With Our Thoughts We Make The World

Paganisms are counter-cultural, like most religions. They present a critique of the status quo, and some alternative visions of how the world might be if it was re-enchanted; and they offer a variety of methods for bringing about the desired change. There are several overlapping, and sometimes conflicting, visions available from the Pagan dream factory. Some are benign, involving ways to cope with climate change, and promotion of social and environmental justice. Others are retrogressive, wanting to take us back to a (somewhat mythical) earlier era.

Religious and spiritual ideas do not exist in a vacuum. They are intimately connected with politics. What you believe about how your religious group should be organised, and how ideas and information are verified and validated, and who gets to have authority and why, inevitably spill over into your ideas about how society as a whole should be organised. Ideas about culture and society are what is known as metapolitics:

A way of expressing and enacting political goals through cultural, spiritual, and societal change, rather than overt politics.

If you think about it, most religions are a form of metapolitics: their goal is exactly to transform society and individuals (which is the purpose of politics) through cultural and spiritual means. (Christianity’s goal is and has always been to transform society, for example.)  Pagan religions are no different: we also desire the transformation of society, but our visions of a transformed society are rather different from theirs.

The key thing about metapolitical processes and shifts is that they prepare the ground for political change. If you consider the changes wrought by feminism, LGBT liberation, and the civil rights movement, it takes about fifty years of preparation and social change before any legal rights are gained. Take feminism for example: the first attempt to bring a bill before the UK Parliament to give women the right to vote was greeted with derision and laughter. It took fifty years to win the vote for women. It has taken forty years from the decriminalisation of homosexuality to get same-sex marriage in the UK. And there has been a massive shift in attitudes towards women and LGBT people that prepared the ground for those political changes. Retrograde steps (such as placing limits on immigration, threatening to deport Muslims, etc) also require metapolitical changes, such as an increase in xenophobia, in order to create the political momentum to successfully bring in legislation.

In an article I wrote about a decade ago, News from Nowhere, I noted the links between science fiction and Pagan thought. Both offer alternative visions of society, both utopian and dystopian; and both include egalitarian and hierarchical possible futures or alternatives. In that essay, I glossed over some of the more right-wing science fiction writers such as Robert Heinlein, who has also had a significant influence on the Pagan revival, and focused more on left-wing writers and their visions. But science fiction and fantasy, by presenting plausible visions of different societies, are important drivers of social change, and they present alternative societies that might appeal to all parts of the political spectrum. Fantasy in particular enables the leap of imagination required to re-enchant the world. As John Halstead writes:

A work of fiction may open a person up to having a very real experience to which they were not open before.

The Arcadian or Pastoral State, Thomas Cole, 1834. Public Domain

The Arcadian or Pastoral State, Thomas Cole (1834). Public Domain.

This painting by Thomas Cole, The Arcadian or Pastoral State, was painted as part of a series called The Course of Empire. It was part of a cultural or metapolitical conversation about how society should be organised, and how it was likely to evolve. Cole was influenced by Byron’s poem Childe Harold’s PilgrimageThe series of paintings reflected popular American views of the day, when many regarded pastoralism as the ideal phase of human civilization, as they feared that empire would inevitably lead to  overconsumption and decay.

The metapolitics of Pagan traditions

Recently, an excellent analysis of the spread of the ideas of the New Right and how far they may overlap with some of the ideas of Pagan traditions appeared on Gods & Radicals. If you haven’t read it, I highly recommend reading it. I agree with the analysis presented by the article: we must guard against retrogressive ideas becoming unexamined norms within Pagan traditions. It is worth mentioning (as the article itself notes) that just because someone’s ideas overlap with those of the New Right, doesn’t mean they are necessarily an adherent of the crypto-fascist ideas of that movement. But it does suggest that it would be a good idea to carefully examine where their ideas might lead if carried to their logical conclusion, precisely because these ideas prepare the ground for political and social change.

With that in mind, let’s examine some of the ideas that are popular in some corners of Pagan & polytheist communities.

