On the Separation of Coven and State

Last month’s post here on The Well of Galabes, which examined a recent outburst of demagogy in the contemporary Neopagan scene, could also be considered a case study of a phenomenon that has a much broader presence in today’s Neopaganism. It’s a phenomenon that’s seen some discussion here already from a historical perspective, but it deserves a broader exploration in its own right, as it’s likely to have a considerable impact on the way the alternative spirituality scene shapes up over the next few decades. The trend I have in mind?  The abandonment of spirituality in favor of politics across a tolerably wide section of the Neopagan community.

Now of course the process in question isn’t described in these terms by those who engage in it. Indeed, my experience is that those most committed to that act of replacement are most likely to deny that this is what they’re doing.  Thus I’d like to start with a thought experiment that may clarify things a bit.

Let’s imagine, dear reader, that you’re involved in an organization that has a political goal—let’s say, engaging in lobbying and protest to better the lot of the homeless. After your organization has been established for a while, it gets an influx of new members, who seem to be very enthusiastic about the organization and its mission. In a discussion about strategy not long thereafter, though, the new members all say, “I think that what we ought to do to help the homeless is to praise Jesus.”

When one of the other members points out that praising Jesus is a spiritual activity rather than a political one, one of the newcomers says, “But praising Jesus is my politics.” When another member suggests that maybe the newcomers could practice their spirituality on their own time, another newcomer says angrily, “I’m not going to let you stop me from praising Jesus.” A third newcomer insists, “If you won’t let this organization praise Jesus, you’re giving up on helping the homeless.”  Around and around it goes; the newcomers insist at the top of their lungs that they’re committed to helping the homeless, but what they want to do always works out to replacing the political activities for which the organization was founded with the spiritual activity of praising Jesus.

Reverse the signs and you’ve got a good first approximation of what’s been happening in a great many Neopagan organizations in recent years. Most of those organizations were founded explicitly to engage in such spiritual activities as invoking deities and practicing magic. Of late, though, a significant number of newcomers have begun to insist that the organizations should reorient themselves toward political activities, and downplay or even discard their spiritual activities, all the while insisting that they aren’t actually changing anything.

That’s taken place in parallel with an influx of atheists, agnostics, and secularists who want to think of themselves as Pagans even though they don’t happen to believe in, and often are unwilling to tolerate, invoking deities and practicing magic—the things, as already noted, that most Neopagan groups were established to do. Some of the loudest voices among these have insisted that the Neopagan community had to be “inclusive,” and what “inclusive” meant in practice, of course, was that the Neopagan community was supposed to stop doing those things that atheists, agnostics, and secularists don’t like, such as invoking deities and practicing magic. (For some reason “inclusivity” never seems to mean that atheists, agnostics, and secularists should become more inclusive themselves, and tolerate practices that aren’t their cup of tea. Funny how that works…)

Those of my readers who know their way around the radical politics of an earlier era may recall the term “entryism.” That was the tactic, much practiced by Marxists back in the day, of joining some other group under false pretenses, and then using all available means to turn the group into a front for the entryists’ political ambitions. It’s at least possible that some degree of deliberate entryism is involved in these efforts to transform Neopagan spiritual organizations into political cadres.  It’s equally possible that it’s a matter of sheer opportunism—it’s hardly surprising, after all, that would-be demagogues who aren’t willing or able to take on the hard work of building a political cadre themselves might jump at the chance to hijack an existing group for their purposes.

All this presupposes, of course, that there’s a meaningful difference between political and spiritual activity, and it’s become fashionable in some circles—not all of them committed to the sort of entryism just described—to insist either that there is no such difference, or there shouldn’t be. On a common-sense level, of course, there’s an obvious difference between praising Jesus and lobbying the city council for funding for homeless shelters—or, for that matter, between invoking Pagan deities in a group ritual and posting screeds on the internet denouncing capitalism as the source of all evil. Still, let’s go deeper. Is there, and should there be, a difference between spirituality and politics? Is there a point to the separation of coven and state?

Two arguments routinely get brought up in Neopagan circles to defend the fusion of spirituality and politics. The first is that the civil rights movement in 1950s and 1960s America was spearheaded and organized by African-American churches. While this is quite true, there are at least two points to that historical example that generally get neglected in this context.

First, the reason civil rights organizers in the African-American community used churches as their organizing basis was that in the 1950s and 1960s, in large parts of the United States, a church was one of the very few places where large numbers of black Americans could gather without risking harrassment or worse from the authorities. For them, it was a counsel of necessity. For today’s Neopagans, that’s simply not the case—they have plenty of options, up to and including founding brand new radical political parties, which African-Americans in the South at the time of the civil rights movement didn’t have at all.  It’s thus unnecessary for them to encroach on organizations founded for a completely different set of purposes.

Second, when African-American churches provided space for civil rights organizing in the 1950s and 1960s, they didn’t give up their religious activities. Quite the contrary, the same churches where CORE and NAACP members helped put together civil rights protests were also having church services every Sunday morning and Bible study sessions every Wednesday night. The civil rights organizers weren’t trying to supplant spiritual activities with political ones, as so many of today’s political Pagans are.  A great many of them, in fact, were devout Christians for whom church services and Bible study sessions were at least as important as political activities. Their example thus can’t be used to justify a forced replacement of spirituality with politics in Neopagan traditions.

So much for the first argument. The second is considerably subtler. It argues that the separation of spirituality and politics was an invention of the Enlightenment—the great secularizing movement of eighteenth-century Europe and the European diaspora—and therefore has no conceivable relevance to Neopagan traditions, which hearken back to an era before the Enlightenment.

The difficulty with this claim is that the separation of spirituality and politics isn’t unique to Enlightenment and post-Enlightenment societies at all. The Enlightenment thinkers who argued for the separation of church and state, in point of fact, were inspired by an earlier example of the same separation—the grand tradition of religious tolerance in the Roman world, which gave citizens the freedom to practice any religion and worship any deity they wished, and distinguished these spiritual commitments from their political allegiance.

My Christian readers might object to this characterization, but theirs is the exception that proves the rule. What brought down occasional bursts of persecution on the early Christians was their refusal to burn incense to the genius (i.e., guardian spirit) of the emperor, an act that had the same role in the Roman world that reciting the Pledge of Allegiance has in modern America. Jews were exempt from this requirement, but that was because they were a familiar presence in the Mediterranean world—they had a social status rather like the Amish and Mennonites in today’s America. As a strange cult founded by a man who was executed by a provincial governor for crimes against Rome, Christianity was politically suspect from the start, and the refusal of Christians to burn incense to the emperor’s genius proved, in the eyes of most Romans, that they must be involved in political conspiracy.

The tolerance Rome extended to other spiritual traditions, and the functional division between religious and political affairs, have been commonplace in many other places and times, when a single political structure has united people of many religious beliefs. In China from the T’ang dynasty onwards, for example, a policy of religious liberty allowed religious Taoism, Buddhism, Confucianism, various strands of folk religion, and imported faiths such as Christianity and Islam to function side by side, while the government itself stood comfortably aloof from theology and practiced a set of archaic rituals that were old before Rome was founded.

In Japan, Buddhism and Shinto worked out a similar modus vivendi under the impartial patronage of the government; in India, immense religious diversity has been the order of the day for more than two millennia, and even the arrival of militant Islam was able to bring religion and politics back together only for a short while. Even in so intolerant a society as medieval Europe, there were times and places—the great age of the Hohenstaufens in Germany and Italy among them—where religious diversity was a viable option because politics and religion were kept separate.  These are just the obvious high points in a long history of cosmopolitan societies in which religion was a matter of personal choice, unconnected to issues of political allegiance and political identity.

All but the last of these societies count as Pagan by the usual modern definition of the term—and a strong case could be made for assigning that term to Frederick II, the greatest of the Hohenstaufens! Thus it’s hardly accurate to claim that there’s something fundamentally un-Pagan in drawing a line between the spiritual and the political. As already noted, examples from the Pagan past were a massive influence on the Enlightenment thinkers who spearheaded the separation of church and state in the modern world, and shaped their activities in ways that can still be traced in our collective life today.

Ever wonder, for example, why American political architecture from the Revolutionary War on down borrowed so heavily from Roman public architecture of the late Republic—why fluted Corinthian pillars, triangular pediments covered in sculpture, domes like that of the Pantheon, and all the other bric-a-brac of Rome can be found all over Washington DC and most state capitals, wherever government buildings are supposed to symbolize the American political order? It’s because the founders of the United States, scions of the Enlightenment to a man, saw themselves as creating an equivalent of the Roman Republic:  an equivalent in which toleration of personal religious choices, and the separation of church and state this required, was an essential part.

The Enlightenment, mind you, was a complex phenomenon, and it contained many different themes and currents. Some of those rejected the ideas of tolerance, diversity, and individual choice in favor of a supposedly ecstatic unity of all in some idyllic common vision of truth, and we’ll talk in a bit about where this sort of thinking led. In the currents that played a primary role in shaping American political philosophy in its early period, though, a critical, skeptical, and humanistic perspective led to the emergence of a set of ideas we can call the doctrine of separate spheres.

The core idea here is that there are many different spheres of human life, which are incommensurable to one another—that is to say, each one can’t be collapsed into any of the others without erasing its essential nature. Politics forms one of these spheres.  Spirituality is another. The arts are another separate sphere; the sciences are another; the private life of the individual is yet another. There are others—as many others as there are distinctive commitments in human individual and social life.

One of the things that makes these spheres distinct from one another is that expertise in one does not transfer to others. A saintly religious leader can be utterly clueless when it comes to science—the fulminations of conservative Christians about issues such as evolution and the age of the Earth are good examples here. Equally, a capable scientist can babble nonsense whenever he opens his mouth about religion—Richard Dawkins has spent much of his career proving this point. Each of the other spheres is subject to the same rule. Occasionally you do find someone who turns out to be gifted in two or more spheres, but he or she will have had to develop competence in each sphere separately.

One valuable result of differentiating these spheres was precisely that this made it easier to tell experts in one sphere to mind their own business when they started laying down the law in a sphere about which they hadn’t a clue. One obvious example at the time of the Enlightenment, of course, was the repeated attempts by religious authorities to tell scientists what they were and weren’t allowed to discover. Another was the equally persistent attempts by political authorities to tell religious people what they were and weren’t allowed to believe. Since that time, there have been plenty of other examples—the attempts by political and religious authorities alike to tell consenting adults what they are and aren’t allowed to do in their own bedrooms may occur to some of my readers.

The one place where these spheres intersect, according to this way of thinking, is in the individual. Each of us has the freedom to choose how we relate to each of the spheres of human life. We can pick and choose as we wish—this set of political opinions, that religious belief, these tastes in music and literature, those involvements in the sciences, and so on. If we wish to, we can make one of these spheres primary and place the others in a subordinate role—for example, by taking up a set of religious commitments that imply corresponding political, esthetic, scientific, and personal commitments—but no outside authority can force us to do this.  We choose to do that, or choose something else instead. That’s the meaning of the much-abused word “liberty.”

This is the doctrine of separate spheres, one of the core concepts of what I’ve called the critical, skeptical, and humanistic currents in Enlightenment thought. There were other currents, as already mentioned, that approached the same issue—the fraught relationship of the individual to the many aspects of human society—from a very different angle. To these latter thinkers, the cosmopolitan realities of a complex culture were a nightmare from which they wished to awaken.  Their goal was to find some way to restore a simpler way of life in which everyone naturally thought and felt the same way, and shared the same religious, political, artistic, scientific, and personal impulses.

There are at least two ways to pursue this. One of them is traditionalism—the belief that returning to some clearly defined set of beliefs and ways of life anchored in the past is the way out of the perplexities of modernity. That’s the vision underlying the continental European tradition of conservatism: the craving for a golden age in the past, redefined freely though covertly in the image of the unfulfilled desires of the present. That project is almost always awash in ironies; it’s common, for example, for people on the extreme racist right these days to glorify the Ghibelline ideal, when that was exactly the ideal of the cosmopolitan, religiously and ethnically diverse society headed by the tolerant Hohenstaufen monarchs I mentioned earlier.

The other end of the same pursuit of social uniformity projects the golden age into the future. This is the converse of traditionalism, which Karl Popper usefully called historicism. The core of historicism is the claim that history naturally marches toward the predetermined end of a perfect society.  There have been plenty of ideologies that have pursued the historicist dream down through the centuries, but most of them have long since vanished into the history books. The one that remains a living presence these days is Marxism, with its messianic fantasies of the perfect Communist utopia of the future.

The problem with both traditionalism and historicism is simple: neither one works as advertised. The golden age, whether handed down from the past or hanging luminously in the future, never manages to arrive, because in a cosmopolitan society, there’s no way to get everyone to “naturally” think, feel, and act in unison. When you try to force that to happen, what you get is totalitarianism.

That’s a word that gets bandied about far too often with little sense of its meaning. What it means is the abolition of the separate spheres in favor of one, which is then supposed to contain the sum total of human society. Some totalitarians—the jihadi zealots of Daesh are one example; their precise Christian equivalents in the Dominionist movement are another—collapse everything into the religious sphere, erasing the independent existence of any of the others. Other totalitarian systems—Marxism is the classic example here—collapse everything into the political sphere, and erase the others in that way.  Thus you get the Marxist rejection of religion, and a cascade of other intrusions from the political sphere into the rest of life. All of these are inevitable expressions of the totalitarian impulse that’s inseparable from Marxism in practice.

It’s been objected frequently by devout Marxists that there has never actually been a truly Marxist society, and so criticism of Marxism based on the hideous results of previous Marxist regimes—Stalin’s, Mao’s, Pol Pot’s—is unfair. While the first point is correct, the second is not. There has never been a truly Marxist society, in the sense of a society that functions the way Marx said it should; what’s more, there never will be, because Marxist theories inevitably flop when applied to the real world. That’s why every Marxist revolution in history either promptly dissolved in anarchy and counterrevolution, or just as promptly installed a grim bureaucratic dictatorship that enforced its decrees by prison camps, mass murder, or both.

Other totalitarian schemes have their own histories of failure and slaughter. Once a society has become complex enough that there’s more than one religious option, more than one political option, and so on down the list of separate spheres, an approach centered on tolerance and individual choice is the one choice that doesn’t reliably end in brutality and despotism.  This implies, in turn, that attempts to collapse the various separate spheres into one another are worth opposing, even when they appear far out on the cultural fringes—for example, the fringe where today’s Neopaganism is found.

With this in mind, I’d like to suggest that those of my readers who are involved in Neopagan traditions of any kind might consider turning their backs on any attempt to enforce political conformity or to substitute politics for spirituality in Neopagan settings. I’d also like to encourage those who are in leadership positions in Neopagan groups to consider adopting a formal declaration that their members have the right to whatever political affiliation they choose, and defending that right from zealots and entryists who try to infringe on it. From the acorn grows the mighty oak—and from the sloe, the clawed and twisted blackthorn. Let us be careful what seeds we choose to plant.


  1. Hi JMG,

    I hear your warning and understand it. The Marxists down here tend to post a lot of posters in the inner city, but other than that nobody takes them very seriously – that I'm aware of.

    However, the strange politics which goes on in local community groups down here stands out like the proverbial dogs ….. to me.

    Thanks for the useful term: “entryism”.

    Yes, I've seen that in action and it has kicked various groups in the guts more often than I can recount. Call me old fashioned, but I like to know why I'm attending a group and what the stated outcomes for that group are. And all that boring stuff about defining goals and following procedure and agendas for a group seems like common sense protection for both the group and the members – from my perspective anyway.

    I just had a mental flash: If you don't know where you are going, then you may get swept along by the next strong current or tide!

    Hope you had a chance to drop by my blog this week? It has been the most read essay ever and I used the tool of narrative more strongly than previously. There must be something in the water… What interested me was that a new commenter left a comment this week telling me that the blog would be more useful (their words) if I gave more technical details! They received a gracious reply, but I had to laugh when I read that comment because I've seen such tactics used in the community groups. I once was a member of a community group that broke apart when a person who had never attended a single meeting caused a whole lot of ruckus. It was impressive to see firsthand and would you believe that the source of this angst appeared to be an apron! Seriously!

    You are already well aware of my feelings about specialists holding court about issues outside of their particular area. I just don't get why their egos would allow such nonsense. They have succumbed to temptation perhaps?



  2. Interesting. And an obvious tie-in to the Burkean posting on “the less strange blog”. I don´t know that much about the Neo-Pagan scene, so permit me to play “the Devil´s advocate” for a moment (with apologies to any Satanists who may be reading this!)

    Apart from entryism, could it simply be that there is a broad subculture which is interested in both leftist politics (or rightist, as the case might be) *and* spirituality? This will then reflect itself in the Neo-Pagan groups, with people quite honestly proposing that political stances are a good or even necessery part of the spiritual mix? I´ve encountered several “Marxist” pagans on the web, and I don´t think any of them are outright entryists in the sense of consciously infiltrating other groups (they seem happy to have their own groups, or affiliate with groups that are already radical-liberal in orientation).

    That being said, it will be difficult to separate religion and politics in a sharply polarized society. Can supporters of Trump, Evola, Sanders or John Michael Greer co-exist in the same fraternal order? I wouldn´t be surprised if the pagan milieu splits along political lines. However, I don´t think this will destroy paganism itself, anymore than Islam or Judaism as such have been destroyed by political conflicts. The different factions will simply go their own separate ways. Look at Theosophy (“liberal” and pro-British during World War I) or Anthroposophy (“conservative” and pro-German during World War I). Both are still viable spiritual traditions. The political divides have always existed…

    Final point. Yes, the term “Ghibelline” is a give away that whoever said it has read too much Evola and too little 13th century history. Another classic are Catholic fundamentalists who eulogize the pagan Roman Empire or Sparta, don´t even get me started on that one…

  3. JMG
    I am glad you included the Roman relative tolerance of religion and the exemption of Jews from mandatory Imperial observance. Perhaps this owed something to history and real-politik back in the day, but I also wonder if Judaism being by definition a non-proselytising faith might have had something to do with it? ‘Secular’ and relaxed the Roman approach might have been but Roman leaders must all have been believers in ‘core’ faith values, no? A bit like I guess our own lot – Britland and all – needing to be observant of Progress, and the current obligation to be part of the strict Sect of Neo-liberalism, perhaps?

    BTW Romans could be a bit superstitious (he he) about some things it seems. According to Canon Giles Fraser (he writes in The Guardian) who is officiating at a service blessing (?) those who donate their bodies to London’s Guy’s Hospital for dissection practice, Romans drew a line on messing around with dead bodies and thus restricted medical knowledge. This, it seems, was because dissection implied some kind of impiety.

    Another footnote: the Ottomans supremacy (800 years fairly stable?) tolerated Greek Orthodox in the Balkans as long as it kept a small-scale profile. I have seen lovely small Christian vernacular chapels and a late Iconic flourish in what is now Republic of Macedonia, and even saw a Church from before the Islamic conversion where the old Greek texts and Saints had not been scraped from the walls or washed over. Current separation of Religion from State of course is a bit fragile and required a political deal enforced by an external imperium (EU) – requiring space by right for separate national TV, cultural programs, education etc that must differ either side of the religious divide.

    Well, I am all for Pagans et al being a bit scared of impiety in some regards. The Anglo-Saxons who took over when Britain down-sized were careful about stone monuments – not so much the recent Roman stuff – but Stone Circles and Burial Mounds and such which dated back to the Bronze Age and the earlier Neolithic – monuments surviving several ethnic and language divisions in the past. Sometimes the new people buried their own dead in the ancient sacred ground. It took modern times – something more I guess than just commercial priorities and/or Protestant religious superstition – to deliberately rip out some of the ancient circles. The timing suggests something to do with the Enlightenment. In France, Catholic religious sensibility restricted itself to sticking crosses on the top of Menhirs!

    Phil H
    PS I am contemplating writing a short discussion of the complex conversations we encounter inside our own heads consequent on living in a complex society. 😉

  4. Well, I think you may have outdone yourself this month. This was splendid, and timely. My grove last week as part of our omen discussion brought some of the rising political tensions around us to light, and discussed how important it was not to let the flames of those tensions consume us… That we were all there to focus on the things that brought us together like the worship of the gods and the practice of magic, and not the things that drive us apart. And we all made an agreement that our political differences would not be an issue there, and that the grove was a sacred space and a safe space from those political divisions.

