“But with what desperation do we seek to deny the cycles of time! That it were not so is the dearest wish of humanity. Any catastrophe imaginable would be preferable to the secrets hidden in Troy Town.”
From Ramon Elani
“The bird fights its way out of the egg. The egg is the world. Who would be born must first destroy a world. The bird flies to God. The God’s name is Abraxas.”
“In this world is man Abraxas, the creator and the destroyer of his own world.”
Roused from my sleep by turbulent dreams, I came to the riverbank. The river opened its eyes to me and galaxies were born and died in its eddying currents. Mist rose in hissing tendrils from moss and fern. The moon, a cold shining knife blade. Two figures emerged from the darkened wood, one wearing a mantle of straw, the other clad in twigs and alder and hazel leaves. Each was crowned with bark, with ferns upon their feet and masks of wood covered their faces. One carried a wand of hawthorne, the other a wooden sword. Hands clasped, they stood before me in silence. Then came forth a third figure, darker than the night and in its hands, a flaming sword. At the approach of this fell thing, the Wild Ones bowed their heads in unison and knelt upon the ground. The executioner raised his dire sword and I turned my head as the dolorous stoke found its mark. Soundlessly the two figures, hands still entwined, slumped to the earth and the dirt was stained with bright blood, which poured into the river below. A thong of shadowy mourners came and lifted the bodies onto a litter of branches, decorated with antlers. At the executioner’s behest, the procession began to move, and I, compelled by an urgency in my blood, followed. Then we came to a tarn, deep and still, surrounded by oak trees and standing stones. And the bodies of the Wild Ones were thus drowned in that black water. Down and down, through uncountable fathoms, I saw the bodies sink. A shudder passed through the world. The lips of the executioner moved: “guilty,” “guilty,” “guilty.”
Then came a number of young girls, with flowers in their hair. And they sang this song: Now carry we Death out of the world,
The new Summer into the world,
Welcome, dear Summer,
Green Little corn.
Death will sleep beneath the oak tree,
Summer will soon be here,
We carry Death away for you
We bring the Summer.
Give us a good year
For wheat and for rye.
We carry Death out of the world,
And the New Age into the world.
Dear Spring, we bid you welcome.
Green grass, we bid you welcome.
We carry away death.
And bring back life.
The girls carried between them a small coffin and when they set it down, the executioner and all his attendants entered the coffin and the girls buried it beneath an oak tree. Then one among the girls spoke: “Of what was he guilty? For he was so good.” And three girls stepped forward, each bearing a chalice. “Weep not,” they spoke. “For what is sweeter than milk, honey, and brandy?” And the first of them poured sweet milk upon the dirt, the second, honey, and the third, brandy. At that, the sound of a horn broke the silence of those grim woods and a jubilant crowd passed before me. At its head, upon a fair horse, rode a figure robed in bark and crowned with gold. He was adorned with flowers and ribbons hung from his breast. Behind him came boys and girls bearing straw effigies upon tall poles. I remembered the words: Those trees in whose dim shadow
The ghastly priest doth reign
The priest who slew the slayer,
And shall himself be slain.
And the King of the Wood came again into his kingdom.
And I awoke by the side of the river.
And I knew that as I slept, she goddess of the river had placed her tynged upon me. That I would be cursed to see the dying of an age and know that not I, nor any other, can prevent what is coming. For this world is truly a fortress of turns. And what has come is always fated to return. Against whom do we war but ourselves? To go out, one must go in. The law of history and the law of the maze are one and the same. As Rebecca Solnit writes: “sometimes you have to turn your back on your goal to get there, sometimes you’re farthest away when you’re closest, sometimes the only way is the long one.” One must not approach the hilltop but by the ringed paths that surround it. Remember, with every step, I have been here before, I will be here again. Nothing could be more profane than to walk straight to the center. No, the lines of seven folds must be obeyed. And why? Because unless we follow the circle path, we will find nothing at all when we reach the end.
But with what desperation do we seek to deny the cycles of time! That it were not so is the dearest wish of humanity. Any catastrophe imaginable would be preferable to the secrets hidden in Troy Town. We will come, in time, to deny everything in the world in our attempt to be free. Destiny, fate is abhorrent to the modern mind because it is so self evident. A vision of humanity that sits, impervious, upon a shining pyramid, looming over the barren plain cannot abide the notion that powers beyond us direct the course of all things. Borges, one haunted by the labyrinth:
Time is the substance I am made of. Time is a river which sweeps me along, but I am the river; it is a tiger which destroys me, but I am the tiger; it is a fire which consumes me, but I am the fire. The world, unfortunately, is real; I, unfortunately, am.
We are the body of the cosmos. We are the dreams of the world. And we, and the world, are no more than mist and dew.
Within the maze, we look up at the eternal stars. Their implication suddenly becomes clear. We find that past and future are the same. We find that the present is the only illusion. There is only the endless rhythm of the tide. A wave that is always coming and going. There is a sensation, most acutely felt, of being pursued throughout our lives. Something implacably seeks us. It finds us in our dreams, in Troy Town.
