Thursday, April 21, 2016

A Wind that Tastes of Ashes

I'd meant to devote this month’s post here at The Well of Galabes to discussing some of the things that were part of the old Renaissance magical synthesis, and haven’t yet been hauled out of the rubble and dusted off for modern use. Still, the present has as much to say about the project of this blog as the past, and just at the moment there are patterns taking shape in the present that deserve close attention.

I’ve speculated more than once, in these essays as well as on my other blog, about the ways that the current Neopagan scene might wind down once it finishes up the thirty to forty year lifespan that’s normal for popular religious movements in American history. As I’ve noted, it might imitate the old soldier in the saying, and just fade away; it might also shed the mass following but keep enough of itself intact to allow one or more enduring religious denominations to come into being.

Those were never the only options, though. It’s at least as common for popular religious movements to end messily via some of self-induced disaster. The collapse of Spiritualism at the end of the nineteenth century in a torrent of blatant fraud and chicanery is one example of the type; the near-total implosion of Theosophy in 1929 after the failure of the messianic fantasies once reposed in Jiddu Krishnamurti is another, and a third is the catastrophic own goal the New Age movement scored against itself when December 21, 2012 turned out to be just another day. Still, it looks just now as though a somewhat different form of self-immolation is waiting in the wings.  With a fine if unconscious sense of historical irony, the Neopagan scene seems to be gearing up for its very own witch hunt.

You know the story already, dear reader.  It’s as old as the hills and as tacky as half-dried blood. You’ve got a community trying not to face the gap between cherished visions of a grand future and the gritty realities of decline in the present. You’ve got a few vulnerable minorities within the community, set apart by easily recognized differences in belief and behavior. You’ve got an aspiring demagogue who recognizes that a witch hunt directed against those minorities will not only distract the community from troubles it doesn’t want to face, but can also become a springboard to unearned power.

Then, of course, you get the inflammatory rhetoric, full of all the usual tropes of subversion and invisible evil, followed by a range of weasel-worded half-retractions intended to give the demagogue a semblance of plausible deniability. You get a brief burst of outrage from the community, followed by another set of weasel-worded half-retractions noting that, sure, the demagogue used language we should all deplore, but his intentions are no doubt good and the issues he’s raised ought to be taken seriously, blah blah blah. The rest of the story? That’s on its way, and will doubtless arrive in due time.

The community in question, of course, is the modern Neopagan scene. As I noted in the other blog this week, that’s a far more diverse community than most people outside it realize, united by certain details of history rather than by shared beliefs or practices. It’s also far less organized than most people outside it realize. There are organizations, but none of them can claim more than a tiny fraction of American Neopagans as members; there are specific systems of practice—“traditions” is the term used within the scene—but here again, no one of these accounts for more than a tiny fraction of the community. More influential than these are certain broad groupings with different historical origins.

The largest of these, the main current of modern popular Neopaganism, is the eclectic Pagan movement that sprang into being in the very early 1980s in the wake of two hugely influential books, Starhawk’s The Spiral Dance and Margot Adler’s Drawing Down the Moon. This isn’t the same thing as the Wicca Gerald Gardner invented in the late 1940s, and he and a range of followers and imitators publicized in the following decade; the differences between British traditional witchcraft as it’s now generally called, and modern eclectic Paganism are on a par with the differences between Judaism and Christianity.

Eclectic Paganism is the sort of thing you’ll find on display at most Pagan festivals, community Full Moon celebrations, and the like. Gendered ditheism—the worship of two deities, “the God” and “the Goddess”—provides the most common theological basis; . The eight festivals of the Wheel of the Year provide the religious calendar, celebrated by rituals freely pasted together from a mix of standard elements, local customs, and personal improvisations.

Organization in eclectic Paganism is egalitarian in theory and charismatic in practice—what this means is that formal organization is minimal, and it’s up to aspiring Pagan leaders amass as large a personal following as their talents for showmanship, leadership, and politics allow.  Membership is usually just a matter of showing up, though scraps of initiatory ritual appear now and then as a legacy from the past, and members move easily between one tradition and another. At its best, to borrow an acronym from Starhawk’s writings, it’s EIEIO: “eclectic, improvisational, ecstatic, inspired, organic,” features it shares with most other popular religious movements.  At its worst, it’s make-believe and faux-medieval dress-up games, festooned with some of the worst poetry in the history of English literature.

That’s the mainstream. Most of the minorities fall into two categories.The first consists of older initiatory traditions. British Traditional Wicca is the most important of these; some forms of Druidry belong here as well; then there’s a penumbra of initiatory orders such as the various Orders of the Golden Dawn, the Ordo Templi Orientis (OTO), other kinds of Druidry, and so on, whose members aren’t really part of the Neopagan scene but shop at the same bookstores, attend some of the same events, and interface with the scene in various ways. The initiatory orders are structured, formal, and often rather fussy, with multiple levels of initiation that have to be earned by good old-fashioned hard work. That’s my spiritual home turf, and most of what’s discussed on this blog relates to it.

The other category is best understood through its history. Back in the early days of the Neopagan era, a good many people got involved in eclectic Paganism thinking that it was an ancient as it claimed, and then discovered that its roots were about as steady as those of Birnam Wood. Some went looking for a more historically authentic option, and many of those found it in the worship of gods and goddesses of Pagan religions from the past. The rise of polytheist Paganism is a story of its own, and one I should probably tell here one of these days, as it may just be a major turning point in the religious history of the West. The current stage in that story, though, is a movement as loose and unstructured as eclectic Paganism, but oriented to the very different traditions, customs, and vision of ancient polytheism.

Until fairly recently, all things considered, the eclectic Pagan mainstream didn’t greatly concern itself about the existence of the minority movements in its midst. There was a certain degree of animus back in the day toward old-fashioned occultists like me; I’ve mentioned before how a great deal of Pagan-themed fantasy from the 1980s and 1990s had all the good guys practicing eclectic Pagan magic and all the bad guys practicing ceremonial magic. Still, most of that got shaken off as eclectic Paganism found its feet as a significant presence in American popular culture, and its leaders began to dream of the day when they would be salaried clergypersons ministering to big congregations, leading prayers at city council meetings, and being taken seriously by the rest of society.

Unfortunately for those daydreams, and also for the relative tolerance of the turn-of-the-millennium Neopagan community, two major obstacles stood between eclectic Paganism and its supposed future as a large, respected, and profitable denomination. The first is simply that the central reason the eclectic Pagan scene was lacking in paid clergy was that the great majority of participants wanted it that way.  The model of religion to which many Pagan leaders aspired, in which parishioners handed over regular donations for the privilege of attending weekly services directed by paid clergy, was exactly the model that most participants in the Neopagan scene deliberately rejected when they walked away from the religious mainstream.  They weren’t interested in returning to it, much less on their nickel.

That obstacle was problematic enough. The other, though, was considerably worse: during the first decade of the 21st century, after several decades of steady growth, the Neopagan movement in the United States peaked and began an uneven but steady decline.

You can measure that decline by any number of variables. Sales of books on Neopagan subjects peaked in 2007, right about the time the New Age market peaked, and have been falling ever since. Attendance at Neopagan festivals, which swelled through the 1980s and 1990s and plateaued after that, began a ragged decline thereafter which has accelerated sharply in the last few years. People are starting to refer to themselves jokingly, or half-jokingly, as “recovering Pagans,” having dropped out of the scene and given away their Pagan books and trinkets, and high-profile defections have begun—those who follow the Pagan blogosphere will remember the flutter in an assortment of dovecotes a little while back when a rising star named Teo Bishop got a lavish profile in one of the few remaining Pagan magazines, and while that issue was still on the stands, announced that he was returning to Christianity.

There are doubtless any number of reasons why the Neopagan wave has crested and begun to flow back out to sea.  The most important may well be simply that popular culture has a short shelf life. That said, I’d like to propose another reason, which is the abandonment of the religious dimension. These days, a great many people in the eclectic Pagan scene have stopped believing in the existence of the God and the Goddess as divine beings. Atheist Pagans, Secular Pagans, Humanist Pagans—these are increasingly popular labels at this point, and many of those who embrace such labels have also embraced the denunciatory hostility of contemporary “angry atheism,” and fling spluttering tirades against those people in the Neopagan scene who still do take the gods and goddesses seriously.

History shows that when a religion discards its deities, politics fills the void that the gods leave behind. The result does not keep well. Liberal Christianity in the United States made that choice in the 1960s, discarding its faith in the Risen Christ in favor of agnosticism and social-justice activism, which is why churches that dominated the American religious scene in the middle of the 20th century are now selling their buildings, going to part-time unpaid clergy, and facing extinction once the remaining parishioners die off or get bored and wander away. That’s beginning to happen to eclectic Paganism right now. 

The result will be familiar to anyone who knows the dynamics of religious sects in decline. Demands for conformity, inevitably presented as calls for unity, have become common—I’m thinking especially of one prominent blogger who insisted that everyone in the Neopagan scene needed to be under one big tent, singing “We All Come From The Goddess”—an eclectic Pagan hymn, please note, and inevitably an eclectic Pagan tent as well. Meanwhile politics increasingly takes center stage, the former religious focus quietly gutters out, and the decline continues. It’s an explosive combination, waiting for a spark.

This is where our demagogue enters the tale. His name is Rhyd Wildermuth, and he’s a Pagan anarchist Marxist—yes, I have trouble parsing that one, too. Late last month, he put up an anonymous screed on a website he manages—he later acknowledged it as his—purporting to warn the Neopagan community about the threat of what he calls the New Right. Care to guess which parts of the Neopagan community he called out as potential vectors for New Right subversion?

Got it in one.  It’s the groups that deviate from the eclectic Pagan mainstream: initiatory traditions such as Druidry, Hermeticism, and British traditional witchcraft on the one hand, and Reconstructionist and devotional polytheism on the other.  He also targeted the Dianic movement, which originated alongside eclectic Paganism but is forthrightly woman-centered, goddess-worshipping, and—like the initiatory traditions—insists on its right to decide who to welcome to its circles and who to ask to leave. By contrast, eclectic Paganism gets a free pass; so does one Druid group, the Order of Bards Ovates and Druids (OBOD), which is the largest Druid order in the world today, and thus is probably too big a fish for Wildermuth to risk targeting this early in his campaign.

I encourage anyone interested in the future of the Neopagan movement to give Wildermuth’s screed a good close reading. Mind you, there’s a certain wry amusement to be taken from his sidelong muttering about “‘Long Descent’ druids”—ahem—who are insinuating Oswald Spengler’s ideas into Druidry.  Spengler is suspect, in turn, because he’s “a favorite among many New Right theorists.” I gather Wildermuth doesn’t happen to know that Spengler was also a favorite author of the Beat poets—Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsburg, and their friends—who, by the same logic, ought to be suspect too. Guilt by association is a dangerous game to play, but Wildermuth is clearly willing to play it.

Beyond the amusement value, though, there’s much to be learned from Wildermuth’s tirade. It really is a fine piece of demagogy. Note how he wields the classic tropes of threat by subversion, painting the New Right as a malevolent influence worming its way into the heart of Paganism rather than, say, noticing that Pagans embrace as many different political options as they do spiritual ones, and leaving it at that. Pagan traditions, he claims, can be infected with New Right ideas even without knowing it—a claim that makes it easy for him to find those ideas anywhere he chooses, and just as easy to dismiss out of hand any disagreement with his accusations. Note also the way that he glides smoothly from “New Right ideas” to “New Right aligned Pagans,” who are “hiding their political goals behind claims that they’re ‘apolitical’.” It’s the logic of Stalin’s show trials and the witch burnings: deny that you’re influenced by the New Right and that just proves that you must be hiding your real agenda.

There’s very likely an agenda being hidden here, mind you, but I don’t think it belongs to sinister New Rightists out to pollute the precious bodily fluids of Paganism. The kind of rhetoric Rhyd Wildermuth deploys in his rant shows up over and over again in history:  it’s the classic tool of the demagogue. It’s interesting in this context that in here and in his other writings—you can find plenty of those on the Gods and Radicals website—he consistently identifies illegitimate power with hierarchy, and only with hierarchy. That’s a common evasion, and a telling one.

After all, there’s another kind of power that’s just as illegitimate and destructive, and that’s the power of demagogy:  the brute force of a frightened and furious mob whipped up into a frenzy by rhetoric of the sort we’re examining. Robespierre and Marat, who condemned thousands to the guillotine in the frenzies of France’s revolutionary Terror, didn’t get their immense and brutally wielded power from positions in a hierarchy; they got it from their ability to incite mob violence. Matthew Hopkins, the “Witch Finder Generall” who hanged three hundred women for witchcraft in England in the 1640s, had no official position at all. He owed his power to his ability to convince thousands of ordinary men and women that they were threatened by a creeping evil that only he could detect.

It’s thus of a piece with Wildermuth’s other thinking that when he gets around to telling his readers what to do, he urges them to challenge the traditional roles of Pagan elders and leaders, and to break down boundaries between different traditions. If you’re a demagogue out to bully and bluster your way to unearned power, the respect others give to community leaders and elders is a major obstacle.  The tendency of different groups within the community to look to their leaders and elders, rather than to you, is another. Breaking down these particular obstacles is also, by the way, standard Marxist strategy, which suggests where Wildermuth may have gotten his grasp of the demagogue’s trade.

The proof of the pudding is in the eating, to be sure, and evidence for or against my take on Rhyd Wildermuth’s agenda will come only with time. If I’m right, it’s early days yet. denunciations of the New Right menace supposedly slithering through Paganism’s crawlspaces, innuendoes targeting this or that figure or organization on Wildermuth’s list of suspect traditions, veiled demands that leaders and organizations in the eclectic Pagan scene fall in line behind the witch hunt or risk being targeted themselves: those are likely to be the next steps. If those things happen, I trust those of my readers who belong to the Neopagan community will pay close attention, and act appropriately.

The next few years will also determine how the Neopagan community responds. Since that community has so little in the way of organization, that decision will be made one Pagan at a time, and will show whether the values publicly embraced by Pagans—values of tolerance, compassion, and unwillingness to harm—are more than skin deep. If most of the Neopagan community rejects the witch hunt being urged on it, then I think there’s good reason to hope that the twilight of the era of popular Neopaganism may see the best achievements of that era handed on to the future, embodied in traditions and organizations that have a good chance of surviving for the long haul.

If not—if enough Pagans join the hunt, and enough others shrug and do nothing to oppose it—the results will be nothing like so pleasant. Those of us of an age to recall the suicide of American Marxism in the 1970s and 1980s already know how this story ends. One demagogue inspires others, and the result is a vicious spiral of competitive heresy-hunting, in which anyone at any time can be accused of secretly harboring the Wrong Ideas. When that happens in a community that people must choose to join, and can leave whenever they wish, pretty soon the only people left are those who enjoy that particular blood sport, and finally even they get bored. That would be a sorry end for a movement that, whatever its failings, has inspired and delighted many people over the last three and a half decades.

While that decision is being made, I hope that the traditions and individuals currently being targeted by Rhyd Wildermuth’s attempted witch hunt will take appropriate steps. The old initiatory traditions will be fine; most have been through this sort of thing before, and many are already backing away from the Neopagan scene in response to its other problems. The Dianic movement, which has long had its own networks and infrastructure, is unlikely to be harmed much. The polytheists—well, I don’t belong to their community, though I share their belief in the real existence of many gods and goddesses, and their decisions are theirs to make, not mine. I hope it won’t be out of place, though, to suggest that the only way to win this game is not to play, and that completing the process of building their own networks, infrastructure, and events may well be a better way to ensure the future of polytheist religion in the West than continued dependence on a failing and increasingly hostile Neopagan scene.

There’s a cold wind blowing through the Pagan community these days, and it tastes of ashes. With luck, they’ll only be the ashes of failed dreams; they could be something rather grimmer, if things go as badly wrong as I fear they might. Still, we’ll see.


James M. Jensen II said...

Well, this and the post on ADR has cleared up one thing for me: why so many Heathens have opted to reject the label "Pagan." Heathens are especially targeted in the witch-hunt due to the association with white separatism and white supremacy - one that is not their fault, since what else could they have done? There was literally a schism over the issue decades ago and from what I understand the universalists still regularly get death threats from the folkish heathens and skinheads.

(Of course, the folkish heathens are an interesting case in their own right, since while they get treated to some nice double-standards by everyone else for exercising their right to choose their own members, there are some pretty deep flaws in their logic. For starters, the Heathen pantheon is actually composed of two pantheons from two different cultures that collided and merged millennia back, making calls for ancestral purity seem pretty silly to me.)

Anyway, I think Heathenry is probably the best-positioned of the polytheist traditions to survive this particular manifestation of the Rescue Game. They've been backing away from the Neopagan scene for decades now and are even making some inroads into public consciousness - remember that Odinist guy who got elected several years back to some state office in New York? As a Republican? OK, I don't remember his name or position, but it's a start.

James M. Jensen II said...

Another thought: I think a large part of the rise of eclectic Paganism was the fact that for many people, it was basically the only game in town. Not literally, of course, but it was the only one they were aware of, and certainly it was the most accessible. One of the side-effects of the witch-hunt will be raising awareness of how many alternatives there are.

I wonder if the more serious will wander off to the initiatory traditions or polytheist traditions, or stay and try to come up with Wicca 3.0? (Or would that be 4.0 now? 1.0 being Brit Trad, 2.0 being the American eclectic reinvention by Adler/Starhawk, 3.0 maybe being RavenWolfian pop-Wicca?)

Yucca Glauca said...

I like this interpretation, but the one thing I'm struggling with is that Rhyd Wildermuth is NOT a member of the eclectic Pagan side. He's one of the bigger voices in Devotional Polytheism. Granted he's in OBOD, but he's also the founder of Many Gods West and is much more well known as a champion for Polytheism-as-distinct-from-general-Paganism. The rising political witch hunt is definitely going on, on the internet at least, but the loud voices who are hard leftists insisting everyone else must be secret Fascists includes a massive portion of the big name devotional polytheists. How does this factor into the analysis?

Urban Harvester said...

I might have guessed that this would be your topic this month. I have been wondering about how you would respond to Rhyd's article. Your writings since your break have been very prescient, and I thank you for the insights. After being pointed to the the God's & Radicals site by the discussion here a while back, I've been reading the odd article there and I noticed one just this morning which makes a statement that ought to give you a laugh relative to your starhawking post yesterday: "The only politics that matters is how the human race uses and protects its lands and waters for the betterment of our own societies, our future children, and our fellow plant and animal species." There are plenty of notions to take issue with, but I called the author out on that fallacious one, we'll see if they respond. Demagogues and swedish fish indeed!

Kutamun said...

Gday again JMG , seems like a pretty clear cut case of " the system " coming after the people on the spiritual end of the spectrum who do not subscribe to the system . When i look at google images of RHy WIldermuth manspreading and generally looking pretty overtly male and hostile , i am reminded of a skinhead . I have my doubts the person in that picture wrote the screed .
It could be
1 the christian right
2 the globalist corporate deep state intelligence operatives
3 some messed up kids with a limited capacity for critical reflectionwho, upon being confronted internally with their own polytheistic conservatism ( after entering through the gate of marxism) , have refused to own it and run screaming from the building shouting "all polyrheists are fascists" ..
He attacked you only very obliquely , as he may be smart enough to know that attacking druids will only end up with him needing a bex and a good lie down ( at best )

I guess your an easy target because your philosophical convservative views are quite well formed and structured , unusual in the land of Starhawk . Your philosophical lineage passes back right through to antiquity and it is quite conservative .
Very easy for the " we are all one equal amorphous interconnected mob " crowd to cry "fascist " .
More signs of the system being in distress ??
Perhaps your on the list because you dont believe in Aliens ! Ha ha .
BTW - i would have thought forests are incredibly hierarchical ?? ( from his screed )

rauisuchia said...

I was (rather briefly) an anarchist-Marxist in my earlier, high school, politically-involved years, but have since transformed (I think) into a rather more nuanced, if contradictory, political stance.

I find myself identifying much with Wildermuth in the respect that I consider myself a devotional polytheist and student of druidry, but I could not disagree more with his statements you linked to. I've been studying the Golden Dawn and OTO, and I really don't see what all the fuss is about with driving a edge between initiatory traditions and reconstructionist polytheism.

I am hesitant to get involved with politics as it is, for the reasons you mentioned today. Leaving out specific details, I consider myself a devotional polytheist after a moving religious experience after nearly a decade of atheism. I found a related devotional polytheist organization, and I focused on the religious aspect, but have become increasingly disappointed with the recent emphasis on politics to the detriment of the religious focus. You stated that "with luck, they’ll only be the ashes of failed dreams," but as a pessimist, I can't help but expect this trend to continue and worsen.

Revere T. said...

I see Mr. Wildermuth is trotting out the tired old dichotomy between Hierarchy and Equality. It seems like one of the great lessons of the past 300 years is that tyranny can thrive under equally either of those banners. Also, it seems like someone who communes with the old gods would know better than to blame our whole eco-spiritual crisis on the modern bogeyman of Capitalism. The sometimes-fashionable mashup of revolutionary politics and nature spirituality never made much sense to me, and Rhyd's screed really helps me understand why. Do you really think this guy has the charisma to have much of an effect on the subcultures in question, though? From an outside perspective, it just looks like one more piece of angry internet background radiation.

Cherokee Organics said...


They sounded pretty harmless to me, until I got to the point where you wrote: "Membership is usually just a matter of showing up, though scraps of initiatory ritual appear now and then as a legacy from the past, and members move easily between one tradition and another." I did a double take when I read that passage, and then had to go back and re-read it. Of course, the groups are a reflection of the social constructs within our larger society.

I sort of had to laugh about it, because you left me with this mental image of someone going to church and listening to a sermon about something as simple as the concept of: "do unto others". And then once they left the church they explained their own actions away to themselves with an internal dialogue which may have gone along the lines of: "Yeah, sure, Jesus said that, but what he actually meant was..." Fill in the gaps!!! ;-)! Incidentally, you could - if you were really being cheeky - swap in all manner of other goals of that particular religion. In fact camels and needles springs to mind as another amusing example. Except it probably isn't funny...

What is funny would be: I'm dreaming of a salaried position (sung to the old standard of dreaming of a White Christmas). It has always struck me as being a rather odd conceit that people attempt to outsource their spiritual life. Dunno. Incidentally the concepts of large, respectable and profitable tend to be sooner or later be mutually exclusive. Just sayin. ;-)!

I've observed in the past that angry people are often that way because they are trying to control others (or events) that would otherwise be outside of their control. I tend to avoid angry people and I've also noted that they rarely appear to be able to do the work themselves that they ask of others – that’s why they’re angry in the first place. Oh yeah, the saying: throw enough manure and some of it will eventually stick, comes to mind too.

It is all a bit sad really, still resilient is rarely the same as large.



Revere T. said...

I'll amend my 'angry internet background radiation' comment. I looked around the Gods and Radicals site and I see that it's a little more broad-ranging that I thought at first glance. What a perfect illustration of much of what you've been talking about over at other blog for the past couple weeks. Was that intentional?

Logan said...

