling homophobic slurs, and trying to intimidate people.  That behavior really exposed them, it made them look terrible.  There was an article published in the Earth First! Journal, and elsewhere, talking about what happened and exposing the right-wing kernel.  It created a huge rift in the movement itself.  Soon after that Edward Abbye died, Dave Foreman went to jail, and there was an opening that allowed IWW member Judi Bari to become one of the most important leaders of the movement.  This was a 180-degree turn around from the politics that came before.

So these anarchists who agreed with ecological politics but didn’t like the right wing actually influenced the course of the movement.  That can still happen in Asatru as well; these kinds of disruptions are valuable as long as you are staying safe.  The main point is that it does need to be confronted in the pagan movement itself.  The wrong thing to do is the over-the-top, optimistic revolutionary program that often seems so appealing for those on the fringe.  “We just need to put aside our differences and realize that we don’t like ‘liberal multiculturalism’ or ‘Judeo-Christian ethics,’ and that is what we need to smash first, and then have the reckoning after we accomplish that.’  It is that kind of logic that allowed fascism to begin in the first place.

This was the type of arguments that people like Georges Sorel and Charles Maurras used to say, that ‘some are from the left, some are from the right, and we can mince words about these differences after the revolution.  Then we can differentiate ourselves territorially.  But for the time being we need to overthrow liberal democracy, which we all hate.’  That is the synthesis of fascism.  It is left and right meeting together to attack liberal democracy.

The left needs to recognize the right as an equal or greater threat.

SB:  It is also the right taking over the left.  Using left wing tools and structures to express right wing values.

AAR:  A lot of those values that we think of as essentially left are not.  Our assertions that the left wing is about working class struggle aren’t necessarily completely accurate.  I think Donald Trump is a great example of how right-wing struggle can also be about identifying as working class.  There’s obviously a racialized difference between left and right there, but sometimes it is harder to see.  That is the murky area of authoritarianism and elitism and other interpersonal dynamics that the left needs to focus on.  Because, similar to Christianity and Judaism and paganism, Marxism and anarchism and green politics, can all contain authoritarian personalities that can take over and take pretty strong groups in radically bad directions, which have significant crossover with fascists.  If not becoming outright fascist themselves.

Last, but not least, there’s question as to a fascist group or a fascist movement.  Even if something like the Workers World Party is clearly identifying itself as a left-wing party, when they are attending a conference that is put on by fascists and organizations like the League of the South, whether or not they identify with the left is irrelevant.  The real question is if they are willing to take part in a fascist movement.  The real question is which side are they on.

So for pagans it’s important to associate with the politics of the left, which I see as generally a belief in equality that traverses class, race, sex, and gender.  And it is important to subvert authoritarianism even when (or especially when) it’s for the sake of equality.

SB: One thing I might add, one of the strongest things inside of paganism or just in general is to have a serious and developing understanding of racism.  One of the key things that will undermine fascist entryism is the ability to counter their narratives, to undermine their arguments.  And you do this by having a strong anti-racist perspective even independent of fascist threats.  It is also good to develop that politic through discussion and forgiveness of errors, because that way you can develop a really keen sense of the problems.  Right now, with the way that fascists have forced entry into pagan spaces, it would be almost impossible for a pagan who has been involved in this community for 20 years to have never have had an association with someone who turned out to be pretty problematic.  Or to not have ever come across these ideas.  So it is going to be an ongoing process of hashing out what a strong anti-racist politic looks like in this context.

Also having consistency, which is something we lack in both politics and spirituality, is important.  To analyze the positions we have taken, to understand why we have made certain choices, to challenge ourselves, and to have a clear understanding of where our beliefs and actions come from.  When we talk about the left-right crossover that fascism relies on, often times the left takes on problematic ideas from the far right without even realizing it, and does it uncritically.

We see this even in anti-racist circles; they can take on the behavior of ethnic nationalism.  Some of the ways that we talk about issues like cultural appropriation; we do not see the long-term ideological assumptions this can maintain.  It is good to present the question of whether the choices we are making are in line with a well thought out anti-racist belief structure, rather than one that essentializes race, creates strong divides between ethnic groups, and is antithetical to a multicultural society.