Modernity fails because it teaches us to kill the monster. Confine it because we fear it. Trap it and bind it. Instead of the hallowed offerings we once gave freely, it now will take its own bloody rewards. And on its own terms, the price will be arbitrary and cruel. Then, when it has trespassed too far, we will hunt it, drive it down to Troy Town and butcher it and declare ourselves rid of its vileness forever. And then we will act surprised when its bloody lips spread wide again to devour us. We only sin against ourselves. Joseph Campbell:
Where we had thought to find an abomination, we shall find a god; where we had thought to slay another, we shall slay ourselves; where we had thought to travel outward, we shall come to the center of our own existence; where we had thought to be alone, we shall be with all the world.
The cycles turn, without end. We can escape nothing. We are destined to fight the same battles forever. Just as Holly and Oak, winter and summer, life and death. When we embrace this awful truth and walk the spiral path in Troy Town, we will once again dwell in the bosom of the living gods.
Amor fati, amor fati.
Ramon Elani holds a PhD in literature and philosophy. He is a teacher, a poet, a husband, and a father, as well as a muay thai fighter. He wanders in oak groves. He casts the runes and sings to trolls. He lives among mountains and rivers in Western New England
More of his writing can be found here.You can also support him on Patreon.
As I write this, the solstice is almost upon us. I always think that this time of year takes on an almost dreamlike quality, and time seems to warp into something else so that the New Year and Imbolc seem like distant memories and like yesterday all at the same time.
From Emma Kathryn
Your skin like dawn
Mine like musk
One paints the beginning
Of a certain end
The other, the end of a
~ Passing Time by Maya Angelo
I think it was Stephen King who once compared writing to time travel or being psychic, perhaps both. I can’t remember where I read it, but it certainly stuck with me because he’s right (of course he’s right, it’s Stephen King!). But consider the idea for a moment. Here I am in my present, the day before the solstice talking to you in the future; as you read this, you’ll be in a form of communication with my past self. See, psychic time travel indeed!
In all seriousness though, time is a funny old thing really, when you think about it. We think of it in terms of minutes and hours, days and weeks, something that is quantified and measured, and so it is in a way. It helps keep the machine going, to measure the hours of work right down to the second, but also because we now live linear lives, moving from one stage to the next: school, college, work, family, more work, retirement (though for many there is little prospect of a comfortable retirement if, that is they even get one at all. My generation probably have to work ’til we drop).
But time is not just linear. Sometimes its a spiral, and sometimes its slick and slippery and slides by too fast for us to notice, and when we do, it’s too late and we can only reminisce and look back on memories we didn’t even know were memories yet. Sometimes though, time can seem heavy and thick and moves like glue, slowly, agonizingly slowly, flowing by. And sometimes it gathers in the shadows, shimmering like a hidden cave pool, and in these places time seems to gather and stand still, if only for a moment.
For me, the summer solstice, or Litha if you follow the wheel of the year is like that.
As I write this, the solstice is almost upon us. I always think that this time of year takes on an almost dreamlike quality, and time seems to warp into something else so that the New Year and Imbolc seem like distant memories and like yesterday all at the same time.
I like being outside at this time of year and so last night I went to the woods with some witch friends of mine. It was still light, the sun still had heat, though beneath the trees it was comfortably cool and smelt of the woods, you know that smell; earth and mulch, soft smell of old decay, the smell of new green.
We found our place, a small clearing and tidied away the rubbish that had been left there, drink bottles and crisp packets. Part of me is glad that still others come to the woods, but it saddens me that they have so little respect for it that they would toss their rubbish upon this sacred ground. The trees here are elder, hawthorn and birch, and they’ve grown so that they look like they are dancing, entwined together as they reach towards the light. Sitting beneath these trees so close to midsummer, time takes on that feeling of nostalgia, all sepia tones and line dried linen scent. It becomes thick and flows like treacle. When Shakespeare wrote A Mid-Summers Night Dream, he really did capture the essence of this time.
The woods felt alive, and even the constant throb of the industrial estate that borders it becomes nothing more than a drone, a background noise you soon learn to ignore. The woods will not be quieted, and they still cling on, despite the increasing encroachment from both sides, on one houses, the other factories.
Litha is generally seen as a time of fun. Traditionally the hard work of preparing the land and sowing would be over and the harvest still some weeks away. The dog days of summer have arrived and soon schools will finish for the summer break. It’s time to ease off. If only. Now, for so many, they have lost their closeness to the land, and so have fallen out of sync with the natural cycles of the land. You can feel a hint of it though, can’t you, especially when on a beautiful morning in the height of summer, instead of being able to enjoy this time, instead we must head into our air conditioned offices, windowless factories and spend the most glorious of days doing meaningless work. And that’s if you’re lucky. All you have to do is take a look at the world to see just how much worse we could have it.
