A Journey Into Spiritual Resistance

“Mother earth will go on without us, one way or another. So get your shit together fellow earthlings because unless we collectively come together, there may not be another option to avoid becoming fossils like our Dino-brethren.”

From J.D. Lee

jason-betz-274375-unsplash

Whether you are a Pagan, Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Jain, Zoroastrian, Buddhist, or any other practitioner under the sun, you may acknowledge the fact that a portion (if not all) of what you have been taught was corroborated, co-opted, or used for malicious purposes. We’ll I’m here to tell you that it’s both okay, and not okay. Whatever you may believe, someone, somewhere started it all. Whether it was an oral tradition that was later written and collected into a book, or possibly chronicled as it was happening, chances are it was used as a manipulation tool at some point. But it doesn’t have to be that way more.

I grew up being preached at, with the southern Baptist gospel. Hellfire and Brimstone for those who disobeyed God, and a reunion with family and loved ones as a reward. As I aged I took an interest in learning about other religions and their effects on people. My grandparents thought I’d be a new age preacher, or a politician. Well, today I’m neither. And for damn good reasons. Although I quit going to church (going on 6 years now), I can’t help remembering the beautiful glass panes in the Lutheran church I attended for 2 years, or the Catholic Church I would visit later with it’s magnificent artwork and seemingly kind people. I still feel for those old bluesy hymns from that vitriolic Baptist church from so long ago. But as I learned about my heritage, (Cherokee, Inuit, Aleutian, Siouan, and Norse) I came to a realization. What if everything I’ve been taught in Sunday school and Mass was bullshit? Of course, not all of it was but if you look hard enough, there are overlapping features of all religions, good and bad. I could just no longer believe in something that I never really felt was true and full of so many contradictions. I don’t believe in A god. I believe in forces of nature which I cannot, and should not have to fully explain. To me, they are the ghosts, the energies, the surge of the wind after an incantation in the graveyard with a coven. They are what bind our reality together. The energy that leaves the body after death has to go some where. But where? That’s for you to decide!

Promises of an afterlife full of freedoms in exchange for your earthly life’s happiness sounds all fine and dandy. But why not be happy now, and when you’re dead? No matter your creed, each individual should be free to choose their own path. If the key to life and the afterlife is happiness, then why should we suffer now or later? I’m not going to claim that any religion or spiritual path is not worth pursuing, because I understand that each individual will find their own contentment in some form or another. I will say however that forcing a belief upon anyone will land you in the fire, so to speak. As with current conservative modes of thought, forcing people to give birth to a child which they either cannot take care of, do not want, or could possibly cause life threatening complication is very much wrong. Keeping people from accessing birth control, and other contraceptives aimed at decreasing STI’s is also WRONG. Telling your neighbors that they are an “abomination in the eyes of the lord” is not helping your standing in the community, no matter what your local corner preacher is telling you about butt sex.

My biggest qualm with organized belief systems is that of it’s automatic need to sustain itself and it’s order. Tithes and offerings are part of it, but so is obedience to authority. What human needs an authority figure to pass judgment? Are we not all our own masters? If I so pleased I would go against all teachings of the Christian religion, and nothing would stop me. Would an almighty god not smite me for even thinking of such things and threatening to disobey? The answer is no. One might argue this is the concept of free will, that the consequences of my actions would be on me and me alone. But how would this argument play out against God’s will? If he is omnipotent, omnipresent, and omniscient, he would know of my life and how it plays out regardless of my actions. I would end up in the same place no matter what choices I made. We all should know that this is false, we make our fates with our individual choices.

Suppose for a minute we are alive because the universe itself was alive and experiencing itself through all living beings. Would the actions you committed be an experiment? Or something necessary to the butterfly effect? The great spirit as some of my ancestors might say, is all around, or that God is all around professed by my family. GOD is in you, me and everyone and everything. It is everything and nothing. Even the vastness of space is filled with unique surprises, celestial beings, and massive unknown energies. The unknowable cannot be claimed to be known by anyone. So while the annoying atheist in the back of my head screams that there is no creator, no puppet master, no god; the preachy agnostic in me says to keep looking, observing, and learning. We are social creatures, looking to related and confirm ourselves. But more than that, we are dynamic, and more than capable of changing our circumstances to make things easier on ALL of us.

The supposed masters of our fates are in public office, employed as CEO’s, or behind the pulpit in front of a congregation. They give us the false sense of choice, they decide what we get to choose from. With all disrespect, I say FUCK THEM! We are free to choose however we want, whether that be what food we eat, our source of income, or our individual spiritual journeys. New England was formed by Puritans and Calvinists who we know burned suspected witches at the stake but had achieved more democracy than any prior European style government at the time. Pennsylvania was founded by Quakers, overran by Scots-Irish Catholics and Protestants alike, and ultimately ended up as a tolerant place for Christians of all stripes. Maryland was originally occupied and ran by Catholics. Even Salt Lake City was founded as a Utopia for the much hated Mormons who could not help but be chased out of every city and county they occupied for fear of ending up like their founder. People have been trying to practice their spiritual learnings freely without reprisal for thousands of years.

This Nation was founded on ideals that were not equally agreed upon at the time of it’s inception. For example, the dutch colony of New Netherlands had a policy to allow freedom of religion, so long as it’s inhabitants did not cause a commotion in public. That colony was since overtaken by the British, but the people in charge kept this policy as to keep the peace. The Puritans on the other hand mutilated Quakers as to distinguish them from “their own”, and were deeply opposed to this kind of tolerance. Whether or not our course of action should be to dismantle prior belief systems, or move into the woods and find our own beliefs with fellow spirituality seekers, I do not know. Do we form our own sects within pre-existing religions? Should we accept Scientology’s ghastly forms of social control? I say do what you will without forcing it onto other people.

While the practices, traditions, and perspectives of these religions has changed (or remained the same in the case of fundamentalists), we should not forget that many times religion has been pushed onto conquered peoples or mandated by a central authority figure. This was most definitely the case for Native Americans whose varied belief systems were thought brutish by European colonizers, and for the subjects of the Roman Empire during the transition period under Constantine. We have been systematically educated to believe what we are told and that if we don’t there will be consequences doled out by either the government or by God. Enough is enough of these laws of morality. Who is to say that premarital sex, homosexuality, idolatry, lying for a good reason, or killing in self defense is immoral? Our oppressors surely do not have the right to claim what is divine and good in the world, we as individuals must decide for ourselves.

I respect the various pagan religions more than any monotheistic religion simply because the gods spirits are supernatural representations of the physical world. Vikings may have raided, plundered, and murdered but they are no more evil than the Anglican church. Norse tradition is filled with tales of splendor, the people were gracious, and the drink was plenty. Native Americans may have warred, stolen from and conquered other tribes, but it makes them no more immoral than the Christians who enslaved, massacred, and raped the first nation peoples. Native tribes were much less savage than Europeans thought previously, having an Anarcho-Communist economic system with communication, trade, and a rich history of peace making. 