Sacred kingship

Apparently some people are rather fascinated by sacral kingship and aristocracy. I think I can safely say that such notions are not very popular in England, where we still experience the inequalities of the class system, the monarchy that sits on top of the pinnacle like the visible part of a pimple, and where a study of our history reveals the disastrous instability introduced by the vagaries of succession in a hereditary monarchy (I am referring to the war of Stephen and Maud, the Wars of the Roses, the English Civil War, the “Glorious Revolution”, and so on). That’s why you don’t get Wiccans in the UK adopting titles like Lord this and Lady that. And people with pretensions to be a reincarnated Dark Age king are not taken particularly seriously by most people either.

The idea of the sacral king was popularised in the early 20th century by Margaret Murray, who wrote that William Rufus (famously killed by an arrow in the New Forest) may have been England’s last sacral king, and that his death was a sacrifice. Apparently there are people who are regarded as monarchs in their particular spiritual tradition. I’m fine with that, as long as we get to revive the tradition of sacral kingship in its full form: where the sacred monarch gets sacrificed after their year in office. I somehow think the whole idea would suddenly be a lot less popular if it was revived in its full form.

But really, honestly, the whole notion of kingship just doesn’t work. This should be completely obvious to anyone who has studied the history of monarchy wherever it has been tried. The only time monarchy worked was when the king was elected (and nowadays we call that office a president). The only way that an absolute ruler can maintain their authority is through fear, as Machiavelli pointed out.

Messages from deities

So you received a message from a deity. Great. That’s nice for you. But how do I know whether it was really a message from a deity, or just another aspect of your psyche trying to shore up your fragile ego? I would evaluate a purported revelation from a deity the way I would evaluate a purported message from anyone else, by asking questions:

  • is it consistent with what I know of reality?
  • is it consistent with what I know of that person/deity?
  • is it consistent with my ethics?

If the answer to any of these is no, then either I won’t believe that the message came from the deity, or I won’t believe that the message was intended for me.

“A deity told me to do it” is never a sufficient justification for any action. If a deity tells a group of people to slaughter another group of people, we rightly regard that deity as deeply immoral (or alternatively, we deny that the commandment came from that deity). All communications from deities have to be evaluated against common standards of ethical behaviour.

That’s not to say that no-one ever receives valid and interesting messages from deities: of course they do. It just means that we need to be aware that messages from deities might just be our own ego talking, rather than a genuine divine communication.

Folkish tendencies

Another disturbing tendency that has been rearing its head of late is the view that you can only work within your own culture, worshipping the gods of your ancestors. This ‘folkish’ view is being used to exclude people of colour from traditions based on European culture. It takes a monolithic and essentialist view of culture, regarding cultural themes as being predetermined by genetics. For those of us who are of mixed descent (which is most people these days, especially in North America), this approach literally makes no sense. I’m an English person with some Cornish ancestry, and as I grew up in Hampshire, probably Saxon ancestry too – maybe even some Norman. Should my Paganism consist of Cornish practices, Saxon practices, or Norse practices according to this view?

This folkish/genetic essentialism uses the concept of cultural appropriation to justify its racist discourse, which is ironic as they are appropriating the real struggles of indigenous peoples to defend their culture and life-ways against the depredations of colonialism. But resisting cultural appropriation is about resisting power; it is not about keeping culture ‘pure’. Cultures and traditions are not monolithic and unchanging silos: they are discourses. You can’t just lift a practice from one culture to another in a superficial way without radically changing its meaning; but this does not mean that no-one can ever do anything inspired by another culture.

The problem with folkish views is that they assume that races and cultures are monolithic, unchanging, never influence each other, and that people from different ethnicities never intermarry. It constructs different cultures as different races, so it is certainly racialised, which in my book is basically racist.

What are your goals?

You may have noticed that the Harry Potter books are a political fable. (This becomes particularly apparent with the appearance of Dolores Umbridge, who is an extended satire upon the activities of OFSTED in the British education system.) As with any good fable, the ideas are generally applicable. The adherents of Voldemort (the Death Eaters and their hangers-on) are ruled by fear. No dissent is allowed, and their group is strongly hierarchical. The witches and wizards who are allied with Dumbledore, on the other hand, are much more egalitarian. Diversity of views and discussion of tactics are welcomed. Both sides live their values, because it is by embodying their values that they create the society they want to live in.

