An Era of Failed Leadership

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I was reminded the other day that it has been a year since I’ve written a blog post.  When I started writing this blog I had planned on at least writing a post once a month. I saw a great value in engaging with the community and with the larger world around me through this medium, a place to exchange ideas and information with a broad audience, and a modern community meeting hall.  And then 2016 happened.

By 2016 I had seen a trend in the pagan blogging community that I was having a difficult time accepting.  To those of us paying attention to the larger world, there was a shift occurring in the general global rhetoric and politics towards a true ugliness, a type of fear and hate mongering that inevitably leads to violence and bloodshed.  We saw the consolidation of power of far-right  hate groups and watched in horror as their armies of trolls and goons started to rekindle the fear and loathing and aim their barbs at marginalized communities, creating the targets for the scapegoating necessary for  authoritarian and xenophobic regimes to take hold of global politics again.

Any student of history has seen this before.  These people are trying nothing new.  Divide and conquer, fan the flames of fear and prejudice, control the message of the media or try to discredit those you can’t control. This is straight out of the fascist playbook, so clear that if you look hard enough you can see the margin notes of a host of dictators and would be dictators scribbled across their words and deeds.

During this moment of the rise of hate speech and violence in the world, I  watched as our community continued to tear and rend at each other over what amounted to differences of opinions over spiritual practices and how different people viewed the Gods.  I watched the great pagan Internet “wars” between atheists and polytheists, or wiccans and traditional witches, or sneeches that have stars on their bellies and those that don’t, finally ending with the “battle” between Marxists and fascists, the latter finally starting to get closer to the heart of the terrible maelstrom at our gates but unable to remove personal vendettas and attacks from their rhetoric and by failing to do that, divided our community at a time when we desperately needed unity and dialogue.

It was during 2016 that I also stepped into the role of Chief of the Coru Cathubodua and started to reflect of the role of leadership in our communities and more importantly what constitutes failed leadership and what constitutes successful leadership. Because our community needs leaders, but not the type of leaders that are commonly modeled right now.

Leadership is a word with a broad spectrum of meaning attached to it. To some, the word leadership is synonymous with authority, and authority, no matter what the form, is something to fight against.  To others, leadership signifies a person or group that will make all the decisions for you, to them a leader is someone to rule you, a parental figure that they hope has their best interests in mind.  This type of vision of leadership can be dangerous in a political climate where “strong men” and tinpot dictators claw for real world power.

This breed of top down leadership will ultimately fail us, preying on our fears and insecurities while binding us in lies and controversies.  Leaders that sit apart from the people pointing fingers and making demands from them always show their true natures eventually.  Leaders that demand authority and power over others but have no skill or talent for leadership fill our world today, and when the illusion of power fades and the reality and sacrifice of leadership becomes clear, they fail and flee and attempt to destroy the institutions they wanted to control.  But thankfully, there’s something else that happens in times like these, something hopeful.

2016 was an excruciating year for most of us.  We watched as tragedy after tragedy unfolded while our attention was demanded by an election that twisted the level of discourse to mudslinging and vitriol and more importantly emboldened and inspired the worst aspects of humanity and turned hatred into a virtue and a path to power.  By the end of the year our community could clearly see what many of us had been aware of for years, the true danger at our gates.  The specters of fascism and authoritarianism were no longer just philosophical differences that needed to be weeded out from within our small community, but real live monsters, stomping around our streets attacking the most vulnerable among us.  People who tried to lay claim to the pagan blogosphere quickly found that real world terrors were demanding their attention and those in our community that thought it wise to cozy up to the far right to make a public show of how much they disliked the left, discovered that no matter what they did, they would never be far right enough for their new friends and were attacked and abandoned by them.

As 2017 dawned on us we found that things were worse than we could have possibly imagined.  Gone was the pretense of an inclusive and just nation.  Hatred and targeted violence have become commonplace.  The failure of our elected officials and our crippled republic is abundantly clear now and the monsters are running the show.

But as our new reality sunk in, I saw a change in the leadership of our community.  I witnessed the leaders that had always relied on a top down style of leadership fall silent, either too frightened or too stunned to take the actions needed to protect or inspire those that looked to them for direction.  I watched many of the people the community looked at as leaders or elders because of some level of fame or popularity that they were attached to, fall into a state of “I can’t even….” and become paralyzed with their own fears and insecurities.  But most importantly I watched members of our community, some recognized leaders, some not, step up and start to help others in whatever way they were able to.

During times of great crisis one would expect the social order to fall to pieces and devolve into chaos.  But one of the beautiful things about humanity is that in most cases this is not true.  Studies show that during times of extreme societal trauma, wars , economic and natural disasters, that instead of societies falling apart, that communities almost always come together, forgetting previous divisions and prejudices and working together for the safety and benefit for all.   Contrary to what the apocalyptic films tell us, that when circumstances are at their worst, humanity is at its best.

In our community I witnessed an outpouring of action and support from great numbers of people.  Safety networks were created, individuals gave their time and energy to holding close those that needed it, people reached out and built connections and alliances designed to create a stronger and more resilient community and started creating safety nets to catch those of us that might fall through society’s cracks.

This is the type of leadership that is going to carry us through this troubled time.  Leaders that stand alongside the rest of us, shouldering as much work as the person next to them.  Leaders that inspire by their actions alongside their words, pulling people together to address tasks that are too great to handle alone.  Leaders that lead from the frontline not the safety of the back of the crowd.

These leaders are here now, doing the work, taking their share of the burden, and helping those that are struggling with theirs.  These leaders are often young , sometimes unlikely, they come from generations of powerful people, raised on stories of rebellion and resistance, their earliest memories rich with strength of character and the toppling of unjust empires and they have a message for the monsters.