 No religion may claim superiority over another simply because all religions are based in concepts which seek to explain things that which we have no other explanation for. The Cherokee myth of creation bears resemblance to the Christian myth of creation in that the earth was created in 7 days, but that is where the similarity ends. In my limited understanding of Islam, Jesus was a prophet like Muhammad. He may not have been considered the son of god but the religion still has ties to Abraham, whom Judaism reveres just as highly. So how is it that these 3 mainstream religions still hold resentment for one another? While those practicing Judaism are still awaiting the messiah, the other two hold onto their beliefs that the savior has already came. The big 3 are certainly plagued with their own mishaps, and draconian laws. While I do not claim that less organized religion will make the world a more peaceful place, I still cannot help imagining that it would the case. If we were to abandon all traces of control from these preordained religions and cast aside all the new cults in favor of personal spiritual exploration, we would be better off. All attempts of recuperating for power under these existing structures should be thwarted by any means. Then again, that is just my BELIEF.

So what is the point of all this? I simply want to show that no matter what your beliefs, no one truly knows what happens after death. Whatever path you take, I hope that you come away with a sense of skepticism towards all organized religion (read as cult) and follow your inner being instead of blindly following a higher power. We all have conscience which tells us what to do, we all have that intuition. If yours, like mine, tells you we are all connected to each other and the universe around us through a shared consciousness, then that’s fine. If you think we are all separate entities fumbling around trying to find meaning in a possibly meaningless world, then you are not alone either. We must each blaze our own trails and hopefully we’ll all find intersections that correspond to our own at some point instead of just running parallel to each other all the damn time.

 These seemingly irreconcilable differences we all experience are just an illusion and we must recognize that before we wipe ourselves out. Then again, mother earth will go on without us, one way or another. So get your shit together fellow earthlings because unless we collectively come together, there may not be another option to avoid becoming fossils like our Dino-brethren. Go smoke a joint, take some LSD, pop some molly, go drinking with some friends, or read a fucking book for Christ’s sake. Just do something which fills you with happiness and brings you closer to an understanding with your fellow (wo)man. There is a thin line between life and death, but let’s cross that bridge when we come to it, eh? I’ll see you on the other side, wherever that may be.


J.D. Lee

Pilot MountainA Carolina Native who seeks to inform the community and world at large of the mass manipulation we face. This an-com hillbilly is not your run of the mill, bootlickin’, shitstain. Sure, sometimes he’s an asshole, but you’ve got to be when you’re literally surrounded by Klansmen. When he’s not trading his time for money, you can find him burning a sage stick and/or blunt while praying to mother anarchy to show all her children the way.


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What’s A Nice Atheist Like Me Doing At Gods & Radicals?

“The Sources” by Emy Blesio (oil on canvas)

 

Recently, some criticisms of the Gods & Radicals community have included condemnation of the inclusion of a self-proclaimed atheist — me — among the contributors.1

What’s an atheist doing at Gods & Radicals?  It’s a fair question.

The truth is, while I am an atheist, I am also a non-theistic humanist, a Gaian pantheist, an archetypal polytheist, a naturalistic animist.  And which one I answer to really depends on how you ask the question or what aspect I am choosing to emphasize at the time.

I am but atheist north-north-west.

When the wind is southerly, I know a god from a geist.

My worldview does not accommodate supernatural beings that exist separately and independently of human beings — and in that sense I am an atheist.

And yet, my world is full of gods.  Let me give you an example …

Each morning, I wake up and greet the rising sun with arms upraised and an invocation of Indra, adapted from the Rig Veda, on my lips:

Scaling heaven, splendor encompasses you,

Chariot-Borne, sun-bright, and truly potent,

You pour forth, bursting the clouds,

Giving life to sun and dawn …

You say the sun is no god?  What is it else that rules outside our selves?

I saw that there are, first and above all,
The hidden forces, blind necessities,
Named Nature, but the thing’s self unconceived :
Then follow, — how dependent upon these,
We know not, how imposed above ourselves,
We well know, — what I name the gods, a power
Various or one: for great and strong and good
Is there, and little, weak and bad there too,
Wisdom and folly : say, these make no God, —
What is it else that rules outside man’s self?

— Robert Browning, “The Ring and the Book”

Do I believe the gods are real?  Of course!  What could be more real than the sun?

For ages, humankind, we’ve wanted to celebrate what brings us life. What is this thing that allowed us to emerge. …

The Sun. The Star.

That right there is the source of all of our myths and allegories and hopes and dreams. It gave life to the world; gave birth to life.

Its core burns at ten million degrees and it consumes millions of tons of matter per second – we ourselves are made of remnants of its fallen siblings.

The preconditions for our humanness, that, certainly, is what god is right? ‘Let there be light!’

— Jason Silva, “What is a God?”

But you say, it’s impossible to interact with this god?  Not so.  I interact with it every morning when I open my eyes to the growing light.  I interact with it every time I step outside and feel its warmth on my flesh, my cells absorbing  its rays.  I interact with it every time I take a breath of air which is warmed its radiation.  I interact with it every time I eat a vegetable which transformed its energy into life-sustaining matter.

True, the sun does not hear or respond to my prayers.  You might say it is indifferent to me.  And yet, in a sense, I am an extension of the sun.  I am its energy transformed into living matter.  I am the light of the sun made conscious, capable of reflecting back on itself, seeing and appreciating its own warmth and beauty.  “Indifference” does not seem a fitting word to describe this relationship.

“I want to know why beauty exists, why nature continues to contrive it, and what is the link between the life of a lightning storm with the feelings these things inspire in us? If God does not exist, if these things are not unified into one metaphorical system, then why do they retain for us such symbolic power?”

— Anne Rice, The Vampire Lestat

Why does the sun hold such beauty and power for us?  Because there is a sun within us too, an inner sun god.  Indra, to whom I call in my invocation, is just one of the names of this god.  He is the power of the sun personified.2  Indra is my internal sun — the part of me that is called forth by the sight of the rising sun.  The sun god without speaks to the sun god within, and the sun god within responds.

Have you ever felt the sun rise within you?  Words like “archetype” and “symbol” are inadequate to capture this experience.

You say this Indra is not real because he is “in my head”?  It’s true it is all in our heads, but if we think this makes them less real, then, as Lon Milo DuQuette has written, we have no idea how big our heads really are.

For the pioneers of modern psychology, Freud and Jung, the deepest levels of the psyche merged with the physical body and the physical stuff of the world.  Ecopsychologists like James Hillman and Theodore Roszak extend Freud’s id and Jung’s collective unconscious and draw the rational conclusion that what these terms imply is literally the world.

The most profoundly collective and unconscious self is the natural material world.