If you desire to create a society where conflict is the norm and the weakest go to the wall, then your interim goals and methods need to be consistent with that goal. And creating hierarchical structures where outsiders are scapegoated and disagreement cannot be tolerated, will take you a long way towards that goal. Fetishising power-over and symbols of power-over will also lead you towards that goal.

If your goal is to create a sustainable, egalitarian, peaceful society, then your interim goals and methods need to be consistent with that goal. As A J Muste wrote, “There is no way to peace. Peace is the way”. The structures we need to create in order to realise this goal should be democratic, egalitarian, and non-hierarchical, and there should be room for differences of opinion and for diversity.

If you are creating a new religious movement that is characterised by fear of difference, distrust of outsiders, the crushing of dissent, the insistence on only one right way to do things, then you will sow the seeds of perpetual conflict and division.

That’s why I am happy that John Halstead and others are part of Paganism: because I welcome a diversity of views, and I want my ideas to be challenged and tested. The only way that theories are strengthened is if they are tested against other theories.

That’s why I am delighted by the ideas of Rhyd Wildermuth about worlding the gods, because the way we world the gods into the earth reflects the sort of society we want to create:

The gods exist as independent beings from us regardless of our belief in them. But it’s we who actually world them into the earth, and how we world them is dependent upon what we do, who we are, and the sort of world we create around us.

I want the Pagan movement to be diverse and inclusive, because a diverse and inclusive movement is stronger, more interesting, and more viable. I want to create a world where it is safe to be me. A theocracy run by people who want power over others might be fine for the people at the top (as long as they succeeded in staying at the top) but it wouldn’t be very pleasant for anyone else.

That is why the only viable vision of a sustainable and just future is one where social and environmental justice prevails. One where the rapacious greed and over-consumption promoted by capitalism has been replaced by a more sustainable and equal distribution of wealth.  One that values the gods as the consciousnesses of the natural world, not as beings who desire to lord it over humanity. One that doesn’t appropriate other cultures’ practices, but doesn’t treat cultures as monolithic silos either.

As the Buddha once said, with our thoughts we make the world. We are all co-creating the future of the Pagan movement now. Let us be careful to lay the foundations of a world that those who come after us can be happy and fulfilled in.

 

Combinations of Difficult Questions #PinkOut

What if Planned Parenthood is defunded and shut down– where should women and men go for the other 97% of funded services PP currently provides?

What if we notice a dropped stitch? What if we don’t?

What if Persephone eats that pomegranate on purpose?

What if we’re all more genderfluid than we admit?

What if sexuality isn’t a wound?

What if the nuclear family is not the only available model? What if it isn’t the best?

What if Black lives matter?

What if a question mark is a fish hook?

What if abortion is allowed to be an ambivalent and uneasy act, safe and legal?

What if women live into their sexualities as a source of power with, not power over?

What if men do that too?

What if you could say how unhappy you are?

What if a woman’s voice is the tree falling in the forest?

 

What if women’s voices weave another forest?

 

Epistemology of Mother, A Cloud of Permeable or #PinkOut

Wendy Vardaman and Sarah Sadie

 

Few topics have stirred as much passionate response

now there is a plank in the platform of the Republican party denying any place

in the short time I’ve belonged to this listserv as the one that exploded over the seemingly innocuous color pink, and

for abortion even in cases of rape or incest. This feels like the final thundering chord (although I know

although I didn’t join the discussion, I, too, feel strongly about the subject. Reading the posts on the color

it’s not—there is so much more they could try to do, try to take from us) of their grand crescendo,

and its associations—Cinderella, Barbies, stickers,

building for a year now. A year when

I was surprised by the emotional and political

terms such as “birth control”

connotations it carries

“sluts” “vaginal ultrasounds” “vaginas” have been bandied about

for so many of us and disturbed by the way

we debate the difference between “legitimate” and “forcible” as applied to

pink got tossed back and forth as if it were some uniform monolith

the act of rape.

when a moment’s reflection serves to demonstrate this obvious fact: pink is not one color.

