A Prayer to Athena for Canadian Democracy

So-called “Mattei Athena”. Marble, Roman copy from the 1st century BC/AD after a Greek original of the 4th century BC, attributed to Cephisodotos or Euphranor. Related to the bronze Piraeus Athena. Public domain image by Jastrow, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
So-called “Mattei Athena”. Marble, Roman copy from the 1st century BC/AD after a Greek original of the 4th century BC, attributed to Cephisodotos or Euphranor. Related to the bronze Piraeus Athena. Public domain image by Jastrow, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

O Grey-Eyed One,

She of the Steel Gaze;

In nine days my country goes to cast ballots

In the ancient ritual You taught to Your city.

Our system is broken.

Hateful betrayers of Your sacred trust hold power,

As they have for many years now.

We elected them because we trusted them,

But they have betrayed our trust.

They have prorogued our Parliament,

Ignored Parliamentary rulings,

Accepted bribes,

Corrupted our electoral system,

Gerrymandered democratic ridings,

Taken the rights of our expatriates,

Denied voting access to the disabled, the young, and the poor,

And told people to vote in the wrong place

So as to spoil ballots.

They have lied continually to us,

Stolen our money and our future,

Denied basic rights to our citizens,

Reduced the rights of women

And of people of non-conforming gender,

Oppressed our poor and disenfranchised,

Oppressed our First Peoples,

Abandoned our ancestors and our veterans,

Broken the unity of our labourers,

Spit upon the sanctity and sovereignty of the earth,

And deprived us of the right to speak against them;

All to better serve their Corporate Masters.

Lady of Wisdom, You see more clearly than I do,

But I see all that You stand for being suborned.

I implore You; give us back our nation!

Strike these betrayers down!

Cast them from the lofty seat they have stolen!

Make our voices count!

Give us back the gift that You gave us

That we may once again govern ourselves,

Instead of being ruled over by Corporatist lackeys.

May Your steel gaze fall upon these corruptors with wrath!

May You look upon us with favour!

Help us to take back what was stolen

Without the shedding of innocent blood.

Send Your Owl to give Sight and Wisdom

To our people, who have been denied it.

Call upon any friends You have

Among the Sacred Spirits of our First Peoples

To ask them to take part in the ritual,

If only this once.

Draw Your Aegis over us!

Give us back our Canada!

I shall cast my ballot in honour of You.

I shall ask all who know me to do the same.

Praise be to the Lady of Wisdom!

Praise be to the Grey-Eyed One!

Do We Act Justly? Disability, Mental Illness and Vulnerability

In an effort to be more accessible to those with reading and communication difficulties, there is an easy-read version of this article (for those with learning difficulties and similar issues) below the main post.

Disabled people are routinely treated as a ‘vulnerable’ group, rather than as a marginalized one. But what if we were included under a social justice banner instead?

Cailleach Bheur by Lindowyn. http://lindowyn-stock.deviantart.com/art/Cailleach-Bheur-IV-71824613
Cailleach Bheur by Lindowyn

The Cailleach plants her staff in the ground. This is the line.

I used to go regularly to an arts festival that had a big focus on social justice – and didn’t include disability in that approach. Every minority group’s needs were treated as a justice issue except ours. Instead, we were considered a vulnerable group, rather than one with a right to equal access. We had ‘special needs’, and ‘special treatment’ was required. Unsurprisingly, this led to much resentment among the people who had to make the ‘special arrangements’. Requests for better access were met with animosity, assertions that I didn’t know what my own needs were, and even verbal abuse.

Vulnerability is an easy concept to use when thinking about disabled people. Government representatives talk about ‘vulnerable people’ all the time. They rarely talk about how they are the ones who’ve made us vulnerable, though. They focus not on systemic injustice, but on individuals.

Yet the system is the problem. In the UK, a disabled person is twice as likely to be living in poverty as a non-disabled person. Hate crime against disabled people in the UK has tripled in the past decade, and 58% of disabled people in London have experienced aggression or violence linked to their impairment or to being disabled. These two situations alone have made disabled people in the UK vulnerable — and there are many more ways in which the system creates vulnerability for disabled and long-term ill people.

But we are not vulnerable outside of a society that makes us so.

Justice, not Vulnerability: The Social Model of Disability

There is another way to think about disability and accessibility, though. You may have set up your festival, or your ritual, or your meeting, purely for non-disabled people. You may not realise that this is the case. That’s because of non-disabled privilege. And that’s OK — all non-disabled people have this privilege (as can disabled people, depending on the situation). The key is to work on breaking down the walls we’ve created — in our minds, and in our meetings.

If you have to make special arrangements after the fact, you didn’t start by thinking about access for all. You thought of us as vulnerable people who need help, not as equal people whom you forgot about when designing your festival, or ritual, or meeting.

And that’s a problem for all of us who want to live in a society where there is equity and justice for all.

The social model of disability says that we are made more disabled, made vulnerable, by societies that are created for non-disabled people and that don’t want to change to include us.

Who Knows Best? Disabled People (& those with Mental Health Problems) as Children

The Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids (OBOD) has a policy against people with certain mental health problems being involved in their distance-learning course. They have good reasons for this, which they outline along with the policy. The wording of the policy is a little unclear, so that a reader can’t be sure if people in this situation are unwelcome, or simply advised not to take part. Nonetheless, they are certainly strongly encouraged not to follow the course. At the OBOD website, the policy statement is: “Many people go through difficult times in their life, and the course can be very helpful and supportive at such times. But you should not enrol on the course if you have ever been diagnosed as suffering from schizophrenia or a psychotic condition.” The website goes on to explain that the problem relates to the distance learning nature of the course. Note the wording, “if you have ever been diagnosed with” such a condition. People have told me of opening the first booklet in the course, to find a piece of paper that states that those diagnosed with a mental health problem should not take part and that they will receive a refund for the course.

Full disclosure: I am following the OBOD course, and I was once diagnosed with the kinds of mental health problems that mean I shouldn’t be following it. Officially, I’m not allowed to take the course. Still, it’s been one of the best things I’ve ever done, for my spiritual, emotional and practical life.

Good reasons for this policy do not prevent it from being potential discrimination.

This because the policy excludes an entire group of people, rather than respecting the autonomous right of every person to make sensible decisions. Nor does it attempt to alter the wider social conditions that could make people vulnerable in combination with this course. It can be argued that the policy is medicalised, individualistic, could be seen as discriminatory, and involves what Brits call disablism and Americans call ableism. It may even be against equality law in the UK, though that would need to be tested in the courts.

Furthermore, the policy sets up a very clear ‘us and them’ dichotomy. There is a fine line between the anxiety and depression that many of us experience (1 in 4 of us, in fact) and the more severe mental health issues that others experience. It is not uncommon for someone to have one experience of psychosis and never experience it again. I am one of those not-uncommon people. (I’m quite nervous of revealing this, but I’m more committed to my activism and to anti-discrimination education than I am to my status as an OBOD Ovate-in-training, as much as I love my druidry.) You could be the next person to have an episode of psychosis and recover fully. Or not to recover entirely, but to remain capable of making your own decisions. An old diagnosis may have been wrong, or it may become a thing of long ago for you, a past experience that no longer affects your life. Now imagine that there’s a policy that takes away your agency based on a diagnosis that can never be erased from your record. How do you feel?

The problem here is that discourses of vulnerability have been allowed to rule the day. How will people with mental illness be able to judge if practices are making them ill? We must look after them (and protect ourselves). We must make special arrangements – which, in this case, involves exclusion. Disabled people[1] here are represented as children, with no ability to self-care, to judge their own states of health and illness, no right to know themselves. This is the way society represents us, so it’s no great surprise to find a Pagan group thinking of us this way. But we are the only people who live with our impairments or conditions. We are the people who know what we can manage and what help or access changes we need.

They are certainly not the only Pagan organisation with such a policy, or a similar one. Yvonne Aburrow recently wrote about Wiccan covens and people with mental health problems. There are other magical training courses with similar bans, or which demand full details of any health difficulties so that they can make decisions on behalf of attenders. This attitude to mental illness and disability recurs throughout the Pagan community.

The OBOD policy hangs over me, a gatekeeper with a flaming sword. You should not be here.

The Magic Of Words and Concepts

Wouldn’t it be a magical thing to use words in a way that empowers people, rather than excludes them?

Wouldn’t it be a powerfully sacred thing to give people back a little of the autonomy that society has taken from them?

