Some will be afraid of this knowledge; witchcraft should be liberated by it, liberated from petty concerns to pursue lives of beauty, liberated from the sleepwalking into death that our culture has made for us and our children. So I counsel, confront death. For witchcraft to be anything other than the empty escapism of the socially dysfunctional or nostalgia for bygone ages, it needs to feel the shape of its skull, venerate the dead and the sacred art of living and dying with meaning. We are all on the fierce path now.
One thing I am really liking lately, I mean *really* liking a lot, that actually makes me hopeful that there might be something worthwhile in the remainder of my lifetime to which I may contribute some small impetus or insight, is the suddent resurgence, dating largely to Peter Grey’s widely-reprinted essay “Rewilding Witchcraft” (see intro quote), of a strain of intellectual-political paganism.
My friends have had to endure my rants against the forms, seemingly borrowed from the labor movement back when foot-traffic and mass-employment ruled the economy, of protest and dissent, and the supposedly intellectual critique that has grown up around them. To wit, the concept of a “movement,” defined in reference to large crowds publicly endorsing a minority point of view, at some risk of violating, if not laws against heresy and wrong ideas, at least those against blocking sidewalks and dispersing when called upon, and structuring, to some extent, their lives around the internal consistencies that a rational investigation of that point of view would seem to require, while still allowing for the pursuit of material self-interest and progress as defined by enlightenment and post-enlightenment understandings of human well being and quality of life.
And yet, the political landscape does not fit this material any more than the physical landscape. Few in the west protest for what Walter Benjamin called “the rough and material things, without which there is nothing fine and spiritual.” Those fights have long been drowned in the rising flood of the personal, little stories of failure and why-didn’t-you-study-harder popping to the surface where union halls and churches once stood. When we gather, if we gather, it is because we are bereft of meaning and narrative, and, though tender and caveblind, we hope that in struggle we might find our tribe.
There doesn’t seem to be, for nearly anyone, a sense of place, reliable and secure, to which we can retire where our relationship to the world seems unshakable, or where permission to continue our lives, as we understand they *should* be, is readily available. Instead, we as a society behave like the children and other primates in the early studies of “attachment” before that term became code for baby bjorns, who are deprived of a steady social relationship with a supportive and comforting caregiver- frightened, angry, insecure, and dangerous. Yet, our “politics”- by which I mean the semi-organized leftist belief in membership, protest, “shutting down the system” etc, education as key, and the idea of enlightened self-interest- still seems baffled by this, like the reviewers of Harlow’s monkey studies who couldn’t understand why a baby monkey would choose a soft, snuggly yet barren mama monkey doll over a cold wire facsimile that provided milk- or safe drinking water, or affordable health care. Humans (and monkeys) will give up virtually anything to be part of a comforting story, and that story right now is best being told by some of the worst people we’ve seen in our lives.
This is why ISIS is recruiting middle-class Belgians, or why upper-class kids in the Columbus suburbs sell pills for the lulz. This is why people would rather see a party punch Mexicans in the face, than negotiate successfully with Iran. Adventure, daring, winning, the smug pleasure of seeing an adversary cringing or bloody, these are more potent than reducing the suicide rate, and “the left” has nothing going in the story department. The left continues to think, Jon Stewart-style, that providing facts and exposing hypocrisy will somehow triumph over alienation, rage, and winning. This is despite the understanding, articulated in an NPR interview last week with anthropologist Scott Atran, that appeals to moderation and rationality simply play into the fears of the global 99% that they will never have anything better to live for than a newer phone, or a job at a better call center.
With an eye to that gap, I give you one of the most interesting essays
I’ve read this month. Here we have not only Walter Benjamin, Margaret Mead, and James Baldwin, from whom I lifted the subject line of this post, but also Solon and Herodotus. The theme is that “progress” is a lie, and that time is not as important as you may think- those things that happened long ago are still happening, or quite capable of happening again, and the assumption that things are different this time is one of the most dangerous mistakes ever deployed in the service of dismissing the irrational, the bloodied, the furious, or the dead. And yes, it comes from a pagan website:
This isn’t a one-off either. Two prominent bay area pagans were recently arrested in support of BLM’s Black Friday Protest in Oakland, and the folks at Gods and Radicals are doing a damned good job condensing the ethics of social justice around a hard, ancient core of community belief and faith. Look also to the poetic rituals of the Dark Mountain Project, look to the inexplicably weird refulgence of Die Krampus. If this goes anywhere, and I hope it does, it will be fascinating and beautiful to see what we now think of as the left flying banners of irrational mysticism, danger, adventure and attractive madness. I suggest you keep watching.