Pagan Anti-Capitalism (A Book Project)

db_cyril_mann__british_1911-1980__dark_satanic_mills__19251I’ve mentioned this elsewhere, and in passing on some entries here, but it seems a brilliant act of self-sabotage (more on this in a bit) to formally announce it here.

I’m gonna write a book on Capitalism.

Or, more specifically, I’m starting to write a book that will function as a primer on Capitalism for Pagans.

There are multiple reasons for such a project, and various sentiments which have made me suspect this sort of thing is not just desired, but probably desperately needed.  For instance, in several of my A Sense of Place posts, I’ve noted that I’ve needed to describe the specific functioning of Capitalism in comments because of a general mistake which occurs when anyone attempts to speak of Capitalism’s effects: that is, many people do not seem to understand Capitalism at all.

This is both quite common and highly excusable, as one of the more insidious aspects of Capitalism is to re-inscribe itself into the functioning of other systems so that “Capitalism” has come to many to mean technological advance, human rights, social progress, and even the very human (and ancient) act of economic exchange itself.  Worse, it’s quite difficult to think of Capitalism as something not always-already there, particularly because of the omnipresence of the Progress Narrative and Capitalism’s functional ability to de-historicize itself so that it seems somehow universal and inevitable.

One of the more common definitions of Paganism includes the notion that it is an “earth-based” or “nature-derived” spirituality.  Though this definition is sometimes problematic, it fits many of the traditions within Paganism quite well, particularly the one to which I’m most aligned: Druidry.  And as such, any arrangement of human activity which damages the earth should be critiqued by Paganism (I’d actually say “opposed”), and this leads to one of the reasons why I’d be writing it specifically from a Pagan perspective.  Paganism, whether or not it intends to be, functions as a political critique of society in the same way many indigenous religions do.  And that critique is largely anti-Capitalist, even when unstated or acknowledged.

As such, we’ve got more in common with Queer- and Liberation- theologians, First Nations resistance movements, Anarchists, Socialists, and many other “leftist” movements than we’re always aware of, even if any particular person within Paganism might identify instead with pro-Capitalist economic stances (I’ve noted that a visible minority of ADF-aligned Druids, CR folks and Heathens identify as Libertarians, or
“Anarcho-Capitalists,” at least on-line).

Part of my intention will be not just to present a primer to the function (and damage) of Capitalism, then, but to draw out the threads of anti-Capitalist critique within Pagan-aligned traditions, both current and historical.  And I’m hoping to do so along the same lines of my critiques of Capitalism and Disenchantment for A Sense of Place.  Beyond helping Pagans understand Capitalism, I’m hoping it will help allies in leftist traditions (political or religious) understand what Paganism offers the world.

The Brilliant Art of Self-Sabotage

The book isn’t finished.  Actually, I’m just starting it today.  So, why announce this now?

I proclaim things well ahead of their actual completion quite often.  I declared my intention to go on Pilgrimage to Bretagne months before purchasing a ticket to do so.  My declaration that I’d be moving back to the Northwest was likewise done before any arrangements were made (and got picked up by The Wild Hunt).  Similar to the way many traditions go about enacting magic or public rituals by stating intentions, I’ve found the best way to accomplish something is to tell other people I’ll be doing it, because the one thing I dislike more than my own procrastination is failing to keep my word.

That is, this is self-sabotage of the most helpful sort.

Also, well.  It’s a book. Writing is a bit isolating, and writing something long that won’t get immediate feedback is quite alienating.  This is the problem I run into when attempting to edit my fiction manuscripts (which will be finished in a few months): writing requires becoming a bit of a hermit from the world, and I’m incorrigibly addicted to people and the dance of ideas between them.   Blogs are great for this, as one gets quick feedback on how words are received and understood.  But blogs are also impermanent, less useful for ideas and discussions which requires many many words rather than a few thousand.

So, writing this will mean a bit more isolation than what I’d prefer (which is one of the reasons I decided to move to Eugene–there are people there, and sidewalks rather than highways between them), and probably fewer posts here, and likely fewer related to whichever new controversy internet Pagandom comes up with each week.