"The polytheists—well, I don’t belong to their community, though I share their belief in the real existence of many gods and goddesses..."

It's very strange to me that I now regularly read the epistles of someone who believes in both astrology and the gods. But your level of perspicacity in analyzing secular affairs compels some sort of re-evaluation of such "discarded knowledge". I hope it's clear that my ongoing perplexity is in good faith.

Do you think it is possible to know anything about gods* without experiencing a theophany first-hand? I mean, what is the epistemology here? Do gods die when people stop believing in them, like in that Neil Gaiman novel? Are gods discrete, so that Odin is either definitely not Mercury or definitely is; or are they a continuum and human names for them more like the names of colors? Are some people who claim to have met gods "just crazy", and if so, how does one tell the difference from the genuine article?

*Or angels, faeries, kami, et cetera. I kind of favor the word "macrobe" (from C. S. Lewis's That Hideous Strength) as a nonprejudicial descriptor of any superhuman being.

John Michael Greer said...

James, I'm quite sure that Heathenry is here to for the long haul, and I consider that a good thing -- it's got a lot going for it, starting with a strong moral sense and an approach to deities that doesn't involve cringing and groveling. You're probably right about eclectic Paganism as the only game in town -- plenty of media exposure didn't hurt, either -- and it'll be interesting to see what happens as the Neopagan era ends, with or without benefit of witch hunt, and those who are still interested in Pagan spirituality figure out what to do thereafter.

Yucca, I didn't say that Wildermuth is an eclectic Pagan himself, just that he's targeting the minority traditions in Neopaganism for his witch hunt. I don't follow his end of the Neopagan blogosphere (or most others), so won't speculate on the combination of opportunism and personal motives that might have guided that choice. It may be worth pointing out, though, that he's either a fake Marxist or a fake polytheist. Marxism specifically rejects all religion and all deities (see Marx's discussion of religion in the Critique of Hegel's Philosophy of Right, where he argues that the destruction of all religion is essential to the attainment of his imaginary Communist utopia), while polytheism is by definition belief in, and worship of, many deities. Thus you can't be a polytheist Marxist, any more than you can be a celibate harlot or a vegetarian carnivore. Unless he's just profoundly ignorant -- which seems unlikely -- either Wildermuth's using the label "Marxist" merely for its shock value, or he's using the label "polytheist" for some other, potentially less creditable reason.

Harvester, that statement you highlighted is pretty stunning. As though the distribution of the benefits of those lands and waters among the different members of the human race doesn't matter!

Kutamun, my wife used to be a punk rocker, and she agrees with the resemblance to a skinhead. Still, it's unwise to judge a book by its cover, and Wildermuth's other writings show the same sort of talent for manipulative prose. All things considered, I do think it's probably his work.

Rauisuchia, agreed -- I expect the fixation on politics to continue and accelerate, until what's left of the Neopagan mainstream dissolves into the radical political movements of the 2020s. My hope is that enough people can stay out of that trap and maintain a focus on the gods and goddesses.

Revere, Joseph McCarthy didn't have a lot of charisma, and neither did Matthew Hopkins. It's the ripeness of the community for a witch hunt as a distraction from its real problems that makes such people dangerous.

Cherokee, oh, granted. It's normal in the formative period of a religious movement for it to go through a stage when membership is very loose and vague, and people drift in and out at will. The question is whether it will get past that in an organic manner -- attempts to force it don't work very well, as the current eclectic Pagan leadership ("I'm dreaming of a plump paycheck, that comes to ev'ry Pagan priest...") is in the process of finding out. It's when people decide on their own that something's important enough to support with donations and regular attendance that you've got the makings of a lasting denomination, and when that happens, a paycheck for the priest is the last thing on the agenda.

John Michael Greer said...

Revere, nope -- just a happy coincidence, fostered by the fact that the nonsense I've been trying to skewer is very widespread in America these days.

Logan, those are questions worth at least an entire post by themselves! The very, very short form is that human beings have been having theophanies for as far back as history goes; there are common features to those, as well as fascinating differences; there are also fairly reliable ways to induce theophanies -- and the total body of data gathered from those experiences can, to my mind, be used as a source of data. (Data, not proof. Proof is very hard to come by when dealing with this sort of subject.) There's been a lot of theological overburden piled onto the simple fact that human beings routinely seem to interact with other beings that don't have physical bodies and appear to be smarter and stronger than we are, and very often benefit from those encounters. Much of the overburden ranges from the merely dubious to the impressively gaga, and can be set aside -- but the experience happens regularly enough, to enough people, that it's worth assessing on its own merits, without being clubbed into conformity with either a theological or an atheist ideology.

Kevin said...

I've read Wildermuth's article closely, and concur with your assessment. At one point he explicitly endorses the notion of guilt by association, actually using that word as he exhorts the reader to pin the tail on those secret persecutors who have ever read or discussed the works of Julius Evola. It all sounds to me like a game of Spot The Evil Space Lizard.

Even worse than the dubious slipshod logic, there's something off about his tone, an unpleasant fusion of aggression with paranoia. I hope it doesn't spread, but fear that your prognostication may prove well-founded.

Kevin said...

@ Logan -

"It's very strange to me that I now regularly read the epistles of someone who believes in both astrology and the gods. But your level of perspicacity in analyzing secular affairs compels some sort of re-evaluation of such 'discarded knowledge'. "

That's exactly how it's been for me. A decade ago I was a believer in the Star Trek future and all its materialist eschatology. Since then I've been obliged to revise some major sectors of my worldview - or at least, to entertain ideas I would thitherto have never touched with a ten-foot pole.

Stuart Jeffery said...

JMG, I do think your claim that you can't self identify as a Marxist and a Pagan is a bit binary. While Marx did reject all religion this was not the main thrust of his philosophy. I certainly self identify as a Green politically but it doesn't mean that I accept every aspect without question.

Steven Dillon said...

"History shows that when a religion discards its deities, politics fills the void that the gods leave behind."

So you ARE part of the New Right! :P

Thanks for this JMG, there are so many variables to take into account in thinking about the impact of Rhyd's campaign, your signature bird's eye view was much appreciated. I get the sense that Pagans are entering into a pivotal moment, with all the attempts to draw borders and steer folks in specific directions, etc. This seems especially true for polytheists. However, I can't help but wonder how important any of it is to the gods. It seems to me that no matter the outcome, gods will continue contacting people, and people will continue believing in them: they didn't exactly stop the last 2,000 years of monotheist domination; but, neither did they stop doing what they always seem to do.

Maybe there's some analogy to be drawn from respecting the natural courses of ecosystems vs trying to manhandle nature into submission...

Eric S. said...

OBOD was spared because Rhyd used to be a member, though my experience of OBOD in America has been that it’s pretty politically diverse. (By the way, in case you were interested, G&R is already laying out the “is Norse religion by its nature a bad seed?” card: Thank you for your assessment of the Pagan scene, by the way, it clarified what exactly you mean by Neopaganism. I’m involved in a smattering of initiatory orders and polytheist organizations, plus ADF which is kind of a hybrid of the two, so I guess that puts me kind of on the outskirts, though I still prefer open eclectic circles to the UU if it’s the only option in town. Now on to my response:

It seems to me, that the best historical model for the American Neopagan scene, then, is neither 1830s American Transcendentalism moving towards a Brooks Farm moment, nor British Spiritualism in the 1920s heading towards a Krishnamurti moment, but instead the Russian Occult scene of the 1910s:

Correct my history if I’m reading between the wrong lines, but basically, there was a revolution in popular occultism in Russia between 1905 and 1920 dominated by Theosophy but with strong presences in Hermeticism and Cabbala too. Around 1913-1915, the less theological, more secular answer to Theosophy, Anthroposophy (the early 20th century’s version of “humanistic paganism,”), which took Theosophy’s ideas and practices and secularized them began emerging as a popular movement. The Russian Anthroposophical Society in the years leading up to and just following the revolution, gradually overtook Theosophy, and between 1915 and 1920 underwent a series of violent schisms, some interested in devoting the ideals of the tradition to personal enlightenment, others giving massive public speeches and presentations in front of crowds, espousing the ideals of the Revolution, incorporating Marxist ideas into the goals of social evolution inherent in the tradition, this movement grew, while the other less politically motivated ones shrank. In 1919, the leading figures in Russian Anthroposophy formed the Petrograd Independent Philosophical Association, which was still based on Steiner’s ideas, but was not openly affiliated with Anthroposophy and was mostly devoted to preaching the ideals of the Revolution. The association flourished from 1919 until 1922, forming various offshoots and schisms of its own all the way through to 1924, and when Anthroposophy became illegal in 1923, the members happily moved on to other pursuits, taking their favorite of Steiner’s ideas and leaving the rest of the tradition behind. Meanwhile, the rest of the occult scene was declared illegal in 1921, and their leaders suppressed and arrested, some groups went deep underground and practiced in private, others fled, the climax of the story being the harrowing flight of the Russian Theosophical Society’s leader, Anna Kamenskey to Finland upon learning of the warrant out for her arrest.

That leaves me wondering: how safe will the coming decades be for polytheists, druids, hermeticists, etc.? Is there a possibility that, say, an act of domestic terrorism could get tied to some odinist skinhead group and lead to a crackdown on potential sites of radicalization, and that essays like the one on G&R could inform who winds up on watchlists? Or that, in the event widespread radicalization in the community, the entire occult scene, whether political or not starts looking to outsiders like a hotbed of sedition? One advantage of the pagan community since I’ve been involved has been the fact that the it’s been safe to be public and open, to hold rituals in parks, have public clergy, and so on without worrying about much more than being called silly or getting witnessed to. Do you see it as a possibility that within the next decade or so, we might have to learn to return to the same sort of cultural marginalization and tight-lipped discretion of the ‘60s and ‘70s?

Sunfell said...

I really appreciate your sober, and insightful, in-depth examination and commentary, John. I deeply respect your point of view and have seen and felt many of these changes myself. In fact, it was a demagogue tearing through my own community (and targeting the Elders and anyone who had any perceived influence- including me) that ultimately collapsed it ten years ago. Lacking a community to work and practice with, I became a solitary, and even that little spark guttered into the ashes you speak about. I lost a world, my second one, in fact, having lost my Christian childhood world decades before. I was reduced to my spiritual kernel, the dross burned away.

Here's where I have a tiny difference with your viewpoint: I did spend a time in an Atheist state of mind, but I was just as disgusted and dismayed with the whole 'angry atheist' trope as I am with any militant, zealous belief. And yes, militant atheism is a belief- their stance rests nearly entirely upon opposition to belief in gods- take that away, and their reason for being collapses. But not all atheist/ humanist/ or secular Pagans are of the angry, hateful sort. Please don't tar them with that particular brush.

I recovered from that second loss. I am an agnostic Mage. It is not necessary for me to buff my ego against the beliefs of others, or butt heads with them, because we all experience the multiverse in ways uniquely our own. Gods exist- as do many unquantifiable things. I am OK with believers, just check the zealotry at the door. That goes for non-believers, too.

Now that I got that out of my craw, the main thrust of your essay is something I've been sensing for quite some time. Even though I no longer participate in a lot of Pagan functions, I do stay abreast of things, and see those clouds on the horizon, too. And while I may have lost my own Pagan world, I have not lost the connection to Current and Pattern that made me learn my Craft in the first place. I might have shed the labels, titles, surface practice and adopted pantheons, but my soul remains deeply connected to the magick that called me. I've seen mainline Christian faiths fall to demogogues, their worlds lost, but they might lose their church, but their connection to Christ remains.

That's the key to surviving this onslaught- that root impulse, that root calling and ultimate connection. If it is a genuine connection, it is beyond the reach of labels, sects, pop culture, politics, and demogogues. It is religious in its original, organic sense- it is soul-binding, a connection that is nameless and timeless. I believe that if all of us, regardless of overt belief, return to our roots and invoke that original impulse, and take strength from it, no demagogue can harm us.

There will always be events that will decimate cultures. One can almost set their watch by them. But if we understand the pattern, and most important- understand OURSELVES and our deep impulses, we can withstand the storm, and even dilute it in our own way.

It's interesting that your insights and warnings have paralleled a lot of other things I've been reading of late by other respected metaphysical writers and Mages. It's like the Multiverse is poking me in the side and getting my attention. Something is happening, changes are manifesting, and the rise of this kind of discord is a part of that pattern setting up. Your voice is part of a growing 'canary chorus'. Keep singing.

BoysMom said...

Speaking of changes in religion, there's a . . . we might call it historical Christianity movement, going on. I don't know how much you see of this, being tied into other religions more closely, but I have heard more about pre-Constantine Christianity in the last year than I ever have before. There's a sharp strain of stop fighting about politics, that's not how you fix the world; services should be focused on worship, not social issues; followed by a theme of the Church should never have let the government take over her social programs and we need to reconstitute them now. I'm in the position of having denomination hopped a bit (when you live in four-Church towns you aren't going to have your preferred denomination available) and kept in touch with several pastors I've befriended over the years, and I'm hearing this from more than one mainline denomination. The pastors I've heard it from are mid-thirties to mid-forties. It's very interesting, different, and, I think, appropriate to the time, and it's resonating a lot with younger Church members. The older members, particularly the baby boomers, are digging their heels in, and it makes for some interesting and uncomfortable moments in the post-service greet-the-pastor line!

Procrastes said...


This post has truly hit home. I have been a practicing Hellenic polytheist for well over a decade now and watched the rise of the polytheist community as well as the steady fraying of popular eclectic Neopaganism.

I have also followed, albeit silently, the online polytheist community and its "star bloggers" for just as long. Rhyd Wildermuth, I remember, was once lauded by some of the most prominent bloggers in the polytheist community for his descriptions of Celtic deities. It is a source of wry amusement now to watch how his politics have increasingly become a rallying cry for his own vision of what Paganism/polytheism should or should not be. It's also no coincidence that he seems to play off the suspicion that was already festering on the part of the larger Neopagan community toward those of us who experience the gods, goddesses and daimones as self-aware, independent entities. Many of those same "star bloggers" have called him out for his incendiary essay on the "Pagan New Right" but it remains to be seen what will happen next. In any event, the rest of us carry on honoring our deities.

May I also say that both The Archdruid Report and The Well of Galabes have been a source of inspiration for me (not to mention your inestimable A World Full of Gods!)? I've returned to studying the occult and, recently, Neoplationism, thanks in part to your writing.

With much admiration,

Eric S. said...

Well, that was fast. Rhyd has already drawn your name out in front of the tribunal:

"Oh snap! Got me a Spengler quoting Archdruid on my tale! (P.S. Spengler believed whites betrayed their culture by giving technology to blacks, and believed there were cultural qualities inherent in racial groups, and is a favorite of New Right ideologues)."

Meanwhile, and even more interestingly, right on schedule figures in the Secularist movement has gone from the usual passive aggressive bickering against the polytheist movement to full on attack mode of the circular firing squad variety directed at beloved leaders in the polytheist community (complete with highly charged images).

Logan said...

those are questions worth at least an entire post by themselves

Oh, quite! Or more likely a few reams of treatises and dissertations. I accept that the realities behind the appearances are not obvious, and difficult to get at.

But one realizes we cannot study macrobes scientifically the way we study microbes, because the macrobes are ex hypothesi smarter than us and can hide from us or deliberately confuse us. And they don't seem interested in holding press conferences or establishing diplomatic relations either...

A decade ago I was a believer in the Star Trek future and all its materialist eschatology.

Personally, I love Star Trek future. My only problem with it is that it's not physically plausible. Speaking of Star Trek, do you remember the one where they meet Apollo? Yeah, turns out the Olympians left Earth to travel the galaxy sometime before the end of the Greek dark age. If today's pantheon-revivalists can lure some of them back through psychospiritual influence, that would really be something. But I suspect they'd need to bloody up some altars to succeed.

Dean Smith said...


Very interesting article. It brings up some thoughts on the Gods and radicle (heh) politics that have been with me on and off for some time. Having been a part of fundy Christianity many years ago -and then denomination hopping a bit before giving up on Christianity all together- I noticed that whatever God seemed to be speaking to people in most instances lined up with what the individual’s politics or personal preferences were. Not all the time but most of it. And, it certainly NEVER went against how said church interpreted scripture. In other words “God” always toed the party and social lines of the congregation. I sometimes wonder if there is a “yahweh class” set of gods, and that each denomination has a different one speaking to them. I didn’t mean that in a derogatory way, just as someone who has adopted a polytheist outlook, it makes a good bit of sense to me.

After following the Neopagan goings on after reading the G&R’s article referenced in the comments section here I have been shocked to see that just as the fundy christians often have the “You must be in line with this set of right wing ideologies and on this side of various social issues or you are not a true bible believing Christian”, a large section of the Neopagan scene seems to be doing the same thing,
"You must be in line with this set of left wing ideologies and on this side of various social issues or you are not a true Neopagan.

I freely admit that I don’t know any Neopagans that I am aware of, and only encounter them when as you said in your post we frequent the same bookstores, and that I am forming my observation from only the vocal (blogging) part of the community, which amusingly enough to me all seem to be from the left coast.


John Michael Greer said...

Kevin, I was planning to discuss Evola here anyway down the road a bit -- as much to talk about where he ran off the rails as anything else -- and that gives me all the more reason to do so! ;-)

Stuart, I don't think your example is comparable; the Green movement isn't a systematic ideology, it's a general tendency with many different expressions, while Marxism is a systematic ideology from top to bottom. Throw out Marx's dismissal of religion and you've removed a core element of his theory of history, which leaves much of the rest of his theory unsupported. It's a bit like claiming to be a Christian and then saying you don't believe in God -- and yes, I know there was a short-lived movement of Christian atheism in the Sixties; the result still is "Christian" only in a very specialized sense.

Steven, oh, I don't think it bothers the gods at all. We're the ones who have to deal with it.

Eric, that's a very plausible historical parallel. If somebody out of the Neopagan scene gets into domestic terrorism, though, I doubt it'll be an Odinist skinhead -- that's already happened, courtesy of the Bruder Schweigen, and the response by the government was (deservedly) harsh enough that the whole movement seems to have blanched and decided to shelve its fantasies of race war for the time being. (You'll notice that the rest of the Heathen movement seems to have had no trouble distancing itself from the would-be revolutionaries.) No, my guess is that it'll be a bunch of Marxist Pagans who've convinced themselves that setting off a bomb in the lobby of some bank or other will bring on the Revolution. I have some thoughts about how to keep from being dragged down by buffoons of that sort, but those will want to wait for next month's post.

Sunfell, I certainly didn't mean to imply that all atheist Pagans are jerks! It's unfortunate that a significant number have brought the attitudes of Richard Dawkins et al. with them, but you're right, of course, that there are those who don't, and who deserve the same respect and courtesy as any other member of the community. As to your broader point, of course; events like these are common in the history of every religious movement, and getting through them intact serves an initiatory role for communities of faith. We'll see how this unfolds.

BoysMom, that's very good to hear! I seem to remember hearing something about turning to Jesus for salvation, instead of relying on the things of this world; if the former mainline denominations can follow that advice, it just might save them, too. ;-) Seriously, that's excellent news and I hope it catches on. The recognition that charity can't be left to the government any more strikes me as particularly crucial -- and particularly realistic.

Procrastes, thank you! Of course you're quite correct -- while the froth of politics rises and falls, maintaining our relationships with the divine (however conceived and expressed) really is the heart of the matter.

Eric, funny. Not that he can be bothered to get his facts straight, of course. Halstead's tirade is also a classic of its kind -- I'm probably going to recommend it to a friend of mine who teaches rhetoric, as a good example of how many logical fallacies and cheap shots you can pack into a single essay. Clearly Wildermuth is going to have serious competition in the demagogy sweepstakes!

Logan, exactly. We don't enter into diplomatic relations with blue-green algae, either!

John Michael Greer said...

Dean, I've long thought that there are a great many beings, some divine and some demonic, who answer to the name of Jesus. I've met plenty of devout Christians whose lives are clearly pervaded by a powerful, loving and benign spiritual presence; I've met plenty of others who are wallowing in a degree of hatred and hypocrisy that I don't think is entirely their doing. By their fruits ye shall know them... But you're right, also, that a large part of the eclectic Pagan scene seems to be turning into a mirror image of Christian (or pseudo-Christian) fundamentalism, with the same attitudes deployed on behalf of different political interests. What you contemplate, you imitate -- and too many people in the eclectic Pagan scene have spent so much time dwelling lovingly on the evils of Christian fundamentalism that it's no surprise they should begin acting out the same role.

gwizard43 said...

JMG, I've picked up both 'Learning Ritual Magic' and 'Paths of Wisdom' and am trying to figure out which to study first as an introductory text for learning occult philosophy and practice, with the intention of moving thereafter into engagement with the 'Celtic Golden Dawn' text and DOGD. Aside from reading your blogs, I'm a total novice at this occult business, so looking for some guidance as to what would make the most sense! TIA...

Eric S. said...

Re: domestic terrorism: I was trying to think of an example like that to balance it out, but it was hard to picture. My personal experience of the Marxists I've encountered have been of comfortable, middle class or wealthy types who don't know how to preach to anyone but their own choir. The seeds are there, the anger is definitely there (at least in the younger ones), but I just haven't seen them grow much in the way of serious teeth yet (an armed, organized, militarized, left wing movement in the US would be a sight, though.) Ultimately, which side becomes more revolutionary and does the first thing big enough to make history books probably depends on the directions the political winds blow this year.

Me: I'll be pickling my cucumbers, canning my squash, toasting my mealworms, practicing my sphere of protection, sitting outside in the sanctuary and meditating, doing reports on my various assigned books, studying, teaching, and doing ritual with my grove, helping out around my lodge (just got my third degree!), and most importantly communing with my gods... All while refusing to get forced into political discussions with people. (All that in short form: fiddling while Rome burns, I guess ;-) )

Eric S. said...

@gwizard: I'm helping my mother work through Learning Ritual Magic right now, and Paths of Wisdom is one of the textbooks for that course, and you'll be guided through it as a part of the work. (Along with a Rider Waite deck, Fortune's Mystical Cabbala, and Regardie's Tree of Life.) So start with that, it's 9 months of hard full time work (I don't dare take the course right now though I'm sure I will once I'm finished with the work I'm doing this year. I have, though, been adapting the step by step gradiating lesson plan style to my Druid studies because it makes it easier to organize) but it's all foundational basics.

My favorite thing about Greer's occult writing at least with his starting books like Learning Ritual Magic and the Druid Magic Handbook is the way he starts at places other books and correspondence courses just don't. Rather than giving you a basic core ritual and meditation right off and expecting you to intuitively know what is meant by phrases like "relax, breathe, and imagine a radiant light shining down from the heavens and filling your body," he starts from the assumption that you probably can't relax without slouching painfully down in a recliner, that you breathe from your chest, can barely maintain the attention span of a goldfish, much less imagine things, and can't even fathom the concept of life force, much less sense it, and goes from there, which means starting out with techniques on the "hold your hands parallel and just focus on your palms. Do this once a day" level of basics, building from there at a snail's pace.