    I actually just finished reading Bernice Glatzer Rosenthal's book on the history of the Occult in Russian and Soviet Culture, which I had run across as a surprise choice find at the Book Thing and briefly skimmed this time last month, and your warnings these last two months ring through through its pages. It follows the history of the Occult in Russia, from folk magic and occult movements in esoteric circles up through its rise in popularity after the religious freedom reforms after the 1905 Revolution, its hijacking by left wing political radicals between 1915 and 1920, the heartbreaking political persecution of occultists under communism, the use of occult symbolism by propagandists through the 20th century, the revival of the occult following the collapse of the Soviet Union, and the politicization of the occult by the radical right, and a warning of the possibility of a new era of demagoguery to come out of the fusion of occultism and politics, warning that “as the rear 2000 looms closer, the occult threatens to fuse with apocalyptic fears in extremist political ideologies. Politically, the occult is dangerous.” (All even more chilling because this was written in 1997, a few years before the rise of Putin). It's a really good read if you ever run across it, and an essential warning for occultists about what can happen when magic turns political. The introduction and conclusion are available on Google books, and I'd recommend checking those chapters out, especially the conclusion, chapter 16, which is extremely relevant to these last two posts here:


    In addition, there was quote from the introduction worth bringing up, that puts the cycles of occultism, political radicalism, the end of the myth of progress and the rise of the new religiosity into perspective stuck with me particularly:

    “Some people in every age are drawn to the occult, but occultism as a popular phenomenon is correlated with periods of political and social upheaval, cultural confusion, and spiritual quest. At such times, old values and beliefs lose their credibility. New questions arise which the dominant belief does not answer or spiritual yearnings develop which the institutionalized church does not satisfy. [the occultism that flourishes in such periods can be seen as a response to the spiritual disorientation and cultural confusion that accompanies the death of a myth. In the process of establishing a new myth, it's devotees suppress and marginalized the occult.”

  5. Excellent piece.

    One thought that occurs to me is that there will naturally be some overlap in the spheres in terms of activities. A Christian church that engages in charity work but for the homeless is starting to impinge on the political sphere, but may well be doing it for solidly theological reasons.

    Likewise, a religious organization whose existence or ability to perform its functions is threatened by a proposed law can probably be excused for getting a little political.

    However, I'm in complete agreement that a religious body has no business telling its members what their politics must be or permitting its members to do so to each other. That's one reason I'm glad I never got out of the Pagan Internet Social Scene early on, before they became so thoroughly entangled in the authoritarian end of leftist politics.

    (I have this bad habit of actually believing in the values I claim. It makes it hard for me to get along with people sometimes, like when almost all the loving, tolerant, open-minded Pagans I know decide to ostracize a good friend for the apparently war crime level offense of converting to Judaism.)

  6. A very thoughtful and well-argued post, as usual! This is also a very live issue in my own tradition of Unitarianism (UU) as you've no doubt encountered. It's something I've been wrestling with myself.

    One question for me is: what is the line between trying to collapse the spheres into one in a totalitarian way, vs allowing them to interpenetrate and inform one another in a mutually enriching way (if you think that's possible or desirable)? For example, I think allowing politics to be dictated entirely by scientists is a very bad idea, but it seems wise to allow high-quality research in ecology to help shape environmental policy. Likewise, there's a great tradition of religiously-inspired art, and of great art being a catalyst for religion and spirituality, but this is different from allowing religious mores to dictate the boundaries of art, or insisting that because some religious traditions or other consistently produces great art that it must be a “better” religion. Anyway I could propose examples ad nauseam, but I'm sure you get the idea.

    In a nutshell I'm asking: how to we encourage constructive cross-pollination between different spheres of human society, while maintaining the integrity of each and avoiding the pitfalls of totalitarianism?

  7. Archdruid,

    Well said, and excellently explained. However, I do have a question relating to a project of mine. As the editor of a small and growing paper I have a distinct interest in what I call “the public good.” That is to say, the need for people from various institutions or spheres to participate in ensuring the economic security of the least able in our community. What actions are taken in the name of the public good can, and should, vary based on the community but I feel that leaders of certain institutions are more responsible than others. In this case the leaders of religious institutions should be leading the charge to deal with the homelessness and mental health crisis afflicting our community, especially since political institutions are failing. After all there are some overlaps between the spheres. Every religion has specific ideals that they practice as rituals of habit. If the ideal is charity then the group requests its members to go be charitable. I guess what I'm talk about here are virtues. So, is it appropriate for me to call out local religious leaders for not doing enough to support the needy? Is it appropriate to say “hey you are not living up to your own ideal of virtue?”



  8. And the Anglo-Saxon heathens were glad to respect the megalith and barrows, while the missionaries were under orders from Pope Gregory the Great to allow them their ancient customs, duly baptized. So instead of offering a hog to Thunor, they had a barbecue on the feast of St. Michael…. same difference. (Plus, they actually walked their talk and won great respect for that. “These Rome-men are tough! And keep their oaths!”

    So … but yes, there is a huge overlap between neoPagan religion and liberal politics in the circles I move in. But so far it's essentially eclectic Wicca and “the wing-it school of magic.”

    Yours with the blessing of Gaia and Pan,


  9. I recently read *Unintended Reformation* by Brad Gregory. Gregory argues that our modern division into spheres is a result of the splintering of Christian theology through the Reformation era. He seems to be saying that Christianity is inherently totalitarian, though he seems to be a committed Christian so he doesn't put it like that. I wonder if it wasn't Paul of Tarsus who saw how Christianity could be used as a totalitarian ideology and then turned his vision into reality.

    Anyway Gregory's book seems like serious scholarship. It is a useful window into one way folks are strategizing the end of modernity. I guess there is a Catholic wing of Dominionism!

  10. (Deborah Bender)

    Phil Harris wrote, “I am glad you included the Roman relative tolerance of religion and the exemption of Jews from mandatory Imperial observance. Perhaps this owed something to history and real-politik back in the day, but I also wonder if Judaism being by definition a non-proselytising faith might have had something to do with it?”

    Actually, no. On the one hand, imperial Rome tolerated some mystery cults that recruited followers pretty actively, the most notable being the cult of the Great Mother Cybele. Those folks were not exempt from burning incense to the genius of the Emperor.

    OTOH, Judaism is not by definition a non-proselytizing faith. It became one by necessity as a condition for not being banned altogether after Christianity was adopted as the state religion of Rome, all the pagan temples were closed by order of the government, and public pagan observances were outlawed. Centuries later, parts of former Roman territory where a lot of Jews lived were conquered by Muslim rulers. Some of the Muslim regimes were tolerant of the practice of Christianity and Judaism within their borders, others were not, but none allowed religions other than Islam to engage in proselytising.

    During the Dark Ages, when Christendom and the Islamic world were competing for political hegemony in central and eastern Europe, a few pagan rulers attempted to remain nonaligned by adopting Judaism and (at least nominally) converting their subjects. These arrangements didn't last very long; the best known example of a nation converting to Judaism en masse was the Khazars.

    In the Christian era, most Jews have lived in countries and cultures where they were regarded as an alien population living on the sufferance of the majority and proselytizing by them was either illegal or heavily discouraged. Incidentally, this was true of the United States within living memory.

    Going back to the beginning, Judaism evolved out of the Israelite religion which was ethnically based. One could convert to the religion of the Jews, but for the most part this was only done by gentiles marrying in. Later during the Hellenistic period, there was a lot of exchange and intermingling of cultural, intellectual and religious ideas in the cities. Under the pressure of Greek thought, Judaism began to shift more in the direction of becoming a world religion appealing to people who were not born into it (this is my conclusion, anyway.) During the late Roman Republic and the first century of the Empire, the majority of Jews lived outside Judea and some of them engaged in active and rather successful proselytizing.

    I posted a long comment about the relations between Jews and pagan Romans on the other blog last week. Because of its length, I'm not cross posting it here. JMG echoed a few of my points in the post we are currently commenting on. If you would like to read what I wrote, please go to the ADR post just previous to the latest Retropia entry, to the second page of comments, scroll down more than halfway, and look for the Unknown post dated 5/16/16 1:14 AM. You will find it in the midst of the following sequence of comments:

    jessi thompson 3 in a row
    JMG 2 in a row
    Unknown (my comment)
    Bruno B. L.
    Robert Mathiessen.

  11. possibly this is an unintended irony, but i thought i had understood wildermuth's essay to be a warning about “entryism” from the right.

  12. ” 'Tapa is innocent, study is harmless, the ordinance of the Vedas prescribed for all the tribes are harmless, the acquisition of wealth by exertion is harmless; but when they are abused in their practices it is then that they become sources of evil.' “MahaBharata, Book 1, Adi Parva, section 1-Ganguli translation.
    for me it's not so much that spheres can overlap it's the usage as it were…I can understand religious beliefs and such as a motivation for social/political activism, just not as the sole rationale, or prescribed to others as a 'duty of religion', as the litmus test of 'true faith', as it were. In a sense 'freedom from religion'. I think when religion becomes the public rationale for politics, it's no longer about politics but about religion, and then comes crusades and jihads and bloody pogroms…

    Henry Buchy

  13. Cherokee, I haven't gotten over to your blog yet this week — will do so! Yes, I've seen the same sort of disruptive tactic used in meetings, and had people try it on the other blog from time to time. I have fun with people who try that…

    Tidlösa, I'd be more likely to agree with your interpretation if so many of the political Pagans weren't so interested in shutting down religious and magical activities and replacing them with political ones! For what it's worth, the Masonic lodge I belong to has Trump, Sanders, and (a few) Clinton supporters among its membership, and because Masonry strictly forbids bringing politics in through the lodge doors, it's a non-issue and everyone gets along.

    Phil, the Romans were profoundly “superstitious” — “pious” would be their phrasing — and proud of it. It was a common claim that the reason Rome ruled the world is that it was more attentive to the gods than anybody else, and they didn't care which gods, either. Religious tolerance can spring from universal reverence just as much as from universal indifference!

    Eric, I'm delighted to hear that your grove had that conversation! That's exactly the sort of thing that needs to happen. I've had several people recommend the Rosenthal book of late, and have added it to the get-to list — sounds like a very good object lesson.

    James, of course there are fuzzy areas at the edges of each sphere, but yet, the basic principle applies.

    Curtis, of course the spheres can inform and, if you will, fertilize one another — a set of scientific ideas can inspire artistic or religious creativity, or what have you. The crucial points, as I see it, are first, that it's kept in mind that authority and expertise in one sphere do not transfer to others; and second, that individuals retain the freedom to choose to bring the spheres together or keep them apart, as they see fit. It's when the authorities in one sphere claim jurisdiction over all spheres, and when people are forced to accept a specific fusion of spheres — Socialist Realism in art, Aryan physics in science, or what have you — that you get totalitarianism.

    Varun, it's traditional in our society for journalism to act as an all-purpose gadfly, jabbing everyone in sight for their failings. The way to do that with an eye toward the existence of separate spheres is to jab people in each sphere in terms of that sphere. Your religious leader who's falling down on the job can rightly be criticized on religious grounds — and the four Gospels will give you reams of ammunition; don't assail him because he doesn't follow some political orthodoxy. Lambaste the politicians for failing to keep their campaign promises or do anything about the things their party supposedly stands for, not for failing to adopt some religious viewpoint. People active in other spheres — whack 'em and thwack 'em, in terms of those spheres, and you'll be in the grand and honorable tradition of American muckraking journalism, a much needed thing right now.

  14. Patricia, oh, I know that there's a lot of overlap. The thing is, there always has been, and until fairly recently, that didn't prevent Neopagan groups from invoking deities and practicing magic when that was the purpose of a gathering, and leaving the politics for other occasions.

    JimK, unfortunately, yes, there's a Catholic equivalent of Dominionism, and Catholicism — like most centralized religions — has a totalitarian streak that sometimes comes to the fore. Gregory is probably right, but I'd reframe his thesis by saying that a forced fusion of all things under the domination of theology was finally broken by the Reformation, allowing the different spheres the freedom to unfold and develop naturally for the first time in centuries.

    Zach, it may have been unintended on Wildermuth's part; it was certainly quite intentional on mine. It wouldn't surprise me at all that someone who's engaged in deliberate entryism would be up in arms at the thought that some opposing camp might try the same thing…

    Chevaliermalfait, yes, and the same thing is true when politics takes over the place of religion, as in Marxist states. Once you fuse the two, no matter which name the resulting fusion takes, the body count rises quickly.

  15. JMG,

    I've only ever commented on here once before, as a response to another of your readers, but I've been reading both this and TADR for quite a while and figured it was finally time to say hello properly.

    This entry was incredibly necessary, and I thought it necessary to take its advice to heart. I'm the Grove Organizer of an ADF ProtoGrove based in central North Carolina, and with our state having gotten itself in the habit of being plastered all over the national news of late for various bits of legislation that could probably with some justice be labeled controversial, and with demagogues cropping up in my religious sphere and attempting to transform it into already demagogue-saturated political scene, it seemed like very good advice indeed to make a public statement of the sort you indicated. To that end, I put up the following announcement on our ProtoGrove's social media page:

    “A PSA from your friendly neighborhood Grove Organizer: Raven's Hollow of ADF is committed to the cultivation of virtue in our community, which includes a commitment to social justice and non-discriminatory equality, tolerance for the views and non-harmful behaviors of others, and the overall liberty of both everyone within our community and those we encounter outside of it. With that said, and with the heightened tensions of this year's political climate firmly in mind (in our state, in our nation, and even in the Neopagan community itself), I want to state explicitly and in no uncertain terms that our Grove is a Non-Political Entity, that it exists outside of the sphere of politics even though we are dedicated to serving our community and uphold equal treatment and justice for everyone, and that we do and will not demand or insist upon any particular set of political beliefs or alignments, and will defend any of our members against an attempt to infringe on that expression of liberty.

    In short, having been warned repeatedly in our omens about the potential disruptive dangers of rising political tensions, it is important to remind ourselves to uphold the ancient pagan tradition of the separation of Grove and State.”


    By the by, regarding last month's discussion regarding your poor experience in ADF, I simply wanted to express regret that you were treated in that way. I do encounter those attitudes now and then, but I think on the whole the idea that there needs to be some kind of feud being various facets of Druid-kind has largely subsided, and both sides have settled back into their proper activities of—as you put it—practicing magic and honoring the Gods in their own ways. I know lots of people (including myself) who are members of both OBOD and ADF, for whom the different organizations fulfill different facets of their spiritual lives. A great example of this was the OBOD East Coast Gathering you spoke at a few years back, which myself and a number of other members from my (at the time) Baltimore ADF Grove also attended; I remember you telling me at the time that you were “very pleased to see people from ADF and AODA taking an enthusiastic part in the event as well” and that “maybe Druidry can teach the rest of the Pagan scene how to play well with others.” Another excellent example is the Pan-Druid Retreat that got started around the same time in northern Virginia, which has regular attendance from members of OBOD, ADF, and AODA (as well as, probably by now, a number of others that don't quite fit into any known category).

  16. @ Unknown Deborah
    Got it! Thanks.
    I never knew that Judaism (one of the monotheisms?) was fashionable (?) in Imperial Rome!
    Curious, but I guess these things happen among sophisticates in a metropolis. I know of a couple of hospital doctors in St Petersburg who became Mormons as well as becoming chiropractitioners: the latter paid a lot better than the ex-Soviet hospital of course.

    But Judaism proselytising in USA was frowned on in living memory – I had no idea – was that just in some States and written in some ordinances?

    @Deborah & JMG
    Mixing faith/culture and secular domination of territory has its problems not just in a Roman Empire. The rise in Nationalism in the 19thC in the old dynastic Empires of Europe – one includes the Ottoman – made a 'war band-like bid for territory' particularly problematic. A little while back I read an excellent short account of the Balfour Declaration. As you will know of course, the British Government Cabinet took a decision in 1917 a little after USA joined the European war. The only Jewish Minister in Cabinet opposed the declaration on the basis if I remember correctly that it altered profoundly the status/perception – there had of course been recent pogroms – of Jews in the many Diaspora. A lone voice it seems: Lloyd George it was said claimed afterwards he was never sure how the declaration happened! So it goes.

    Phil H

  17. Hi JMG,

    You are cordially invited and I would be honoured by your presence.

    I enjoy writing, although fiction is a struggle. The blog and the narrative has been a real pleasure to share with the greater world. You may be interested to know that I have been more or less at this project since I was confronted with the awful realities of the world at a very young age in the early 1990's. The blog is an adjunct to that, however I also get to share the many stories and also interact with the loveliest people around. It is really nice. :-)!

    You may be interested to know that I haven't given up on community groups and have recently joined the local – and very old school – horticultural society. Understandably I have been a bit reluctant to join new community groups, but this one appears to be very old and very well run. It has quite a good structure too and displays good defences against the sort of silliness that you have described in this week’s blog.

    Honestly, I have zero contact with anyone that has issues with another person's beliefs and/or spirituality so I'm unsure what else I can add to this months (and last months) discussion. Most people down here seem to be getting on with their lives and are largely apathetic.

    You may be interested to know that in the distant past, I travelled to parts of the third world and I saw that same attitude of just getting on with one’s life being expressed there too. Dunno, all things change, I guess.

    Certainly, I have seen firsthand the shrines of human skulls that now look over the silent killing fields in Cambodia. The soil itself appeared to me in the late 90's to be ejecting the very clothes of the departed which could be readily seen. It was chilling. In Phenom Pehn, I stupidly toured the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum. The blood of various victims could still be seen sprayed over the walls of the cells and what appeared to me to be torture devices. I'm seriously unsure what I thought that I would see there, but words cannot express the horror. Unfortunately, what can be seen may be forgotten, but the feelings remain regardless.

    And yet the people of that country were very upbeat and without exception friendly. Mind you, that was just under two decades ago now. I've witnessed far worse attitudes and game playing in first world countries. It always seems strange to me when people express dissatisfaction with the turn of events in first world countries as they appear to lack a base comparison.

    It is complex.



  18. Greetings all!

    Although you (JMG) are concerned about demagogy in neopagan circles, the overall discussion applies nicely to any human activity really.

    “attempts to collapse the various separate spheres into one another are worth opposing”
    This is very nicely put and I have a difficult question for you:

    Do you think that Islamic thought with its tendency to conceive politics as the continuation or prolongation of spirituality, may lead to despotism more often than not?

    I understand if you would feel that you are not in a position to give a reasonable answer to the above.

    I value your opinions on the matter as you are a very reasoned person and I am fascinated by the opinions non muslims (and of course I am assuming that Druids are non muslims by default!!!!) have of Islam as a religion and as a system of thought.

  19. (Deborah Bender)

    An observation on proselytizing religions. Religions which are going through a missionary phase may use different sales pitches, e.g., “All religions other than mine are defective;” “Other religions have some value, but mine is superior;” “Other religions have some value, but mine has a particular advantageous feature that others lack.”

    With some exceptions, Christian and Islamic proselytizers assert the first position. Buddhist and Jewish proselytizers assert the second. Polytheist proselytizers assert the third. Polytheists generally assume that people will add on devotion to the particular cult being promoted without abandoning their current religious practices.

    I wonder whether the same typology applies to advocates for political theories.

  20. “in India, immense religious diversity has been the order of the day for more than two millennia…”

    There's actually much evidence of inter-religious violence between the members of Brahmanism and Buddhism in India's ancient history (especially between around 800-1200 CE). Buddhist Vajrayana literature is full of violent symbolism and icons. There's also archaeological evidence and historical accounts of religiously motivated violence backed by political powers.

    This isn't widely recognized because the architects behind the Republic of India like Gandhi and others always insisted (and still insist) that religious harmony has always been a feature of Indian civilization, which distinguishes it from Europe and the Middle East.

    The scholar Giovanni Verardi has written about this matter in detail. I can recommend the following paper (especially since it is free to download as a pdf):

    “Issues in the History of Indian Buddhism”

  21. I may not be remembering this correctly and the rule may not be universal, but I know that churches in Missouri could not endorse parties or candidates. It would violate their status as a religious group exempt from certain taxes. Of course it may be that most covens and groves are not large enough to make filing for that status worth while. But if they are exempt or considering applying for exemption that might be a consideration before allowing any overt political activity.

    Again it's been along time since I've participated in an organized group, so could easily be off base.