There are alternative approaches that could apply here, that work along discourses of equity and justice, not vulnerability. The order could instead consider the way their course is structured, how the policy is written, and how they are thinking of disabled people. People could be considered for the course on a case-by-case basis — perhaps via a Mental Health Officer with some expertise in the area. Maybe even someone with personal experience of mental health difficulties, to ensure that such people have a voice in the Order and in its policies.

But instead, OBOD’s policies sustain the discourse of vulnerability. Disabled people, people with mental health problems, are here seen as children, needing protection rather than justice. The words of power used in the policy reflect this.

Mutual Discourses of Helplessness

“There’s nothing we can do.” “You need to tell us what to do.” “It’s too expensive.” “It would be too difficult.” The overwhelming response, when Pagan groups are asked to become more accessible, is one of helplessness in the face of a concept of vulnerability. Their helplessness plus our (constructed) vulnerability can sometimes make for mutual resentment. This conflict does not promote the peace that many Pagan traditions seek.

But many of us want to work with you to help to change this image of vulnerability. To help create the most accessible environments and policies that we can. I’m the accessibility advisor for Druid Camp, a Pagan summer event in a field in south-west England. Before I started working with them, I never thought I’d be able to join in with a camping holiday in a field. I never thought I’d be able to participate fully and freely in ritual. I never imagined I could walk a fire labyrinth or sleep on the ground for five days or feel truly part of something so magical and community-based. All things are possible when we all engage with systemic exclusion and inclusion – and there are those of us who want to help to make all things possible.

Which brings us to…

Levelling the Playing Field

Do you believe in equity and justice for ALL?

Because if you do, you need to enshrine that in your practices, and in the policies of your groups towards disabled people.

Believing in social justice is good. It also means nothing — if we don’t live it out.

If you run rituals, how much do you consider the needs of disabled people attending them? You may think you don’t have the resources to make ‘special arrangements’. But you could think creatively around this. A festival in a field or a ritual in the woods can be made more accessible. (Complete accessibility for absolutely everyone is not always needed.)

If you hold a big event, do you check it’s in a location where there are hearing aid loops, and do you ensure that all your speakers are using microphones, so that hard-of-hearing and deaf people can follow along? If you run a moot, do you meet at the top floor of a pub because it’s convenient (for some of you)? Sometimes people tell me, “We don’t need to change our venue. No wheelchair users come to our moot.” Of course they don’t. It’s upstairs.

Do you encourage hugging, loud noise, or spontaneous ritual structuring? If so, have you checked with your disabled members — such as those with Asperger’s or anxiety — about how they feel about this? A simple addition to an announcement in ritual could be: “Now we’ll hug (if we want to!)” There can be a simple whisper to someone about what the ritual will involve. These little alterations can really help to empower people to make the best choices for them. They can help to better include non-disabled people as well as disabled people.

Have you talked with disabled people’s groups about your event’s access? Have you taken up offers of help from, for example, Pagan disability equality trainers[2]? Have you reflexively told Deaf Pagans that sign language is too expensive to organise, without thinking creatively about your options – like offering free tickets to signers and working with Deaf Pagan groups?

Have you talked with user-led mental health groups about how your mental health policy approaches those with psychiatric disabilities? Have you engaged with members of the survivor movement, or the neurodiversity movement, or even the anti-psychiatry movement, to get another perspective on your policies about mental health and illness? You may find there are already people in your groups who are part of these interesting movements. These movements are part of social justice culture, of the same anti-establishment cultures that many Pagan groups emerge from. You may find you have much in common with them and their aims.

If you have disability policies, how much do they create vulnerability, rather than equality?

If you talk about disability inclusion as involving ‘special arrangements’, you may not have got it yet. You may not be seeing the hilly playing field that you created (or chose to use). The hilly field that we can level out for all if we just get creative. If we think about equality, not vulnerability.

We who talk and pray about justice – do we act justly?

The Cailleach plants her staff in the ground. This is the line.

Gods and Radicals contacted OBOD to ask for a statement on the policy, to give them the right of reply to this article. You can read their full clarification statement on mental health access here.

Easy-Read Version of the article

Disabled people are often treated like people who need help. It might be better if they were treated like equal people.

I used to go to a festival where they tried to give special treatment to disabled people. This made people unhappy when they thought they had to make special efforts for the disabled people. Instead they could have thought about equality. They could have looked at how they set up the festival. It was set up for people who are not disabled.

Disabled people are made vulnerable by society. For example, hate crime against disabled people makes us more vulnerable.

An equal society includes everyone. It doesn’t have to make special arrangements, because it is already accessible for all. For example, Pagan groups can start by thinking about whether their event is accessible to disabled people. They can do this right from the beginning of their planning for the event.

One Druid order (OBOD) tells people not to take part in a course if they have some types of mental health problems. This might be against the law. It shuts people out. It might be better to trust people to know how well or ill they are.

Sometimes Pagan groups feel helpless when they don’t know how to include disabled people. But there is lots of information online. There are usually people willing to help.

Groups should think about equality. They should not think about looking after people. Equality means doing practical things to include people.

Fairness is important to Pagans. We have gods of justice like the Cailleach. Do Pagans act fairly? Or do they just talk about fairness without doing it?

References

[1] People with mental illnesses are generally considered disabled under the Equality Act in the UK. (2010). Equality Act 2010 (c.15). London: HMSO. See https://www.gov.uk/guidance/equality-act-2010-guidance .

[2] I offer disability equality training on a sliding scale, and free to any small Pagan group or independent Pagan festival that is interested. It can happen over Skype if you’re far away from me. You can contact me through my website, here.

Photo credit: Cailleach Bheur by Lindowyn. Creative Commons licence.

The Wild Hunt is Riding

“As far as practitioners of nature spiritualities are concerned, the Wild Hunt offers an initiation into the wild and an opening up of the senses; a sense of dissolution of self in confrontation with fear and death, an exposure to a ‘whirlwind pulse that runs through life’. In short, engagement with the Hunt is a bid to restore a reciprocity and harmony between humans and nature.”

— Anthropologist Susan Greenwood
Åsgårdsreien (1872) by Peter Nicolai Arbo. Public domain image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
Åsgårdsreien (1872) by Peter Nicolai Arbo. Public domain image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

The word has spread around the blogosphere; the Wild Hunt is riding.

It’s early.  Really early. For me, they rode in to BC and the Pacific Northwest US on the night of the last full moon, riding with the great storm.

Some say they’re riding against Daesh for their desecration of ancient Pagan religious sites.  Some say they’re riding for something else.  I think there’s a lot of reasons for them to be out riding.

The leader of the hunt depends greatly on the pantheon, and has been named as Odin, Holda, Berchta, Gwydion, Gwynn ap Nudd, King Arthur, Nuada, King Herla, Woden, Freya, Frigg, the Devil, Krampus, the Faery King, the Queen of Air and Darkness, Mab, the Morrigan, Fionn MacCumhaill, Arawn, Artemis, Diana, Cernunnos, Herne the Hunter, and a variety of historical figures that have been slightly mythologized.  The Steeds are nightmares or faery horses, winged horses, faery deer or skeletal beasts; the Hounds are hellhounds, Dandy Hounds, faery hounds, yeth hounds, greyhounds, wolves, winged wolves, ravens, raptors, transformed sparrows, Gabriel Ratchets, the Cwn Annwn and the Fianna.  When I See visions of the Hunt, I see the Huntsman as Herne, because He’s the deity I follow and He and I have a “thing.”  But Beth Wodanis Sees Odin, since she is a godspouse married to Him.  Others will See the Hunt differently.

Some call them the Wild Army, the Furious Army or the Furious Ride.  They are also called by the names of the Hounds; the Cwn Annwn and the Fianna of Fionn.  In some myths they are the Unseelie Faery Ride, the Sidhe or the Faery Calvacade; in others they are the unquiet dead; in still others they are simply the Witches Sabbath.  They might sweep along anyone in their path; or they might ride against the forces of darkness to take them up into the Ride.  In his classic medieval book The Art of Courtly Love, Andreas Capellanus wrote of how the King and Queen of Love rode out in the autumn to strike down all faithless lovers.  In a manner of speaking, Robin Hood and his band of merry men could be seen as another manifestation of the Wild Hunt, riding to protect the land and its people from the depredations of the wealthy elite.

I can think of a few “forces of darkness” I’d like to see swept along in the Ride; can’t you?