Their message is, We are the children of the Rebel Alliance, the Fellowship of the Ring, and the Browncoats.  We are the inheritors of the Civil Rights Movement, the Indigenous Solidarity Movement, and of Stonewall   Our sense of justice comes from these modern myths and current struggles and encompasses rooting for the underdog, fighting the good fight, and doing the right damn thing.  As things get worse in the world around us we will come together despite our differences to fight to protect our communities.  We will stand side by side and do the work that must be done to create and maintain a safe and just world for everyone.

And in that is where I lay my hope.

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An Open Letter to the Rainbow Family

I write this letter out of love and respect and not to scold and reprimand you.  I have watched with horror the development of the debate about having the national gathering in South Dakota and I feel that, although it seems at this point that most people will not be attending a gathering on that sacred land, some of the ugliness still needs to be addressed.  To be a force for peace in the world, we must first learn to see past our own desires, wants, and privilege.  Peace is not the absence of war, it is the presence of justice.  Because peace without justice is oppression.

I understand your culture and how it works, the pros and cons of your system.  I have attended a number of national gatherings and dozens of regionals. I have been part of scouting groups, seed camps, and many clean up crews.  I have sat through seemingly endless councils struggling to find consensus.   Rainbow was once an important part of my life and it is because of that that I choose to speak now.

I also understand that these words are unnecessary for most of you.  Most of the people that I know that are involved with Rainbow would never want to disrespect the tribes that have had stewardship of this land since mankind stepped foot on this continent.  The ideals of peace and harmony stand in harsh opposition to the type of cultural privilege that I have seen stated in Facebook feeds by people proclaiming themselves as Rainbow.  True peace and harmony is rooted in respect and integrity and healing the wounds of colonialism involves self examination and honesty.

My message is to all of those people that are still planning on gathering in the Black Hills, who feel that it is their “right” to gather wherever they please, who don’t feel that the Lakota have the right to tell you not to gather on their land.  This message is important for everyone though, because it is up to those of us that know that gathering on Native American land against the wishes of the tribe is wrong and by doing it you are furthering the spread of a colonial mindset that is the most detrimental mindset on the planet, an attitude that is responsible for innumerable atrocities throughout history.  Because it is important for those of us that stand with the Native tribes to speak out now.  To speak out because sometimes people in white culture will only listen to those that share the same culture as them, and to speak out so that the Lakota people and all other Native tribes know that they are not alone in their struggle, that we are their allies and will stand with them in defending their land and their sovereignty against the dominant culture, whether they come in suits, hardhats, or with dreadlocks and beads.

This is an important moment for the Rainbow Family, a moment where there is a choice between talking about your ideals and actually living them.  It’s a moment to choose sides in the centuries old war between Native Tribal Cultures and the White capitalist forces that seek domination over nature.  It’s a moment to choose to heal some of the damage that the United States has done to the Native Tribes by making the choice to honor their sovereignty and human rights, rather than siding with the US Government and Forest Service, which are not your allies and would like nothing more than to see both the Rainbow Family and the Lakota buried and gone, or siding with the federal government imposed and supported Tribal Government that does not speak with the voice of the people but works for the interests of the rich.  With all the myriad of new age spiritual philosophies, this is where the rubber meets the road.  Peace and love in action looks like justice and respect.

We are not the saviors of the Indian people, nor are we their reincarnated warriors.  Native peoples have their own destinies, their own ancestors and their own warriors.  What we can be for them is their allies.  We can stand with them against western colonialism and speak out in defense of their rights.  This is where our voices matter.  Being an ally to someone is not to tell them how you are going to help them, its asking THEM how you can help and then doing what they ask, even if that request is to leave them alone.  Right now the Lakota do not want to “learn our ways” nor do they want to “share their ways” with us.  Great damage between the Lakota Nation and the Rainbow Family has already occurred.  What the Lakota want from the Rainbow Family is for the Rainbow Family to leave Lakota land and leave them alone so that they can focus their efforts on the other battles that they are involved in, against the U.S. government, against the Keystone pipeline, against the racist system that keeps them in poverty.

So please, listen to the spiritual stewards of the Black Hills and Do Not Go to South Dakota for the Gathering, Do not even go there to see if it might happen.  Go to Michigan or wherever else alternatives to the South Dakota gathering pop up.  Be a voice of reason in these debates and speak out against disrespecting Native communities and voices.  Show the world that the voices that strive for peace and harmony outweigh the voices mired in privilege and entitlement within the Rainbow Family.

In Love and Service,

Brennos Agrocunos

Coru Cathubodua

http://www.corupriesthood.com

Restoring Sovereignty and the Path Forward

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Lia Fail – Hill of Tara photo by Ken Williams http://www.shadowandstone.com

The world we have inherited is one where the Sovereignty of the Land has been broken.  It’s not a single person’s fault.  It’s not a specific generation’s fault.  Throughout history, humanity has made a series of choices that have separated us from the spirit of the land, from the Otherworld, from nature itself.  Our broken Sovereignty reveals itself in our poisoned rivers and oceans that are becoming barren, in the extinction of species and our dwindling biodiversity, in our melting icecaps and rising seas.  Our unhealthy relationship to the Sovereignty of the Land is perpetuated when we vilify the poor instead of aiding them,  when we  foolishly act as if we have dominion over the Earth rather than acting as stewards of it,  and when we turn our backs on justice in this land and do not stand in opposition to these false judgements of old men.  As we withdraw ourselves from and choose to ignore the power of the land and the gifts of the Otherworld, the land sickens around us, our place on our planet becomes tenuous, and our societal priorities become selfish and obscene.  As a species, we stand today at a crossroads, at a place in our collective Wyrd where the threads of our fates diverge, some leading to our continued survival, and some cut prematurely leading to our extinction among the multitudes of other species extinctions.  Our path forward will not be an easy one no matter what choices we make, but there is a path ahead for us that will allow us a future, a path on which we encourage the return of the Sovereignty of the Land.

