Archives For Radicalism

Reflections on two years of being a ‘Pagan’ writer

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Part One of the presentation I gave at the Polytheist Leadership Conference this year: Introductory remarks, and the matter of Monotheism.

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The Plague of Peasants

June 17, 2014 — 6 Comments

“I did not write a critique of radical polytheism, I wrote a defense of traditional polytheism. I do not know what the Gods are, and neither do you.”–A Wiccan Elder who should know better than this.

Firstly, I strongly suggest reading Julian Betkowski’s brilliant piece in Patheos which shows precisely why Polytheism resists the totalizing, flattening, universalizing tendency of most Western Monists.  It’s a sort of rebuttal to the piece written by the person quoted at the beginning of this post, but stands alone brilliantly as a defense of pluralism as well as polytheism.

Radicalism and Its Discontents

I guess it’s been almost 8 months since I wrote that one essay with the really long title, the one that got lots of people really grumpy with me, and a bunch of other people all happy with me, and I think, maybe, it actually did a little good.

It’s gotten more unique views than any other thing I’ve written here, and still averages five views a week 8 months on.  And because I don’t retroactively edit stuff, there’s a bit of a side effect that I find a bit unfortunate about it, which is that people reading it now find themselves re-opening old arguments with people which are not the same as they used to be.  One of the people quoted in the essay is incredibly respectful now, and has even met with many gods-worshipers who had been on the other side of those arguments.  Another? We politely avoid each other as best as possible on the internet, and that’s about all one could probably hope for.  Maybe we’ll even have tea one day, as we’ll soon be living in the same city again.

I bring that essay up because of the quote at the top of this post.  I’ve been feeling that, generally, we’re all past the ridiculous arguments about who’s a real polytheist, but there are still a few people who insist on claiming a specific distinction between what some people are doing with and for gods and what is normal and traditional.

“Radical” polytheism is a fascinating phrase, and I gotta admit that I sort of like it.  The word “Radical” shows up repeatedly in my writing, though more often as “Radical Pagan” rather than “Radical Polytheist.”  The earliest use of Radical Polytheism that I’ve been able to track is from 1966 in a book called Radical Theology and the Death of God (Thomas J.J. Altizer and William Hamilton), and the next published use is in an essay by Emma Restall-Orr from 2001, where she contrasts “practical” and “radical.” There may be more–my research skills are rusty.

That second use is, of course, a bit irksome, as it suggests that “radicals” aren’t practical; then again, “practical” often means settling for what’s at hand, as in the diminutive insult often leveled at idealistic dreamers who suggest we might be able to alleviate poverty, house the homeless, or distribute wealth better–that is, such things just aren’t “practical.”  In such cases, I like being impractical.

Radical polytheism seems to indicate, for some writers, an aberration from how things are or how they should be.  Pitting “traditionalists” (what’s more traditional than worshiping gods that were worshiped 2500 years ago?) against “radicals” claims a false-center and also a moving target.  Any good historian will tell you that “traditional marriage” and “traditional families” are recent creations, but the use of the word traditional is a political trick which makes everything but what is posited as normal an aberration.

So, it’s frustrating to see someone attempt to create such a dichotomy, because it’s not only misleading, but it’s outright dishonest.

Still, as I argued in that one essay, we should claim it anyway.  Radicalism ain’t all that bad.  It changes the world, actually:

Despite all of this, I think we should still be nice to them.

Crazier still, I suggest we continue to claim to be Pagans.  And I, for one, actually think we should begin to embrace their claims.

In fact, being aggressive is a great way to change the world–sitting around and meditating still hasn’t ended Capitalism and the destruction of the earth.

Being hypersensitive is a very good trait to have, if you are trying to listen to the voices of those thought voiceless, be they forgotten gods, abused land-spirits, the homeless, the colonized, or the dispossessed.

Being ahistorical is a great thing, as we’d be in fantastic company, the conquered peoples, the sexually “deviant,” and pleasurable parts of the human body.

And since the Enlightenment brought us Capitalism, false notions of Progress and widespread abuse of the earth, and since “enlightenment” appears to now mean merely having a positive attitude rather than resisting oppression, I think unenlightened is precisely what I’d like to be.

