It’s been about two years, it appears, since I became a Pagan writer.
Not that I hadn’t been writing before, mind you; some erotic fiction, short stories, occasional essays, a few poems, and two unpublished fiction manuscripts. But I wasn’t writing as a Pagan, merely as a Pagan who also happened to be writing.
It wasn’t a choice to write as a Pagan, by the way, or at least the way we tend to look at ‘choice’ and ‘decision.’
Gods showed up, gods I’d always hoped existed but thought were gone. Looking back on that time, I smile, despite having great difficulty accessing what it was like before them. Less busy, certainly. It was hardly a bad life, though–just one without gods.
They showed up and everything went a bit mad for a bit. Was pretty certain I’d gone ‘crazy,’ thought about checking myself in a few times until I found out other people had met gods too and what I thought Paganism was about (a cultural ethic, personal magic and archetypal relations with mythic forms who enriched ones life) turned out not at all to be what it could be about.
I’ve no interest in resurrecting some of those awful arguments, the ones where polytheists were diagnosed as mentally-ill or fundamentalist or engaging in internet cos-play. I’m sure there’s still some people who think that within Paganism, but they’ve found much better things to do with themselves, and those previously leading those charges lately have been doing fantastically useful things–regardless of my personal disagreements with the Pagan Statement on the Environment and my abstention from signing, it’s a much better use of everyone’s time to talk about how we’re despoiling the planet than whether we’re crazy or unable to discern truth from fiction.
I do mean everyone here–Paganism’s worthless if it’s just a bunch of folks standing in circles every month-and-a-half and then eating pita chips and organic hummus, or hosting craft fairs or hawking glitter-candles on Etsy. And I’ve nothing against organic hummus, for all you would-be critics.
As I said, this wasn’t exactly a choice, or one I quite understood fully. Gods showed up, wrecked my reality in fantastic and explosive ways, and I offered to them the only thing that I thought I did pretty well, the greatest art I possess.
Two years later, I’m laughing a bit at that offer. It was both much less and much more than I thought of it at that time, and if anything, I’m not sure I’ve quite begun to deliver my end of this bargain, some half-million words later.
Two pilgrimages to sacred sites, two presentations at conferences, more gods, many more arguments, a year of semi-nomadism, quite a few lovers, many streams and quite a few forests later and I’m here, less than a mile away from where I started.
The Past Inscribed in the Present
The last few weeks have been a bit odd for me. I don’t think much about what life was like before all this, neither with regret nor longing. It doesn’t come up, is rarely relevant to anything I’m doing currently. Though lately, a few questions keep recurring, old threads weaving back into new bits of woven tapestry.
I received an email last week from someone I rather respect, whose words affected me more than I could otherwise account for. Wrote a drunken reply (poor recipient–I barely know what to do with my inebriate prosaics, let alone expect another to unravel them), but still did not quite understand what it was which awakened a need to recount my recent past in light of this strange present.
The writer, who wrote rather earnestly of their perception of my work, mentioned their own experience becoming a pagan Druid and the concerns of others regarding such a decision. Not the sort of caveats about devil-worship or ignorant assessments we come to expect; rather, a fear the writer wouldn’t find any sort of intellectual inspiration in Paganism.
Without denigrating the intelligence of the few Pagan academics (still, a frustrating amount of which who deny the existence of gods) around, nor casting aspersions upon some of the very intelligent people I know who write about non-theoretical things, I admit that I feared the same both before becoming a Pagan writer and well afterwards.
Again, this isn’t to say we’re all stupid or uneducated and only care about wands and festivals and how to run a coven; but we’re not really talking about much else, and too many of us are writing down to people [I’m still endlessly grateful I utterly ignored the advice of some ‘popular’ writers who said my sentences–and words–were too long].
I’ve written about this before, asserting it’d be awfully nice if we had people writing about the theological and political implications of there being a myriad of gods and spirits and dead running about. There’s nothing wrong with teaching people how to interact with these beings (in fact, more’s needed, judging from the persistence of people asserting all gods are actually one god, and he’s got horns). But how many people write about what this actually means?
Gaywitches & Chakras
More relevant to my recent past, however, and the reason the aforementioned letter affected me so deeply, was the matter of Capitalism, or, rather, the utter paucity of Pagan writing about Capitalism kicking around on the internet.
Before gods showed up–actually, fuck, before I even considered myself Pagan, I understood that Paganism and Capitalism weren’t made for each other, and I was hardly alone in the realization. Most Marxists and Anarchists get that, despite the atheist trends within both systems of thought which lead them to be at least dismissive, if not antagonistic, towards what I wish we didn’t have to call Modern Paganism.
It’s a simple and self-evident reckoning, actually. Monotheism, spread through Empire, destroyed most Pagan traditions. Capitalism, inhabiting and empowering Empires, has been finishing the job.
When I read Starhawk some ten years ago, I assumed she was just one of many other Pagans railing about Capitalist destruction of the environment. When I went hunting for books on this a few years ago with a friend, I learned to my horror that she wasn’t a mass-marketed version of Paganism’s anti-Capitalist stance, she mostly comprised that stance herself.
That bookstore trip prefigured pretty much everything else I was to encounter after gods showed up. My companion bought a couple of books I thumbed through later in unshakeable despair. One could learn Reiki from a popular gaywitch or open up a few alternative chakras, but apparently not actually do something useful to stop the slaughter of forests and animals, or figure out how to house the homeless.