This time of year always reminds me of the summers of my youth, when all of the kids from the estate would walk the mile or so to an old abandoned concrete barge that sat at the edge of a lake connected to the river by a small stream. All of our parents worked, and in those days it was perfectly acceptable for older brothers and sisters to babysit. Only older brother and sisters don’t want to stay cooped up inside, and so us younger ones were taken along too, much to our delight. Anyway, we would go there and swim in the lake. Some of the older ones would jump off the concrete barge in to the deeper parts of the lake, though I never dared. On the way back, we’d stop at a church and drink from its outside tap and pinch plums from trees that overhung from the edges of gardens.
Those were the days! Those summer days! How long ago they seem and yet I can still feel the cold water on my skin.
And now, the solstice is almost here, feeling like that again, and it is time to face the fact that half the year has gone already. Time to pull ourselves from the past, and as you do, it dawns on you how lucky you are, or it does me anyway. Here I am writing about midsummer and the land and the good times, and yet the world is going to the dogs. You only have to take a quick glance at the news to see that. It would almost be funny, like some sort of joke if it wasn’t actually happening.
And what can we do against the face of empire? What can we, the poor and the powerless do in the face of such a colossus? It’s easy to feel helpless. And when we feel helpless, we can do only what we can to try an alleviate it. Sometimes the easiest thing to do is to work on your connection to where you live.
Let the solstice be the time when you connect to the land and those around you. Build those relationships for those things can often be the bedrock of solidarity. Don’t waste time, because, as we have already discussed, time is a tricksy thing indeed, and before you know it will be gone.
Go out if you can and delight in the beauty of a new day and feel that connection to land and to others, even if it’s the only thing you can do, everything starts with the land. Enjoy it while there’s still time.
My name is Emma Kathryn, an eclectic witch, my path is a mixture of traditional European witchcraft, voodoo and obeah, a mixture representing my heritage. I live in the middle of England in a little town in Nottinghamshire, with my partner, two teenage sons and two crazy dogs, Boo and Dexter. When not working in a bookshop full time, I like to spend time with my family outdoors, with the dogs. And weaving magic, of course!
(We’ve begun our yearly solidarity fundraiser! See below the essay for the link. And thanks!)
What if our relationship to Time became one of mutual honor and respect?
From Karina Black Heart
I’m reclaiming my time.
What if Time is a sentient being? What if, instead of seeing Time as a tyrant, task-master or one who imposes severe limitation, we understood that our judgement of Time derives from a cultural construct–one tightly interwoven with so many others which, by accident or design, keeps us distracted, unfocused, rushed and wanting? What if, instead of perceiving Time as scarce and restricting commodity, we– like the Fool–strode past the edge of that agreed-upon reality and stepped beyond it into Time’s limitless spaciousness?
What if our relationship to Time became one of mutual honor and respect?
What if this moment, and the next, and the one after that, stretched before and behind us with infinite patience and presence? What if we have the power (we do) to change our relationship with Time so it feels deeply expansive and rich with meaning?
What if, no matter our circumstances, we are able to partner with Time to create and attend to moments of creativity, kindness, passion, health, connection, liberation?
What if Time — like everything we are in relationship with — responds and shapes itself according to how we treat it? What if we can change Time –bending, slowing, quickening, stretching — by changing the way we relate to it? What if by paying attention and homage to Time right now, we shape how Time shows up for us in the future?
If we examine our past relationship with Time, we might see that our actions have made us ill, have twisted the weft and weave of how we experience our daily round. As in any relationship that matters to us, making one small change has the potential to transform everything that comes after. A single moment of full attentiveness can change all the moments that come tumbling after it–not just in the next hour or day, but throughout infinity:
A woman sits and spins yarn from wool.
A man stands and sharpens a blade.
A cook stirs the soup, tastes it, adds a pinch of thyme.
The woodworker sands the wood, brushes it off, examines it.
The potter places a finger into the center of the lump of clay and with great care, opens it to shape a bowl.
The runner listens to the rhythm of breath and feet touching earth.
The musician lifts the instrument, giving themselves over to it.
The mother presses the infant to her milky breast.
A child flies through the air on a swing, laughing. Wind lifts the hair, weightlessness drops the belly.
A cat lies luxuriously in a beam of sunlight.
A lover’s fingers trace the gently sloping rib-cage of the beloved.
A pen in hand moves steadily across the lines of empty page.
The snow shovel scrapes against an icy sidewalk.
The gymnast trusts the strength of her muscle and precision born of practice.
A barber holds a straight edge razor above the adam’s apple.
Dough is placed upon a floured wooden board and kneaded for bread.
Groceries are taken from the bag and placed in cabinets and drawers.
The calculator, pen, checkbook, budget and bills are laid upon the desk with the same attentiveness as a priest lifting the chalice to lips longing for a drought of the sacred.