— James Hillman, “A Psyche the Size of

the Earth”

What meaning does the phrase “merely psychological” have if the psyche is “the size of the earth”, a literal anima mundi which suffused with subjectivity, interiority, intimacy, and reciprocity.

But you say this Indra is not real because he is not separate from me?  But if that’s the case, then you and I are not real either, because we are not separate:

We are all connected; To each other, biologically. To the earth, chemically. To the rest of the universe atomically.

— Neil deGrasse Tyson

Our interconnectedness makes us more, not less, real.  From this perspective, the more we emphasize the separateness of the gods, the less real they become.

What does any of this have to do with being a “radical” or with anti-capitalism?

In order to answer that, I need to explain briefly the relationship between capitalism and the disenchantment of the world.

According to Morris Berman, “The story of the modern epoch, at least on the level of mind, is one of progressive disenchantment,” which Berman defines as “nonparticipation”  and “alienated consciousness.”  A disenchanted consciousness sees everything else, even living beings, as objects — objects to be bought and sold, in the case of the capitalist form of disenchantment.

Capitalism is one of the driving forces behind the disenchantment of the world.   It alienates workers from the products of their labor, but it also alienates us from the physical world, from nature (including our own bodies).  Capitalism disenchants the world by reducing everything to resource and commodity, fungible and without intrinsic meaning.

Nothing we come upon in the world can any longer speak to us in its own rights. Things, events, even the person of our fellow human beings have been deprived of the voice with which they once declared their mystery to men.

— Theodore Roszak, The Making of a Counterculture

This disenchantment of the world happened, not when we stopped seeing gods and spirits in nature — gods and spirits can be objectified too — but when we stopped feeling our connection to nature, when we lost our sense of essential participation in the world.

The view of nature which predominated in the West down to the eve of the Scientific Revolution was that of an enchanted world. Rocks, trees, rivers, and clouds were all seen as wondrous, alive, and human beings felt at home in this environment. The cosmos, in short was a place of belonging. A member of the cosmos was not an alienated observer of it but a direct participant in its drama. His personal destiny was bound up with its destiny, and this relationship gave meaning to his life.

— Morris Berman, The Re-Enchantment of the World

The re-enchantment of nature, then, is a means overcoming capitalist alienation.  It means relating to nature once again as our home — in the deepest sense of that word.  (The prefix eco- means “house”.)  It means cultivating a profound awareness of our interconnectedness — our kinship  — with every other living being — and, yes, even with the rocks and other unconscious, yet animate, matter.

So let’s go back to my morning ritual …

When I raise my arms in greeting to the sun, I am re-storying myself to my proper place in the universe.  I am re-placing myself in the vast cosmic drama which began billions of years ago, when stars were born and died, and spread their life throughout the universe.  I am re-calling the time when the rays of the sun gave life to our first simple-celled ancestors.  I am re-membering how my body and yours evolved in response to the sun — how our sensory organs were shaped by a long and delicate process of interaction with the world around us, how our eyes were shaped by and then finely tuned by the light of the sun and its reflections off of the myriad surfaces of the natural world.

… when I look up at the night sky and I know that yes, we are part of this universe, we are in this universe, but perhaps more important than both of those facts is that the Universe is in us. When I reflect on that fact, I look up—many people feel small because they’re small and the Universe is big—but I feel big, because my atoms came from those stars. There’s a level of connectivity. That’s really what you want in life, you want to feel connected, you want to feel relevant you want to feel like a participant in the goings on of activities and events around you. That’s precisely what we are, just by being alive.

— Neil DeGrasse Tyson

I am also reviving the energetic process which sustains my life today.  I am re-cognizing my kinship with all other life — both human and other-than-human, both plant and animal — all life that depends on the energy from the sun — as well as to the winds and waters whose cycles are driven by the sun’s rays.  And I am re-connecting the experience of the light and warmth outside of me to the experience of psychological light and warmth inside of me — as above so below.

This simple gesture of greeting the sun is one way of re-enchanting the world.  Ritual gestures like these work together as an antidote against the disenchantment of capitalism …

… the sterile preoccupation with things that are artificial, the alienation from the sources of our strength.

— Rachel Carson, “The Sense of Wonder”

Doing this reminds me of my place in the cosmos — not a “stranger in a strange land”, not a exile from heaven, and not a mere consumer of widgets and producer of GDP — but a child of Sol and Terra, kin to wolf and salmon, redwood and moss, earthworm and parasitic wasp.  Knowing I am a part of this earth, and it me, and that my destiny in continuous with it, helps me see capitalist alienation for what it is.  It helps me find ways to resist that alienation and to imagine a different kind of life.

So am I an atheist?  Yes, but that’s not all I am.  I am also a worshiper of many gods … and a radical too.  And as surely as the earth is my home, so is Gods & Radicals.


With gratitude to Rhyd Wildermuth and others who have defended my participation in this community.


Endnotes:

1 I am not the only non-theistic writer at G&R.

2 Indra was a sun god in his earliest form in the Rig Veda. In later forms, he became a god associated with rain and lightning.


John Halstead

John Halstead is Editor-At-Large and a contributor at HumanisticPaganism.com. He blogs about Paganism generally at AllergicPagan.com (which is hosted by Patheos) and about Jungian Neo-Paganism at “Dreaming the Myth Onward” (which is hosted by Witches & Pagans). He is also an occasional contributor to GodsandRadicals.org and The Huffington Post and the administrator of the site Neo-Paganism.com. John was the principal facilitator of “A Pagan Community Statement on the Environment,” which can be found at ecopagan.com. He is a Shaper of the fledgling Earthseed community, which is described at GodisChange.org. John is also the editor of the anthology, Godless Paganism: Voices of Non-Theistic Pagans. To speak with John, contact him on Facebook.


Both issues of A Beautiful Resistance are available not just in print, but as digital downloads as well.  Follow these links for Everything We Already Are  and The Fire is Here.

 

Weekly Update: 21 August

Consider yourself a polytheist but becoming increasingly alienated from the authoritarian push of some self-appointed leaders? There’s a new series of writing from folks who will inspire you.  “My Polytheism” began a few weeks ago, and there’s been quite a lot of diverse writing already which the site is compiling.   From the intro page:

This is the common ground our communities need to be built around. Not same-ness. Not dogma. Not gate-keeping. Hospitality.

Gods&Radicals co-founder Alley Valkyrie and treasurer Syren Nagakyrie have also contributed (Note–Gods&Radicals isn’t affiliated with this, but thinks it’s awesome!!!).

And speaking of Polytheism, here are the notes for Ryan Smith’s presentation at Many Gods West on the ‘Future of Polytheism.’

Look later this week for an editorial from Rhyd Wildermuth on these subjects.

We mentioned the struggle to stop the pipeline on First Nations land last week. As of this posting, it’s been paused, but the State of North Dakota has issued a State of Emergency to get more police to stop the protests. And the Standing Rock Sioux are appealing to the United Nations.