Before we can discuss restoring Sovereignty to the Land, we better take some time to define what I mean by the term.  I will be referring to the primary three types of sovereignty that are used in most discussions on the topic and attempt to define them and untangle their meanings. The types of sovereignty that I’ll be referencing I’ll refer to as either political sovereignty, or the authority of a state to govern themselves or others, personal sovereignty also known as personal autonomy, and Sovereignty of the Land, the numinous power of the Otherworld channeled through the Sovereignty Goddess to the ruler of the land.  These concepts are related, and each one has some influence with the others, but at their heart they all have different and nuanced meanings.

In a modern context, when the term sovereignty is used it is usually referring to political sovereignty,    This is often the type of sovereignty that causes much of the confusion.  It’s easy for us to look at the concept of Sovereignty of the Land in regards to Celtic lore and history and superimpose our modern concepts of political sovereignty over it.  This can muddy the meaning of both types of sovereignty.  The concept of political sovereignty, while crucially important to people’s lives, has become a corrupted by those with power.  A militarily or economically powerful nation’s sovereignty is determined by their ability through war or trade to prevent others from imposing their will on them.  In most cases, this type of political power is held through violence or the threat of violence.  A good case study of how this dynamic works is the state of Native or First Nations Peoples on this continent.  Technically, Native Peoples have been granted “sovereignty” for their tribal governments to rule themselves.  Although they had no real right to do so, the US and Canadian governments granted Native Tribes limited rights to self-rule and government.  In reality, they took this step not out of the goodness of their hearts or some sort of concern for the dignity of the people, but to appease the Tribes after destroying their livelihood, culture, and lives.  This continent was founded by people who, through murder, rape, disease, lies, and genocide, systematically wiped out vast populations of people.  The European people who colonized this continent have absolutely no legitimate claim to it.  They arrived and through a fluke of technological achievement, specific biological resilience, and an arrogant spiritual philosophy of dominion over all of creation, they took it.  Their claim of sovereign rights to the land they occupy rests on the childish and dangerous tenant of “I took it so it’s mine”.  With this in mind, the idea of these illegitimate foreign governments bestowing the right of political sovereignty to the peoples that had been living here for thousands of years is tragic and delusional and we must always look at this connection to violence when we consider political sovereignty.

Personal sovereignty on the other hand is rooted in the cultural values of personal autonomy and self determination.  It is based on the concept of a fundamental human right to self-determination.  Retaining our personal sovereignty has been one of the great struggles of our time and this struggle takes countless forms today.  The right for women to make decisions about their own bodies, right to express your free will, and our freedom of speech, all fall under the category of personal sovereignty.  Personal sovereignty does not come without responsibility and cost though.  To be able to have the type of autonomy and freedom that we desire and still live in a world populated with other sovereign individuals, we must be operating from a place of high moral accountability.  Accessing your personal sovereignty is reliant on an understanding and acknowledgment of other people’s sovereignty and rights.  We must understand and accept that we are part of a greater whole, that our actions affect others and affect the heath of the planet around them.  Our own honor, integrity, and sense of justice must guide our decisions, coupled by connections to our community and understanding of the ecological world around us.  In this way, personal sovereignty is much more closely tied to the Sovereignty of the Land.

When we speak of the Sovereignty of the Land, we are speaking of a concept that has been obscured by the mists of time.  We see this classical and historical concept of sovereignty throughout the lore of ancient peoples.  At the heart of this type of sovereignty is a contract and partnership with the Otherworld, the unseen spiritual world.  In the traditional sovereignty tale, a King is granted his right to rule though the Otherworld.  This power flows from the land through the form of the Sovereignty Goddess.  This power is usually transferred in the form of a mead cup or the act of sexual union with the Goddess.  The Sovereignty granted to the King is not unlimited power over his subjects, but a fluid force, the magical power of the land itself.  A power that must used for the benefit of both the land and the people lest it be withdrawn.  The Sovereignty of the Land flows from the Otherworld, is mediated by the King and from him flows back to the people to sustain them.  This contract, like most agreements with the Otherworld, is conditional and strictly regulated through a combination of ritualized behaviors (Geasa) and mutual obligations between the ruler and his people.  The failure of a King to meet their obligations either by breaking their agreements with the Otherworld or their people, resulted in withdrawal of Sovereignty which had disastrous effects such as crop failures and famine, the death of livestock, disease and hardship.  In a situation like this, the failed King would step down, die in battle, or be sacrificed to allow a more suitable King to take their place.