Wrinkled bedding is pulled and smoothed taut across a mattress.
The essay is read through another time. Small edits are made to improve it.
Fruitless limbs are pruned from the apple tree.
A drop of darkly scented oil is prayerfully placed behind the ear, at the breastbone, and the wrist.
Fingers hold coins to be placed into slots for parking, beverages, tolls and children’s hands.
Music from a passing car fills the street.
The high cries of seagulls pierce a sun-induced trance induced during an afternoon at the beach.
Bells jingle as a shop door closes behind you.
The rituals of daily life are often rushed. And, missed. As we move through them, our thoughts are busy elsewhere: What do we have to do next? What time is it? How much time do we have? What was I looking for? Don’t forget to make that call. Put milk on the grocery list. What time are we meeting? Stop to buy gas. Drop off those forms. Pick up the mail. What am I going to do for lunch? Talk to so-and-so about such-and-such. I hope I have time to get to the gym . . . . On and on and on goes our litany of what must be done to meet the demands of living. Relentless. Exhausting.
Often, in the work I do, students and clients are concerned with defining and pursuing their life’s purpose, or their Work: The gift they alone are fit to offer the world. Their passion. The one thing that will fulfill them. Their dharma. The idea of finding and doing The One Important Thing has been deeply influencing our culture for at least two generations. It has infected every aspect of education, earning, relationship, the decision to have children or not, the friends we foster, where we live and, even our spiritual practice. We’ve been brainwashed to believe, “Do what you love and the money (and fame) will follow.” We are obsessed with the search for The One Thing and the fulfillment of the things it promises.
Before that, though? Work was what we did for money. It’s what made the rest of the moments of our lives–our real lives–possible and worthwhile. Preceding that, our days and weeks, seasons and lifetimes, were still filled with the mundane tasks survival required of us–but at a much, much slower pace. You cannot pull the shoots of plants nor rush the rains. Agrarian life entailed a lot of waiting.
We tended our gardens and animals, stored and cooked food, spun wool, sewed clothing, wove blankets, chopped trees for firewood and furnishings. We collected reeds, rainwater, berries and herbs. Yes, we had daily rituals that had to be completed, but those rituals were far fewer than those we try to cram into sixteen hours of wakefulness today. How ironic that with all our time-saving devices from washing machines to automobiles, email to instant-messaging, we are far busier, infinitely more distracted, more lonely, less fulfilled and less present than ever.
We are obsessed with doing things faster. We are addicted to efficiency. We have made a religion of multi-tasking, and pay people to teach us better time-management skills.
We take a certain pride in being busy. When asked how we are, we boast or complain with false-humility, “Busy! I’m so busy!”
Being busy means we’re being productive. Convincing ourselves and others of our productivity and busyness is how we affirm we are playing by the rules of end-stage capitalism. Both our busyness and hard work are symptom and result of a world that views everything–including us–as a commodity.
Our perceived scarcity of time colors everything we choose to do and everything we refrain from doing. How often have we turned down an invitation to spend time with a beloved friend or family member? How often have we hurried through our morning routines, gobbled down breakfast, grabbed a to-go cup of coffee to drink in the car while we sit in rush-hour traffic? We cut off the words of our children because, “We have to hurry!” We omit eye contact, a full embrace and a meaningful kiss, substituting it with a quick peck on the cheek and a mumbled, “I’m running late.” We arrive breathless to every meeting and event.
We say we don’t have time to engage in a daily spiritual practice, take baths instead of showers, cook dinner, write thank you notes, wrap birthday gifts, call or text to say hello, go for walks, create things, take a day off, go to bed early, cook our own meals, sleep late, make love, see the doctor, read a book, learn something new, take a vacation, see a friend in need, volunteer our services or make it to a family member’s funeral.
While we are busy being busy, we are not taking time to live.
Life may be busy, but busyness is not living. Living deeply and richly may mean developing a new relationship with Time. It might require we take Time by giving focused attention to smaller and smaller details.
What if the way you stir your coffee, or wake the children, feed the animals or sweep the kitchen floor were done with slow focus? What if, in those few moments, you gave one-hundred percent of your attention to the task at hand? What if these details of our daily round were given precedence and predominance above all else? What if these are as important to your well-being and long-term goals as your activism, your yoga practice or your career?
These mundane moments are weighty. In them, we find connection, love, gratitude. Like honey, their sweetness clings to us as we move through the remainder of the day. The taste of them lingers. Our undivided, loving attention to detail, to people, to creativity and experience, actually causes Time to hold still, along with us. In this, we learn we have the power to make Time.
The faster we go, the more we miss and the faster Time runs to keep up with our culture-induced productivity. Likewise, the slower we go, the more we notice and tend to.
And, Time–like a good friend, slows its pace to meet ours.
It’s okay to do less. It’s okay to make Time. It’s fine, especially in the beginning, to create time in very small increments . . . while learning to trust yourself and the relationship.