What other qualifiers shall we hear?

My pinks are mostly dark, vivid, intense, like the other hues that fill the house of a recovering depressive

At last now we have it out: all abortion, any abortion, is never to be condoned, never to be pardoned,

avoiding medication. Color like exercise gives me a lift, so I have it everywhere and in unlikely combinations

never to be considered and never to be allowed. All of this has me walking in a cloud of permeable

that would probably overwhelm many people. Pink in multiple manifestations happens to be a favorite,

sadness, like a mist. It plunges me back to a time a few years ago

although I don’t like the pale variety by  itself, any more than large doses of other pastels. I do feel nostalgic

when these questions were live for me on a very personal level. One summer evening, blue sky endless,

looking at 1960s’ hot pink—my mother wouldn’t paint my bedroom that color decades ago,

my husband and I were out for a neighborhood walk. It was

attempting to satisfy me with a bright pink velvet pillow for my orange bedspread. Years later I painted

the sort of weather, the sort of evening, that draws people out of their homes and out into their yards

my dining room an intense sockeye-salmon swirled with orange, a nod to the years my husband and I lived

and the streets and sidewalks. I don’t remember what we were talking about, but

in Seattle, and saved my favorite deep pink for the kitchen,

for a number of days I had been wrestling with

patterning walls and cabinets with combinations of

difficult questions. Finally, I turned to him in the middle of the

fuchsia, yellow, lavender and deep red-violet. Dabbling in textiles I’ve paired pink with navy and turquoise, and

sidewalk, stopped for a moment, and said “I have come to a decision. If I ever were to get

lavender, blue, and red in hand-woven table-runners. I’ve sewn curtains, pillow covers, and clothes that include its different shades and echo those

pregnant again, I would abort the baby.” And then I broke down crying, there on the street.

in my great-grandmothers’ quilts hanging on the living room walls.

 

This piece was written in collaboration with my colleague and friend, Wendy Vardaman. I am so grateful for her ideas, her example and her friendship.Busse and Vardaman 2012 - 1

 

 

 

Pagans and politics

What is the relationship between Paganism(s) and politics? Some have argued that Paganism is not political. Some have criticised the political style and presentation of the emerging polytheist movement. Some are uncomfortable with the politics around consent culture, racism, gender, and sexuality in Paganism and polytheism. Some are uncomfortable with the critique of capitalism offered by Gods and Radicals.

I do agree with those who say that being Pagan doesn’t automatically predispose people to a particular political stance. There are Pagans of many different political persuasions, for reasons which may or may not relate to their particular way of being a Pagan. Not being expected to sign up to a particular political stance or party is an important aspect of Pagan religious freedom.

Read the rest of the article on Gods & Radicals.

Elections, Politics, Consent, and #sexyvoterhaiku

 

Yesterday I was a crap mom.

Yesterday I got nothing done on my to-do list. My house remained a mess. I sat in a chair the entire day, almost.

I burned dinner. We ate bread.

I burned my eyes out staring at the computer screen.

Yesterday was an election day.

Yesterday over the course of eight hours I wrote a series of 69 haiku and published them on facebook and twitter. It was a completely improvisatory performance, unfolding in real time, exploring the metaphor of elections and politics as sexy, as seduction, as the whole damntangle.

 

It wasn’t something I planned. I just started noodling around in the morning with the idea that “voting is sexy” and before I knew it I was composing Sexy Voter Haiku one after another, and posting on facebook until the polls closed at 8 PM. Sometimes it happens that way.

Your name’s on the list.
You would be missed. Show up.
Tell me what you want.

Sexy Voter Haiku. As a friend and political scientist commented, “Never before have those three words been used together in the English language.” Of course it is ridiculous. Politics is not sex.

And yet, it is.

 

(consent edition)

Say what you want to
happen. It can’t happen if
you don’t say it, first.