Sovereignty of the Land was never truly about power over the tribe or the land.  It was responsibility to both.  A good King was not selfish but selfless, willing to cede power and sometimes his life for the benefit of his people.  The health of the people and land reflected directly on the ruler.  A single person starving from lack of food was abhorrent to Celtic society and to have someone starve on your doorstep brought great dishonor to you.  In this system of Sovereignty, there was a strict social contract between the leader and the people.  Bound in layers of obligation, hospitality, and geasa, the King had a sacred responsibility to care for and provide for his people.  Our ancestors knew that community is essential to our survival, and also knew that connection and relationship with the Otherworld was necessary for our continued survival.  Those in positions of power in our world today have forgotten both of these things.  Our culture has cut all relevant ties to the Otherworld, and we have fetishized selfishness and self interest.  We stumble forward, stepping on the backs of others with little care for their well being as we strive for personal gain.  We are not appalled by our hungry neighbors, and we chose to create a land that is as dead as we perceive it to be.  The Sovereignty of the Land has withdrawn from us and we have been left with a poisoned land and a broken society.  Our leaders have failed us and we all suffer from their failings.  We no longer live in culture where the leaders work for the benefit of the people and the land.  Our leaders will not step down when they fail us and regrettably we can’t sacrifice them.  We no longer have Kings ruling us and that is a good thing, because we live in an age where we can be more and more responsible for ourselves.  Sovereignty has never left the land, we, as a society have chosen to ignore it and not to access it.   In an age defined by self determination, it is up to us to restore the Sovereignty of the Land, to maintain relations and contracts with the Otherworld, to establish a mode of existing with the world and with each other that is sustainable and life affirming.

But how do we return Sovereignty to the land and how will that change our course?  How will our connection with the Otherworld help create a better world for everyone?  How will this provide for us a viable path ahead?

At the heart of this type of Sovereignty of the Land is interconnectedness.  It is the acknowledgement that as a society our future survival is dependent on working with each other, not fighting against each other.  It is understanding that on a greater level, our society’s survival and our ecosystem’s survival are intertwined.  When the health of our planet fails, our health fails with it.  When we cut ourselves off from our environment, from our communities, and from the Otherworld, we wither like a plant cut from its roots.  And we are withering.  Our bellies are full and we are starving to death.

We can take these basic steps and reestablish the flow of Sovereignty in our lives and in our land.

– Establish and maintain relationships with the Otherworld.  Honor your Gods, honor the spirits of the land, honor your ancestors and make your choices for those that will come after us, not for ourselves.

– Establish and maintain relationships with your communities.  Get to know your community and take part in it, both locally and globally.  Don’t ask what you are getting from your community, ask how you are helping it.

– Give more than you take, in all things.  Wealth and power are a flow, not something to hoard and hold onto.

– Stand for Sovereignty.  Speak out where you see sovereignty being compromised.  Defend others’ rights and their sovereignty, not just your own.

Taking steps to restore Sovereignty will not save us, but it’s the start of the mindset that we need to thrive again.  Like a spring that has been buried, the flow of Sovereignty awaits us.  As we dig into the soil with our bare hands we can restart the flow again: many trickles make a stream, many streams a river and many rivers fill an ocean.  We no longer need Kings to mediate the Otherworld for us, we can take our fate into our own hands and restore Sovereignty to our Land.

Our Lady of Perpetual Agitation vs. Social Media

Cathedral of St. Mary of the Assumption, San Francisco, CA

Cathedral of St. Mary of the Assumption, San Francisco, CA     Some think it looks like a Maytag washing machine

I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not a big fan of the Catholic church, but if I am going to be fair I am forced to admit that the Catholic church usually makes a moderate to good effort in giving aid to the houseless.  In most cities, Catholic social services are some of the most accessible to marginalized populations with in a community.  Sometimes this aid is given asking nothing in return and sometimes it requires sitting through a church service or sermon, but most of the time at least some sort of aid can be had if the proper hoops are jumped through.  That’s one of the reasons that I was so surprised to see a headline reading “SF cathedral dousing homeless with water to keep them from sleeping in doorways” on Patheos this morning.

To summarize, for the past two years the Cathedral has been using a system of hoses from the roof of the building to spray water on members of the houseless community in order to deter them from seeking shelter in the doorways of the Cathedral.  The hoses were timed to go off every 30 to 60 minutes for about 75 seconds, from sunset to sunrise, effectively soaking whoever had made the mistake of trying to sleep there and all of their belongings.  The Archdiocese’s reasoning for this is that they wanted to prevent people from urinating and defecating in the doorways, and keep the area clean and safe for everyone, and I completely understand the need for that.  I also am aware that the Archdiocese of San Francisco does make an effort to aid people in distress, and that the houseless problem is extreme in San Francisco for a variety of reasons that have nothing to do with the houseless themselves.  What I find interesting about this case is both the strange and misguided choices that a Christian institution has taken to arrive at a solution as inhumane and cruel as this one, and how quickly the media, aided by social media, forced the Archdiocese to make amends for this and change their policy.

I first read about this story on Facebook this morning.  I immediately reposted it and started researching the history behind it.  After learning a little about it and the history of the Archdiocese and the Archbishop’s shaky relationship with the people of San Francisco, it quickly became clear that I was not dealing with a particularly progressive branch of Peter’s church.  Ten days ago, hundreds of people stood outside the cathedral protesting a morality clause in their teacher’s contract.  The clause, pushed by Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone,  includes language against homosexuality, same-sex marriage, abortion and contraception.  On top of this, Archbishop Cordileone recently helped push the drive for the canonization of Junipero Serra, a Spanish missionary that founded the first mission in California, helped establish the mission system, tortured and murdered the native population, and helped create the conditions that decimated the native population in California.