The police in Rio are still killing poor people on behalf of the Olympic games.

The failed coup in Turkey last month is now being partially blamed on the leftist Kurdish rebels by Turkey’s president. Many of the Kurdish rebel factions are anarchist, feminist, and also support the revival of traditional religions in the region.

This week

We’ll have a reprint of Feminist & Marxist theorist Silvia Federici’s essay for A Beautiful Resistance: Everything We Already Are, as well as essays from Sable Aradia, a guest essay from Ruth Morang, an editorial from Rhyd Wildermuth, and another poem from Hunter Hall!

oil god

 

 

 

Prayer to the Storm God in a Time of Conflict

 

A flicker of white light across the sky

As lightning cuts the clouds. The god is here,

A sword blade flashes by

And all the sky comes clear.

As near and far the clashing shields

Across celestial battlefields

Cast echoes through the night, but don’t destroy.

The god is fighting for the simple joy

The sweetness of pure movement, the delight

Of perfect action, flawless, self-contained.

The sky is cut in two

This night.

Its blood pours down on us as rain.

God, let our deeds be true.

And as the cities fill with restless crowds

Like heavy, lightning-bearing clouds,

Grant us the strength to fight

Like sheets of blinding light

And let us take no joy in causing pain

But only cut the sky to bring the rain.

Christopher Scott Thompson

Christopher Scott Thompson is a writer, historical fencing instructor and founding member of Clann Bhride, the Children of Brighid. He was active with Occupy Minneapolis and Occupy St. Paul. His political writing can be found at https://alienationorsolidarity.wordpress.com/.


Christopher Scott Thompson is one of the many writers featured in A Beautiful Resistance: The Fire is Here. The digital edition is also on sale now.

Book Review: Lord of Light by Roger Zelazny

Lord of LightLord of Light by Roger Zelazny
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I thought this book was outstanding. It was deep, thoughtful, and marvelously subversive, and like all good science fiction, it makes you think.

A bunch of people in a far future on a distant planet with some superpowers establish a society that they model consciously after Vedic civilization (it never says why or how, but there is an assumption that most of the people are Indian). For some reason (again never fully explained) the people do not start out with the levels of technology of their ancestors; somehow it has been lost. They discover the people with the superpowers and start to treat them like gods. The “gods” divide into camps. Some take the fascist view that since they can do things that others can’t, they *are* gods and worship is their due. Others (the minority) take the position that they need to help people to rediscover the technology they lost, and if they *must* be seen as gods, they will use the press to further that end and then “resign” their positions and disappear into myth. Sam, our protagonist, consciously uses the legends of the Buddha to that end.

Some have commented that they don’t understand this novel, or that it reads more like fantasy. It’s intended to be read that way, and to someone with even passing familiarity with Vedic mythology it’s brilliant. The characters who assume the roles of “gods” speak to each other and their “worshipers” with a weird mishmash of pseudo-archaic-speak that can’t possibly be anything but affected, which is downright funny. Much of their “miracles” are also due to extremely advanced technology. The technology used to justify their Ascension is extremely loosely described by design and might just as well be magic for the reader’s purposes.

The author explores many deep themes of religion. He asks us to consider the nature of what a “god” actually is. Gods get to be gods in our myths because they are immortal and they can do amazing stuff that the rest of us can’t. So at what point does that become true? I have read numerous dissertations that theorize that superheroes are modern stand-ins for Pagan deities (Superman = Sun God, Wonder Woman = Moon Goddess, Batman = God of Vengeance/Justice, etc.) If they can do things that we can’t, and they’re effectively immortal, aren’t they *actually* gods?

If not, then how do we justify our gods being gods in the first place? Perhaps the gods we are familiar with were just people who can do things that we can’t. If it’s because they’re more “enlightened” than we are, how do we know that? Maybe they’re con artists, like Sam, who says all the right things but doesn’t believe them himself, until an enlightened “follower” shows him that the words of the Buddha that he’s aping do actually have truth. And furthermore, many gods in mythology behave just like us, only they do more damage when they do stupid or mean things because of their powers. (And that’s every god ever, from Thor to Zeus to Jesus to Jehovah himself).

Is religion a good thing or a bad thing? Is it a necessary part of human development? Is it something that we “transition out of” when we grow up as a species, or is it something that we always need? Which gods are the “real” gods anyway?

Some have wondered if this book might be disrespectful to Vedic beliefs. I can see that some might find it so, and considering that when the book was written no one would have thought twice about it because it wasn’t Christianity, Judaism or Islam, that’s progress. But I don’t personally find it so. For the record (full disclosure) I am a rather devoted Wiccan Priestess who has written books and keeps a blog on the topic, and I’m sympathetic to the Vedic deities because a) Hinduism and Paganism are very similar in many ways, b) some modern Pagans worship Vedic deities, and c) many of us dabble with Buddhism as well because it also has a lot in common with contemporary Paganism. So understand that I take these deities very seriously and have the highest respect for Them. But this is no way invalidates the issues being raised by the author, who is challenging and exploring the nature and necessity of religion as a whole. Is religion something that holds us back as a species, or does it inspire us to greatness? Is faith the only thing that keeps the darkness within human nature in check, or is that only our mortality? What kind of horrors would we get up to if we weren’t limited by human frailties?

At the time Lord of Light was written, science fiction extolling the virtues of human ascension through technology were common. Zelazny, with a combination of cynicism, humour, respect and love, suggests that no matter how advanced our toys and powers become, we’ll still just be people and we’ll still act like it, for good and for ill.

I found myself contemplating those figures who were said to be divine incarnations throughout history, such as the Buddha, or Jesus, or Zoroaster or Pythagoras, and I find myself wondering if they, as Sam does in this novel, originally established their following as a protest *against* the gods and those who claimed to speak for them. The Buddha was protesting the Vedic caste system; Jesus was protesting the Pharisees. Did they intend to become objects of worship, or was that a corruption of their original message?

More than the religious issue, however, Lord of Light can be read as a powerful anti-capitalist message. What starts the conflict between Sam, the handful who join him, and the rest of the “gods,” is that a new merchant class takes over the Wheel of Karma (the technology that allows people to transfer to new bodies when they die) on behalf of the “gods,” who direct them to only permit people to reincarnate if they’re doing the things that the “gods” want them to do, which they get to make up arbitrarily. They encourage the populace to labour for them with lesser technologies than they might receive, and destroy their works whenever their civilization discovers a higher level of technology than the “gods” wish them to have (such as the printing press) by promising that those who are pleasing to the “gods” might reincarnate into better positions when they die. But the “gods” and the Lords of Karma make up the rules to suit themselves and secure their own “divine positions,” so who really gets to advance? Free thinkers are also punished by being reincarnated as apes or dogs, for example. In this I see the message we are told by the 1%; we are all just temporarily embarrassed millionaires. But who really gets to advance, and by what rules other than toeing the party line?