Karina Black Heart
Karina B. Heart is a writer and Feri Witch slowly allowing herself to go feral. She’s spent the last decades deconstructing gender, race, class and religion relying upon lived experience, the collected stories of others and academic study. She lives in the bluest part of the blue bubble of liberal Massachusetts, in a tiny loft with her almost-adult children and her mentor-kitten, Professor Bean.
You can find Karina writing on Patreon https://www.patreon.com/karinabheart, Facebook and, ocassionally on Medium or her blog at karinabheart.com.
Our site is run (and our writers are paid) entirely by donations from readers. To find out how you can help us, see this link.
In the 2011 sci-fi film In Time, Justin Timberlake plays a factory worker in a dystopian future where each person is born with a set allotment of time-currency. The poor work to buy more time from their bosses, while paying their time to others for rent, or food, or other necessities, constantly checking their time-balance (a digital clock embedded into their flesh) to ensure they have enough to survive the next day. In the constructed world of the movie, when you are out of time, you die.
Elsewhere in this future world, others have plenty of time–the wealthy hoard hours and days from the masses of the poor, living long and opulent lives. Their own days seem near infinite; their worries minor compared to the workers in other ‘Time Zones,’ who scramble constantly in time-debt trying to have enough minutes to feed their children.
The film is a fantasy, of course. But despite its fictional nature, In Time is uncomfortably real—no work of film or literature comes quite so close to depicting the unspoken truth behind the Capitalist economy and its adage that “Time is Money.”
Most of us work for a living, selling our time to employers in return for wages, for currency that we use to purchase the necessities of living like food and housing. We exchange pieces of sacred paper inscribed with glyphs, or digital ciphers abstractly representing those dollars and euros and pesos–all which become for us a currency bearing crystalized meaning of minutes, hours and days.
It seems a pristine and precise system. My time compensates the time of others, and I spend spent hours on goods and services created with the spent hours of others in a great bazaar of equivalent exchange. The very abstraction, the symbolic extraction seems near beautiful—an hour of me is worth an hour of you, and we humans share and trade the time of our lives for the time of others in ever-equalizing currents.
Hours and minutes and seconds swirl ’round like clock-hands, like a finely-honed machine so eternally-present it seems as if Nature itself birthed such exchange of time for money.
But we know this is untrue. An hour of me is not worth an hour of a tech worker. He can buy 5 of my hours with an hour of his, and I can buy 40 hours of a Haitian’s life with an hour of mine. According to this system, my time is worth more than many, worth much much less than many others. Embedded in our symbols of money are invisible accountings of time we cannot quite unravel and cannot quite see.
Like many other changes wrought into the world these last 400 years, we have trouble understanding how this happened, or that it even happened at all. The ubiquity of systems like Capitalism and Monotheism seem to obliterate the past, or re-write themselves into history so that they always seem to have been there, our Modern life merely a completed tapestry of threads woven from the dawn of humanity. And Time seems the same; we cannot easily remember a Time before Time.
But this particular sort of Time is new, and this accounting newer still, and it is not Pagan, and it is not good.
We live in the Time of Capital; in Machine Time. We are refugees from a war on a Time we cannot remember; a war nearly erased from our collective memories. The Time of Nature is hidden from view, and we are crippled by our loss of Time.
Seems a bold statement, I’m sure. But follow me back a few hundred years to the War on Time.
Clockmakers and Preachers
In his study, Time, Work-Discipline, and Industrial Capitalism, British historian E.P. Thompson traces the birth of Western Time conceptions through the upheavals of the 16th through 19th centuries. These centuries also saw the Enclosures, the Witch-Hunts, the mass slaughters of European Imperialism, the Reformation, and the birth of new forms of state control over people — 400 years of pitched battle, in which leaders of the Church and powerful warlords (called ‘kings’) fought to repress, restrain, and exploit increasingly politically and religiously independent peoples.
It was, also, the birth of Capitalism.
The Birth of Capitalist Time is inextricable from the birth of the factories, and the story of the birth of factories cannot be told without mentioning the Clockmakers. In fact, many of the machines of the factories were made by clockmakers, who had experience with the timing of gears, and E.P. Thompson notes that many of the most powerful industrialists of the early period of Capitalism, as well as early 20th-century ones like Henry Ford had also been chronomancers.
The human body is not a machine; no matter the usefulness of such metaphors. Our heart-rates are irregular, subject to alterations in times of fear, passion, lust, happyness, sorrow, or even sudden stimuli. Neither do we rise from slumber or fall into sleep at regular intervals, as the natural ways we measure time are ever-shifting, subject to daily, seasonal, and biological variations. In summer, the sun rises hot and bright, in winter cold and distant. Clouds may obscure the light, or the work of the day, or an illness, or a new lover may all cause us to rise later.
Nature is no strict manager of our lives. Nor do we humans labor always at regular intervals and at equal strengths; fatigue, sorrow, distraction, illness may all slow work; impatience or eagerness may hasten it.
