Put Reason Back to Sleep

“The future will have a place for neither faith nor reason.”

From Christopher Scott Thompson

Photo by Hans Eiskonen on Unsplash
Photo by Hans Eiskonen

Surrealist Prophecies #1

“It was in the black mirror of anarchism that surrealism first recognised itself.”

– Andre Breton

This poem is the first in a sequence of apocalyptic prophecies inspired by China Mieville’s novel Last Days of New Paris, which led me to investigate the Surrealist Manifesto of Andre Breton and the use of what Breton calls “the magical Surrealist art” as a method of channeling or divination:

Put yourself in as passive, or receptive, a state of mind as you can. Forget about your genius, your talents, and the talents of everyone else. Keep reminding yourself that literature is one of the saddest roads that leads to everything. Write quickly, without any preconceived subject, fast enough so that you will not remember what you’re writing and be tempted to reread what you have written.

The pure “Surrealist game” is unedited automatic writing, but the poems in this sequence use automatic writing only as a starting point – to be followed in each case by many hours of revision and polishing.

The theme of the sequence is the collapse of our global civilization due to uncontrollable climate change, leading to a mass rejection of both faith and reason and the re-enchantment of our world among the ruins of our failed creations. Some of the poems in the sequence are set before the Fall and portray the spiritual and emotional dilemma of our current crisis. Some describe the Fall itself, and the strange changes in thought and perception that will be needed if any are to survive a world in which humanity has been radically de-centered. Some describe the world to come, a world newly alive with gods and spirits yet free of all dogma or fixed belief – a world of beauty and strange magic.

Put Reason Back to Sleep

“The sleep of reason produces monsters.”

– Francisco Goya

Put reason back to sleep.

Let monsters slip

Out of the corners of your eyes

And lick bricks like meat.

Let them lie them down to breathe

Among the ruins of old useless infrastructure

And there breed new beasts.

The future will have a place for neither faith nor reason.

But only a fluttering

As of birds in flight

That we can sight in season.

And we can plant new trees in

The broken bones of what we built

While from the silt of dead dreams

We must pick out what still gleams.

The future will have a place for neither fact nor fiction.

There will be no restriction based on creed,

But all eyes will bleed.

From one drop,

A vast bulk

Will heave its hulking tentacles

Up through the holes

In once-solid floors

And splash black ink on broken doors

To announce its presence,

To stake its claim.

Another drop shall bloom

And become a room

Red with blood flowers

Above the flood.

Where we shall

Hold all-night congresses

With the snarled tresses

Of wet hair.

We will carve knots in candles there.

The future will have a place for neither pope nor king.

There will be no special honor paid to art,

Yet all hearts shall sing.

We will leave offerings at cold crossroads

Where no cars roll.

A strange new song, not a soul.

For the fast unfolding of

Something old.

We will pray quietly in empty stores

Whose floors are strewn with plastic bags,

And weep silently as humbled conquerors

Before shattered windows

To paint new dragons

On flooded streets.

We will hear the gathering of shuffled feet,

The stir of wings.

We will hear the voice

When it sings.

We will praise the flight

Of dead birds

With muttered words

And raise hands in prayer

To sun and air,

To praise the dawn as she gleams.

We’ll never ask what it means.

To ask questions

Of either fact or fiction

Is to place restrictions on

Dreams,

And when dreams walk,

That isn’t safe.

The gods of the future will not be safe.

For there the ocean,

Now fat and bold,

In the mud-choked memory of some high cathedral

Will hold his revels and make his home.

The sun will dance her way

Through the cracked dome

Of this corrupted capitol

Where cruel laws were made

And pierce straight through it

Like a blade.

And there, death,

Clothed in white,

Will hold court in some aborted

Cinema

And serve drinks all night.

And she who has heard

The merest rumor

Of that old tumor,

Faith –

He who has seen the faintest wraith

Of that old traitor, reason –

They themselves shall have done treason.

For these things bring death.

They taught us to believe

And to not believe

Till there were no gods left.

They themselves brought the dust –

The rust that showed itself as

A red taint in tap-water

And shall become our Fall.

Put faith to sleep.

Let Titans climb up out of the black bowl of your heart

And squeeze bricks to dust.

Let them lie them down to breed

Among the ruins of old useless infrastructure

And there spread like rust.

The future will have a place for no faith but wonder.

And an endless shattering

Of cracking glass

And a long crash, like thunder.

But we can plant new trees in

The ruined remnants of what we built.

And from the silt of dead dreams

We can pick out what still gleams.


Christopher Scott Thompson

CSTshortbeardBW

Christopher Scott Thompson is an anarchist, martial arts instructor, devotee of Brighid and Macha, and a wandering exile roaming the earth. Photo by Tam Zech.


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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

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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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Binding the Wolf

Editor’s Note:

Because of the length of this important essay, we’re making it also available as a downloadable .pdf file. Also, please note: as this a research essay, it contains extensive quotes from white nationalist and white supremacist writers and websites. We believe it’s important for readers to know precisely what such people are saying, but advise that some of the content is potentially unsettling.


Addressing the Odinist Issue Within American Heathenry.

From Syn, Frigga’s handmaiden

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Introduction

Modern-day Heathens have become increasingly frustrated with various hate groups’ cultural “misappropriation” of our sacred symbols; and, while we keep asking ourselves as well as one another what we can do, the answer eludes us. That is because the very soul of our religion as we know it today was and continues to be born out of the ashes of a racist ideology. That racist ideology “pre-appropriated” (before our present time) our chosen gods and our symbols in an effort to raise one specific group up over another and to annihilate those who did not “fit” within their ideal world. It continues to be used by some to further their agenda of racial superiority [1].

That is the raw ugly truth that we wrestle with; and while we can each deny that we are not “that”, for many people, specifically those who are affected by these hate groups, it doesn’t matter. Because to them, we are all the same until we demonstrate that we are not.

Although there are no actual numbers to support this, it is my perception that more Heathen groups than not have adopted a “universalist” perspective, which holds that the religion is open to all, irrespective of ethnic or racial identity. A minority of others (who tend to be louder and garner of all of the negative media attention) adopt a racialist attitude—also called “Folkish” within the community.

For those not familiar with the term, “Folkish or Volkish” people and groups view Heathenry as a religion with inherent links to a Germanic race that should be reserved explicitly for people of Northern European descent [2].

The term “The Folk” is not in itself a racist term and just because you may hear someone refer to a group gathered as “The Folk” it does not mean that they are racist. For Universalist Heathen groups, the term may refer to their Kindred, the people who are attending the ritual, or believers in the Heathen religion or folkways. “Folkway” is a sociological term that describes the traditional behavior or way of life of a particular community or group of people.

Also, while the term “Heathenry” is used widely to describe the religion as a whole, many groups prefer different forms of designation, influenced by their regional focus and their ideological preferences.

Heathens focusing on Scandinavian sources sometimes use Ásatrú, Vanatrú, or Forn Sed; practitioners focusing on Anglo-Saxon traditions may use Fyrnsidu or Theodism; some of those emphasizing German traditions might use Irminism; and those Heathens who espouse folkish and extreme-right perspectives tend to favor the terms Odinism, Wotanism, Wodenism, or Odalism [3].

Additionally, some of these folkish Heathens further combine the religion with explicitly racist, white supremacist, and extreme right-wing perspectives, although these approaches are repudiated in various ways by most Heathens.

This document is meant to be thought-provoking and freely shared. It is hoped that rather than poke holes in my scholarship and references that you will read it, share it and have meaningful discussions with your Kindred and other Heathens as to how best to implement the suggestions that are provided at the end. Hopefully, you will also come up with some creative solutions unique to your own situation.

It is my intent to provide a high-level summary of the origins of the White Supremacy Movement in the United States and show how that movement became combined with modern-day Heathenry.

There is no attempt to provide suggestions for alternative reading material or organizations.

This article seeks to identify the major players and organizations historically affiliated with the racially-centric offshoots of Heathenry; and, focuses mainly on Odinism within the United States while identifying the central figures linked to these groups and offers what I see as some practical steps that universal/independent Kindreds and Heathens can take to:

• Combat the overall appearance of collusion with the Odinist racist ideology by no longer keeping a shameful silence, and,
• Ensure that our sacred symbols are not further co-opted by the Odinist racist agenda by taking them back.

But, first, a little history of the White Supremacist Movement and how the two (White Supremacy and Heathenry) became combined.

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History

According to the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism (START),

“White supremacy operates on the belief that Whites are intellectually and morally superior to all other races. This belief is based on a mix of religious, socio-cultural and pseudo-scientific assertions that phenotype—including differences in skin tone and physiognomy, among other things—equate to differences in intellect, moral virtue, and social sophistication.