Not only does this story contain all of that, but the allegory is a lot like “American Gods” or “Gods Behaving Badly”, and it’s a funny and sympathetic look at the human condition. Highly recommended!

View all my reviews

Gods of a Radical

Prayer to the Goddess of the City

 

In wooden beams, in bricks, in cobblestones

I see your face and feel your watching eyes.

And when the alleys moan

With wind I hear your cries.

You dance in every shaking sign

And drink when gutters run with spilled red wine.

You slip unnoticed in your all-night walk

Through empty playgrounds marked with fading chalk.

You sleep on benches in the winter cold

Forever growing old.

You see all secret things, and know all crimes

Committed on your streets. And you reveal

All things the wicked wish they could conceal.

When paper skitters down an empty street

At 3AM, I hear you walking past.

And I can hear the echoes of your feet

In sirens and in breaking glass.

Protect all those you pass along your way

And see them through until the light of day.

Oh goddess of my city, I am poor.

Keep hunger from my family’s door.

Protect my neighbors from the storm

And keep us all well-fed and warm.

And I, in gratitude, will do the same

For others, in your name.


This has been an emotionally and spiritually exhausting time to be a writer for Gods and Radicals. Apparently, writing about pagan religious practice and radical politics in the same space makes you a “fanatic peddling a divisive agenda” as one “apolitical polytheist” described me.

While the initial controversy was set off by a page about the New Right in pagan movements, many of the critics have made it clear that they don’t want Gods and Radicals to exist at all. In their minds, any discussion of left-wing politics in a religious context is illegitimate. The most common criticism seems to be that we aren’t really motivated by religion, and that the only thing we care about is politics.

Now, I’ll give them this much. If a person is willing to stand up with me and fight the powers that are despoiling this planet, I don’t care if that person is a pagan or not. I’m happy to stand on the barricades with an atheist or a Christian. I don’t think the revival and growth of polytheism is more important than the crises currently facing this planet, and frankly I can’t understand the values of anyone who would.

That doesn’t mean I “don’t put the gods first” as so many are saying. It also doesn’t mean that I think my gods are telling me what side to fight on. Just to be clear, Brighid never came down from above and told me to be an anti-capitalist, and neither did Macha.

On the other hand, the lore and mythology associated with Brighid and Macha has implications for both society and my daily life, and I happen to take those implications seriously. Why? Because I take my gods seriously, of course.

In the lore about the various Brighids of Irish mythology, we find them mourning war, asserting the rights of women and the poor, and standing up to rulers and kings. Doesn’t this imply something about the values Brighid represents and manifests?

In the lore of Macha, the goddess dies in battle fighting the oppressive Fomorians, then comes back in human form only to die when she is forced to race the horses of the king of Ulster. She curses the warriors of Ulster in vengeance. Doesn’t this imply something about the need to make sacrifices to fight oppression, and about Macha’s attitude to unjust rulers?

These stories may imply something different to you than they do to me. That’s fine, there’s no one right way to read a myth. And your gods may have different values from my gods. That’s your business. But if your god’s lore implies something to you and you choose to ignore it, you can hardly say you’re “putting the gods first.” The lore of my gods implies certain values, I take those values seriously, and I guide my life by them.

As such, there is no conceivable way my polytheism could be apolitical.


Christopher Scott Thompson

Christopher Scott Thompson is a writer, historical fencing instructor and founding member of Clann Bhride, the Children of Brighid. He was active with Occupy Minneapolis and Occupy St. Paul. His political writing can be found at https://alienationorsolidarity.wordpress.com/.

 

How Goes the War? Taking Stock and Initiating New Magick for Change

How goes the war, witches and magicians?

I think that since September 2015 it’s going rather well.  There have been a lot of interesting shifts in the way things are going in the world.  For one thing, in October, the Liberal Party of Canada, headed by Justin Trudeau, finally toppled the Conservative Harper Regime, which was well on its way to transforming Canada from its social democratic roots into a Corporatist paradise.  Those who support an anti-capitalist (or anti-corporatist) viewpoint can’t be as happy with that as we would be about an NDP victory in Canada, but it’s definitely an improvement.

For another thing, the American Presidential primaries have never been so interesting!  It’s fascinating to see how Bernie Sanders, a democratic socialist who’s been speaking from the same place since the 1960s is suddenly a serious contender for the Democratic nomination.  Not that you’d ever know this if you only followed the mainstream media!  Their deliberately misleading coverage in their desperate desire to preserve the status quo has been even more interesting, and it inspired my last article.

But it’s a truth that in magick one must be especially careful of what one wants to accomplish, because you may end up with unintended consequences. Donald Trump may be one of those unintended consequences.  Those of us working magick for change were not very specific about what form the change should take, were we?  Clearly Trump is setting out to destroy the modern Republican party, which is clearly either our foe or a powerful ally thereof, but perhaps the cure is worse than the disease.  It scares me a little that Americans seem ready to elect the 21st century equivalent of Mussolini.

So what’s to be done?  Well, perhaps more magick is called for.  Nature abhors a vacuum, and when you use magick to break down, you must also use magick to build up.

So it’s time now, I think, to call upon the growing and healing spirits of transformation.  With spring (and March 15) just around the corner, it’s time to call upon that energy of renewal.  When the system comes apart, what will replace it?  Let’s all lend our energy to the United States right now, where much of the world’s future is about to be decided (like it or not,) and then let’s spread that power out into our own lands:

Statue of Liberty of New York by Axelle B (public domain image).

Use whatever your usual procedures are to enter into a Journeyworking (spirit travel.)

Visualize a bald eagle flying high over the land.  See it flying high above you, searching.  It cries as it finds what it seeks and it lands on the shoulder of Lady Liberty, who is bearing Her torch of freedom.  She smiles and nods Her greeting to you.

Who is Lady Liberty?  Is She just a symbol, a statue?  Or is She something more?  She bears a strong resemblance to Athena to me.  I think perhaps She is a new goddess.  And as an American goddess, the fate of Americans matters to Her.

Ask Her to lend Her support to those working for the cause of liberty, freedom, and justice in the upcoming Presidential election process.  Ask Her to withdraw Her support from those who are not working in the interests of those causes.  Ask Her not to take a side in personal political preferences, but to keep in mind the personal motivations of candidates that we cannot see and the long-term consequences that we may not be able to predict.

If you, like me, are not an American, then reach out to impress upon Lady Liberty how the American Empire affects the entire world, and why we who are not U.S. citizens care about the future of American politics.

As when dealing with the Wild Hunt, be aware Lady Liberty may ask you to perform a task in return.  Listen for guidance.  If you are willing to agree to the task, do so.

Visualize the torch of freedom illuminating those who are doing the work of freedom with a glowing spotlight or halo.  Hear their words being amplified to spread to those who need to hear it.  See that light spreading out over the United States, and then the whole world.  And where it touches the yokes of the ones who would enslave us, let those yokes be burnt to a crisp.