I think that is something that is tough, and is instead an ongoing process.  It is continuing to develop, and we do not have every answer.  Right now we have anti-racist ideas emerging, and we are trying things out and making mistake.  If you have a real investment in these issues it means being willing to make those mistakes.

AAR:  Yeah, I think the left has shot itself I the foot somewhat with spirituality.  There is a real pugnacious tendency to write it off entirely, and that alienates a lot of people who have beliefs or are soul-searching or going through different stages in their lives or are committed to a spiritual movement.  They end up seeing the left as almost an enemy, because who is really representing the left?  Is it Maoists?  Is it Marxist-Leninists?  Or is it even hostile materialist anarchists?  Because there is a lot of hostility in leftists against questions of faith.

In a way you can see it transplanted onto left wing politics, as left wing politics become sacralized.  It becomes about sacrifice.  It becomes about “good faith vs. bad faith?”  It becomes about determinant course of the universe that you have “tapped into” and “understand completely,” with a problematic sense of certainty about all political or social issues.  So it is easy for the left to become a religion, and dogmatic, while writing off less dogmatic, and often more interesting, spiritual tendencies.  I think that is a real dilemma.

So I think that there is an opportunity for pagans to carve out niches in the left against these other attitudes that can be driven by right wing impulses.  And I do that it is important, at the end of the day, to activate that universality that would enable alliances on the left, in terms of equality as it really happens and not just an abstract notion.  That means that, for me, the more differentialist ideas, according to race or place of birth, distill an “essential” pattern, and a traditional and exclusionary field of identity that is a problem.  Those “essentialist identity” ideas have pretty negative implications in the long term.  I don’t deny that unique cultures exist in different places.  And I also don’t deny that they share a lot in common when they are held up against one another.  I just don’t think that this synchronism of “they’re all the same” work, and I also don’t think that they are all so radically different that cross-participation is intrinsically colonial.  I think there has to be an opening for exchange on an equal and just level.  Which is why I think that the white supremacist application of cultural appropriation arguments, which you see in things like the AFA and with Stephen McNallen, is clearly in line with fascism.


Shane Burley

Shane Burley is a writer, filmmaker, and organizer based in Portland, Oregon. His work as appeared in places such as In These Times, Truth-Out, Labor Notes, Waging Nonviolence, CounterPunch, and Perspectives on Anarchist Theory. He contributed a chapter on housing justice movements to the recent AK Press release The End of the World As We Know It?, and has work in upcoming volumes on social movements. His most recent documentary Expect Resistance chronicles the intersection of the housing justice and Occupy Wallstreet movement. His work can be found at ShaneBurley.net, or reach him on Twitter at @shane_burley1.

Alexander Reid Ross

Alexander Reid Ross is a contributing moderator of the Earth First! Newswire. He is the editor of Grabbing Back: Essays Against the Global Land Grab and a contributor to Life During Wartime: Resisting Counterinsurgency. His new book, Against the Fascist Creep, was released by AK Press earlier this year.


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The Myth of the Pagan Passcard

By Pegi Eyers

(As a “manifesto” addressed to white folks in Pagan Community, my sincere apologies to people of colour or mixed heritage who may feel excluded.)


The diversity in Pagan Community in the Americas is astounding, and as a much-needed alternative to outdated religions in decline, an ongoing source of wonder for our collective re-enchantment and inspiration. Every conceivable genre of paganism is thriving, and this healthy diversity has meant the suspension of “togetherness” or “unity” narratives in recent times (which is probably a good thing). As with all human societies, the idea that we need to be homogenous or come to any kind of agreement as a movement or a subculture is not a realistic expectation. Yet there are some social dynamics that transcend mere “opinion” or “belief” such as the consequences we live with from historical actions, and the overarching truth of our own positionality. “Who am I? Why am I here? What do I remember? Where am I going?” These timeless questions continue to underscore our complex lives here in at the end of Empire, and we encounter a similar self-searching at the heart of Pagan Community.