While traditional targets of White supremacist rhetoric and violence have been Jews and African Americans, the movement has broadened its focus to include other ethnic and religious groups, including Latinos, Asians, Middle Easterners, Muslims, and Sikhs. They have also targeted individuals of different sexual and gender identities, such as gay/lesbian and transgendered individuals.

White supremacy groups advocate for what they perceive as the appropriate and natural racial hierarchy, which places the Aryan race above any other racial groups. More specifically, they promote practices and policies that are supposed to ensure the privileged status of the “Aryan” people and their social control over (what they perceive as) lesser races, particularly within the United States.” [4]

White Supremacy has ideological foundations that originated within 18th-century scientific racism, the predominant paradigm of human variation that helped shape international and intra-national relations from the latter part of the Age of Enlightenment (in European history) up to and through the current time (the 21st century).

The author, Simon During, in his book, Cultural Studies: A Critical Introduction, states that “Scientific Racism became such a powerful idea because … it helped legitimate the domination of the globe by whites” [5].

This was certainly true during the colonialization period in England, France, Spain, Portugal, and to some extent the United States. In every case, the people who were being colonialized were seen as inferior in every way. Over time they lost their own cultural identities as they adopted the customs and religions of their conquerors in order to survive.

The outbreak of the Civil War saw the desire to uphold White Supremacy being cited as a cause for the state of Texas (and others’) secession; in its Declaration of the Causes which Impel the State of Texas to Secede from the Federal Union, it states:

“We hold as undeniable truths that the governments of the various States, and of the confederacy itself, were established exclusively by the white race, for themselves and their posterity; that the African race had no agency in their establishment; that they were rightfully held and regarded as an inferior and dependent race, and in that condition only could their existence in this country be rendered beneficial or tolerable. That in this free government all white men are and of right ought to be entitled to equal civil and political rights; that the servitude of the African race, as existing in these States, is mutually beneficial to both bond and free, and is abundantly authorized and justified by the experience of mankind, and the revealed will of the Almighty Creator, as recognized by all Christian nations; while the destruction of the existing relations between the two races, as advocated by our sectional enemies, would bring inevitable calamities upon both and desolation upon the fifteen slave-holding states.” (UCS Louisiana)

In L. Frank Baum’s “Editorials on the Sioux Nation” (1890) the author of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz and its sequels wrote:

“The Whites, by law of conquest, by justice of civilization, are masters of the American continent, and the best safety of the frontier settlements will be secured by the total annihilation of the few remaining Indians.” [6]

The denial of social and political freedom (based on race) continued into the mid-20th century, resulting in the civil rights movement… and brings us to the nexus point at which American Heathenry was born. The following figures and organizations emerged during the same time period:

1969: A Danish-born Nazi activist from Florida, Else Christensen, created the Odinist Fellowship and The Odinist magazine. The term Odinist originates in its current form from Christensen and her writings. She espoused the establishment of an anarcho-syndicalist society composed of racially Aryan communities [7].

The term “Aryan Race” is a racial grouping used by the proponents of such a grouping to describe people of European and Western Asian heritage. It derives from the idea that the original speakers of the Indo-European languages and their descendants up to the present day constitute a distinctive race or sub-race of the putative Caucasian race [8]. It should be also be noted that the languages (or branches) allowed to be included as Aryan can be very subjective and may have additional modifiers such as language root, bone and muscle shapes, skin tone, eye color and shape, hair color and texture, and, given modern science, your DNA. “Aryan” is a loaded word given its use during the Third Reich where it was used to define whether one looked a specific way and therefore had the right to live and procreate while one who did not possess these traits was inferior and must, therefore be eliminated.

Christensen also came to be known as the “Grand Mother” among racially oriented Odinists, with many paying homage to her even if they had sought out a more aggressive approach to racial issues than that which she adopted. Alternately, many in the Odinist community know her as the “Folk Mother”. A number of her ideas proved to be key influences on the American Odinist movement, most notably her political and economic “tribal socialism,” her emphasis on recruiting people through prison ministries, and her emphasis on a Jungian archetypal interpretation of the Norse deities [9].

Mattias Gardell in his book, Gods of the Blood: The Pagan Revival and White Separatism, states that:

“Christiansen upholds as ideal a decentralized folkish communalism modeled on self-sufficient communes like those of the Amish… Christensen claims that tribal socialism allows freedom of “self-expression”, private enterprise and encouragement for every member of the tribe to reach its fullest potential while also addressing the socialist concerns and sharing resources responsibilities and caring for the young the elderly and the disabled of the tribe. The concerns for the community as a whole and the welfare and the future of the tribe are of paramount importance, superseding those of the single member of the tribe.” [10]

There is absolutely nothing inherently wrong with referring to your group as a “Neo-Tribal” group if, in fact, you are. Just be aware that the term “Neo-Tribal” can be a loaded term and may require an additional explanation, depending on your audience.

Else Christensen subscribed to the anti-Semitic conspiracy theory that Jews control the Western socio-political establishment, and believed that this would prevent the growth of any explicitly political movement to spread racial consciousness among those she deemed to be Aryan. Instead, she believed that Heathenry – a Pagan religion that she termed “Odinism” – represented the best way of spreading this racial consciousness. In 1969, Christensen and her husband Alex founded a group called The Odinist Fellowship. Following the death of her husband in 1971, Christensen continued her work and relocated to the United States. That year she began publication of a newsletter called The Odinist, which continued for many years.

Early 1970’s: From Arizona, Michael J. Murray (a.k.a. Valgard Murray) came to Odinism / Asatru through Elton Hall, the Arizona organizer of the American Nazi Party (ANP). Murray was involved with the ANP into the late 1960s [11]. He later became the Arizona organizer of the ANP [12] as well as a vice-president of Else Christensen’s Odinist Fellowship [13].

1972: From Texas, Stephen A. McNallen created the Viking Brotherhood after reading a novel, The Viking, by Edison Marshall. He wrote a “Viking Manifesto” in which he stated that the Brotherhood was “dedicated to preserving, promoting and practicing the Norse religion as it was epitomized during the Viking Age, and to further the moral and ethical values of courage, individualism, and independence which characterized the Viking way of life, and, placed greater emphasis on promoting what McNallen perceived as the Viking ideals — “courage, honor, and freedom” — rather than on explicitly religious goals.

This fact is mentioned in several books: Magical Religion and Modern Witchcraft by James R. Lewis (1997); Radical Religion in America: Millenarian Movements from the Far Right to the Children of Noah by Jeffrey Kaplan (1997); and, Jung’s Wandering Archetype: Race and Religion in Analytical Psychology by Carrie B. Dohe (2016).

Gods and Radicals has an excellent article that is worth reading in order to gain a better understanding of McNallen’s controversial ideology of metagenetics. The article states in part that:

“The core of McNallen’s Folkish ideology is the belief in a concept known as metagenetics. Metagenetics claims culture is passed on genetically within specific groups of people. Such genetic connections to culture also determine what deities one can connect to.” (Weaponization of folkish heathery)

While McNallen’s own words seem banal, the implications of his theory are not:

“The idea of metagenetics may be threatening to many who have been taught that there are no differences between the branches of humanity. But in reflecting, it is plain that metagenetics is in keeping with the most modern ways of seeing the world. A holistic view of the human entity requires that mind, matter, and spirit are not separate things but represent a spectrum or continuum. It should not be surprising, then, that genetics is seen as a factor in spiritual or psychic matters. And the ideas put forth by those who see consciousness as a product of chemistry fit into metagenetics as well- for biochemistry is a function of organic structure which in turn depends upon our biological heritage.” (Metagenetics)

McNallen claims these ideas are based on, “intuitive insights as old as our people” but then proceeds to cite no sagas, sources, or examples to back this claim up (in other words, it’s his version of unsubstantiated personal gnosis). The closest he gets is when he claims reincarnation by bloodline was a universal belief among the ancient Germanics saying, “A person did not come back as a bug or a rabbit, or as a person of another race or tribe, but as a member of their own clan.”

He cites Carl Jung as justification for his theories and concludes:

“No doubt, on an earlier and deeper level of psychic development, where it is still impossible to distinguish between an Aryan, Semitic, Hamitic, or Mongolian mentality, all human races have a common collective psyche. But with the beginning of racial differentiation, essential differences are developed in the collective psyche as well. For this reason, we cannot transplant the spirit of a foreign religion ‘in globo’ into our own mentality without sensible injury to the latter.” (Stephen Mcnallen part one)

1973: From/in England, John Gibbs-Bailey and John Yeowell founded the Committee for the Restoration of The Odinic Rite or Odinist Committee [14]. Yeowell had been a member of the British Union of Fascists in his teens between the years of 1933–1936 [15].

