Rituals At The End of Empire
Our modern civilizations lack ritual, and not by accident.
Anti-capitalist historians such as Silvia Federici, E.P. Thompson, Eric Hobsbaum, and Peter Linebaugh—among many others—have detailed for us the ways in which the new Capitalist order sought to eradicate pre-industrial social relations and conceptions of time in order to create a new “working class.” Crucial to this, as Silvia Federici notes, was the divorcing of human life from the rhythms of nature and the turn of the year:
Capitalism was born from the separation of people from the land and its first task was to make work independent of the seasons and to lengthen the workday beyond the limits of our endurance.
Especially in the United Kingdom and its colonial offshoots, the Calvinist management class under which we all still labor (in Marxist terms, the “bourgeoisie”) mixed their monotheistic hatred of “pagan” celebrations with their obsessive pursuit of the new “sciences” to create the order in which we live now: the age of the machine.
The machine does not care for the observances of solstices nor full moons, the bringing in of harvests nor the interring of the dead, the first flowering of hawthorn or the calving of the beasts. The machine gives no concern whether you have just fallen in love, or if you grieve, if the scent of blossoms on a spring day calls you to whimsy or the chill winds of winter summon you back to bed with your lover.
The machine celebrates in linear, burdensome ways: the beginning of work-days and the end of fiscal calendars, fourth-quarter earnings reports and Black Friday sales. Nature is raw resources to it, as are the humans for whom the machine claims to exist. Neither is fêted nor celebrated, only extracted, oppressed, exploited, and destroyed.
Separating humans from nature and the rituals which reminded us we are part of nature made it easier to turn us into machines ourselves, mere cogs, workers, and consumers in a vast order of capitalist misery. The few older celebrations with Pagan roots that survived this separation (Valentine’s Day, Christmas, Easter, Halloween) have been so sanitized by their imperialist Christian and consumerist overlays that they connect us not to nature’s rhythms but only to shopping malls and Amazon.com.
New Year’s Eve, however, despite being based not on any natural rhythm at all, has always seemed to me the most Pagan and anti-capitalist of holidays. The last day of the imperial calendar, the final day of its reign before the year begins again, New Year’s Eve bears with it a promise and a reminder: everything eventually ends.
The Dionysian character of its celebrations, the drunken revelries and late night parties, echoes many of the older Pagan winter rituals in the Northern Hemisphere during which the world was said to be “turned upside down,” rituals that Christ’s Mass was meant to supplant and suppress. Carnifal, Solstice, Yule, Saturnalia—all orgiastic celebrations of abundance before the months of fasting. The final slaughtering of animals before the snows set in meant a glut of meat to be eaten, ales, ciders, and wines whose fermentations has started at the end of the harvest just now became ready to drink.
Now, we do not know our harvests any longer. Animals are slaughtered year-round and processed in industrial packing factories. The distance from barley to beer is unknown to most of us. Moreover, not too many of us even understand how our food is made, nor the process that brings the things we consume from soil to our mouths. At the same time, we also do not know the hands which toil—nor the miserable and sometimes slavish conditions under which they labor—to create our modern world.
New Year’s Eve remains a final Dionysian protest of this order, an eruption of humanity and the natural forces which no mechanization nor urbanization can ever fully eradicate from our bodies or collective memories.
In an interview for their recent album Dionysus, Brendan Perry of Dead Can Dance explored the connection between nature and the Dionysian:
“Dionysus is very much connected with nature and those forces within nature, within the cosmos, that are still mysterious to us," he explains. “But they're also deeply rooted in the agrarian and rural traditions of country people. Increasingly the world's population is becoming more and more urbanized, and we're losing our connection with nature because of these urbanized environments that we're living in, and so this disconnect is really kind of worrying for the future. If this continues, we won't have much of a planet."
Regardless of whether or not one believes in gods (I do), our modern capitalist divorce from nature and the rituals which connected us to its patterns is absolutely part of our destruction of nature. By nature I also mean humans, because as much as our societies lead us to pretend we’re somehow separate from the breathing world around us, without its breath we choke and die.
So perhaps what is needed is precisely a return to these rituals, Dionysian release from the oppression and alienation generated by our urban lives. And in the abandon and revelry of New Year’s Eve, the end of the imperial calendar year, perhaps we might remind ourselves that all human power, every authority, every oppression, and every Empire eventually ends.
Because this Empire is undoubtedly ending, crumbling around us with shocking speed. What will come from its ruins is up to us, who and what will survive its collapse is in our hands. So much focus this last year has been upon the terror, the fear, the horror, the anxiety, and the trauma of what this Empire has caused that it’s possible we might forget the beauty of what can come.
In celebrations, we can remember. In revelry and reverie we dream this new world into being. In the rituals we create now we weave together the forgotten past and our hoped-for futures.
May your own rituals manifest the world we are waiting for.
Every End is a Beginning
Speaking of endings, today marks one for me. After more than three and a half years of being editor of this site of beautiful resistance, I’ll fully turn over editorial responsibility to the brilliant woman who’s been my co-editor for the last year, Mirna Wabi-Sabi.
When Alley Valkyrie & I founded Gods&Radicals, there was an abyss between the worlds of Paganism and of Anti-Capitalist resistance in the English-speaking world. Occasionally, some reckless souls would attempt to bridge this chasm, witches who fought in the streets against globalization or anarchists who openly admitted they read Tarot and tended shrines. Their voices were strong but stifled by both sides: from the left, a euro-centric atheism that infantilized indigenous, post-colonial, and reconstructionist spiritualities as “immature” attempts at resistance; from the mainstream of Paganism, a concerted suppression of any narrative which might challenge the financial interests of the commercial witches and their vapid empires.