I, too, have been dreaming of the Hunt.  Last night, I instead dreamed of the Round Table.  King Arthur, who wore a Horned Crown, said, “All those who would take up arms against the foe; draw your swords and ride out with me!” And I reached out to draw one of the swords of the Round Table knights (or Kings, depending on your interpretation,) knowing I would not be able to draw it if I was not meant to, just as Excalibur can only be drawn by the true King.  But it came away easily in my hand, with no resistance at all, and it felt as though it had been made for me.

Let us take a cue from Dion Fortune’s magickal experiment, and visualize the Wild Hunt riding against the true enemy we all know is out there, scouring the darkness from the land and taking them up into the Ride!  Who will take up arms against the foe?  Who will ride out with us?

The Magick: Tomorrow night is the full harvest supermoon in Aries, and a lunar eclipse.  Visualize the Wild Hunt as you see it.  Find the Leader of the Hunt and fly beside Hir for a while.  Ask who the quarry is.  Think about the “forces of darkness” as you understand them — the Kyriarchy, the Banksters, the CEOs of the large monopoly corporations, corrupt officials who do the bidding of their corporate masters, etc. — and ask the Hunter if E will help to scour them from the land.  The Hunter may ask you to perform a task in return.  Listen for guidance.  If you are willing to agree to take on the task, do so.  Visualize the Hunt riding against the quarry you’ve requested, riding them down or sweeping them up into the Hunt’s ranks, as appropriate.  Return to your body and make an appropriate offering.

Footnote: I had not yet read Lee’s article The Hunt and the Hound, Part 1 (published Sept. 13) when I wrote this; however, I think this Working may work well in conjunction with his Working, and I will be creating my canine spirit house as part of this full moon rite. A canine skull mysteriously found its way into my compost pile; I have been cleaning it and wondering what to do with it.  It seems I have an answer. 

The Patriarchy is About Class, Not Gender

Credit: J. Howard Miller, Public Domain
Credit: J. Howard Miller, Public Domain

A Battle for Our Bodies

We women know a hard truth of our culture; our bodies are not our own.

We are told how our bodies are supposed to behave.  How they are supposed to look (age/weight/height/hair/skin colour/breast size/genitals; the last of particular interest to women not visibly born “female”).  What we should feed them.  How we should decorate them.  Whether or not we should use them as incubators and what we are allowed to do with them once a zygote starts growing.  We are told to hide, and suppress, our body’s needs and natural functions.  We are told that the functions that formulate the incubator are supposed to be hidden from polite company, from menstruation to breast feeding.  We are told how we should wrap them, under what conditions it’s okay to unwrap them, and whom we should (or should not) unwrap them for.

After I overcame my childhood conditioning to suppress my sexuality, I wondered why.  This is something that has puzzled me for many years.  Why in the world does anyone else care about what I do with my body, whom I choose to have sex with, or how?  I mean, think about it.  How does it affect anyone else that I’m not sleeping with (or someone who’s sleeping with someone I’m sleeping with?)  I don’t give two figs what kind of car my neighbour drives because its effect on my life is exactly zero.

I read all the Dianic literature and found it empowering: The Wise Wound, Goddesses in Everywoman, The Chalice and the Blade.  Their theory was that because, until recently, your mother was a certainty but your father was an opinion, controlling women’s sexuality assured paternity and therefore, men would not find themselves in a situation in which they were struggling to feed someone else’s offspring.  I believed it because it was the only thing that sounded plausible to me.

The men in my life were angered by this theory.  They are feminists, and they are stepfathers.  They chose to raise someone else’s offspring, knowing full well it was someone else’s offspring, and give their love even when that love has not always been returned.  I didn’t give their anger much heed.  I figured it was a case in which they did not recognize their privilege.  I figured they would come around.

But there’s another theory, one that I’ve recently stumbled upon that makes much more sense.  Like anything else it’s not new; I was excited when I discovered, as I was reading it for the first time, that Starhawk had touched on it in the Appendices of her classic book on magick and activism, Dreaming the Dark.

Patriarchy exists to preserve inheritance.

Patriarchy is all about class.

Expropriation and Estrangement

Starhawk believes that we can find the evidence in enclosure.  In the sixteenth century a movement spread through England to enclose what was previously common land.  All of a sudden, which family controlled the land and its use became of paramount importance.  All of a sudden the people who lived on that common land became threats, because if land was held by common “squatters,” it could not be enclosed.  Often, lone widows lived in such places and so they were favourite targets of the would-be landowners, since they couldn’t do much to fight back.  Persecution increased against marginalized groups; that and widespread famines and possibly ergot poisoning led to revolutions and pogroms.  Enclosure forced most of us out of the woods and fields and into places in which our livelihoods depended on wages, and since one could only farm what was now on one’s land, trade became vital, and not an enhancement to existing living conditions.  We have seen the culmination of this trend in our current world economy, which depends on trading in raw resources and the forced labour of the developing world.

Knowledge became a marketable commodity in the new mercantile culture that was developing.  Universities developed.  Knowledge became something you could only have if you had the money to pay, and thus, graduates of those universities worked to preserve their monopoly on knowledge.  This particularly affected medicine.  Graduating university doctors spread the idea that anyone who did not have their certification was dangerous and stupid and might possibly cause real harm, even when the folk healing tradition was well ahead of the medicine of universities.  Often this was also a women’s profession, so once again women became an incidental target.  And “women’s medicine,” as a natural and unavoidable consequence of all of the medical practitioners being male, lagged behind and became a method of social control, culminating with the myth of the “hysterical woman” in Victorian times; an excuse to institutionalize women who did not behave according to the desired social mien.  We are currently seeing the culmination of the ownership of knowledge, with every task requiring (expensive) papers to certify your capability, bizarre trademark and copyright laws that allow corporations to claim intellectual property over ideas created 700 years ago, and tuitions so high that only the moneyed class can generally afford to pay them.

In order to justify this culture of ownership and expropriation, the world had to be disenchanted.  If the world has no life and no spirit other than what can be used as resources, there is no reason not to use it up.  Once again, the bodies of (cisgender) women, who are bound visibly by biological needs and changes, and who hold the power of the womb, became incidental targets, as the needs of the body and the needs of the earth and its creatures were denigrated, and “spiritual perfection” came to mean transcending anything as filthy and low as biology and nature.  We are seeing the culmination of this disenchantment now, in which faith is painted as a choice between the binary of absolute obedience to a patriarchal, distant god; or utter denial of the possibility of anything spiritual.

All of this is part of a culture of expropriation that derives from estrangement; estrangement from our nature, from our bodies, from the sense of the spiritual in the material, from people who are different from ourselves, even from one another.  We are almost seeing the culmination of it now.  We no longer know our neighbours.  We no longer live in families any larger than the nuclear.  Most of us these days are raised by single mothers.  We don’t even talk to each other any more, except through phones and computers.  As a result we are siloed in echo chambers of the ideas we support and our children sit across the table from each other and use their phones to converse.  Almost by definition, Paganism and Polytheism, which see gods and spirits here within the earth, are natural enemies of this culture.

I was excited!  Starhawk articulated it so much more effectively than I was able to.

Of course, it started long before that.  While the theory of the ancient matriarchy has been essentially disproven at this point, it is likely that inheritance did not matter in the prehistoric world until there was something to inherit that did not belong to the clan as a whole.  Chieftainships created a class of haves, and have-nots, which made tracking inheritance “necessary.”

How I Stumbled on This

I was writing a science fiction novel.  In the process I created a society in which all the men were warriors, so of course, the women were required to do everything else.  This society also had a noble caste who ruled over the other classes.  And I found that the society quickly developed, through a natural process of cause and effect, into a patriarchy.  Fascist societies, the ultimate in Corporatism, usually develop into patriarchies for this reason.

So I changed one condition; I made inheritance dependent on the female bloodline.  Now clans were organized around the females of a particular family, and to become nobles of the clan, males had to marry into it.  Technically the males inherited, but only through the females.  Suddenly, it looked to outsiders like the males were in charge, but in reality, the females were controlling marriages and fertility, and through that, the process of inheritance.  Over time, males began to develop traits that the females found desirable, and eventually it led to the breakdown of the class system and changing roles for males and females.

Corroborating Evidence

Why is it always the right wing who seems to support ideas that restrict the freedom of women?  You would think that powerful women of the moneyed class would be in an ideal position to challenge the supremacy of the patriarch.  But consider it.  Keeping the classes divided is the only way in which to assure that there are haves and have-nots.  In order to separate the classes, it is necessary to assure that the poor and the rich never mingle, and that requires controlling a woman’s fertility; and subsequently, her sexuality.  This is why it’s so important to the moneyed Conservatives to prevent cisgender women (and trans-men) from controlling their own fertility and claiming their own sexuality outside of the imposed rules of the patriarchy.  If women could do that, we wage-slaves wouldn’t continue to breed fodder for factories, would we?  Especially not in the developing world.  And what if a low-class male has sex with a high-class female and she has a child?  That elevates him out of the have-nots, doesn’t it?

