Gods and Radicals

I’m a part of what weaves my story, but there are sudden bursts of searing insight which remind me that I am not the only who weaves it, nor are my choices ever only my own.

Shall I explain? How can I, really, except to impart fragments just as I view them–not shattered, but patch-work glimpses of glittering reflections strung along by fascinating threads.

First of all, did you know gods-worshippers are a fantastically radical lot?  Not just strange or queer, but good gods do they seem to exist with a burning fire ready to torch the darkness.  And funny, as I forgot this of myself, that what I want to tear down is a hedge between here and Other.

I met a particular person today, an occasional Pagan writer, a gods-worshipper, and a ferocious activist whose whole form and persona vibrated with what could only be called a sort of divine delight.  Her work is known to many, including enough people where she lives to find her personal life and impending move to another city mentioned in the local alternative paper.

This person, Alley Valkyrie, mentioned the same goddess had demanded social justice from her as who has done so for many others.  A goddess who demands those who worship her go out and fight injustice, particularly related to the homeless.  That is, a radical goddess.

Against the (Paralyzing) White Light

A topic in our conversation particularly fascinated me.  We’d spoken of a certain passivity within Paganism when it comes to matters of environmental damage, war, and other human calamities.  That is, “meditating” for peace or carbon reduction; similar to another thread of thought that suggests “changing oneself” will change the world.

I read a post by another Brigid-worshiper awhile back regarding how certain tendencies within Paganism are not only unhelpful but actually tend to result in harm to victims of very real things.  There is a kind of optimism which isn’t optimism at all, but rather a denial of human suffering which sustains injustice.

I 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 Capitalist/Liberal logic within Pagan which cripples its revolutionary potential.  It’s parallel to why certain folks find discussions of tolerance revolting, which makes them sound unfortunately reactionary.  It’s also why our discussions of privilege are going nowhere.

Liberal discourse defangs radical acts and discourse by offering itself up against a great void, presenting itself as our only hope against the throngs of witch-burners, fag-haters, fundamentalists, and totalitarians, and it does so by giving us inadequate tools to understand our oppression and un-freedom.  Amongst these is one of the more preciously-held tenets of Paganism, an inherited Universalism that we’re all, essentially, out for the same truths on our own individual paths and therefore all worthy of respect and affirmation.

The defense contractor, the multi-national banker, the polluter, the small-minded local business tyrant, and the gay-basher aren’t worthy of respect, affirmation, or tolerance.  Nor is meditating for world peace or an end to homelessness anything more than a pathetic masturbatory exercise.  I say “may there be peace in all the realms” during my druid rituals, but I’ve no illusion that my words alone change anything, anymore than voting changes anything.

This is why the position of so many gods-worshippers is a radical one, a severe one, an awfully serious one.  Sacrifice and actions matter more than words or intent.

Radical Gods

Some might know of an earlier dispute between some gods-worshippers on the necessity of social justice, and now that enough time has passed over the issue I feel it’s worth mentioning something that didn’t seem to get addressed.

Some gods are out to save the world.  Some aren’t.  But I think both sorts of gods benefit greatly from the acts of the followers of each.  It’s seems so obvious that it’s probably awfully easy to miss: both sorts are doing precisely what their gods demand of them.

Those of us who worship a gods and goddesses who demand we do stuff in the world for them need the ones who worship those who demand contemplation, ecstatic worship, and ponderous ritual.  It’s from them that we even have any clue what other gods are up to in the world, and they’re the ones developing for the rest of us tools and oracles and methods to interact with our own gods and the spirits around us.  They’re the mystics (whether they see themselves as such or not) who sacrifice an awful lot of their time to the gods so the rest of us learn how to.

And on the other hand, the mystics need the ponderous intellectuals who are working on the larger implications of what this means, or the valiant and whimsical street-warriors to bring the gifts, given by their gods to them, given then by them to us, to wreak upon the realm of the material and social the will of the gods we all revere.

If gods are real (and they are), then they affect the world.  And what’s particularly fantastic about their effect is how they do it, how they wield some of the most glorious, fantastic tools to enact their wills into the world.  Some tools are pretty useless at some things but perfectly suited for others.  I’ll a pretty decent writer, but I’ve got a two-beer limit before I take my clothes off and really can’t get ecstatic for the life of me, so my mystical communions are pretty limited to walking myths and occasional visions.

But I’m okay with this, as there are others doing it damn well and teaching methods to help the rest of us.

Likewise, I’m pretty good at politics and fighting on behalf of others, but good gods I’ll never quite be like the fantastic person who bought me tea this afternoon.

Neither of these are excuses for not trying, and trust me–the folks I know whose devotion is staggering do nothing but inspire the fuck out me, be they the activists or the mystics.

I mostly bring this up to point out that us gods-worshipers are a pretty fierce, burningly radical lot, are united by our physical, very-real actions for our gods, and are rather likely to reforge the world, precisely as our gods intend.

And this makes my radical, god-worshiping heart pretty damn thrilled.

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

17 responses to “Gods and Radicals

  • Niki

    Ohmygoodness yes. This post sort of and strangely makes me want to cry.

  • We Interrupt Your Regularly Scheduled Programming…

    […] brilliant posts from Rhyd Wildemuth: one on gods and radicals and another on his plan to write a book about Pagan […]

  • cbrachyrhynchos

    I admit that I focus on my own vows and house largely because I’m burned out, and lacking in community and support for getting back into the ugly business of advocating for queerness, peace, and the Earth through yet another decade of loosing battles.

    And to be frank, I suspect those vows have done more than any of my prior activism.