The eagle takes flight over the illuminated landscape and lets out a cry of joy.  Lady Liberty smiles.

Return to your body and make whatever offering you feel is appropriate.

And let’s cross our fingers!

* I deferred my intended subject for the next article because I felt that this was a little more urgent.  My article on the pitfalls of internet media will follow next week.


Sable Aradia

Sable Aradia Author 1I have been a practicing Witch for more than 20 years, and an active organizer and facilitator in the Pagan community since 1993. I am a third degree initiate in the Star Sapphire and Pagans for Peace traditions, and an ordained Priestess and recognized Religious Representative in the Congregationalist Wiccan Association of British Columbia. I was the first Local Coordinator in the Okanagan Valley for the Pagan Pride Project. I am a practicing herbalist (Dominion Herbal College) and a Reiki Master/Teacher.


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The Matter Of The Gods

This essay by Jonathan Woolley is among the great works published in A Beautiful ResistanceEverything We Already Are, available in print or digital.

Roy Cohn: What’s it like? After?
Belize: After…?
Roy Cohn: This misery ends?
Belize: Hell or heaven?
Roy Cohn: [laughs]
Belize: Like San Francisco.
Roy Cohn: A city! Good! I was worried… it’d be a garden. I hate that shit.
Belize: Mmmm. Big city. Overgrown with weeds, but flowering weeds. On every corner a wrecking crew and something new and crooked going up catty corner to that. Windows missing in every edifice like broken teeth, gritty wind, and a gray high sky full of ravens.
Roy Cohn: Isaiah.
Belize: Prophet birds, Roy. Piles of trash, but lapidary like rubies and obsidian, and diamond-colored cowspit streamers in the wind. And voting booths. And everyone in Balenciaga gowns with red corsages, and big dance palaces full of music and lights and racial impurity and gender confusion. And all the deities are creole, mulatto, brown as the mouths of rivers. Race, taste and history finally overcome. And you ain’t there.
Roy Cohn: And Heaven?
Belize: That was Heaven, Roy. [1]

Many Gods; Beyond Belief?

There is something strange happening within Paganism. It is strange not because it is unexpected—indeed, all families of religions go through it at one time or another—nor because it is unusual—indeed, its like happens all the time. What is strange about it, is that it seems to run contrary to the social circumstances of Paganism today. Indeed, given our highly networked and increasingly virtual world, and the relatively small size of the Pagan community (small, even when compared to the number of Pagans who don’t “do” the Pagan community, but are solitary), it seems quite remarkable.

Paganism is diverging.

In America, we are witnessing the ascent of a new kind of hard polytheism. The familiar refrains of Gaia-theorists, duotheist Wiccans, archetype-channelers, and feminist Mono-theaists are now joined by the carousing of a bunch of upstarts. These contend that no, the gods are not all aspects, incarnations, or faces of The One (or The Two), that is Nature, or its Creator Goddess and her God. The gods are real, and distinctly so–each a person in their own right, just as we [humans] are, and that believing in them as Actually Extant Beings is, really, okay. These polytheists reject the slippery theorising documented by Tanya Luhrman’s trailblazing ethnography [2,] and the postmodern construction of experience-as-basically-subjective articulated by Sabina Magliocco [3]. The Gods, for the new polytheists, are Real.

In Europe I have seen a different trend. The same old order –in which the same gentle theologies held sway—is being complicated here too, but not by a radical call for belief in many gods. Rather, belief itself is being set aside. European Pagans increasingly do not identify as “religious” or “believers” per se. Rather, to them, Paganism is something that is lived through, crafted, cast, brewed, known—hewn from raw being itself. To talk of “believing in the gods” here seems inappropriate. The gods as we know them are real, but the question of how they are real is both an open one, and one that doesn’t matter very much. They are like love, maths, or motion sickness; part of our world, part of our traditions and customs—in a way that makes what we might think about them, well, purely academic. Fun to discuss, certainly. A question for the philosophers, perhaps. But not important for defining what we do, and think.

As the late (and much loved) author Terry Pratchett once said,

“Most witches don’t believe in gods. They know that the gods exist, of course. They even deal with them occasionally. But they don’t believe in them. They know them too well. It would be like believing in the postman.” [4]

The witches of Britain are, in my experience, much like those of Pratchett’s Discworld. Why bother believing in something, if you know it exists?

Much of this could be put down to broader differences between European and American societies. Although American society has been shaken by the rise of the unaffiliated “nones”, religious ideas and themes nonetheless hold tremendous power in the collective imaginaries of the American people. In Europe, however, religion itself is a highly discredited concept—exhausted by millennia of ecumenical strife, and bored by centuries of tame state churches, European peoples no longer see religious concepts as being especially meaningful or relevant. As such, Paganism has increasingly developed along lines that are cultural, aesthetic, or philosophical in nature, rather than expressly religious.

Talk is not of setting up churches, temples, and monasteries; but villages, festivals, and campaign groups. Although the Druid Network did succeed in getting approved as a religious charity by the Charity Commission recently, this development was greeted with disapproval amongst the majority of the Druids I know—Druidry, as many said to me, is not even a religion. I cannot say for certain if this is a purely Druidic phenomenon, but there does appear to be evidence from across the continent that suggests a gradual transformation of Paganism from a “religious” phenomenon, into a broader “cultural” one that is anything but “fundamentalist” – whether or not we look to socially progressive Asatru of Iceland, or the nature spirituality of atheistic Estonia.

Making sense out of Chaos, out of Order

It might be imagined that these changes are pulling in opposite directions—the American trend reflecting a “radicalisation” of religious doctrine in the form of polytheism, while the European trend representing the fulfillment of the secularisation thesis. I would disagree with this characterisation. To my mind, these trends have far more in common than might appear at first glance.

If we consider the old theological consensus, what becomes readily apparent is that in many respects, it really isn’t too far removed from the spiritual conventions of the Western world’s established religious orthodoxy. Pantheism and Panentheism have a vibrant life outside of Paganism, and the Goddess has her anchorites even within Christianity and Judaism. Even the duotheism of Wicca arguably puts very little clear water between itself and the distributed godhead of Christianity; instead of a Holy Trinity, we have a Holy Tryst. In short, from a theological standpoint, the first generations of Pagan writing owe far more to lay Catholicism and the New England Transcendentalists, than to anything recognisably pre-Christian.

However, what it did do was create a formal break with Christian and Jewish religious authority and the commitment to dogma that came with it. For 1500 years, the Christian Churches—be they Catholic, Orthodox, Protestant, or Restoration—held almost exclusive sway over the souls of Western Europeans; no spiritual life—save that of the oft-persecuted Jewish community—existed outside their universal purview. By creating a new category of spiritual expression that was officially outside both the Christian and Jewish communities, any mandatory requirement to fit with the creeds and customs laid down in Holy Scripture, Halakha or Canon Law was abolished. This was in itself startlingly radical; though the Enlightenment established the legitimacy of secular thought, it was the rise of new religious movements, including that of Paganism, that actively challenged the formal, ecclesiastical control of the spiritual realm.