Learning Ritual Magic, and the accompanying texts, I'd personally recommend as a prerequisite to the Celtic Golden Dawn, since the Celtic Golden Dawn starts right off with fully realized ritual and meditation, and then goes into its modified tree of life, all of which would probably be more meaningful if you had built up to it through the Learning Ritual Magic course first. But I'm sure Mr. Greer has his own recommendations.

Phil Harris said...

JMG & All
Theophanies (indirectly), egos, dogma & a Letter on Science in the Guardian 19th April –

Insights come in many forms, and to quote Alasdair MacIntyre on philosophy: “Arguments in philosophy rarely take the forms of proof … We can often [however] establish the truth in areas where no proofs are available.”

It is nearly three decades ago that I formulated from my own experience a personal view of scientific enquiry in our modern situation. I saw it as generating an ever expanding frontier – a growing ‘surface area’ like a cluster of numberless bubbles or a neo-cortex – that expanded enormously our thought contact with the unknown. This might not necessarily be the same for our experience of reality, whatever that is. For science, the unknown got bigger. Like Wordsworth on the lake rowing away from the hills who saw the mountain following him and become overpoweringly large, our task of knowing by scientific recording is beyond us.

I rather like this scrupulous view taken by a genuine materials scientist. I take his view to be complementary with my own. He used a recent seemingly fatuous internet generated joke to make what is clearly for him a long-held judgement:

“Science, like politics, is consumed by egos … Because science is often considered to be fact, if these facts take hold with fervour akin to religion, then all further questioning can become silenced. It should not be forgotten that all science rests precariously upon a complete unknowing of the absolute basics. … ” [my emphasis]

Phil H

Tidlösa said...

Could there be an overlap with the "SJW" phenomenon we (all of us!) argued about at "the other blog" during your absence? Why else would the heresy-hunters attack the heresy of non-support to left-liberal activism? Perhaps they are mimicking the SJWs? I agree that it will probably hurt them more than their opponents, since polytheism is a perennial human phenomenon (whatever else it might be), while politically inspired witch-hunts come and go. Since these people have no real hierarchies, and since most people can just walk away even from their egalitarian "lynch mobs" (what lynch mobs?), they will be left with shouting at each other (Circular Firing Squad!).

A shouting match between the Coven Workers Party and the Revolutionary Witches League would be something to behold...

The question of Marxism and religion is complex. ;-) I´m familiar with several people on the web and elsewhere who attempt to combine Marxism and religion. Historically, there have been others. For instance, the Swedish socialist Kata Dalström, who started out as a Christian and ended up as a Theosophist - and member of the Communist Party. People can be pretty eclectic. But I assume you were talking about the philosophy or the regimes, rather than individuals? If so, I agree that *consistent* Marxism is incompatible with religion (for many reasons). The Swedish Communists were denounced by Bolshevik leader Zinoviev for letting Kata become a member!

A repeat of my question from the last thread. Have you written more extensively on your views of reincarnation/metemphsychosis, for instance in some of your books?

Eargerly awaiting next month´s revelations on the Renaissance...

Tidlösa said...

Speaking to blue-green algae might be fascinating, though. I wonder how they feel about being reclassified as "cyanobacteria", ha ha! They might tell the biologist who made the reclassification where he could put his diplomatic relations...

BarefootAnthropologist said...

I must say, I find myself extremely perplexed by the reaction of many Pagan commentators - including you, John - to Rhyd's piece on the New Right. Even the more moderate pieces, like this article, mischaracterise their interlocutor(s), while the more outraged posters have stooped to doxxing friends of Rhyd himself. Surely such levels of acrimony are totally inappropriate.

One of the central assumptions shared by all those who resent what Rhyd wrote seems to be this: that pointing out connections between a system of belief and the New Right is an attack, or at least an insult, directed towards that system. A related assumption is that *any connection* with Far Right ideas is deemed by Rhyd himself (and the G&R authorship itself) as some great evil that must be expunged or abandoned. This has never been said, either in the original article or elsewhere, and is entirely in the minds of those who have reacted angrily.

Drawing attention to the overlaps between Far Right discourse, and other parts of the Western intellectual tradition has been going on within the academy for decades. Whether it's Zygmunt Bauman writing on how the holocaust was a quintessentially modern phenomenon, or Douglas Holmes writing about the vulnerabilities social anthropology has to the emerging New Right in Europe, it's practically a truth universally acknowledged. Through the Romantic movement - that was, after all, crucial to both the development of contemporary Paganism, and the form of recidivist nationalism that fuelled Nazism, it's been stated time and again that large swathes of Western thought are quite close to some rather nasty ideas. And nobody gets pilloried, mischaracterised, or castigated for making this point. At least, not in the academy.

Of course, I quite understand why Pagans might be sensitive about this: given the genuine mistreatment some Pagans do face in a countries where unconstitutional Christian hegemony is on the rise. But it is utterly imperative that this genuine concern is not allowed to balloon into free liscence not to behave reflexively and critically with respect to our own ideas, and how they might make us vulnerable to some quite unpleasant people (who are becoming increasingly influential and vocal internationally).

BarefootAnthropologist said...

But aside from this: I think your narrative of the decline of Paganism in America (and presumably elsewhere) has some notable omissions that, I suggest, are material to the trend about which you are speaking. Firstly, this date of 2007 for the turning of the tide has broader significance, does it not - this being the date for the financial crash, and when we arrived at a "new normal"? Admittedly this probably isn't the reason for Teo Bishop's conversion, but this certainly will have sapped the energy out of both the commercial and voluntaristic wings of the Pagan community - if people are low on cash, it's unlikely they will be able to pay for luxuries like books or retreats, or spend their increasingly scarce free time on running events or learning spellcraft.

Secondly, your conflation of Rhyd with eclectic Paganism is rather confusing, given the fact that he has been a prominent and outspoken defender of Polytheism for many years, often defending that minority against the criticism of eclectic leaders. He organised Many Gods West - a polytheist conference - and has spoken out numerous times against the characterisation of polytheism as "fundamentalist".

With that in mind, your characterisation of Rhyd as a demagogue rallying the eclectic masses against the minorities in their midst seems a little unsafe. Why would an ardent advocate for polytheism suddenly turn-tail and "attack" his own community? As I've said, I'm dubious about the assertion that pointing out potential vulnerabilities of a group you have defended, to an enemy you all oppose, counts as an attack anyway.

And we also have this idea that religion and politics are somehow irreconcilable opposites - when you lose the gods, you put politics in their place. As you surely already know, the idea that religion and politics are discrete spheres is a very recent idea - one that owes more to the Enlightenment desire amongst nonconformists (particularly deists and Quakers - who hardly place theistic gods in high esteem) to separate the State from Established Christian Churches, than to anything demonstrably pre-Christian. Everything is political - and the claim for a-political status especially so. As a very keen animist myself, I would stress that everything political, also has particular gods moving behind the scenes to push for that agenda.


What I think my resounding impression of this piece is a striking tone of Pagan exceptionalism - you seem to want to explain everything about this controversy in terms of internal tensions with the Pagan community, rather than with reference to anything outside of it. The Financial Crisis, the place of Paganisms within the broader Western Intellectual tradition (and connections with Right-wing thought and Enlightenment deism), both fall from view. I'd earnestly encourage you to be mindful of the extent to which all Pagan traditions intersect with broader trends in wider society, both good and bad, rather than merely focus on the minor turf-wars between fussy traditionalists and floaty eclectics. Because these divisions are as chaff before the greater flows of history in which we are all carried.

Colin Flood said...

This seems like a paranoid overreaction on your part. I can understand why you might be annoyed by his not-very-veiled and unfair reference to you, and I think saying Spengler is inherently right-wing is pretty ignorant, but it's a little ironic to spend an entire post talking about the threat posed by Wildermuth to paganism by accusing him of manufacturing threats to paganism.

Also, it's a little condescending to suggest a self-described Marxist might not know as much about Marxism as you. Maybe his extremely impoverished childhood contributed more to his Marxism than a desire for "shock value" which Marxism doesn't carry for people of his generation. As for "anarchist Marxist," well, if he had called himself an "autonomist Marxist" would that have sat better?

I don't know. Have you contacted Wildermuth with your concerns?

Coboarts said...

oo oo I can't wait to see a cage match between Rhyd Wildermuth and Augustus Invictus!

Eduard Florinescu said...

Dion Fortune's definition of magic is very similar to Aleister Crowley's definition of Magick, do you know perchance who borrowed from whom, or they have it both from Golden Dawn?

John Michael Greer said...

Gwizard43, Learning Ritual Magic is the beginner's book; Paths of Wisdom is intended for those who already have some background. One thing to keep in mind, though, is that the symbolism and rituals used in The Celtic Golden Dawn are significantly different from those in the Hermetic Golden Dawn, which is what Learning Ritual Magic covers; there's some overlap, but also some points where ideas and practices from one system don't mesh well with the other. Thus I'd encourage you to use those books for study, but when you're ready for practice, go to the beginning of The Celtic Golden Dawn and start there.

Eric, what you've described is a perfect snapshot of the New Left of the 1960s and 1970s, which gave rise to several domestic terrorist organizations in the US. They were pretty inept at the revolutionaries' trade, and never did learn how to convince anybody but themselves, but that didn't keep them from setting off bombs, shooting police officers, and -- in the case of the most colorful of the lot -- kidnapping Patty Hearst. I could easily see the current Neopagan Left heading down that same road.

Phil, thanks for this! It's good to see people in the scientific community admitting in public what they've discussed at length in private, i.e., that science is, in Nietzsche's neat phrase, "Human, all too human."

Tidlösa, yes, there seems to be a substantial overlap, at least in ideology, and I expect the Circular Firing Squad phase to arrive sooner rather than later. As for the blue-green algae, no doubt!

BarefootAnthropologist, it's frankly disingenuous of you to suggest that what Wildermuth was doing amounted to a dispassionate exploration of the connections between what he's labeled "the New Right" and the current Neopagan scene. The language he uses in his screed is the language of confrontation and attack -- please notice the first verb in the title, not to mention the straightforward evocation of violence against "fascists" in the image he chose to head it! -- not that of calm analysis. As I noted in my post, it's also telling that his list of Pagan traditions that he wants scrutinized for New Right influence focuses entirely on the minority traditions within the Neopagan movement and gives a free pass to eclectic Pagan groups. In the context of the rising tensions within the Neopagan scene between minority traditions and the eclectic mainstream, this is not a neutral act.

With regard to your charge of Pagan exceptionalism and the economic background to the ongoing decline of Neopaganism, I'd point out that there have been plenty of economiccrises since modern pop Neopaganism emerged in 1979, and none of them have caused the kind of accelerating decline we're seeing today. My analysis, for what it's worth, is based squarely on the idea that Neopaganism is not exceptional -- that it is following the same life cycle as other pop-culture religious movements in American history, going back to Colonial times. (On the off chance you missed it, you can read a more detailed discussion of this analysis here among other places.)

You're right, though, that the separation of politics and religion is a recent and also a rather fragile ideal. I'll be discussing that in more detail in an upcoming post, on the off chance you're interested.

John Michael Greer said...

Colin, it's a commonplace in the history of witch hunts of every kind that the first attempts to raise the alarm, and point out the parallels between what's going on and previous examples of the same phenomenon, are pooh-poohed as paranoid overreactions. As I noted in my my post, the proof of the pudding is in the eating; If Wildermuth backs down, abandons the rhetoric of demonization he's currently directing at minority traditions in the Neopagan scene, and avoids the next-step actions I mentioned, then I'll be delighted to retract my suggestion that he's trying to whip up a witch hunt. Until and unless that happens, a wary eye toward his activities is justified by the nature of the parallels I cited.

It's not condescending to raise an eyebrow when someone claims to be two incompatible things at the same time. I don't see it, for example, as condescending to have pointed out in a post on my other blog that a great many Christians these days are behaving in ways that flatly contradict the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth. It seems to me that if someone publicly claims to follow a given set of beliefs, and then acts in ways that don't fit those beliefs, the rest of us may reasonably mention that point -- and of course one doesn't have to be a Marxist, or a Christian, to have read extensively in the literature of either ideology.

Finally, it's decidedly disingenuous of you to ask whether I contacted Wildermuth with my concerns. Did you ask him whether he contacted me with his concerns about my quoting Oswald Spengler?

Coboarts, I'd probably buy a ticket for that. ;-)

Eduard, I'm pretty sure that Fortune took Crowley's definition and modified it by the addition of the words "of consciousness," but I can't prove that.

KKalbert said...

Hi, JMG and all:
I have no formal affiliation to any religious institution or groups, and no connections to paganism beyond reading this blog. But what you report in the article and commentary relates closely to something I observed as I spent most of the past two years reading widely and intensely about the origins of Christianity. One of the major conclusions I took away from it would seem to apply directly to what is reportedly going on at present among neo-pagans and polytheists. That is: Don’t agree to share the fate of folks you don’t agree with, for the sake of strength in numbers.

It would seem that the earliest known groups who worshiped Jesus, or Chrestus the Good God, did not start out as a single unified group, any more than pagans are a unified group. The Roman who persecuted Christians first used the name very loosely, and it isn’t all that clear whether they were talking about a schismatic sect or just some bunch of Jewish troublemakers. There was a Christianity widely practiced in Egypt that wasn’t the same as a Christianity practiced in Syria, or another in Asia Minor. There was a wide spectrum of flavors of Judaism and gnosticism and magic, that blended into Greco-Roman paganism and philosophies.

One excuse the Romans used to persecute “Christians” was that they were always causing public disturbances when arguments between adherents of different “Christian” sects turned into street fights.

My research made it pretty clear to me that one thing shared by most flavors of very early “Christianity” was a hostility to Roman imperial authority. The Romans had substantial reasons for persecuting these sects, but persecution did not succeed in making them disappear.

What succeeded in making Christianity into something Rome could live with, and proceed to use as a tool of imperial rule, was to force the various Christian groups to document their beliefs in scriptures, and then to force all of them to accept the SAME Scripture, which had meanwhile been edited and vetted by Rome. Roman bishops were imposed on congregations by force.

Those groups that played ball with the Roman authorities were given safety, monetary support, and authority in their communities. Those that did not change their ideology and practices to those promulgated from Rome were massacred and hounded out of the Empire.

THE STRATEGY WAS TO FORCE ALL OF THEM TO BE THE SAME, and then they could be forced to think and do what was acceptable to Rome.

Is something like that trying to happen in the pagan “community” at the moment?

BarefootAnthropologist said...

Hi John, thanks for your reply.

I'm not being disingenuous - I sincerely felt that what Rhyd was saying is quite reasonable, nor did his delivery strike me personally as particularly problematic. The graffiti that led the article is depicted a man chasing off a anthropomorphised swastika - a reference to Neo-Nazism - a sign that, based on what Rhyd recommended we do at the end (ask questions; ask our leaders to show leadership; work together; challenge divine revelation) to be metaphorical, rather than literal. To "confront" something is not necessarily a violent act; it can also mean to face up to a problem, especially a difficult one.

Clearly you and others did not feel the same, which is the way of things - people will interpret words differently. I totally respect this; and if you argued that the phrasing, symbolism, or tone adopted by Rhyd was unhelpful, I would have a lot more time for that. However, what I have seen is a lot of ad hominem attacks on Rhyd personally (calling him a demigogue, impious, an atheist shill etc.), and a lot of recourse being made to grand persecution narratives that (to my mind) don't quite hold water.

Rhyd does, of course, state that certain traditions are more vulnerable to the New Right than others (i.e. Reclaiming, Feri, OBOD are less prone). But this is not a criticism. Eclectic traditions may be less vulnerable to the New Right due to their egalitarian, open, and ecumenical quality - but these traits present their own vulnerabilities. I myself have argued this previously on Gods and Radicals. We all have our shadows, and the important thing is to acknowledge them, and take appropriate action.

I concede that the charge of "Pagan Exceptionalism" was unfair, so I'll readily retract that - you do put this process in a bigger context. But I think the way you sketch that context is still very dependent upon a distinction between politics and religion (and is reduceable to those two categories); and this allows you to situate internal tensions within Paganism in a way that occludes more powerful, wider trends - such as the rise of the New Right, and changing economic circumstances. I wonder if this might be why you consider Rhyd's basic exhortation to be so unreasonable - you don't yourself accept the political economic trends that for people like Rhyd and myself are so significant.

On that final point, I will stress that the economic crises we have seen prior to 2007 were part of a cumulative process of disenfranchisement by the rich of the middle and working classes since the 1980s. Also, the 2007 crash coincided with the rise of the internet as a major competitor for bookshops, training courses, and non-virtual social events - many occult bookshops were already struggling by 2007; the crisis pushed many of them over the edge. Here in Britain, we're observing many similar trends of decline in the Pagan community, despite having a profoundly different religious landscape (many of the movements you sketch out in your article didn't reach these shores). We do, however, share a common political and economic regime; namely, that of Neoliberalism - whose imminent failure is a sop to the New Right.

It's Jonathan (Woolley) here - sorry, I thought my Google account would use my name. I wasn't trying to post anonymously!

Karim said...

Greetings all!

I fear I might be saying something really stupid there, I shall take the risk nevertheless.

JMG wrote: "With luck, they’ll only be the ashes of failed dreams; they could be something rather grimmer, if things go as badly wrong as I fear they might. Still, we’ll see. "

It seems to me that there is a significant cross over between this months's galabes blog and the other blog about demagogy and the privilege game.

With reference to what JMG has written above in the quote, why would the rise of a potential demagogue within a fringe religious movement in the US portend something grimmer? For whom? and Why?

Surely the reach of such a potential demagogue is sharply self limited? Or am I missing out on something there?

Varun Bhaskar said...


I don't keep track of the goings on in the local pagan communities since I'm a lone practitioning Hindu, but I do have lots of friends in minority groupings. Thanks for heads up, I'll keep my eyes and ears open for this fellow and his followers.

John Michael Greer said...

KKalbert, I don't think so. Rather, it's a phenomenon that very often happens when pop-culture religious movements peak and begin to decline. Such movements are often very diffuse and diverse in their growth phase, but once contraction sets in, there tends to be a push toward conformity, a sort of "circling the wagons" mentality that ironically often succeeds in accelerating the decline by driving people away.

BarefootAnthropologist, it fascinates me that you're so quick to dismiss the concerns of Wildermuth's critics as "persecution narratives," but somehow don't notice the rhetoric of demonization that pervades his piece; if you're not being disingenuous, you've got a remarkable talent for selective reading. I also notice that your description of the graphic that headed his article neglects to mention one very salient point -- the person going after the anthropomorphic swastika is trying to hit it with a very large club. If the anthropomorphic swastika had been brandishing the club, I suspect you'd see the obvious reference to physical violence that image conveys!

With regard to the distinction between politics and religion, as already noted, yes, I consider that distinction both valid and important; the reasons for that, again, will be covered in an upcoming post here on Well of Galabes. I've written at quite some length about the upcoming shifts in political and economic conditions as US global hegemony comes apart -- most of this is on my other blog, The Archdruid Report, which has been offering weekly commentary on current affairs and the future of industrial society for just short of a decade now -- and I consider those extremely important; I would simply argue that religion as such, as distinct from politics, is also extremely important, and attempts to conflate the two in complex societies have very well-known and well-documented downsides. More on this in the upcoming post just mentioned.

Karim, I doubt it'll get far beyond the Neopagan community, though I could be wrong -- it's happened more than once that a demagogue in a fringe community has built up enough of a following, and developed enough of a taste for power, to move out into the mainstream and go for power on a larger scale. My point was that even on a small scale, the kind of demagogy Wildermuth is engaged in can ruin lives, shatter human relationships, and tear apart communities.

Varun, probably a good idea. I wouldn't be a bit surprised if they start denouncing members of other religions, yours among them.

John Roth said...


There are some rhetorical moves that go right past a lot of people and that serve as red flags for others. The one I noticed in a quick reading was the habit of calling out various groups and then saying "well, not really." To me that's a red flag - he's saying something and then covering himself with plausible deniability. People process this kind of rhetorical thaumaturgy differently: some people will get what he's saying and ignore the denial, some people will see the denial and scrub what he said, some will think they scrubbed what he said but let it sink into the background, and some will see the trope and draw their own conclusions about the goals of someone who would use it.

Ray Wharton said...

The use of a fist in the emblem does raise an eye brow. I also find some humor in the resemblance of the tree to Fred Haliot's symbol from one of your much earlier writings.

I find it very difficult to give a through thought on Rhyd's writings, for me they feel very fnord stuffed. It takes a considerable expenditure of will to give these words a good critical reading. It is also over difficult for me to tell if this is common place over heater rhetoric, or if it is symptomatic of something more dangerous. Something that IS dangerous is how over heated rhetoric is from all sides, times being as they are. It makes it more difficult to actually tell how radical a writer is being, and if they, as Nietzsche put it, like to play with fire, and stakes. Even very soft hearted people put on airs.

I think that focusing too narrowly on one writer or article misses the point, unless there is fuel a match cannot start a forest fire, regardless of its strikers intent. If there is enough fuel, a match can start a forest fire, again regardless of original intent.

I think that seeing danger signs of destructive radicalism should be, to the wise, a reminder to focus on a personal practice of patience and compassion, which is useful regardless of the uncertainties. Also vigilance, though not with before patience and compassion. If enough people of good will cultivate and propagate those virtues I believe that much can be tempered.

I certainly bristle at the article, I feel as though values I hold, which aren't 'new right' or fascist at all, thank you very much, are being compared to fascists in a way that makes me feel annoyed.

Bill Pulliam said...

Now, when I read that, what I see is the same thing that is happening in virtually every arena of society and social discourse now in the Internet Age. These screeds rants and witchhunts seem to be the norm everywhere now. This is not meant to be dismissive, not at all. I think this is perhaps the biggest problem faced in just about every facet of society. Those ashen winds are blowing through everyone's meadow, the neopagans are not necesarily any more (or LESS!) in danger than everyone else.

I had a friend who was instrumental in the initial development of the iPhone. He found it a fascinating technical project to be a part of. Years later as he saw what the ubiquitous mobile device was doing to mainstream society, he expressed regrets to me that he had helped unleash this on the world. When people wonder what has happened to societal & political discourse and functioning in the 21st Century, I want to paraphrase Bill Clinton: It's the Internet, stupid.

Those of us who actually believe in these things as real things, not just metaphorical intellectual contructs... well, society can burn to the ground and we'll still have them (even if we are hungry, cold, homeless, and ostracized)

Ray Wharton said...

"co-opt Indigenous and First Nations language regarding sovereignty without actual alliance with post-colonial and anti-colonial politics."

Some Navajo humor concerning 'anti-colonial politics' comes to mind, but it doesn't render well in English.

"criticise modern civilization as being in a state of ‘decay.’" exists.

"claim they are working for the liberation of all separate people groups. The key word here is separate."


"Pre-modern traditions."

Yeah... That's a broad brush... includes pre-colonial traditions.

"The New Right creates group identity and coherence through focusing on external human threats."

Interesting that you say that...

"‘association’ tends to be much more useful."

That's a little spooky.

"There are several primary antagonisms between us and the New Right, and we’re quite proud of these. What we stand for is quite often a threat to their influence, and we intend to keep it that way."