  22. (Deborah Bender)

    @Karim–You may have heard of Karen Armstrong, a popular historian of religions. Some years ago, I read her book The Battle for God (not to be confused with her better known A History of God). The Battle for God is an analysis of the rise of fundamentalism in the three Abrahamic religions. She writes from the viewpoint, which is mainstream among religious scholars, that religious fundamentalism is a phenomenon of modernity, one possible response to the challenges that modernity (= industrial civilization) poses to pre-modern religions.

    Armstrong's book gives equal space to Judaism, Christianity and Islam. I had not previously read a history of Islamic political or religious thought so nearly all the information in that section was new to me. One thing I learned was that the concept of the umma, the community of the faithful, has always been important in Islam. According to what I recall, a lot of the political debate within Islam since the eighteenth century has been over what form the umma takes under modern conditions.

    I recommend the Battle for God with the reservation that since I came to it relatively well informed about the histories of Judaism and Christianity but ignorant about Islam, I'm not qualified to critique Armstrong's analysis in that section of the book. The other two sections looked pretty sound to me.

  23. It puzzles me how your experience in neopaganism and mine are so different. I wonder how much that is because I have almost no involvement in the online “community” and deal with it almost entirely in person. Just finished a local festival, which has growing attendance and close to zero political content.

    What I have noticed is that Wicca has faded far into the background. Sure its DNA runs through everything, but the word is hardly used. The eclectic neopaganish crowd seems to be drifting northward, gradually incorporating more Norse elements in exchange for the declining Wiccan flavor.

  24. (Deborah Bender)

    @Phil Harris–It's my understanding that all the major denominations of Judaism in the US (with the possible exception of the Reconstructionists) were opposed to political Zionism before WWII, for different reasons. Prewar political Zionism was a secular and socialist-leaning enterprise. The Reform and Conservative movements and most of the Orthodox came around to being supportive of political Zionism after the Shoah and the War of Independence.

    Jewish proselytizing has not been against the law in the US since the Bill of Rights was extended to cover the states. It was frowned upon socially until recently because of endemic anti-Semitism and the cultural assumption that real Americans are Protestant.

    It was also frowned upon _by Jews_ for a variety of reasons. By the Orthodox-leaning on the grounds that God made a covenant with the Jewish people and the other nations have their own destinies to follow; by a general feeling that calling attention to ourselves would just stir up the anti-Semites; and by a widespread conviction among the older generations that if a person had not been brought up as a Jew, they couldn't so to speak become fluent in Yiddishkeit later in life, and more important, they could not be trusted. When push comes to shove they might revert to the anti-Semitic attitudes of their upbringing. In case of prospective intermarriage, some older relative was sure to warn the Jew-by-birth, “The minute you have your first argument, he/she will call you a [racial epithet].”

    This last is a common attitude among groups that have been picked on and isolated for a long time. Older generations of African Americans were not necessarily enthusiastic about interracial marriage. Some cultural feminists today do not accept male to female transgendered people as real women. In countries with rigid class systems, there's considerable pressure from within the class to keep to your station.

  25. This is exactly why I avoid most pagan groups. I find it rather funny that I have an atheist friend who reacts better to me mentioning the gods than some “pagans” I have met. I've found this gives me a quick way to identify the entryists as you so helpfully put it: ask which gods people worship. The entryists will respond in some way to indicate they don't really worship any, or even reject their existence.

    This is off topic to the post, but I think it's on topic to the blog itself: I'm currently trying to find at least one god willing to take me on as a worshiper, what is the best approach to do so? I'm new to these things, and so far my rituals have yet to have any results. It's not a matter of belief as I've used some simple magic ones to get effects, but when I try to invoke any particular gods it doesn't seem to work. I know working with other conscious entities is probably harder than simple magic, and so advice from those who've gotten results from worship would be greatly appreciated.

  26. @candace,

    you may be referring to something else, but it is the case that an organization exempted from the federal income tax under code section 501(c)(3) — which includes “churches” — cannot endorse or oppose candidates for public office without jeopardizing their exempt status. in recent years IRS has been skittish about enforcing this rule. an exempt org is not precluded from expressing views on political issues, so long as they do not appear to be endorsing or opposing a particular candidate.

    also, while it is nice to have a letter from IRS affirming your exempt status, technically “churches” do not have to go through the formal application and approval process. occasionally one will — like the church of cannabis in indiana — if they think there might be a question whether they would be recognized as a “church” if IRS pulled their file.

    any other (c)(3) organization does have to apply and wait for approval before accepting tax deductible contributions. and actually it is this feature that distinguishes (c)(3)s from (c)(4)s — the so-called “social welfare” orgs –, which are exempt from income tax but cannot offer a tax deduction for contributions.

  27. Agent, of course religion and politics can be separated; people do it all the time. I know plenty of people who belong to the same church who have radically different political opinions, and plenty of people who share identical political opinions that have drastically different religious beliefs. My thesis is that the freedom to do this should not be infringed upon. If you disagree with that, fine, but please don't try to insist that something that happens constantly is in some way impossible!

    By the way, notice how you've taken the phrase “humanistic currents within the Enlightenment” and twisted that around to the claim that the founders of the United States all belonged to a single religion called Humanism. Not so, and it does not exactly strengthen your argument when you engage in such obvious a rhetorical ploy.

    Cú Meala, thank you — I'm delighted to hear that you and your protogrove had the courage to do this. With regard to ADF, so noted; I've thought for years that ADF, and the Reconstructionist movement generally, would eventually get down off its collective high horse, stop claiming that all older Druid traditions are awful Mesopagan fakes, and become part of the wider Druid community. To the extent that that's proceeding, I'm delighted to hear it.

    Cherokee, good to hear of the horticultural society! Might be worth taking notes about how they run their meetings — a group with an institutional memory is a powerful resource along these lines.

    Karim, I'm very poorly informed about Islam and therefore am not in a position to offer any kind of meaningful opinion.

    Unknown Deborah, hmm! That's a good point, and worth reflection.

    Jeffrey, most of the other places I cited had occasional outbursts of hostility between different religions, too. The point I hoped to make is that these were less the rule than the exception, and a lot of people of different religious views managed to get along with one another anyway.

    Candace, it's not just Missouri; Federal law requires that, but churches cheat on it constantly. That's why, on my other blog, the imaginary Lakeland Republic taxes churches just like every other organization — if you're going to participate in the political process, you get to pay your share of its costs.

    Bill, consider yourself fortunate. My experience is that once you get off the left coast, local communities are usually pretty sane. Interesting, though, that Asatru is making major inroads where you are; I've thought for a long time that that might become a significant North American religion over the long term, and this is a data point in that direction.

    WB, establishing a relationship with a god or goddess is a little like establishing a relationship with a wild animal: it takes time, patience, and commitment on your part. It's not something that will get instant results! Especially these days, when so many faux-pagans like to parade their deities as fashion statements (a habit they share with plenty of people of other religions!), you're going to have to show your sincerity. Choose a deity whose traditional imagery inspires and moves you; research that deity's traditional stories, prayers and rites; establish a home shrine — this can be something as simple as the top of a dresser, or what have you, with an image of the deity, an altar cloth, and an incense burner or some other way of making offerings, and then make a simple offering and say a prayer there every single day, morning and evening. Set aside your own expectations and wishes, pray, and wait. How long? No way to know in advance. That's the best advice I know.

  28. (Deborah Bender)

    @W. B. Jorgenson–I make a distinction between invoking a deity and simply trying to open a channel of communication with him, her or them. Deities on the whole are interested in having ongoing relationships with human beings; some want relationships with a lot of people and others are more selective. Prayer, unaccompanied by offerings or rites, might or might not be sufficient to open a channel of communication and start building that relationship.

    What's meant by invocation varies from group to group. In the kind of Wicca I practice, it means calling upon a being to be present in some sensible form, and is not a practice for absolute beginners.

    The systematic and persistent approach JMG recommends is respectful and has a good chance of success. I disagree that instant or at least quick results never occur; sometimes they do but one shouldn't count on it. I spent years getting nowhere with prayers and intuitive rituals directed to Someone. Then one day, as an experiment, I tried silent prayer directed to The Supreme Being, addressing myself to Her instead of Him or It, and immediately got the sense that a sympathetic being was listening on the other end of the line. From that point things moved pretty quickly.

    Some deities are more approachable than others, and some take the initiative to approach humans.

    Not everyone receives that kind of call, or heeds it. If you are the one seeking to initiate contact, the sort of deity especially likely to be receptive would be gods and goddesses who have a reputation of being both beneficent and non-judgemental. These gods are popular and many people have received boons from them. The ones that come to my mind are such goddesses as the Virgin Mary, Isis and Yemaya.

  29. @ Deborah

    Thank you Deborah, actually I bought the book some time ago, but haven't read it yet.

    Presumably it will have to go up a few notches on my reading list.

  30. In the context of “Separation of Coven and State”, I think it is worth reflecting on the Jewish origins, traditions and stories and relationship with territory as well as on their being ‘minority’. I know we are considering pagan ritual groups in the USA just now, but hey, back in the beginning days Judaism was one among many contending for space with other tribes or settlements, adjacent to big civilisations and made its own journeys and threshed out its varieties.

    I must thank Deborah for sketches of Jewish experience including those in the USA. My vague sense that latter-day political Zionism was not favoured at least between the world wars seems to be confirmed. Long ago when I was young and argumentative (smile) I had a long talk with a young Jewish couple, man and wife. They were intellectual academics and thoughtful beyond their years, I realise now. I was vaguely supportive of Israel in those days because I believed in ‘development’, aka Progress, I guess. They were thoughtfully not pro-Zionist and took all my arguments systematically to bits. My view of political Zionism never recovered its original sympathy. (It was vaguely ‘idealist’, ‘socialist’, back in the day: Golda Meir, Israeli Labour Party, ‘pro-refugee from Nazis’, ’ strawberries in the desert’, ‘new and better varieties of cotton’, and so on.)

    In my earlier comment to this post I posed a throwaway question about other monotheisms across the ancient world in the context of wondering about the attractions of Judaism to metropolitans in the Roman world. (I am wondering about religious tolerance as it might be viewed within the context of any secure supremacy, that is, within BAU headed up by a confident political/ruling class. And Roman Law for sure ruled OK!)This has incidentally opened up for me an enquiry into the origins and fate of many examples of monotheism. This linked article seems ok to an amateur like me. It certainly opened up perspectives and contexts of which I know little.

    What strikes me is that after Roman Emperors made Christianity imperial they got iconoclastic with polytheism and other monotheisms, and this is a tendency goes back to before Abraham it seems. Hmm … we are talking perhaps about centralism, rather than theism as such, as JMG I think has said, and about symbols.

    In another example, Hinduism despite apparent diversity has been described as ‘monistic’ and might be better viewed within the historical context described in ‘Hardships and downfall of Buddhism in India’. Verardi says that “… whereas the idea of state and society the Buddhists had in mind was compatible with the extremely varied peoples of the sub-continent, the Brahmanical model implied their forced incorporation into the well-guarded perimeter of an agrarian society … imposition of the [strict] rules of a varna state implied much violence.” We are aware nowadays of ‘Hindu Nationalism’, which might otherwise sound a contradiction in terms if we are not aware of the old violence.

    Personally I can get along with spirits of Wells and Groves and Glades and protected places for children. And I like animals as animals rather than as symbols, though a cat asleep on a doorstep of a morning in an old English market town told me as much as the ancient Cathedral. My dreams tell me nevertheless that I am not quite one person, but I am not quite poly-person either.

    Phil H

  31. hiya,
    it is such a warning, and as the Archdruid replied, it is that they are 'up in arms'about being beaten at the same game. Both use the methods of entryism and metapolitics. It's been interesting to watch it all unfold over the past 6 years or so, beginning with the 'polytheist movement' within modern paganism, also the shift in self identification of some of the more vocal witches, druids,humanistic etc. taking on the mantle of polytheism to escape the, new at the time, 'wiccanate' appellation. It's from these, according to my observations ( which might be off base) who brought the political aspects with them. It's about the same time that the political slant began to create the divisiveness within the 'hard polytheist movement.
    also one might want to check out the paper by Amy Hale on the subject of “Marketing 'rad trad' the growing co-influence between paganism and the new right”. I first read it about a year or so ago, though there isn't a solid date for it. One will see where Rhydd got his inspiration as it were. his bullet points pretty much serve as an outline of the Hale article. Rhydd also referenced it in his own essay.

  32. Hello everyone – long time reader, first time posting.
    First off, many thanks to JMG for this fantastic resource.
    I'd very recently been having a conversation about this very subject, especially concerning Roman attitudes to other Gods, peoples and cultures; and I suppose that when the object is temporal power and hegemony, religious and other differences can be allowed to remain in the background.
    It seems to me, from my fairly limited understanding of world history that such imperial modes of rule are common when large, diverse areas are subjugated. Tolerance towards diversity can thus become not only the path of least resistance, but also extended to a kind of divide and conquer.
    Further to the example you made of the threat posed by the Christians to Ancient Rome, I offer the example of the British priesthood exterminated by the Romans at Anglesey. Perhaps this is a case of a genuine threat to the prestige and leadership of Empire emphatically not being tolerated, and such tolerance only extended to things seen as being of lesser importance.
    Please excuse any rambling or errors, as a Briton I feel the loss of our tradition to be a major blow even after all this time, and an important counter-example to the idea of Roman laissez-faire in religious matters.

  33. JMG: I only came across this and your other blog recently, following links having to do with the recent political fracas to your post “A Wind that Tastes of Ashes”. Since then, I have been avidly reading through the archives of both blogs and am quite pleased with what I've read so far. You have an intriguing perspective on the world, and I appreciate you sharing it.

    W. B. Jorgensen: I think that the advice that JMG gives is sound. If I could add to it from my own experience, I would say that I have found that an effective way to get a god's attention is to sincerely ask for help in return for a serious offering (that is, something that requires a certain amount of effort and/or expenditure on your part), and then offer exactly what you said you would, if not a bit more. The substance and the method of the offering will depend on the god being offered to. There is no guarantee, of course; the gods decide who they will or will not deal with for reasons of their own.

  34. JMG,

    That makes a lot of sense, I hadn't thought of the fashion statement people affecting the gods' relationship with humanity, but I should have. I will just have to continue to show my sincerity, prove that I'm truly seeking to create a relationship and am not doing this as a fashion statement and then continue to pray until I get a response.

    Thank you for your advice, and I hope you don't mind that I'm asking this sort of question.

  35. Long, comment. There are some connections and threads of thought this month’s essay is bringing out that I’m still trying to hammer out and disentangle from each other, at least some of which might lead somewhere promising. So, it’s in two parts:

    One thing I’ve been thinking about, with regards to this latest series on politics and the occult is the nature of occultism as distinct from religion and how that plays out in the things we’re discussing. One of the things that makes the occult, occult is that it encompasses a broad sphere of rejected knowledge of any given culture. The residue of the phoenix’s burning flight through the unicorn’s forest that the dragon found too repulsive to hoard, to draw on earlier metaphors. Those three phases could be seen to work their way through civilization in smaller cycles as well, one of which is the cycles of esoteric occultism, pop occultism, and revolution we’ve been discussing here. Because the occult represents the rejected knowledge of a civilization, it also finds itself dipping into a cultural current mainstream religions don’t, which is the broader cultural and political underground, which in some cases represents oppressed groups of people the mainstream of the civilization has abandoned, but also contains the passions and ideas that form the seeds of the next wave of cultural change. Therefore, as culture enters a state of transition, the counterculture as a whole grows and it taps into the imagery and ideas of the occult systems in place at the time, which is why elements and symbols from Rosicrucian philosophy trickled into the natural sciences through Rosicrucians and Hermeticists like Erasmus Darwin, or why fraternal imagery graces America’s national symbols, or why imagery from theosophy and its offshoots showed up in the propaganda of Soviet Russia and Nazi Germany. And yet, of course, the occult thread continues, which is why the fraternal orders took imagery from the alchemists and Hermeticists, why the theosophical society and golden dawn borrowed ritual styles why modern eclectic neopagans have so many symbols and ritual trappings from the previous eras and so on.

    All this has two implications: the first, is that whenever concepts from the occult are carried by temporary allies of the occult out of the underground and into the mainstream, the occult itself is rejected because it can only ever emerge from the cultural underground of a civilization during the unicorn time between cycles, when that which is occult ceases to be occluded. And so, Christianity began its life as part of the body of occult and underground traditions of ancient Rome, and as soon as it went through its cycle of entering into the popular imagination, kicking off a period of revolution, and becoming an official part of the Dragon’s hoard of ancient Rome, the occult corners of Christianity, the Gnostics, Neoplatonist Christians and so on, were driven out and persecuted as heretics up until the empire fell and you entered into the well of myth that fed into the rise of stories like the Arthurian legends and Beowulf. One of the strongest pieces of evidence for things like the Norse religion emerging as major religion is the very fact that certain sects of heathenry have begun to reject the practice of magic, which shows that polytheist religions have begun to emerge into the light in a way they hadn’t previously and in turn, conform to the attitudes and prejudices of the cultural mainstream.

  36. The other implication is that the occult and the cultural currents that swirl around it essentially represent the shadow of the civilization, containing some useful pieces of rejected knowledge, while also tapping into currents that are far less functional. And so, while the current occult scene looks to re-enchant the world, connect to the ancestors and old gods, find paths of spiritual development and less destructive ways of engaging the world; it’s also a rallying point for flat-earthers, UFO cults, conspiracy theorists, advocates of racialist pseudoscience, Satanists, fascists, anarchists, and radicals from every corner of the political spectrum and so on. And of course, at any time, ideas from the mainstream that are rejected by mainstream society can tumble down into the turbulent cauldrons in which the occult continues to bubble. And so, it seems like the occult as a discipline exists in a place that other religions don’t, nestled into the turbulent spaces of society’s shadow, which gives it the opportunities of operating within those cracks in the pavement and laying the first acorns for the unicorn’s forest of the next civilization, cultural cycle, etc. But there are also things in those cracks a civilization may have rejected for good reason. And because the symbols and practices affiliated with the basic philosophies and practices common to occultism through the ages reach into the deep self and open up channels of experience that transcend the rational mind, they can have unpredicted effects (especially on those people who trickle in from the subculture and engage in periods of pop occultism without being interested in engaging in the work).

    I think that tendency of the occult to occasionally blead out into the broader culture from time to time, especially in times of unrest is probably a normal feature that can’t be prevented any more than the rise and fall of civilizations itself. But it can be ridden out, and some people do, but I suppose the real question is, how can the influences of all the passions and spirits that pool up on “the fringes where druids lurk” as you’ve often referred to it before be resisted on an individual level? I’m sure anyone who has run around in occult circles long enough has encountered those people who start out perfectly normal and after a few years in the community starts to develop a certain… filminess about them… a pasty complexion, bags under their eyes, allergies to absolutely everything, and a personality that can’t utter a sentence without sounding like an article on Natural News, David Icke’s website, or Infowars, and eventually turns into someone who just does nothing but shout out various polarizing political opinions. (There are other ways the same process can unfold, Crowley’s life, for instance, is one where occult practice got overwhelmed by the rejected aspects of his culture and led to massive personal imbalance). I shared an article the month before last about a spiritual festival whose leader underwent exactly that process and dragged his whole community with him. So, it does seem like there are real dangers to the cultural and spiritual spaces occultism occupies that are worth addressing, of which the lure of radical politics is one. But the combination of techniques that are designed to blow the blocks and shields society puts on people wide open, and draw people out of the safe spaces of the culture… and the tendency of the occult to lie out on the fringes and take in ideas from the fringes make it a dangerous place (you’ve drawn on the idea of occultists as cultural dumpster divers before… and that’s as good an analogy as any, since for every lost gold ring in the dumpster, there’s a dirty needle.), what are the features that lie between the pursuit of the occult being a constructive one, and a destructive one?

  37. Two experiences with completely unrelated movements which strongly bear out the point of this month's post–

    1. Earth First. When I was a teenager in an East Coast city, I greatly admired these folks. I read their journal and learned a bit about them. Later I moved to the West Coast and got involved directly, and then my involvement a few years later. Why? Earth First as a movement fell to radical left entryism a long time ago. You can read a hilarious depiction of this in Edward Abbey's “Hayduke Lives.” At the time I didn't have the words to describe it, but this is one of the major problems I saw. There is no reason that, in order to get involved with a campaign to preserve wilderness areas, anyone should be expected to be 100% up to date on the latest campus PC language. There is no reason that a movement to preserve wilderness should require complete ideological conformity on gender politics, dietary choices, or the presidential election. Actually it should be obvious that the more narrowly you define and insist on these things, the fewer people your movement will attract and the less effective you will be. For some reason, to Earth Firsters this is not obvious, although I'm pretty sure that the appearance of an Earth First Rendezvous in any given rural locale is inversely correlated with support for wilderness protection in the same region.