We women impose these unconscious limits on ourselves.  Did you know that women do not call each other “sluts” based on their level of sexuality activity?  According to a study conducted at university campuses by Dr. Elizabeth Armstrong, the key trigger to being called a slut by another woman is being from a different economic class.  Why on earth would women perceive each other as being “trashy” for being more, or less, affluent than themselves?  It seems to me that this is a subconscious method of social control, to prevent the classes from breeding together.

Also, we choose mates based on perceived status.  It’s such a cliche that we make jokes about it; trophy-wives and sugar daddies.  Men with money are considered sexy.  Men buy expensive gifts and seek good jobs to impress women, and it’s considered the height of romanticism from him to buy us jewelry or that coveted diamond ring that proclaims our status as desired property.

We feminists think we’re above that.  After all, we believe in making our own way in the world and not relying on other people for financial support.  But consider this; assuming you are heterosexual, would you marry a man who made less money than you do?  Most of us won’t.  We think that “we can do better” and men who make less than we do are often perceived as freeloaders and “bums,” no matter how hard they work.  Fortunately this is changing.

There’s one last point of note that supports this theory, and that is the Mosuo people of China.  Often called “the last matrilineal society,” they have evolved a society in which all property rights pass through the female line.  There is no permanent marriage and partners do not live together, even if they have a long-term relationship.  Men live with their female relatives.  And all the behaviours of control and sexual dominance are displayed by the women; all the behaviours of social manipulation and preoccupation with appearance is displayed by the men.  In other words, property equals power.

The Real Enemy: Kyriarchy

Kyriarchy, pronounced /ˈkriɑrki/, is a social system or set of connecting social systems built around domination, oppression, and submission. The word is a neologism coined by Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza in 1992 to describe her theory of interconnected, interacting, and self-extending systems of domination and submission, in which a single individual might be oppressed in some relationships and privileged in others. It is an intersectional extension of the idea of patriarchy beyond gender. Kyriarchy encompasses sexism, racism, homophobia, classism, economic injustice, colonialism, ethnocentrism, militarism, and other forms of dominating hierarchies in which the subordination of one person or group to another is internalized and institutionalized.  (Source: Wikipedia).

It is in the interests of the Capitalists to maintain divisions of haves and have-nots.  Kyriarchy is how they go about this in a (nominally) free, democratic society.  They teach the rest of us to see one group as being superior to another, which leads to an interconnected system of privilege and disadvantage.  Notice that the poor are the only identifiable group that it’s perfectly okay to discriminate against?  Institutionalized discrimination limits the ability of the poor to get education, houses and jobs, and forces them to pay more for simple things due to interest payments, bank fees and “planned obsolescence.”

This is why it is necessary to consider all disadvantaged groups.  The truth is that Kyriarchy cannot exist if we all stand together and refuse to see these artificial divisions.

In other words; sisters, men are not the enemy.  Those who teach us that one group is better than another, are.  And those who benefit from the status quo the most are usually the ones most invested in preserving it.  The ones who benefit the most from this current status quo are white, white-collar, straight, wealthy, older men; in other words, the Corporatist 1%.

By extension, this means that anyone who challenges this status quo and demands change is our ally.  It would help us all to march in Ferguson.  It would help us all to defend women’s reproductive rights.  It would help us all to support labour unions, advocate for anti-poverty groups, and march in the Pride Parade.  Any one of these activities is a blow to Kyriarchy; which, in its death throes, will take the Patriarchy with it.

Why the Patriarchy is Doomed

Don’t worry; it can’t last forever.  It was doomed from the invention of the Pill.  When you can’t control a woman’s fertility, you can’t control her sexuality.

But social sanctions will try.  And as long as we allow groups which are invested in the idea of patriarchy — such as religions or corporations — to dictate morality to us, then it will continue.  We must stop calling each other sluts.  We must stop trying to dictate to each other when it’s okay to sleep with someone and when it isn’t.  We should feel free to make our own sexual choices and respect the right of others to do likewise.  We should support the rights of all genders, especially because challenging the binary breaks up the division that is based in haves (men) and have-nots (women).  The Kyriarchs know this and that’s why they find it so threatening and fight it so hard.

A great victory was recently won when the United States finally caught up to the idea that marriage should be a right for everyone.  I am pleased to see another nail being hammered into the coffin as the worldwide movement for the rights of sex workers grows and we stop looking down on women who get more action than others.

When our social customs catch up to our physical and scientific realities, patriarchy’s inevitable end will crumble the support pillar that sustains the Kyriarchy; and it will collapse like a house of cards.  We will see the dawn of a new age which is not dependent on human beings dividing themselves into superior and inferior classes.  That day is coming.  I believe it’s not far away.

  • Sept. 2 Update: edits made in response to suggestions from Keen on how to be more gender-inclusive (see commentary below).

Die Verbotenehexerei

My mind likes to jump around when I am thinking, which makes beginnings somewhat difficult and this is certainly no exception to that particular foible. Predominently,  I intended this to be included in “Salt in the Unguent” as a commentary fresh on ‘the day of’ however not only have my attempts to do so grown far beyond a reasonable size for that particular purpose, the commentary no long strictly discusses the original topic because in following some advice I was given post-“Olives of Asperity” the scope of the topic has broadened more than slightly. Originally I had intended to comment on why it was important (and radical) to be so open about enacting a curse, then my mind changed and I considered commenting on the responsibilty we have to do more to safeguard places like Palmyra using all of our talents, together, not just the ones we like to brag about to each other. It is there that the real question I wanted to ask came to mind: how have we come to share, within our own spaces, the taboos imposed upon us by a society that we are, in essence, trying to unmake?

While it is never a brilliant thing, it is occasionally pragmatic to generalise and say things such as: ‘The Community’ loosely defined as Pagans, Heathens and Polytheists are people who, in the pursuit of their religious and spiritual practices, also seek to improve the societies within which they live by opposing certain longstanding practices and carrying a broad, but constant, femminist and ecological sustainable, predominently left-wing political stance”. Generalising or not, the large majority of that statement is true whether looking at a true cross section of that ‘Community’ or taking it as de facto true simply because it is the position from which many of our internal arguments commence. However, is it possible that we have done as Dr. Who potrayed by Matt Smith did: “I got too big Dorium, too noisy…” and now exist in a space that is of our own fashioning yet privy to discernment of others?

Such questions are purely, rhetorically, hypothetical because ‘The Community’ functions in the manner of a dysfunctional Brady Family whereby when an external catalyst allows, we come togehter and in some case literally become stronger than the sum of our parts but at all other times would to outward appearances want nothing more than to violently extricate ourselves of, or otherwise do away with, the other members of the family. For someone with too much time on their hands, the similarities between the loosely described families of the deities we worship and ourselves has become quite intriguing (and at times excellent entertainment) – have John H and John B become unto Zeus and Poseidon with Jason M as their Hades or is it a stronger argument to say that Rhyd and Sam are our own Loki and Thor? To say nothing of Gwion and Phoenix who could pass for either Freyr and Freyja or Ba’al and Asherah with Sannion perfectly positioned to be a reclusive Dionysius, PSVL as Thoth and Galina worthily made Hel and Morpheus unquestionably The Morrigan.

Theoretically, one could re-assign every ‘inside voiced’ (to say nothing of the ‘loud’) commentor from ‘The Community’ and make them a deity but ultimately I would likely have to dip into our stock of ‘whispering’ commentors in order to make sure no deity was left behind, as one invariably must these days.

456px-Praetorius_Blocksberg

There is a point however, to all of this; that being there is an unfortunate irony in that we collectively resemble any and all of the clans or families or tribes or, for lack of a better word, pantheons that we worship but only in so far as emulating their less admirable qualities – save for those rare moments of external stimuli of course: when faced with our very own Titanomachy or Fimbulwinter et. al, we have set a good precedent for banding together as a whole to guard against those things which are (more often than not) justifiably worse than our own conflicts. However. Unlike the petty, argumentative and often puerile seeming deities to whom I would equate us, we fail to measure up when it comes to living up to the rest of deal. Oðin might spend his time wandering the world, drinking mead made from the blood of other gods and hanging from trees but he remains King and still has an obligation to fulfill the responsibilities therein; more to the point though, he like all the other deities Earth can lay claim to don’t hesitate even slightly to use every skill, trick and wile to get what needs doing done. For them, that typically means messing with the dirty peasant monkey-people (better known as you and me) and often simply, sometimes quite literally, waving their hand and making it happen.