So after reading all of that,  I decided that I was going to head down there today and try to talk to someone about their choice to drive the houseless away from their cathedral with hoses.  I grabbed my things, hopped on the train, and headed to San Francisco with another Coru priest.  As we hiked up the hill to the cathedral, I thought about what I wanted to say to a representative of the church.  I was hoping to get a chance to talk to the Archbishop, but as a pagan priest I realized that it was unlikely to be an option, but I wanted to express to them the danger in and cruelty of soaking peoples belongings and clothes in an environment like San Francisco, where it is almost always cold and damp.  I wanted to ask them find another way to prevent people from sleeping in these alcoves that doesn’t put them at risk of pneumonia or destroys what little bit of property that they own.  To point out to them that as religious leaders in this community, people look to them for moral guidance and by taking an action as callous and heartless as this one, they are being a bad examples for others.  By the time we got to the cathedral, there were already 3 news vans there and reporters.  Because of the pressure that was put on them by the media and social media, the Archdiocese was forced to face this and take action.  When we arrived, the church had issued a statement apologizing for the action and were already removing the hoses.

Now I could easily go through their statement and point out some pretty messed up aspects of the whole incident, like the fact that the Archdiocese made the decision to do this system “was installed approximately two years ago, after learning from city resources that this kind of system was being commonly used in the Financial District” meaning that the Catholic church was getting advice on how to deal with the homeless and poor by looking to the Financial District, or that they had violated permitting requirements to install this, or that California is in the middle of a serious drought and this is a huge waste of water.  But I will also give them credit for helping the homeless in many other ways and for taking actions to address this issue as soon as they were confronted with it.

What I really want to point out here is that there is an immense power in social media and social media activism.  Because regardless of  complaints about hashtag activism and the criticisms of the “cause du jour” phenomena, social media is one of the most powerful tools that activists have to make change.  In this case, within 6 hours after hitting the internet,  this deplorable practice that has been going on for two years was ended.  Since the mainstream media does such a poor job of giving us an unbiased version of the news, it’s up to us to learn to filter the lies from the facts and that’s not always an easy job.  The benefit of having sites like Twitter and Facebook, as well as a seemingly infinite number of independent news sources, is that the amount of unfiltered, but completely biased information we receive is much greater than ever before in history.  With a little work, one can get enough perspectives of an event to have a better idea of what actually happened, and with critical thinking, and taking into account one’s own biases, we are able to understand events better and make better decisions for our lives and the world around us.  Social media also allows us to bring an issue to the public eye almost instantly, bringing public scrutiny to misdeeds and misconduct and forcing rapid change when needed.  Without social media, this issue would have taken months to resolve, with social media, 6 hours.

So don’t criticize activist’s use of social media to bring awareness to issues, and stop complaining about the “cause du jour”.  Social media is proving itself to be one of our most effective tools and one person’s “cause du jour” is another person’s lifetime struggle.  Instead of turning away from an issue because it’s too “popular”,  “trendy”,  or you don’t want to “jump on a bandwagon”, take the time to use the tools that we have in social media and the internet and learn what the issues are.  Learn the facts and listen to other people’s opinions about it, especially people’s opinions that have been involved with, or are directly affected by the issue.  Take the time to share information with people who you know and help educate them about the issues.  Take the time, educate yourself, and then make an informed decision about what you want to do about something, if anything at all.  Become involved, and either help or get out-of-the-way of the people who are helping.  Because changes are possible if we try,  and fixing some problems just require people to know what is happening for the problems to improve.

Unpacking Our Monotheistic Baggage

God-by-Monty-Python

The intolerance of narrow monotheism is written in letters of blood across the history of man from the time when first the tribes of Israel burst into the land of Canaan. The worshipers of the one jealous God are egged on to aggressive wars against people of alien cults. They invoke divine sanction for the cruelties inflicted on the conquered. The spirit of old Israel is inherited by Christianity and Islam, and it might not be unreasonable to suggest that it would have been better for Western civilization if Greece had molded it on this question rather than Palestine.    – Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan

We are a new movement.  Despite claims of ancient lineages and unbroken traditions, the Pagan movement is in its infancy.   Most of us that fall under the problematic umbrella of Pagan are first generation pagans, coming to this collection of paths from a variety of faiths and beliefs, mostly monotheistic.  Yes, we are starting to see the first group of second generation pagans take their place in leadership roles within their various traditions, and there are a few third generation pagans running around under our feet, but the majority of us have had to come into this carrying the baggage of monotheism on our backs.  This burden of monotheistic thought is so ingrained in our psyche that we are often unaware of the effects that it has on our thought processes.

There are a number of ways that monotheistic thought and polytheistic thought clash.  At the heart of this clash is  monotheism’s basic and often unexamined assertion that monotheism is the more “advanced” philosophy of the two.  This little holdout of colonialism has, over the centuries, created a mindset that encourages people who are infected by monotheistic thought to dismiss any polytheist individual or culture as ‘backwards” or “primitive”.   This dismissal and disregard of the basic intelligence and perceptions of polytheist culture has had horrifying and lasting effects on those cultures.  Monotheistic thinking, no matter what form it takes, can be seen as less pluralistic and therefore less tolerant of others beliefs.  The monotheist’s belief in a single path to God lends itself to the arrogant cultural attitude that the monotheist practices the “correct” religion and therefore everyone else is practicing the “wrong” religion.  Whereas the polytheist worldview, by its very nature, accepts that everyone’s relationship with the unseen is different, accepts that there are many paths to many gods, and encourages and celebrates diversity.  By its very nature, polytheism is inclusive, whereas  monotheism is divisive.  This is where the danger of unexamined monotheistic thought becomes a detriment to cultural diversity.  If we look at our global history, it is soaked in the blood of monotheistic thinking.

