Why are you here?

Farewell now my sister
Up ahead there lies your road
And your conscience walks beside you
It’s the best friend you will ever know
And the past is now your future
It bears witness to your soul

Because when I was a child, I realized everything is connected, and that was joyous and it felt important but I didn’t tell anyone, because somewhere I had picked up on the notion that was silly, or meaningless, or something.

Because I have always loved the sky and the mountains and the fish and the insects and the quiet stillness of a landscape covered with snow and the crashing of waves and the distant yet so close grandeur of the Milky Way and to see any of that harmed or lost to us is like losing a beloved friend, like losing touch with one’s gods, like having part of your own heart removed.

Because I spent several years reading a lot of liberal, feminist political sites, and got educated on the systemic harm being done to humans by other humans in the name of domination, and then I got burned out, because it was always the same stuff, with different details, and positive change was too rare and infrequent.

Because after 30-some years of atheism, I got an unshakeable notion in my head that an ancient Norse god with a reputation for shaking up the status quo might somehow, inexplicably, have an interest in me, and then I got around to asking Him if that was true, and the answer meant I had to leave a lot of old beliefs behind.

Because for reasons I will never be able to articulate, I realized as a young adult that what I really wanted to do was to help heal the Earth, and I’ve tried to change as much of my life as possible to live in accordance with that.

Because in seventh grade, my biology teacher taught us more about ecological devastation going on than I had already been aware of, and it hit me really hard, and with pre-teen angst, I wrote “The human race is going down the drain” on the inside back cover of my TrapperKeeper, and I am not yet convinced my younger self was wrong but I really hope she is.

Because one of my much-loved feminist blogs introduced me to the term “kyriarchy” and suddenly so much of the shit I was reading about cohered into one big thing; the system still sucked, but at least it made some sense.

Because shit is fucked up and bullshit and I’ve never been able to stand being a part of a system that is fucked up and bullshit without either trying to change it, or deciding to leave, and the latter isn’t an option I’m currently willing to consider.

Because I hate how other living things are considered “less than” us, and less important than “job creation,” and this justifies their abuse and – too often – their utter oblivion.

Because at every turn, asking “But why are they doing this harmful thing?!” seems to come down to one of two things: 1) greater profits-for-profits’-sake for whoever is in already control or 2) a need to keep someone else down; two sides of the same tainted coin.

Because during the worst year of my life, while getting some much-needed rest at my childhood home, the Occupy movement started, and they didn’t get beaten and jailed and run off in 24 hours, or 48, or even a week, and for the first time in years, I felt a little faith in humanity restored, along with some actual hope for the future.

Because if we don’t stop harming the biosphere, we’re going to hurt ourselves very, very badly, along with billions of utter innocents who share the planet with us.

Because reciprocity and sharing are vital to support life and healthy relationships, and I see that in the ecology of wild systems and I see that in lessons from religious lore but I do not see that in the dominant culture.

Because thanks to a variety of interactions with various gods, I got back into reading lots of news – focused on ecological, environmental topics this time – and I now see everything through the lens of ecology, interconnected systems, webs of relationships that feed each other in one complex beautiful system-of-systems of life creation and re-creation.

Because our human-made systems form a kind of perverse ecology of their own, so much of it ecocidal and life-denying, dealing death without the possibility for new life to arise.

Because I believe a good life is all about living in right relationship with others, whether those others are your family, coworkers, gods, marshlands, songbirds, or food crops, and the dominant culture does not teach people how to do that; in fact it feeds on the opposite.

Because my involvement with Occupy got me exposed to some actual anarchist and anti-capitalist writing and I realized that they were saying an awful lot of things about the world that I had concluded already, and – that awkward moment when you realize you’re way leftier than you thought.

Because my polytheism came along with animism, which gave additional weight to my belief that the other-than-human ought to be treated as people and with respect.

Because as a bookish 14-year-old, I had my life changed by a novel – not The Lord of the Rings or Atlas Shrugged, as the famous quote would have it, but the Illuminatus! trilogy (thanks, Dad!), and I’ve come to consider the Principia Discordia a sacred, guiding text.

Because science says that we’re related to other life on earth and that our bodies and other living things and the planet itself are all made from the remains of ancient stars, and my animism say that thus, we are all kin here, and this means the kyriarchy is literally destroying my very vast and diverse and weird and wonderful family and this cannot stand.