We, and often times Them as well, call this ‘Magic’ – although being the freckled, glasses wearing, red headed step-child of ‘The Community’ we don’t really call it magic so much these days. Nevertheless it continues to be a hotter topic of debate than the Australian bush after a dry spring and extreme bushfire season; opinions vary wildly from place to place and person to person as to what exactly ‘It’ is, whether there is enough focus on it or too much emphasis placed on it and virtually every other concievable facet. Most problematically of all, there are often times very good arguments in every corner which is good in terms of lively debate but detracts from the larger issue at hand – where does magic stand within ‘The Community’? It seems an almost ironic question given how prominent a role magic, and its various alternatives, has played in the lives of many of humanity’s greatest thinkers and inventors and pioneers and so forth – even to the extent where the person’s religion became unequivocally extricated from their mystic or esoteric pursuits – contrast to ourselves where the two are not so extricable. Scientists, mathematicians, philosophers, inventors, explorers; even some of the mostly truly foul and reprehensible human beings to exist have found a way of reconciling their way of life with what would otherwise appear to be irreconcilable differences, namely the mystical or esoteric. Rather ironically, it seems that we ‘The Community’ are the only ones who have trouble reconciling who we are, our faith and the mystic or esoteric. Problematically though, we are the ones who, if all of our dischordant bellowing is to be taken seriously, are supposed to be reconciling those aspects better than most.

While a genuine generalisation, it is worth noting that of the many, many religions in the world it is the collection that our community practices which should be the last place one finds the eponymous attitude or idea ‘the forbidden witchcraft’ (loosely termed to allow for more evocative German) and yet we have such a tempestuous crossing of opinions on the matter. There is a unique absurdity in hearing or reading somebody tell someone else that, in the simplest meaning, cursing is bad or that magic isn’t real or that magic is only real if we explain it with science or that you can only do magic if its actually a prayer to a deity or… The list quickly becomes prohibitive to functionally list.

Welti_Walpurgisnacht_1897

Magic is still something which many of us, myself included, find troublesome to handle in the world beyond the boundaries of these places where we are supposed to be able to ‘talk shop’ without having to stop and check every few sentences – for whatever reason. Its not for me to say whether or not that will ever change; other religions have had the time and chance to explore their mystic and esoteric elements and each has come to its own conclusion for how to come to terms with that and determine what form or forms it will take within themselves. We’re the ones who say we are a witch or a bard or a sorcerer or a shaman or priest or a wiccan.

What is the point in being those things if that which essentially defines those, the mystical and esoteric, are not a large part of ourselves – a part that we can’t even be proud of amongst ourselves much less everyone else.


Alan Evans

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A silver tongued seductee of language, consumately un-settled and mortally afflicted with fernweh, Alan Evans learns for the sake of learning and the strangers-become-companions met along the way. He pines for the gods, teaches English, learns languages, plays drums, understands people, makes love in four languages, writes and fights like only Australian grandson of an Irishwoman can and will salaciously flirt to death any ‘Wizard of Oz’ quips. Main site: Trees in the Train Station. Also contributes to The Elemental Witch.

A Radical Pagan Pope?

Last week, Pope Francis’ much-anticipated environmental encyclical was published. As was expected, the Pope acknowledged the “human origins of the ecological crisis” (¶ 101), specifically that global warming is mostly due to the concentration of greenhouse gases which are released “mainly” as a result of human activity (¶ 23). And he called for the progressive replacement “without delay” of technologies that use fossil fuels. (¶ 165)

The Pope and small-p “paganism”

Image courtesy of the Scottish Skeptic
Image courtesy of the Scottish Skeptic

Even before Pope Francis’ environmental encyclical was published, critics were calling the Pope a “pagan”. This isn’t all that surprising given how the religious right has always accused environmentalists of “paganism”. And indeed there are some similarities between the Pope’s statement and contemporary Pagan discourse. For example, in the encyclical, the Pope personifies the earth, calling the the earth “Sister” (¶¶ 1, 2, 53) and “Mother” (¶¶ 1, 92). However, this language is drawn from a Christian, not a pagan, source: St. Francis of Assisi’s “Canticle of Creatures”. And Pope Francis makes a point of saying that he is not “divinizing” the earth. (¶ 90) Instead, his intent is to emphasize the “fraternal” nature of our relationship with the earth and its inhabitants, both human and other-than, which he says have their own intrinsic value independent of their usefulness to us. (¶ 140)

Some of the language from the Pope’s statement resembled language in “A Pagan Community Statement on the Environment.” For example, no less than 8 times throughout the encyclical, the Pope observes that “everything is interconnected” (¶¶ 16, 42, 70, 91, 111, 117, 138), a fact which, he says, “cannot be emphasized enough” (¶ 138). Similarly, the Pagan statement begins by recognizing our interconnectedness with the web of life:

“In recent decades, many contemporary Pagan religious traditions have stressed humanity’s interconnectivity with the rest of the natural world. Many of our ancestors realized what has now been supported by the scientific method and our expanding knowledge of the universe — that Earth’s biosphere may be understood as a single ecosystem and that all life on Earth is interconnected.” — “A Pagan Community Statement on the Environment”

The Pope also observes that we are inherently part of the earth: “Nature cannot be regarded as something separate from ourselves or as a mere setting in which we live. We are part of nature, included in it and thus in constant interaction with it.” (¶ 139) The Pope introduces the encyclical with the observation that “our very bodies are made up of her elements, we breathe her air and we receive life and refreshment from her waters.” (¶ 2) This also resembles very closely language in the Pagan statement:

“We are earth, with carbon, nitrogen and phosphorus making up our bodies one day, and incorporated into mountains the next. We are air, giving food to the trees and grasses when we exhale, and breathing in their gift of free oxygen with each breath. We are fire, burning the energy of the Sun, captured and given to us by plants. We are water, with the oceans flowing in our veins and the same water that nourished the dinosaurs within our cells.” — “A Pagan Community Statement on the Environment.”

However, this does not make the Pope “pagan” (much less a “Pagan”). As Pagan Studies scholar Michael York explains, “even though such world religions as Christianity and Islam might cherish nature as a divine gift, they do not comprise nature religions. Instead, I argue that any religious perspective that honors the natural as the sacred itself made tangible, as immanent holiness, is pagan.” Rather, the Pope’s statements merely show how ubiquitous the idea of our interconnectedness with the earth has become. More than anything else, they are a reflection of the Pope’s acceptance of what has become scientific consensus.

Getting to the “root” of the matter: Anthropocentrism

A more interesting question than whether the Pope’s encyclical is “pagan” is the question whether the encyclical is as “radical” as some are claiming. No doubt, it is a radical challenge to capitalism (which will undoubtedly be a subject for future posts at G&R), but just how “radical” is the encyclical’s ecology? The word “radical” comes from the Latin radix or “roots”, so another way to ask that question is: Just how “deep” is the Pope’s ecology?

A truly deep ecology is one that challenges the anthropocentric paradigm which places humans hierarchically “above” other living species and above inanimate matter, which is seen to exist in some sense “for” humans. The Pope states that the encyclical is an “attempt to get to the roots of the present situation, so as to consider not only its symptoms but also its deepest causes.” (¶ 15) But while the Pope comes to many right conclusions about anthropogenic climate change and the limits of capitalism, the encyclical is nevertheless plagued by a lingering anthropocentrism which he never manages to root out.

At first glance, it appears that the Pope is critical of anthropocentrism, but a closer look reveals that he always qualifies the word “anthropocentrism” when he uses it. For instance, he criticizes “distorted” or “excessive” or “tyrannical” anthropocentrism (¶¶ 68, 69, 116), but never just plain anthropocentrism. This implies that there is such a thing as an “undistorted” anthropocentrism or a “right amount” of anthropocentrism. And this becomes clear when the Pope insists on humanity’s “pre-eminence” (¶ 90) and “superiority” (¶ 220), and when he eschews “biocentrism” (¶ 118) and declines to “put all living beings on the same level” (¶ 90).