Moving past the brilliance, innovation and miraculous achievements of leaders, groups and solitaries alike, we come to a dire and complete disconnect between those who are schooled in social justice and those who are not. Delving into this great divide there is one question that immediately comes to mind. “Are Pagans progressive, or are we stuck in the webs of our own conditioning?” If the answer is the former, there are a few simple (and relatively painless) adjustments that we can make on how we understand reality. After all, a wider circle of wisdom can change our worldview forever!

Like so many who have been the frequencies holders (or vicious derailers) in the recent public debates on issues of white supremacy and racism, we have been shocked to witness the dialogue having real consequences in terms of personal identity, well-being and finances (not to mention ideological platforms). The initial flares have settled into a somewhat more nuanced conversation, yet blind spots remain, and these glossed-over themes are still being justified in a thousand inventive ways. By far the greatest mistake and major sidestep from accepting the truth about our own positionality, has been the ever-popular “Pagan Passcard.”

Like the One Ring of hobbit fame, or Excalibur the legendary sword of King Arthur, the schooled activist can’t help but feel an obligation to present “the click” that would right the wrongs of this erroneous thinking. So in the spirit of mutual understanding, activating a personal and collective moral compass, and initiating the equity that could lead to equality in our time, here are a few basic points on positionality (with key resources) that Pagan Community needs to know.

(1) If your ancestors are from Europe you are white. Yes, we know that the theory of “race” is a complete fabrication, and “whiteness” and the Caucasian myth need to be dismantled along with the appellations of “black” “brown” “red” and “yellow.” But until all people of colour are free from discrimination based on skin colour in a post-racial world, we who fit the “white” bill have no right to reject the term. After all, that would make us “exceptional” once again, and our cultural group has already tried that, what with dominating, oppressing and trying to get rid of people of colour through white supremacy. (Key resource ~ “The History of White People” by Nell Irvin Painter)

(2) If your ancestors are from Europe, you belong to the colonizer class. If you have Anglophone roots your people believed themselves to be “the masters of the universe” and if you are Scottish, Irish, Welsh, French, Italian, Greek, Portuguese, Germanic, Slavic, Baltic, Nordic or another European ethnicity (which evolved into “nation-states” yes we know), then your parents, grandparents and other Settlers (if applicable) joined the “white club.” Except for a few isolated groups such as Amish, Mennonites, Pennsylvania Dutch or Doukhobors, without exception all light-skinned Europeans jumped on the irresistible bandwagon of building Empire as governed by Anglophone worldviews, beliefs, memes, and lust for profit. (Key resource ~ “The History of White People” by Nell Irvin Painter)

(3) Therefore, if you are part of the colonizer class, to this day you benefit from the subjugation of the colonized. All the amenities, luxuries and benefits you receive and enjoy today come directly from the enslavement of people of colour who provided the labour to build Empire in the Americas, and from the theft of indigenous lands. If not subjected to genocide, people of colour on Turtle Island were colonized, and in these post-colonial times, we who are the descendants of the colonizers should accept the responsibility to right this wrong. (Key resource ~ “The Colonizer and the Colonized” by Albert Memmi)

(4) White privilege is not a figment of a crazy SJW’s imagination. Even if you have been raised by those at the very bottom of the economic, gender, sexual orientation or disability ladder(s), by virtue of your white skin you have huge privileges as compared to a person of colour. Do you see your own ethnicity reflected in the majority of media programming, advertising and publishing that surrounds you? Do you have any other barriers (other than economic) to renting in any neighbourhood you chose? Do you have relative freedom when going about your daily business? Do you have to worry about your teenage son being killed when he goes off to the store? In every single one of your activities or ambitions, your whiteness puts you ahead of people of colour. (Key resource ~ “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack” by Peggy McIntosh)