Can you say 'creates group identity and coherence through focusing on external human threats?' Oh wait, you DID!

"Hierarchies are artificial: for instance, what’s the hierarchy of a forest? The notion of natural hierarchies is very problematic... Human relationships should always be egalitarian, or as egalitarian as possible, and every assumption about innate and natural authority or position must be dismantled."

I wonder where this writer lives, the forests there are quite different from the forests where I live, with a pecking order for water and light. Branches twist in a slow dance of contested rights for sun, and tree size speaks of victors! This concerns me as describing something which I have observed in most human groups as being "artificial, problematic." Stating that human relations should only be egalitarian as possible, and that ahem my position must be 'dismantled'. You can debate and disagree with my skepticism with egalitarian absolutism, but please do not dismantle it.

"their need to have external enemies to create group coherence." right before saying "we at Gods&Radicals insist on the fact that the dichotomy of who’s in and who’s out is always dangerous."

Do you notsee the problem with this?

"if another group is ‘the enemy,’ consider asking why. Isolation is an essential part of authoritarian cults" "

This, in a call for unity against 'The New Right'. But, point granted, it is "a great way to ensure group-think."

The call for action amounts to directions to engage in disruptive behavior. Trolling, or escalation baiting. The part of me that misses being in middle school is really interested in that.

I have so much trouble taking it seriously. But on the other hand I remember being into junk like this as a teenager, and it is amazing how effective it can be. But, I don't know how conscious this is of being a comedic parody of the threat it presents. The danger exists if there are a group that want to act on it. The danger most likely being that a lot of social groups would turn into cruel bickering and collapse into mutual paranoia. That's sad, are these groups really that unwell? I hope nothing to intense come from all of this. I have run into folks that are really into this 'anti-heiarchy' theme, it can turn ugly and dyfunctional super fast. Good friends mind you. Just, much can't be talked about with out getting REALLY strong reactions.

Is there that much fear about what they describe as the 'new right'? I know what scary purity rubbish can be, but I feel like A LOT that is not at all like the scary bits is getting thrown in with their signs for recognizing a 'New Right'.

John Michael Greer said...

Ray, oh, granted, it's not just one person. That's why I tried to put Wildermuth's screed into the context of the waning of pop-culture Neopaganism; as I see it, that's one of the main forces that has heaped up fuel around this particular stake.

Bill, no argument there at all. If I were involved in some other community, no doubt I'd have plenty of other good examples to discuss.

Ray, excellent! A good close reading, and one that points up a good many of the egregious doublebinds in the essay. Thank you; you get tonight's gold star with a complimentary Fnord remover.

Richard said...

I really, really wanted to like Gods and Radicals. I thought it had some promise in the beginning, but in time that waned as it only seemed capable of critiquing modernity using decidedly modern methods. There is an irony they seemed to have missed, that you can't really debunk a progressive view of history using progressive morals and filters. It's like seeing people pick apart a view of good and evil as incorrect by using a Manichean divide. And much of the writing is like that; muddied, unclear, and confused. It clunks along using a pastiche of Marx, Kropotkin, and Neopagan imagery with no clear idea of where it really wants to go.

BarefootAnthropologist said...

Hi John,

It's not that I don't notice the parts of the text that you interpret as demonizing, it's just that I disagree with your interpretation. Let's look at this with reference to the person chasing the anthropomorphic swastika with the aforementioned large club. You take this to symbolise violent intent against the groups critiqued in the article, whereas I do not. Sure, the image itself is violent, but it's explicitly symbolising violence against Nazism (something that I'm sure we all agree is defensible under certain circumstances), not violence against any other group. Clearly, we need further context to understand what the use of this image is meant to convey.

For this to be a represent the need to persecute other pagans, Rhyd would presumably need to a) actively conflate those groups with nazis (or at least the new right) and b) call for persecution of those groups directly. In terms of the steps he recommends to the reader towards the end of the essay, we see he calls the reader to ask questions, work with those outside of their tradition, and ask for leadership from their leaders. This falls far short of incitement, and to me seems like steps to encourage a respectful yet inquiring culture that I'm sure we'd all value.

BarefootAnthropologist said...

Now this could be - as has been claimed in the comments here - a figleaf for a deeper agenda to promote hostility towards the groups cited in the article. Which begs the question; does Rhyd conflate or equate the New Right, and certain Pagan traditions?

"some core ideas that are common in most New Right thinkers... modern civilization as being in a state of ‘decay'... European peoples as part of a coherent racial, ethnic, and/or cultural group whose fates are tied together and are separate from other peoples... humanity must embrace pre-modern traditions, be those Christian, Pagan, Polytheist, or Heathen... Nationalist identity through relationship to land (European lands, primarily)... group identity and coherence through focusing on external human threats."

"Before continuing, it is important to note that the presence of New Right ideas in any Pagan or Magical Tradition does not mean the tradition itself is part of the New Right. Often times the adoption of these ideas is unconscious, particularly since many advocates of New Right ideology do not present their ideas as part of a political stance."

"Again, it should be noted that none of these traditions are inherently aligned with the New Right. There are also many traditions which, because of their emphasis on egalitarianism and non-hierarchy (OBOD, Reclaiming, Feri, for instance) are much more immune to the New Right’s influence."

These sentences - topping and tailing his brief commentary of Reconstructionism, Dianic Wicca, and the rest - have a very clear meaning: the New Right utilises certain ideas that are also shared by certain pagan groups; yet being influenced by the New Right in these ways does not make you New Right; and being egalitarian and non-hierarchical gives you *some* immunity, but not complete immunity to this influence. This did not look to me like putting OBOD and Reclaiming on pedestals, whilst castigating (and advocating a witch hunt against) the ADF or Gardnerian Wicca. It draws a clear, but not unqualified distinction between the traditions he mentions, and the Right wing ideas he rejects and calls upon us to strongly oppose too. If Rhyd intends to communicate a) with this section instead, he makes it very hard to get there - you'd need to explicitly quote his statements simplistically and selectively in order to do so.

To my mind, the statements I've quoted above contextualise and qualify the image from the header of the article. It's of course sensible to oppose Nazis strongly - and so, by extension we should be equally resolute in opposing their subtler influence on our own ideas.

I think Ray hit the nail on the head above when he said that "I certainly bristle at the article, I feel as though values I hold, which aren't 'new right' or fascist at all, thank you very much, are being compared to fascists in a way that makes me feel annoyed." He, like all of you I think, resents the implication that he might have anything in common with the New Right. Well, I'm sorry Ray - you do. We all do. Nobody likes being called out, but it's vital and necessary that we cultivate the humility and reflexivity to acknowledge our own weaknesses and shortcomings - lest we fall victim to hubris; which is, after all, the only cardinal sin of the Classical World.

BarefootAnthropologist said...

Also John, as far as the dangers of "conflating" religion and politics are concerned - I've always found it curious how Americans insist on the separation of church and state with such vigour, and yet hail from one of the most extremely fundamentalist societies on Earth, whereas European countries with established churches are far more gentle in their spiritual proclivities. I would suggest the problem is less whether or not you live in a theocracy, but rather the kind of politico-religious sentiments expressed by whatever society you are in. I would even go as far to say that - if American politics can be taken as instructive - the separation of politics and religion serves as a convenient species of bad faith; allowing people to mask the co-implicatedness of their religious and political values under a veil of formal separation. But I guess we'll have to disagree violently on that point too.

John Roth - I don't think Rhyd is angling for plausible deniability in the way that you suggest. As I've explored above, he's not calling out the groups he deals with as New Right; but he's explaining how they might be influenced by ideas they share with the New Right. It's a subtle difference, but an important one. To help make this clear, I've drawn a handy venn diagram: Let me know if this doesn't work!

Eric S. said...

Looking at Ray's detailed pick through of the piece, and some of the defenses I've seen of it come through in the comment threads here (and in other forums where it has been discussed), one of the concepts I keep finding myself thinking of is the concept of gaslighting, which was initially used to describe abuse in domestic relationships, but has also been used to analyse patterns in cult abuse, as well: Ray, John, and others have pointed out the way that mixed in with the call for community policing of leaders and members, there is also a habit of calling out various groups and then claiming that those groups aren't being called out at all "I'm not saying ADF and AODA members are actually part of the New Right, I'm just saying they've unconsciously gotten infected by new right ideas and need to do some critical self-reflection” (and then providing a list of new right ideas that range from the commonly held to the abhorrent without parsing them, to add further confusion). It plants self-doubt in anyone identifying with any of those traditions as to their own character, their motivations, and sense of morality…

There’s also a difference in attitudes towards dissident opinions. I recall, in a discussion that someone e-mailed me a screen-cap of regarding a Facebook discussion on an Archdruid Report post back in January involving Rhyd and a few other Gods and Radicals people, in which they were discussing your willingness to tolerate certain people who comment on there espousing open allegiance with certain radical rightwing ideologies, and disseminate it on threads like Return of Kings, Oathkeepers, and similar places to advance various arguments that racial equality, gender rights, and religious freedom, multiculturalism, etcetera are the real root causes of all civilization’s problems, and that you not only don’t denounce but occasionally pander to “folksy” attitudes. They went on to proudly discuss how they had through shunning, callouts, and harsh denouncements managed to drive away a vast assortment of activists aligned with an environmental movement rooted in deep ecology and anarcho-primitivism called “deep green resistance” because of right wing ideologies that had infiltrated the attitudes of some of their leaders, and had made it official policy to distance themselves from any potential association with DGR despite philosophical overlap. Any engagement or agreement with someone with ugly attitudes is treated as complete endorsement.

One encouraging thing to me, is that Bill’s observations about the causes of this also says something about the scope. It seems to be restricted entirely to the amalgam of blogs, forums, social networking sites, newsrooms and big national festivals (of the pantheacon variety) that constitute the online pagan network, and doesn’t even seem to brush with local groups or even with local or tradition specific festivals. It seems like the witch-hunts politics, and infighting might cause a messy implosion of that scene, and possibly grim realities of the sort you’ve warned about in the cities and regions most tied to the neopagan scene (the Bay area in California, the Paganistan scene of Twin Cities Wisconsin, etcetera), but everyone else seems to have their own scenes, with their own unique quirks and political disputes. And the international Pagan scene is mostly a source of interesting ideas that are discussed in the same way we might discuss the latest film or news event from afar. An implosion of that scene into infighting and witch hunting would mean the loss of some conversations that have offered up some engaging conversations over the year, but most of us will just shrug and move on. And most of our direct communities don't really even follow the international Pagan network, we're too focused on the conversations that matter to us on a local level.

Stuart said...

There's a common and troublesome perspective on politics that I think Halstead's post exemplifies. "Fallacy" might be too small or unfair a word for it, but it's this: one begins by saying "everything is political," which is important and hard to deny, and ends by saying that we must act within a particular magic circle of "politics" as the author sees it, the only alternative being a pietist withdrawal from "the world." That is, in essence, "everything has political consequences but only the things I recognise as political actions are valid responses to political problems."

And if the author is passionate about responding to those problems, as Halstead and the G&R folks clearly are, then it's nearly impossible to resist a form of Starhawking as the next step: "I don't recognise your religious practices as political action, so they need to take a back seat to the political actions I recommend." Or, "I don't see how your ideas address the political problems, so they're hostile and need to be stamped out." Or, "within the magic circle of politics as I see it, you're not pulling for me, so you must be an enemy." Ironically, it's a way of making the world smaller and less magical, the drive to a monologic frame.

What Beckett gets and the others seem not to is that prayer and service to the gods, or devotion to a nontheist ethical or magical vision, has the virtue of shaping one's environment in ways that enable or effect political action, that is, action that addresses political problems. Not only does this form of action complement and support "political action" in the magic circle sense, depending on the problems and objectives it may well be the most or only effective route. Certainly "Long Descent druidry" is more likely to achieve anti-capitalist and re-enchanting aims than is a game of political tokens.

The G&R piece reflects either ill will or the grip of this fallacy. Either way, it's an affront to the spiritual anarchy its author and I both endorse. I hope no one acts on it.

Dammerung said...

As a barely-present member of an already loose-knit spiritual counterculture, I read his rant and can hardly type this out for the yawns. I can't see this kind of attitude rising to the level of carnival sideshow let alone genuine threat. Of course, I'm not really much of an attendee, and maybe this sort of divisiveness is making inroads with those who are?

I think this is the reaction of a dyed-in-the-wool SJW to the fact that some Pagans are alt-right, as if there's some incantation of liberal talking points that will make all conservatism go away forever. I've definitely started to warm to the idea that there's a certain biological or psychological foundation for why people identify as liberals or conservatives. Conservatives don't, as far as I can tell, generally delude themselves to the idea that liberals are going away any time soon. We might not agree with liberal methods but nobody I know on the young right (what he perhaps means with his use of "new") thinks that the character or values of liberals have been driven to the threshold of extinction. The left is not always so even-keeled. This guy seems like one of those liberals who believes that we're on the cusp of some new, tolerant, and eternal dawn, if only we could get rid of all those darn Trump supporters ruining everything with all their not agreeing and their Rare Pepes.

But really I'm not worried. This guy is simply not a credible threat, because I see no possibility that he's going to show up on my doorstep one day with a couple red flag waving goons and demand to confiscate my guns, gold, and copy of The White Goddess.

Yellow Submarine said...

I too would pay good money to see a cage match between Rhyd Wildermuth and Augustus Invictus, although a mud wrestling contest might be more appropriate ;-)

Speaking of Invictus and cage fights, have you seen this? It seems one of his third party rivals challenged him to a cage match and Invictus accepted. Paul Waggener over at Operation Werewolf writes

Too good not to share. Controversial Senate candidate Augustus Invictus, in true ancient Roman fashion, has accepted a challenge from another Senate candidate to an MMA fight (we couldn't make this up!). Mr. Invictus will be using "My Name is Gladiator" as his official training regimen. We wish him much luck in his gladiatorial debut.

Ray Wharton said...

"I think Ray hit the nail on the head above when he said that "I certainly bristle at the article, I feel as though values I hold, which aren't 'new right' or fascist at all, thank you very much, are being compared to fascists in a way that makes me feel annoyed." He, like all of you I think, resents the implication that he might have anything in common with the New Right. Well, I'm sorry Ray - you do. We all do. Nobody likes being called out, but it's vital and necessary that we cultivate the humility and reflexivity to acknowledge our own weaknesses and shortcomings - lest we fall victim to hubris; which is, after all, the only cardinal sin of the Classical World."

I don't have any issue with having 'anything' in common with the New Right. In fact there are countless things I must have in common with them by our shared humanity, for good and for ill. Being resentful of our own humanity is not healthy, though sometimes others might show manifestations of it which are a warning of the possibility of unappealing manifestations. Beyond what I must have in common with the New Right there is much more which I happen to have in common with the, all of us really are in this boat; that label, which has the accent of untermench in the tone of your comment, represents a wide diversity of characteristics some of which have the potential of being dangerous like the Nazi's of past, and other bits which are charming in the way that every human culture has its own charms. But frankly, I don't know very much about this 'New Right' or more specifically what is is meant to mean.

What I do know is that the New Right is to be associated with Nazism and that according to some commentators on this very blog "violence against Nazism [is] something that I'm sure we all agree is defensible under certain circumstances". That is the reason that I feel annoyed by the article, is because it associates millions of innocent people with the crimes of a group long gone.

What specific crime is the justification of this anti-nazi attitude? I think, correct me if I am wrong, the crime that places Nazi in a special categorize of 'bad guys' was to murder over ten million people for not fitting into their vision for a society. Terrible crime no doubt, the kind of crime that makes blood fire up in disgust, that stokes the passions of horror. And also not at all the same thing as finding our society to be decadent, liking non cosmopolitan social structures, embracing pre-modern (and pre colonial) traditions, trying to connect to the land, or even having enemies, or even (parish the thought) reading Oswald Spengler.

I find our society decadent, don't thrive in cosmopolitan settings, celebrate pre-modern traditions (traditions from many continents I seek to humbly learn from in creating an identity for a de-modernized future), work the land most day in my own community or serving Navajo elders in the Dineta, feel threatened by people and feel justified in that feeling by history: but work on that by seeking to open lines of communication or by giving people space as I venture deeper into lands too harsh for others, and I read tons of Spengler.

Surprisingly, I do not advocate the murder of any group or way of life, and am most charmed by those ways which are modest and leave most of the world open to other values, holding only the space they need. Not only that, I don't do... wait, other than being associated, by the article, with Nazi's, what is the bad thing that the group does. This is like one of those Marxist trials where I don't even know what I am being accused of.

Barefoot, I don't mind being, as you say, called out, some of my most valued memories are of being called out, but I take it as a kindness if my prosecutor PRESENTS the CHARGES!

Logan said...

@Stuart and others:

This whole thing about being criticized for being insufficiently political reminds me of a fine passage in Orwell's long essay Inside the Whale, which I'll attempt to lift out of context:

Mr E. M. Forster has described how in 1917 he read Prufrock and other of Eliot’s early poems, and how it heartened him at such a time to get hold of poems that were 'innocent of public-spiritedness':

"They sang of private disgust and diffidence, and of people who seemed genuine because they were unattractive or weak... Here was a protest, and a feeble one, and the more congenial for being feeble. ... He who could turn aside to complain of ladies and drawing rooms preserved a tiny drop of our self-respect, he carried on the human heritage."

... The truth is that in 1917 there was nothing that a thinking and a sensitive person could do, except to remain human, if possible. ... I should have felt, like Mr Forster, that by simply standing aloof and keeping touch with pre-war emotions, Eliot was carrying on the human heritage. What a relief it would have been at such a time, to read about the hesitations of a middle-aged highbrow with a bald spot! So different from bayonet-drill! After the bombs and the food-queues and the recruiting-posters, a human voice! What a relief!


...if only we could get rid of all those darn Trump supporters ruining everything with all their not agreeing and their Rare Pepes.

You bring a kek to my heart, sir. And as far as I undertand the metaphysic of this blog (which is not far), "THE MEMES ARE REAL" might as well be a maxim of the modern magician as of the 4chan denizen. Of course, the memes being real, we must be careful not to spend too much time with the ****posters, lest the evil therein consume our souls.

Ray Wharton said...

I have been looking at the end advice, and what it is. I stand by the earlier claim I made that it amounts to trolling, but I wanted to propose a mental test.

If one were to respond to the 'Confronting the New Right' article with their own steps.

Ask Uncomfortable Questions. Are you crypto-Stalinists? What questions? To what end? What answers should we listen for? How are we to use an answer if it is incriminating? What does this accomplish?

Demand Clear Stances from Leaders. Should my group allow in New Right or Neo Radical members? What is the danger the New Right Presents? How would you protect us from that threat?

Build strong connections across traditions. Form alliances to resist and undermine groups which seek to persecute external enemies. Draw more people into the circular firing squad.

Challenge Divine Proclamations. What are these divine proclamations?

It all amounts to trolling. Trolling causes groups of people who are exposed to it to stop having any fun, and to find a better thing to do with the evening. A leader thus trolled will either eventually loose his power, or will respond to counter act the trolling. If that response is an escalation there could be schisms. I don't know if or how things would escalate from there.

John Michael Greer said...

Richard, that's the besetting sin of modern fashionable radicalism. Spengler, if I may wave a red flag in front of an assortment of bulls, was spot on here as usual; he pointed out that as our civilization tips further into decline, ideology becomes incoherent and finally vanishes as political struggles become entirely a matter of one charismatic leader whipping up a mob against another.

BarefootAnthropologist, okay, now we're getting somewhere. You've admitted that the imagery Wildermuth chose to head his article is an evocation of violence. The fact that it's symbolically directed against Nazism, to me, simply raises the question of where Wildermuth expects to find Nazis to club into submission. I notice with some interest that inn cherrypicking quotes from his screed, you didn't see fit to mention that he also talks about “New Right aligned Pagans,” who are “hiding their political goals behind claims that they’re ‘apolitical’.” Perhaps, as you suggest, he doesn't mean to target entire traditions, but the phrasing just mentioned makes it clear that he's entirely willing to target individuals for clubbing -- perhaps "'Long Descent' druids" who quote Spengler?

Now let's take another look at the way he's singled out some traditions as infected with subversive New Right ideas, and given others a free pass. Some of his attributions here are specious in the extreme -- for example, devotional polytheists are probably the least likely people in the Neopagan scene to fall into line behind some sort of New Right banner, precisely because of the feature he considers most suspicious: they listen to their gods. If I were to announce, let's say, that the toad god Tsathoggua had told me that it was time to drive the atheists out of Neopaganism, you know as well as I do that a hundred other Tsathoggua worshippers would pop up and say, "That's not what he said to me."

In point of historical fact, authoritarian regimes are always hostile to religious traditions that encourage individuals to have direct, unmediated contact with divinities, precisely because it's so much harder to make such people follow the party line. I'm quite sure Wildermuth knows this -- he was involved in the polytheist scene for some time, before he turned on it -- and he knows that it's much less vulnerable to authoritarian thinking than some of the other traditions he didn't classify as suspect. Why?

The explanation I offer in my post is the only one, I think, that makes sense of his action: the devotional polytheists are a minority in the Neopagan scene, they're vulnerable, they've already been on the receiving end of quite a bit of hostility from the eclectic Pagans, and if he targets them for his witch hunt, a great many eclectic Pagans will shrug and let it happen because they're not the victims. That's a bad move, of course, but a lot of people fall for it. "At first they came for the devotional polytheists, and I didn't say anything, because I wasn't a devotional polytheist..."

As for the separation of religion and politics, as I said, I'll be discussing that in an upcoming post, and we can talk about it once that's up.

Eric, oh, I know. When three left-wing radicals in America today sit down at a table, the first order of business is for two of them to find some excuse to shout insults at the third until he leaves. Then they wonder why they can't build a coalition large enough to accomplish anything.

John Michael Greer said...

Stuart, exactly. The argument starts out claiming that "everything is political" and then covertly reverses that into "politics is everything," meaning in practice that everything is subordinated to a particular political agenda. Three-quarters of a century ago, there was a word for the kind of movement that called for every other sphere of human life -- religious, cultural, scientific, creative, personal -- to be judged first and foremost by the touchstone of a particular political creed. That word was "totalitarian." It may be time to put it back into circulation.

Dammerung, funny. I don't think it's biological, for whatever that's worth; I think it's inherent in the ideology. The Left from its inception has been committed to the notion that there's some abstract formula or other that will result in heaven on earth, while the Right from its inception has been committed to a rejection of that thesis. In both cases, that's the spring from which the entire movement flows -- and that's the reason why the so-called Neoconservatives and their ilk aren't actually conservatives at all, they're a sort of inverse Marxist, as though you took a Soviet-era tract on what the wicked capitalists are like and decided to adopt it as your self-image.

Submarine, no, I hadn't heard of that! Maybe Wildermuth will do a cage match with one of the other big-name Marxist Pagans, with the winner to take on the winner of the fight between Invictus and his rival. There's got to be a worthy cause that could use the financial boost from selling tickets...