And I’ll also need some help.  While I’ve spent most of my life studying critical theory, Marxism, and radical movements, I haven’t spent as much time studying the various traditions within Paganism.  My knowledge of Heathenism, for instance, is frustratingly limited, as is my understanding of Kemetic traditions or Feri.  I’m better at the history of modern Paganism (which I extend back much further than those who count Wicca as the defining moment of these movements) and European political thought than I am knowing how particular traditions relate to industrialization.  I’m greatly inspired by some of the work people like Starhawk, T. Thorn Coyle, and other anarcho-leaning folks have done (including Christopher Scott Thompson, whose discussion of Brighid and how she relates to social justice really excites me), and I’m sure there’s more out there that I haven’t encountered.

So.  I’m hoping others reading this might be willing to share their knowledge with me regarding these matters.   For those who lean anti-capitalist, stories and myths of the gods and goddesses who have inspired you to do so would be incredibly helpful, as would accounts of others who’ve worked with land spirits on the matter.  And I’m not fully committed to the book being only my writing (that might bore the hell out of some folks, I realize)–if others are willing to contribute, I’d love to hear from you, either in the comments or by email (aulnaissance [at] gmail). Collections of short essays or even a fully-committed collaborator would be welcomed.

And finally, depending on how the rest of my life goes, I may find myself soliciting funding for this project.  I’m wretchedly horrible at asking for money (you should see my pathetic attempts to negotiate wages with bosses…), so doing so would be a strange thing for me, and something I’d really need to consider for a long time before doing.  I’m also not at the stage where that’s quite even a question yet.  Those with experience doing such things and would be willing to advise me on such matters would find themselves quite welcomed.

About rhyd wildermuth

An intractable tea-swilling punk, queer hooligan, and dream-soaked leftist bard, Rhyd Wildermuth has left bits of his heart(h) everywhere—in a satyr’s den in Berlin, hanging from an elder tree over a holy well in Bretagne, scattered in back alleys of Seattle, and lost somewhere in the bottom of his rucksack. He’s devoted to Welsh gods, breathes words, makes candles, plays recorder, fumbles with tech, and refuses ever to learn to drive. His main blog is: paganarch.com. View all posts by rhyd wildermuth

26 responses to “Pagan Anti-Capitalism (A Book Project)

  • henadology

    This is a great idea. I’ve been thinking recently myself about the necessity of such a treatment, for a host of reasons. On the Marxist theory end, though I realize you’ve largely got that covered, I’d highly recommend Negri’s book Multitude, and Negri’s tendency in general, which I have found to be more ideologically compatible with polytheism than mainstream (i.e., more Hegelian) Marxism, especially in its emphasis on singularity, uniqueness being probably the most crucial single concept for polytheism.

    • Rhyd Wildermuth

      Yes, yes! Actually, you just helped trigger a recognition here–I’m generally a Zizek fanboy, but bringing up Multitude made me realize that the only way I find him palatable and useful for Polytheism is precisely because I’ve also read both Empire and Multitude. That is, in essence, taking Zizek with a healthy dose of Negri, or in Zizek’s delicious take on that sort of thing, Negri taking Zizek “from behind.”

      Or I’m taking both “from behind.” : )

      Thanks for that!

  • MJ

    I’m quite excited for this, too. I’m not in the PNW anymore, but if you need any editing help, I’d be happy to contribute.

  • Aine

    I don’t know how useful you would find a modern/new gods approach to this sort of thing (since you seem to be focused on historical stuff!), but there’s a lot the gods I work with have taught me about, well, challenging how we currently run things regarding wealth and stability and, basically, our entire culture in the US (I’d just say Capitalism, but I’m not educated on it enough to know if that fits). So, I’d be up for contributing modern religious stuff if you would find that useful.

    • Rhyd Wildermuth

      Actually, I think I’d find that quite useful. I’m outlining the book today, and I think I’ll be soliciting specific short essays from specific traditions (including yours…did you know you’ve a tradition? :) ) for certain sections on particular topics.

  • Fjothr Odinsdottir Lokakvan

    Oh, this is exciting! I’ve been too lazy in my reading to know if I’m really an anti-capitalist, but a lot of things I’ve read here and there from people who are really seem to fit with my general philosophy/anti-authoritarianism/off to the left somewhere/etc., including things I’ve read from other polytheists, so I’m looking forward to reading more. (And I think I know of some people on Tumblr who may be interested in this as well, so I’ll pass it on when I can. I have a friend there who has written some interesting things about Thor that may be related.)