In short; the first few generations of Pagan sages made a gateway through which forgotten beings, old souls, and the old ways could return to human society.

And that is exactly what is now taking place.

The Old Ways, Plural

The crucial thing to remember is that what defined the old Paganism was explicitly not a single set of beliefs, nor a single set of customs. Europe, before the arrival of “the Nazarene” and his vision of the world, was a patchwork of different traditions, methods of enlightenment, esoteric systems, state cults, philosophies, and initiatory systems—all flourishing and fighting with one another, all very different in range and content. What united them—if anything—were cultural exchanges and political alliances that took place over time. The Druids, for example, commanded influence across tribal and linguistic boundaries in Iron Age Europe, just as Greek art, language and philosophy came to flourish across the Mediterranean during the same period. The Cultus of the Divine [Imperial] House united all who lived within the Roman Empire, just as various state-sponsored reverential traditions had forged civic or national identity prior to the Roman conquests.

Before the arrival of Christianity, a wide variety of interpretations of divinity existed—from the dualism of the gnostics, to the naturalism of the Stoics; from the pragmatic polytheism of the official cults to the mystical techniques advocated by Plotinus. When Christianity developed into a powerful force within Imperial politics, the drive to produce the Kingdom of Heaven on Earth became the new unifying ideology across the Roman world—an exclusive one, at that. Lacking any term to describe what they stood for, the opponents of this new order came to refer to the old ways as “Hellenism”; the defining attribute of which being a love of the Greek classical heritage that the Romans had inherited, and everything that had been syncretised with it. As Talal Asad has argued, before the rise of religion as a category, Christianity was once described as a disciplina—a system of government—just like that of the Empire itself [5]. The Christianisation was, then, the bringing of Imperial rule in line with the expectations of Christian discipline, at the expense of pre-Christian mores.

In a sense, what can be seen in the rise of The Church is a continuation of the process of conquest initiated by Rome itself. When Rome began, it was one political vision amongst many—the Capitoline Triad were just one constellation in a myriad of political cults, spreading out from Alexandria to Bibracte and beyond. But as Roman rule became ever more absolute, the geopolitical reality of many peoples, each with their own moral, legal, and spiritual alliances faded away; being replaced by the singular authority of the Roman State. As the notion of this single disciplina became ever more established—manifest in the deification of the Roman State in the genius of the Emperors – it became possible to re-imagine the divine order in a way that better reflected what had been realized on Earth; a total system of control, focused upon a single authority.

Christianity, with its emphasis upon one God and an absence of idols, was the perfect theological companion to this new arrangement. The fact that the unstable bricolage of Hellenism failed to halt the Christian advance is not at issue here: what is interesting is that the term adopted by the proponents of a non-Christian influence was linked to a loosely-organised cultural assemblage—Hellenism—that grew out of a long, mutual history of trade, war, and intellectual and ritual expression, and not a singular body of authoritative doctrine or law, laid down by a prophet and codified by his disciples.

Construction,[Re]construction

My analysis so far is heavily influenced by a school of thought—propounded by such scholars of religion as Talal Asad, S. N. Balagangadhara, and Timothy Fitzgerald—which argues that our contemporary concept of “religion” is highly specific to the context of modern, Western Christianity. Religion—as a separable sphere of life, concerned with spiritual beliefs, divinely-sanctioned morality, ritual, prayer, and mythology—is not a human universal. It is perfectly possible for spiritual life to exist in forms and varieties that look strikingly different to “religion”, as that word is normally understood. Pre-Christian spiritual life in Europe—in all its bewildering diversity, contradiction, and creativity, inseparable from the rest of both public and private life—is a case in point. Indeed, it is arguable that the very fact that people define the spiritual so differently today—largely through the lens of “religion”, rather than disciplina or anything else–means that it is impossible for us to posit any real substantive similarities between ancient and modern Paganisms.

But to my mind, the development of highly diverse, de-centralised expressions of “unChristian” practice in Europe and America suggests otherwise. Once the spiritual authoritarianism of Christendom was declared to be in abeyance, people began to adopt a much wider spectrum of positions, covering territory theologians have not dared occupy for a thousand years. And this is not just to be expected; it is to be celebrated. It represents a gradual, and quite organic, restoration of state of affairs truly authentic to pre-Christianity—one that puts clear water between itself and Christendom, and thrives in its own right. By acknowledging the lesson taught by Asad and his fellow social constructionists—that “religion” is a term with a specific history and social context that limits its relevance—we are freed from the expectation to conform to the implicit standard of what “counts” as a religion.

Rather than trying to revive ancient spiritualities by consciously trying to reconstruct specific rites and rituals, we have delivered a spiritual environment similar in key respects to that of the ancient world, without even meaning to. Though what Pagans think and do is thoroughly contemporary; the fact that we’re all doing it differently, in ways concordant with our particular contexts, is quintessentially pre-Christian.

Like the common heritage that gave some semblance of unity to the Classical world in the face of the conquering army of Christ, so it is with Paganism today. As Ethan Doyle White points out, Pagans are united not by a common set of rituals, beliefs, or literary canon, but by a common social history; involving diverse groups exchanging ideas, practices, concerns, and themes over time, who began appearing in the 1800s, all drawing on the pre-Christian past in various ways [6.] Just as there are Dharmic religions (who look to Dharma), or Abrahamic religions (who look to Abraham and his legacy), so, Doyle White argues, there are Pagan ones (who look to the pre-Christian inhabitants of Europe).

But this observation also points out a crucial difference between the Pagan religions of today, and the Abrahamic religions, especially Christianity; Abrahamic faiths tend to focus upon the teachings of a specific prophet—Jesus, Moses, Muhammad—and earnestly affirm and search for compliance with such figures’ singular authority. All other trusted teachers and texts are judged by their compliance with the truth stated by these great men; a truth which itself originally comes from a [singular] divine source. Paganisms, however, both past and present, look to many different sources of authority – without any one of these trumping the others.

Beyond the Big Tent and into the Earthly City

Although this epistemology is applied extensively in practice, the theory has yet to catch up. Many authors within the community and in the academy still attempt to define “Paganism” with reference to the everyday definition of “religion”—as a bounded belief system pertaining to spiritual matters. Rather than allowing for a historical understanding of contemporary and ancient pagan spiritualities—whose connections are constructed through the relationships between Pagans living and dead – it is assumed that the question “What is Paganism?” can be answered with reference to a particular set of ideas, that owe their validity to a single authoritative source. In doing this, we treat Christianity – with its emphasis on just such an arrangement – as the gold standard to which we must aspire.