(5) Newsflash! Self-identifying as Pagan, Neo-Pagan, Eco-Pagan, Devotional Polytheist, Anderson Feri, Eclectic, Kemetic, Faerie, Wiccan, Feminist Witch, Goddessian, Thelema, Hellenismos, New Orleans Vodoun, Shamanic, Neo-Shamanic, Druid, Neo-Druid, Sinnsreachd, Avalonian, Reconstructionist, Restorationist, Traditionalist, Norse Heathen, Forn Siðr, Ásatrú, European Indigenous or Animist does not give you a passcard from being a member of the colonizer class. The reason that so many in Pagan, Transformational and New Age Community are mainstream, non-liberal and non-radical folks in the first place is that they are the generational inheritors of the predominantly WASP suburban middle class. (Boom.) Also, i.e. being a good and caring person, participating in the paradigm shift, living in alternative community, belonging to the “Rainbow Tribe,” mastering oracles and magick, having an intimate connection with a pantheon of Gods and Goddesses, dwelling in an animist universe, recovering the Bard Tradition, doing community service, building a Wiccan Church, learning to speak Gaelic, or creating Pagan curriculum in school systems where none existed before – all these and other “spiritually awake and aware” activities and belief systems also do not give you a passcard from being a member of the colonizer class. (Key resource ~ “Ancient Spirit Rising: Reclaiming Your Roots & Restoring Earth Community” by Pegi Eyers)

(6) Being marginalized, shamed or persecuted for being a Pagan does not give you a passcard from being a member of the colonizer class. Certainly as a new religion in the Americas, Pagans are extremely familiar with oppression along religious lines and the struggle to claim equal rights and civil liberties. But even as we celebrate and honor the freedom fighters among us, we still have white privilege, and belong to the colonizer class (see points 2, 3, 4 and 5). Without learning the truth about our own positionality and the intersectionality of oppressions, we may continue to perpetuate white supremacy and racism. (Key resource ~ “What Does it Mean to Be White? Developing White Racial Literacy” by Robin DiAngelo)

(7) White guilt is not necessary (well, maybe for a couple of days). Instead of white fragility and an endless array of inventive justifications, the best response to all this challenging new information is to take responsibility to right the wrongs of history, and to correct the horror show created by white supremacy here on Turtle Island. Good examples of this work would be activism and allyship for the rights of POC, LGBT and other marginalized groups, undoing the implicit bias or explicit racism in ourselves, and the abolition of white supremacy. (Key resource ~ “White Like Me: Reflections on Race from a Privileged Son” by Tim Wise)

(8) And last but not least, our final point is the one most likely to enrage. To be extremely clear about history in the Americas, the memes and methods of Empire were created and enacted by European patriarchs, the rich, rapacious, entitled, racist, privileged, greedy, misogynist, bloodthirsty, warlord, bible-thumping, immoral, power-mad and dysfunctional white men who imposed their will on our bodies, minds and souls, and dictated the destruction of our world. White men – not any other group – have monopolized the reality of our ecosphere and ethnosphere for centuries with their manipulation, lies, justifications, fear-mongering, economic traps, silencing, peer pressure, brainwashing and lateral violence. Unfortunately, even as a subordinate group white women are not off the hook, as in the total supremacy of a “man’s world” we were the supporting cast and game players who internalized the values of the patriarchy, and were complicit with the Settler-Colonial directive. And as much as white women have achieved emancipation and empowerment today, we need to realize that the benefits and privileges we experience are the direct result of Euro-supremacy, and the near-annihilation of both indigenous cultures and the land. Both white men and white women hold equal responsibility to dismantle the systems of oppression. Simply put, with their humancentric worldview of entitlement, dominance and psychopathy the patriarchal founders and robber barons of Empire were wrong. (Key resource ~ “The Heart of Whiteness: Confronting Race, Racism and White Privilege” by Robert Jensen)

“In addition to the movements of the soul, deep group loyalty is actually what many human beings have used as their barometer for good and evil, and this group census and support actually serves as a collective conscience. Many of the horrible (and heroic) acts of humanity have been supported by some form of this group conscience. The genocide of Native Americans in the United States, and the slave trade, were both approved within a group.”