But the logic of the factory and industrial Capitalism requires standardized working hours, regular and predictable output. A factory or business cannot operate if workers come in whenever they choose; a Capitalist cannot plan production or profits if he cannot be certain he will have enough workers present–those unpredictable Human components–at the wheels and levers of his pristine, regulated, inanimate machines.
How then could a Capitalist, intent on turning the labor of humans into the fuel for his wealth, cause unruly and undisciplined people to work his machines?
He turned to the clock.
At first a curiosity for the wealthy, a tool for the astrologer and the alchemist, the modern clock became more prevalent and more available as demand for its other uses increased. Like many other human inventions (one thinks of gunpowder and the combustion engine), it did not become ubiquitous until the powerful learned they could wield it against others. Time-pieces had existed for thousands of years, water-clocks and sundials and hour-glasses, but mechanical time was unneeded but for a few specialized professions and studies.
Soon, bell-towers which had rung out to townsfolk the calls to prayer or alarums of fire became also clock towers. As wealthy merchants, nobles, and industrialists saw time-discipline crucial to their profits, many of them funded the placement of clocks in every town, village, and city, often upon the sacred houses called Churches.
That placement’s important, and religion too had its role in the birth of Capitalist time. The prevalence of clock-time was not enough to compel the average person to measure out their days and ways by the regulated hour. Just as it was fortunate for the Capitalist that the Clock existed, it was doubly to his fortune that Protestant preachers roamed the countryside and the warrens of the towns, observing the chaotic and un-Christian lives of the commoner and seeking, through sermons and tracts, to bring the light of an ordered, regulated life to the poor.
Those same centuries saw a flurry of tracts, primers, almanacs, and sermons against the venial sin of sloth and the most deadly moral failing of the poor, sluggardly staying in bed. Like the Puritan attempts to regulate the sexual activities of the poor (sleeping with boards between husband and wife, having sex only on certain days, avoiding touching), these guides were authoritarian and prescriptive, codifying the best times for waking, for eating, for working (incidentally, every day but the Sabbath) all to attain a purity of life in accordance to the will of God and the proper functioning of Christian society.
John Wesley was one of the most famous of the religious preachers to issue such strictures, and more importantly developed an entire religious movement based upon perfecting the human soul in relation to God through methodical order and disciple—Methodism.
Religious teachers were not the only ones to write such guidelines—statesman, humanists, and industrialists issued their own screeds against the tendency of the poor to laze-about and drink tea (a serious problem, judging by how many warnings were issued about the sinful Tea Table.) And consider “Poor Richard’s Almanac,” Benjamin Franklin’s decades-long publishing of facts mixed with maxims, including that most tyrannical truth mentioned earlier. It’s from Franklin (incidentally a clockmaker in his younger days) we first learned that Time is Money.
Capitalists needed workers to show up on time, on regular schedules, in order to run the new mills and factories. Protestant ministers and preachers (many of them invested both in the factories and in the Capitalist ethic, which is distinctly Protestant, as Max Weber has shown) saw the introduction of time-discipline as a way of better managing the faithful and ridding society of non-Christian activities which they alternately described as Pagan or Devilish. Thus, both became allies in the War on Time against the masses, whose transition from unregulated life and work-as-you-will seemed never complete.
But we should consider what non-Capitalist time actually was and what the stakes actually were in this war.
Machine Time, Machine Discipline
Clocks had been around much longer than factories, mills and work houses. Personal clocks were much rarer, often out of economic reach of the poor until watchmaking became a more common skill and the lower classes had enough money to purchase them (often, as E.P. Thompson notes, as an investment for wealth, as a watch could be hawked or put up as collateral against credit).
The keeping of time, then, was the province of the upper classes, the urban dwellers, lords, aristocrat who sought power over the poor. During this period, there were actually two conceptions of times: the rural/common/peasant recognition of tasks and Nature (the time of the sun and the times of human activity like meals) and the time of the upper classes, measured first in imprecise hours until the perfection of the pendulum allowed time to be divided into discrete minutes and eventually seconds.
What’s the difference? In Machine Time, the human day is broken into machine-regulated denotations trumping natural patterns. Waking happens not according to the rising of the sun but of the stroke of a bell or the sounding of an alarm; 6.30 am and one must leave the bed, shower, eat, prepare the children for school all to meet another impending time-marker, 9am, when you are expected at work. Leave at 8:30 and you arrive ‘on-time,’ leave a little later and you are late and perhaps disciplined, punished, or at least scolded not only by your manager.
Lunch, not at ‘noon’ when the sun is directly overhead but at 12:00. Return half-an-hour later and the work-day commences. Work ends not when work is done, but at another set time, 5:00, as you, along with millions of others leaving work fill streets with cars rushing home on highways built wide to accommodate the predicted flood.