    2. Twelve Step Programs. These groups are self-organized with limited funding. Yet they successfully provide a valuable service to the community and a powerful and effective spiritual program for their members. They also all specifically state that they are “not alllied with any sect, denomination or politics, organization or institution; do not wish to engage in any controversy, neither endorse nor oppose any causes.” It really is that simple.

    A sort of side note on Reconstructionism… I get the appeal of worshiping “the old gods” in a way that is historically authentic. What I don't get, and what has completely turned me off of the Reconstructionist groups I've encountered, is… We have plenty of examples of living pagan faiths in the world today, including much of Asia, Africa and South America. To my knowledge there is not one that insists upon A. discreet “pantheons” of mutually-exclusive deities who are B. understood primarily through a library of historical documents compiled by academics with dubious motives and C. worshiped only in accordance with those documents, with preference given to the oldest and deviations understood as illegitimate. Actually the only religions that meet those criteria are, um, the various species of Christianity.

    Lastly… JMG I'm curious about your comment above re. Asatru. What leads you to think it might have a significant future in North America?

  38. Hi JMG,

    I hope this comment is allowable as it's off-topic; if not I understand. Briefly: following on from your discussion with WB on establishing a deity connection, I was wondering if from your own experience you might have any recommendations for the best sources of story, prayer and rite for Celtic deities such as Hu Gadarn? I've been slowly establishing a relationship with Ceridwen, with a bit of success, but have felt hampered there also by the question of specific prayer and rite, and have mostly been free-wheeling with the basic image of transformative cauldron.

    Lately I have felt an urge, or a signal, to expand and make an approach to Hu. My feeling has been along the lines of: this or that sphere of concern in my life might be better served by a relationship with Him, thus allowing a more focussed and appropriate relationship with Her to develop.

    If the best answer is: do the work yourself to find the sources, that's fair enough, I just wondered if there might be some beginner pointers. I so far haven't been able to find any reference to Hu online that makes him explicit as a Deity figure even.

    Many thanks,


  39. You portray areas of human thought and culture existing parallel and separate. This seems mathematically improbable. wonder if one area of life is encased in another and so on like russian dolls 'matroschkas' or the various human energy bodies from higher level to physical. What is a subset of the other? Politics and religion do not mix we are told. Religion is partly an impractical personal matter dealing with abstractions. This is similar to private beliefs in childraising technique, existence of fairies, food preferences, are blondes better than brunettes. Politics is the technique of finding a balance between preferences of the masses in general on a statistical basis. Religion is a dogmatic selection of one preference system to an absolute. Politics is meant to compromise at the pure physical level. Intellectual and spiritual and emotional, artistic theories or preference systems like in science, religion, esoteric or arts correspond more to the higher level spiritual bodies. Buddhic, intellectual, emotional, sexual. Politics has to be a lowest common denominator thing. 10 commandments, legal framework to prevent worst case scenario of chaos. I believe in fairies and aliens and angels and ghosts but you are a materialist atheist. The law says don't steal, lie in court, kill. If I believe in Nessie I am considered eccentric. Religion is eccentricity lifted to a cultural institution. 'Jesus visited by angels, virgin birth'. Hoowever mythology is 'lying to ourselves to a purpose'. We deify certain concepts like family life in jesus case or trees in case of old germanic tribes or animal totems in case of indians in america. So religion are internalized set of taboos, values, not just eccentric stupidities. In a culture with several such cultural subsets, i.e. religious traditions, politics makes laws to discover what common ground exists between them. If none exists we are close to civil war. In Russia orthodoxy and islam live peacefully as both are very conservative. In the west humanism and conservative christianity are at severe
    Loggerheads as islam with european humanism.

    I went through various phases of religion, humanism and have been a practising yogi for decades using scientific method on internal self, a combination of humanism and religion. I bootstrap my negation to a positive result. Belief is not blind but assisted by evidence. Politics and religion are group dogmatic organisms competing for members. If I am at heart atheistic then I can change religions at will or use entryism at church for my political purposes. If relifgion is my center then I can switch political party according to how it fits my moral spiritual center.integration of areas of life mentioned, artistic, spiritual, religious, political is neccessary for wisdom. Reading, living, discussing, loving are all part of this. Sport, work, failure in life lead to wisdom. Old people lead young in raditional groups as wsdom takes time. I am glad ofJMGs encyclopedic knowledge and internet discussions in this sense.

    Let's hope people can integrate political materialist goal seeking with their spiritual moral ideals and not try to exclude one or the other opportunistically.

  40. Steve Thomas — I can't speak for JMG, but there was some brief discussion with the Norse folks as to why this drift may be happening. First and foremost, Norse paganism has a vastly superior pedigree to Wicca's, with extensive legitimately old writings, sagas, and myths. It also beats Celtic reconstrucionism on this front, to the point that some self-described Celtic groups are incorporating Norse elements (with altered names) into their practices. The two cultures were rather closely related with a fair bit of cross-fertilization, so this might not be as much of a stretch as it sounds. They are also perhaps the most prominent group that encourages “hard polytheism,” i.e. the deities are discrete and individual, not aspects of one super deity nor equivalent to other deities in other pantheons. This appeals to people who like their deities solid and relatable. And of course most Americans, be they Euro- , African-, Native-, or Latino- in origin, have some Norsemen as ancestors

    That hard polethism bit might also be a barrier for some eclectics, but they seem perfectly able to sidestep it and borrow freely from the Northerners. How the deities feel about this is another matter; a disrespected Thor is widely known to be likely to literally rain down thunder and lightning on you (why do you think all Asatru wear his hammer even if they are personally dedicated to one of the other gods?)

    And one should not underestimate the influence of the TV series “Vikings,” which is very popular and portrays much of Viking-age Norse culture and religion quite vividly and reasonably accurately. It certainly seems to have influenced the hairstyles of lots of young men in the 20-40 year age range. If you wonder why you have been seeing more long mohawks, often dreaded or braided, that is how Ragnor Lothbrok and Bjorn Ironsides wear their hair in the series. And beard braids are also increasing in stylishness, I suspect for the same reason.

  41. Eh? Direct the political ones to the nearest Unitarian Universalist Fellowship. It won't hurt anyone, and the UU can channel their energy to a useful secular purpose.


    in the Bramblepatch
    Marowstone Island
    Salish Sea

  42. I just thought of something tonight. You've mentioned that the problem of politicization seems to be emanating from within eclectic neopaganism. I wonder if that's not a coincidence. Eclectic neopaganism has often been guilty of a disrespect for the traditions it borrows from.

    In a similar manner, exclusivist religions such as conservative Christianity and folkish heathenry have often had a problem with politicization from the right.

    It seems to me that there's a parallel issue to the separation of the spheres that occurs inside of the religious spheres: a tendency to either insist that traditions are unimportant in these enlightened times (the “eclectic” approach), or to insist that an individual must choose one and only one tradition and follow it exclusively (the “exclusivist” approach).

    It seems to me that the healthy middle (I'd call it “religious conservatism” but that would be misleading; perhaps “tradition individualism”?) is to acknowledge, pace the eclectics, that traditions did not arise for no reason: they are by and large the most fertile grounds for a healthy spirituality. While there are exceptions, most people prosper better when linked to a tradition in some way.

    However, pace the exclusivists, traditions may properly intersect in the life of the individual. While some people, perhaps most people, will prosper best within a single tradition, many will do better when involved in multiple traditions, including traditions they made up themselves. If those traditions seem to conflict or just not make sense together, well, that's their problem; mind your own business!

    (Oh, and here's something I think you'll find humorously exasperating: I ran across a book on the Elder Futhark that lists the deity associated with Mannaz as “Man.” I just have to shake my head at the hubris. Leave that nonsense to Crowley and the New Agers.)

  43. Chevaliermalfait, certainly a lot of it became visible right about that point. While I still lived on the left coast, though, I saw a lot of political Wicca as well. You're certainly right that a lot of what seems to be motivating the outrage on the part of entryists from the left is the success of entryists from the right!

    Mike S, the British Druids are another case in point. In Gaul, the Druids had been a major force behind the Gaulish resistance to Rome, so the Romans went after them as a political issue rather than a religious one — though of course they trotted out the atrocity stories to justify what, by the standards of the time, was an atrocious act. (You didn't take out priests and temples without serious justification.)

    Hildiwulf, thank you!

    WB Jorgenson, you're welcome, and I don't mind at all.

  44. Bill Pulliam,

    That's a really good analysis. To expand on your last point, I suspect that Norse mythology and culture is just familiar in a way that other mythologies are not. Not just in the sense of being widely known–plenty of European cultures have that distinction–but in the sense of addressing issues we can relate to in a way we can relate to.

    Partly this is probably because heathenry was the last holdout against Christianity, and so had to adapt its myths and culture to stay competitive. Ragnarok, especially the happy ending, is the most frequently cited example–although I suspect that's actually a little oversold–but so is wearing Thor's hammer and making the sign of the hammer: my understanding is that these were adopted specifically to compete with the crucifix and sign of the cross. I also read that the date of Yule was a floating holiday until it was fixed to compete with Christmas, though given that Christmas was not a major holiday until much later makes me suspicious of that story.

    These outward signs, trivial as some of them may seem, strike me as symptoms of deeper changes that made heathenry more familiar to the Western mind and thus able to bounce back more strongly than other traditions. It's also probably part of what makes exclusivism–and other flaws picked up from Christianity–such an easy trap for some heathens to fall into.

    And while I agree with the influence of Vikings, we can't forget the enduring influence of Tolkien!

  45. Eric, the differences between the kind of occultism that coexists with, and indeed helps maintain, a sane and healthy life, and the kind that leads down the road to twitching and gibbering…that's a huge issue, and one that will want more than one post discussing it. I'll put that on the list of things to get to.

    Steve, well, a lot of people in the Neopagan scene have modeled their religious activities on Christianity without noticing that this is what they're doing, so the Reconstructionists are no different from (say) the eclectic Pagans whose attitudes toward deities, ritual, and social-justice concerns are indistinguishable from those of the liberal Christian church down the road. It takes a lot of insight and reflection to get out from under one's cultural expectations about what religion is supposed to be and do.

    As for Asatru — well, basically the thing that makes me think it's put down deep roots is that the great majority of people I know who practice it are just ordinary Americans who happen to belong to a different religion. Most of the Neopagan faiths have, if I may be frank, a theatrical air to them — the kind of thing you find in most deliberately alternative subcultures, which exist in large part to display one's disaffection with the existing order of society — and those don't keep well; once the shock value wears off, people go looking for new ways to be disaffected and edgy. Of course there are people in other Neopagan settings for whom that's not true, but then you can still find Theosophists and Spiritualists today, long after both movements went through their boom-and-bust cycle as avant-garde subcultures.

    Rumighoul, in dealing with Hu Gadarn you're on difficult ground. He's one of the deities of the nineteenth-century Druid Revival; outside Revival documents, you'll find very little about him, and even those are scant. Ross Nichols' The Book of Druidry is one of the few widely available sources. In my experience, though, the ritual forms given in my books The Druidry Handbook and The Druid Magic Handbook, on the one hand, and the very different forms in The Celtic Golden Dawn and its forthcoming sequels, are effective ways to establish contact with the old Revival deities. Certainly they've worked for me.

    Ed, I suppose it probably won't help to point out that your definitions aren't universally accepted, and in fact are simply one person's opinions…

    Glenn, you're assuming that they're willing to be “directed.” Some of these folks, for that matter, I wouldn't wish on the Unitarians.

    James, a very solid analysis! “Aleister Crowley and the New Age,” by the way, would make quite a decent band name; I look forward to their first album. 😉

  46. The obvious problem I see with this proposal is – where does politics end and spirituality begin? Is protesting a proposal to drain a wetland needed to maintain the health of the local water table a political goal, or a spiritual goal? What if a spirit tells you to do it? If a candidate is running on a spiritual platform that you oppose (say, a fundamentalist Christian whose stated goal is to legislate based on his religion) is one's opposition motivated by spirit or by politics? Or both?

  47. “The differences between the kind of occultism that coexists with, and indeed helps maintain, a sane and healthy life, and the kind that leads down the road to twitching and gibbering…that's a huge issue, and one that will want more than one post discussing it.”

    I’ll be very interested in hearing your thoughts on that, part of it seems to be misuse of magical techniques in psychologically harmful ways (I recently read this fascinating article about the way corporate mindfulness meditation of the sort taught in workplaces is starting to have harmful side effects, for instance: http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2016/jan/23/is-mindfulness-making-us-ill), and I imagine there are also elements of individual vulnerability in terms of personality and psychology. But certain universal features make me wonder if there’s something else going on on a less apparent level: for instance, “twitching and gibbering” thing manifests itself in virtually identical ways among both among “love and light” types, and the darker corners of the “left hand” varieties of occultism both physically and ideologically in terms of the types of paranoias and conspiracy theories crop up. (In a similar way, conspiracy sites of the leftward end of the fringe (like Natural News), actually have the same types of articles, scapegoats, and ideologies as conspiracy sites on the rightward end of the fringe (like Infowars).

    The main thing I’m wondering about with regards to this month, though, is if there’s a common thread between the factors that can drive certain people who practice the occult down the road towards twitching and gibbering, the waves of political violence we’ve been discussing, and the rise of various sorts of revitalization movements. Some common thread that connects, say… the individual operative occultist who gets that signature hollow eyed, greasy look and starts talking about Chemtrails, secret societies, secret Zionist conspiracies, the New World Order and so on; the political occultism of the Thule society that sent an entire country down the road to twitching and gibbering; and the road taken by a community such as Heaven’s gate that went twitching and gibbering right into their plastic bags. Are these just expressions of a common type of sickness expressing themselves for separate reasons all of which just happen to have had various overlaps with the occult and the cultural underground of their times, and just happen to have certain degrees of ideological overlap? Or could there something deeper going on there?

  48. Hiya John,
    Yes I saw a lot of 'political wicca as well on the east coast, and midwest. what I was getting at is that a few of the more vocal had 'changed clothes' as it were, dressing as 'polytheists' and 'animists' and even 'traditional witch' when things started trending away from 'wicca', and by my lights doing so for the same political capital.Especially so when the whole idea of 'wiccanate privilege' began to circulate. Funny thing was it began with theology…

  49. While there's certainly a big difference between totalitarian societies and more tolerant ones, I can't imagine any human society ever will separate religion and politics completely, especially if you include civil religions. The dominant religion(s) of a society shape people on such a deep level that there's no way it won't be apparent in the laws of customs of that society, even one with a lot of tolerance for religious diversity. One example is how Christian values surrounding sex, marriage and nudity have been reflected in America's laws, changing over time as the religious landscape of America has changed.

    At the present time, I'd say the religion of progress has far more sway over American politics than Christianity. For example, for the majority of children removed from their homes by CPS in America don't involve any abuse at all, instead being for “deprivation of necessities”, “necessities” being a very subjective term, as many poor families and some living alternative lifestyles have found out. The religion of progress's affect on America's cultural values criminalizes many of the ways of life that have been standard in other times and places.

    I'm also thinking of your fictional Star's Reach Meriga, it sounds like there's enough religious tolerance that the old believers don't get too much trouble in their worship, but I can only imagine the reaction of most folks in that world if some minority religion got the idea that tree cutting wasn't a problem and burning fossil fuels was OK. Some may not consider those things religious matters, but from what I got from the story, the Gaians of Meriga definitely do. Just like the Roman example of burning incense to the genius, the line between what is political and what is religious is always blurry.

    None of this is an argument for totalitarianism, I would definitely rather live in the tolerant societies that you've mentioned over totalitarian ones, and your warning makes a lot of sense. It just seems to me that the different spheres of the enlightenment thought will only ever be as separate as the circles of a Venn diagram.

  50. I'd like to thank everyone for the comments and advice people have given me and give a quick update: I've picked out which god to approach: Amaterasu, the Japanese sun goddess. I find the stories, symbolism, and her presentation in general appeals to me for reasons I can't explain. In addition I am very interested in Japan and Japanese culture, so a Japanese deity would likely be a good fit. Finally, shortly after posting the question here I had a dream in which I was approached by a woman telling me I'd found who I was looking for… And today found an old painting of Amaterasu, which perfectly matches the woman from my dream.

    “Most of the Neopagan faiths have, if I may be frank, a theatrical air to them.” I sadly think this is quite accurate. I see nothing wrong with theatrics, and indeed I have quite the flare for the dramatic myself, however something done solely to get attention will not last.

    Also I have another question: you said, “a lot of people in the Neopagan scene have modelled their religious activities on Christianity without noticing.” In part might this be because many Neopagans seek to be the “anti-Christians” so to speak, and thus at a subconscious level are thinking about Christianity? If, as seem to be common claims for occult philosophy, people become more like what they think about, and unconscious thoughts are more important than concious thoughts, might this be a powerful combination to ensure many Neopagans adopt elements of Christianity?

  51. Dammerung, where do trees end and shrubs begin? The fact that the edges of categories can't always be defined precisely doesn't make the categories valueless.

    Eric, there's definitely something deeper going on. More on this in an upcoming post.

    Chevaliermalfait, thanks for the clarification. Hmm! That would make sense.

    Ozark, please note the passage in my post where I discussed the one place where all the spheres intersect, which is in the individual. My fictional Meriga is not an Enlightenment society; nor, of course, is it any sort of Utopia — it's my guess of what a society of the deindustrial dark ages might be like, and the separation of the spheres is not a feature you find in dark age societies. (As I noted in my post, again, this is a feature of fairly complex societies.) Of course individuals will always draw guidance from sphere A for decisions influencing sphere B, and vice versa; the point of the doctrine of separate spheres is that no outside authority can tell them how they must do this.

    WB Jorgenson, excellent! The phrase I like to use is “what you contemplate, you imitate.” That's why so many people who spend a great deal of time obsessing about the evils of Christianity — whether those people are Neopagans or “angry atheists” — so often copy the very behavior patterns they denounce the loudest.

  52. W. B. Jorgenson,

    If you wish to pursue any kind of relationship with Amaterasu or other Japanese deities further, there is a chance I may be able to offer a little bit of support. Should you be interested, I invite you to contact me at quin the mighty (the previous three words with no spaces) at gmail.

  53. To address Dammerung's example in a straightforward manner:

    In your religious practice you focus on the spirits of the wetland.

    In your magical practice you create magical protections for the wetland.

    In your political activities you work for legal protections for the wetland.

    In each of these three activities you might well be working with three entirely different and non-overlapping groups of people — your church, your magical study group, and your local Save The Wetlands chapter. And in each case you would be using entirely different processes — e.g. devotion vs. manifestation vs. publicity.

    Humans, like all beings, function in different realms at different times and for different purposes.

  54. Part of the problem is the idea that “the personal is political”. Which would be less embraced if those in politics would stop being so concerned with people private lives. But once you accept that idea then it is a short hope to seeing *everything* as political such that politics is the root of all things.

    One of the comments above struck me as a blind man insisting that he knew that color is really just another version of texture.


    p.s. Would you recommend the “Encyclopedia of Natural Magic” as a companion book to go with your “Celtic Golden Dawn”?

  55. JMG,

    If “what you contemplate, you imitate” is true, and both my experience and what I've seen from the sources I consider reputable say it is, suddenly so much about the “angry atheists” makes a lot more sense: not just are they focused on the negatives in Christianity, but they've created a straw version and see it everywhere. Thus constantly contemplating straw evil, this leads to them becoming straw evil themselves. Not to pick on them too much, but I've had personal experience with one. It was also odd that he got progressively worse as time went on: this explains it.


    I've always wondered about that myself, what makes something a “necessity”? I've seriously heard people argue not having a microwave should be considered child abuse, seeing as it would “prevent them from being able to heat up their food.” Now from someone who isn't planning to have a microwave (which raises so many eyebrows when I say that), I find it amusing that people think they're essential. I think proper parental care and guidance should be considered a necessity, well before microwaves, but it appears not everyone agrees with me.

  56. Forgive me if this is too far off-topic, but I've been thinking about this a bit and I don't know of any other place so well-populated by serious, thoughtful occultists etc.