“Established in the United States in 1979, the organization changed its name to The Odinic Rite after it was believed that it had gained enough significant interest in the restoration of the Odinic faith in 1980.

Today The Odinic Rite defines Odinism as the modern-day expression of the ancient religions which grew and evolved with the Indo-European peoples who settled in Northern Europe and came to be known as “Germanic”. The Odinic Rite shuns such descriptions as “Viking religion” or “Asatru” insisting that the Viking era was just a very small period in the history and evolution of the faith.” [16]

While you can go to their website and read some of the essays posted by some of their members and you can infer a lot from these essays, there is really very little information in terms of what the organization is about, the contents of their organizational meeting minutes, moot agendas, etc. They are behind a “locked, members-only” web-wall” (Odinic rite).

1976: McNallen created the Asatru Free Assembly (AFA).

Late 1979 – early 1980: Also from Texas, and a member of the Asatru Free Assembly (AFA), Stephen Edred Flowers, commonly known as Stephen E. Flowers, and also by the pen-names Edred Thorsson, and Darban-i-Den, founded The Rune-Gild, an initiatory order focused on “the revival of the elder Runic” tradition, advocating runic magic [17]. From 1978 to 1983 he led the Austin Kindred of the AFA [18].

Writing as both Stephen Flowers and Edred Thorsson, his prolific books have been instrumental in the advancement of a unique aspect of Heathenry. While it has been argued that his methodology for rituals, runic magick, and its derivatives, may not be purely Germanic and may have borrowed heavily from other magickal traditions; he is unquestionably the one who “got there first” in terms of being in the right place at the right time to get the concepts and words out there. Consequently, he is credited with advancing what has become standard Heathen practice for many people interested in both a magickal system and ritual practice that was separate and apart from the Western Mystery Tradition of calling quarters calling and circle drawing.

Into the present day, Edred Thorsson as a prolific writer, continues to support McNallen and his organization(s). All royalties from his books go to a racist organization: “Since 2013, the AFA has owned rights to many of Edred Thorsson’s books.”

1986 – 1987: From Arizona, Valgard Murray and his Kindred founded the Ásatrú Alliance (AA), which shared the Asatru Free Assembly’s perspectives on race and published the Vor Tru newsletter [19]. He invited other Kindreds to a formational Althing in 1988 [20], and also served on the Board of Directors and as General Manager of the Ásatrú Folk Assembly [21]. In 1987 he served as General Manager of the AFA, and in 1986 founded World Tree Publications [22].

Here are the By-Laws of the Asatru Alliance (from their website):

(As approved by Althing, September 21st. 2263 Runic Era)
• Asatru is the ethnic religion of the indigenous Northern European peoples.
• The Asatru Alliance is a free association of Independent Kindreds seeking to preserve and protect the ancient faith of our ancestors.
• The Asatru Alliance is organized along tribal democratic lines, permitting the full expression of our religious opinions, opting for the sanctity of our Asatru faith.
• The Asatru Alliance does not espouse a priest class. Each Kindred is free to determine its own spiritual and tribal needs.
• The Asatru Alliance will promote the growth of Asatru through the sponsoring of national and regional Things and Moots. We will also publish magazines and books as needed to achieve our goals.
• A Thing Speaker will be chosen for AlThing by the host Kindred(s). The Thing Speaker may convene the Thing as needed. AlThing Delegates of Record shall serve as a standing legislative body with full authority of the Thing until the commencement of the next AlThing. The Thing Speaker or any Delegate of Record can call for a caucus of delegates for suitable cause.
• The Thing/Law Body has absolute authority in dealing with By Laws or other issues of the Asatru Alliance.

Kindreds
• The Asatru Alliance will promote the establishment and growth of Kindreds.
• The Asatru Alliance will not interfere with the functions of Kindreds unless petitioned by a majority of members of said Kindred for aid.
• Kindreds are free to apply for membership in the Alliance, or leave the Alliance, as voted upon by a majority of the subject Kindred membership.
• A Kindred shall consist of at least 3 adult members and meet on a regular basis.
• Each Kindred is expected to send a delegate to the AlThing each year. No attendance, no vote. Kindreds may address the Thing by proxy.
• Any Kindred can be removed for cause by the Alliance by the majority vote of the Thing delegates after a fair hearing.

Membership
• Any member of an Alliance Kindred is a member of the Alliance.
• Three or more individuals of the Asatru community can band together and form a Kindred and apply for membership in the Alliance.
• The Board of Directors of the Asatru Alliance shall be responsible for the screening of new Kindreds. There are three levels of membership in the Alliance. Formational, Probational, and Full Voting Kindreds. Formational Kindreds must send a delegate to the Thing to petition for Probational Kindred status. Probational Kindreds must attend a future AlThing and petition the Thing to attain Full Kindred status.

Approval
• These By-Laws are to be approved or amended at each Althing.

1987: In November, the Asatru Free Assembly disbanded (reportedly over whether or not neo-nazis could be admitted) [23], and on December 20, Edred Thorsson founded The Ring of Troth along with James Chisholm. The Ring of Troth defines itself as belonging to the Universalist and inclusive sector of Heathenry. Taking an inclusive, non-racialist view, it soon grew into an international organization.

In the Preface to the Special Yrmin-Edition of Thorsson’ book, A Book of Troth, (2003), Thorsson states that “when it was first published in 1989, it was at first to be the official text for The Ring of Troth. After a few years, it was ousted from that position in favor of a more politically correct and collaborative effort called Our Troth by Kveldulf Gundersson” [24].

Thorsson goes on to state, “It was thought that a book contributed to by several authors would be more to the liking of those who’d like to build consensus rather than follow a vision.” [25]

1989: Thorsson was expelled from The Odinic Rite (OR) following his “Open Letter to the Leadership of the Asatru/Odinist/Troth Movement” wherein he detailed his involvement with the Temple of Set.

1994: McNallen founded the Asatru Folk Assembly (AFA), an ethnically-oriented Heathen group headquartered in California.

1995-ish: Ron McVan, Katja, and David Lane created Wotansvolk, a white nationalist, neo-folkish, Neo-Nazi organization. David Lane, now dead, served a 190-year prison sentence in connection with the white separatist revolutionary domestic terrorist organization group The Order, (and for violating the civil rights of Alan Berg, a radio talk show host) [26]. (Alan Berg was killed.) The Lanes founded 14 Word Press in St. Maries, Idaho to specifically publish David’s writings. McVan joined 14 Word Press in 1995 and founded The Temple of Wotan (co-writing a book by that name). 14 Word Press – Wotansvolk proceeded to publish several books for the practice of Wotanism before becoming defunct in the early 2000’s [27].

The 14 Words: “We must secure the existence of our people and a future for white children.” [28]

1995: Ron McVan, originally from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania [29], became involved with white separatism in the 1970s after reading the works of Ben Klassen [30], a Republican Florida state legislator who supported George Wallace [31]. During this time, Wotansvolk published monthly pamphlets and operated a prison outreach program [32]. While Wotansvolk is one of many groups active in prisoner outreach, it seems to be (far more) successful in its outreach efforts than other Asatrú / Odinist programs” [33].

The term Wotanism in modern times emphasizes white nationalism, white separatism and an ethnocentric, pan-European interpretation of modern Paganism. “WOTAN” is also an acronym for Will of the Aryan Nation. The followers often selectively cite Carl Jung’s theories of an “Aryan collective subconscious”, specifically his 1936 essay “Wotan” [34].

Present Day: One of the others convicted with David Lane, Richard Scutari, has become a frequent contributor to extremist publications. His definitions of a political prisoner and prisoner of war have become the standard definitions used by most white supremacist groups, and have been printed in numerous publications, including the skinhead magazine Hammerskin Press (now defunct) and Tom Metzger’s White Aryan Resistance newspaper. Scutari writes letters to the extremist newsletters and magazines to which he has access, including the National Alliance-owned Resistance magazine and Fenris Wolf (also defunct). Scutari also actively promotes Nordic paganism as a form of racist religion [35].

Order member Richard Kemp, also a copious writer, has become a “spiritual leader” at the U.S. Penitentiary in Sheridan, Oregon, where he is serving a 60- year sentence. As reported by David Lane’s 14 Words Press, Kemp is now the “gothi” of the Wotansvolk at Sheridan. Because of his involvement in Asatru, Kemp was invited to speak at the Nation of Islam’s Day of Atonement program at Sheridan and has also been instrumental in organizing a “Midsummer Solstice” celebration and weekly Asatru services at the prison [36].