In my opinion, last night the bad guys won. These are the goons who brought us mandatory transvaginal probes. If they (continue to) have their way over the next 2-4-6-10 years, the land will be gutted and fracked, waters polluted, public schools decimated, and cities and towns starved of funding. I think it’s pretty clear what is going on here.

Hold the pen, hold the
paper with its questions. Press.
Turn this poet on.

When is consensus like consent? How about compromise? That old idea that we keep talking til everyone verbally agrees and partners with each other.

These guys don’t work that way.

My colleagues here at the Mound, Christine Hoff Kraemer and Yvonne Aburrow are working on an anthology around the theme of consent in the pagan community(ies). It’s on my mind this morning, as I process the election results.

so many fingers
press so many buttons and then
watch the results

And this is what Sexy Voter Haiku gives us: a(nother) form of poetry that engages directly with political action and the public sphere.

Because in the face of powerlessness and defeat, Sexy Voter Haiku responds not with anger or despair, but with…joy. Delight. Silliness. This is life loving and life giving.

You do not need an
ID. And the cab is free.
Wisconsin quickie.

These are dark times, but we don’t have to feel defeated by them. Creation stands opposite to war, destruction, and indifference. And after all, good things can happen in the dark: secrets whispered, revolutions begun, seeds planted, babies made.

Moved my pen again
and again. Then the ballot
machine swallowed it.

So here is my series of 69 Sexy Voter Haiku, written on 11/4/14 from about 8 in the morning to 8 at night. They respond to my own experiences throughout the hours, the articles I was reading, the errands I was running. Some of them were written in direct response to comments or requests from friends, but I trust they all make sense, more or less, here in this context.

Now I want to see yours. Already I see a few appearing from my friends, here and there. This morning Wisconsin’s Secretary of State had a beauty, although he didn’t know it:

“This has been a ve-
ry wild and sad night. Final
results not in yet.”

There are people who are well-organized, well-funded, well-scripted who are winning right now. But…they are not sexy or juicy people. They don’t play very much or very well.

That is one of our advantages.

And, it should be clear, what I’m looking for and asking for doesn’t have to be haiku. It doesn’t have to be poetry. The challenge is to find that action that feels creative and joyful and life-giving to you, and use that to engage with the political, the community, the moment. 

The revolution may or may not be televised. But it will be joyful through the dark, if I have anything to say about it. And it turns out, I do.

 

this kiss courtesy of Shutterstock.com

this kiss courtesy of Shutterstock.com

Sexy Voter Haiku

Sarah Sadie

November 4, 2014

 

1

Your name’s on the list.
You would be missed. Show up.
Tell us what you want.

2 (consent edition)

Say what you want to
happen. It can’t happen if
you don’t say it, first.

3

Hold the pen, hold the
paper with its questions. Press.
Turn this poet on.

4

so many fingers
press so many buttons and then
watch the results

5

You do not need an
ID. And the cab is free.
Wisconsin quickie.

6

Moved my pen again
and again. Then the ballot
machine swallowed it.

7 (literati edition)

Uppity women
wearing badges with honor
me and Hester Prynne

8 (bake sale edition)

Afterwards something
sugary to eat because
it makes me hungry.

9 (on being #360 to vote at my ward)

You spin me right round,
baby right round like a record
baby Rock the vote.

10

Politicians put
themselves in my bedroom, so
here I am. In bed.

11

Because when it comes
to turnout size does matter.
Please please me. Vote.

12

If I’m missing
a syllable, that’s where
you take a breath.

13

or maybe today
we have more important things
to count

14 (fb feed edition)

so far the porn one
has the most “likes”…oh Zuck, what
will you do with me

15

Vote. The cold shower
can wait. I want to be with
you when you go…vote.

16

Just think: from seven
this morning to eight tonight.
A woman can dream.

17

More and more of us
voting: how else to upset
Republicans…hmmm….

18 (phone bank edition)

Mine is the low voice
calling to say this is it,
today, now, please…

19

Why did I think I
would get anything else done
on election day

20

If what they’re doing
doesn’t make you hot and bothered
maybe I can. vote.