    Many cultures have a notion of a multipartite soul, with each part having a different destiny after death. Growing up in a Christian environment, this idea for a long time struck me as hopelessly strange except in the Hermetic theory of the multiple bodies, where there's a hierarchy, and parts farther up the hierarchy are the “real” you. The issue is one of identity.

    But it occurs to me that I've actually accepted something very like a multipartite soul on the level of mind: our minds aren't single entities, but are split into at least two parts, the conscious and unconscious. So here's a thought experiment: if somehow my unconscious mind got swapped with someone else's, but my conscious mind stayed as it is, would I still be me? Is my identity in my conscious mind alone? If so, then do I stop existing when I'm in dreamless sleep?

    And experiments with split-brain patients seem to show that even the conscious mind is not necessarily a cohesive unit.

    Whatever the answers, I'm having a hard time imagining a multipartite soul causing significantly worse problems.

  57. Avalterra, true enough. As for your question, I would indeed — I had The Encyclopedia of Natural Magic in mind (and very often in use as well) while I was crafting the specific forms of practical magic covered in The Celtic Golden Dawn. The one difference is that the former book uses astrological symbolism and the latter doesn't — it's a purely elemental system, as Druidry generally has been. Still, you can simply ignore the astrological material in the former book and it'll work just fine.

    WB Jorgenson, I've seen exactly the same thing in that and other contexts. The phrase “straw evil” is a keeper, btw.

    James, a lot depends on what you mean by “yourself.” That's far from a simple concept. Some people identify it with the body; some identify it with memories; some identify it with basic orientations toward the world, or to some part of the world, such as sexuality; some identify it with the bare unmodified fact of consciousness, and so on. I'll consider a post on this in due time.

  58. I am respectful of Asatru, and of Thor. Though I like and admire thunder and lightning I have no wish to get up close and personal. (Slightly more than a joke is intended here. I do not regard ‘Asatru’ as modern ‘barbarians’.)

    Mine is a serious query. I have been to the Asatru website and looked at the list of virtues. There is an almost complete overlap with virtues of a Heroic Society as discussed by Aladair MacIntyre in After Virtue. MacIntyre goes on to describe how ‘cunning’ and a wry humour can augment the primary courage, even if courage fails. “… It is defeat not victory that lies at the end. To understand this is itself a virtue. But what is involved in such an understanding? … Surely that human life has a determinate form, the form of a certain kind of story.”

    Mackay discusses mainly ‘Homeric’ society but is happy to include Irish and Icelandic Sagas. Here comes my question. These are Dark Age societies, no? In European history the origins of these societies seem to be a Dark Age, most likely the one before the last one! When Mediterranean civilisation went down at the end of the Bronze Age the descent into dark age seems to have involved also the whole of Northern Europe, altering earlier patterns and organisation of agrarian settlements for more than a millennium. I recently referenced a discovery from this period of a battle of Tolkien dimensions and the finding of dead warriors from all over Europe preserved in the marshland of Tollense.

    So Asatru rises again? Thor is recruiting again? It might be inevitable but I do not find it necessarily reassuring in what it implies.

    Mackay poses more than a question: “What matters at this stage is the construction of local forms of community within which civility and the intellectual and moral life can be sustained though the new dark ages which are already upon us. … [However] the barbarians are not waiting beyond the frontiers; they already have been governing us for quite some time.”

    Phil H

  59. Phil Harris,

    I'd argue that what you've mentioned is–to use a well-worn saying from computer science–a feature, not a bug. A return to a Dark Age understanding of virtue is a gain in the face of an impending Dark Age, is it not? Would you rather be ruled by barbarians who've accepted the new reality or a Roman governor who won't admit the Empire is gone and never coming back?

    What I find hopeful about the rise of Asatru and Heathenry in general is that the traditions they (I suppose I should say “we” now, but that's a conversation for another time) are trying to emulate have a strong sense of morality that doesn't involve absolute edicts, and a strong sense of piety that doesn't involve abasing oneself to curry favor with the gods.

    As an example of the latter, yesterday I ran across a blog post on grumpylokeanelder.tumblr.com talking about how, if you work with the runes, Odin will eventually take an interest in you. The author went on to say that if he does it's perfectly fine to ask him to leave you alone.


  60. Dear Mr. Greer:

    I have enjoyed the last two months posts, I apologize if this comment is too off topic. This time what caught my attention was your comment to Steve about eclectic Neopaganism: “Most of the Neopagan faiths have, if I may be frank, a theatrical air to them — the kind of thing you find in most deliberately alternative subcultures, which exist in large part to display one's disaffection with the existing order of society — and those don't keep well; once the shock value wears off, people go looking for new ways to be disaffected and edgy.”

    What I found interesting about this statement is that it made me reflect on a couple of trends in my own faith tradition (i.e. Anglicanism). 1) In the past two centuries Anglicanism, especially in its high church forms, seems to also have a love of medievalism in its aesthetics and liturgy (I have heard us described as a nerd fest for history majors and renn faire folks), and 2) in the past couple of years I’ve read articles about Millennials leaving low church Evangelicalism for Roman Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy, Anglicanism, and Lutheranism. While this is less edgy than eclectic Neopaganism I would argue that these trends are also examples of dissatisfaction with the existing order, at least to a degree, by harking back to an ancient and pre-industrial faith and sense of beauty. If you have an opinion on this, one way or the other, I would love to hear it.

    On a brief note from last month’s post, I’m glad to hear that the more “Mesopagan” traditions (e.g. the Golden Dawn, Revival Druidry, British Traditional Wicca, etc.) stands a likely chance of surviving in the future, since those are the Pagan paths I’m more sympathetic, if not empathetic with. I wonder if this will also see a return of acceptability for dual-faith observance (i.e. Christian and Pagan) within this milieu?

    May the Boundless Mystery bless and protect you and your loved ones. Happy Feast of Corpus Christi.

    “Christopher Kildare”

  61. Regarding pagan groups being Christianity “Lite”. Some Christians take what could be seen as the opposite view
    Pagan Christianity?: Exploring the Roots of Our Church Practices By Viola and Baraca
    They want to make Christianity more “authentic” and root out all the “pagan” stuff.
    It seems kind of like the chicken/egg question to me but I admit to being out of the loop regarding both scenes.

  62. James M. Jensen II

    Odin sounds a real gent! (smile)

    I was thinking of Asatru as a data point rather than their being a good idea or not. I do not enjoy aspects of the Dark Age we have already entered, nor – to use JMG’s phrase – the prospective “unwelcome future” arriving by instalments that awaits my children and grandchildren, but if people are already adapting, then so be it.

    In as much as Asatru and heroic virtues help transition our Dark Age, so much the better; but as Alasdair MacIntyre puts it: “What matters at this stage is the construction of local forms of community within which civility and the intellectual and moral life can be sustained through the new dark ages which are already upon us. … [However] the barbarians are not waiting beyond the frontiers; they already have been governing us for quite some time.”

    PS I did not catch my typo when I copied AM’s sentences the first time – corrected now as emphasised above.

    PPS I explicitly excused Asatru from being 'internal barbarians' when I wrote first time round. For choice examples of real deal barbarians, see JMG’s most recent post over at ADR.

    And whatever: when I wrote about social organisation changing at the end of the Bronze Age, I could add just as a data point that I live in a part of Britain that is dotted all over by Hill Forts and evidence of arms races that continued in one form or another to the present day!

    Phil H

  63. @Bill Pulliam

    I agree with your thoughts regarding the appeal of Norse paganism. There is one more thing I would like to add to it. Given that what you contemplate you imitate, one thing that has reliably seeped into modern (especially Celtic) pagan traditions from Christianity (and I assume from a variety of eastern traditions as well) is the latter's pacifying agenda, with its insistence that being somewhat docile and physically timid is the ticket to spiritual and moral superiority. It is hardly surprising given industrial society's obsession with obedience, dependence and all other forms of powerlessness, but it seems to me that Norse paganism has avoided falling into that trap, instead emphasising the spiritual value of strength, honor, wisdom and physical prowess and so appeals to the large group of people who have been led to believe that in order to be spiritual they have to turn themselves into sheep (i.e. good consumers, in every possible sense of the word), and who simply aren't willing to make that trade.

  64. Somewhat amused, as one of the token Christians here, that everyone else fights as much about the right way to worship as we do! Must be a human characteristic.
    A couple of you mentioned that you'd find certain old gods recruiting to be concerning. But why would you figure they had ever stopped recruiting? Just because hardly anyone's interested for a time wouldn't mean that they'd stop looking for worshipers, would it?
    My concern, if I were concerned about it, would be along the lines of why are people attracted to these gods now? And I think we can answer that simply by looking at our culture.
    Apropos of that, many Christians are semi-comfortable that our God resides outside of time. (Comfortable, no, accept, usually, but what does it all i>mean?

  65. On Heathenry — I had not really thought of it that way, but JMGs comments about its less theatrical appeal do ring true. Ever since the Heathens first started appearing in numbers at neopagan gatherings 20 years ago, they have always been a jeans-and-T-shirt crew. One of the leaders in the Nashville Heathens speaks with a thick, pure, gloriously unadulterated East Tennessee accent. When he was talking about his tribe and another member kept interrupting him, he utterly silenced that other member with a quick “Hush, you.” The code of honor (or various codes, several variants have been written down) also seems to especially appeal to veterans as well as those who have spent time in jail and in recovery. Which would you prefer if you had battled on the battlefield, against addiction, and/or within poverty: “An it harm none, do what thou wilt” or “Courage is better than Cowardice, Realism is better than Dogmatism?” And though those who live in more affluent areas might not really comprehend this, “working class” and small-town America is FULL of vets, ex-cons, and recovering addicts (for reasons discussed at length on JMG's other blog).

  66. Hi JMG, are you familiar with Steiner's 'Threefold social organism', distinguishing the poltical, economic and spiritual/cultural realms?

  67. Phil, it may be unsettling but, as I see it, it's also inevitable. One way or another, dark age ways of doing things are on their way, simply because that's what works in dark age conditions. I suppose a case could be made that today's Asatruar are collapsing now and avoiding the rush, in a slightly different mode than the one discussed here.

    Christopher, if I felt any spiritual connection with Christianity, I'd almost certainly be a high church Anglican, partly because of the “nerdy” issues you've mentioned, partly because I value competent ritual and there's a real shortage of that in the sort of generic American Christianity one gets in the low church mainstream. If more people are coming to share that interest, I can certainly see why! As for the so-called “Mesopagans,” most of those traditions are entirely open to Christians, and always have been — the Golden Dawn certainly is, and many versions of old-fashioned Druidry have large Christian contingents among their membership. (You might be amused to know that the Anglican/Druid crossover includes past Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, who's a Druid of the Welsh Gorsedd.) The posture of knee-jerk hostility toward Christianity is entirely a Neopagan thing.

    Candace, yes, I've seen that. If they wanted to make Christianity more “authentic,” to my mind, that would involve dealing with the fact that Christianity started out as a late classical mystery religion, and its pagan features were right in there at the beginning! Still, that's not something you can say in most circles.

    Phil, when Mackintyre talked about the dark ages as already upon us, I don't think he was really thinking about what that phrase “dark ages” actually means. When he has to worry about his home being burnt to the ground by a raiding party from the little chiefdom next door, we'll be in the dark ages.

    BoysMom, an excellent point. How gods relate to time varies, as of course do most other features of gods; the Neoplatonists used to talk about one set of gods who were outside of time and another, younger set who were within time, and I've seen an intriguing analysis of the Christian Trinity that places God the Father outside of time, God the Holy Spirit within time, and God the Son participating in both as a reflection of his twofold nature as god and man. It does seem to happen, though, that at least some gods are more active in reaching out to human beings at some times than at others, and the Aesir and Vanir seem to have become much more active in the late 20th century and to have ramped things up even further since then.

    Emmanuel, I'll have to leave that question to those who know Muslim societies well.

    Bill, exactly. It's a down-home kind of religion — which I mean as high praise.

    John, only in rough outline. I haven't read that end of Steiner's writings.

  68. I'm active in a local Zen Center, which is loosely affiliated with Japanese Soto Zen. Many people involved with American Zen are what I call “California Buddhists” who are attracted to the idea of non-spiritual spirituality that does not require major changes in their life. It's very typical to assume that Buddha was a liberal Democrat and that not only individual Buddhists but Buddhist groups should automatically support and be active in all liberal causes and candidates.

    I have been a strong advocate for our Zen Center staying completely out of politics. I definitely agree with the points made in the post, but let me add one from my own Japanese Buddhist lineage. In medieval and early modern Japan, various sects of Buddhism, as a reaction to the political anarchy of the period, began to act as independent lords (“daimyo”) and even to arm themselves. Quite a surprising development to the modern American Buddhist who assumes Buddhism is, and always has been pacific. The sohei or warrior monks fought many battles with each other and with the troops of the daimyo and even intimidated the Emperor. The Tendai monks of Mount Hiei had a huge temple complex with thousands of sohei, the Jodo Shin monks had great fortresses. Zen monks, either of the Rinzai or my Soto school, never really had sohei and stayed more or less out of the fray. In the end the great warlord Oda Nobunaga burned the great temple complex of Mount Hiei and laid siege to the Jodo Shin fortresses. Nobunaga's successors Hideyoshi and Tokugawa Ieyasu stripped the monks of all of their troops and much of their lands, eliminating them as independent political players. The Zen schools, on the other hand, flourished under the patronage of the Shogun and daimyo, but were co-opted into the governmental system as a means of control of the population, losing much of their genuine spiritual impetus.

    The lesson seems clear, stay out of politics!

    Christopher Warnock

  69. So related to my observations on Heathenism in my reporting from the mainstream neopagan world…

    As I alluded to, there seems to be a new eclectic neopaganism thread emerging in the current millenium, distinct from the Wicca-flavored Starhawk-Adler-Cunningham-Green Egg-Lewellyn-New Age-Fluffy Bunny etc that emerged as predominant over the latter few decades of the previous millenium. This new one seems to be drawing its DNA from Heathenism, Shamanism, and Hoodoo (African and Germanic influenced folks traditions from the deep south and Appalachia, ranging from Root Doctors in the Low country to Hill Witches in the mountains). It may just be because of Tennessee's Hillbilly culture and the participation of people like Jack Montgomery and Byron Ballard that I see this here, so I can't speak to whether it is a larger phenomenon. But, unlike the disparate threads that Crowley, Murray, Gardner, etc. spun and pulled together to make Wicca, these traditions do in fact have a lot of anthropological connection. There are shamanic figures in the Norse sagas, the German folk magic that came to the US with its Hexenmeisteren includes (according to Jack) some remaining incantations to the Norse gods, and of course the African influences in Hoodoo have their roots deep in traditional tribal shamanism.

    There is one thing that I am suspecting, though, about this new trend. Wicca, being less than a century old, has only had that much time to build and empower its deities and other magical beings and forces. But the roots of heathenism, hoodoo, and shamanism are legitimately ancient, and the forces there have thousands (tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands, millions…) of years of existence underlying them. So… this means when someone taps in to them, calls their names, uses their symbols…

    …it WORKS.

    It can work much faster and more powerfully than the user is prepared for. And it can work even if you don't necessarily have much of a clue or any background in what you are doing, and what the outcome might be. Think “Sorcerer's Apprentice.” Since it comes from cultures who were not shy about using powerful destructive forces when they felt this was warranted (no hippy dippy pacifism here…) it'll bring down the thunder as easily as it will bring out the sun.

    It'll be interesting to see how all this evolves over the coming decades… if the thunderbolts decide I get to keep watching that long, of course!

  70. (Deborah Bender)

    @Bill Pulliam–I'm the equivalent of a Wiccan High Priestess in a semi-Wiccan tradition that predates Starhawk and Cunningham by about a decade; I'm an initiate and former coven member in two full-on Wiccan traditions. Based on the experience I have, I think your analysis on the shortcomings of Wicca is about half right.

    1. If by anthropological connection, you mean person to person transmission of beliefs and practices as opposed to reconstructing them from written materials, Wicca has little of that. Witches whose practice is based directly on folk practices or person-to-person transmission tend to do things differently from Wiccans, though not so differently that they can't talk shop and occasionally collaborate.

    2. The Wiccan Goddess was not built and empowered from a standing start circa 1940. This idea is an over-correction by skeptics debunking early Wiccan origin myths. The Lady IMHO is a composite primarily of some of the most important and popular goddesses of classical antiquity plus one or two British goddesses, reinterpreted as aspects of a single Great Goddess. This form of worship and theology was not invented by Gerald Gardner. It has roots in the Hellenistic period when Greeks and Roman travelers equated the deities of cultures they visited with their own deities, and Hellenistic rulers instituted cults of hybrid deities for political purposes. During the first and second centuries CE, the practice of syncretizing many deities who had different names, titles, personalities and cults into a single great god or goddess became popular and would probably have outlasted Rome if the Christian emperors had not banned every form of pagan worship. A famous ancient example is the address to Isis in Apuleius' Golden Ass.

    Gerald Gardner's two published books on witchcraft (not his novels) go in for this tying-together. It is also pretty common for Wiccans to invoke or pray to specific goddesses like Diana, Hecate, and Brigid whose formal cults have been disrupted, but who have been kept alive in the imagination of Westerners through poetry and visual arts.

    Many Wiccans attest from direct experience that the Lady will often come when we do call on Her, as well as manifesting without being called, and sometimes makes a powerful impression.

    3. The Wiccan God is as syncretic as the Goddess, but a less robust figure because many popular pagan gods are too politically incorrect to be incorporated into Him.

    4. Wicca's accumulated lore of ways to recognize, call on and work with lesser beings ranging from demigods and heroes to nymphs, elementals, tutelary spirits, land wights and the like is IMHO poorly developed and mostly borrowed in. For example, the sigils some Wiccans use for spells are based on rune lore or ceremonial magic. Between calling upon the aid and guidance of major deities and drawing on the life force and psychic abilities of the coveners, there is not much to lean on in Wicca; you can build a lot of things with just a hammer and a sharp knife, but the back edge of a knife makes a crappy screwdriver.

    5. Wiccans, especially those who meet together regularly in small groups, are often quite effective at doing distance healing on people who request it.

  71. JMG wrote
    “Phil, when Mackintyre talked about the dark ages as already upon us, I don't think he was really thinking about what that phrase “dark ages” actually means. When he has to worry about his home being burnt to the ground by a raiding party from the little chiefdom next door, we'll be in the dark ages.”

    You have the advantage of me! You have written the book and I haven’t read it yet! 😉 And I do not live in America. Despite having read your blogs for years, and some of your books, I am not at all sure what a Dark Age might look like in different places after a widespread decline in industrial civilisation.

    You have argued as I understand it that the present age is already going through stages of dysfunction. But a loss of knowledge across the board and not having any court of appeal to higher authority, or any co-ordinated help in an emergency (and a loss of ‘insurance’ embodied in a wider functioning society) might be future markers. Justice might not be available to buttress civility. I mentioned when thanking James J II that where I live there are many hill forts along our skylines. They were constructed probably in some kind of agrarian Dark Age in late Bronze Age and during the following millennium or so. Indeed ‘neighbours’ seems to have taken on a different meaning in a changed society. I take your point.

    But such 'neighbourliness' as you describe appears not just as a feature of ‘true’ post-civilisation Dark Ages. Sometime late in the 16th century the French philosopher and essayist Montaigne was famously visited by neighbours, though remarkably he was able to de-fuse the occasion.

    You appear already to face a loss of central ethos and a loss of institutional fabric and moral fabric in the USA. And this is over and above war bands controlling territory not far over your Southern Border. It is not clear to me why for example the Constitution of the Republic of the USA can be disregarded, or for another example, why the leaders of the military and trading Empire withdrew from the Geneva Convention. Or why an apparently integral religion and God should be turning somersaults with Satanists.

    Bill has made the case succinctly for re-discovered Heroic values (typically of Dark Age origin) as restorative when the centre does not hold: thus “… small-town America is FULL of vets, ex-cons, and recovering addicts (for reasons discussed at length on JMG's other blog)”. These look from here they could be manifestations already of a kind of Dark Age where education (knowledge) fails and other stuff must be dug out again, no? (Well, there again there is that book to read! Smile)

    Phil H

  72. Chris, it's a good lesson, and one that gets unlearned repeatedly. Still, there are sensible exceptions. To borrow one from Japanese Buddhist history, the Tendai sect was one of two esoteric Buddhist sects in Japan; the other was Shingon. While the Tendai monks were starting to build their temples on Mount Hiei, overlooking the capital, the founder of Shingon, Kobo Daishi, went way off into the mountains and located his temple in the middle of nowhere on Mount Koya. Care to guess who didn't get burnt out by Nobunaga et al?