Ray, of course it's trolling. Wildermuth and some of his defenders are doing the rabid attack troll schtick, and the rest of his defenders are doing the how-could-you-say-that-about-poor-Rhyd schtick, slipping and sliding all over the rhetorical landscape in their attempts to wiggle away from the straightforward meaning of Wildermuth's screed. Don't let it get to you.

James M. Jensen II said...


"In point of historical fact, authoritarian regimes are always hostile to religious traditions that encourage individuals to have direct, unmediated contact with divinities, precisely because it's so much harder to make such people follow the party line."

I find this an interesting point, since I was looking at /r/asatru recently and saw many comments on multiple posts from multiple users to the extent that a personal relationship with gods was impossible in Heathenry, since their gods related to communities rather than individuals. Only one lone user (/u/TryUsingScience) rebutted that this was a minority position that was overrepresented there, and that there was literally no evidence one way or the other whether this was the case for the ancient heathens.

This struck me as a very strange idea, for the simple reason that it's just demonstrably false. Plenty of heathens have personal relations with their gods. /u/TryUsingScience seemed to think that it was a reaction to Christianity's emphasis on a personal relationship. Then again, reconstructionists in general seem to take offense to anyone relating to their gods in any way they don't approve of -- as you've mentioned re: your own experiences with Celtic reconstructionists.

Personally, I can't imagining feeling that kind of ownership over the gods. It seems to me that they can accept or reject whomever they want, and aren't about to consult my feelings on the matter.

I'm not sure I have a point to make here, but this seemed worth mentioning.

BarefootAnthropologist said...

John - As said above, totally agree that we're getting somewhere!

The key bit to what you said - "I notice with some interest that inn cherrypicking quotes from his screed, you didn't see fit to mention that he also talks about “New Right aligned Pagans,” who are “hiding their political goals behind claims that they’re ‘apolitical’.” Perhaps, as you suggest, he doesn't mean to target entire traditions, but the phrasing just mentioned makes it clear that he's entirely willing to target individuals for clubbing -- perhaps "'Long Descent' druids" who quote Spengler?"

In terms of who Rhyd was referring to about ostensible apolitical Pagans who actually have quite far right opinions, my impression is he was referring more to Stephen McNallen and Alain de Benoist (who he specifically mentions in his piece) - both of whom are actual fascists. Actual clubbing of them isn't called for either (I don't think they - unlike the Nazis - have advocated violence), but I think that the symbol still works when viewed metaphorically. We should mount trenchant opposition to them and their ideas.

I certainly didn't get the impression he was suggesting that anybody who reads Spengler is a a member of the new right :P As I've argued already, Rhyd makes it quite clear that being influenced by ideas popular amongst the New Right, does not necessarily make you New Right yourself. However, you need to show due care when drawing on such material. Within anthropology, we'd say the same thing about such scholars as Nietzsche and Heidegger. Though Michel Foucault draws on Nietzsche, and Tim Ingold draws on Heidegger, it's quite clear neither of Foucault or Ingold are part of the far right because they've made it clear that they're drawing on those scholars critically and selectively. I fail to see the problem with holding Pagans to the same standard, if they want to read Spengler.

If you want to cleave to the idea that symbols like that are *inherently* violent, we might as well sanitise our practices of all such symbolism - you should put away your staff, because it's potentially an offensive weapon. The Oak King and Holly King should be separated, as that whole story is a bit fighty. Athames and chalices? Let's not even go there!

As you've said polytheists are likely to disagree with one another's revelations - and this is great. But the point is that they should *keep doing this*, and less confident polytheists should not feel cowed by the charisma of adepts into doing things they believe sincerely to be wrong (or know to be wrong, based on what the gods have told them). Although polytheism does have the potential for the destruction of hierarchies, it - like all ecstatic religions - can fuel cults of personality based on charismatic authority. Being mindful of this danger is surely no bad thing. In this way, Rhyd's article could be read as actually shoring up an already extant and resoundingly positive, but potentially fragile, aspect to a tradition he knows a lot about.

BarefootAnthropologist said...

"At first they came for the devotional polytheists, and I didn't say anything, because I wasn't a devotional polytheist..."

Something I find extremely unhelpful about these discussions is the extent to which critics of Rhyd have routinely compared what he's written about polytheists, to some of the most extreme historical instances of persecution (McCarthyism, witch hunts, and here the Holocaust). Rhyd has, at the very worst (if your reading is to be followed), alluded to a similarity between Nazis (against whom violence is depicted symbolically), and certain Pagan groups, while recommending that we ask questions, and work together. He does not say anywhere that we should get violent against other Pagans, even ones like McNallen.

The ONLY people I have read who support the kind of interpretation you provide - incidentally - are people who also disagree with what Rhyd wrote. All those with whom I have spoken who support Rhyd's stance actually interpret it as I do (i.e. that it doesn't call for violence). NOBODY - be they an eclectic pagan, or otherwise - has read Rhyd's article as you have, and used that justify the persecution of polytheists. As incitement to witch hunts go, therefore, it's a pretty half-assed one.

But I'm happy to stand corrected though - have any polytheists been threatened by eclectics encouraged by what Rhyd wrote? Have there been any calls for a pogrom?

Dammerung said...

I dunno Logan, as far as I can tell the ****posters are the only ones still having any fun in this world. Everything else is grim moralism; pearl-clutching; and self-aggrandizing virtue signalling. This sort of behavior used to be largely confined to the religious right, but the left has proudly taken it up as true human virtue in their quest to make everybody equal but separate.

Of course, I'm saying this as a proud denizen of /r/The_Donald, so I guess this is what happens when Archdruids allow a little too much diversity of opinion - a few of *those* monsters start peeking their muzzles out of Pandemonium.

Steve Thomas said...

I was part of radical left movements for a long time, and stuff like this is a major part of the reason I left. (The other part was seriously delving into the history of the Russian, Chinese and Spanish revolutions in search of answers and discovering that the terrible behavior I encountered in the anarchist and socialist movements was a feature, not a bug.) I don't much to add besides-- What Mr. Wildermuth is doing is obvious, and it's infuriating, and thank you for calling him on it.

For those of his supporters who are reading-- I work with Druidry, I live in California, and I have a copy of Spengler's Decline of the West less than 3 feet from me at this very moment! Please add me to your list of undesirables.

Patricia Mathews said...

Thank you for this essay. It seems my feeling in Albuquerque's neopagan community of being half-trained and for a long time, like a budding actor asked to do a play without a script of any knowledge of playwriting, was feature, not a bug. And all the while they insisted I was getting very well trained! Oddly, enough, the current crop of elders were indeed trained; in what tradition, I know not. The women who did so was before my time.

British traditional witchcraft is probably where I belong, but right now I am clinging to my own handbook of magic made up like a patchwork quilt, with a lot of input from what you have to say, because it makes good sense. And of course from the classic books. Valiente et. al.

I am postsurgical and will be lurking for a while due to pysical limitations, but - thanks again. And blessed be.

John Michael Greer said...

James, that's the dividing line between the Reconstructionist and the devotional polytheist movements. The Reconstructionists are chary of personal inspiration and rely on academic scholarship; the devotional polytheists take academic scholarship as a starting point and concentrate on building personal relationships to their deities.

BarefootAnthropologist, okay, at this point you're just trolling. If a neo-Nazi had posted such an image in which the anthropomorphic swastika was waving the club and the human figure had a Star of David on it, he could use exactly the same cheap debater's trick you've used here to insist that no, no, of course the image didn't mean what it obviously does.

More generally, your entire argument is special pleading based on an obvious double standard. Wildermuth gets a free pass from you when he accuses these alleged "New Right influenced Pagans" of having hidden agendas that they're concealing, but when his critics suggest that he might have a hidden agenda of his own, that's somehow unacceptable. When he compares people whose politics he doesn't like to Nazis, that's fine, but when the people he's targeting suggest that his actions can be compared to historical examples of scapegoat-hunting, why, that's just unreasonable. This very dubious logic of yours doesn't suggest good faith on your part -- quite the contrary -- and I have better uses for my time than carrying on a conversation with a troll. Here's your hat; don't let the door hit you on the way out.

Steve, glad to hear that you're reading Spengler! Us undesirables ought to have a conversation about him one of these days.

Patricia, you're most welcome. I hope you have a quick recovery!

Yellow Submarine said...

So reading Spengler and appreciating his brilliant and often iconoclastic insights makes one an undesirable in the eyes of people like Rhyd Wildermuth?

Well then, add me to the list of Untermenschen...

Troy Jones said...

I found this post fascinating. I don't know anything about magic or Paganism beyond what I've read on your blogs, so feel free to dismiss all my opinions out of hand, but it's interesting to me how familiar Rhyd's rhetorical strategy seems. I grew up in a deeply conservative, fundamentalist Christian environment, and it was (and still is) very common to see super-conservatives on one side of a debate or another say things like, "I don't know if my opponent is secretly a liberal or merely subconsciously influenced by liberal ideas, but..."

On the surface it's supposed to come across as being reasonable and charitable towards the people on the other side of the debate, but in reality rhetoric like that is divisive and toxic, and is always made in bad faith. And similarly here, Rhyd starts off with "The New Right is [...] called either 'proto-fascist' or 'crypto-fascist'"-- note use of the passive voice to distance himself from his own accusation-- but then makes the ostensibly reasonable concession that "only a few on the New Right claim that identity". That is to say, only a few on the so-called New Right openly acknowledge their fascism-- most of them hide it. Later on he makes a further concession that some traditions may have "unconsciously" adopted New Right, i.e. fascist, ideas without realizing it. He does not allow for the possibility that "tribalist" or "hierarchical" or whatever other ideas he disagrees with may in fact be derived from tradition or the will of the gods or what-have-you. According to him, these ideas are merely presented as such by the dishonest crypto-fascists of the New Right conspiracy.

It hardly needs saying that this is not healthy discourse.

I want to say also that the image in Rhyd's article reminds me of the Pin the Tail on the Persecutor game from your other blog. I see the running man not as an actual fascist, but as one who has been successfully "pinned" with the swastika label and must now flee from the club-wielding Rescuer.

Kfish said...

Thank you for showing the Anthropologist the door. His last screed about how people should 'show due care' when reading Spengler - why should I show due care, and who should I show it to? I'll read what I like, take the lessons from it that I see fit, and not feel any need to demonstrate my purity to self-appointed monitors. Folks who dislike being compared to Nazis shouldn't construct lists of forbidden books!

I'm sorry to say that this kind of behaviour is exactly why I've avoided the occult scene until now, even though I've started calling on Terminus to help me set appropriate limits in my life.

Robert Mathiesen said...

@ Eduard and JMG, on Dion Fortune's definition of magic.

Dion Fortune first published her definition of magic in an article that was never swept up into any of her longer collections of essays: "The Rationale of Magic," _The London Forum (Incorporating The Occult Review)_, vol. 60, issue 3 (September 1934), pp. 175-181. This is part III of a four-part series of articles; the other three are in the issues for April and July, 1934, and January, 1935.

In this article she engages in a detailed critique of Crowley's definition of magic, and ends her critique by presenting her own definition of magic specifically as a correction to Crowley's. Neither Crowley's definition nor Fortune's comes from the Golden Dawn.

This is, so far as I know, the only place in all of Fortune's many published, publicly available books and articles where she presents her definition of magic. It may also have appeared in the in-house magazine of her own occult order, but that wasn't meant to be publicly available.

Dean Smith said...

@ Steve Thomas

Here Here!

Dean Smith
Revival Druid and Occultist

Robert Mathiesen said...

Three comments on Rhyd's article, "Confronting the New Right":

(1) I first read the article out of its original context, courtesy of a link to the Gods and Radicals website. It left a very bad taste in my mouth, even though I did note his various disclaimers. I went to the main page of Gods and Radicals and sought for it there in vain. Now, I am an old man, a member of the Silent Generation. Like many of my generation, I grew up despising all totalitarianisms and extreme political passions, whether on the right (as in the Third Reich) or on the left (as in the Soviet Union). So it was Rhyd's passion and uncompromisingly partisan politics that first repelled me on a visceral level. The "New Right" worries me greatly, but the "New Left" worries me just as much, and for exactly the same reasons.

(2) Eventually I did find the one place on the Gods and Radicals website where a link to "Confronting the New Right" appeared, namely in Rhyd's introduction to an essay about Augustus Sol Invictus, "Fascism Against Time." Indeed, it appears there that Rhyd meant "Confronting the New Right" to be a sort of long footnote or appendix to the latter essay. That gave his essay a context for the first time. Taken in that very narrow context, Rhyd's concerns in "Confronting the New Right" made somewhat better sense to me, and I was able to appreciate it better. And that led me to wonder about the motives of the people who had originally called public attention to it as if it were a stand-along essay. Yet the old maxim surely applies here as well, "Why assume malice when sheer stupidity or carelessness accounts for the phenomena."

(3) Nonetheless, there is a fundamental principle that governs all use of language and speech, which is important here. Every utterance has several functions, among which are the referential function (the logical meaning conveyed by the words of the utterance) and the expressive function (the emotions expressed by the utterance). De Groot's principle, first worked out in 1949, states that when the referential and the expressive function of an utterance clash, it is the expressive function that always overrides the referential function. In simpler words, the tone of any utterance always overrides the actual meaning of the utterance in determining how it will be understood by others: feeings trump logic every time, and they banish logic altogether when the two are incompatible.

Demagogues make heavy use of De Groot's principle, but they are not the only ones who use it -- passionate thinkers and speakers of all sorts work it to death in much of what they say and write. By De Groot's principle, no matter how many disclaimers and careful qualifications a writer uses, if he writes with passion, all those disclaimers count for nothing -- they literally do not register in the minds of the readers. And Rhyd is a very passionate writer indeed, who knows how to sweep his readers along with him as he writes. This is not to say that he means to be a demagogue. I do not think that he does. But it *is* to say that the kind of writing embodied in his "Confronting the New Right" has much the same effect on its readers as the writing of a purposeful demagogue would have.

Therein lies, I think, the rub in the controversy that he unwillingly has stirred up.

John Michael Greer said...

Submarine, welcome to the Undesirables Club! (So to speak...)

Troy, that's a very acute analysis -- good enough that it earns you tonight's gold star. Many thanks.

Kfish, you're welcome. I try to make plenty of room on my blogs for disagreement, so long as the house rules are followed, but when the cheap debating tricks come out my patience runs short very, very quickly.

Robert, thank you for this! I'll have to find a copy of that essay. I got the definition by way of W.E. Butler, who quoted Fortune to that effect in a couple of his books -- iirc one of them was "The Magician: His Training and Work," which was a major influence on my early work as an operative mage.

As for Wildermuth -- well, we'll see. As I noted in my post, the proof of the pudding is in the eating; if Wildermuth goes onto other things and does nothing else to whip up a witch hunt, then I'll be glad to admit I was wrong. My sense, and of course this is purely subjective, is that the Batesonian doublebinds in his piece are quite deliberate, not simply the outbursts of a writer whose passions make him somewhat muddleheaded. Still, we'll see.

Jön Upsal's Gardener said...

Barefootanthropoligst: I'm going to have to call you on this: "...Stephen McNallen and Alain de Benoist ... - both of whom are actual fascists."

Just speaking about McNallen specifically, I'm going to ask for a source on this. Aside from the ludicrous misuse of the term "fascist" (which has a very specific meaning and which is not, properly, a synonym for "racist", "Nazi", or even "totalitarian"), it runs counter to the actual evidence regarding McNallen's (and the broader folkish Heathen community's) attitude towards real-life, actual, racists.

For instance, the Asatru Folk Assembly's (AFA) Statement of Purpose states "The belief that spirituality and ancestral heritage are related has nothing to do with notions of superiority. Asatru is not an excuse to look down on, much less to hate, members of any other race. On the contrary, we recognize the uniqueness and the value of all the different pieces that make up the human mosaic."

Hanging a big sign on the front door saying "people who hate other races aren't welcome" is a piss-poor way to attract racists.

Also, as far back as 1978, McNallen gave the *actual* Nazis in Asatru the heave-ho: "[This] Nazi-Odinist identification has persisted down to this day, but most of us had either learned to live with it or simply hoped it would go away if we ignored it.
The Asatru Free Assembly announces an end of that tolerance." (Quoted in Kaplan, Jeffrey; Radical Religion in America, p. 19)

Telling Nazis "we will not tolerate you" is a piss-poor way to attract Nazis.

I myself have called violent racists "morons" and "whackaloons". (

Ridiculing racists is a piss-poor way to attract racists.

There are many other examples, of course, but these will do for purposes of illustration in the relatively small confines of a blog post comment.

The conflation of folkish Heathenry with the racist fringe of Heathenry is one of the great misconceptions of our community; saying "every race should have the same right to explore its pre-monotheistic heritage" isn't racism. Folkish Heathens have been fending off the *actual* racists since the inception of Asatru in America. Your casual accusation that McNallen (and, by extension, other Folkish Heathens) are "fascists" is historically inaccurate, broadly unfair, and factually untrue.

Blueback said...

@ Kfish and JMG:

One of the supreme ironies of people like Wildermuth accusing those who cite Spengler as being closet fascists or neo-Nazis is that Spengler got into a lot of trouble with the Nazis over his last book, The Hour of Decision and in private, he was even more critical of Hitler and the Nazi party.

He spent the last few years of his life under house arrest. I also remember reading somewhere that only the intervention of Nietzsche's sister saved him from being arrested and possibly sent to a concentration camp.

John Michael Greer said...

Jön Upsal's Gardener (if I may interject), as I've just thrown BA off the blog for trolling, he won't be able to answer you here. Thank you, though, for pointing up one of the other bits of falsification central to the Neopagan witch hunt -- the attempt to insist that anything other than the mainstream Left must by definition equate to Nazism. (And of course you're right, as I noted over on the other blog, that people like BA routinely say "fascist," mean "Nazi," and don't actually know anything about either movement. The word "fascist" to them is simply a shorter way of saying "I hate you.")

Blueback, true enough. After Spengler met Hitler in 1933, he commented that Germany needed a hero, not a heroic tenor (einen Helden, nicht einen Heldentenor) -- and his last book, The Hour of Decision, rakes Nazi ideology over the coals in no uncertain terms. It's kind of hard to make such a figure into a fascist -- or, more precisely, it would be hard if the people in question paid the least attention to fact. May I suggest a parallel bit of guilt by association? Karl Marx's work was much read by Josef Stalin and Pol Pot, therefore anyone who reads and cites Marx must be in favor of mass murder. QED!

Ray Wharton said...

I was considering what might be at the heart of the intensification. The prime mover seemed to me to be a sense of lose on the Left. I remember being a confident leftist in my late teens, confident because the triumph of obviously more intelligent leftist ideas still seemed to be an obvious and inevitable feature of the future. I can still feel that inevitability's deradicalizing effect from a decade ago. Getting radical or confrontational about politics is not needed, for history is on our side, being over-ardent is unhelpful. But each year since that solace for the left from that sense of inevitability has grown colder.

The sensation of inevitability turns to one of uncertainty, one of danger. A human cause is sought.

What interests me is this business of the projected shadow. Jung said that the less conscious we are of the shadow the nastier it is. It applies to the left and the right both. The aspects of our shadow we are least willing to address in ourselves are the parts we are most apt to project under overbearing emotional stress.

I know a Right wing fellow, posting complaints about the world to facebook, complains about the lack of character of liberals, immigrants, Muslims, and woman... while getting stoned as his Aunt and Grandmother raise his daughter. Good hearted guy, deeply disillusioned and depressed, was never prepared for adulthood; I wished he lived closer so we could garden together.

With the Left capitalism and hierarchy are often the core of evil. I think much about the importance of being 'anti-colonial' on the far left, being 'anti-colonial' is am absolute center piece of the far left view. And yet the objections in this article are largely against any detractors who want to be left out of one ethical system to rule them all. There is an idea of 'non hierarchical' used to measure other values based on how 'non hierarchical' they are; finding of course that some values are more 'non hierarchical' than others. To my nose it stinks of the white liberal's burden, and reminds me of how colonialism was driven forward by the ideals of enlightenment, today as much as three hundred years ago.

The issues of I bring up with each wing are of course common to one another, and those on other appendages, but precisely where the habit of projecting the problems on to others is most practiced 'where the cat is away the vice will play.'

Dammerung said...

You know, I think good magicians know that sometimes you have to play the heel. Sometimes you have to put on black lipstick and make yourself overheard mumbling entreaties to Choronzon. The cure for at least some of these people trapped in the circular firing squads that have taken such hold in the cultural institutions in this country is to make yourself very visible a) having a good time and b) not playing their game. It's maddening to the smarter ones when they have to watch "their" crowd trying to out-kowtow one another to the least relevant minority, while right over there, somebody is being openly and gleefully offensive and nobody can seem to stop them.

So go ahead and vote to rename an elementary school The Adolf Hitler School for Friendship and Tolerance. Wear an Indian headdress with a chicken eating grin on your face. It's funny that middle class white normie liberal college students are so afraid we're going to steal the Indians' magic away with a Halloween costume - as if that could ever be possible. Frankly, all the attempts in my life to restrict my magical consciousness courtesy of authority figures have never accomplished anything more than making me more powerful commensurate with my need. Offend a vegan today.

Eric S. said...

One of the trends I’m noticing emerge from some of these debates about external politics that have fallen into the Pagan, polytheist, and occult world is an erasure of the middle ground. A commentator above brought out the debate over Folkism versus universalism in certain forms of polytheism, which is an area where the erasure of the middle ground has fully run its course. Lines of ancestry can be a powerful way of connecting to spiritual traditions, and sometimes gods and traditions call through that channel, and there can be a special magic to those lines of connection that can offer a unique form of relationship for people who follow those channels, in the same way that there’s a unique power in landscape, place, and sacred sites that were tied to worship or the physical landscape of myth. However, it’s not the only channel, through which those connections can be built, and isn’t nearly as foundational to a relationship with the gods as basic personal piety, and, in certain traditions intensive training and initiation.

What has come to dominate Someone further up discussed the way certain heathen traditions from the extreme end of the folkish scene go so far as even insisting that individual, personal relationships with deities are impossible, because the gods are only capable of expressing themselves through ancestry and kinship on a collective level. The result seems to be a politicization of both sides, where ousting the other extreme becomes the priority over basic piety and practice, and middle ground organizations like the Troth get picked away from both ends. It’s something that’s already happened in the Heathen community, with the constant war between the AFA and HUAR being the only conversation that even shows up online anymore half the time, and most of the actual communities that mostly care about piety and honoring the gods turning their attention inward and doing good work in the process. Meanwhile, the longer the war goes on the more and more people rush off to one extreme or the other and the people in the middle get quieter and quieter. It seems like that can be a pretty good signal of what will come out of some of these latest incursions of external national and global politics into internal pagan communities.