 

(Francesca Mason Boring, Connecting to Our Ancestral Past: Healing Through Family Constellations, Ceremony, and Ritual, North Atlantic Books, 2012)

Subtle and systemic, the racist values, stereotypes and microaggressions of the white patriarchy have been part of the education of every person born in the Americas, and it is this web of conditioning we need to unpack in our adult lives. Even as members of Pagan subculture(s) and communities, the inconvenient truth is that we benefit from being members of the dominant white supremacist society. Coming to terms with this fact is definitely a turning point, and staying grounded can be hard when the world we thought was real turns out to be an elaborate sham. Yet absorbing this new information takes absolutely nothing away from our self-identity or ongoing life purpose, but adds another layer of meaningful engagement with the world. In addition to our ongoing work in the realms of magic, spirit and culture, the best response is to shift to a social justice awareness, as every action (whatever the scale) can add to the impact of anti-oppression. With all the connective and educational tools available to us today, there is no shortage of information on engaging with protest, grassroots organizing, solidarity with marginalized groups, and effective allyship.

As Pagans we want to live in a world that reflects our egalitarian values, a world free of racial stratification, and where everyone has the right to realize their potential. And we want to believe that this equality will happen in our lifetime. There is a very real possibility that it is our generation – the most privileged and wealthy in human history – that has the most work to do in dismantling the systems that oppress both humanity and the earth. Trying to make amends is part of our own search for wholeness, and together we can co-create solidarity cultures of love and mutuality. To support and nurture each other across cultural or color lines, we need to be tough on issues yet compassionate with people. And as dismantling the toxicity of racism may take a long time, we need to celebrate our successes, value our contributions along the way, and be nurtured by our own earth-connected and Pagan spiritual practices.

Walking the labyrinth of personal introspection and interracial competency can be painful and convoluted at times, but based on a diversity of social justice paths there is one overwhelming guideline we all share. Regardless of lingering questions, the amount of “inner work” we have done, or the lack of approval from our peers, community, the wider world or people of color themselves (!) we perform the work on principle, with the profound belief that racism is wrong. The false system of racial hierarchy imposed in the Americas is deadly to all who are not white, yet the criminality of this legacy affects us all. For those of us who belong to the dominant society and benefit from the historic subjugation of POC every day of our lives, taking responsibility means speaking “truth to power” until the day when racism is reversed. Silence is no longer an option. If we reject the ethics of white supremacy, we must believe that at some point in the future a determined collective force will undo the intersectional oppressions. And in collaboration with all those who have resisted injustice in the past, present and future, we find ourselves committed to that struggle!

Key Resources

  • DiAngelo, Robin, What Does it Mean to Be White? Developing White Racial Literacy, Peter Lang, 2012
  • DiAngelo, Robin, “White Fragility,” The International Journal of Critical Pedagogy, Vol 3, The University of North Carolina at Greensboro, 2011
  • http://libjournal.uncg.edu/ index.php/ijcp/article/view/249/116
  • Eyers, Pegi, Ancient Spirit Rising: Reclaiming Your Roots & Restoring Earth Community , Stone Circle Press, 2016 http://www.stonecirclepress.com
  • Jensen, Robert, The Heart of Whiteness: Confronting Race, Racism and White Privilege, City Lights Publishers, 2005
  • McIntosh, Peggy, “Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack,” Beyond Whiteness, 2015
  • http://www.beyondwhiteness.com
  • Memmi, Albert, The Colonizer and the Colonized, Plunkett Lake Press, 2013
  • Painter, Nell Irvin, The History of White People, W.W. Norton & Company, 2010
  • Wise, Tim, White Like Me: Reflections on Race from a Privileged Son, Soft Scull Press, 2011

Pegi Eyers

Author of Ancient Spirit Rising: Reclaiming Your Roots & Restoring Earth Community, Pegi Eyers is a Celtic Animist who sees the world through a spiritual lens, and is a devotee of nature-based culture and all that is sacred to the Earth. She is an advocate for the recovery of our authentic ancestral traditions, and lives near Nogojiwanong in Mississauga Anishnaabe territory.


Pegi Eyers was featured in both the first and second issue of A Beautiful Resistance. Digital versions of both issues are now available for $4 each!