So how do we recognize the monotheistic baggage that we are toting around with us and how do we look past our indoctrination with it?  The same way that strive to face and overcome white privilege in our modern culture, by learning to spot it in our own thinking and recognizing how it affects our relationships within our communities.  For there are similarities in the way that monotheistic privilege and white privilege saturate our collective consciousness and both come from a place of arrogance and a false sense of superiority.  Because the future of our species is in diversity not uniformity, and monotheistic thinking encourages division and hierarchical social structures.  Breaking the dominance of monotheistic thought is one of the first steps we must take in order to create a diverse and just society and we have to start with ourselves.  So here are a number of ways that we are saddled with this theological holdout.

  • An over reliance on the written word or liturgy.  This is the theory that the lore and mythological traditions of a particular religion is the “word of god or the gods”  In Christianity, this concept shows up most clearly as the belief that the bible is to be taken literally, that is the direct revelation of “God”.  In the Pagan world, this shows up most often in the reconstructionist  debate on the Lore vs. UPG (unverified personal gnosis… basically encounters with the unseen).  There has been much written on the subject recently and instead of rehashing all of their points, let me just point you in the direction of their work so you can read it for yourselves.  There’s John F. Beckett’s piece “The Lore vs. UPG – A False Dichotomy” ,  Rev. Tamara L. Siuda’s piece “Reconstruction, Revival, and the Styrofoam Cake Syndrome”, and Morpheus Ravenna’s “The Morrigan Built My Hot Rod: On Scholarship and Devotion”.  All of which are insightful viewpoints on learning to incorporate lore and practice together in a cohesive and functional religious practice.  What it comes down to is that lore, no matter what religion it’s from, was written by human hands, with human concerns, human agendas, and human fallibility.  So to rely on the lore, without taking into account the culture, time period, and political viewpoints of the author, is not only foolish, but it’s an attitude that has been used throughout history to justify a laundry list of atrocities.  The Christian belief in the bible being the literal truth of God is one of the most damaging weapons used by fundamentalists against people that they disagree with.  Because the bible was written and rewritten by humans, not the divine, there is an extraordinary amount of conflicting and contradictory bullshit scattered throughout it.  The bible can be used to justify almost any action and can also be used to oppose that same action if one digs deep enough.  When I have a Heathen waving the Havamal in my face telling me that the words in it trump experience and practice, or a Celtic Reconstructionist makes a claim that they know the “truth” about any subject because “It says it in the lore,  I see the monotheistic baggage heaped on their shoulders that they seem to be unaware of.   Lore and liturgy is a part of the puzzle that we are piecing together to create a living religious practice.  Putting it in the right context is essential to avoiding the philosophical pitfalls of the dominant monotheistic culture we live in.
  • The idea that mediation between humanity and the divine is necessary .  This is the theory that in order to experience the divine, we need a priest to provide that mediation for us.  This is wrong for a number of reasons.  At its core, this attitude creates a hierarchical social structure that places priests and clergy at the top and everyone else relegated to a lower social class, reliant on the priestly class for the most important aspects of their existence.  This attitude was emphasized  most heavily during the middle ages in order to give the Church political power over kings and is one of the main reason that modern thought is struggling with the concept of separating the Church and the State.  In 1906, in an encyclical written to the government of France after France passed a revolutionary law defining the separation of Church and State, Pope Pius X lays out a view of what the Churches idea of a just society would look like. The Church is essentially an unequal society, that is, a society comprising two categories of persons, the Pastors  and the flock, those who occupy a rank in the different degrees of the hierarchy and the multitude of the faithful. … the one duty of the multitude is to allow themselves to be led, and, like a docile flock, to follow the Pastors.”  This puts into words what many have been pointing out all along, that one of the primary functions of monotheistic religions are to accustom people to unquestioningly follow an autocratic elite.  Individuality and free thought is discouraged and conformity is valued and stressed.  In polytheism, not only is diversity and individuality encouraged, the role of priest is not one of a mediator between oneself and the gods, but one who helps to facilitate one’s own relationship between the unseen world and this one.
  •   Proselytizing.    Proselytizing is the act of trying to convert another from their religion or beliefs to the proselytizer’s religion or belief,  and it is arrogant, self-righteous and extremely annoying.  I’ve written on this subject before in my post  “Not That Kind of Priest: or Why I Don’t Proselytize for the Morrigan”,  so I have a definite bias about proselytizing and consider it an act of ego and arrogance.  This practice is becoming more and more common within the Pagan community, and can been seen most commonly coming from individuals that rarely recognize it for what it is.
    These individuals think that they are the smartest kids in the class and have the correct way at looking at religious thought, whether they  be monists, dualists, or atheists, they are “right” and everyone else is “doing it wrong” or lack their exalted “intelligence”.  We are tired of this elitist and unexamined bullshit and look forward to a time when these individuals step down from their soap boxes and actually join the community as equals, rather than perpetually attempting to undermine and discount other people’s intelligence and experiences.  This attitude alienates the community that they desperately want to have relevance in and is a direct by-product of monotheistic thinking.  As a community, we don’t want or need missionaries.
  • The “One True” Religion Concept.  This is the most obvious and the most prevalent bit of monotheistic nonsense that we carry along with us from our upbringings and it is one of the most historically damaging attitudes that a religion can have.  The attitude of “one true” faith or “one true” god (or lack of gods), unavoidably leads one to the correlation of that,  which is that other religions or faiths are “wrong”, that the practitioner of the monotheistic religion or belief system holds the “Truth”.   This is a very unhealthy attitude in a diverse and pluralistic community such as the pagan community.  It’s a colonial and imperialistic holdout, a worldview that places monotheism and monotheistic thought as more culturally and philosophically “advanced” than all other philosophies.  This attitude is the beating heart of colonialism, a justification to treat others poorly because of their “ignorance” and lack of “virtue”.  This attitude spawned inquisitions, slavery, manifest destiny, and massacres.  It seeks to put man above nature, and white, christian men above all.  If we are to advance as a functional community, as a viable alternative to the monotheistic paradigm, we need to face this reality, address it, and work on overcoming it, and like facing our own white privilege, it will require hard work, self-reflection, and honesty.

