Archives For Brighid

Gods and Radicals

March 6, 2014 — 17 Comments

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.

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.