And those workers, home finally, regulate their day further by the logic of the machine by returning to their beds at a ‘decent’ time, not necessarily when they are tired or when their thirst for life’s been sated.
The way work is compensated in Machine-Time is disciplined, too—hourly wages, expected time commitments (40/hour weeks—and that only because workers fought and died for the 8-hour day), salaries all managed and configured to standardize payments not of work performed but time given. Piece-work and task work eventually fell out of favor because it was more difficult to manage–workers completed their tasks only as money was needed and would not regularly show up otherwise, and thus the adoption of a new form of compensation–waged Time.
On the other hand, Natural Time is not so easy to describe, because it’s as varied as the people who experience it and the communities and cultures they are a part of, as well as the work performed. There is the time of agriculture, starting and stopping work according to the light of day, with hard and long work performed socially for several months broken up by long periods of little work. The time of the fishing community, measured not by the clock but by the tide and the moon’s light. The time of the migrating cultures, measured by many First Nations peoples according to the moon as well (The Flowering Moon, the Wolf Moon, etc.,).
Even in Europe before Capitalism, time was measured by the feast days and festivals, many surviving still in Catholic countries like France where even non-Catholic workers are notorious for claiming those holidays and ‘faire le pont’ (making the bridge—taking an extra day between a holiday on a Thursday or Tuesday to make a four-day weekend).
Natural time exists everywhere Capitalism has not supplanted it, but on those frontiers the war rages on. Cultures which do not live by machine-time are often called ‘primitive’ or ‘backward.’ One BBC interview program a few years ago provides a great example: international businessmen and local entrepreneurs lamented the lazyness and tardyness of Africans and Arabs. Those interviewed complained that Africans just didn’t get time, even when they owned watches. Or that Arabs couldn’t quite ‘comprehend’ the urgency required to live in a Modern and Advanced world.
Worst of all, one local North African interviewee suggested that the reason Africa was a continent full of so much poverty was due precisely to the lazyness of his fellow continentals. That is, they were poor because they were never punctual. They even called it “African Standard Time.” [Remember this the next time you hear someone complain about ‘Pagan Standard Time’]
Natural Time is culturally-specific, rather than universal, constructed upon events and activities, work and festival. It relies both upon the rotation of the earth and apparent movement of the moon, sun, and stars, as well as the specific needs of a community. Time to migrate, or to put the livestock out to pasture or to bring in the harvest, all recurring activities which generate their own patterns of time, rather than the tyranny of a machine. And it’s the time of Animist cultures, which is why Westerners, after finally submitting for centuries on their knees at the alarm-clock and time-sheet have such trouble understanding ‘mythic time.’
Capitalism’s obsession with the clock and the machine did much more than affect the way workers were corralled into factories in the morning or return to their homes, though—it affected the way the entire world was seen.
Mechanical Laws, Non-Mechanical World
What arose from the conquering of Natural Time has been called the Mechanistic World-view, a crucial aspect of Capitalist thought and a brutal guardian against the return of Pagan religions to the world. In Mechanistic thinking, the world is governed by immutable laws which both predict and constrain everything. Both the basis of modern Science-thinking and the foundation of many political ideologies, including many totalitarian ones (consider that statement about Fascism and punctual trains…).
Iterated by thinkers such as Isaac Newton, René Descartes, and Francis Bacon and eventually filtered out into the rest of Western society as a part of the Protestant/Capitalist Work ethic. Nature and its chaotic tendencies became foes to be vanquished and subdued. Many Pagans make the mistake of equating the Judeo-Christian Bible as having instituted anthropocentric ‘dominionism’ over Nature, but this, like many other things Capitalism has wrought, is several thousand years newer than popular histories ever let on.
Machine-thinking provided not just a moral justification, but also a moral imperative for the subjugation of peoples and of Nature. If Time could be known and regulated like a machine, thus, too, could all the world. James Watts, the ‘father’ of the coal-fired Steam Engine and Francis Bacon, the much lauded (but very vile) founder of the Scientific Method, both spoke and wrote of Nature as a passive woman, waiting to be wooed, subjugated, even raped. Naomi Klein, in her book on Capitalism and Climate Change, tells it best:
If the modern-day extractive economy has a patron saint, the honor should probably go to Francis Bacon. The English philosopher, scientist, and statesman is credited with convincing Britain’s elites to abandon, once and for all, pagan notions of the earth as a life-giving mother figure to whom we owe respect and reverence (and more than a little fear) and accept the role as her dungeon master. “For you have but to follow and as it were hound nature in her wanderings,” Bacon wrote in De Augmentis Scientiarum in 1623, “and you will be able, when you like, to lead and drive her afterwards to the same place again…Neither ought a man to make scruple of entering and penetrating into these holes and corners, when the inquisition of truth is his sole object.”-Naomi Klein, This Changes Everything. p.170. [Emphasis mine]
Even popular notions of the Divine changed with the advent of Machine-time. Deism, which saw the Monotheist’s one-god as a “Divine Watchmaker,” shifted the understanding of humanity’s relationship to the Other not as one of co-creators, but one in which God left all the world to ‘man’ to be regulated, known, and perfected. It shouldn’t surprise us that many of the same mechanistic thinkers who changed civilization’s view of time and Nature were also Deists, including, of course, Benjamin Franklin.