“Polytheist religion is a type of religion, first and foremost. While that does not mean that all Polytheists do the same thing or feel the same way on all of the same issues — quite the contrary, ‘many gods, many people, many paths’ is sort of a thing! — and so it stands to reason that its leaders, visionaries, writers, moderate thinkers and radical advocates would be attentive to examining RELIGION in the pursuit of, developments in, and protections for their religious identities, freedoms, and expressions. This is not an act of “devolution”, but an act of radically progressed differentiation and lawfully protected identification.” – Anomolous Thracian “The Polytheist Movement is a Human Rights Movement

Can You Really Keep Your Religion Out of Your Politics?

religion_politics

Doing any sort of activism work will inevitably lead to some criticism by members of your community, at least it will if you are doing it right.  Demanding relevant change in the world makes people who are complacently comfortable in their lives, positions, and viewpoints profoundly uncomfortable.  This comfortable complacency is often one of the most persistent barriers to making lasting changes to equity and justice within our society.  One quickly finds that being perceived as a threat to that comfort will incur criticism, attacks, and vitriol from the most invested.  This can be tiring, but it’s to be expected.  It’s part of the process, and while responses of personal attacks and malevolence tend to harm everyone involved, respectful and civil disagreements and debate furthers the dialogue and can lead to solutions to problems.  So a big part of remaining effective in your activism is to learn when to ignore criticism and when to engage in dialogue with your critic.

One of the most common criticisms that an activist that comes from a spiritual background will receive is to tell us that we shouldn’t mix our religion or spirituality with our politics.  The people who level this complaint at activists and take a stance on not mixing their religion and politics tend to be people who can afford to separate these two aspects of their lives, people whose human rights aren’t being threatened and whose lives and finances are well protected by a system that tends to favor white male rights over all others.  But what does this look like, this separation of spirituality and politics?  How does one untangle these ideas in our minds and make choices without one influencing the other?

The root of the separation of church and state in the United States comes from a combination of sources.  The First Amendment to the Constitution prohibits the making of any law respecting an establishment of religion and impeding the free exercise of religion.  On a side note, it also prohibits abridging the freedom of speech, infringing on the freedom of the press, interfering with the right to peaceably assemble or prohibiting the petitioning for a governmental redress of grievances. These are all aspects of the protest movement that the same people who advocate keeping spirituality out of  politics often have issues with as well.  This leads people to cherry pick the constitution for statements that support their agenda the same way  that an evangelist will cherry pick the bible to support their agenda.  Further, Article Six of the Constitution establishes that no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States, ensuring that the US Government remains secular and not directly influenced by the Church.  Later, in a letter to the Danbury Baptist Association in Connecticut written in 1802, Thomas Jefferson wrote on the subject that the United States should “make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,’ thus building a wall of separation between Church and State.”

So what we have in regards to the separation of Church and State is a strict commitment, written into the Constitution and echoed by Jefferson and the Supreme Court, to not allow the government to be controlled in any way by the Church,  to not allow the state to establish a state religion, and to not require membership in a particular church in order to qualify for public office.  There are many reasons why this is a good policy.  There’s the fact that most Abrahamic faiths strongly encourage people to unquestionably follow an autocratic elite, an idea that clearly stands in opposition to the spirit of a truly democratic society, there’s the idea that we do not want another person’s religious beliefs impinging on our rights and freedoms, and there’s the fact that religion and government have different roles in society and should remain separate because mixing those role have historically been disastrous.  But while I strongly believe that the strict separation of the Church and State is necessary to maintain a just society, this is not the same issue as keeping one’s spirituality or religion out of their personal politics.

But how does one keep their personal politics and their spirituality separate?  For me, I can’t do it.  As a matter of fact I can’t even imagine how someone who critically thinks about the issues can keep spirituality and politics compartmentalized in their minds.  Because in my experience, most people’s spirituality and politics are influenced by their morals and ethics, not the other way around.  For example, I believe that everyone should have basic human rights.  I would not practice a religion that advocated denying others their human rights, and when I vote for a candidate their moral character and stance on human rights is a major factor on whether or not they will get my vote.  To separate your spirituality from your politics is to separate your morals from your politics and that is a dangerous thing.  For without consideration of morals, what are we using to make our political choices?  Our wallets?  Our party affiliation?  Our self-interest?  These motivations do not lead to a just and equitable society, they lead to inequality, power imbalance, and ultimately the decline of that society.

As a society, we must learn to be guided by our own morality and our own codes of ethics and not have them dictated to us by churches and politicians.  We need to have an active ongoing relationship with our moral codes and sets of values, a dialogue with ourselves and others to continually refine and update our opinions as we learn new information and hear other people’s viewpoints.  Morality cannot be written in stone, it should always be a work in progress.  There is danger in the inverse of this approach.  To allow your government or your church to define your moral and ethical code without critical reflection can be one of the most destructive impulses that a society can have,  Governments can tell you that they have to militarize and restrict your freedoms in order to keep you free, they can try to convince you that poisoning your water and land is necessary in order to maintain prosperity.  Churches can tell you who is righteous and who is pure and try to justify dehumanizing others for having differing faiths and they can try to convince you that your natural healthy impulses are impure and sinful and pit you against your self in a never-ending cycle of shame.  Spirituality and politics should never be top down institutions, they should be guided and led by the people in a continual process of refinement and education, striving for better understanding and a more equable and just society.