21

It steams up tonight
after polling closes. All
this is just build up.

22 (on voter education)

Know before you go.
I can tell you a little
learning goes a long way.

23

Buildup or foreplay
which is sexier…who cares,
open turns me on.

24

Women’s disenfran-
chisement was never sexy.
Go vote.

25

How long are the lines?
Not nearly long enough. I
am not satisfied.

26

Who says politics
and poetry don’t mix. Strange
bedfellows, but fun.

27

My presentation
on poems and civic engagement
is writing itself.

28

Wearing my sticker
to the grocery store…oh,
and a new bra, too.

29 (married edition)

“If you don’t vote, no
conjugal anything.”…(sly
smile, back home) “Long lines…”

30

You think I’m done? I
haven’t even mentioned the
word “tight.” We’re good, peeps.

31

Today it is tight
in many places. Insert
yourself. Vote.

32

Who needs a ride to
the polls? I’m ready to take
you where you want to go.

33 (early afternoon, strong turnout reported so far)

This is about the
time a woman hopes you will
keep going just keep…

34 (regarding voter fraud and difficulty)
We need to talk a-
bout protection. Be smart. Be
assertive. Own it.

35

Voting is far more
effective than Viagra.
Let’s end impotence.

36

Tweeting every one.
Because who wouldn’t want a
repeat performance?

37

Tell me you’ll be here
tonight. I don’t want to be
alone at the close.

38 (Poet Laureate edition)

Public poet is
a strange position but I
think it works for us.

39 (more about turnout)

When is big big
enough? Asked no woman
ever. Go vote.

40 (Rock the vote, 2)

U2 in my head
“You take me higher…” Now you, too,
take me higher. Vote.

41

To do this, you must
trust. You must be a grownup.
You must show up.

42 (on the rule that tablets and phones may prove residence)

Battery operated
devices are accepted
in this state I’m in.

43 (seeing pictures of suffragettes)

all these pictures of
women doing it must make
you want to, too.

44

Midterm, midlife, I’m
not hard to please and not too proud:
show me your sticker.

45

Me and the pumpkin
spice latte “Keeping fall spicy”
Spice up your night: vote.

46

Just when I start to
feel tired, the post work voters
tell me “You’re not done.”

47

Let’s try something new.
Because aren’t you too bored with
the same old same old?

48

This is what third wave
Sex positive feminism
Sounds like. Turned on? Vote.

49 (about 5 PM)

We still have hours to
go which in almost any game
is more than enough.

50 (if you’re in line when the polls close)

don’t let anyone
tell you differently:
if you’re in you’re in

51

no one calls it yet:
we’re not done here and you’re not
allowed to fake it

52

ask their history
before you consent and they
should ask your consent. Vote.

53

How am I doing this?
Four long years of frustration,
people. Long enough.

54

Nothing is sexier
than a first time voter I
don’t care your age. Vote.

55

Oh my one track mind
burned the hell out of dinner.
Bread it is, kids.

56

Right wing pundits say
we shouldn’t vote our gender?
So not getting any.

57

I know the only
reason you haven’t voted yet:
to hear me beg. Please.

58

Quadruple digits
at many wards. Take me to
eleven, people.

59

By night’s end I will
be exhausted. But satisfied?
Remains to be seen.

60

If nothing else by
midnight there will be a new
poetic form

61

tonight and to-
morrow I expect a little
pillow talk, friends

62

to all of you who
have been my muses: it takes
two to do it right.

63

This is what happens
when I stop baking cupcakes
Complaints, anyone?

64 (On the rule that if you are in line at 8 PM, you can still vote if you stay in line)

Even better than
last time: if you’re in, stay in.
Please. Do this for me.

65

Now when people ask
What does a poet laureate do
I’ll have an answer

66

Thirty minutes left
Plenty of time for the
Wisconsin quickie

67

Stay with me just stay
with me a little longer
don’t roll over yet

68

do the talking heads
not know we like it slow and
steady? Counting votes is sexy.

69

I hope it was good
for you, friends. Whether it will
be good for us …we’ll see.