In the Druidry section there’d been at least a few erudite but stodgy tomes. Peter Grey’s Apocalyptic Witchcraft hadn’t come out in paperback yet, so that wasn’t an option. I bought The Druid Magic Handbook by John Michael Greer and a black tourmaline, passing up the glossy reconfigurations of what every other witch had to say and left, depressed.
The internet was no better a place to find such writing. In fact, I quickly found myself unwelcome in a few forums (particularly Celtic Reconstruction, a maddening reality I’m still not over) whenever any conversation turned towards Capitalist destruction of peoples and racialist thinking which sustains it. In fact, I’d find more Heathens than witches or mages willing to talk about displacement and Enclosure and imperialism.
I’d have given up, actually, if it weren’t for the devotional polytheist community–who as a group, are still the most diverse and socially ‘progressive’ of all the Pagans I’ve encountered, as well as the most willing to engage, support, and explore intersections of the social, political, and spiritual, even if the don’t share the same views. [Not sure this is true? Compare the sizes of rooms given my invited presentation at the Polytheist Leadership Conference–and the massive fund-raising support I received–to the 25-person capacity room Alley and I were given at Pantheacon, and our $10 speaker re-imbursement]. Finding them (and being welcomed by them) gave me quite a bit of hope that Paganism wasn’t all glossy-photos and re-packaged New Age books.
Secondly, a certain book came out, and a certain essay, and suddenly everyone I respected seemed to scream an otherworldly shout of relief that someone finally said this shit again. Of course, that was Apocalyptic Witchcraft, and later the essay Rewilding Witchcraft, both of which seemed a sudden rallying cry from the forests and the dead–yes, the earth and its inhabitants are dying, and yes, we can do more than beg the Goddess to make it right.
And third was the matter of my writing and my oath. At some point people started reading me, and telling other people to read me, and that. along with Jason Pitzl’s last mischievous act at The Wild Hunt–asking me to become a columnist, made me realize–fuck. If so few people are writing about Capitalism, then I must. And every time I wrote something about Re-enchantment or Displacement or Enclosure or the destruction of the forests, more people seemed to read me.
I’ve saved them all, the emails I’ve gotten from people, strangers, of all ages, saying some variant of ‘fucking finally.’ Emails from people who’d stopped calling themselves Pagan in resignation, messages from soldiers and single mothers and old radicals and queer boys all echoing the same refrain, not ‘thank you for teaching us’ but ‘thanks for saying what stopped being said.’
I could, when I started writing, count on one hand the people writing about Capitalism and Paganism (though would need a calculator to tally the people teaching ‘money magic’). But with all the people writing me, it was pretty fucking obvious there were a lot more not being read.
Voicing the Silence
So I started Gods&Radicals. I’ve heard a couple of people suggest it’s my mouthpiece or some such, which amuses me. I do write there, actually–those weekly glossary terms are mine, at least for now. We’ve an internal schedule where the writers slot themselves into the calendar, and besides those weekly updates, my name’s nowhere there.
There’s over 40 people writing about what I’d been writing about the last couple of years, and honestly, some of them are doing a better job than I suspect I ever did. That’s not false modesty, but actually a stark yet happy epiphany I had these last few weeks—the thing I’d been shocked not to find in Paganism now exists, the intellectual and poetic assaults against Capitalism that I’d been trying to sustain are being forged by many more than myself, Alley Valkyrie, Peter Grey, and the tiny handful of others who’d been turning their art and minds towards the greatest problem facing the world.
And I actually get to read their stuff, now. In all honestly, I’ve had a bit of a crisis over this. I’d been churning words to create some work of inspiration, but then I read Lia Hunter’s piece The Enchanted and realized–oh. Someone did that. I’d had a couple of revelations regarding joy as resistance to the faux amusement provided by consumerism, but then I read Fjothr’s piece The Value of Joy and realized what I’d write would be redundant. And today’s piece by Kadmus succinctly got at a question I’ve been working on for months, the matter of use-value and exchange-value versus Value in Capitalism, and I found myself suddenly reading the very thing I’d been hoping to find–useful, brilliant, and deeply intelligent Pagan Theory.
It’s a bit humorous, perhaps, that I’d actually have an identity crisis over this, but I confess it’s true. Not so much that I’m no longer ‘useful’ or ‘edgy’ or whatever, but you know that strange point when you hunt for a near eternity to find something, and then, upon finding it, aren’t sure what to do with yourself any longer? The search, the struggle, the pining became so intimate a part of my being that, these last few weeks, I’ve been having a horrible time comprehending my feelings about it. Far from envy or even uselessness, but rather a moment where I’ve not been able to let the happyness wash over me.
This is me doing that now, finally, at least for now. Accepting the words of a writer detailing how, because of something I’ve helped birth into the world, he finds there’s a place for his intellect and care again with Paganism–that’s what I’m doing now, finally. And probably some gardening, and maybe even some fiction, and some public altars and maybe, just maybe, I’ll finally pick up bagpipe again.
Not that I’m done, nor that I’ll be going silent, but yeah. I can reflect on what I thought Paganism was about before I met the gods, and what I see Paganism is about now, and smile a bit. Maybe others will stop writing down to people, challenging them instead of coddling them, or maybe recognize there’s already several thousand articles written about the proper way to cast a circle and try writing something that changes the world.
Or not, I don’t know.
And there’s much more work, I know. Writing about overthrowing the system that’s destroyed our traditions and murdered the forests and made our gods withdraw from the world won’t change much, unless the people reading those words do something about what they’ve read.
That’s up to all of us, though.