The Pope’s justification for a qualified anthropocentrism is flawed. He argues that, in the absence of a belief in our superiority, human beings will not feel responsible for the planet. (¶ 118) It is true that human beings are “unique” in many ways among the world’s fauna, but only in so far that other forms or life are also unique in their own ways. And while it is reasonable to argue that humans have special responsibilities to the earth, due to our highly developed cerebrum and opposable thumbs (especially considering the messes we have made with our highly developed cerebrum and opposable thumbs), the notion that a feeling of superiority is a necessary condition for a feeling of responsibility is specious. In fact, a belief in humanity’s “superiority” can actually weaken people’s sense of ecological responsibility, just as a heightened sense of responsibility can grow out of the loss of that belief.

Papal paternalism: the Great Chain of Being

A related problem with the encyclical is the Pope’s repeated characterization of the earth or nature as “fragile.” (¶ 16, 56, 78, 90) If by “fragility” he is referring to the fact that all of our actions affect the environment or that the ecosystem is sensitive to change, then that is true. But the earth itself is not fragile. It is we — and other species — that occupy a fragile place in the ecosystem. The ecosystem itself is resilient. As “Mother Nature” says in a video from Conservation International:

“I’ve been here for over four and a half billion years
Twenty-two thousand five hundred times longer than you
I don’t really need people but people need me

… I’ve been here for aeons
I have fed species greater than you, and
I have starved species greater than you
My oceans, my soil, my flowing streams, my forests,
they all can take you or leave you
How you chose to live each day whether you regard or
disregard me doesn’t really matter to me
One way or the other your actions will determine your fate not mine
I am nature
I will go on
I am prepared to evolve

Are you?”

While he speaks of an environmental “crisis” and “irreversible damage” to the ecosystem, there is no sense in the Pope’s encyclical that human beings are facing an existential threat (in contrast to the his earlier statement in May that “If we destroy Creation, Creation will destroy us.”).

The Great (Hierarchical) Chain of Being
The Great (Hierarchical) Chain of Being

This insistence on the “fragility” of nature and humankind’s “superiority” is a symptom of an implicit paternalism running throughout the encyclical. This paternalism is premised on a vision of nature as the Aristotelian “Great Chain of Being”, with God at the top, angels and humans in the middle, and (other) animals, plants, and the earth at the bottom. This arrangement places humans in same relation to the earth as God is in relation to humans — that of a powerful father to a weak child. This is why the Pope rejects “a divinization of the earth” (¶ 90), as it would effectively break the order of the Great Chain.

The Pope also repeatedly refers to the earth as God’s “gift” to humanity (¶¶ 71, 76, 93, 115, 146, 159, 220, 227), an idea which the foundation of a stewardship model of environmentalism. The idea that the earth is God’s gift to humanity first of all implies that the earth is “property” which can be gifted, which undermines the Pope’s earlier talk about humans being part of nature (¶ 2). It also perpetuates the hierarchical vision of the cosmos and implies that our responsibility to the earth derives not directly and horizontally from our “fraternity” with nature, but indirectly and vertically through our filial duty to a paternal deity. While the introductory paragraphs of the encyclical do speak of interconnectedness and fraternal responsibility (see above), ultimately the Pope never breaks out of the stewardship model of environmentalism (¶ 116), a model which has been thus far insufficiently radical to effect the “deep change” (¶ 215) which is necessary to revolutionize our collective relationship with the earth.

The same old story: Hierarchy

In 1967, professor of history Lynn White published an article in the periodical Science, entitled “The Historical Roots of Our Ecological Crisis”. The article examined the influence of Christianity on humankind’s relationship with nature. White argued that the environmental decline was, at its “root”, a Christian problem. For White, the belief that the earth was a resource for human consumption could be traced back to the triumph of medieval Christianity over pagan animism, and even further back to the Biblical injunction to man to “subdue” the earth and exercise “dominion” over every living thing. Medieval Christianity, according to White, elevated humankind, who was made in God’s image, and denigrated the rest of creation, which was believed to have no soul.

In his encyclical, the Pope attempts to answer White’s charge, and he makes a valiant attempt to reinterpret the Genesis “dominion” language. He rejects the notion that being created in God’s image and being given “dominion” over the earth justifies “absolute domination” over other creatures. (¶ 67) Instead, he says, a correct reading of Genesis understands that language in the context of the corresponding commands to “till and keep”, the latter word meaning “caring, protecting, overseeing and preserving”. This, he says, “implies a relationship of mutual responsibility between human beings and nature.” (¶ 67)

In spite of this, the Pope’s qualification of the word “domination” with the word “absolute” implies again that a limited domination is justified. “We are not God,” he says. Citing scripture, the Pope says that the earth and everything in it belongs to God, and has been given to us. (¶ 67) Thus, it is not humankind’s domination of the earth that concerns the Pope, so much as humankind’s usurpation of God’s domination over everything.

This is the same old Christian story we know well, with its Great Chain of Being and the upstart human beings who don’t know their place: “a little lower than the angels” and with all the creatures of the earth “under their feet”. (Psalm 8:5-8) While arguably the Pope’s encyclical is more “theocentric” than “anthropocentric”, this turns out to be a distinction without a difference because humans are still placed above above all other forms of life (other than God and angels) in the cosmic hierarchy. Ultimately, the Pope fails to truly get to “root” of the ecological crisis, and his environmental encyclical never rises (or should we say “descends”) to the level of a truly “radical” — much less “pagan” — declaration.

Shopping Malls Are Awesome (A Post About Burnout)

So this happened: Obama was in town yesterday morning and it took me over an hour to get to my daughter’s preschool, which is five miles away from our apartment. For the first half of the drive, I fumed about the traffic. 2.5 miles an hour? Really? This is the best we can do? It didn’t have to be this way. Los Angeles is the city whose comprehensive streetcar system was forcibly dismantled by the oil industry. For the benefit of Angelenos, you might ask? Oh, goodness, no. For the oil industry’s benefit, my dears. For their benefit.

Santa monica traffic jam
Rush hour on the 10 (Image credit Wikipedia)

During the second half of the drive, I switched to fuming about the sprawl. Why was the only affordable preschool five miles away? I was mad at myself for having normalized something so absurd. When you combine SoCal sprawl with a wealthy minority able to pay $2000+ a month for fancy preschools–and let’s not forget a public university in the center of the richest part of town, forcing public employees like me to either spend way too much on rent or commute 3 hours a day–then you get bonkers situations that just become people’s realities. When I visited New Orleans a few years ago, a friend of a friend said she’d just turned down a job offer. “It was too far from home,” she said. “It was four miles.”

I choked on my sazerac.

When I finally got my kid to preschool yesterday, I was ready to cry. This was my telecommuting day, surreptitiously granted to me by my supervisor (the official request got lost somewhere in the bureaucracy and we gave up), but I was stranded five miles from home. I’d promised myself I wouldn’t buy another coffee this week; I’d make my own. I hate spending the money and I’m always forgetting my travel mug. But you know what? After living through Obamajam, I went ahead and got a latte. And a croissant.

I don’t want you all to think I’m looking for pity, because among LA horror stories, mine is incredibly mild. (Although I will throw this out there: if anyone knows of any librarian positions opening up in Portland or Olympia, please let me know.) Rather, I want to call your attention to the bit about the coffee. Before I worked 9 to 5, I made myself coffee every morning. Sure, I’d often write in coffeeshops, but the idea of buying my morning coffee was absurd. Making coffee is such an easy thing.

It’s such an easy thing when you’ve got the energy.

* * *

A couple of years ago, David Cain went back to working 40 hours a week after 9 months of traveling. Realizing he was spending way more money on stuff than he had before, he made this observation:

[T]he 8-hour workday is too profitable for big business, not because of the amount of work people get done in eight hours (the average office worker gets less than three hours of actual work done in 8 hours) but because it makes for such a purchase-happy public. Keeping free time scarce means people pay a lot more for convenience, gratification, and any other relief they can buy. It keeps them watching television, and its commercials. It keeps them unambitious outside of work.

We’ve been led into a culture that has been engineered to leave us tired, hungry for indulgence, willing to pay a lot for convenience and entertainment, and most importantly, vaguely dissatisfied with our lives so that we continue wanting things we don’t have. We buy so much because it always seems like something is still missing.

Western economies, particularly that of the United States, have been built in a very calculated manner on gratification, addiction, and unnecessary spending. We spend to cheer ourselves up, to reward ourselves, to celebrate, to fix problems, to elevate our status, and to alleviate boredom.