The big difference, of course, is the fact that political radicalization and factionalization is a feature of the world outside this time… which ups the stakes considerably this time. You’ve written extensively on the Trump Campaign, we all remember the Greek elections last year, and I’m sure you’ve followed the latest string of election victories by the Austrian Freedom Party. Radical left wing and right wing populist parties are definitely crawling in out of the fringes and taking a front seat in global politics right now, and we’re heading into an era where choosing whether or not to play the games being discussed both here and on the ADR, is going to mean choosing whether or not to pick up a gun. The depressing thing about that is the fact that if we’re facing decades of people, deciding that the only way to solve the various problems they see in the world is through destruction. It’s going to be a long time before productive conversations on a collective scale can happen again, and a lot of us may not live to see that time (especially if it involves violence on the same scales the world saw last time this happened). Perhaps there’s a silver lining in the fact that it’s the communities who have gone quiet stopped playing the game who are continuing to feed and teach their members and call thunder down in their rituals… because there’s still room for work to be done in those circles.

Steve Thomas said...

@ Dean-- Thanks buddy.

@ JMG-- Funny to read your comment to Blueback. I was going to suggest that since so many bad guys out there are apparently reading Spengler, we should do something else instead-- I had a Well of Galabes Marxist Book Circle in mind. We could read Trotsky and Bukharin and old Charlie himself-- none of whom were ever implicated in mass murder or anything.

Robert Mathiesen said...

You may prove to be right, JMG, about Wildermuth. Time will indeed tell. I'll be keeping a wary eye on his future posts.

The other thing that repelled me on a visceral level about Wildermuth's essay was his visible distaste for anything Germanic at all, and not just specifically Nazi. I'm half Danish-Smerican, a quarter Pennsylvania German, and the remainder almost completely Anglo-Saxon. The first exposure I ever had to anything sacred and numinous was to the old stories in the D'Aulaires' beautiful book for children, _Norse Gods and Giants_, and I was raised with a great deal of pride in our family's Scandinavian heritage, including the Danish efforts to save Denmark's Jews from the Nazis. So his essay also felt rather like an unprovoked punch on the nose. After that, it took some considerable doing to write about his essay dispassionately.

PS I emailed you PDF's of those four Dion Fortune essays.

John Michael Greer said...

Ray, the failure of the sense of inevitability is probably an important part of it. I recall rather too well the days when everyone in the Neopagan scene seemed serenely confident in the imminent arrival of a future in which, in the words of a song by the late Isaac Bonewits, "We'll All Be Pagan Again." That paralleled, of course, the sense of political inevitability cultivated by the radical Left as part of their unthinking adherence to the myth of progress. Both those secular faiths are becoming rather difficult to uphold these days, and I suspect you're quite right that this feeds powerfully into the frantic search for someone to blame.

Dammerung, well, I suppose so. I could never work up enough interest in them to go to the trouble of putting on black lipstick et al. -- and of course, to judge by the tirades I've fielded from time to time, all you have to do to offend a vegan is to enjoy the bacon cheeseburgers that they're dying to eat themselves.

Eric, that's unfortunately likely to be the case. I feel I might still be able to make a difference, for a while, by advocating for a moderate position in the conflicts of the time, but I know that might not last indefinitely. Things are heating up very rapidly just now.

Steve, funny. I've read that Adolf Hitler loved the Wild West fiction of Karl May, and so did Albert Einstein. This obviously proves either that Hitler was Jewish or that Einstein was a closet Nazi -- or better still, both.

Robert, I get that. It's very fashionable to hate anything even vaguely Germanic in some circles these days. Idiotic, granted, but fashionable! Many thanks also for the essays -- as always with Soror DNF, much food for thought.

Eric S. said...

This piece is apparently generating a good bit of conversation. Here’s a new piece from today, exploring how the new right operates, why Spengler is problematic (referring to Spengler's ideas as discredited racialist pseudoscience, despite the academic consensus placing him in the realm of philosophy, not science. As for racialism, I usually keep a copy of a high school history book from the ‘30s handy when reading old literature so that I can know the background tenor of the time and adjust for cultural static. The uglier bits of Spengler don’t rise any higher above that static than writers popular with the left, like Steiner, Marx, and Ingles). It also answers the question of why certain groups got called out, focusing on the failure of groups like the Troth to take a sufficient stand by forbidding members to have had prior membership in racist groups like the AFA. This is the first place I've seen a clear stance on what policies they would like to see in order to be appeased, and it basically comes down to putting "have you ever been a member of a right wing affiliated organization" on application forms. Sounds awfully similar to one of those old ELKS applications that ask "are you or have you ever been a member of a communist party.”

The question that remains, is: observing our broader culture outside the Occult world, in America and Western Europe outside of a few countries, the populist right really does seem to be gaining traction a lot more securely than the radical left. The story of the way the Russian Theosophical scene was overtaken and politicized for the sake of a Revolution of the Left is balanced out with equal fervor by the much more well known story of the way the German Theosophical and early Germanic Heathen scene were overtaken by the Ariosophical movement, politicized and channeled into groups like the Thule Society which were themselves disbanded as soon as Hitler's following developed. (The German story ends the same way as the Russian story, of course, with the outlawing of esoteric orders in 1935 and arrests of members). The article is right that certain ideas are gaining broader traction in global society right now, and that isn’t something I can agree with being totally passive about. And ultimately, the leftward end of Paganism has always been there, and usually is advocating for things that are hard to take issue with beyond tone. The “for us or against us” language of pieces like this are problematic, as are globalism and anti-theism. But ideas such as race determines culture, aptitude, and potential; gender defines social roles; different cultures and religions cannot and should not coexist; and others are hostile regardless of the tone used. Choosing someone who advocates racial segregation in a calm, rational voice over someone who advocates racial equality in a shrill, angry voice is an example of the appeal to tone fallacy. So, I guess the next thing to address is, what can, or should be done to address the popularity of certain hostile ideas that are becoming popular in certain Pagan circles without ourselves resorting to another set of equally hostile ideas. Is it possible to confront racists, misogynists, homophobes, etc. who use religious organizations, environmental activist groups, folk music scenes, and other movements as a platform for other agendas that. For instance, the way certain corners of the Peak Oil scene have become a stomping ground for open supporters of figures like Roosh V, or various right wing militias who provide every bit as much of a threat as anything that could come out of the left without turning to tactics such as background checks for ideological purity? Is there a way to stand against the rise of certain harmful ideas, and and the appropriation of harmful ideas in otherwise useful literature for less useful ends without book purging or waging wars on individual people?

Yellow Submarine said...

After Jonathan Woolley (AKA BarefootAnthropologist) got 86'ed, I did some looking around online. After all, he did list his real name the first time he posted a comment here. Guess what I found?

It looks to me like one of Rhyd's buddies showed up and started trolling after you called Rhyd out. Can't say I'm in the least bit surprised...

SLClaire said...

I appreciate the discussion around the essay and also the distinctions between the various practices that are lumped into the term Neopagan. I have mentioned to a few friends that I am practicing Druidry. Inevitably they associate it with some form of Wicca, which then requires me to explain how the two differ. I didn't understand why the automatic conflation of Druidry with Wicca until I remembered that the public face of Neopaganism in the St. Louis area is through Pagan festivals that are run by and for eclectic Pagans. I was a member of a small band that performed at a few of the festivals around a decade ago, most of whose members were or had been eclectic Pagans, so I had exposure to the local eclectic Pagan scene at the time. I don't recall seeing anything other than eclectic Paganism, complete with faux medieval costuming and plenty of New Age books mixed up among the books on Wiccan spellcraft, on display at the festival.

When I was starting to feel a pull toward some sort of earth-centered practice but didn't know anything about what practices might be out there, around the time that the band was playing at the aforementioned festivals, I checked out the offerings at the festivals and in a book on Paganism written by two people who were prominent in the local Neopagan scene. Beyond a brief mention of a few groups or traditions falling into the initiatory or polytheist categories, nothing more on either of those forms in the book, which was otherwise imbued with the flavor of eclectic Paganism. If it hadn't been for your other blog, I wouldn't have known Revival Druidry was a living tradition, one that has since become my spiritual home.

Meanwhile, I haven't been back to the local festival since our band stopped playing in it and don't feel that I have missed anything by not being there.

Yellow Submarine said...

" It's very fashionable to hate anything even vaguely Germanic in some circles these days. Idiotic, granted, but fashionable!"

Sounds a lot like the anti-German hate mongering that became fashionable in the US and UK during World War I. I took a 300 level American history course at university which went into that sordid aspect of American history in quite a bit of detail. Everyone has heard of the internment camps and other civil right abuses that Japanese-Americans were subjected to in World War II.

But how many realize that German-Americans were subjected to the same treatment during the previous World War or that the treatment of German-Americans as "enemy aliens" during the Great War was used as a justification and legal precedent for what happened to Japanese-Americans the next time around?

During the Great War, German-Americans were subjected to widespread persecution because of their ancestry, you had Dachshunds being kicked to death in the streets for the crime of being "German" and people even went so far as to rename frankfurters "liberty sausage" and sauerkraut "liberty cabbage" (shades of "freedom fries", anyone?).

Meanwhile, the British press circulated lurid stories of "corpse factories", in which the Germans were alleged to have rendered the corpses of dead German soldiers for fats to manufacture nitroglycerin and other industrial materials for the war effort. These stories were exposed after the war as vicious lies that were circulated as wartime propaganda in order to gin up popular hatred for anything German amongst the British people.

So yes, the fashionable and ignorant hate-mongering against anything vaguely Germanic is really no surprise at all to anyone with a good grasp of Western, particularly American and British, history.

Jön Upsal's Gardener said...

Many thanks, JMG, for the update. I wasn't aware he'd been given the boot. I can't say as I blame you. But if you're reading this, barefootanthropologist, please do feel free to engage over at my own blog (clicking on my name should take you over there).

Eric S.: I'm not sure where the identification with folkish Heathenry and the idea that the Gods are best approached corporately comes from. The latter is very much a theme found in tribalist Heathenry, and in particular Theodish Belief, but even there the door isn't closed to personal interactions with the gods. The idea is, rather, that they are more likely to respond to the chorus than the soloist. It doesn't rule it out.

But there's no particular association that I'm aware of between folkishness and that idea. If anything, Theodism, with its central doctrine of Freedom of Conscience, renders it by definition neutral on the issue of folkishness vs. universalism. If anything, Theodism, which champions the corporate approach to the gods, can certainly *not* be counted in the folkish category.

Happy Panda said...


Could you provide a link to the site/comments where Rhyd made the following comment:

"Oh snap! Got me a Spengler quoting Archdruid on my tale! (P.S. Spengler believed whites betrayed their culture by giving technology to blacks, and believed there were cultural qualities inherent in racial groups, and is a favorite of New Right ideologues)"

I typically prefer to see the discussions and comments in their original context. I ran a search via several different engines but never was able to find the original site and page where the comment was posted.

@R. Mathiesen

Is it possible I could have the links or copies of the 4 Dion Fortune essays as well? I would be very grateful.

Speaking to the topic I've decided I need to learn about various rhetorical fallacies. I did not detect the 'special pleading' ploy used by BA until it was called out. Although once it had I was able to see it upon re-reading it is easy to see. The thing about double-binds I had to look up as well. I've heard of Gregory Bateson - primarily because in the very early nineties I ran across a book by his daughter.

These days I don't self-identify as any kind of tradition though I used to phase shift from Buddhist to Taoist to Hermetic as I wandered through various teachings picking up practices as I went along.

Lately I've become very interested in getting good at mindfulness meditation and concentration meditation as well as with sanskrit mantras. The two former practices seem to be common to most any spiritual tradition - pagan, hermetic, indigenous, taoist, abrahamic or dharmic.

Eric S. said...

@Panda: a screen cap sent my way from social media.

Chevaliermalfait said...

Just a witch of the feri order. I appreciate what you say here. I've been onto Rhyd for almost a year now and recognized his tactics early on. Last march a took some heat from fellow 'religionists" for characterizing Gods and Radicals as"a bunch of hate filled,self indulging,self absorbed, ideological zealots. Definitely poisoned life force there."
"danger! warning! Wil Robinson!"
Kinda harsh I know...
Especially in light of the fact he gives my order of craft a bye, on infiltration by the new right. But then he has allies among my order. evidently we are not immune to infiltration by the 'new left', nor by aspiring 'bourgeios opportunistic writers'.(see his use of "witches in America" as an opportunity to promote his ideology)
I also took some heat for recognizing the tactics employed in his 'confronting the new right' thing.
@Robert Mathiesen
your wrote:
(2) Eventually I did find the one place on the Gods and Radicals website where a link to "Confronting the New Right" appeared, namely in Rhyd's introduction to an essay about Augustus Sol Invictus, "Fascism Against Time." Indeed, it appears there that Rhyd meant "Confronting the New Right" to be a sort of long footnote or appendix to the latter essay. That gave his essay a context for the first time. Taken in that very narrow context, Rhyd's concerns in "Confronting the New Right" made somewhat better sense to me, and I was able to appreciate it better. And that led me to wonder about the motives of the people who had originally called public attention to it as if it were a stand-along essay. Yet the old maxim surely applies here as well, "Why assume malice when sheer stupidity or carelessness accounts for the phenomena."
There is no connection to the Invictus essay in the new right piece. That was amended to it well after folks called attention to it and after John Becketts critique on patheos- "guilt by association",so for quite a few days that connection hadn't been made.
whether it was malice or carelessness is a valid question. I'd leave stupidity out of that equation, whatever opinions I have about Rhyd, stupid is not one. My experiences with his writing is he does things measuredly, and with intent.
quite frankly I'd opt for malice rather than careless. Considering his rebuttal here:
wherein he makes it clear that:
"Paganism in general—and apparently Devotional and Reconstructionist Polytheism in particular—have been long overdue for a reckoning.How do we differentiate our own practices and beliefs from someone whose identical practises and beliefs actually lead them to advocate for racial purity or separtism, the primacy of European gods, eugenics to prevent the birth of disabled people, and even human sacrifice? What is really the difference between the Fascism of Augustus Sol Invictus, or New Right ideology of Stephen McNallen and Alain de Benoist, and the rest of polytheist belief?"
Henry Buchy

Ray Wharton said...

Thinking about the fact that the rhetoric heat going up in minority religions isn't isolated, but is part of a wider social phenomena, I am considering the play out where it all got driven under ground after the rise of the Far Left in Russia and the Far Right in Germany; once its usefulness to those rising was done.

I do not practice in any particular religion. I tried with AODA for a bit, but it wasn't quite my bag. But I would offer this advice to any of those who are part of a tradition that they value.

Don't Turn into a Pillar of Salt when the Two political groups go up in flame wars. The only way to win is to not play, and keep what to hold dear with you, or with those who won't be dragged down to politics and human social questions from religious matters. Stay true in Worship, and patient in all else.

Or whatever, try what you like, in the end what works, will.

John Michael Greer said...

Eric, the difficulty as I see it is that both sides of the emerging extremist culture within the Neopagan scene are equally dangerous; the pseudoegalitarian Left is just as interested in crushing dissent and silencing free expression as the overtly hierarchical right, and no more honest (the notion that Spengler's thought can be dismissed as racial pseudoscience won't stand up to a moment's reasonable examination). Thus it's not enough to affirm one set of abstract principles over another, since those principles (or any other set of abstractions) can be turned into a stairway to power for a would-be despot just as effectively as the overt glorification of concrete differences on the other side. What's going to be needed is a deeper approach, and it's one that I'm going to be trying to develop as things proceed. More on this in future posts!

Submarine, I figured that from the beginning. If he'd been interested in an honest discussion, I'd have had no trouble with his other involvements.

SLClaire, a lot of Druids, Reconstructionists, devotional polytheists, and the like have had the same experience, as of course you know!

Submarine, exactly. I tend to be a little wary about America's tendency to Germanophobia, but then that's because it so happens that a great deal of my favorite literature and philosophy, and much of my favorite music as well, was created by Germans. One of those things...

Jön Upsal's Gardener, you're most welcome.

Chevalier, thanks for the comment! Do you happen to know if the other traditions he claims are free of New Right subversion are also, to borrow Wildermuth's own sort of thinking, heavily infiltrated by covert supporters of the New Left?

Ray, granted, under some circumstances, staying out of the fight is the one sure way to be left standing when it's over!

Seb Ze Frog said...

Good Morning.

Dear Robert, I am myself very interested in the serie of Dion Fortune papers you were talking about and that I have failed to track back (I found references to it, but not the actual papers). If it is not too much a problem for you, would you mind emailing them to me ? (

I also wanted to add something to a discussion that was spawned on last month post but that I think is more generally relevant to the topic of this blog: magic for the layman person.

To my mind, and from my experience with presenting science and physics to the layman person, the problem has several folds. The larger one of which is what, in science (and in french) is called "vulgarisation" (and I am told is called popularization in English). It takes a special kind of expert to do good vulgarisation, because one needs to know exactly which details are fine to set aside (for most experts, none) and which ones are actually important. Regarding magic the habit of the Old Occult Schools to start from the big picture and slowly work down to the specifics actually makes, in my opinion, the first chapters of many of the books I have read on the topic very good "vulgarisation" sections. As a layman I read lots of John Michael's book, some Dion Fortune books and some Buttler's book and they presented a very clear picture of what was being discussed. For some reason the chapter "Re-enchanting the world" from John Michael comes to my mind vividly as an example right now.

But the specific question of last months was about "the magic that one can expect to find in his everyday life". From my experience with physics, it is possible to address this part, but it is even more difficult. One needs to add a certain showmanship to the business. Otherwise, well... I am, for example, easily fascinated by all the physics that can be seen when putting water to boil in a pan. Do you really want me to explain ? Most people just smirk. (Actually, I was planing to put together posts on the topic for a very specific audience, but if there is interest, I can consider posting on a blog...)

But this is already becoming too long.
Let me conclude by being right on topic with this month blog:
Hitler and Einstein both liking the Wild West fiction of Karl May obviously mean that Hitler loved non-euclidian geometry, of course. I thought everyone knew that.


Robert Mathiesen said...

Thank you for all this additional information, Chevalier / Henry. Wildermuth's "Uncomfortable Mirror" post seems particularly revealing to me. It casts his first essay in a whole different light. I agree with you now about malice and/or carelessness rather than stupidity, and the more I look into the background of the essay, the more I incline to see malice.

I also note that Wildermuth will be traveling overseas now for a while, and won't be able to post much of anything while he's on the road. How very convenient for him!

Robert Mathiesen said...

@ Happy Panda: Find me somewhere or other on the web (I use my real name here) and send me an email address that will reach you, and I'll get back to you.

Jön Upsal's Gardener said...

Congratulations to JMG, by the way, on this "red baiting post".* You now have the official imprimatur of Ryan Smith, founder of, and close-to-majority member of, HUAR. Your journey towards the Dark Side is complete.

* According to his most recent screed over at Patheos. I'm not going to link to it, but it should be easy enough to find.

Yellow Submarine said...

John Michael, here's the link to the article on Augustus Invictus that Robert was referencing.

Yellow Submarine said...

@ Jön Upsal's Gardener:

I just read Smith's screed from Patheos. I'd say the circular firing squad phase is well underway. As our esteemed Archdruid has been pointing out, this sort of behavior is entirely typical for extremist movements in their waning days.

We tend see it more on the radical left, but I have seen some really bitter intramural fights between right wing extremists that were uncannily similar. The Christian Identity and militia movements tore themselves apart in the late 1990's/early 2000's due to the same phenomenon we see on display over at G & R, Patheos, etc.

I wonder if these fools realize they are preaching to the choir and that this kind of shrill rhetoric, flame baiting, denunciations of people for insufficient purity and attempts to smear them via guilt by association is just going to turn most people off. I also wonder if they realize that this sort of thing tends to backfire and will end up hurting the causes they profess to believe in, rather than helping.

Happy Panda said...

What is it that makes SJWs like R. Wildermuth and his devotees safe from having the Pin-the-Tail-on-the-Persecutor game being reflected back at them? If JMG calls Wildermuth on his scape-goating tactics what is to stop Wildermuth from claiming JMG is a Persecutor and Druidry needs to be rescued from JMG and his ilk?

It's odd but I'm seeing this same behavior in the Hindu community too. Rajiv Malhotra's talks in defense of Hinduism are regularly targeted by N.A and Western European SJWs for being islamophobic. [to my mind Malhotra is to Hinduism as JMG is to Druidry. It would be like accusing JMG of Islamophobia for claiming Druidry as a valid alternative to Islam (or any other spiritual tradition.)]

As proof Malhotra posted a Youtube today of his talk at Columbia University where SJWs (led by a U of Chicago Professor) used the same tactics Rhyd is exhorting people need to use on all those Alt-Right-Infected heathen/polytheist groups. Malhotra's had talks in India disrupted too with the same tactics albeit the disruption there has occasionally made various local newspaper and tv news show headlines.

I get the sense that N.A. and W.Europe are not the only places this kind of "your with my position or your against it - there can be no middle ground on this" group-think Wildermuth is advocating for is spreading.

Isn't it odd how the end result of what Wildermuth is advocating for (example: the 'reckoning') to the groups he's targeted boils down to the same thinking G.W Bush used in convincing a majority of the American people of the necessity to invade Iraq. The end result seems to me to be one of degree but not of kind.

Chevaliermalfait said...

Hello John,
you asked:
"Chevalier, thanks for the comment! Do you happen to know if the other traditions he claims are free of New Right subversion are also, to borrow Wildermuth's own sort of thinking, heavily infiltrated by covert supporters of the New Left? "
Frankly I don't know about O.B.O.D. I would imagine Reclaiming would have overt supporters due to their being mainly a political action based order. I don't think 'infiltration' would apply in reclaiming's case.You might check the contributor list at G&R. There are a number of contributors to G&R that carry the 'metapolitics' meme in arguments around the idea that political activism is a religious/spiritual duty as it were to other platforms such as Patheos, and the Wild Hunt.

John Michael Greer said...

Jön Upsal's Gardener, I don't think I've heard of this Ryan Smith person before, or HUAR; no doubt I'll be showing my age if I comment that HUAR sounds suspiciously like HUAC to me. ;-) That said, this should be entertaining. I have the odd destiny of being fortunate in my enemies; this is far from the first time that some person or group has gone into a Donald Duck frenzy over my lack of concern for whatever shibboleths they were spouting, and every time their efforts have succeeded only in boosting my site stats and increasing my book sales. I'll look forward to seeing the same effect this time too.

Submarine, many thanks.

Panda, they're not safe at all. To begin with, there are already plenty of people on the rightward end of things for whom SJWs are the Persecutors, and the roles of Victims and Rescuers are assigned accordingly. What's more, as the circular firing squad gets going, you can bet that an assortment of leftward radicals whose scores in the Oppression Olympics are higher than Wildermuth's will start defining him as a Persecutor from whom they have to Rescue some other group of Victims. Give it a few years, and the whole thing will have spiraled down into futility just as its equivalents have done so many times in the past.

Chevalier, good heavens -- do they actually use the term "metapolitics"? The Nazis used that term, and so by the same logic they're applying to Spengler, they must all be covert Nazis. (As for the infiltration thing, of course it doesn't apply -- I was parodying Wildermuth's rhetoric of subversion.)

Steve Thomas said...

Hi Panda,

"Speaking to the topic I've decided I need to learn about various rhetorical fallacies. I did not detect the 'special pleading' ploy used by BA until it was called out."

I second this. Some writers and thinkers are very good at quickly parsing the logic of others. I am not as quick. When I encounter something like Wildermuth's essay, I usually get a sense of discomfort, which I can't quite pin down, and then have to go to work on it.