    • Rhyd Wildermuth

      Do you find that perhaps it may be cyclical? I’ve gone through long periods of time where I had to disengage the political and social parts of myself in order to attend to the necessary work of the soul, much like the ascribed meanings of the High Priestess in Tarot: upright is the ecstatic and deep mystery; reversed is the necessary time of the body and mind, allowing those truths to sprout and take root in darkness slowly in order to give them a chance to manifest in the self and the world. Outer work and inner work are both brutally necessary, but there’s a tendency to favor one over an another and to be hard on oneself when the shifts occur.

      • Eilidh Nic Sidheag

        This has been my experience as well. I think I’m going through one of those shifts now, and as ever, it’s highly disconcerting and makes me question everything I believe and stand for. That is probably a good thing, but it can be unpleasant when I’m in the middle of it.

      • Rhyd Wildermuth

        Unpleasant is precisely the word I’d use, too. I keep wondering if, at some point, I’ll learn to anticipate such shifts rather than notice them after the fact. It reminds me there’s an unending array of things to learn about myself. :)

      • cbrachyrhynchos

        Partly, and partly because having spent the better part of the last 15 years demonized by the right and scapegoated by mainstream liberalism, I no longer see a place or a strategy for change in the larger sphere of American politics beyond bailing my own water. And there’s a feeling of rolling the stone up that hill again as I find myself trying to explain gender and sexual fluidity and culture to a generation that’s fixated on essentialism.

  • aediculaantinoi

    This is a kind of view I’m not seeing enough of…that we each have our gifts as well as our directives, and each is best suited to the tasks at hand with which we are tasked by our lives, our skills, and our gods. In other words, I don’t need to do what you or anyone else is doing, nor do you or anyone else need to be doing what I am doing, and–the most important point of all–none of us needs to do it all, to please those who put such unrealistic demands on us, or to fulfill what we are supposed to fulfill on behalf of our gods.

    Or, at least that’s some of what I’m seeing here. ;)

    In any case, it’s a good message, and one that doesn’t get explained very much, nor with as much passion as you have done here, so thank you for that! :)

    • Rhyd Wildermuth

      Thank you. : )

      I think the biggest thing I’m noticing is that those who live their lives devoted to the gods are incredibly varied. We don’t need the mystics to be more activist or the activists to be more mystic. Instead, we need (lots) more of each sort, all sorts to support each other towards the same overall goals (acting on behalf of the gods in the world and showing the world that the gods are real) and those of us who are somewhere in the middle (like myself) can learn heavily from all parts of the devotion of other gods-worshipers (I’ve think I’m giving up the word “polytheist” for lent!).

      I’m inspired equally by the devotion of folks like Galina and like Alley, because their beliefs translate into very real action in the world on behalf of their gods. Both sorts “world the gods” into humanity, according to their skills and oaths.

  • Sarenth

    Reblogged this on Sarenth Odinsson's Blog and commented:
    Fantastic article.

  • A Few Polytheist Things… | Aedicula Antinoi: A Small Shrine of Antinous

    […] A post by Rhyd Wildermuth on the radical nature of deities, and what this means for activists as well as spiritworkers amongst the ranks of modern polytheists…and, that each should do what they do, and no one has to (or should!) do everything. A great read, Rhyd! […]

  • Ainslie Maia Podulke

    Do you know any Atheists who are completely on fire with the divine, and deny it?

    • Rhyd Wildermuth

      That is an incredibly good question, and the short answer is, “yes.”

      From my own experience, I think this was the case. I was a christian in my adolescence, an atheist for a few years, and a functionally agnostic “cultural Pagan” for the majority of my adult life. When I encountered the gods and recognised them as such (I’d encountered them before, I believe, but never acknowledged them), I had the sense that certain “fires” about me had been either their influence or had been my unconscious encounter with them. In essence, when I finally “met” them, much about myself before that point made more sense, or took on a different context I’d never been aware of previous to that.

      It’d be probably futile to speculate what would have happened had I not met them, but I think that moment of understanding turned out to be a sort of fulfillment of who I’d been trying to be and what I’d been wanting to do in the world. Had I been inflamed by the fire of the divine previous? Yes. I think so. But I also didn’t know what to do with or about it. Unlike the Christian conversion narratives, I think I would have continued to live an interesting, meaningful life (always searching and hoping, though), but like those narratives, everything sort of took on new meaning and became, in a way, transfigured.

      And as a side note, atheists tend to have a very dear place in my heart, even the grumpy ones. And most of the radical, anti-capitalist theory I read is written by atheists. Though I think Materialists are wrong, their focus on the very-real physical conditions of human suffering has more in common with Christian Liberation Theology, Engaged Buddhism, and my own views than the New Age “meditate for peace” tendency or monotheistic promises of a better life after death.

  • Jeannine

    Every time you post that “the gods are real,” I feel your happiness, but in my current, almost solipsistic state, I also feel a sense of panic. “No, no, no. No, no. Don’t go there, Jeannine. That’s dangerous.”

    But perhaps because the lucky chance of finding your blog, I’ve come to a conclusion. It’s only sort of like yours… Anyway, as I wrote part of that post, I thought, ‘Rhyd would like this!’

    “Eve had to rely on Adam’s interpretation of god’s instructions and Adam himself failed to embrace his relationship with god by failing to tell god what he had done. We’re not going to get it right when we listen to someone else as Eve did, or when we fail to treat our god as real, as a person who wants a relationship with us, as Adam did.”

    Anyway, thanks for your influence on my quest.

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