We see this clearly in attempts to create a “Big Tent” of Paganism, based as they are around a desire to establish certain broadly-worded statements of belief. Do you, like the Pagan Federation, believe in the role of the feminine in the godhead? Theological pluralism? Sacredness of nature? Perhaps Paganism is—as Margarian Bridger and Stephen Hergest argued, a triangle –with strong polytheism, an aspecting pantheism, and Jungian humanism at its points? [7] Or do we describe Paganism with reference to four poles—Nature, Deity, Community and the Self? [8] Such efforts are interesting, and noble—but they nonetheless attempt to shape Paganism after the fashion of the Christian ecclesia—a community joined by common belief[s]—and as a result, fail to do justice to our traditions. Rather than devote our energies to dreaming into being successors to the older, pre-Christian relationships that were barely hinted at by the word hellenismos, we instead spend a lot of time and effort trying to herd conceptual cats.

But such efforts are doomed to either shoe-horning the wild variety of Pagan lived experience into a conceptual prison, or being so broad as to be empty of usefulness or rigour. We are left with Hobson’s choice, of either leaving some Pagans out in the cold, or frogmarching those who would rather be outside the tent—often people of colour and indigenous communities—into its confines. Rather than create our own discourse about how our communities fit together, as Foucault might suggest we do [9], we consistently adopt the familiar mythos of the powerful.

The problem with a tent, is that it is a pre-defined space—it has a canopy, canvas walls, pegs, ropes, and—most of all—poles. All these things delimit the space, setting its dimensions firmly in time and place, rendering it static. If anybody tries to move any of these components, there is a very real risk the entire edifice will come crashing down.

Paganism, as a movement encompassing a range of very distinct religions, is ever-changing, ever-moving, ever-shifting. As such, it is as profoundly un-like a tent as you can imagine. Instead, Paganism is much more like a spontaneous gathering of people, in a place open to the elements—a crowd, a throng, a rally, a carnival. And as it has been going on for some time, it has become the permanent version of these: a city.

Cities do not have fixed borders, edges, limits in the same way that a tent does. Though we can easily point out the dimensions of a city in any given moment, this act is in no way is that definitive—indeed, cities are constantly changing in population and extent. All you need is for more people to come in, or for some others to leave, for some buildings to be built or torn down, and you have changed the city’s limits. Nor is a city defined by single function or concept. Certainly, something will have attracted the first settlers there—a spring, a fertile field, a crossing place, or a defensible hill—but oftentimes this feature will vanish and be forgotten as the city grows. Over time, the city will gain its own character, based on the people who have lived there, the land upon which it is built, and the events that have happened there. In short, what defines a city—and attracts more people to it—is not any one thing you find within it, but rather its history; the ongoing story of its making.

Accordingly, two cities have been formed by two loves: the earthly by the love of self, even to the contempt of God; the heavenly by the love of God, even to the contempt of self. The former, in a word, glories in itself, the latter in the Lord. [10]

Saint Augustine of Hippo once wrote a searing invective against what he called “The Earthly City” – a metaphor for the disciplina of the Roman Empire and all polytheistic societies. For Augustine, in such places it was Mankind who was the measure of all things, and not the Holy Spirit to which he professed allegiance. He exhorted Christendom to dwell instead within the City of God, wherein it was God, not mankind, who was the subject of devotion, and therefore the absolute standard against which society was weighed.

It is, perhaps, unfair of us to be too hard on Augustine. The Roman Empire was indeed an evil Empire; in which many bad men were raised up to a station they did not deserve. But Augustine’s vision of the City of God and the Earthly City – one holy, one fallen, each centred on one thing – is, in the terms I have lain out above, less of a tale of two cities, but more of a tale of two big tents, with big poles in their middle. The reality behind Augustine’s metaphor was, of course, but one city—Rome—that had yet to decide whether to accept the Divine Providence of Christ Crucified. In that choice, Augustine saw all of human history.

But in Augustine’s Earthly City, we can see an echo of our own situation. His City of the Pagans did not recognise the total authority of the One True God, and neither do we. In echoing this refusal, we share in a key aspect of our ancestors’ broader attitude toward the spiritual. But against Augustine, I would say that the true solution to the iniquity of Empire is not to choose an Emperor-God over a line of God-Emperors—but to dispense with the throne upon which both would sit.

The Earthly City – if by that, we mean the example of Ancient Europe that inspires Pagans today, and not the decadent late-Imperial Rome that Augustine knew – has no one king, no one centre, no one idol to occlude the vibrancy and variety on its streets.

Let us not search in vain for the one public square, the one scenic landmark, the one ancient temple, the one leader who shall take precedence. Let us not worry unnecessarily over the matter of the gods; but explore it with curiosity, and accept the inevitably of many answers to the same questions. Let us leave belief—and all the problematic baggage that it carries—behind.

For there are far more important conversations; over how we should govern ourselves, about the security of our water and our weather, and about who our friends [and enemies] are. Because the more situated, the more contemporary, the more specific in time and space, the more rooted in the pragmatic concerns and the lived experiences of people today our spirituality is, the more like the wisdom of the ancients it becomes. Let us no longer falsely aspire to dwell in the City of God – obsessed with abstraction and unattainable discipline – but rather build together an Earthy city – where we are all sensitive to the way we need to live now, and are free to do so.

And may no one god, nor no one man, be the measure of all.


Jonathan Woolley

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


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  • 1) Angels in America, Tony Kushner
  • 2) Luhrmann, T. (1989) Persuasions of the Witch’s Craft: Ritual Magic in Contemporary England. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press.
  • 3) Magliocco, S. (2013) Sabina Magliocco: Pagan Fundamentalism? In The Wild Hunt. Available at http://wildhunt.org/2013/02/sabina-magliocco-pagan-fundamentalism.html. Last accessed 13/09/2015.
  • 4) Pratchett, T. (1991) Witches Abroad. Victor Gollancz: London.
  • 5)Asad, T. (1993) Genealogies of Religion. Johns Hopkins Univ. Press: Baltimore.
  • 6) Doyle-White, E. (2012) “In Defence of Pagan Studies: A Response to Davidsen’s Critique” in The Pomegranate:The International Journal of Pagan Studies, Vol. 14, No. 1, pp. 5-21.
  • (7) Bridger, M. and Hergest, S. (1997) Pagan Deism: Three Views in The Pomegranate: The International Journal of Pagan Studies Vol. 1 No. 1 pp. 37-42.
  • 8) Beckett, J. (2014) The Four Centers of Paganism in Under the Ancient Oaks (Patheos). Available at http://www.patheos.com/blogs/johnbeckett/2014/05/the-four-centers-of-paganism.html. Last accessed on 13/09/2015.
  • 9)Foucault, M. (1972) The Archaeology of Knowledge, trans. A. M. Sheridan Smith. Routledge: London.
  • 10)Augustine, Saint – Bishop of Hippo (2014) De civitate Dei – English and Latin. Harvard University Press: Cambridge MA.

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!