  • Sempronia

    This is incredibly exciting. I’m really looking forward to the finished product. What you’re saying is the very essence of the reasons I came to Paganism in the first place, but I’ve been a little disheartened by some of the pro-status quo tendencies I’ve been seeing more and more of. Thanks so much for saying what seems to be so unpopular these days.

    • Rhyd Wildermuth

      I, likewise, came to Paganism, at least on a cultural level, because it resonated so heavily with my political and economic understanding of the world. I hope this will help re-invigorate this sense. Thanks!

  • TPWard

    I looked all over your site for an email address to no avail, so I’ll put this here.

    I am thrilled about your book idea, and beyond thrilled that the conversation about Pagans and money is getting this deep.

    I want to review this book for my PaganSquare blog, Dirty Money (http://witchesandpagans.com/Dirty-Money/Blogger/Listings/terence-p-ward.html).

    I also want to help you with proofreading and/or editing, since most books published in our community are self-published, and the sheer amount number of misteaks that we miss in our own writing is truly stupendous. Spellcheck is NOT enough, and I want this book to BE enough.

    I understand that there is an inherit conflict of interest if I do end up doing both of the above, so if that comes to pass, my review will just have to say so and do it plainly.

    Thank you for taking on this bold task. I’m not ready to write a book — don’t know if I ever will be — but I am desperately ready for any and all books that deal with Pagans and money.

    • Rhyd Wildermuth

      Excellent! I can definitely use some help, and would be honored. : )

      I’ve just finished an outline and introduction, and hope to have the chapter outlines completed by next week. PS my email address is Aulnaissance (at) gmail (dot) com. : )

  • Eilidh Nic Sidheag

    I’d contribute to a kickstarter (or similar) for this. I’m a social anarchist and ADF Druid, and I’d love to see more written about this and related topics from a Pagan perspective.

  • The Black Stone Hermitage

    Delighted to hear about your new book project. I’m a Pagan writer as well, and I’m the founder of Rethinking the Job Culture (formerly known as Creating Livable Alternatives to Wage Slavery at whywork.org). The project is an ongoing critique of the Puritan work ethic, and promotes bioregionally based alternatives to conventional employment in the wage economy.

    http://radicalunjobbing.wordpress.com

    Sounds like your work and mine have a fair bit in common. I especially like the way you describe Paganism as an anti-capitalist political critique, whether or not it intends to be. I think there are some oft-overlooked systemic reasons why we, as a community, struggle with money so much…and we really need a deep and thorough critique of our money system from an explicitly Pagan perspective. Have you read Charles Eisenstein? His book “Sacred Economics” is brilliant, and appreciated by many Pagans for good reason.

    I’m in Portland (and have lived in Eugene), and I feel strongly that the land spirits of Cascadia have a hand in my work, as well as the work of many others I know with similar goals.

    Best of luck to you – I look forward to reading your book when it is finished!

    • Rhyd Wildermuth

      How utterly exciting to meet you! I’m going to read you to pieces over the next few days if you don’t mind. :) Also, someone had brought up Eisenstein to me a few months ago when I was writing a bit about interdependence, and this was a lead I sadly did not follow. However, now that you’ve brought him to mind again, I shall hunt down his books!

      • The Black Stone Hermitage

        What a sweet reply – thank you! I hope you enjoy my blogs. Also note that Eisenstein’s book “Sacred Economics” can be read in its entirety online:

        http://sacred-economics.com/read-online/

        I bought the book in 2011; I’ve read it cover-to-cover six times now (and have re-read my favourite chapters countless times), and it still blows my mind with its brilliance. His new book, “The More Beautiful World Our Hearts Know Is Possible,” is equally amazing. Happy reading!

  • finnchuillsmast

    Sounds like an interesting project, although I’m increasingly finding pagan a problematic term (for myself). If I may recommend a book I recently read by an Italian autonomist that brilliantly analyzes current capitalism (including the phenomenon of how people now gladly work for free, creating content for tech behemoths), which has morphed once again in the last couple decades– it’s The Soul At Work, by Franco”Bifo” Berardi. Perhaps you know it?

  • Joshua Mostafa (@JoshuaMostafa)

    Fascinating project! Just emailed you.

  • Gods and Radicals | PAGANARCH

    […] intend to track a bit more of this in my book, but this sort of thing isn’t Pagan at all, but rather a colonization of a certain […]

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