While Heathen Universalists and some non-folkish Odinists have rejected what they perceive as an attempt to appropriate the revival of the ancient native faith of northern Europe for political and racial ends [37], folkish Odinists, such as McNallen of the Asatru Folk Assembly, generally support Lane’s version of Wotanism and the Fourteen Words [38].

In 2016 McNallen turned the reins of the AFA over to Matt Flavel, Allen Turnage, and Patricia Hall [39]. The AFA then “declared point blank that non-white and LGBT Heathens were not welcome in their tradition.”; which then triggered the drafting of Declaration 127.

Conclusion

Knowledge is power; and, with that power comes great responsibility. A central division within the Heathen movement concerns the issue of race and there have been numerous “calls” for Heathens to address the sordid aspects of racism affiliated with our religion that have become progressively bolder over the past several years. The images and tragedy of Charlottesville, Virginia’s Unite the Right rally in August 2017, followed by the neo-Nazi rally in Newnan, Georgia on April 21st of this year (2018) disturb us. So, what are we as Heathen’s to do? A recent article in the Atlantic provides the following advice:

“Unfortunately for heathens, there are racists who have also adopted the Ásatrú faith. This, in turn, can create the impression that the racism issue represents the faith’s central feature. The struggle of heathens today is ultimately not just about rescuing their symbols from racists, but also about dismantling the broader idea that this rescue mission is what defines them.”

“There’s more to heathenry than just the fight against racist groups,” (Ulrike) Pohl said, adding that to get this point across, heathens need “a combined strategy” that blends internal theological work, public political activity, and education geared at non-heathens. As for educating heathens with racist leanings, the most important thing is to be able to offer them a richer, more compelling vision. “If we can offer a sense of community and a sound theology, I think it’ll be easier to explain to people why the blood-and-soil idea makes no sense historically or spiritually,” she said. “The best way to get people to come over to the bright side is to simply be cool.” (The Atlantic)

From what you have just read, while you know that what Ulrike Pohl states is correct, her advice doesn’t go far enough.

Here are the suggested “12 Steps to Bind the Wolf”:

• Compose and publish statements on all of your social media sites (or your personal profiles) that proclaim that you are: inclusive (if you are), independent of all other Heathen groups (if you are) and most importantly, fly the “Heathens Against Hate” flag.

I first became acquainted with the Heathen’s Against Hate banner via Woden’s Harrow on Frigga’s Web in 2003 and its “Heathen’s Against Hate” banner campaign. While Woden’s Harrow is now apparently defunct, I have an old copy of the document, which says in part:

“It is a sad necessity that requires me to make this page, but because of a few racist, Nazi, and Satanic websites that have a relatively high profile on the WWW, I feel this disclaimer must be placed on my website. The sites to which I refer claim to be Asatru or Norse Heathen while promoting Heathenism as white supremacism or a kind of Satanism. Of course, the practice the Old Northern traditions and other forms of ancient Paganism — the ancestral religions of much of Europe and the world — has nothing to do with race hatred or with Satan.

Heathens Against Hate is a banner campaign I started after seeing the Pagans Against Fascism banner created by the Wolfshof of Germany. Many legitimate Asatru and Pagan organisations in Europe have had such problems with the negative publicity given to Heathenism by the violent actions of racists, that they have had to put strong anti-Nazi and anti-fascist disclaimers on their Pagan Web sites. These disclaimers let visitors immediately see the orientation of the site. I think that this is a good way to educate the public and encourage non-Pagans to find out the truth about our religion. I originally made this statement as a disclaimer for my own site.”

Directions were then included on how to link to the Woden’s Harrow Heathen’s Against Hate banner campaign or which words to use to declare that you supported the Heathen’s Against Hate banner campaign.

Re-creating the banner for your social media site(s) is fairly easy: using a freeware picture of a raven (or two or three); write the words “Heathens Against Hate” under it and post as appropriate.

• Become acquainted with Declaration 127, and, actively support its tenets, as stated here and on the website:

“The Asatru Folk Assembly (hereinafter referred to as the AFA) has a long and well-documented history of discrimination on the basis of ethnicity, sexuality, and gender identity. In a recent statement, the AFA declared point blank that non-white and LGBT Heathens were not welcome in their tradition. While the undersigned organizations listed here fully recognize the AFA’s right to govern themselves as they see fit, and with full autonomy, we hereby exercise the same right.

“We will not promote, associate, or do business with the AFA as an organization so long as they maintain these discriminatory policies.

“The AFA’s views do not represent our communities. We hereby declare that we do not condone hatred or discrimination carried out in the name of our religion, and will no longer associate with those who do. We will not grant the tacit approval of silence in the name of frið (frith), to those who would use our traditions to justify prejudice on the basis of race, nationality, orientation, or gender identity.

“The AFA is free to stand for whatever principles it sees fit.
“They are free to stand alone.”

Implementation of Declaration 127 will vary by individual and Kindred. It’s a tough conversation to have and you may be surprised how others view Declaration 127.

• Refer to Odinists as White Supremacists and Nazis — because that is what they are.

• Refer to these groups as being domestic terrorist organizations, because they are.

While “Domestic Terrorist” is a state-definition which also includes the American Indian Movement, The Earth Liberation Front, and many indigenous and POC justice movements, it is not my intent to disparage these groups. I am just not sure what else we can call a group of people whose sole aim is to eradicate a group of people based on their DNA and sexual orientation. I am open to suggestions.

• Shun them (similar to what is outlined in Declaration 127). If you currently go to moots that host both Odinists and Universalists together, request that another moot be created (or actively work with other Kindreds and do it yourself) and exclude those individuals and groups from the new event(s). Keeping Frith is no longer acceptable. We don’t keep Frith with domestic terrorists!

• Examine your group’s origins. If you are modeled after another group, and, if you don’t know, inquire where they got their organizational model. Look at the titles of your organizational officers and clergy. If you are using terms that originate from an Odinic or similar group, consider changing them. As the Wiccan’s say, “Lineage is important!” Know the lineage of your group.

• Examine your ritual material; where did it come from? Simply saying “The internet.” or “Out of some book.”, is not the correct answer. It is incumbent upon all of us to sift through everything we are reading and doing, including the words that come out of our mouths to ensure that they don’t originate from an Odinist group. This includes how you celebrate your Sumbels, your Blots and your holidays. If you decide that nothing needs to change, make that a conscious decision and know why you are not making the change; be able to articulate that to your Kindred and guests.

• To circumvent supporting McNallen, his successors and his / their organization(s), (when purchasing material from author Edred Thorsson / Stephen Flowers), consider buying your material from used booksellers since the profits generally go to the bookseller, not the author.

This is something that I have wrestled with as a magickal practitioner. It’s not easy to just “not buy his books” and purchase something from a more current author. If you look in the bibliography of most books on the Northern Mystery Tradition, they reference Thorsson. Part of the reason that Runic magick works is that the people who are using the Runes (for writing and magickal purposes) have all agreed that they mean what they mean. (This is the Magickal Law of Names.) To make a shift away from Thorsson will take time, if that is indeed what we must do. Just sit with that for a moment…

• Consider stripping out any words or language of Odinist origin and further personalize each of your Blots by adding readings, poetry, meditations that are centric to the agricultural calendar. Look to modern England, Germany, and Scandinavia to see what holidays they celebrate and borrow some ideas from them. All of them center on family, food, and alcohol! Look around you and take seasonal cues from your own “backyard”.

The beauty of practicing a “living religion” is that the Gods and Goddesses we worship speak through us and we are FREE to create ritual and liturgy that resonates with us. That includes allowing our gods to inspire us to create something that is uniquely ours.

• Depending on your comfort level with magickal rituals, consider creating recurring rituals in your tradition (perhaps the same months as Yule, Summer Finding, Mid-Summer and Winter Finding) that explicitly focus on banishing whatever protection that these Odinist individuals and groups enjoy by working with Tyr and “binding” them; much as Tyr bound the embodiment chaos, the wolf Fenris. By focusing solely on the groups within your state or locale, Heathens as a whole can be more effective on a larger level [40]. Do this quietly and with only the most trusted members of your Kindreds. In the spirit of a gift for a gift, be prepared to offer copious amounts of ale, mead and other suitable sacrifices as part of this ritual. At the same time, TAKE BACK OUR WORDS, OUR SYMBOLS, and OUR GODS! Where ever possible and safe to do so, find ways to use our sacred language, symbols, and gods. Conduct cleansing rituals to free them from hate. Share those rituals with others. Collaborate with other Kindreds and do similar rituals around the same time that focus on the same things.