Make sure that the love you offer up
Does not fall on barren soil.
For the wind cries of late
In the whispering grass.
Our way of life is held
In the spinning wheels of chance.
I believe in a way of long ago
And the sounds I believe rose our glow

And we are changing our ways
Yes we are taking on different roads
Tell me more about the forest
That you once called home.

Because I am horrified, on a spiritual level, at so much of what is being done so thoughtlessly to the ancient dead: their remains disinterred without regard for them or the surrounding land and then converted into choking poisons in the air and land and sea.

Because I opened my life and my heart to a god, and He gave me a bigger, more deeply interconnected world than I had dreamed possible, and He gave me back joy of life and hope for positive change, and I can’t not use this incredible gift to aid others.

Because I’m angry that the dominant culture has convinced us – forced us – to exist in a system where we trade our time for money, allowing us to buy “happiness” in the form of material goods (assuming we even have enough after paying for basic needs) while restricting our means to achieve a fuller well-being through expressing creativity, developing stronger, healthier social networks, and engaging in other deeply meaningful pursuits, and then tells us, “You ought to be grateful you have a job at all.”

Because I am inordinately fond of birds.

Because in the early stages of my conversion, I discovered there were people who worshiped the Giants of Norse myth, as gods of the primal forces of nature, and I knew, as an undeniable heart truth, that these were my gods, this was home, and I had found something I had always (unknowingly) been looking for.

Because the monarchs are dying so the tiny minority of Monsanto and its ilk can make even more money to control even more of our food supply and to keep pressuring people with law-changing power to stay on the side of profit-oriented poisoners.

For the wind cries of late
In the whispering leaves
And the sun will turn to waste
The heavens we build above.
Father teach your children
To treat our mother well
If we give her back her diamonds
She will offer up her pearl.

Because for years I’ve felt a need to use the tag “Western civilization has a lot to answer for.”

Because I am part of the land. It feeds my body and my soul; perhaps it is a part of my soul, or I am a part of its, or both, or we’re parts of some bigger soul, I don’t know, souls are complicated, but that we are inextricably connected is undeniable (you are where you eat) and I love it like I love nothing else.

Because as a white person born, raised, and living in the United States, I have inherited many great benefits at absolutely horrific costs, and I believe it is therefore necessary and right to try to remediate what harm I can and help create a better world than what my many “ancestors” left for me.

Because capitalism is very good at taking all the many fears and angers bound up in other forms of abuse and oppression and convincing people to very literally buy into them and thus support the whole grotesque “ecology” of dominance and anti-life destruction it feeds on.

Because I can’t not question authority and “common wisdom” and if they say “But we must have progress! We must keep growing! And we can’t go back to that old stuff” instead of changing harmful behaviors, well that’s just not good enough.

Because I’ve been tired of not finding like-minded people – there are lots of pagans, and lots of environmentalists, and lots of radicals, but I’ve run into sadly few at the intersection of those interests.

Because everything IS connected, and to truly solve one of these problems, one of these systems of dominance, to stop oppressive, abusive behaviors (remove, replace with something better, as my beloved ancient Norse change-causing, gift-bringing god would do), we must cease all of them.

Because I believe another world is possible and I want a hand in helping it exist.

Because of Love.

The Blue Marble. Photo of the Earth taken December 7, 1972, by the crew of the Apollo 17.
The Blue Marble. Photo of the Earth taken December 7, 1972, by the crew of the Apollo 17.

We must sing her creation song
Jeune du monde
Invoke the spirits that feed us
This dreaming takes too long
But I’m not bitter, no, I’m surviving
To face the world, to raise the future
So why don’t you tell me, come on and tell me
About the world you left behind
Can you tell me?


 

[lines in italics quoted from “Tell Me About the Forest (You Once Called Home)” by Dead Can Dance]



Support our work by buying our books & stickers here.

Social Darwinism; Detachment from Community Accountability in Modern Pagan Culture

breadline-great-depression

“ Social Darwinism characterizes a variety of past and present social policies and theories, from attempts to reduce the power of government to theories exploring the biological causes of human behavior. Many people believe that the concept of social Darwinism explains the philosophical rationalization behind racism, imperialism, and capitalism. The term has negative implications for most people because they consider it a rejection of compassion and social responsibility.” – Robert C. Bannister, B.A., M.A., Ph.D.