Of course, you’re here at a radical anti-Capitalist blog, so you know the history of the 8-hour day. Capitalism cares about Capitalism, not people. Still, I first read that article right after I’d finished library school and started the first full-time gig I’d ever had in my life, so seeing my exact situation so clearly articulated felt like the moment you look in a mirror after wiping away the steam.

And what’s hilarious is that the organization I work for isn’t for profit, at least in theory. Libraries don’t make money. But you’d better believe we’re expected to put our forty hours in each week. Why? Well, because, that’s why. I get work emails timestamped 9, 10, 11 o’clock at night. My colleagues and I have entire conversations about how tired we are.

For most of my life, I’ve hated shopping malls. The sterile environment, the false sense of public space, the asinine stores filled with mass-produced crap. Ugh. But a creepy thing happened after I had a child and started working full time. One day I needed a new pair of sunglasses. Another day, a birthday gift for my husband. Then a pair of flats for work. Each time I walked into the mall, I found…I enjoyed it.

I liked being there.

Partly it was because I didn’t have the kiddo with me and I felt free. But honestly? The atmosphere was soothing. There was something about the airiness, the pleasant temperature, that calmed me. And then, of course, there was the little endorphin high of buying a thing. Malls are a laughable substitute for the healing properties of nature, of course–but here, they’re a lot easier to get to than regional parks.

Because parenting in a nuclear family (another gift of Capitalism) and working full time with a commute drains the fuck out of you. Which is exactly what it’s designed to do. So all of your highfalutin ideals–I’m gonna clean my counters with vinegar and grow all my food in a container garden and ride my bike everywhere and use the flat bar skate rails to go to all the rallies and sit at my altar every night–start to crumble. Because they take effort you don’t have and they don’t seem to be making a difference anyway.

Again, I’m not trying to solicit pity (or, it should go without saying, advice). What I’m describing is the norm for those who have the remarkable good fortune of nabbing full-time jobs.

If you do a Google search for “burnout,” you’ll get tons of articles on how to recognize/prevent/deal with burnout at your job. But our economic system has zero incentive to keep you energized and interested in your work. Because if you’re like most Americans, there are few other jobs you can just skip off to, and you’ll spend more money trying to make yourself feel better. Burnout makes you apathetic. Ironically, cynicism can make you quite compliant.

* * *

After the Charleston massacre, I’ve been thinking about an incident I witnessed a few months ago involving some white radicals. These white radicals decided to host a group discussion about police brutality. I wasn’t there for the first half so maybe something really transformative and inspiring happened, but when I came in, the more radical radicals were yelling at the less radical radicals and everyone was loudly crying. I wondered: what did they think they were accomplishing? We librarians are really into assessment, and I found myself mildly curious about what a survey six months out would reveal. Had the more radical radicals won anyone over to the cause? Did they make anyone measurably less racist? Or did everyone settle right back in to whatever beliefs and habits they’d had before the discussion, except with a nice new layer of resentment?

As I sat there, numbly listening to the sobs and hiccups, I thought back to the feminist blog I’d once written for, whose main writer didn’t give a shit about women of color and spent a conspicuous amount of energy hating on mothers. (“How dare they ask for milk on airplanes! How dare they bring their kids to restaurants!” It was really noticeable.) I thought back to all the wars I’d witnessed in the feminist blogosphere, symptoms of a movement devouring itself from the inside out.

I remembered why I’d faded out of radicalism, even faded out of activism altogether for a time. It was so exhausting. You could pour an infinite amount of energy into activist work and never feel like you were making a difference. I knew way too many people who either began to fetishize anger, lashing out right and left, or just gave up and faded back into the mainstream. Started buying sweatshop clothes again. Let their subscriptions to radical magazines lapse.

* * *

Obviously not all radical circles are the same. I know there are perfectly healthy radical cells and movements out there, and I applaud them. This post is for those who have had less-than-inspiring experiences.

There are two cures for burnout. The first is obvious: don’t work so much. I’m glad self-care is emphasized in radicalism, but unfortunately, things are looking bleak for the rest of society. There is absolutely no reason why we need to work forty hours a week or more, but here we are.

The second cure isn’t as immediately apparent. The work you do has to have an outcome. Something measurable. Something meaningful. A thing that wasn’t there before that makes you feel good. Think about your Paganism: would you continue to give offerings to a deity or perform a spell for weeks or months or years if the practice never had any positive effects? Sure, you might turn your frustration into shame and become a religious fanatic, but more likely you would just stop doing it.

Again, not so applicable to paid work. But crucial for justice work.

And here’s where assessment gets really challenging: when you realize that the work you’re doing isn’t effective, you have to be willing to stop and switch to something else. Because throwing yourself into pointless work is nothing more than a slow spiritual death.

* * *

I really don’t want my daughter to grow up in a place like LA. My Reclaiming community and my coven are here, so it’d be really painful to leave, but I think it’d be worth it to get to a place with forests. A place where I could have a real garden. A place with less traffic and lower housing costs. A witch in a traffic jam is not a happy witch.

In the meantime, I go easy on myself for stumbling once in awhile. I buy the coffee. I linger at the mall. But these things are just anesthetics. All they can do is numb you.

Here’s to a future with healthy communities and vibrant landscapes: a future that we create by doing what works and letting go of what doesn’t.

Radical Books for Radical Kids

Over at my personal blog I have a feature I call “What We’re Reading,” where I talk about what books I’m in the middle of and what I’m reading to my kids. I’d like to share a few of the books we’re reading that might relate to readers of Gods & Radicals.

AisforActivistA is for activist is a fantastic board book for babies, children, and grown ups alike! It walks readers through the alphabet, from activist to zapatista, educating people on collectivist and community ideas. Bright colors, plays-on-words (in more than one language!), and find-the-cat on each page make this book a lot of fun. I have found it a great way to slowly start discussing political ideas at an early age in a way that is non-polarizing. Plus, it always impresses the pants off adults when a kid can tell you that vox populi means voice of the people! Thanks, Innosanto Nagara!

You can purchase this book straight from the publisher, in English and Spanish. Plus, there is a publisher in Sweden who translated it into Swedish! I’m looking forward to adding the next book, Counting on Community, to our bookshelf.


 

Another beautiful board book is Kim Krans’ Hello Sacred Life. Krans is the creator ofhellosacredearth the fabulous Wild Unknown tarot deck (one I use regularly). Her simple book for the very young is a favorite in our house. The pictures are simple and exquisite, encouraging a reverence for the entirety of the world around us.

In my opinion, this book is appropriate for any family from any religious or spiritual tradition. Babies will love the colors and soothing repetitive quality of the words. Parents will love how easy it is to read. Personally, I find it quite relaxing to read – and we read it a lot!

For older kids, a fabulous book on gender diversity is Talcott Broadhead’s Meet Polkadot. Using a fictionalized version of Talcott’s sweet kiddo to demonstrate the myriad ways gender can be expressed, kids get a lesson in the basics of gender theory, lived experience, and ways they can be an ally.

This is a book that can be read on multiple levels. It’s very wordy, so when I read it to my 4 year old I might not read every single word, but read the bigger points on a page. For my older kid, I will read all of it. This book has led to some great discussions in our house! I love that my kids know transgender people in real life and in stories – and this book helps explain a lot of what that means. When we meet people of any or no gender they already have a bit of language under their belt, so they don’t have to get caught up on words and theory, and can jump straight into getting to know people as people.

Click on the picture below to purchase this book directly from the publisher.

MeetPolkadot

 


 

Last, but not least, is the wonderful, inspiring Rad American Women A-Z by Kate Schatz, illustrated by Miriam Klein Stahl. This is another alphabet book, with each letter highlighting an amazing American woman. Featuring a diversity of races, backgrounds, and sexualities, from across the centuries, this book highlights the incredible women that mainstream histories often gloss over. So many of these women were involved in abolition, socialist movements, workers’ rights, and the Civil Rights Movement. Angela Davis, Temple Grandin, Kate Bornstien, Sonia Sotomayor, WIlma Mankiller, and many others are featured here. The letter X is particularly moving – no spoilers!

Click on the image below to purchase.

rad

Each of these books revels in the beautiful diversity of our world and the collective efforts it takes to be whole, healthy, and thriving – that’s my take away, at least! These books reflect the values I wish for my kids: freedom of self-expression; love of this embodied and created world; virtues of strength, justice, and solidarity with others; feminism, socialism, and beauty.

Another aspect of these books I want to point out, one that your kids probably won’t appreciate, is that all of them are published by independent presses; three out of the four books were the impetus for their authors’ publishing companies! You can order these books directly from them or you can order them through your local, independent bookstore.