• If people confront you about your jewelry, tattoos, mode of dress, gently tell them that you, your ancestors and your gods don’t support terrorists and that your gods are working on a solution. Have a short elevator speech ready with a few talking points about what you do believe and a little bit about your Kindred (if you have one) and invite them to a Blot. Open your heart and try not to be defensive. Seek to understand that they don’t understand and that some people, based on their personal experience may be fearful.

• If practical and you feel comfortable, “do the work” within your community; work with a disadvantaged school, a shelter, or other collaborative projects with your local Unitarian Church as a Heathen. Wear your hammer and be proud. Talk about yourself and your group’s ideology and share something about your religious traditions. Host a coffee or a workshop at your local pagan bookstore to talk a little bit about your religion.

If enough people take these 12 Steps to Bind the Wolf, we will prevail. Together we are stronger than when we are standing alone as rugged individualists. By talking to one another, organically the movement will catch fire (the rune Kenaz) and we will prevail. When we prevail, our Gods and Goddesses and our Symbols will also prevail and we can bind the wolf with ice (the rune Isa).


  1. von Schnurbein, Stefanie (2016); Norse Revival – Transformations of Germanic Neopaganism.
  2. ibid. p. 2.
  3. Gardell, Matthias (2003). Gods of the Blood: The Pagan Revival and White Separatism. p. 2.
  4. National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism; Research Brief, Key Concepts To Understand Violent White Supremacy.
  5. During, Simon; Cultural Studies: A Critical Introduction; Taylor & Francis e-Library, 2005; ISBN 0-203-01758-7; p. 163.
  6. L. Frank Baum’s Editorials on the Sioux Nation”. Archived from the original on December 9, 2007. Retrieved 2007-12-09. Full text of both, with commentary by professor A. Waller Hastings.
  7. Gardell, Matthias (2003). Gods of the Blood: The Pagan Revival and White Separatism. Durham and London: Duke University Press.
  8. Mish, Frederic C., Editor in Chief Webster’s Tenth New Collegiate Dictionary Springfield, Massachusetts, U.S.A.:1994–Merriam-Webster See original definition (definition #1) of “Aryan” in English–Page 66.
  9. Gardell, Matthias (2003). Gods of the Blood: The Pagan Revival and White Separatism. Durham and London: Duke University Press.
  10. Ibid. p. 172-173.
  11. “A racist brand of neo-Paganism, related to Odinism, spreads among white supremacists”; Splcenter.org. Archived from the original on April 18, 2014.
  12. Gardell, Matthias (2003). Gods of the Blood: The Pagan Revival and White Separatism, page 261.
  13. Ibid.
  14. Pagan Resurrection by Richard Rudgley (2006) p.240
  15. Osred, “A multi-faceted life”, obituary originally (2010) published in the Friends of Oswald Mosley newsletter, re-published in This is Odinism,
    Renewal Publications (2016), p. 105.
  16. “Odinism – A Defining Moment”. A talk by Hengest Thorsson, later published in Odinic Rite Briefing, issue 113, 2009.
  17. Chisholm, James Allen; Appendix A, The Awakening of a Runemaster: The Life of Edred Thorsson, from Thorsson, Edred; Green Rûna – The Runemaster’s Notebook: Shorter Works of Edred Thorsson Volume I (1978-1985), 1993, second improved and expanded edition 1996.
  18. Thorsson, Edred; A Book of Troth, Runa-Raven Yrmin Edition, 2003.p. xii.
  19. Kaplan, Jeffrey (1996). “The Reconstruction of the Ásatrú and Odinist Traditions”. In Lewis, James R. Magical Religion and Modern Witchcraft. New York: State University of New York. pp. 193–236.
  20. Gods of the Blood: The Pagan Revival and White Separatism, page 262.
  21. “World Tree Publications: Valgard Murray Biography”; worldtreepublications.org; 2014-02-20.
  22. “World Tree Publications: History”; worldtreepublications.org; 2014-02-09.
  23. Kaplan, Jeffrey (1996). “The Reconstruction of the Ásatrú and Odinist Traditions”. In James R. Lewis (ed.). Magical Religion and Modern Witchcraft. New York: State University of New York. pp. 193–236.
  24. Thorsson, Edred; A Book of Troth, Runa-Raven Yrmin Edition, 2003.p. xii
  25. Ibid.
  26. “Extremism in America: David Lane”. Anti-Defamation League. 2007.
  27. Gardell, Mattias (2004). “White Racist Religions in the United States: From Christian Identity to Wolf Age Pagans”. In Lewis, James R.; Petersen, Jesper Aagaard. Controversial New Religions. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press. pp. 387–422.
  28. Dunbar, Edward; Blanco, Amalio; CrËvecoeur-MacPhail, Desirée A. (2016-11-21). The Psychology of Hate Crimes as Domestic Terrorism: U.S. and Global Issues. ABC-CLIO. pp. 91.
  29. Back of Book Jacket Cover.
  30. Gardell 2004, p. 205–206.
  31. Hesser, Charles F (7 Dec 1967), “Wallace Men Feud in Florida”, The Miami News, p.6-A.
  32. Ibid.
  33. Gardell, Mattias (2003). Gods of the Blood: The Pagan Revival and White Separatism.
  34. Gardell 2004, pp. 208, 210–212.
  35. Anti-Defamation League: Dangerous Convictions – An Introduction to Extremist Activities in Prisons; 2002. p 33.
  36. Ibid. p. 34.
  37. Gardell, Mattias (2003). Gods of the Blood: The Pagan Revival and White Separatism.
  38. “New Brand of Racist Odinist Religion on the March” Intelligence Report. Southern Poverty Law Center. Winter 1998.
  39. “About Stephen A. McNallen”. Asatru Folk Assembly. (Archive link is broken.)
  40. The most current list state by state can be found here.

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The Jewish Brazilian Thing

Stories of the Jewish Diaspora, on being young and out of place within the Christian status quo.

From Adassa Kapolnai

jace-grandinetti-118900-unsplash.jpg

Identity is:
Noun
The fact of being who or what a person or thing is. (Oxford online dictionary)

As a broader political term, it seems to me that Identity is a tad harder to define than that definition may lead one to believe, and even harder to talk about, since by its own nature it is a term prone to individual interpretations. So, if I can’t write on identity itself, I guess I can write on the subject of my identity, which is one I know far better. But even far better is not completely better, because, even on my own identity there are things that are still quite muddy. How would I define my identity, you might be wondering. Jewish Brazilian? Jewish bisexual Brazilian? (Maybe it is noteworthy that somehow I seem to put “Brazilian” last every time, but then again I live in Brazil and that’s a perk of not being a minority label: you don’t actually have to emphasize it as much).

My grandparents where Jewish European, from Italy and Hungary, and they both came to Brazil during the Second World War. For my grandmother specially, that meant trying to became as Brazilian as possible, to the extent that she, to this day, refuses to speak Italian. So they brought my mom and aunt up to blend as well as they could into the gentile culture of the country that had welcomed them. That meant that, even though I always knew we were Jewish, we never did celebrate the holidays or made any big fuss about it. But the thing is: identity is not something one can erase like that. So we ate matzah bread on Pesach, not because it was Pesach but because that’s the time of the year that stores sell it and my mom supposedly loves it’s taste (if you never had any matzah, it’s hardly something one would call delicious, so I have a hard time believing that particular bit of my family’s folklore).

The word Midrash means, in Hebrew, to extract knowledge. It refers to a literature genre that seeks to elucidate passages of the Torah and Talmud. This is done, among other ways, through retelling traditional stories that relate a greater meaning than what one may expect at first glance. Maybe because of this tradition, Jews tend to tell stories in order to convey a point. So let me tell you a couple stories to illustrate further what is like being Jewish Brazilian in my particular case, and maybe they can serve to shed some light on the difficult subject that is identity.

When I was in my early twenties I got in a car accident. It was an ugly one and the car was totally wrecked. But somehow I was ok, and so was everyone else in the vehicle. A thing like that can mess with one’s head. So the next week I decided that, since G’d seemed to have protected me, I would try and learn a bit more about Him. I bought a couple of books for the task: “Christianity for dummies”, “Islam for dummies”, “Buddhism for dummies” and “Judaism for dummies”. After reading them all, what I discovered was that all my beliefs, everything I held dear to my heart and thought of as moral and generally good where in fact Jewish principles. Because you see, even if you don’t celebrate Rosh Ha Shana, or don’t have a mezuzah at the entrance of the house you grew up in, that doesn’t mean you stop “thinking Jewish”, or that you don’t teach your children to do just that. So I bought a Star of David necklace and went on with my life. Now the flip side of being Jewish, especially diaspora Jewish, is the war. My grandmother’s reaction to my big Jewish discovery was that she bought me a new star of David, made of gold (which at the time I couldn’t have afforded on my own), and a photography book full of images of the holocaust. Not bloody images, but strong powerful images that depicted piles of children’s shoes, of eyeglasses, of violins, that used to belong to Jews murdered during the war. She told me that if I wanted to own my identity she would support me, but that I should be prepared for whatever was to come.