I'd love to hear JMG weigh in on this. In case it will help, here are two thoughts, based on things that have helped me--

1. Learn symbolic logic. If you're not in a position to take a course at a college, you can probably find one online.

I found that, once I had learned the basic structure of a logical proof, it was much easier to look at other peoples' arguments and see where they went wrong. It's probably worth pointing out how this is NOT taught in the schools, and even in college it's an elective. There is a style of polemic that's very popular these days, where you make your case by describing your emotions and citing sources that agree with you, as though that was enough. I was thinking about where this comes from, and I realized-- That's exactly what we were taught in school.

2. Practice. I find that it helps me to occasionally take on an essay and give it a close reading. I break it down to paragraphs, and even sentences and sentence fragments. What are the author's actual claims, and what is their proposed solution? Are their claims true, and does the proposed solution actually address them? What is the actual structure of their argument-- their premises and conclusions, and do the conclusions follow logical from the premises?

And it's also important to look past the formal claims, and figure out what the hidden premises are. What does the author take for granted is true? What do they imply without overtly stating?

As an example of the latter, "Paganism in general—and apparently Devotional and Reconstructionist Polytheism in particular—have been long overdue for a reckoning."

Start with the first claim "Paganism has been long overdue for a reckoning." Note the way that the passive voice is used. I've often found that abusive or violent people do this-- "You screwed up, and now you'll have to pay the price," and so forth. The author writes as though describing an objective condition in the world, which he's simply diagnosing. He has no agency-- it's his target ("Paganism") that is at fault.

Who decided that "Paganism has been long overdue for a reckoning"? Not "Paganism" itself, or participants in the same-- Rhyd Wildermuth did. Further, look at the rhetoric. He doesn't say "Paganism has some issues which need to be resolved," which would still be weaselly. Instead, he says it's "due for a reckoning." This is the sort of dramatic language used in Hollywood films, and its effect is the same here, to slip past the rational mind of the reader and arouse the emotions.

So, just with this sentence, Mr. Wildermuth is 1. setting up a group of people ("Paganism") as aggressors or perpetrators; 2. making sure that group is abstract enough (again, "Paganism") to include a wide range of people while shielding him from claims that he's targeting individuals; 3. overtly absolving himself of moral responsibility, by use of the passive voice, while covertly granting himself moral authority over other people (Who is it that decides when something is "due for a reckoning," and what gave them the right to decide that for other people?); 4. subtly pushing his sympathetic readers toward a state of conflict, by using the sort of language that gives them the feeling of being in a morally ultrasimple Hollywood film.

Chevaliermalfait said...

Hiya John,
you can check here:
it's part of Rhyd's weekly update, just prior to the publishing of the 'confronting the new right' article.
also read the comments, they are pretty telling. It's pretty much admitted there that it is also the tactic they are using. It also is discussed in a few other articles by G&R contributors and allies.
and in this one:
although that later is more an application of the concept.
It's also discussed in the previously mentioned Ryan Smith article.
Oh I also noticed that the 'confronting' article no longer appears on the blog proper,although the link still works.

John Michael Greer said...

Chevalier, I'll see if I can find the time for those sometime soon, when I don't have anything more interesting to do, such as watching paint dry. ;-) Seriously, thank you, and I'll doubtless have a look one of these days. said...

I fear this whole exchange makes me quite sad. I'm not trying to Starhawk this (to borrow a term from the other blog), but I firmly believe this entire conflagration further underlines the real lack of "community" to be found online. After reading several of the Internet dust-ups over the past few weeks (and not just amongst the Pagans), it occurred to me that we are in a unique forum where we no longer have to tolerate anyone.

For context, I live in a co-housing development. (It’s another iteration on intentional living, where everyone still owns their own property, but funds are pooled to accomplish larger community projects such as herb and vegetable gardens, and common meals.) There is a lot of diversity, we pretty much run the gamut. And still, there is one thing that we all have in common: we have made a commitment to living in community. If you live in proximity to someone, it necessitates a different sort of behavior. The threat, “I know where you live,” well, it becomes pretty meaningless. You wanna flounce? Ok, but you’re going to have to sell your house first. Proximity raises the stakes. Not everyone is going to be a bosom companion, but they are going to be able to sit in a meeting together to pass the budget when it’s time.

This stands in stark contrast to what I see happening on all sides of the Pagan Internet Social Scene. (See what I did there? Anything one can walk away from so easily can hardly be called a “community.”) Because really, exile and shunning has never been easier than in the age of the internet. Don’t like someone’s politics, fine. Smear them. If that won’t stick, grab your gods, I mean, ball and go home. We succumb to the insidious luxury of fragmentation–we no longer have to learn to get along because we can always divide ourselves into a smaller and smaller subsets of people who are just like us.

The Pagan Internet Social Scene has its uses, potentially. Debating ideas is one of the most powerful ones. Yet, it is a rare thing to see ideas debated and tested. More often than not, a blog post will descend into a mire of puffed-up egos, an insatiable need to be right, and a veritable smorgasbord of the worst behaviors the web has to offer. Add in a golden flounce for good measure, and presto! Another scene is born, perhaps this time for the Libertarian Vegans who worship N’zoth.

I love this blog, your DGD materials, Green Wizardry, and getting to hear you speak at ECG a few years ago. I love Wildermuth when he relates his experience of the gods, and the passion with which he writes about those who fall into the wage class or below, between the cracks. I love how you and he both are unafraid to point out problems with the prevailing socio-economic structures in this country, even if your solutions vary wildly. One of you feeds my head, the other my heart.

To conclude, I think you're correct--the piece in question was ham-handed at best and I honestly don't want to think what it was at worst; I'll also admit to some bad personal experiences with both ADF and Heathenry had me nodding in agreement with parts of it. You're right enough that the proof will be in the eating, and I sincerely hope you're wrong that it was calculated demagoguery.

I guess I'll just have to keep wishing for all parties to end up at the pub and settle things with a friendly game of darts? The velcro kind?

*In the interest of disclosure, I do have a poem set to be published in the upcoming issue of A Beautiful Resistance, lest someone down the line accuse me of being less than forthright.

John Michael Greer said...

Catriona aka Druidswell, I quite agree about the Pagan Internet Social Scene -- nice acronym, by the way; it should probably be paired with the Marxist Online Activist Network -- which is why I basically don't participate in it. I probably would have ignored Wildermuth's demagoguery altogether if he hadn't gone out of his way to include me in his list of targets (I mean, come on; how many "Long Descent Druids" who talk about Oswald Spengler a lot are there?) because the mainstream Neopagan scene isn't my (not-really-a-) community. When it comes down to it, I'm an old-fashioned occultist, and the kind of Druidry I do is just as old-fashioned: the sort of thing the late Isaac Bonewits used to denounce in scurrilous terms as "mesopagan" and therefore beneath contempt.

Granted, there's a lot of chest-thumping and ego preening in the recent dustups in the Neopagan scene, but I also think there's something rather more important going on. During the period when Neopaganism has been a pop-culture phenomenon, it's served as a catchall for several very different movements with ultimately incompatible goals and values -- and those are beginning to separate themselves. I don't think that's a bad thing, necessarily; it's like a relationship that's gone sour, moving toward the moment when the people involved go their separate ways. But we'll see.

Scotlyn said...

Ok, this post and thread feels way off my radar in that I would have to do some work to make sense of its ins and outs. (Not gonna...) :)

In view of the general theme of extremism and polarisation, I'm thinking of how to protect that which matters in our dealinga with one another... any shred of middle ground where with courtesy, respect, and basic good manners we might find some common concerns and tasks worth doing together.

Meanwhile, I have discovered something quite exciting but much more relevant to a previous post dealing with Schopenhauer and the nature of reality... and I hope it's not too off topic to post hear... and that is the work of Donald Hoffman on "conscious agents" which leads to a startling conclusion: "reality is consciousness all the way down"

He's interviewed here, and there is a link in the introduction to his bio page and publications.

Scotlyn said...

Forgot the link -

Eric S. said...

John and Catriona: ADF has changed a lot over the years I think, especially comparing it to what it was at its founding. When I first came to Druidry, I avoided engaging ADF members and groups for a long time, mostly because of some bad experiences I had with reconstructionists and feeling wary of more cultural snobbery and form over substance. I also didn't have particularly good impressions from the first few books I read that came out of the ADF side. When I finally started talking to ADF members in person, though, I wound up getting a very different impression of people. Part of it, I think is that enough time has now passed for the pet scholarship of the '80s to have become a little dated, which makes it easier to remember that history makes a better mirror than window. There's also been a lot of work being done to bridge the gaps between ADF and the Revival traditions, particularly through the past Archdruid's affiliation with OBOD, and the push to distinguish ADF from other Druid orders in terms of its role (public community, rather than private development) and instead of the "paleo/meso/neo" distinctions that were originally there to draw distinctions according to spurious claims of "authenticity." The general attitude of most people I've encountered in ADF towards the Druid Revival orders is that they compliment each other nicely, overlap heavily (especially in their training programs), but appeal to differing spheres of spiritual life, and several people are active members of other Druid orders.

I have definitely encountered the “fake druidry” sentiment from some older more conservative bigwigs in ADF but that mindset seems to be fading into a minority viewpoint. And I’ve also met some older, more conservative Druid Revival types who are so committed to the 18th century material that they frown down on people who want to study medieval and iron-age Celtic myths and worship those gods or use reconstructionist methodologies to enrich an understanding of those myths (without carrying it to the dogmatic extreme of some reconstructionist groups). Even OBOD has begun to take the approach that the lore is cumulative rather than distinct and can be informed by ancient sources, modern revivals, and new discoveries alike alongside personal experience without those sources of inspiration needing to invalidate conflict with each other. Over the years, there has been some sense of reconciliation, and it’s started to look to me like there’s hope that the various Druid traditions could begin to enrich each other in productive ways (the ECG mentioned above is an example), On the other hand, though, as things like the G&R attempt at drawing a political divide between OBOD and the rest of Druidry, and the various pock-shots at ADF in occasional comments here demonstrate that peace between Druids is still an uphill battle. And the sense of rivalry and one-upping between the Druid groups does get to me, since I am involved with, practice, and have close friends and loved ones in both wings of the tradition. I'm really not sure what purpose is achieved by making various claims of superiority due to "authenticity," "lineage," or "validity," or claiming that this or that Druid tradition or wing of Druid practice isn't "real" Druidry. Is it possible for Druidry to move forward without the constant cheap shots, and without the push for isolation and animosity between the various types of Druidry? With the twilight of Neopaganism, is there any chance left of the various Druid groups being able to inform and enrich each other into the future? Or are we facing a permanent, irreconcilable wedge in which the various Druid traditions cease to even recognize each other as Druids?

onething said...

"In point of historical fact, authoritarian regimes are always hostile to religious traditions that encourage individuals to have direct, unmediated contact with divinities, precisely because it's so much harder to make such people follow the party line."

Interesting. I have decided that this is the unpardonable sin against the Holy Spirit spoken of in Matthew Chapter 12 (22-32). Although it is a rather strange passage that does not completely come together, it follows a scene in which the detractors of Jesus say that since he had cast out a demon, it must have been through the power of Satan that he did it. Basically, Jesus was outside their fold and his healing works could therefore be slandered as evil. What they're really saying is that they own access to God. Since all people must in fact come to God directly this is a grave affront to people's spiritual health. The Holy
Spirit being the all-pervading, uncreated energies of God and therefore the way to divine contact.

James M. Jensen II said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jön Upsal's Gardener said...

@James M Jensen: That sounds very similar to the story from Saudi Arabia in 2009, about a djinn being sued for harassment:

James M. Jensen II said...

(I know you'd already put this through, but I realized that in my overzealous copy-pasting, I had inadvertently let some, er, rather hot language slip through. My apologies. Editing and reposting.)

I hate posting stuff that's not on-topic for the post, but this is too good to pass up. There was a thread on Reddit today asking lawyers about weird cases they were asked to take on. One of the responses began with "First, I was asked to evict a ghost. I actually did that one."

When asked to clarify, he posted this:

Basically, he served notice to the ghost just like he would a living person. According to his client, the ghost left that night "and took its stuff." He thought the whole thing was crazy but…

Another commenter, Girlinhat, said:

In many schools of magic/religion, you performed an exorcism. The basics of getting rid of a spirit is essentially to call on a power greater than the spirit which can then have force over them. Priests call on the name of God, because God has a lot of power and even his NAME has strength. Other religions will call on certain natural forces, local spirits, or call out an intruding demon by name, as a way to strip their power via their name. You can even perform an exorcism just by shouting "Get the … out of here!" because no you've challenged YOUR willpower against the ghost's.

In your case, you came in with a binding document under the power of law. The written word has a lot of power, and the idea of 'who makes the rules' is also very important. You came in with a written document with legal enforcement. As far as exorcisms go, that's not a bad weapon to throw against them. Even if not strictly enforceable, it's still a decently good place to start.

I'm curious what y'all think about this. Seems like some decent inspiration for the story challenge if nothing else.

Unknown said...

(Deborah Bender)

Eric S.-- My impression is that Druids are at least as sensible as witches (admittedly a low bar to clear) and therefore have good prospects for more cooperation and less infighting in the future.

The first couple of decades of the witchcraft revival were marked by heat over authenticity, but around the mid-Seventies most witches decided this was stupid and just stopped. There are some witches who don't just have a love for their own tradition but are snobs who think all the others are Doing It Wrong. They are a minority. It's common for witches who have some mastery of one tradition to join another, either to broaden their knowledge or for the opportunity to circle with friends.

For decades, there's been broad agreement on two points:
1. Within one tradition/organization or a related family of traditions, claims of authenticity by the standards of that group are meaningful. IOW, if you say you were taught by a certain person or initiated into a particular line, don't exaggerate and be prepared to back up your claim.
2. Skills, knowledge, talent and sincerity are distributed unpredictably among witches of all backgrounds. One can make certain assumptions about people who have attained a particular degree in the more formal and rule-bound traditions, but on the whole the reliable way to assess whether a witch has a grip of her craft is through personal contact.

. said...

I'm not familiar with the American religious scene but it's identical to what happens within the far left. I fight with those people all the time. The most infuriating thing they do is the feigned innocence act where they pretend they didn't really imply that you're a racist/fascist/bigot at all, you're just being over sensitive and they're really just 'questioning how useful the frame you're using is' or some other pseudo-academic gobbledegook that they never apply to themselves. It's like a postmodernist abusive relationship dynamic.

On an unrelated subject, I have a terrible tendency to swing between focusing on 'higher' things and neglecting physical life like, er, eating properly, and then swinging back the other way. At the moment I'm focused on physical stuff (mostly of the shallow, escapist, vain kind!) and I think I've been suspended from dream school as a result. My dreams have gone back to the normal boring kind and I don't get told things during the day so much (well except for a very clear instant answer about climate change and the north Atlantic which was scary but not surprising- that may have contributed to the escapism).

Is it bad to switch back and forth like that or is it better to try to be balanced about things every single day? I'm guessing the current quietness is not really a punishment because it doesn't work that way, it's just because my consciousness is elsewhere. Would that be right? Or am I likely to be in trouble?!

I guess I find it hard to fit physical existence into a bigger picture because I fall into swinging between the asceticism vs. hedonism binary which I know isn't right. How does a sort of higher purpose perspective relate to really mundane physical things? Or even to totally vain frivolous things like wearing makeup and getting one's nails done that go beyond just keeping your physical body healthy?


Kutamun said...

Howdy JMG , i dont think its coincidence that the Germans wrote a lot of your favourite literature . They are great rustic Romantics , the Germans . I am starting to feel there is a strong connection between " Germanness " for want of a better word and the culture of the Australian Aborigines . At first i noticed the aussie bush throwing up an odd assortment of gothic romantics from its European residents , but there is more to it , i think . After all, this is the Land of the Rainbow Serpent . Germans who come here seem to fall in love with its seemingly limitless vastness , and they get eaten by ancient Saurians in record numbers owing to their well documented penchant for flinging themselves enthusiastically into the nearest Billabong. Thats when theyre not being rescued on the point of expiration from the middle of vast deserts into which they routinely charge .
This could take me years to figure out , but its on my counter enlightenment , romantic neo platonic train line , of which the Nazis were an unfortunate offshoot .

Mark Mikituk said...

@Seb ze Frog wrote
"But the specific question of last months was about "the magic that one can expect to find in his everyday life". From my experience with physics, it is possible to address this part, but it is even more difficult. One needs to add a certain showmanship to the business. "

[Sorry as this is totally off this month's topic, but is on topic with regard to what I have been thinking about.]

Someone with an interest in magic but no knowledge of it asked me what it was, to which I responded; all experience and actions unattributable to the five senses ie se qui est occulté. No need to bring quantum physics into it and make it all complicated imho, although of course that can be fun too. The precise example I gave her was that as she approached me I was reading intensely and looked up at her because I sensed a will directed at me. I am quite sure all of us experience "magic" constantly and daily but just do not recognize it as such.

W. B. Jorgenson said...


I have a question for the realistic fantasy contest. I have a story in mind focused on a centuries old blood feud between incarnations of Norse and Greek gods. I'm thinking it works as follows:

Upon the death of the incarnation of a god, an infant/fetus becomes the next incarnation. These incarnations have very limited memories of past lives (maybe a dozen memories total, and all have to be triggered, like real memories), personality aspects of "their god", and a capability to learn what their god is a god of quicker and easier than average, as well as magic that enables them to do various things in a way that matches "their God": so Braggi for example, Norse god of poetry, has powerful magic that lets him use poetry to change others' perceptions or something to that effect, or perhaps anything he makes in a poem happens (keeping with the rules of magic, not always as intended, but as written); Asclepius, the Greek god of medicine can easily learn how to treat illnesses and injuries; and Loki is inherently prone to being a trickster. These are not set rules, so a Loki could be a ark, serious type, but it's less likely.

Also, none of the magic manifests a direct physical effect: it's all based on coincidences and alterations to consciousness. In addition, it is rather weak unless and until they start training, at which point it becomes stronger, just like with mages.

I'm also thinking they are drawn together through strings of coincidences, and over the centuries have figured out rituals to recognize each other. If strange coincidences bring someone to them, they test the newcomer to see if (s)he is one of them, if so then they teach them extensively how to use these powers, skills, and personality traits.

Here's my question: is this possible, and if not, is there a way to fix this to be possible? Thank you in advance for your help.

John Michael Greer said...

Scotlyn, maintaining a space where courtesy is the norm, and those who try to violate that norm are not welcome, is a crucial strategy just now, thus the comment policy on my blogs. As for Hoffman, yes, I saw that! I wonder if he knows that the authors of the Upanishads were there millennia ago; still, having it in a form that makes sense in the language of science is helpful.

Eric, it's a complex matter, of course, because the "fake Druid" nastiness you've heard from an assortment of senior ADF people really did (and does) rankle, and it's going to take some time before those of us who have been on the receiving end of it will be ready to believe that it really is all in the past. I'm not sure if you're aware that I was a member of ADF from 2002 to 2005, and served for a while as preceptor of the Magician's Guild, before bailing out; the impressions I got during that period were by and large very negative. I'm pleased to hear from you that things have changed, but when a group that was actively hostile for a good long time drops that behavior, it may be a while before it's welcomed with open arms by those it used to try to bully.

That said, I look forward to the day when ADF is simply one Druid organization among others, with the same amicable relations with other organizations that, say, AODA has with OBOD, and people flow from one to another to experience different aspects of what Druidry is about. My problems with ADF had nothing to do with the Order of Ritual, practices, symbolism, etc; they had to do with the politics of the organization and the culture of abuse that pervaded many aspects of its online presence. If those latter could be fixed, I'd be glad of it.

Onething, that seems like a reasonable deduction, theologically speaking!

James, that's a great story! If in fact ghosts are what occult theory says they are -- the souls of dead human beings, trapped in a sort of half-conscious limbo state for any one of a variety of reasons -- the impact of a legal document on the consciousness of someone who was used to obeying such things in life would be considerable.

.Mallow, one of the basic principles of Druidry is that no two people have the same needs and potentials when it comes to the spiritual path. If you need to alternate between periods of spiritual effort and periods of involvement in practical affairs, that's what you need, and there's no point in worrying about whether it's "right" or not. Just walk the path through the forest that feels right to you!

Kutamun, funny. The Germans whose writings I find most interesting and inspiring are precisely those whose sense of irony and capacity for self-criticism generally prevents them from flinging themselves into crocodile-infested billabongs or charging out into the midst of desert wastelands, though.

WB Jorgenson, that's entirely workable. The idea of the reincarnation of some aspect of a divinity is found in an assortment of religions and occult traditions, and as long as your magic works with consciousness -- for example, your incarnate Bragi being able to recite a love poem that makes anyone in earshot susceptible to instant infatuation, or, let's say, an incarnate Dionysos around whom nobody, but nobody, is able to stay sober for long -- it should work.

swampdruid said...

(Lauren Neuman) It makes me really sad to know that people in ADF were (or maybe are?) hostile to AODA and other druid orders. I admit to being unaware of a lot of the politics, especially online, as I've only been a member since 2012, but I don't remember anything negative.

I definitely don't doubt that it HAS happened, but like Eric mentioned above, I don't think it's happening much recently, or at least it's not happening where I've been able to see it. I hope that's really the case - there aren't enough Druids around for us to be sniping at each other.

Myriam said...

@.Mallow. You wrote: "I have a terrible tendency to swing between focusing on 'higher' things and neglecting physical life like, er, eating properly, and then swinging back the other way. At the moment I'm focused on physical stuff (mostly of the shallow, escapist, vain kind!) and I think I've been suspended from dream school as a result."

Maybe you're just on a field trip. Sometimes to properly get the lesson, we need to immerse ourselves in the actual experience of something instead of being told about it. I'm finding when I turn away from the "higher things" to focus on something else, at some point I get an Ah! moment when I realize it was a lesson too.

On a side note, the teacher is pushing me to study what symbols mean. I think so that it could better communicate with me. I know that I am blind to a lot of what he/she is trying to tell me. I keep complaining I don't have time because I'm working 54 hour weeks in addition to everything else I need to do. I have been looking for another way to meet my financial obligations. At one moment, when I was really fed up and fuming, a random stranger at work told me not to be so impatient, not to do anything rash, and just wait a bit longer. While talking to this stranger, I was overwhelmed with a very strong feeling that it was my teacher forcefully communicating with me, to the point where my core energy was connecting to an energy presence in this stranger. Needless to say, I stayed put. There's probably a lesson in there somewhere that I just can't seem to get...

By the way, I find eating a very good diet is absolutely crucial to having the energy needed to do work, magic or otherwise. Please don't neglect that, for your own sake.

@Scotlyn. You wrote: "the work of Donald Hoffman on "conscious agents" which leads to a startling conclusion: "reality is consciousness all the way down".

Thank you for posting this. I had not heard of him and find his work fascinating. However, he left out the possibility that the consciousnesses that are the creators of that reality can be anything from the gods to bacteria. Why should only humans be the creators of reality?

See work relating to bacterial consciousness:

There is a lot of fascinating work done with plant consciousness as well.