 

“The core idea of Social Darwinism is that the wealthy and powerful enjoy the privileges they do because they are more fit in terms of the traits favored by natural selection. The poor and powerless have less fit traits and therefore it is best to let them perish since their elimination will represent natural selection favoring fitter traits and the spread of fitter traits is a form of progress. This line of thinking about moral issues, politics, and social policy was used to justify colonialism, extreme laissez-faire capitalism, and aggressive militarism. In any military conflict the fitter army would prevail and this would constitute a form of progress. It also justified withholding assistance from the poor and restriction of immigration to the U. S. from regions of the world deemed to have less fit populations.” – William Irons, Professor of Anthropology, Northwestern University

The idea that the strongest survive is nothing new, it is actually one of the founding principles of America. Those who are strong enough, fit enough, smart enough or skilled enough are the very people who survive the conditions and situations they are subjected to. America is not alone in the legacy of this principle, we can look to the colonization of countries throughout the world and see how this fundamental concept has influenced the actions of people throughout history. Whoever is strong enough gets the rewards, whoever is weaker has the responsibility for failure and their ultimate demise.

The roots of some of our most horrific historical moments come from a place enmeshed with the idea that we are somehow not accountable for the needs of others, and we are rewarded with the riches and privileges we can take. Capitalism as a system relies on this fundamental principle, and all things are born from that pivotal point.

It is not a far stretch to see how this connects to the notions that strips people of their humanity, making them only a representative of something other than their person. People become objects void of human compassion, empathy and protection. Individuals become a reflection of what they represent or possess, detached from our ability to see ourselves within the same reflection. This detachment allows for the horrors of rape, murder, disempowerment and oppression in the most horrific of circumstances, and a complete disconnect from the experiences of another human being in the best scenario. From either side of this spectrum, social Darwinistic approaches push us to become voyeurs to the pain of others while we separate from the ability to recognize the harm. We become a part of the complexity of a system that watches people perish in front of us while we excuse and dismiss the devastation of the outcome within our society.

We as a society have pushed against the views of Eugenics and other popular theories that fall under the umbrella of Social Darwinism, but we often dismiss how these types of theories are conditioned into the way that we relate with one another today.

The inherent belief that power or riches dictate strength or the ability to exist in the current social climate, and that those without power will inevitably cease to exist in the current dynamic, is dangerous and yet ever present in all facets of our interlocking communities.

 

A Dot in the Corner of the Big Picture

Paganism is a microcosm of greater society. The intersecting elements of larger societal culture have overlapping connections with the smaller sects. Pagans are not devoid from the structures, principles, thoughts, conditioning or history of macro society or culture; We still live within the constructs that exist outside of our spiritual realm and community.

Gated_Community WikimediaWe see these things within our own community; they surface in the ways we are conditioned to respond to the needs of others, how we engage with issues of equity, and how we conceptualize our personal and collective responsibility for the success of others. Some practitioners within the modern Pagan movement are more community minded individually, yet we find that the Pagan “community” does not share like values in how we acknowledge, support, advocate or commune with others that differ from our individual paths. Many of the big issues that have happened within the Pagan community have shown this very dynamic, where infighting sprung from competing values and a lack of flexibility around supporting the common good. People are apt to tokenize issues and people to a cause instead of looking at the humanity each of us possesses, and the differing needs that come as a result.

We have too often seen people labeled and sorted into categories that do not reflect their human aspects. Classifications that then come with judgements or belief systems that extend to ideals of inclusivity, or the opposite, for reasons that are laced with our perception of normative values and expectations.  We also see the separation between how people connect their spiritual place in the world and what is often referred to as “politics”, making a definitive line between personal needs and the needs of others. I have personally heard these statements made by Pagans in relationship to social justice issues, including but not limited to matters of racial inequity, mass incarcerations and other issues of systemic injustice.

The question then becomes, what is the responsibility of the average Pagan practitioner to support the highest good of all within community? How are we responsible for the collective outcome? And how do we bridge the gap between our individual paths or relationships with our Gods, to a more community minded perspective that has a sense of accountability for the resources and supports of others who are trying to thrive? And what about those who are not a part of the Pagan community? Do our resources stop at the barrier of our bubble?

These questions are challenging within any community. Paganism is no different. We are so focused on our individual needs, our normative views, and wrestling with our understanding of intersectionality and privilege, that we often struggle with a collective community minded view. Instead it becomes about me and mine, and you and yours need to figure it out for yourselves; And as individuals, groups and organizations within the community fall flat we tend to dismiss their failures as an individual issue of strength, value and worth.