    Bill, that's fascinating. I've seen a certain amount of the hoodoo revival in person, having studied with Cat Yronwode, and I've also watched with some interest the revival of other strands of traditional American occultism; it was, I think, a watershed of some importance when Llewellyn brought out a very nice critical edition of The Long Lost Friend, the most famous Pennsylvania Dutch magical text. To some extent, as I see it, what happened was that for the last three decades of the 20th century, Americans interested in the occult by and large acted as though all of magic was invented in England between the founding of the Golden Dawn in 1887 and whenever Gerald Gardner and his earliest imitators finished writing their original Books of Shadows. If the Golden Dawn, Aleister Crowley, Dion Fortune, or Gerald Gardner didn't do it, most Americans in that era didn't know it could be done and weren't interested in finding out. Now things seem to be opening out a great deal more, and the pattern you're seeing may be part of that.

    Phil, oh, we're heading down the highway in that direction, no question. We just haven't reached the exit yet.

  73. @ JMG–
    “It takes a lot of insight and reflection to get out from under one's cultural expectations about what religion is supposed to be and do.”

    I suppose you're right. I'm also thinking of those Gnostic Christian churches that model themselves on the Roman Catholic hierarchy with literally less than a millionth the members.

    On the subject of Asatru, your comment that “the great majority of people I know who practice it are just ordinary Americans who happen to belong to a different religion” rings truer than just about anything else.

    I have some involvement in Eastern spiritual practice. I may be wrong, but I don't see Buddhism, Hinduism or Taoism establishing a permanent presence in the US outside the Asian-American community for the simple reason that I've never met a practitioner of Asian spirituality that wasn't part of the educated end of the salary class, particulary the white salary class. Maybe there are working class American Taoists out there, but I have yet to meet any. I have a feeling that the ultimate fate of American Buddhism Et Cetera will be similar to the cults of Mithra or Isis or other Eastern imports favored by particular Roman sub-cultures and sub-classes.

    @ Bill, Sven and others on the appeal of Asatru–

    I agree with pretty much all of this. I personally find the stories of the Norse gods to be among the most compelling. I also think that the phrase “I find the stories of Odin, Thor and the rest more enjoyable than most other mythologies” is another way of saying “The Norse gods speak very loudly to me.”

    Bill, you hit on something that I hadn't thought of before–

    “The code of honor also seems to especially appeal to veterans as well as those who have spent time in jail and in recovery. Which would you prefer if you had battled on the battlefield, against addiction, and/or within poverty: 'An it harm none, do what thou wilt' or 'Courage is better than Cowardice, Realism is better than Dogmatism?'”

    I can speak to this from personal experience. I'm from a small town in the Appalachian end of Pennsylvania (though I don't live there now), and have personal experience with recovery from addiction and poverty. “Do what thou will” simply does not work for me. I've found if I want to stay alive, “what I will” is usually a bad idea, and positive moral duties are more important than “harming none.”

    I have reservations about the Norse gods, the first being that I already have my hands full between my qigong and Druid magical practices, but I may turn to them one day. Another reservation I have has to do more with the Heathen/Asatru community I've encountered on the internet, which often exemplifies the kind of text-based exclusive-pantheonism I talked about in my prior comment. But the internet is often where the worst of any particular community ends up. Is that how people are in “real life” communities, or are they more open?

  74. Thanks for the advice last month JMG! I got readmitted anyway just after that. I must have just had to ask.

    Myriam, you were spot on about field trips thank you. That's what I'm on it turns out. The terrifying world of relationships to be specific. Think I'd rather be having some freaky out of body experience instead, but I have to admit whoever writes the curriculum knows what they're doing. At least this time I feel like I have an internal supervisor. Or are they external, who knows?! Hope your symbol learning is going well:-)

  75. i may have been unclear, or i may not have understood your response. at slightly greater length: i was reading your post as being at least in part a warning about entryism from the left. and i was pointing out that wildermuth was warning about entryism from the right.

    it may be — and certainly i am an outsider to most of this conversation — that wildermuth himself represents an entry from the left, and it may be that his argument that certain sects [or whatever would be the correct term] are more vulnerable than others to entry from the right is unfair.

    but it seems to me as a logical proposition we can disregard at least to some degree who is the speaker (ad hominem) and instead focus on the substance of the argument. it is certainly the case that there are some white supremacists represented in some of these groups. is that because of a vulnerability of these particular sects to right wing entryism, or is it not? or does it “not matter,” because hey, even white supremacists gotta be allowed a religious home?

    again, i am not seeking to be combative here. i am trying to get clear on the arguments you are making. thanks.

  76. OK. While the Norse gods and the Asatru faith doesn't call my name, let me add a simple toast for this day (and I'm glad I saved the last of the wine bottle for tonight's dinner.) No attribution, so I quite obviously wrote it while channeling a bardic tradition not my own:

    Hail to our heroes
    Brave they were in battle
    Fallen with their faces to the foe
    Honored while history lives.

    Was hael!

  77. I’ve definitely been seeing the Norse traditions assert themselves very strongly, and I’ve seen the gods themselves manifest in very potent ways in communities. In the same way that AODA tends to overlap heavily with the hermetic traditions, ADF tends to have a lot of overlap and interaction with the Heathen end of the spectrum. My grove has a very close relationship with a local kindred, and there’s a lot of dual membership in the grove. The Norse gods have always had a pretty strong presence here, and I’ve actually seen some people come into the grove who started out not wanting anything to do with them, and wound up being dragged kicking and screaming into very intense relationships with the gods of that tradition. Recently, Frey in particular has been moving very strongly in the community. One of the interesting things about Druidry, (especially being involved in ADF as well as OBOD and AODA,) is that my Druidry kind of occupies the middle point of a spectrum that touches Heathen Troths on one end and Hermetic lodges on the other, and I can be at home in either.) Manannan seems to get along quite well with Norse gods, and the Celtic and Northern traditions seem to interact comfortably with each other. The types of reservation coming from commenters here towards the idea of a rise Heathenry are interesting. They seem to be coming not from concerns about the appropriation of some sects of Heathenry for political purposes, but rather the mythology and worldview itself. It seems to me that a theology that can provide meaning and community in hard times would be a good thing. Especially since it seems to be leading many heathens towards planting and living for their communities… following the example of Frey and laying down the sword for the trowel in the name of peace, even in the face of Ragnarok, which is the type of courage that I’m seeing emerge in the Kindreds I know.

    I’ve seen the rise in interest in Hoodoo and other types American folk magic as well. The earth centered aspect of modern occultism has pushed a lot of American occultists towards an interest in finding currents of magic rooted in the various cultural diasporas that have formed modern American culture. I’ve also been seeing a massive shift in popular perspectives towards the ATRs, which are beginning to be viewed with respect rather than reticence, and I’ve seen an increase in the number of people in the occult scene who have either left to seek out initiation and training in one of those lines of tradition, or have dual participation with them (and, interestingly that heightened respect is coupled with an equal respect for the lines of initiation and secrecy within those traditions). So, it really does seem like there’s an emerging shift in focus in the magical world in America these days, away from British imports and more towards uniquely American forms that reflect various aspects of modern American heritage.

    The things modern magic is abandoning are also telling. Until fairly recently, elements of Eastern, and indigenous American spirituality were liberally sprinkled throughout the pop Pagan scene. Over the last decade, a few things have happened… The first has been a massive backlash among indigenous American cultures who have seen their sacred traditions taken out of context and misused, which has led to debate and discussion over how to approach other cultures with sensitivity and awareness to culture and context of practices. The other has been the way that various elements of Eastern and Native American spirituality have been picked up by the business world and re-packaged into company funded self-help workshops that use animal totems, mindfulness meditation, and yoga to make workers more productive and compliant which has had an impact on the power of those practices. That shift being religious practice of one culture, to occult practice in another, to into a secularized form of therapy without religious or occult context is an interesting one… I wonder what forces push things to that extreme?

  78. There’s a thought I’ve been holding onto for a while, that may be on topic again thanks to the discussions on shifts and trends in popular magic and alternative spirituality. After the previous two posts on popular occult fiction, I went to the bookstore to see if I could find any of the authors you’d mentioned, and ran across some Manly Wade Wellman stories. One thing that made me a little uncomfortable reading them was the way that representatives of most of the things I’m familiar with, Vodou, Hoodoo, Pagan witchcraft, European Polytheism, and even Druidry… tended to be presented as the antagonists, with the heroes using either Eastern Asian or Native American spiritual traditions, basic Christian sacraments of the holy water, crosses, and Lord’s prayer variety, medieval writers like Albertus Magnus, or in the case of Silver John, The Long Lost Friend. One thing I began to be reminded of was the way that you’d pointed out in your earlier essay on the decline of pop Neopaganism the way that the popular fantasy fiction of the 1980s tended to present ceremonial magicians as the villains and people whose practices looked like Neopagan Wicca and Witchcraft as the heroes. One thing that’s leaving me wondering is whether or not there’s any rhyme or reason whatsoever to what styles of magic get to belong to the heroes and the villains in our stories, and if there’s any useful information to be gleaned from it? Of the top of my head I’m finding I’m having a hard time identifying any consistent patterns, but then I also haven’t sat down and tried to organize the data on any level beyond general observations.

  79. Hiya Zach,
    not sure if you are referring to my response, or to our host, forgive my presumption, if it is the latter. By my lights Rhydd represents 'entry from the left', in the 'modern polytheist movement'. I base that perception on my personal observations over time.
    Sad to say, one must 'consider the man',i.e. the motives behind any 'logical proposition' made to persuade, especially when all sides use the same rhetorical devices and appeals to logic.
    Here's a bit from T.H.White:
    Homo Impoliticus- more T.H.White
    12 May 2011 at 23:07
    From the 'Book of Merlin”
    {merlin speaks} “we found that the political ideas of Homo Ferox were of two kinds: either that problems could be solved by force, or that they could be solved by argument. The Ant men of the future, who believe in force, consider that you can determine whether twice two is four by knocking people down who disagree with you. The democrats,who are to believe in argument, consider all men are entitled to an opinion, because all are born equal-“I am as good a man as you are,' the first instinctive ejaculation of the man who is not.”
    “If neither force nor argument can be relied on,” said the King,” I do not see what can be done.”
    “neither force, nor argument, nor opinion,” said Merlin with the deepest sincerity,” are thinking. Argument is only a display of mental force, a sort of fencing with points in order to gain a victory, not for truth. Opinions are the blind alleys of lazy or stupid men, who are unable to think. if ever a true politician really thinks out a subject dispassionately, even Homo Stultus will be compelled to accept his findings in the end. Opinion can never stand beside truth. At present, however, Homo Impoliticus is content either to argue with opinions or to fight with his fists, instead of waiting for the truth in his head. It will take a million years before the mass of men can be called political animals.”
    “What are we , then , at present?”
    “We find that at present the human race is divided politically into one wise man, nine knaves, and ninety fools out of every hundred. That is, by an optimistic observer. The nine knaves assemble themselves under the banner of the most knavish among them and become 'politicians': the wise man stands out, because he know himself to be hopelessly outnumbered and devotes himself to poetry, mathematics or philosophy; while the ninety fools plod off behind the banners of the nine villains, according to fancy, into the labyrinths of chicanery, malice and warfare. It is pleasant to have command, observes Sancho Panza, even over a flock of sheep, and that is why politicians raise their banners. it is moreover the same thing for the sheep whatever the banner. If it is democracy, then the nine knaves will become members of parliament; if fascism, they will become party leaders; if communism, commissars. Nothing will be different except the names. The fools will still be fools, the knaves still leaders, the results still exploitation. As for the wise man, his lot will be the same under any idealogy. Under democracy he will be encouraged to starve to death in a garret, under fascism he will be put in a concentration camp, under communisim he will be liquidated. This is an optimistic but on the whole a scientific statement of the habits of Homo Impoliticus”.

  80. Steve Thomas — I was talking about this with my wife earlier today, and she said “Yeah, 'do what thou will' is what got these folks in trouble in the first place.”

    Eric S. – on your point about commercial repackaging of spirituality, that has been happening in America for decades to all religions, including (especially?) christianity. A joke in the neopagan community in the 1990s: “What is the difference between pagan and New Age?” “A couple of zeros in the price.” I think the motivation is money. And the first step to commercializing spirituality is to strip out all the spirits. Making it about tangible physical reward is good, to. Yoga becomes about physical health, jesus is about prosperity, power animals are about corporate negotiation strategy. Not long ago Ashtanga yoga became all the rage. The name means “Eight limbs” because it is supposed to incorporate all eight limbs of yoga in the one purely physical practice. But in reality it only addresses one of the limbs, asanayama, and that one only superficially. It was just the latest Jazzercize. Might as well do Crossfit or Strongman, at least there you are not pretending to any higher purpose.

  81. Hiya Zach,
    on the 'substance of the argument' and ad hominum… one might compare the source article authored by Amy Hale:
    with Rhydd's.
    The difference is Hale speaks to paganisms in general, while Rhydd gets more specific, even going so far as to grant a species of 'immunity' to certain subsets of paganisms. Subsets which his compatriots are practitioners of. Even with disclaimers to the contrary, he plants a seed of suspicion upon the other subsets.
    This is where question of motive becomes legitimate. The same is part of his own argument in relation to the 'new right' folks he also mentions. He views their own statements in light of motive i.e. an attempt at entryism and metapolitics.

  82. (Deborah Bender)

    The comments brought to my mind an issue of Co-Evolution Quarterly whose cover illustration was a bunch of Vikings piling out of a WWII landing craft. I barely remember the cover article, but I think it proposed that Viking culture or Norse religion were the coming thing for Americans. At the time that made sense to me. Viking culture seemed to have more in common with American popular culture than Wiccanate Goddess religion did (of course the word wiccanate had not yet been coined). For about a decade after reading that article, I kept an eye out to see whether Norse paganism would start to catch on, but it didn't (except maybe in prison gangs, which I was not aware of).

    The Pagan community where I live has had Norse and Heathen groups in it about as long as it has had witches and druids. I am acquainted with people who practice northern religions and they have invited me to blots and ship sacrifices and weekend gatherings over the years. I was always made welcome. However, the particular crowd that ran most of those events seemed to spend nearly as much time singing songs and telling jokes mocking Christianity as they spent on anything positively Heathen. I can put up with the occasional joke or parody about another religion but I find heartfelt Christian-bashing completely tedious at best, so after a while I stopped accepting those invitations. I'm not saying this behavior is typical of Heathens in general, just the ones I knew.

    During the period when I was attending both Craft and Norse events that were open to non-members (roughly twenty-five years), I noticed some sexual politics. For background, some may be surprised to learn that many if not most of the leading writers and spokespeople for the Craft in Britain and the U.S. (I mean witchcraft, not Freemasonry) in the 1950s and 1960s were men.

    When I first came into contact with local witches in 1973, the scene was hetero-normative and the gender ratio was about equal, maybe sixty percent female; ditto for the gender ratio of elders and leaders. Within a few years, the rising feminist movement brought in an influx of women. The men who were participating when this began to happen did not leave, but the rate at which new men began to take up Wicca slowed down. At the same time gay liberation was picking up steam and more of the men entering the community were gay. These trends have continued unabated locally to the point where female witches of all sexual orientations outnumber males maybe eight to one and gay male witches seem to be a lot more common than in the past.

    This might just be a reversion to norm. The attraction of the Craft for straight men in the 1950s and early Sixties might well have been the perceived availability of young women of easy virtue. JMG suggested as much in one of his earlier essays on this blog and I'm not saying he's wrong. Even in Christian denominations that limit women's access to leadership positions, women do most of the day to day work to keep a congregation going. And gay men seem to be more attracted to involvement in religion and spirituality than straight men.

    However, during the late seventies-early oughts, the Norse and Heathen groups I had contact with were at least fifty percent male, and the weekend campouts I went to had a more masculine vibe than equivalent pan-pagan events. Part of the rise in popularity of the northern religions in the US may well be that straight men experience Wicca as being female dominated, and to a large extent they are right.

  83. @Bill… Maybe I'm just new to this whole corporate business world thing then… I just know when HR sent out the latest mandatory employee training videos and they included one using mindfulness meditation to increase happiness and productivity in the work place… I felt ill. It felt like black magic from dystopian fantasy in the worst way.

  84. Eric S., your comment about Manannan and the Norse deities is very interesting. Considering his position as Gatekeeper in many ADR rituals, it makes sense that he'd be the one to reach across pantheons. I've noticed that Brigid seems to get on fairly well with Frigg, which again makes sense, especially considering their associations with healing and craftwork (metalsmithing vs. spinning and weaving).

    Way up the thread, WB Jorgerson, by all means choose a deity and practice devotion to her, but do remain openminded about who might eventually make contact. I tried for a long time to establish a relationship with Ceridwen, to no avail, only to have Brigid finally yell in my ear to get my attention, and I mean that as literally as spiritual things can get!

    By the way, JMG, I had the startling good fortune to find both “Circles of Power” and “Inside a Magical Lodge” at two different used bookstores over the Memorial Day weekend. The first is proving good research material for the story I'm writing for the proposed “practical magic” anthology, and I know the other is one of your favorite of your own books, so I'm looking forward to reading it once I finish CoP. I never dreamed I'd find ritual magic interesting, but the reading I've done (mainly your books, including The Tome of the Golden Dawn) has made explicable so much I didn't understand about Wicca, to say nothing of the history and development of magic in the West. Which reminds me, are you continuing to teach the Dolmen Arch course? I'm gearing up to perform my initiation and start working on my Candidate studies, and I hope to apply that training to my Second Degree when I get there.

  85. Yes, I agree with all that about the female domination of modern Wicca, leavened by gay males; and that the heathen faiths would readily appeal to men. Though, as I noted on the other blog in connection with the homework, the sagas make it very clear that women were expected to be consulted, and one of their functions – their job description, according to an Anglo-Saxon manuscript – was to give good advice and be the voice of reason. As well as keeping the home front going. Which makes it a good faith for strong women who appreciate strong men as well.

    Just my $0.02

  86. Speaking of Amy Hale, have any of you seen her hit piece on John Michell? It sure looks an awful lot like Hale’s Rad Trad essay and Rhyd Wildermuth’s infamous screed on the alleged connections between pagan traditions he dislikes and the New Right.

    Since our esteemed Archdruid emeritus wrote his expose of Wildermuth and his tactics a couple of months ago, I have done quite a bit of research on what has been aptly described here as the Pagan Internet Social Scene and Marxist Online Activist Network. Hale appears to be one of Wildermuth’s principal collaborators and is another one to keep a close eye on. She definitely seems to have a strong affinity for the sort of guilt-by-association smear tactics that have made Wildermuth such a controversial character. The biggest difference between Wildermuth and Hale is that Hale likes to dress her smear tactics up as academic research and post them on academic websites like the one she posted her Rad Trad and John Michell essays.

  87. Hiya,
    yes I saw that.I first encountered her writings about 5 years ago when I became a bit concerned over the general trend in 'modern paganisms'.The order of craft I practice was undergoing a schism of sorts,at the time, or at least coming to a head as it were.

  88. Given the sheer number of rape stories, pursuit of females as prey, and the forcing of unwanted male attention on females in Greek and Roman mythology, female Wiccans who focus on that pantheon probably subconsciously develop a defensive mindset about gender relations. I'm guessing heterosexual males feel at times unfairly cast as perpetrators in some Wiccan groups, whereas homosexual males may feel right at home.

    Comparing that to what we know of Norse mythology where honour was important and violence against females was much rarer, perhaps as heathens, today's males, who are not predators and are products of our evolving gender culture, can feel comfortable being male.

    If the rise of Asatru brings greater respect for women we can all benefit.

    Couple of interesting essays:
    Rape Culture in Classical Mythology

    Role of Women in Viking Society
    (Excerpts: “Unwanted attention from a man towards a woman was forbidden in Norse society.” “It was considered shameful in the extreme to harm a woman, and examples in the sagas of such violence are rare.”)

    Not sure how accurate these essays are, but they are food for thought.