 

*Important note: this review is in no way suggesting that Gods & Radicals as an entity endorses these books, or the purchasing of them. These books were purchased by or borrowed from the library by me. The authors have no idea I’m reviewing their books.

The King’s Injustice: Choices and Consequences

by Naomi Jacobs

Under the Conservative-led government, homelessness has risen 55% in the past five years. Photo: homeless man in London.
Under the Conservative-led UK government, homelessness has risen 55% in the past five years. Photo: homeless man in London. By Victoria Johnson.

After that, Lugaid mac Con was a year in the kingship of Tara, and no grass came through the earth, nor leaf on tree, nor grain in corn. So the men of Ireland expelled him from his kingship, for he was an unlawful ruler.
– Aislinge Meic Conglinne, trans. Preston-Matto, 2010

A ruler’s truth overpowers armies. It brings milk into the world, it brings corn and mast.
– Early Irish text cited in Ó hÓgáin, 1999

In ancient Ireland, the king’s justice, the King’s Truth – fír flathemon – was the condition of sovereignty on which the prosperity of the land depended. If the king ruled with justice, the land prospered. If he failed in this, the land was barren, and the people suffered. Eventually, he would be deposed and a good king would replace him.

On May 7th, the UK had a general election, and a Conservative government was elected. This post is not about party politics. It is about political activism, and why it is needed – especially when the king’s justice is by no means certain for the future.

The Conservative-led UK government has spent the past five years implementing all manner of economically and socially conservative legislation and programmes. These cuts and measures have disproportionately targeted the poorest and most vulnerable* people in UK society. Here are just a few examples. I could have cited many more.

Injustice limits access to justice

Legal aid is an extremely old concept, found in the Bible and other ancient legal systems. It’s been a pillar of the UK social security system for generations, and it exists in many other countries too. The UK government has made sweeping cuts to legal aid, limiting most people’s access to financial support for legal representation. People in the foster care system, homeless people and parents in custody battles are all having to represent themselves in court. The worst affected area has been family law, which has seen a reduction in the use of mediation, which is likely to have had negative effects on families and children. In an unintended side-effect of the implementation of the cuts, people who experience domestic violence have been asked to show evidence of this before legal aid will pay their legal costs. The evidence is required to be no more than 24 months old. And it must be police evidence, which is a serious problem if the police haven’t believed you, or if you’ve been too afraid to report the abuse. Meanwhile, employment tribunal fees are no longer being paid by the government, as a result of which the rate of tribunals has dropped by 90%. This means less justice for those working in insecure jobs, in poor conditions, not receiving minimum wage, or facing discrimination at work. Injustice entrenches itself in the system.

Injustice compounds injustice

Then we’ve had the so-called ‘bedroom tax’. If people in social housing have more bedrooms than are deemed necessary, they have to pay more for them. Often this occurs in housing where people have lived for many years, where there can be many reasons for extra bedrooms (including the need for space to store disability-related equipment or to have a care worker sleeping nearby), and which they are now being made to leave. This measure is very badly timed, hitting people simultaneously with other serious housing issues, including a rental market that is spiralling out of control, as landlords charge more and more in rent, especially in the cities. As a result, thousands of people are being forced to move away from their home towns, relocated to cheaper housing elsewhere. This is having a knock-on effect on families, with parents even losing their children to the foster care system. Injustice compounds injustice.

No extra rooms allowed, no matter what you need them for. Photo: wheelchair in a room at home. By Wheelz24.
No extra rooms allowed, regardless of need. Photo: wheelchair. By Wheelz24.

Injustice destroys the weakest

Another horrendous move has been the closure of the Independent Living Fund. This fund helps to pay for the care of the most severely disabled people in our society, ensuring that they do not have to live in care homes, allowing them a measure of independence despite severe impairment. The fund is due to close in July. The government claims that the funding will move into the general local council social care budgets – but it is not ringfenced, i.e. the government will move the funding over without forcing local councils to spend it on the care of disabled people. Local council budgets have been cut by up to 30% across the board, and they are already struggling to pay for the care of disabled and elderly people, whose support is being cut as a result. This moving video features disabled people who are currently supported by the ILF, talking about their fears for the future. It’s worth watching. Injustice is brutal.

Photo: disabled people protest against cuts. By Roger Blackwell.
Photo: disabled people protest against cuts. By Roger Blackwell.

There’s also been ‘reform’ of disability benefits – by which the government really means cuts to benefits. Disabled people have been affected by government cuts 18 times harder than non-disabled people, some statistics suggest. Employment Support Allowance, an out-of-work benefit for those who can’t work due to disability, has been scandalously implemented via a ‘fitness to work’ test that has certified people as ready to go back to work just before they died from their conditions, as part of a system which has negatively impacted many people’s health. ESA has since been time-limited for many thousands of people, while ill people are being penalised and having their benefits removed if they cannot keep appointments (because they are sick).There have also been changes to funds that help to pay for the extra costs of disability, regardless of whether or not a person is in work. Without some of this funding, I will have no money to pay the soaring costs of disability in a society that increasingly doesn’t have room for me. I fear for my future and ability to work when I do. Injustice is expensive.

Injustice tramples the rights of the people

The government is now attempting to scrap the Human Rights Act, which allows us such terrible things as the right to freedom of expression, the right to an education, and the right to a private family life.

According to ajgcanada.com, these are all reforms that entrench poverty and increase inequality. Reforms that leave people in desperate situations. Reforms that destroy local services, including social care for elderly people and the National Health Service that all of us rely on (there is very little in the way of decent health insurance available to anyone in this country, except for those who are very rich and healthy). Reforms that kill. Injustice is relentless.

Fír flathamon – our truth, our justice

In a system that allows free elections, we are complicit in ensuring justice for all, and in denying it to anyone. We are the king’s justice, and the absence of it. We voted in a government that plans to aim further cuts at an already-ravaged population of poor and disabled people. We will only be able to blame ourselves when the land is torn apart by fracking, the foxes begin to die again if the hunt returns, homelessness numbers rise and rise, the people suffer because food banks are not enough to meet the needs created by government austerity programmes, and more poor and disabled people die.

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Photo: protester holds sign that reads ‘Ban fracking and support clean green energy’. By The Weekly Bull.

 

One of the worst kickers has been that, when I’ve told US citizens about this situation, hoping for commiseration and support, their reply has mostly been “Welcome to America.” Thanks for the schadenfreude, friends, but I think we can do better than that. One country’s injustice does not mean we have to support a string of unjust systems across the world. If anything, it should make us more keen to fight for justice, both in our own lands and abroad. The UK has a history of an excellent welfare state that was a true safety net for those in trouble. We should all fight its collapse, not celebrate it.

Religious institutions have been slow to respond to the injustice of the austerity measures and cuts in Britain. So slow, in fact, that our Prime Minister recently felt able to co-opt Christian frameworks in support of his cuts. But members of various religions are starting to step forward and speak out against the situation. Pagans need to do the same. We have access to many myths and metaphors that highlight how social injustice can lead to social and economic collapse for all. Some of those myths have been validated in the modern world – we know that societies that emphasise social justice and reduce inequality tend to do better economically and socially. The good judgments of the king really do lead to a prosperous and peaceful land. The opposite is also true. The land will not prosper while the people are oppressed. No grass comes through the earth in Britain today, nor leaf on tree, nor grain in corn. It’s just that not everyone can see that yet.

Today, the King’s Truth is our responsibility. It is our truth. Today, the majority has failed the minority in society, those who are weakened to sustain the power of the rich, of the more privileged. The bankers who get away with economic collapse. The politicians who get away with murder. We give them their power. We can take it away again.

But on May 7th, we failed to do that. We elected a government that we knew were planning to extend austerity measures and to create even more devastation and destruction. We could have deposed the king and replaced him with wise and just ministers. We chose instead to sustain and support gau flathemon, the injustice of kings.

The question is, what are we going to do about it now?

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Photo: a large sign held up by protestors reads “Thatcher’s gone – now let’s bury Thatcherism”. By Darren Johnson.

*Generally I dislike the word vulnerable, but in this case it’s true. Society is making disabled people, and others, ever more vulnerable in this country. It doesn’t have to be that way. It’s another thing that we choose to allow, to stand by while it becomes ever more true.

References

Preston-Matto, 2010, Aislinge Meic Conglinne (the vision of Mac Conglinne). Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press.

Ó hÓgáin, 1999, The Sacred Isle. Cork, Ireland: Collins Press.

All photographs used under Creative Commons licence.