I met my husband when I was 11 years old. I came home and told my mom we would be married someday because I had fallen for him right then and there (she laughed it off as just one more crazy thing children sometimes say. Nevertheless, we did become great friends first, then boyfriend and girlfriend, then husband and wife). He is an intelligent and sweet man, who loves me wholeheartedly and has always treated me with kindness and respect. He is also not Jewish. We were 25 at the wedding, so by that time he had already met all my family years ago. My grandmother, specially, was always fond of him, because he reminds her of my late grandfather: they are both distracted brilliant intellectual types. But when I told her that we were to get married her first response was to ask me: “If they start persecuting us again, are you sure he will protect you? Are you sure he won’t turn his back on you?”. She didn’t ask because of mistrusting him in particular. She asked because she lost count of how many Jewish wives were delivered to the Nazis by their gentile husbands.

Three years ago I went to New York, to visit a close friend who lives there. One day he decided to introduce me to his American friends, so we went out for a beer. When I got there, one of them asked me “So, John tells me you are Brazilian and Jewish. Is that a thing?” I answered that we make up about 0,06% of Brazilian population and about 3% of Rio de Janeiro’s population (in case you are wondering, that means 120 000 Jews in Brazil, 22 000 in Rio. Quite a lot of people), so it must be a thing. But what I guess he meant is that the mental image of a neurotic Woody Allen doesn’t really go together with the hot Latin image of say, Jennifer Lopez. And, even though I look nothing like Jennifer, I understand his bafflement as identities become more complex and nuanced. Because I am not only Jewish, just as much as I am not only Brazilian. So yes, Jewish Brazilian is a thing.


Adassa Kapolnai


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Why People Are Racist & How Witchcraft Can Help

Want to support our work? Follow the link at the end of the essay. And thanks!


From Sable Aradia.

black-swan-laurentiu-cosmoiu

Beyond Mere Witchcraft

“Oh, I used to study Wicca,” says the 22-year-old woman with a patronizing smile, “but I’ve gone beyond that now.”

“Have you?” I ask, arching my eyebrow while I sit at the fair table where I’m selling the witchcraft books I wrote.

Realizing she has made an error, she backtracks.  “Oh, well, you know, I think it’s perfectly fine for some.”  She is unaware of her derision, her dismissal.  “But I find I get so much more in the path I’m following now.  And I don’t need all those tools.”  Her tone is smug.  Her implication is clearly that I must be less enlightened than she is, because she thinks I do.

Of course she does.  She’s left witchcraft for the New Age community.  She’s 22 years old and offering classes on the sacred feminine, communicated with special miracle health food, yoni crystals, and retreats at her home temple space.  All for a monthly subscription price.  Naturally the stuff costs extra.  I don’t know who, if anyone, is paying for it.

I offered a free class on the sacred feminine two years ago, built from material that was handed down to me from a woman who was my teacher.  No one came.

The Law of Attraction and Social Class

I get it.  Sure I do.

We must look archaic to a lot of people.  Perhaps we even look a little bit ridiculous.  Look at how much farther they’ve gotten than we have!  We always seem to be grappling with some major moral issue.  We’re always railing at the injustice of the world.  Meanwhile, they just think happy thoughts all the time, and never indulge in negativity, and the Universe provides all they need through the Law of Attraction.

No one mentions that most of the women I know who are involved in the New Age movement have married rich husbands because they came from upper middle class backgrounds.  And I find it interesting that the ones who didn’t — like the lovely 22 year old I have mentioned — have all the same struggles I do.  They have bad relationships and personal struggles and, above all, financial problems.

What’s wrong, then?  Perhaps their ability to think happy thoughts and believe in the Law of Attraction to protect them isn’t good enough?

I think they tell themselves that.  I think they convince themselves every day that if they just believe a little harder, things will get better.

So they follow the latest “conscious living” fad (and believe me, they come in fads — in the time I owned my metaphysical store I saw the rise and fall of orgone generators, the healing power of water, Stones of the New Consciousness, the Flower of Life, colloidal silver, and zen wands, to name but a few).  In many cases, they spend thousands of dollars, when I know for a fact that what it cost to make the item could be expressed in hundreds of pennies.

But every time they embrace the new trend, everyone around them reinforces their choice.  They tell them how wonderful and enlightened they are, that they can open their consciousness to these new methods, which science is too self-absorbed to understand.  They compliment one another’s cleverness in that they are able to see through the bullshit of the rest of humanity.  They talk about how the coming New Age of consciousness (which will happen any day now! Like Y2K/the great planetary alignment/the end of the Mayan calendar/etc.) will change the world so that only the peaceful, conscious-living people will survive while everybody else goes to hell in a handbasket.  And rather than ever acknowledging that the fad they spent so much money on didn’t seem to be as effective as they’d hoped, they just move on to the next one, maintaining their positivity.

In this world, there’s no place for discernment, or doubt, or even calling out abuse.  It’s all about plastic smiles and appearances over reality.

You’re Special, Just Like Everyone Else

It’s only natural for people to want to feel special.  People want to hear that if their lives are good, it’s because they deserve it.  Our ego loves to hear how wonderful it is.

We need our egos to survive.  These are the constructs that give us our sense of self, and without them, we become hiveminds and doormats.  Many psychological disorders — I would say possibly even PTSD, as someone who suffers from it — is all about crippling damage to our egos.

So the ego is the most greedy, self-centered creature on earth.  It doesn’t ever want to hear anything that takes away from its central position in the Universe, and it never, ever wants to be questioned.

In the New Age movement, and indeed, in some poisoned halls of Paganism, it never has to be.  People are told that they’re weird because they’re indigo children, or they are crazy because the gods are speaking specifically to them as Their Chosen Ones.  There’s no room for discernment because there’s no place for judgment.  After all, to have judgment is to be judgmental, and everyone has their own special truth to share with the world.

And I believe that, I do!  But sometimes, people are weird because they’re suffering from undiagnosed PTSD or bipolar disorder or autism, and sometimes people are crazy because they’re having a psychotic break due to mood disorders, malnutrition, heavy metal poisoning or schizophrenia, and they need treatment and maybe medication.

A dear friend in the New Age community, one who does not fall for the fads, one who believes in authenticity and is generally authentic in her own life, believed that her newly acquired inability to digest meat was a result of a newly raised vibration; when it turned out to be, in fact, a parasite acquired from tainted water that did lasting damage to her digestive tract, since she ignored it for quite some time.

Questioning and discernment are important.

Witchcraft: A Path for the Underclass

It is said that on the gates of Eleusis was the inscription Know Thyself.  Witchcraft, if you follow it long enough, and seek to find its deeper mysteries rather than attend Sabbats once in a while and do a spell whenever you want a new job, is all about that.  It’s about Shadow Work.  It’s about confronting your ego face to face, kicking it in the crotch a few times, breaking it down, and rebuilding it — with, hopefully, healthier boundaries.

We recognize this.  We know it so well, that we even recognize the symptoms of an ego fighting to save itself. in the wake of this aggression.  We call it High Priestess’ Disease, and far too many places in our community are run by the people doing this Work.  Eventually many of them have breakdowns.  Others, I think, make it through the treacherous forest, at least in part, and then disappear.

I’m not saying we’re immune to the constructs of ego.  We most certainly are not!  But the willingness to question ego, to challenge its authority, can be a good path to take.  We’re by no means the only ones who do this.  We didn’t even invent it; we can probably credit the ancient mystery cults for that, or maybe even certain Vedic traditions which are older, or perhaps even the ancient mysteries of the hunter-gatherer civilizations of our prehistory.

But it’s hard.  It’s so damn hard!  We’re constantly facing this exhausting challenge if we continue on this path.  Our self-esteem is often in ruins.  And it’s not like it brings us money, or prestige, or even any personal spiritual satisfaction aside from a plague of doubt and questioning and a deep belief that we will never, ever complete this exhausting Work.

What it does give us is greater anger directed at the hallowed halls of power, and greater empathy for the suffering of others.

No wonder most of us give up.  No wonder people would rather believe they can achieve enlightenment simply by thinking positively enough.  And isn’t it convenient that wealth, health and happiness are also brought to them through that path? Or at least, so they believe.