  89. Considering the level of proof I had to bring to my undergraduate essays at the University of New Mexico – including changing my thesis in midstream as the data actually proved that one of my older sources had been cherry-picking his data, I'm going to assume that the essays are probably quite accurate. Unless they come out of a department known in academic circles for having an axe to grind, of course, which happens today as it always has.

    And analyzing other people's articles was a mainstay of one of my 300-level courses, so we're not talking budding PhDs yet, though I'm sure they were represented well even i na junior course.

  90. The essay on Icelandic society as shown in the sagas is one I would certainly be willing to use as a secondary source if it were permitted to use secondary sources for a paper. The points are well documented – no footnotes to be seen, mind you, but I could open the book and follow the argument quite easily. It is extremely true to the sagas. Thank you for posting the link!

  91. Steve, I've heard your point about Buddhism from people who are committed practicing Buddhists. They point out that the entire institutional structure of Buddhism in this country depends on affluent middle-class practitioners who can fork over a great deal of money to keep monasteries, temples, retreat centers, and the like running on a tolerably lavish scale, and if serious economic difficulties hit that class, Buddhism in America is toast. The old Zen spirit of making do on as little wealth as humanly possible might be a useful corrective for Buddhists to cultivate just now!

    .Mallow, you're welcome. It often works that way.

    Zach, yes, and that's the irony I was trying to point out — Wildermuth is yelling about right entryism while engaging in left entryism. What's sauce for the goose-stepper, if you will, is sauce for the Marxist gander; if it's wrong for one, it's wrong for both.

    Eric, as I see it, the British Invasion was a necessary phase, a process by which crucial elements of Hermetic high magic and certain other traditions got absorbed by the American magical egregor. Now that it's over, there'll be the usual reaction against it, followed by the usual re-reaction and integration of the useful bits into the broader corpus of American magical practice. I've seen the same things you have; while I feel no personal calling to the African diaspora religions, I certainly recognize their validity and power — and I've also thought for some time now that Vodoun, Santeria, et al. are very well suited to replace Wicca as the shock-your-mom religion du jour; I hope they come through the experience unscathed!

    As for the rhyme and reason behind who gets to be the good guy and who gets to be the bad guy, that's a matter of cultural (and subcultural) fashions, not uninfluenced by the usual flotilla of prejudices.

    Unknown Deborah, I remember that issue! Coevolution Quarterly used to be a favorite read of mine, before it changed its name to Whole Earth Review, ditched the green wizardry and appropriate technology in favor of rah-rah fluff pieces about technology, and went under in short order.

    Blackwings, glad to hear it. Yes, the Dolmen Arch course is still available; eventually I'll probably turn it into a book, but “eventually” isn't quite yet.

    Submarine, no, I hadn't. John Michell, dotty old coot that he was, was and remains a major source of inspiration to me — his writings on sacred geometry were the main thing that got me interested in that field of esotericism, and his so-called “radical traditionalism” (which was neither all that radical, or particularly big-T Traditionalist) was constantly leavened with the kind of common sense and genial acceptance of human nature that his critics so conspicuously lack.

    Myriam, I won't argue. One of the things that I've always found frustrating about the pop-culture Paganism of the present is the pervasive habit of erasing history in order to create an absolutely uniform imaginary past conforming to some present-day ideology. Ancient Greece and early medieval Norway were both “pagan,” but had massive differences in every department of culture — attitudes toward women very much included.

  92. Karim,

    “I am fascinated by the opinions non muslims (and of course I am assuming that Druids are non muslims by default!!!!) have of Islam as a religion and as a system of thought.”

    One problem is, most of us know very little about Islam. In my opinion, most religions have man-made beliefs that create blockages which hold people back rather than helping them go forward. The more such blockages, the less useful the religion for a person to break through into a higher state of perception. I like that Jesus pointed this out when he railed against some of his contemporaries for following “traditions of men” which of course were put forward as from God.

    I ran across a most interesting website by a convert to Islam in which he laid out side by side the teachings of the Imams against the Koran and was I startled that they don't seem to agree at all, and that the Koran was obviously superior. I got the impression that if the teachings of the Imams could be revisited and perhaps jettisoned, Islam could be a lot lighter and cleaner. I wish I could refind it.

    What I dislike about the Abrahamic faiths is that they seem to magnify the tendency of humans to marginalize and demean others because of the claims of exclusive access to truth and the real God. In this, Christianity is generally the worst offender and Islam better, more open. It is for this reason that most Christians and westerners know nothing of Islam, as it is utterly irrelevant in their worldview.

    In some of the outer particulars I'm not so keen on Islam, but I look for the subtle things. There have been a couple of Imams (or some kind of spiritual leaders) with youtube videos that I spent hours watching because their arguments and breadth of knowledge on world events were so balanced and magnanimous.

    In my opinion, the trinity belief of Christianity is an error of understanding that has divided the hearts of people from God. What I love about Islam is that I detect in its people a fervent and real love for God.

    If I may be so bombastic I'd say: Bring forth all your arguments against Islam and even let them be true. Against the whole weight of that you have got Hafiz.

  93. It just clicked into place whose performance the G&R campaign reminds me of– Edmund, in King Lear. Down to a tee.

    It's too bad, I hope they can trade it in for a better role.

  94. I certainly don't intend to tar the whole G&R project with that brush, by the way, I have respected and taken an active interest in many of the things written by people under that umbrella (including by Wildermuth).

  95. Hi JMG,

    I went to a funeral yesterday and it was in a beautiful old timber church on the very eastern outer edges of the city. The walls were clad in cedar lining boards and the stained glass windows were just the right amount of dirty to be respectable. The lady that had died was a long term member of the congregation, so it was a nice touch that they held the service at that particular church.

    The interesting thing was that – and I had never seen this before – there was a large projection screen located behind and above the minister’s head as he stood at the pulpit talking about things, but mostly talking about death as if we should fear it. Internally I was wondering why they don’t ask to be allowed to live now? And the other thing that I noticed was that the pulpit was located to the side of the church. And immediately to the rear of the church was a large stained glass image of Jesus and I kind of felt sorry for the spirit because as the congregation was singing Psalm 23 which was rather appropriate given the circumstances, all of the eyes of the congregation were lifted and fixated on the screen.

    I'm perhaps contrary by nature, so instead of looking at the screen and mouthing the words of Psalm 23, I had a silent moment instead to respect and acknowledge the spirit and I quietly asked it: Why would you let this happen and what do you believe it means?

    Churches have always felt a bit odd to me as I've often wondered why you can't see the outside world.

    I'm genuinely perplexed by it all, but I respect their beliefs.



  96. I keep looking at that last sentence, “From the sloe, the clawed and twisted blackthorn,” and thinking “sloe gin fizz? Blackthorn shillelaghs? (A wizard's tool of self-defense?)”

  97. (Deborah Bender)

    @Patricia Mathews–According to Robert Graves' The White Goddess (not the most reliable authority, but the one I have handy), the blackthorn is considered an unlucky plant in Celtic traditional lore, and its fruit the sloe is “mouth-puckering”.

  98. Cherokee,

    I can't seem to figure out what you mean here:

    Internally I was wondering why they don’t ask to be allowed to live now?

    But as to why you can't see the outside world in a church, I think it has to do with the walls. Just sayin!

  99. This is an interesting problem. And again, my perspective is that of an outsider, as my spiritual practices — such as they are, and if you can even call them that — are not connected with a group of living humans in what the kids call “meatspace.”

    But I would say my ongoing study of how the mind works and how the workings of the mind participate in shaping external “realities” has everything to do with my politics and with how I operate in various “communities,” seeking to advance this or that practical agenda. Working to change the consciousness of others, as well as my own, in accordance with some notion of “will.”

    If you get a bunch of people together to do something involving ritual and ceremony, it seems to me not entirely irrelevant to ask, “to what end?” At one level, of course, to reinforce or strengthen the proficiency of each participant in working these levers, and maybe also to achieve effects an individual acting alone might be less able or unable to achieve. Analogies to the political sphere right there, of course.

    But ultimately one of the effects you are trying to achieve is to clarify each participant's awareness, so s/he can more readily identify and overcome errors. Again, though “to what end?” Somehow we imagine it is “better” to have more rather than fewer people thinking clearly and able to take action in ways that minimize or even ameliorate harm.

    Somewhere in here it seems to me there is an inherent politics. What is “harm”? to whom or to what?

    And then, of course, when you do get a bunch of people together hierarchies will emerge. One or more people take on what amount to “leadership” roles. One of the reasons I stay away from this stuff, frankly. I will find my own teachers, thanks, remaining ready to move on to another, while striving to be vigilant as to my motives and open to the possibility my resistance to the teaching is misdirected.

    I am supposing the dynamics within what we are here calling a “coven” might be at least slightly more rigid, and issues of loyalty, etc., might arise. Maybe groupthink. If so, then the problem of what sorts of structures are more vulnerable to what kinds of “entryism” become real.

    Maybe a philosophy or worldview or religion — whatever you may call it — that identifies “the divine” with specific geographies and with the subset of the gene pool that has historically inhabited those geographies is in fact more vulnerable to “entryism” from “the right,” or whatever label you want to put on the politics of separation and othering. I can certainly see the argument.

    Which is not to say, as we discussed earlier in this thread, that some other groups might not be more vulnerable to “entryism” from “the left.” That does appear to be what is going on at Gods and Radicals. But again, that fact and the observation of that fact do not in themselves invalidate the argument.

  100. Chris, if'n you'd ever want to talk about Christianity and why we believe what we believe, I'd be delighted to dialogue with you about it. (No way can you ask harder questions than my teens.) Though I suspect a poor preacher at that particular funeral. At my Church we grieve for ourselves, who have a hole left in our lives, and celebrate the departed, who are beyond all sorrow and pain. Fear of death is, well, rather odd for a Christian. “Oh death, where is thy sting? Oh grave, thy victory?” to quote a favorite hymn.

    I can explain the screen. Unfortunately, so many people come only for Christmas, Easter, weddings, and funerals, that they don't know the words anymore. The screen is there so they don't have to fumble with Bible or hymnal, which might embarrass someone, after all, and can follow along. I think it's silly, but there you go. Once you have a screen, it's convenient when new music comes out that the Church wants to use not to have to wait until the next hymnal update or print the music in the bulletin, to show a film made by a missionary, etc. Our Chapel has screens, our Sanctuary does not. They would destroy the aesthetic and acoustics of the Sanctuary, but the Chapel was rebuilt after a fire destroyed it to accommodate them.

  101. Hiya,
    there is politics and there is “Politics” and “POLITICS”, As a member and 'leader' of a long standing coven, one that some have considered the longest continuously practicing one in my state, I understand the small p politics of a close group of somewhat like minded folks, part of that is there is no enforced 'Political' or 'POLITICAL' view that is insisted upon.
    it's not so much about invalidating the argument, moreso about how the argument is being used. It's a species of the pot calling the kettle black. it's more about calling out an 'opposing' ideology for the same tactics and methods one is using one's self. In Rhyd's original essay, he took great care to specify those pagan paths which he deemed susceptible to infiltration by the 'right'and granted others immunity to such. I happen to be a long

    time practitioner of one of the so-called 'immune paths'. Given some of his criteria for susceptiblity, my path should also be listed as susceptible. The only reason it is not is because some of his close allies also claim that path, as well as the others he grants an immunity to. The paths he casts as susceptible are those his most vocal critics belong to. If one considers the Amy Hale paper, which serves as the source for Rhyd's criteria, and his essay, one can readily notice the ad- hominem aroma present in the latter. Hale keeps the criteria as those found in pagan groups in general, Rhyd takes it to specifying groups that are susceptible and those that are not. The only reason the immune groups are cast as such is due to being in agreement with his ideology. That becomes an argument based on subscription to an ideology and not practice. the question does become one for motive of the argument, and not so much soundness.

  102. @BoysMom

    I don't know why most Christian churches don't have windows. I suspect it's tradition: functional windows are only fairly recent as the tradition goes. It may also be an attempt to keep the congregation's attention focused where it belongs, without distractions.

    Our sanctuary (First Unitarian in Albuquerque) has floor-to-ceiling windows on the side that faces our wildlife sanctuary. Whether they're open or covered depends on the time of day and whether we're projecting anything. Apropos of that, we don't have a projector screen. We project right onto the wall behind the pulpit, which has a coat of [i]very expensive[/i] projector paint. I'm told it comes in at $400 a can. We usually sing out of a hymnal, like we did in the Methodist church I grew up in and in the United Brethren church I attended during an interlude I'd prefer to purge from my mind. The diversity of hymns is simply too wide for most of our parishioners to remember. And no, it's not Christmas and Easter attendees – our week-in and week-out attendance is well over half of our membership.

    A discussion of Christianity from the viewpoint of the Michael Teaching might be quite enlightening on both our sides, but I suspect it would tax the patience of our host.

  103. (Deborah Bender)

    @Zach Bender–The structure and internal process of esoteric orders and lodges like the ones JMG writes about, mainstream congregational religions, and traditional covens (which are intimate groups smaller than a magical lodge or a congregation) are different. Experiences with one type of group may or may not apply to the others. Covens are autonomous and vary a lot.

    You wrote, 'If you get a bunch of people together to do something involving ritual and ceremony, it seems to me not entirely irrelevant to ask, “to what end?” '

    Absolutely correct. People participate in rituals for all sorts of reasons. This may and often is done by rote. However, ritual leaders and officers cannot perform an existing ritual well without understanding its purpose or purposes. People who attempt to modify existing rituals or create new ones must have a very clear understanding of why they are doing it or they will make a hash of it. Understanding “to what end?” isn't entirely a rational exercise. Rituals engage the body, the senses, and emotions, so some understanding is experiential and the meaning or purpose of the ritual may not open up until it has been performed many times.

    “At one level, of course, to reinforce or strengthen the proficiency of each participant in working these levers, and maybe also to achieve effects an individual acting alone might be less able or unable to achieve.”

    That is one benefit of group work. Others are learning from other people's mistakes; getting second and third opinions on whether one's perceptions are fantasy, material surfacing from the subconscious, or something that has objective correlations; cultivating altered states of consciousness in a controlled environment where someone experienced and trustworthy can look out for you. Also, just having people to talk to who have some idea what you are talking about and won't think you are delusional. Some esoteric and religious traditions involve practices in which one cultivates an identification with a deity, an animal or some other nonhuman consciousness. As with Method acting, some people get over-identified and need outside help making a separation when the ritual is over.

    “Somewhere in here it seems to me there is an inherent politics. What is “harm”? to whom or to what?”

    In contemporary Wicca-influenced witchcraft, informed consent is the default for performing any magic that affects other people. The ones affected get to decide what is or is not harm before the coven does anything for them or to them. There are limited exceptions to this general rule. Traditionally, teachers spend a good while exploring ethics with students before teaching them how to do magic. Borderline cases are discussed before any action is taken. Of course, DIY spell books are widely available to people who won't put up with this.

    Most Wiccan spellwork is helping out individuals who have requested help. Magic that affects whole groups is usually either protective or something like weather work. There is one Wiccanate tradition that is known for incorporating political stances in its ethos and doing spells in public for political ends. This is atypical.

    Regarding your comments about leadership and power dynamics, there are healthy and unhealthy covens. Covens are too small to have much in the way of formal, bureaucratic protections for their members. By the same token, they are too small for leaders to amass significant power. Some people start covens in order to be a big fish in a tiny pond, with all the controlling behavior that implies. In functional covens that last for awhile, leaders see their role as sharing knowledge and guiding coven members to develop their own skills, talents and emotional maturity. People who put in time and effort become elders; over time, the coven becomes more egalitarian and most decisions are made by consensus. For some people, the coven becomes a second or a substitute family; like any family, that can be a good thing or a bad thing.

  104. Windows and outlook and churches.

    Lots of meanings – so it is a nice & pertinent observation.

    A lot of British churches are either old or have very old parts to their construction. Glass was very expensive. But hey – the big Gothic Cathedrals (the Monastic Churches were later dismantled) put in amazing coloured pictures to filter the light of day and send a message to the gatherings below. And a great tower and spire called to a wide countryside to receive the inner messages.

    And later there were belfries and bells windblown across the city, which is nice. Myself? I tend to like an open door for our mind to look through – a bit like a tent.

    Phil H

  105. On windows in churches: traditionally church windows have always been stained glass, for the same symbolic reasons that inform every other element of traditional church architecture.

    The church building is seen as a metaphor for the actual Church, or Body of Christ, and in a really interesting bit of synecdoche, as an analogy for the body of the individual Christian. One cannot see into the stained glass windows, just as “man looks only on the outward appearance”. However, on the inside of the body, where the spirit resides, one can see that the colors of the dark windows are illuminated, brought back to life, and transformed by the Light that enters in from the outside.

    Another interesting piece of church architecture-myth: medieval Scandinavian stave churches, and particularly their doors, are constructed to convey the impression that in entering into them, one is entering into the World-Tree Yggdrasil. In Norse myth, the last Man and the last Woman enter into the Tree to seek salvation during the destruction of Ragnarök, and enter out of it into the newly reborn world. In this way is the Norse World-Tree synchronized with the Christian Tree of Calvary; and in fact, in some of those old churches, there are images of Odin hanging crucified in the branches in such ways that the mind makes ready comparisons between him and Jesus.

  106. (Deborah Bender)

    A form of magic that is political in the sense of being organized publicly to bring about a change in the outside world is the Internet spell.

    Some of you may recall the Harmonic Convergence, which was organized by New Agers in 1988 or 1989. At noon local time on a predetermined date, people were urged to meditate or visualize alone or in groups for peace or whatever they considered to be a positive result. People all over the world participated in this. I don't usually go for the post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy, but I think mass participation in the Harmonic Convergence may have sped up the fall of the Berlin Wall.

    You may have heard of Earth Hour, during which participants turn off their outdoor lights at night for one hour.

    Internet spells are a cross between the two. Some person or group proposes a coordinated spellworking at a set time for an announced purpose. Usually the call includes suggestions for a visualization. The word goes out via social media.

    Not being a fan of social media, I only hear about a few of these. The ones I have heard of were for uncontroversial aims like world peace or getting control of a wildfire. I'm cautious about participating in this sort of working because of unintended consequences. However, the internet spells I have heard about dealt with situations where on one side there are tens of thousands of people emitting fear, anger, and despair into the noosphere, on the other side some people praying in churches. I figure praying to additional deities or visualizing a good outcome balances out the panic, so I'm not against it.

  107. So, here's a specific example related to some of the recent comments re: political action and Internet spells.

    I saw a news item on The Wild Hunt yesterday that a coven was organizing a mass hex-action against the latest rich white rapist who got a joke of a sentence. Specifically, they are attempting to magically influence the judge to lose his job, as well as some personal consequences for the rapist and his enabling father.

    How does this sort of thing interact with “Separation of Coven and State”?

  108. Hi Onething,

    Thanks for your comments,

    You are quite right that much of what conservative and religious muslim people (and not only imams) believe is at times at great variance with what the Koran teaches.

    Once, one is able to get past that, many Koranic teachings are very interesting and worthwhile do be meditated upon.

    For instance, Surat 10 (Yunus/Jonah) verse 47 says: “Now every community has had an apostle; and only after their apostle has appeared {and delivered his message} is judgement passed on them, in all equity and never are they wronged”

    Onething, you won't believe this, but this morning as I got hold of the Koran to look for some verses inclusive of the above, on the very first page I opened this verse showed up! Talk about coincidences…

    The above verse is hugely interesting for it can be construed that if every community had its apostle, and assuming that his message got included in the religious traditions of that community, (a reasonable assumption) it follows that in every religion, there ought to be an element of divine truth.

    I quite like this openness of the Koran, it leaves the door open at all times to all believers.

    By and large according to the Koranic message, belief in the divine, charity and piety are the hallmarks by which people will be judged by the divine.

    OK, atheists are, de facto, in a difficult position! Sorry!

  109. Hi onething,

    Yeah, that sentence was poorly worded (“Internally I was wondering why they don’t ask to be allowed to live now?”).

    What I actually intended to write was a question about the meme of provisional living which was being pushed in that particular sermon. Provision living refers to the practice whereby “you tell yourself that you’ll truly come alive, truly be fulfilled and optimally creative when you’ve moved, married, divorced, retired or whatever”. The promise of rapture or a utopian environment after death doesn't really hold a whole lot of appeal to me, why not live today was the concept that I was trying to put words too.