I don't know how to reconcile this with the idea that consciousness is a result of will meeting matter. But I can say that if countless consciousnesses together create reality, then it can't be anything we wish it to be. Our Will is pretty insignificant in the face of all the other Wills out there.

Dylan said...

JMG, the discussion above has touched on disaffected members of dying movements going rogue as either demagogues or bomb-planters. Meanwhile, the news here in Canada the last few days has been full of images of Fort McMurray in flames. The great oil boom town on the edge of the Alberta tar sands is being devoured by a self-feeding firestorm. As a result, 80 000 people are homeless and Canada's day-to-day oil production has been reduced by a third.

Considering the amount of ire that's been concentrated on this city nationwide for being the flagship of the Canadian oil industry, I can't help but wonder if there was some form of intentionality behind the catastrophe. On the one hand, it's conceivable that after such a dry winter, a case of regular old arson could get out of control and take down an entire city.

On the other hand, the fire is so malevolent, so like a living thing, and comes on the heels of enormous economic damage to the oil industry. How many beings, human or otherwise, have reason to resent Fort Mac and direct their powers against it? And don't aggressive magical workings usually follow the path of least resistance, piling up misfortune upon misfortune on the target? I'm curious as to your thoughts on the matter.

Alex Blaidd said...

Since this weekend I have just read The Blood Of The Earth this all makes more sense to me (truly one of the most important books I've read - I have made pages of notes, quotes and ideas from reading it and it's certainly helped me understand many things, that I only had a weak grasp of before). There have been many intelligent responses above to which I can add nothing, than to say I have learned much from the comments on this thread as usual.

I am reading this thread and the exchanges in a way to train my mind to the patterns and the slights of rhetorical hand that people can use, so it has been very instructive. My own ability to analyse others' arguments needs further development.

I must say I felt somewhat uneasy at seeing Rhyd's rather scary image in front of my country's flag (I too thought immediately of skinheads). though I was at least relieved to learn he wasn't a countryman! No doubt, I'm now labelled as being a part of the New Right for saying such divisive things! One of the things that comes to mind reading his piece and your critique is that once again his escalatory tone has the unwelcome side effect of de-sensitising us to what real fascism is, as you've discussed before, reminiscent of Weimar Germany. Far from what we need right now when there is a genuine reason to be wary of the rise of the far right (as indeed I'm learning we should also be wary o a rise in the far left). All of this reminds me further that my inherent distrust of 'movements' is not a bad thing, particularly at a time when our culture is in such tatters. Whether Rhyd proves to be a demagogue or not it's a useful analysis in how demagogues can wield slight of hand. My observation is similar to what Bill said above that currently there is a lot of demonising happening on the internet - I'm observing it in many areas, and thus it seems that perhaps we are soon to enter the age of the witch-hunt - something I've pondered for a while. Perhaps what we may see in the decline of the West is various witch-hunts happening simultaneously, rather than it all happening under one banner.

Oh and finally, I wondered in the comments on ADR a couple of weeks back what makes the Left so pre-disposed to believing in fanciful visions etc. - well you answered it in The Blood of the Earth and above, it's the founding principle of the Left. Interestingly, I hadn't realise the foundations of Conservatism were what they are too, which on learning means that I' actually a conservative. At least that clears up my previous confusion on Left vs Right.

Robert Mathieson - I found your highlighting of the De Groot principle very enlightening and noted your comment in my notebook. That's a very useful concept to be aware of so thank you.

Troy - very insightful analysis of Rhyd's post thank you.

Seb Ze Frog said...

Good Morning.
Mark Mikituk, this is a very nice example of "everyday magic". And I agree with you that there is no need to bring in quantum physics or the like to the discussion. Actually, in most of the New Age era books I glanced through, this kind of approach tastes like trying to add some science-respectability glazing to a poorly cooked cake.

My own mention of physics though was to reference my experience in *teaching* physics. There is much to say about "everyday physics" in the same way there is much to say about "everyday magic". And I tried to develop succinctly the venues that I though were available to do so, following your post and John Michael response along those lines, since "vulgarisation" is a topic dear to my heart.

Anyway, for now I'll stick to "Everyday physics" maybe with a leaning towards "physics for the magically learned layman" and see how it unfolds ;-)


Scotlyn said...

Myriad, re Hoffman, as I understand him, Hoffman would not only be suggesting that bacteria and plants are conscious agents (or more likely composite conscious agents, but that protons and electrons are. (At least mathematically he can find nothing to contradict this). What he suggests is that to any *particular* conscious agent, the world that can be perceived, and reaponded to, is all the other conscious agents interacting, and impinging on one another. Likewise, any given conscious agent is part of "the world" to others. There's a lot more to it, but if you read him as denying bacterial consciousness, you may not have read him far enough yet.

Myriam said...

I hope this post is not too far off topic, but I would appreciate it very much if someone who is familiar with Tarot could provide some insight.

Every evening, I shuffle the cards, cut the deck and lay out three cards, asking simply for something to meditate on, as in "What lesson would you like to teach me?"
I sometimes ask more specific questions centered around a topic, and I get answers that are so apt it's eerie, but usually, the three cards give me plenty to think about, examining my character and where I am heading.

For three evenings in a row now, I have had the same three cards turn up. I don't have enough of a mathematical background to calculate the odds of the same three cards out of 78 turning up three nights in a row, but it's enough to convince me that someone is trying to tell me something and I'm just not getting it.

The cards are the Ace of Swords, the Eight of Swords, and the Emperor.

I'm taking it to mean that I need to clear my thinking, shift my perspective, and free myself from something that has been keeping me trapped. I can't understand what the Emperor is doing there, though. Maybe simply an indication that self-control and focus on mind over emotions are needed. About what, I am at a complete loss.

In any case, I think I have it wrong because, well, three nights in a row is like getting cuffed upside the head.

If anyone can help me out of the Dunce corner, I would really appreciate it.

Myriam said...

You are right, I read a couple of articles and watched his TED talk. I'm fascinated and will keep reading when I have a chance. Again, thank you for mentioning his work.

JMG, would you mind explaining how this would relate to consciousness as a result of will meeting matter? I still can't reconcile the two ideas. If you think I should keep meditating on this topic to figure it out for myself, I thank you in advance either way.

Unknown said...

(Deborah Bender)

Myriam, I would read that combination of cards to mean that you are moving into a situation that provides no wiggle room or chance for negotiation. You have to follow the rules completely or defy them and accept the consequences. Or that physical force or the threat of violence or implacable, pitiless logic will be applied to you and you must confront it straight on. Yes or no; fish or cut bait.

My usual deck for readings is the Waite-Smith but I also have an offbeat black and white deck called the New Tarot, and in that deck, the Eight of Swords represents the challenge part of an initiation.

I don't claim any special talent or expertise. I would be interested to hear whether what I wrote above turns out to be on or off the mark.

Seb Ze Frog said...


from my own experience the point raised by John Michael in one of his books (I can't remember which right now) that with practice the cards tend to get a very personal interpretation proved very true. Which means that interpreting the reading of someone else is not something I would dare trying.

On the other hand, I can say that from my experience, Tarot proved to be a powerful tool to explore my character, which is very much in accordance with your own experience. And I do know the feeling... "There is something *important* I should be learning... But cant figure it out!". The only thing I could think of in that situation is to use this sequence for meditation, and meditate upon it for as many times as it takes to exhaust it. Which means either getting to this very very rare moment when things click, or to this much less rare moment when all the avenues I see have been explored and only blankness remains. At that point, I set it aside for a time, and come back on it a week or so afterwards. Very often, it helps.

Also, more rarely, I have used the deck by "discussing" with it, i.e., casting a new divination asking clarifications about the previous reading. I don't use this method a lot because I find it demanding to keep it from becoming mind-babbling.

And finally, I tend to think of the spark of anger when I hit my toe, or the feeling of being cuffed upside the head you mention as a hit by a zen master keisaku. From my experience, there has always been something to learn by meditating about it.

PS: odds of getting the exact same reading 3 times in a row is ~ 1 in a billion (based on the fact that I find 76076 arrangement of 3 cards in a 78 cards deck. But I am doing this in a hurry, double-check welcome). This is why I prefer using divination methods where I actually manipulate the random-generator tool (i.e. cards, dices, flip coin). Because it integrates all those very subtle things that my body can do underneath my conscious grasp, and that are not integrated in a computer random generator.

James M. Jensen II said...

Myriam, I'm not competent enough to help you with the interpretation of the cards, I can help with the math: the probability is 1 in 76,076.

The way you calculate it is to multiply the number of cards you can pick from for the first card (78) by the number of possibilities for the second card (77) then by the number of possibilities remaining for the third card (76), then divide by the number of ways to arrange three cards (6).

Unless the cards have turned up in the same order every night. Then don't divide by six. The probability of that is 1 in 456,456. (That's not a repetition. It's four hundred fifty six thousand four hundred fifty six.)

Wild stuff in either case!

James M. Jensen II said...

Seb: Ugh. I forgot to raise the odds to the power of 3. I shouldn't make mathematical comments so late at night!

Yinyura Mima said...

James, it seems to me that your math is still wrong.

The first night, any 3-card combination could be picked (so p_1=1)

The second and third night, only one 3-card combination from the 76076 possible (so p_2=p_3=1/76076)

The probability of picking the same 3-card combination three times on a row is p_1*p_2*p_3 = 1/76076² = 1/5787557776 (a bit easier than 1 in 6 american billions, and twenty times harder than winning the powerball jackpot)

Scotlyn said...

JMG, re Hoffman's knowledge of the Upanishads, I can't say, but he was asked in one interview if his meditation practice impacted his work, and he said, "why yes, I've practiced meditation seriously for ten years and I find it informs the work and the work informs the meditation" (paraphrase)... clearly he is happy to acknowledge his sources!

Scotlyn said...

@Myriam (apologies for misspelling your name earlier)...

As I understand it, Hoffman does not believe in matter (or at least is testing the hypothesis that there does not "need to be" matter for everything to work as we experience it)... In other words, the hardness, colour, texture, etc of the world, and even our experience of time and space (or spacetime as physicists call it) are simply how we personally experiemce the interactions of ALL the conscious agents interacting out there. Matter, time and space are part of our "species-specific user interface" which tuned to fitness, not truth, allows us to operate.

Thinking of this in JMG's scalar terms, any conscious agaent we meet may have their own "user interface" which on some scales fails to see us altogether... to a bacteria, our bodies may appear to have the solidity and parmanence and imperviousness of mountains, while to a galaxy we are less significant than a single neutrino dancing its way through us for a micro-instant... yet, on its own scale, each is a conscious agent, experiemcing, deciding and acting upon "the world" (made only and everywhere of other conscious agents)... I find this rather exciting!

Re the Margulis and other links, yes, alot of the parts of this are out there. I think Chandra Bose who studied plant consciousness, also noted that seemingly "inert" metals also behaved as if conscious under certain conditions...

Unknown said...

(Deborah Bender)

Myriam, since no one else has offered an interpretation of your three cards, I'll venture some additional comments.

You wrote, "I'm taking it to mean that I need to clear my thinking, shift my perspective, and free myself from something that has been keeping me trapped. I can't understand what the Emperor is doing there, though. Maybe simply an indication that self-control and focus on mind over emotions are needed. About what, I am at a complete loss."

There are different ways to learn from the cards. It appears to me that you are wedded to interpreting every card as an aspect or tendency within your own psyche.

In a mundane reading such as you would get if you were paying a fortune teller for advice, court cards would usually be read as actual people with whom you have dealings, number cards would be read as events, situations or temporary forces, and trumps might be read either psychologically/spiritually or as information about the general situation or the underlying meaning of the reading.

Interpreting your three cards along those lines, I see the Emperor as external to you--an authority figure of a conventional type or a powerful institution. Aces are inceptions, and a number card from the same suit as the ace is further development of the force or quality of that suit; the higher the number, the more fully developed.

My personal tendency if I were doing a medium sized spread like a Celtic Cross is fortune teller mode. I start by looking at the cards for a description of a current or upcoming situation or set of events. Once I've figured out what's going on in what passes for objective reality, I look at the cards again for psychological insights or spiritual guidance to offer as part of the advice. I wouldn't do that kind of reading for myself or anyone else on a daily basis; it would run into diminishing returns.

If you draw the same three cards three days in a row, I see two likely possibilities. One is that your shuffling technique is defective. The other is that the cards are telling you to do more mental preparation for something imminent.

James M. Jensen II said...

Yinyura: well, count me thoroughly embarrassed. Of course you're right. Ugh.

Alexander Marcus said...

Myriam - were the cards in the same order each time? That would compound the odds tremendously.

Myriam said...

Thank you for all these helpful comments!

I appreciate the math calculations done. That stuff is beyond me, but your sums tell me I should take these odds seriously.

@Seb I'm glad to hear that others are using the tarot cards as a way of examining possible character traits. It's been helping to correct my unfortunate upbringing that had the effect of atrophying many parts of my psyche. Have you come across this?
Tarot as a Counseling Language -
It's one of the tarot related sources that I've found helpful.

As for the three cards, I'm afraid I've already meditated on them to the point of exhaustion, but the topic isn't the one exhausted. :-(

@Deborah Some time back, I had a reading done by a professional (a cold reading from a complete stranger), and her interpretation of the spread surprised me because it was different from what I would have thought, but she was absolutely correct, and it gave me very good advice. You may be right that I only see the cards as aspects of my own psyche and need to look at it from another, broader, angle.

I must say your reading is a lot more dire than what I had read.

I can't see who in my life would be an Emperor, either as figure or institution, except in some vague way the system that keeps us on our hamster wheel. Is it possible that the Emperor is from the astral world? For example, the being who has been teaching me? Maybe my mid-term exams are coming up... Just kidding.

There is no doubt in my mind that I must take this reading seriously, though. I usually shuffle the cards by putting them one at a time on seven piles, then putting the piles one on top of the other. This is to break up any cards that were previously together. I then shuffle the cards till I feel they have been thoroughly mixed, cut the deck and lay out the cards from the cut. The cut is to let the universe decide which cards would be most apt for me at that moment. I don't always do this process (sometimes I just shuffle them obsessively before cutting), but it's usually how I do it. I use the Waite-Smith deck as well, following JMG's suggestion somewhere waaaay back to use one of the well-known decks.

Thinking about what you said, there is one thought that keeps pressing on me about the message from the three cards, which would dovetail with your reading. I keep pushing this thought back, though, as I have been for a long time, because I feel incapable of meeting this challenge.

In a nutshell, knowing that the human mind operates best with stories, for a long time now I've had the dream of writing short tales that would deliver a nugget of wisdom directly into the subconscious minds of readers, much like the way fairy tales work, only for adults today. The tales would bring the astral world, human potential, and reality as it is experienced today together.

It requires me to develop my connection to the astral world, to learn to listen very carefully and think through to sift out potentially harmful messages, to learn symbolism (which the teacher has been pushing me to do) in order to better communicate, to check that my ego is out of the way and I'm not just another nutjob, to hone my writing skills to find a way to write underneath the surface story a message in symbols that the subconscious mind will grasp, and to find a way to get these tales into print and disseminated to the general reader. A daunting task.

I have been avoiding committing to that path for years. It's possible that the universe is insisting that I get on with it. And I have been avoiding it by arranging my life in such a way that by necessity I am working very long hours. There is nothing else going on in my life that would make any sense to me right now.


Thank you for the feedback and the opportunity to discuss this here.

Myriam said...

@Scotlyn. Curiouser and curiouser... I will definitely pursue further readings of this guy.

Robert Mathiesen said...

Myriam, I was not going to comment on your three tarot cards at all, but then you wrote, "Thinking about what you said, there is one thought that keeps pressing on me about the message from the three cards, which would dovetail with your reading. I keep pushing this thought back, though, as I have been for a long time, because I feel incapable of meeting this challenge. "

For me, the Eights are (almost) always precisely about a challenge that the querent must face, but feels to be too hard for her/him to meet successfully; nonetheless, the querent is actually equipped to deal with the challenge splendidly. And Swords pertain to knowledge and power, to intellect and insight. The One of any suit, as others have remarked, can indicate a new beginning in whatever the suit points to. (The other thing I find a One often indicates is the "essential oil," so to speak, of whatever the suit points to.)

If this is so, then the Emperor may well be your Teacher, and the metaphor of an exam may not be all that far off. (Only it's not just your one and only midterm exam. The midterm exams keep on being given all your life long, and there's never a final exam, not as long as you live.)

In short, write! It may be time.

zach bender said...

I must say the level of discussion of tarot in these comments is considerably above what I have found on sites where tarot is the ostensible subject.

These days I mostly read playing cards, so I am a little cold on majors, and of course the knight and page are conflated in the jack, but in my own experience a card like the Emperor would describe a psychological or spiritual condition of the querent, not represent a third party, e.g., an authority figure.

Similarly, the aces seem to me to represent, as one commenter here suggested, the essential quality of the entire suite -- here, swords, the narrative within which you are operating. Eights, I agree, indicate a closing in -- the "midterm exam."

But your mileage may well differ, because in the end the cards are simply an interface between you and whatever "other" is communicating with you. Over time you build your own relationship with the cards, and they communicate with you in ways that become unique to you.

While the Emperor might be, as Myriam herself suggested, the teacher or guide, it is not immediately clear what this would "add" to the reading. Possibly the idea that the impending shift in your understanding will be with relation to that voice. Which might explain the repetition of the three cards.

I would note the tradition from which Rider emerged has assigned to this card the Hebrew letter Heh -- life, completion, balance --, with the numerical value five, although the roman numeral is four. The card is also attributed to Aries, the cardinal air sign.

Thoth swapped the Emperor with the Star, Hebrew letter Tsade -- structuration --, value ninety, though the roman numeral is seventeen, which would correspond numerologically with eight. Aquarius, the fixed air sign. Swords also being air, for those playing at home.

To my mind each of these numerical attributions is possibly what Paul Foster Case himself referred to as a "blind" -- that is, the "true" attributions are hidden from the non-adept.

Seb Ze Frog said...

Good morning,

For the odds calculations of 3 times the same reading (same reading for me implicitly means same order) I concur with Yinyura who summarized the matter quite nicely in my opinion.

As for using the tarot to explore and correct personal unbalances, yes indeed. My learning of the Tarot was part of a larger adventure, which was following Learning Ritual Magic by three authors, among which our esteemed host. I was at first very skeptical about this part of the course... Well with the whole bundle actually, but I found out that all the different aspects merged elegantly. Specifically for divination, it was very interesting to see how the aspects of the cards and the events of the day, including my inner life kept interweaving into deeper patterns of meaning.

Myriam, I hope you'll find the key you are looking for. Or at least that you'll find some good sleep while you let it simmer untouched in the dark and powerful places under the surface of consciousness.


neetwizard said...


The combination of the cards reminds me about the Sword of Damocles story. People in position of power must be very careful, and thus their choices are severely limited.

Myriam said...

I appreciate very much all the helpful comments that people have offered. The clearest path forward at this time seems to be to write, though I remain open, with further guidance from the teacher, to taking a different path.

Very shortly after I realized that I should write, a great story came to me pretty much whole. I feel like I am remembering, or recognizing, this story, though I have never read or heard anything like it. It feels as though it is already written somewhere, and my task is to set it in writing in my world. It is rich in symbolism, and I see why the teacher was pushing me to study it. I will have to do some serious research into symbolism. I'm terribly excited and thrilled at the feel of this story, and love the thought that it's a midterm exam.

@Robert - you wrote: "...the querent is actually equipped to deal with the challenge splendidly."
I wrote this out and pasted it above my desk. Thank you.

@Zach - put me firmly in the category of non-adept. If there is a category of ignorant non-adept, put me there. I had no idea there was such a thing as a challenge in an initiation. I didn't sign up for it, but it seems to be here, and I will meet this challenge.

@Seb - thank you for your kind words. I sleep, but the teacher is doing a flashcard kind of thing, showing me images, then telling me what they are as symbols. I've come to realize that absolutely everything we do, every gesture, breath, daily activity, can be symbolic of something. It's possible to live entire days in a very sacred way by being aware of the symbolism of our moments.

Alexandra said...

I'm really late to this comment party, but I couldn't resist adding my two cents. In addition to all the red flags JMG points out here, what struck me about the Wildermuth piece is how incredibly condescending and paternalistic it is. Like we're going to "unconsciously" become fascists if we don't police ourselves, or--what is really implied--allow Wildermuth and his cronies to police us, since clearly we cannot be trusted to weigh the evidence and come to our own conclusions. And when it comes to controversial material or authors who might have had views with which we shouldn't agree, well! That's best avoided entirely because there is no way we could possibly sort the wheat from the chaff. We would be tainted by the mere attempt! Yes, what's best for people is not that we encounter a diversity of views, contextualize them with a thorough knowledge of history, and then use our personal liberty to decide what's best for ourselves, but that we allow our self-appointed betters to decide for us what we should know and think. Hey, wait a minute...that sounds a lot like hierarchy, doesn't it?

By current American standards I am lefter than left, but I don't often admit to it anymore because the New Left frankly terrifies me. Their brand of egalitarianism sounds very much like the "some are more equal than others" kind. Whenever I raise any doubts about the direction this could be headed, I'm told I'm a monster for having such un-sanctioned thoughts. The stridency and the efficacy with which the New Left suppresses discussion (let alone dissent) is particularly disturbing to me because I'm seeing people swept along in it who I used to think had common sense and a reasonable grasp of history and human behavior. I'm just glad they don't have guillotines. Yet.

ladyimbrium said...

I realize this is last month's post at this point, but I hope you won't mind a late comment. I've been seeing more and more of this sort of thing online, but I've yet to encounter it in a person-to-person setting. I know that part of this is the physical distance between the loosely associated Kindreds along the Mid-Atlantic and the source of the worst of this new rhetoric. I also know that part of it is an increasingly separatist mindset within the Heathen communities. We're not generic pagans anymore. He's been after us too, and I'm sure he'll try again, but except for the pseudo-Heathens on tumblr, no one cared. More correctly, I should say that no one seemed to give his screed any weight. We simply carried on with being a Kindred and worshipping our gods the way we believe to be right.

It is my sincere hope that the Heathen communities will join the older initiatory traditions in surviving well into the future. We seem to place more emphasis on in-person conversation than online obnoxiousness, which I think will serve us well. As I attend more and more local gatherings of Heathens, Druids, and assorted generic pagans, I am more comfortable saying that I as a Heathen feel like I have more in common with the Druids. We do our homework, we focus on person-to-person communication, we craft our offerings sincerely, and we pay attention to our ancestors and our gods. I think we'll both survive.

JacGolf said...

'You know the story already, dear reader. It’s as old as the hills and as tacky as half-dried blood. You’ve got a community trying not to face the gap between cherished visions of a grand future and the gritty realities of decline in the present. .... blah blah blah. The rest of the story? That’s on its way, and will doubtless arrive in due time.'

So what you are saying is that every facet of life is going through the same decline right now? Sorry for the intrusion into your other world, here. Avid reader of the ADR and followed a link. Just that paragraph is society in general, with just the names of the parties changed for the story du jour.