Which may be why witches are notoriously cheap.  Maybe it’s because rich witches join the New Age movement, where everyone will tell them that they’re wealthy, healthy and happy because they deserve it.

Never mind that Dr. Wayne Dyer, who once bragged that the Law of Attraction was the reason why he hadn’t had a cold in twenty years, died of cancer.

It’s no wonder no one ever wants to hear about anything negative in the New Age (and part of the Pagan) community!  Everyone wants to believe they’re special.  Everyone wants to be believe they’re immortal, and their happiness and healthiness will last forever because they’re nicer than everyone else, or because they’re better at manifesting, or that they’re a better Christian or the gods have otherwise chosen them.

No one wants to talk about how affluent, and how white, these people are.  Or how better nutrition and less stress leads to better health.

Why People Are Racist

And this applies as much to the overculture as it does to the subculture of the New Age and Pagan movements.

People don’t want to face the fact that their happy, privileged life is the result of good luck or selling out.  They don’t want to face the fact that they might someday go bankrupt or get cancer.  They are terrified that the only thing that keeps them from starving in the street is the presence of an entirely arbitrary number that represents their portion of an entirely fictional system of wealth, founded on nothing but belief.

They don’t want to admit that the only reason they have the things they do is because others do not have those things, and the criteria of what determines that is unfairly weighed in favour of one gender and one race.

So they make up stories.  They tell themselves that Native Peoples and Hispanics are lazy.  They tell themselves that black people are labouring under a “victim mentality,” and that if they just tried to pull themselves up by their bootstraps, surely they would succeed!  They tell themselves that women just aren’t as good at business as men are.

They tell themselves that God has chosen them to succeed because they’re better people, or better Christians, or smarter, or sexier.  They tell themselves that Haiti is beaten by hurricanes because they practice devil-worship, and they ignore or deny that tropical climates just have more hurricanes and that their white ancestors were the ones that brought the ancestors of the Haitians there.

And if they aren’t doing as well as they think they should be, they convince themselves that all they need to do is try harder.  Work harder, save more, budget better, come up with a cleverer idea.  And they ignore the fact that they’ve been doing the same things for twenty or forty years and falling behind, not getting ahead.

Because otherwise, they would have to confront their egos.  They would have to admit that oppression of others and good luck for them are all that save them from the difficulties that so many others struggle with.  And the ego doesn’t want to hear it.

Well, witches, maybe it’s time to help others to confront their egos too, don’t you think?


Sable Aradia

I’m a Pagan and speculative fiction author, a professional blogger, and a musician. I’m proudly Canadian and proudly LGBTQ. My politics are decidedly left and if you ask for my opinion, expect an honest answer. I own a dog and am owned by a cat. I used to work part time at a bookstore and I love to read, especially about faith, philosophy, science, and sci-fi and fantasy.


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Escaping the Otherworld: The Reenchantment of Paganism

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

attributed to the French surrealist and communist poet, Paul Éluard

A Message from an “Awakened Elf”

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

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

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

The One Eyed Man is King

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

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

I wonder if perhaps both perspectives might be true.

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

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

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

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

The Intuition of An “Other World”

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

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

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

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

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

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

In the Land of the Blind

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Disenchantment of Paganism

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Paganism as Escapism

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Co-optation of Paganism

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

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

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

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

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

Will the Phony Elf Please Sit Down?

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

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

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

I can’t judge it by the surface.

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

I can’t judge it with my mind only.

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

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

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

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

Will the Real Elf Please Stand Up?

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

Genuine re-enchantment gets me out of my head.

“Resistance begins in your body.” — Peter Grey

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

Genuine re-enchantment grounds me–literally.

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

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

Genuine re-enchantment connects me with others.

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

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

Genuine re-enchantment is transformative.

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

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

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

 


Notes:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


John Halstead

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


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

The crisis of Paganism is directly tied to Capitalism

Cultural and religious analysis, from Jonathan Woolley


Ash die-back

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

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

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

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

Clarification 1) Primroses

pagan things are not (necessarily) Paganism

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Clarification 2) Saplings:

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

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

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

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

Clarification 3) Biosecurity:

Capitalism is, in fact, the causal factor

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

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

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

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

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

For if we do not, then who shall?

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


Jonathan Woolley

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


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Hedgework: On the Dialectic of Man and Nature

In the Vale of the White Horse, within sight of Uffington Castle, there is a large rectangular field, where until recently members of the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids gathered to celebrate Lughnasadh. Every year in late August, under the light of the waxing moon, 200 people, of all ages, would materialise out of the summer heat and the ripening corn. After setting up a wide circle of bender tents and yurts around a central fire, they’d make sure to beat the bounds; processing clockwise around the field, playing instruments and clapping loudly, greeting the directions and the spirits of place. The same thing happened every morning throughout the festival.

This practice highlights an important truth; although any visitor to the camp would easily recognise the importance of the central hearth, those hedges around of the field were every bit as sacred. As if to highlight this fact, at the southern edge of the field, within the hedge itself, stood a hidden grove, with a holy oak at its heart – this venerable being oversaw all the naming ceremonies, initiations, and other secret rites in the community. When I first ventured into that grove, some seven years ago, I felt like I was on a threshold; beyond which, through which, the whole world began.

Hedgerows are perhaps one of the most quintessential features of these islands*. They wend their way between gardens, grass and crops, catching the bounty of the Earth like a net catches the wealth of the sea. Some of my most powerful spiritual experiences, like that mentioned above, have taken place along and within hedges. They are – to borrow a term from Celtic Christianity – “thin places”, locations where the veil between this world and the other is light, and the divine is close at hand.

The state of “in-betweenness”, or liminality as anthropologists call it, carries a great deal of significance in cultures all around the world; boundaries, be they intellectual or physical (and they’re often both), fascinate us and ensnare our imaginations; so we sanctify them, or joke about them, or wrap them up in taboos. Hedges – neither in one field, nor the next – are no exception.

It’s unsurprising then, that we find the hedge playing a major part in the sacred geography of Anglo-Celtic Pagan traditions. The hedge, we are told, is the domain of the hedgewitch – a folk healer-cum-shaman; a cunning man or wise woman, who works in service of their community from its edges. For these workers of craft, the hedge is a medicine cabinet, an altar, and an axis mundi. It gives us herbs for healing, a place to meet the gods, and a means of journeying into the Otherworld. It is from this latter use that we get the name “Hedge-rider”.

In ancient times, we are told, every village would have been surrounded by a hedge that protected it from the wilds beyond – the village witch would have negotiated this barrier; mediating between the spirits of the forest and the human folk of the village.

The trifecta of wilderness, hedge and village never sat quite right with me. For one thing, you simply didn’t see this feature anywhere in the British landscape in which I grew up. No village I know is surrounded on every side by hedges, nor are woodlands pushed to the rim of each parish like the scum on a bath. Lots of villages – including the one in which I grew up – have a dispersed, not nucleated, pattern. The houses are spread out, not clustered together.

For most of its history, my village was a string of homesteads, scattered around a large area of common land – land that was only built on in the 20th century. Commons – often in the form of pasture, woods, reed beds, and heathland areas, frequently imagined as “wild” places – are usually carefully managed in Britain and Ireland, and were created in spots that, either due to steep topography or infertile soils, were not suited to agriculture. Instead of a landscape in which humans live apart from nature in little enclosures, what you see in reality is something quite different – a patchwork of different types of land use, according to a mixture of geography and human choice. Hedges, in this landscape, are the needlework; the green thread binding everything together. The hedge, in other words, is not the interchange between the village and the wild; but rather the connective tissue between places of all kinds.

We find this pattern reaching far back into the history of the landscape here. While the Celts or Anglo-Saxons would have surrounded their villages with fences made from wooden palisades if they chose, they would head out into the woods to clear patches for agriculture, wherever the soil, aspect, and water supply was preferable. Richard Mabey, one of Britain’s most renowned naturalists, tells us that rather than surround villages, the first hedges delimited these clearings. The edges of these clearings, enclosed by bushes and trees, were called haga – the root word for “hedge” today.

It is not hard to imagine how, perhaps while working on until dusk, these first farmers would have spotted haegtessa at the edge of the forest – ephemeral figures of women, skulking between the trees. Sometimes, it might have turned out that what they’d seen was one of their own wives or grandmothers, gathering herbs or praying to the gods. At others, no human visitor to the haga could be identified – and the apparitions would have been attributed to ghosts, fairies, or other beings.