    And the other thing that struck me as being odd was why wouldn't the preacher want to address the unspoken link between peoples lifestyles and the impact that it is clearly having on the planet. Surely, that doesn't seem to agree with the teachings of that particular prophet? Dunno.

    That was very funny about the walls. But I tend to believe that the lack of windows is a deliberate policy to fix attention onto the preacher and the ceremony going on.



  110. Breanna – in my tradition, it is considered inadvisable to do a working for a specific outcome in a court case, but rather, to do a working for Justice and let the gods sort it out. Now, in this case, I agree what justice could be, but still…I may be mistaken. One never knows.

  111. (Deborah Bender)

    Breanna writes, “I saw a news item on The Wild Hunt yesterday that a coven was organizing a mass hex-action against the latest rich white rapist who got a joke of a sentence. Specifically, they are attempting to magically influence the judge to lose his job, as well as some personal consequences for the rapist and his enabling father.

    How does this sort of thing interact with “Separation of Coven and State”?”

    In lieu of active moderation, there's a two day window for posting comments on any TWH entry. I wouldn't be surprised if it garners some critical responses, though some Wild Hunt entries garner no comments at all.

    Based solely on your summary, here are my thoughts. Short version: these witches know just enough to be a danger to themselves and others.

    1) People who got introduced to Wicca before about 1980 were told about the Berkshire Witches, who were accused, tried and condemned to death for allegedly raising a storm in an attempt to drown a member of a royal family crossing the English Channel to their wedding. The takeaway of the story is that if you are going to use magic to attack the powerful, do it on the down-low! The last thing you should do is boast or make public threats. When you do, you cause every single known witch and every person who might be suspected or accused of witchcraft to be regarded as an enemy of the state.

    2. This coven seems to be leading a vigilante action for vengeance against multiple targets. In the present circumstance and in most other circumstances, acting as a vigilante or encouraging others to do so is being a bad citizen.

    3. Some witches believe that it is never ethical to do coercive or manipulative magic except in immediate cases of self defense, and then only as a last resort when distraction or escape is not possible. Other witches believe it is ethical to do bindings, which are spells intended to make it impossible to continue doing something bad any more, but do not entail any retribution for past actions. Either position puts this coven's spell off limits.

    There are other spells that would not entangle the magical practitioner in endless vendettas. For example: identify an organization that educates people about the seriousness of rape and use magic to send some money and good publicity their way.

    For retribution, one might shine a big psychic spotlight on the perps so everywhere they go, people know what they did, or point them out to a deity who disapproves of that behavior. I wouldn't do a spell of that sort without wording it as “the person who did this thing” since I might be misinformed about who the guilty party is.

  112. personally, it crosses the line when offered to the 'Polis'.
    for me it's coven politics to make the decision to undertake such a working, unasked. It becomes 'Politics' when you make the appeal in public. it becomes 'POLITICS' when coercive rhetoric enters the picture, both pro and con.
    the latter is usually what results in the pagan sno-globe.

  113. Chevalier, I note that the definition of “spin” involves going around in circles. Somehow that seems appropriate in this context!

    Stuart, funny! Yes, that just about fits them to a T.

    Cherokee, remember that the world, along with the flesh and the Devil, is one of the three enemies of the Christian. The church is a surrogate heaven, set apart from the world — at least in theory!

    Patricia, in contemporary Druid symbolism the blackthorn, Straif in the Ogham tree alphabet, is a symbol of suffering and hard necessity.

    Zach, that way of thinking exploits an ambiguity in the word “politics.” You can use it to mean the set of institutions and processes by which a society makes collective decisions, or you can use it to mean the processes (with or without institutions attached) by which every group of people make decisions. Both senses mean something, but they aren't the same thing. The political sphere I discussed in the post is the first of the two — the institutional frame for a society's collective decisions. That's the thing that needs to be firewalled off from the religious sphere, the scientific sphere, etc., to keep illegitimate claims of authority from crossing from sphere to sphere. Is that a little clearer?

    Deborah, I need to do a post sometime soon about internet spells. My experience has been that they very often don't work, because they violate one of the basic principles of operative magic — and discussing why would make a useful lead-in to a range of useful points.

    Breanna, that's clueless on so many different levels! Okay, I'd meant to go on to another topic this month, but that's a very useful starting point for a conversation about core issues in operative magic. Expect a detailed discussion about the time the Sun enters Cancer this month.

  114. Hi JMG,

    Thank you for the reply. I have no doubts about your assertion because those ideas came through loud and clear to me in the preaching part of the service. However, I'm frankly curious as to the why of it all. It seems a rather strange and contradictory core belief to be enemies with the actual creation of a creator. Certainly it is a complex tale that one.

    Incidentally, the more I tend to dwell on the practicalities of the service, the more I begin to wonder about certain aspects of it. For example, the service was conducted in such a way as to forestall the attendees from actively participating in the service (other than the occasional hymn) and there was definitely a firm division.

    Dunno, the observations are not intended as a criticism because it just doesn't feel like a belief system that I would enjoy – I'm a bit hands on and pragmatic to sit back like that. And the screens were just jarring on me – I'm sorry, I did not reply to other people in the comments above about that matter, but the screen just felt somehow really wrong, because the whole group were looking intently at it.

    I must confess that after my stint in a hippy dippy school I then attended a full on Anglican school. I used to enjoy chapel because all of the school had somehow come to some unspoken arrangement whereby we would shout all of the hymns. And it was awesome to hear almost 500 voices, like a full on football cheer squad, but in a very large church, yell: “And the King of Glory Shall come in”! It was awesome and I kind of enjoyed it and felt that perhaps the Christian God would be quite pleased with the tile rattling rousing effect. However, the headmaster used to see the matter rather differently and there was the unfortunate detentions which followed. For some strange reason, the detentions didn't seem to have the slightest effect on the shouting and they kept listing that particular hymn as if they'd get a different outcome. Oh well. It really did sound awesome though and it wasn't even mildly off-key. Fun times.



  115. JMG wrote “…The political sphere I discussed in the post is the first of the two — the institutional frame for a society's collective decisions. That's the thing that needs to be firewalled off from the religious sphere, the scientific sphere, etc., to keep illegitimate claims of authority from crossing from sphere to sphere. Is that a little clearer?”

    We have seen attempts to create technocracies to authorise management of complexity. This is manifest just now perhaps in ‘independent’ central banking to manage, well … for example, the Eurozone and so on by means of ‘rules’. This arguably has collapsed the moral framework in much of Europe with the beginning again of encroachments of war – Ukraine, Syria and so on. German Lutherans and Papal Rome attempt some kind of inner sanctuary for refugees and an offer of moral authorisation to other spheres. As an individual I attempt some concept of protected ground in the Grove. I can resist propaganda projecting many probably ‘false’ states of mind, but can have little effect.

    Previous interesting examples of ‘technocratic’ authorisation with an appeal to ‘scientific authority’ having also ‘collective moral authority’ might be the collective agreements over persistent organochlorine pesticides and ‘ozone-layer-depletion’ vapours. These agreements though have been increasingly difficult to repeat for bigger challenges. Your comment begins to open a door (window?) for me on the scene where Climate Change markedly fails to gain much traction, particularly in the USA. I begin to see (perhaps!) the internal terrain contained within an institutional structure which receives filtered world pictures. There are firewalls in our inner sanctums? There is no ‘authorisation’ for legitimate transfer from one sphere to another???? I could be way off here?

    Phil H

  116. JMG & All
    I just fired off some thoughts on big-picture examples that are occupying me just now, but you were actually talking about covens and their collective behaviours, institutional character etc. Sorry about that. Operative mages I guess seek effects though they are aware of responsibilities if and when these emerge. Years ago I saw some of those New Age aspirations in world-spells and so on and noted the oddities. I will be interested in how you deal with the subject of clueless laying of spells on crime scenes, which latter activity seems to me irresponsible if only for the inner terrain of the coven.

    I am getting to the stage when I am careful not only on what I wish for but even what I might find myself praying for. Am not totally against praying as such, if you understand me 😉

    Phil H

  117. Karim,

    By and large according to the Koranic message, belief in the divine, charity and piety are the hallmarks by which people will be judged by the divine.

    OK, atheists are, de facto, in a difficult position! Sorry!”

    Well, now, I'm not so sure. Certainly an atheist might score well on charity. But I've never gotten the way that Christians and Muslims, perhaps Jews, think the Almighty is so gosh darn concerned about what people believe. If they don't know there is a God, whose fault is that? If they die and see there's a God, why not have a good laugh about it? Some atheists in a way might score at least fair on the piety question if you're not too strict about it. They might have a lot of reverence for the health of the ecosystem and living things, for example, which is the aspect of God they can relate to. Then too, if you think that everything is divine (as I do) then everyone worships. So perhaps they do not worship accurately and clearly – but we are all so delusional about reality and the nature of things. And what of the believer who isn't charitable? For some reason, this is considered semipassable. Also, I think that religious people in general get quite confused on the idea of the various laws and taboos as if God were sitting up there watching, and fretting, when they don't keep the fast or what have you. But all those things are not for God but for our own spiritual growth. Likewise, belief in the divine is a sign of a certain amount of spiritual awareness, and in that sense it can be judged, but not in the punitive sense most people think.

  118. Hi Cherokee,

    I really didn't know that many churches don't have windows. I thought they mostly did.

    The idea that one will have finally arrived at personal happiness after the wedding, or the divorce, or retirement (cough, cough) is actually pretty common and something to fight against.

    I have to say that while I like this place quite a lot, I will be very disappointed if there isn't something better, something where existence is not such a struggle and where the whole shebang doesn't rely on eating one another. Nature is very pretty if you don't look too close. One reason I love the wild turkeys so much is that they are incredibly smart and aware. They don't let their guard down. It's a life of constant fear. I don't mean they are never relaxed, but they can never let their guard down. Watching a family of turkeys parade through the meadow…I have tremendous respect for them.

    I don't know if you have access to things like Netflix and movies, but I watched one called Winged Migration. Stunningly beautiful music and almost no narration at all, it simply shows a year in the life of several species of large migratory birds. It brought home to me clearly that these animals are out there on the front lines, so to speak, with their bodies as the vehicles, against all elements of weather, predation, shotguns and habitat destruction. An unlucky weather event at the wrong time can mean some of them won't make it. This film broke my heart. Not because it is a sad film at all, it was quite beautiful and mostly they succeed. It is just that the reality of their lives is so stark compared to ours.

  119. JMG, clearer, yes. apparently in each instance we are talking about formal collectives rather than the clarity of an individual's thought. again, i have not yet found it necessary of desirable to “join” a religious group, though i am usually active in one or another small “p” political endeavor — a community garden, a cooperative grocery, a bike/ped advocacy group, peaceniks on a corner with cardboard signs and candles, whatever.

    re the wild hunt thing, my objection would be the project of wishing active harm to individuals. would it not be sufficient to hex or pray for the father, the son, the judge, the prosecutor, etc. to come to the necessary realizations?


  120. Hi onething,

    Your reply to my comment about windows in churches displays a stunning lack of reading comprehension. It possibly also smells to me of social gaming. Us humans often make comments such as that particular one for purely social reasons and I don't believe that it is a good look. Of course, I also understand that you may be unaware of that social tool and so I'll give you the benefit of the doubt.

    I find that your beliefs that life is struggle and that there must be something better are very disturbing thoughts. My perspective is that the Universe is completely indifferent to our existence and it is up to us to make of life what we will.

    Provisional living is really people acting upon other peoples memes that have been inserted into that persons consciousness, usually for the purpose of extracting time or wealth. It really is that simple. Wake up and look around you.

    It would be to your profit to consider why you believe what you do. I won't consider this matter any further.



  121. How is what Breanna describes any different from a lynch mob? It seems to me that both are people who feel that the court has not given justice taking matters into their own hands. Well, I suppose this coven is more like the demagogue inciting the mob to lynch, as they don't intend to physically dirty their hands, but they do intend to do harm, do they not, just using other people as intermediaries?

    At one time, Church windows, like the other art, told the stories of the Christian Church, both Biblical and more modern, for those who were not literate. I suspect my young children would have an easier time had they such art to look at now, but our stained glass is more abstract and gives the Church a sort of fire-lit glow, which of course has its own subtle theological references.

    It seems to me that less-literate societies of the future are quite likely to turn to that sort of story-telling art again, in order to reinforce the bones of the culture, and so our descendents may see representations of the Fall of America rather than, or along side of, the Fall of the Tower of Babel. But that's in the other blog's territory, isn't it?

  122. Chris,
    I also want to point out to you that many, many belief systems have an idea that there is a better place after death, whether it's Valhalla, the Elysium Fields, Heaven(s) or goes by another name. When you say you find it disturbing when others believe that there is something better, you are saying you find an awful lot of faiths disturbing. Perhaps this is so. Certainly, being Christian, I believe there is a better world to come. (May I say I quite enjoy the irony of your name? I hope you do, too!)

  123. Hi JMG,

    The concept of entryism or infiltration does have a nice old-fashioned paranoid ring to it. It has definitively a feeling of the cold war. Where one had to fear being infiltrated by either the CIA or the communists.

    In some sense, it is of course a bit disrespectful to accuse somebody of entryism. It implies that one thinks that somebody is not just misguided, but is actually insincere and has ulterior motives for his behaviour.

    That makes communication almost impossible. Without communication and mutual respect, there only remains power and force to solve disagreements. So at best the result will be a type of cold war, and the worst case is one where disagreements escalate further.

    On the other hand, the concept of the separation of spheres is definitively rational and wise. It should be a good way to stop or prevent entryism of any kind. It is probably the only possible defense against those sneaky entryists.

    In an escalating conflict, the entryists will of course try to subvert the reasonable position. Rationality is not something that is much appreciated in an escalating conflict. So it will definitively be interesting to see how it develops.

  124. Hi BoysMom,

    Well, yeah, I do find those beliefs disturbing. I mean I understand the world is chaotic and unpredictable and sometimes it can be just downright nasty. But the question I have for you: is how do you know that a promised future is better than the present? I mean the outcome from such utopian concepts and ideals in this existence tend to be not very good at all, so why would promises of further utopian dreams amount to anything more? It sounds like snake oil to me. I mean how can you know whether a spirit or entity is actually promising a better future when a large chunk of their followers seem to be practicing the exact opposite of the spirits teachings – and they're hardly being called out. I see a whole lot of greed. A whole lot.

    I respect Jesus and what he had to say and have read the bible for interests sake, it is just that there is a lot of difference between walking the talk and talking the talk and many of us forget that.

    I absolutely agree with you about the stained glass windows providing a story and spectacle and effect. However, most people that day had their eyes glued to the screen, and I found that to be quite a creepy experience. I kind of felt sorry for Jesus who was depicted on the cross at the sad little end of the church which was all but ignored. Sorry if I have hurt your feelings, but that is just how I felt about it.

    There is absolutely no irony in the name either. It is a pragmatic name.



  125. Hello all, thanks for the wonderful conversations. I just wanted to add that, although it is certainly true of some Christian groups that the world and flesh are viewed as enemies, it isn't true of them all. The Eastern Orthodox Church, for one, considers that the worldly elements, as well as the flesh itself, can be corrupted or refined, but they are not thought of as “enemies” of the spirit, more like tools or vehicles.

    In the same vein, Orthodox churches are considered to be Earthly elements that are arranged such that they may enhance one's experience of the Otherworld. Our icons are meant to serve as windows to this Otherworld, and the stained glass windows are meant to amplify the experience. The building is not meant to denigrate the Earth; I believe that it is possible to appreciate both the living Earth and the spirit worlds, just as one can appreciate both mathematics and a garden, without excluding one for the other.

  126. Chris, BoysMom

    This is an interesting question. I'm currently putting together a not-so-short explainer of the Michael Teaching for interested Christians. It's a short (100 to 500 words) comment on each of about three dozen issues, beliefs, whatever from Christianity.

    The short answer to this particular question is that any belief that has enough adherents on the Physical Plane gets reflected on the Astral Plane, which is where the Incarnational Self winds up after death. So there are a lot of different Heavens and Hells scattered about, and anyone who believes firmly enough that they'll go to one of them will go there. They'll usually leave fairly quickly to get on with the rest of their afterlife, though.

    It's just occurred to me that you can think of those Heavens and Hells as Potemkin villages. [grin.]

  127. @John _ I'd rather say, anterooms. Waiting rooms. Or even locker rooms? Where the new souls, metaphorically, change out of their street clothes before moving on?

  128. I'll second what Bird of Hermes says re the Orthodox Church having a more wholistic idea of the cosmos, that it is all good, not to be overcome or discarded (although one might try to overcomes one's passions) but rather that all will together be redeemed and restored to a perfect working.

    John Roth, I'll be interested to read it when you've got it done. The bit you said here rings true.

    Boys Mom, In my opinion, Christianity could be improved by acceptance of reincarnation. The way I have thought of it is – most people go to heaven (a few have to do a stint in some kind of hell) – but hardly anyone gets to stay. You don't get to stay until you are perfected.
    I just wrote a bunch of stuff that I deleted because it could be offensive to discuss salvation theology and why I disagree with it.

    In my opinion, souls go where they belong in a natural way. It is not that you are “permitted” to hang out in a particular place, but that heavenly souls are naturally in a heavenly state of being.

    Have you ever heard of tentmaker.org? They do not believe in reincarnation but have a vast and deep exploration of the salvation question and make a solid case for universal salvation.

  129. @Patricia

    That's an interesting metaphor. It's certainly true that the earthly experience is intense enough that very few souls can “hit the ground running.”

  130. @onething

    Salvation presupposes that there's something at risk that needs saving. In the MT, Salvation makes no sense since there is nothing at risk. Nothing will be lost, including things and people you might not want to see for the rest of eternity. The soul's destiny is to realize that its separation from the Source is an illusion, and that it was never separate in the first place.

    Tentmaker seems to be a continuation of the old Universalist church, although he gets a bit of the history wrong. Universalism was already moving away from Christianity when it merged with the Unitarians. We have a wonderful mural in the front of our sanctuary, made entirely out of found wood, that shows the Universalist and Unitarian symbols slightly overlapping. The Universalist symbol has a cross that's to the side, not in the center. On the other side, there are a lot of UU congregations that are Christian, mostly in the east.

    I'm probably going to declare the explainer done today and ship it off. I'm not sure when or where it will appear that the public can see it. I might have to bite the bullet and get a blog.

  131. Hi JMG,

    Oh my! The little light bulb went off with a very bright and loud flash this morning about the issue of the television screens in Churches guiding the services. Oh my, my! I finally put my finger on why those television screens so disturbed me and I believe the reasons speak a whole lot to what is discussed both here and at the other blog. They really do believe in progress as that which will save them! How could they be so tone deaf to their own histories? I saw the future in that bright flash and what they were leaving to the future was toxic waste and patchy records, when what they should have had were more resilient books. I’m mildly stunned by the realities of the situation, and people here in the comment sections were defending those choices. Oh my, what a loss of a rich history and tradition.

    Winter Solstice tomorrow! :-)!

    Despite it all, I'm reasonably upbeat because I don't believe that we were ever intended to hold onto the unsustainable. It appears to me like someone trying to collect water in a leaky bucket.



  132. John Roth,

    To some extent, I am able to discuss a religion on its own terms. So I have quite a few ideas about Christianity. But anyway, one reason I think reincarnation would be a good idea, is that it does away with the problem of permanently lost souls. But in the interim, we've got a lot of tough slogging to do, what with having to come back here and all. Souls that are very troubled are probably not having a great time, like living in a really bad neighborhood. Karma is natural consequences.

    Tentmaker has many essays by many writers, but the main guy is quite a theologian in his own right. I find it fascinating what he comes up with. His knowledge of scripture is profound and he fully believes in it, yet there are depths, especially to the hell question, that absolutely amaze.

    I don't know why this movement hasn't taken the Christian world by storm.

  133. @onething

    People tend to be quite invested in their own religion, and don't take kindly to someone telling them that they're wrong.

    This is especially true when what they believe in is abstractions. There was a study done a few years ago that demonstrated that most people have an underlying polytheistic conceptual system, regardless of what they believe consciously. There seems to be something about the human mind that is inherently polytheistic.

    I sent my comparison off yesterday. It's gotten a few great reviews, but that's from the choir. We'll see how the outside world reacts when it goes up on http://www.michaelteachings.com sometime in the next few days, probably in the Advanced Teachings section.

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