It is with the lingering shadow of theories such as Social Darwinism that we allow racism, sexism, ageism, and elitism to continue to thrive within our community, and in general society. It is within the awareness of these harmful dynamics at play that we might be able to make decisions to build a healthier community. Movements to support marginalized communities inside of the Pagan umbrella have become stronger over the years, and I have been lucky enough to participate in some of that coalition building. As I have experienced more incidents of racism and discrimination within the community, I have come to understand more that our societal problems do not dissipate when the pentacle is put on. I, like many others, have been “sized up” within the community to judge my worth based on ethnic purity, my education, my profession and especially my initiatory degrees within what would be considered an approved or accepted tradition. The moment I was told I was unable to join a specific group because I was not of “primary” European descent, I began to really question how we individually and inclusively use the tools of oppression within our own groups and within the many cultures of Modern Paganism. In this specific situation I questioned what method was used to determine primary European descent status, and whether my blond hair and blue eyed son would be welcomed; There was no clear answer for either question. It became increasingly clear to me that values of worth meant something different in this context.

It is important that we no longer use the oppressive tools handed to us to oppress one another, and instead uplift and empower each other to find the paths that help us to thrive and connect us to a healthier togetherness.

Competition At The Table

Carnegie believed that the inequality that inevitably resulted from industrial capitalism was not inherently bad. Competition in society, as in the natural world, sorted people out according to their abilities. But this inequality did not preclude everyone, from millionaire to industrial worker, from playing a useful part in the collective task of human progress. “ – Peter Dobkin Hall, School of Public Affair, Baruch College, City University of New York.

This statement about Social Darwinist Andrew Carnegie really brings to light some challenges and questions I have about the underlined dynamics of our community and how we assess the value of others and our collective responsibility to one another. Are we purposefully participating in a culture that perpetuates the competitive nature of capitalism to distinguish between those who are viable within our community and those who are not? Does the Pagan community thrive on competition, power struggles, worth based assessments and perpetuated challenges to somehow filter out the weak? Who are the weak? Why are we resistant to look at how we are “playing a useful part in the collective task of human progress” and the value in collaboration based community?

I do not know the answers to these questions in totality, and yet some of the dynamics that perpetuate these issues are clear. If we are too busy competing with one another, we are not seeing one another for the qualities that we possess but we are focusing on the things that are not present. We are essentially exploiting the weaknesses in the landscape of our community, and that is a reflection of capitalism at its finest.

So what does this mean for the modern Pagan community moving forward? I am one of those who feels like spending the time to explore the hiccups in community can result in an awareness that allows personal and societal growth, but I am a Social Worker so that makes sense.

Allowing social and cultural capital to be as important as any other foundational concept could serve our community in many different, productive and supportive ways. Our community looks at a person through the lens of what we find to be valuable, important or meaningful to us. This can be a narrow glimpse. We forget that sometimes an individual’s value will sit right outside of the box we’ve created, thereby dismissing the usefulness or importance of their contributions. We have a pattern of dismissing the capital of others that do not give us an immediate sense of connection to our own normative values. Instead of “not ready”, “incapable”, “too young”, we can look at how people are growing, innovative, creative, and the bearers of new thoughts and approaches.

We should not confuse having healthy boundaries with the shedding process that is often used to eliminate people who we assume are not suited for our covens and groves. Instead of eliminating people based in perception, we should consider how we are able to encourage, inspire and uplift others in our community. And we need to stop assuming that when someone goes away it is because they were not meant to be here. It is in that same thread of thought, whether conscious or unconscious, that we see a lack of diversity within the Pagan community yet cannot understand why. It is this same stream of behavior that creates a culture of acceptable sameness and rejects those things that are outside of the realm of our comfort; we actively and passively are pushing away people that do not fit and often forget to evaluate the impact. It is within that same cultural norm that we lack accountability for the roles that we play and the outcomes that are generated as a result.

Conclusion… Sort Of….

Patterns, beliefs, behavior and our reality lay the framework for culture. Unchecked patterns of behavior denies everyone the ability to dig deeper and reflect on how our contributions harm one another.

The bottom line is this, we are still accountable. If we are comfortable categorizing and then dismissing the importance of Black people, trans people, people of color, disabled people, younger people, or any other marginalized group of people in our circle, the problem is us and not them. If we are not evaluating the needs of the greater society and dismissing the injustices around us, the problem is us. And we are accountable for that.

In a true community, we are connected to all things, and they are still connected to us. A survival of the fittest foundation within our community relies on the power of privilege. We can replace that with a different foundation, one made of equity and love, if we are willing to do the work.