The association between mortal wise women, the haga, and ephemeral spirits stuck. As these early farmers hollowed out more of the wildwood, they left threads of trees and bushes standing, to mark out one field from another. Over time, they trained these plants into a barrier against livestock – the first true hedges of the kind we know today. The shadowy haetessa would live on, as the word “hag”. In a very real sense, then, the hedge represents the essence of the wildwood, living on in the cracks of the British landscape.

But the ancient origins of the hedge are not the whole story; the recent past of these green walls is an altogether more chequered affair. Throughout the Medieval period, the ancient hedges retreated – being cut away to make more space for farming. Across much of England in particular, it ceased to be as important to set apart different fields. In many parishes, agrarable fields and pasture was held in common, as part of the open field system – managed centrally by the entire community through manorial courts. Under such economic conditions, hedges served little purpose.

But this situation did not last. Enclosure – the process by which common land was sold off to private individuals – was carried out steadily throughout the late medieval and early modern periods, before dramatically accelerating, with the assistance of several acts of Parliament, over the course of the 18th century. As environmental historians such as Nick Blomley and John Wright have documented, one of the first acts taken by new owners was often to plant hedges; hedges being a means of excluding commoners from the land that had been taken from them. Prior to enclosure, the rural poor relied on common land – especially pasture – to supplement their diet and obtain fuel. Once deprived of these resources, they had little alternative but to move to the industrialising cities or emigrate.

The rage felt by former commoners was considerable, and riots resisting enclosure were common – with hedges often being crossed through acts of mass trespass and grubbed up as criminal damage in the process. The old saying – Horne and Thorne Shall Make England Forlorne – encapsulates the feeling of the time; with both profit-oriented sheep farming (horne) and enclosure through hedge-laying (thorne) being identified as key instruments through which the poor were immiserated. Under such circumstances, we encounter another incarnation of the “hedge-rider” – the impoverished commoner who leaps across a newly planted line of thorns, to reclaim his birthright.

The hedge, then, emerges from the history of the British landscape in particular as a deeply ambiguous, yet highly potent force from my point of view. The hedge’s origins as the mysterious barrier between cultivated and uncultivated space, as the ubiquitous remnants of primordial woodland, retains much of the power of the original image of the hedge as the border between village and wild, while correcting that image’s flaws. If we imagine the hedge as a barrier between the human and the non-human, this can reinforce the problematic divide between nature and culture; a divide that so bedevils our attempts to live and think sustainably. The hedge’s more recent history as an instrument of enclosure; that kept people off the land, and eventually forced them off it for good; shows precisely the damage this sort of rhetoric can do. We cannot allow hedges to shut us out of nature.

If, on the other hand, we think of hedges as stitching that connects up landscapes of which humans are already a fundamental, and numinous part, then they become a constant reminder of the presence of the other natures in all our lives. Hedge-riding becomes as much a matter of crossing boundaries in defence of the commons, as it is a case of journeying along green roads into the Woods From Which We Come.


Notes

*The islands of Britain and Ireland. The term “British Isles” can imply continued overlordship of the Republic of Ireland by the British crown, and so it is not used here.

Image by Christine Johnstone and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.


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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Culture Weaving

It is not very well-known outside of anthropology just how much culture (and our enculturation from the day we are born) shapes the way we think and how we see the world. Our consciousness takes shape within a social container. A larger piece than you might think of your own personal identity and personality has come about as a response to your social environment, whether embracing or rejecting aspects of the society into which you were born and/or exist within now. Culture is a powerful force that shapes societies and, yes, individuals.

In a hyper-individualistic culture, like that in the U.S., hearing that culture shapes our personalities and identities might chafe. We’re all self-made men and women, right? Nobody/nothing makes us think things or be any way other than what we choose – we’re independent thinkers and islands of selfhood!

Except that we aren’t, not totally. Humans don’t actually work like that. Humans are social creatures, and culture permeates our minds. But our culture has decided that every man and woman is an island (which might come together in a nuclear family archipelago, at least), and to shape our society as if that were true… which causes problems. It detaches us from our community, and erases the community’s role in personal development, in collective responsibilities, and all manner of things. The culture re-styled us as islands, but we’re not, and delusions like that wreak some havoc with the functioning of systems like societies, and even personalities, making them maladjusted and unsustainable. They often carry that corruption forward and affect other people, society, and even other societies detrimentally.

In a question of nature vs. nurture, people in this culture don’t usually realize that culture is both. It can nurture, but it is also nature – the environment we develop within, as well as a natural phenomenon that evolved with/in us – inextricable. Humans aren’t humans without culture. We aren’t even capable of language unless other humans teach it to us at the critical early stages of psychological development. If we miss that enculturation due to isolation, at that point in our childhood, we’re not going to learn language at all. There will only be rudimentary communication for the rest of our life, like the other primates — even if we’re later surrounded by language and being actively taught — if we miss that window of opportunity, we will not have human language (grammar, recursion, storytelling, etc.) We need to develop within culture to be human, and it’s best if our culture is a healthy one. Unhealthy cultures/societies tend to produce unhealthy individuals.

John Fire LameDeer

Shaping reality is wielding magic, and that’s why I find culture (and religion) so fascinating. I’ve always found magic fascinating. Magic is in the subtle programming underlying what we see in front of us. Bardic arts involve being able to see and illuminate for others the influence of fine distinctions, in words and meaning and emotion. Wisdom flourishes in being fluent in this subtle language, able to understand it, speak it, and direct it.

You can trace so many of our problems back to culture and mistaken conceptions / bad memes that became installed in culture and that have cast a spell of illusion on our society, making us stumble along blindly and knock over things that we need… like belonging, equality, and other aspects of healthy relationships with each other and with nature; the intrinsic value as well as the instrumental value of each person/being so that we won’t treat each other as mere means but always also as ends; contemplative time to develop our minds and sense of subtlety/spirit; and so on. The lack of these in our present culture can be laid at the feet of capitalism, the Protestant work ethic, Abrahamic religion’s concept of human dominion over the earth, and such memes that have developed into chaos over time, barely contained by increasingly complex technology or systems of law, as they grew to their logical ends within the arc of history. Nature is proving them out as unwieldy mistakes, but they are still dearly held beliefs, because it’s somewhat rare for memes and their effects to be visible to people.

Since culture teaches us individuals how to see the world, a blind culture makes for blind people, unless another culture, sub-culture, or some circumstance teaches one of us to see differently than our culture sees. Most people reading this have probably had a taste of such circumstance and the experience of seeing differently than their culture taught them to see; if not from being in a minority religion in a predominantly Christian culture (especially one with roots in the healthier cultures that came before much of what ails this one) with a whole other cosmology, then perhaps from some other route to caring more about nature and community than is normal for this society, and thank gods/spirit for that, I say! You have been called, initiated, and given a responsibility. The world needs you. You can bless it.

I believe that this is like a second sight, and that learning to see behind the cultural curtains can ignite a desire to heal the flaws in the system because you can see right where they reside, how it came to be that way, how it can be undone or done better, and understand that it is within your power because we make culture, as much as it makes us. We wear it, but we weave it. We can bring our culture back into alignment with nature’s truth, and off the distorted track caused by beliefs that disconnected us from it.

Culture, religion, politics, ethics, art, personality, spirit… it’s all interconnected and mutually-influencing. As much as we sometimes like to examine them separately, they do not exist separately. We can use this holistic vision to wield a healing magic and to become culture-weavers who influence society to bring balance where it is needed. I know that’s why I’m here at Gods & Radicals, offering our community and the world my art and the insights I’ve gleaned from my experiences, education, and the meta-view afforded by walking between the worlds. I’m singing guiding songs to awaken and help my people see magic, know health, and weave in wisdom. You, my kin, should weave with me, and spread healing out into the world, setting things a-right for healthy community. Learn all you can about this world and it will come naturally, as all the pieces come together in a clearer view of the whole, and you’ll develop a trust in nature to tend toward health, wholeness, and the sustainability and stability of goodness. We just need to help smooth out the knots where ignorance and imbalance make ideas tangle and distort the whole cloth of this beautiful world. There will always be knots, but we have some really gnarly knots to work out right now, after centuries of some truly bad ideas that dominated and have been tearing the fabric, outright. The medicine of our hands, minds, and spirits are needed. Come, learn to see the patterns, so we can re-weave with stronger threads.

 

Lia Hunter

LiaHA student of anthropology and philosophy, lover of learning and homeschooling mother, Lia Hunter grew up in a conservative Christian cult and had to learn critical thinking the hard way, now values it highly, and looks behind all the cultural curtains. She came home to Paganism in 2000 and blogs at SageWoman blogs (The Tangled Hedge) and her personal spirituality blog (Awenydd of the Mountains).