Such a mechanistic worldview runs counter to quite a few important threads of Pagan thought, particularly Animism, which sees the world and all things in it alive, breathing with spirit, rather than inert cogs in the machines of progress which churn out human wealth.
Our pre-Capitalist ancestors were not stupid, nor did they have no conception of time. Societies cannot exist if everyone is late or cannot determine when to sleep, wake up, or plant grains. What’s changed under Capitalist Time is our individual participation in time, our inherent timing of our lives according to natural phenomenon and culturally-constructed needs.
The birth of Capitalist Machine-time should not be seen as Technological ‘Advance,’ because Enlightenment thinkers and Factory managers were hardly the only ones capable of understanding precise time. Sidereal time, the tracking of the stars over a year, was practiced for millenia before Capitalists came up with time-sheets and punch clocks, and we need only think on Newgrange, Stonehenge and countless ancient monuments in the world to recognize that precisely timing an event is at least 5000 years old. Likewise, ancient chronometers which could precisely tell the positions of stars during any time of the year were what helped many sea-faring civilizations travel thousands of miles long before the British and Dutch ships brought slaves and Capitalism to the Americas.
Machine-time must be inculcated, and Capitalist Time is taught to us in school in almost laughable ways. Shifting from one classroom to the next each hour was a pedagogical innovation not because it would help children learn better, but because it would prepare them better for the factories, the mills, and the assembly lines.
In fact, Capitalist industrialists had a very strong hand in the development of universal education in both England and the United States. You may have heard of Andrew Carnegie and John Rockefeller? Here’s from their mission statement in 1913 as they created and funded educational policy to prepare children for their factories.
“In our dreams, we have limitless resources and the people yield themselves with perfect docility to our molding hands. The present education conventions fade from their minds, and unhampered by tradition, we work our own good will upon a grateful and responsive rural folk. We shall not try to make these people or any of their children into philosophers or men of learning, or men of science. We have not to raise up from among them authors, editors, poets or men of letters. We shall not search for embryo great artists, painters, musicians nor lawyers, doctors, preachers, politicians, statesmen, of whom we have an ample supply…The task we set before ourselves is very simple as well as a very beautiful one, to train these people as we find them to a perfectly ideal life just where they are. So we will organize our children and teach them to do in a perfect way the things their fathers and mothers are doing in an imperfect way, in the homes, in the shops and on the farm.” – General Education Board, Occasional Papers #1
Universal education is hardly only about enlightening children, but also about making them time-disciplined workers, ever more productive than their parents. In schools we are punished for being late, our marks on papers reduced just as pay is docked for tardyness, all to systematically continue the War on Time the early industrialists waged against the lazyness of humans.
Time-discipline is taught in our youth because Capital thinks not with the mind of Nature, but the mind of the Machine. We must be managed, both internally and externally, so that the great cogs and gears of Profit grind on, even as our own time is crushed into death by the logic of the wealthy and powerful.
Internalizing machine-time is not about developing a discipline, it is about undergoing discipline. It is a management, an un-wilding of our nature. We become more like the machines which control us, forgetting who created whom, and like many other modern enslavements, Paganism and Witchcraft stand against it.
And standing against Capitalist Time is an idea from a very unlikely source, from traditions hardly known for their revolutionary stance. Both Wicca and many forms of modern Druidry have, as core beliefs, the vital observance of the natural cycles of sidereal (astrological) and solar time. The Wheel of the Year and the marking of the Moon’s cycles are, if anything, a radical reminder of what Time means outside the Machine and how humans, in concert with Nature and all its beings, co-create our own conceptions of time.
To escape Machine Time isn’t to destroy it—we do not need smash the clocks and watches of the world like Protestants smashing pagan idols in the cathedrals (Protestants who, we should remember, also helped create Machine time!)
Rather, we should challenge those who wield it against our numbered hours for profit. Cheat the time-sheet, abandon the alarm? Those are honorable tactics, and a great start. But it is not always possible for many who are trapped deeper in the machine than others.
Unwaging our hours is perhaps a better strategy, one we can do best by finally putting to rest that horrid mantra which encapsulated hundreds of years of Protestant and Capitalist time discipline. We must remind ourselves, repeat endlessly until our time is again our own:
Time is not Money.
Money is Not Time.
And we will never be machines.
[this piece originally published at The Wild Hunt on 6 June, 2015]
Rhyd is the co-founder and managing editor of Gods&Radicals. He’s usually in a city by the Salish sea in occupied Duwamish territory, but he’s currently trekking about Europe for the next three months. Follow his adventures at: PAGANARCH.