We, who are constantly attempting to liberate ourselves from the things which have kept humanity in the modern age from confronting the Other, the gods and spirits and fae, the very real and sometimes traumatic (but ever so fucking worth it) experiences of divine beings outside the confines of our tragically small Selves, have something very important to offer.

We’ve made very difficult decisions, suspending disbelief to accept something profoundly Other.  We’ve begun to learn to speak the languages of the gods and also the language of our selves.  We know what Divine Trauma is like, we know how terrifying it can be to those who haven’t already had to remake their worlds.  We know what it’s like to walk through a gate and not be able to return to a normal life any longer, not be able ever to be satisfied with Materialist explanations and disenchantments.  We can offer our experiences to those who are afraid, perhaps terrified to give up modern and empty notions of “control.”  We can show them that an Other world is possible, and we can build it with them.



Radical Paganism

May 26, 2014 — 7 Comments

steBarbe12Jason Pitzl-Waters’ recent op-ed piece in The Wild Hunt is fucking excellent.

… I stayed a Pagan because it also promised me a world, a culture, remade. A world where multiplicity, diversity, was honored. A world where a singular, all-powerful, male-pronouned, deity was replaced with innumerable pantheons of powers. A world where there was Goddess. Not just one Goddess, but a million goddesses.

It all seems like a dark, twisted, verification of author Margaret Atwood’s assertion that “men are afraid that women will laugh at them. Women are afraid that men will kill them.” Here is the exposed underbelly of cultural control of women exposed at its most raw, its most violent. Here are the violent fruits of misogyny laid bare. This is not mere mental illness, as there are millions of people who live with mental disorders who do not murder, this burrows into something atavistic that we don’t like to talk about. The fear, violence, and scorn necessary to uphold a silent system of power-over. The churning core of woman-hate as a belief system.

However, I stayed a Pagan because it also promised me a world, a culture, remade. A world where multiplicity, diversity, was honored. A world where a singular, all-powerful, male-pronouned, deity was replaced with innumerable pantheons of powers. A world where there was Goddss. Not just one Goddess, but a million goddesses.

Paganism, if it isn’t radical, is worthless.  If the stuff you believe doesn’t alter the way you act towards others or the way you build the world around you, it isn’t belief–it’s mere opinion.  If worship of your gods and goddesses doesn’t manifest itself in any physical change in your relationship to the world, it’s no more interesting or meaningful than what sort of smartphone you use or car you drive.

The brilliance of Capitalism is this, that it’s taught us all that we cannot make our own worlds and instead must rely on what the market provides, selecting from the aisles our beliefs, our opinions, and our modes of living.  Anything that might truly endanger this hegemonic method of control is easily defanged by putting a price-tag on it and putting it on a shelf for you to buy.  This is not just metaphorical.

Honoring gods and goddesses [and I note with pleasure that Jason does something not many Wiccan-ish writers do–too often, they talk about the Goddess and ignore the obvious question the polytheist poses: “which one?”  His answer, in essence, is “all of them”] should alter the way we look at humanity, as well.   Are goddesses subordinate to gods? And if not (and your answer should have been no, and if it isn’t, please stop reading me forever, thanks–actually, fuck you), then why would we enact our petty human patriarchal assholery upon one entire gender?

Paganism is, at its very heart, a big radical “fuck you” to the systems of control which make us petty proletarian serfs, relying on scraps from the tables of the rich and dressing up all nicely so we’ll maybe get nicer scraps.  A lot of effort went in to the eradication of Pagan, nativist beliefs and cultures over several centuries, wars on women-as-witches, felling of sacred oaks, forced displacement, hangings and burnings, and slaughtering of whole groups of people just to get us to stop worshiping our gods and honoring the land and our ancestors.

Becoming Pagan is a radical act, and it doesn’t end at just buying a pentacle-necklace and making a wand, or setting up an altar to the gods.  The earth’s dying around us, racist wars continue unabated, and there are many, many more idiots than the one who shot those women who believe that one half the fucking population owes them their bodies, their subservience, their domestic services and their trembling fear.

If Paganism doesn’t mean trying to stop this, then Paganism is fucking worthless.

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.