So to the demand that I keep my religion out of my politics, I will have to politely decline.  For both my religion and my politics come from the same place, my heart, guided by a moral code that I am in constant refinement of.  My religion and my politics can’t be separate because at the root of both of them is an uncontrollable impulse to stand for every person’s basic human rights, to help my community to grow and be prosperous and fair for everyone, to defend the most vulnerable and abused in our society, to create a culture of equity and a clean and healthy planet for the coming generations.   Our morality is not handed down to us from our churches and it’s not prescribed to us by our governments, it is ours,  a precious part of our humanity that must continually be nurtured and grown, educated and socialized, and refined and enlightened if we are to create a lasting society worthy of our vast potential.

Pantheacon Fallout and the Seeds of Community 

Witchcraft is a tool against oppressors. It sides with the oppressors at its own peril, for power is ever fickle, and our gifts ever mistrusted by the bullies and abusers who would make our power their own.

Practitioners of a racist Witchcraft, or a homophobic Witchcraft, or a transphobic Witchcraft, or an ableist Witchcraft, do not understand Witchcraft. Witchcraft is a gift to the oppressed, not the comfortable.  – Jason Thomas Pitzl “Witchcraft Today, Witchcraft Tomorrow A Manifesto”

Mural in Oakland, CA

Mural in Oakland, CA

I watched a battle goddess shake the foundations of my community and expose our weak points.  For the sake of honesty I have to say, I did more than watch.  I aided, I assisted, I called Her name,  honored Her, gave Her offerings.  I asked Her to open our eyes to the battlefield that we are all standing on today, the battlefield that we tell ourselves doesn’t exist.  The battle that won’t be won by generals, or scholars, advanced weapons or technologies.  The battle that if we are to survive, we will survive by raising each other up and building strong and open communities together.  For we rise not by political structures or by wise governance, we rise by reaching out and grabbing the hand of our neighbor,  We all rise together.

The dust is starting to settle from Pantheacon and people are assessing the stress fractures in their hearts, minds and belief systems.  In some ways, Pantheacon is a gathering of individuals each searching for their own taste of the sacred, in other ways it is a gathering of tribes, a place for diverse traditions of spirituality to meet as a community.  A place for us to meet face to face rather than on blogs and Facebook posts.  A place to learn and share with each other, common ground on which to build our future….for 5 days a year.

For some, the event is a place to escape their day-to-day lives and immerse themselves in magic, and costumes, and parties.  And there is nothing wrong with this, provided you remember that there are predators as well as fairies in the night, and keep your wits about you, especially during the hours when the hungry ghosts walk the halls.  But there is more to our shared community than parties and costumes, and hopefully more to our spirituality than that too.  Community is not something that happens because people have similar ideas, it is working and living relationships that we have with each other, with the spirits, and with the gods.  Community is work, and it is processing, and it is uncomfortable self-reflection, and it is compromise.  It is an ongoing dialectical process between many different individuals, and many different philosophies, and many different cultures.  And that is a good thing.

Mural in Oakland,CA

Mural in Oakland,CA

The weak spots in our community are a reflection of the weak spots in our larger society.  As our country struggles with the demons of racism, homophobia, and transphobia, among a multitude of others, we Pagans, as a microcosm of the larger society, struggle with those same demons…   and its frustrating for us.   Just like some people come to Pantheacon wanting to get away from the drudgery of their mundane lives, some people come to Pantheacon wanting to get away from these demons as well,  to distance themselves from the debates on racism, or to be in a place where they wont have racist behaviors thrown in their face,  a space where they wont be challenged about their privilege, or a space where they can be safe to be themselves without fear of rejection, or violence against them.  But we can’t get away from these issues, because Pantheacon does not exist in a vacuum, and they exist in our community as well, and it is our duty, as members of the community, and as human beings, and as a collection of religious communities, to face these issues and to confront them and to work together to create a stronger, more just and welcoming community.

People must rule themselves; there’s no other way.  We cannot hope for benevolent dictators or kind benefactors to end our suffering and fractiousness and abuse.  No great ruler will make racism go away, no brilliant queen will re-grow the forests.

We beg the government to give us recognition, to restrain the police they hire to kill us, to protect our sexual preferences and drinking water and children from the very same abusers who bankroll their political campaigns.  The answer isn’t the coin, it’s the fucking soul, the reclaiming of our sovereignty not just as will-to-power but responsibility-to-love.   – Rhyd Wildermuth “Perceval”

When I see that battlefield that we are all on and apprise the situation, I see a path to victory, a path to a better place.  A place of justice and healing of wounds.  A place of abundance, with healthy seas, nature restored, food, shelter and dignity for all.   A world of people in rightful relationship with the land, with the gods and most importantly with each other.  A future of wealth for children, of children well learned, of tales told in poetry, a future of honor.  And I see this path because I see the strength in our community, the people who won’t sit idle and accept things the way they are, the people who tirelessly and ceaselessly hold us accountable for our mistakes, who sometimes gently and sometimes fiercely confront attitudes in our community and in themselves that mindlessly harm others.   Because the first step towards this rewoven future is facing these toxic attitudes within ourselves and learning how to address and overcome them and a large part of that process involves actually listening to marginalized communities.  Straight, white people are not the saviors of marginalized people and we will not be rescuing anyone.  We are all partners in this community and we must allow everyone their voice and listen to their experiences.  Unexamined ego and privilege has no place in the creation of a better society and those who refuse to see past their own, will find themselves rapidly losing credibility and relevance as the community steps past them, seeking a more just and egalitarian future.