Less than four years later, there are now too many of us for either side to ignore. Resistance and witchcraft are no longer oxymorons but in many cases redundancies, anti-capitalism and the occult no longer strange bedfellows but amorous comrades.
Unfortunately, as with any threat to hegemonic narratives, we see efforts to close the opened breach: irrelevant leftist groups decrying spirituality as regressive or primitive, dying Pagan leaders warning that anti-capitalists are “enemies of our paths.” More concerning than either backlash, however, is the opportunistic vampirism of corporations and entrepreneurs hoping to profit from increased interest in magic. “Witch Kits” in make-up stores, smudge-sticks in hipster clothing chains, major media corporations such as Vice and Condé Nast pumping out drivel-filled stories on the new witch craze, and useless books on “resistance magic” that fail to imagine what a world might even look like without Capital and the State.
So while Gods&Radicals helped throw open the floodgates to a profound re-awakening of the power and wisdom our pre-capitalist ancestors held, others have come to channel that flood back into the mills of Empire. Were it anyone else but Mirna—my co-editor and comrade for the last year—replacing me, perhaps I might worry for the future of the movements I’ve helped mid-wife. But not only do I not worry, I’m even more optimistic about this work.
Mirna needs no one to vouch for her, but if I may borrow your attention for a few sentences to tell you why we chose her to replace me, perhaps you’ll be as optimistic as I am.
The very first encounter I had with Mirna was her telling me I was wrong. Not only did she tell me I was wrong, but she made sure I understood why I was wrong, what I had missed, what I had failed to see, and how to think about what I had said differently. That is, with the deft skill of a surgeon and the grace of a martial-arts master, Mirna dismantled my perception and re-oriented it towards a new one so effortlessly that I had no time to entrench myself in stubborness, dogma, or fear.
It’s this sort of vision that the world desperately needs, one which can understand why people come to the conclusions they do, disarm the traps that ideologies of all sorts set to keep people imprisoned, and guide them to new ways of understanding the world that not only account for but amplify the voices (human and especially other-than-human) that Capitalism tries to suffocate.
You can probably understand why I’m excited. I’m also thrilled that the site two anarchist witches from the US started will be taken over by someone living in the Global South. We committed at the beginning to ensuring that Gods&Radicals would be an international platform and break free from the Anglo-American dominance on esoteric, anarchist, and pagan writing, and Mirna has already done significant work towards that end.
Though I will continue to be part of Gods&Radicals, developing new print works and handling administrative tasks, my time as its site-editor is over. You’ll still occasionally hear from me, by the way. Stepping away as site-editor means I’ll have more time to write both here and on my own blog about the things I love, especially on gods, magic, and forests. You will also continue to hear Alley Valkyrie and I discuss occult, historical, cultural, and political topics here on our podcast, Empires Crumble.
So this is a good-bye of sorts, I guess. I’m smiling as I write this, because I’m very, very excited about what will come of this site and also the new paths I’ll get to wander.
I’d like to thank all of you—those who’ve supported me and this work since we began, those who’ve written for us, those who’ve recently come to know us, those who never really cared much for us, and even those of you who’ve actively tried to silence us. You’ve all made this resistance beautiful, and this beautiful resistance possible.
A Short List of Favorites
Continuing our yearly tradition, I’d like to give you a list of my favorite pieces from 2018, in no particular order. There are many more pieces that deserve mention, but these were my favorites.
To be given a feminized gender (like “woman” or “faggot”) means to be given feminized work: emotional, interpersonal, domestic, caregiving, and sexual. When you meet someone, they read a gender onto you. Practically speaking, that means they either expect you to take on those tasks or they expect others to take them on instead of you.
One of the reasons why I’ve always loved Sophia’s writing (and why so many thousands of people read and share Sophia’s essays) is because she’s able to explain complicated Marxist concepts in the most disarmingly simple ways. This essay is a brilliant example of this.
I want knees that stoop to touch the soil
To plant a seed,
And never know the bend of deference.
I want feet that track out lost paths through venerated groves,
Through eternal grandeur,
And never demand a neck upon which to rest.
Twm’s words feel like rain on leaves, simple, quiet, echoing a language we’ve forgotten but might be able one day to learn again.
Last night I went to the woods and found myself in the darkness.
I’ve made it my practice as editor not to admit to having favorite writers at Gods&Radicals. But since I’m not the editor tomorrow, can I tell you that Emma is one of my favorites since the day she started writing with us? Not just because of the honest, kind, and playful way that she approaches any topic she pursues, but also because each time she writes something, it’s exactly what I needed to read. This essay, in particular, which I read after hiking with my husband through a sacred Breton forest without lights to guide our path. Emma’s right—you find yourself that way.
A few months ago, we added Angie’s incredible video-series to our site. Her videos are brilliant and engaging while also being deeply accessible. In this episode, Angie dismantles the ideas of Jordan Peterson from a Jungian perspective, with attention to the way leftist theory and organizing has inadvertently created spaces for far-right ideologues to seize “ideological territory” we abandon out of fear, lazyness, or discomfort with pluralistic truths.
My great comeback was supposed to be a review of a weeklong festival. It would have been about revelry and dancing, about community and friendship. It was supposed to be a poetic ode to a population of pagans forging itself in fire, blazing new trails, carousing with the Gods in wild nature.
Instead, it’s about my own forging. It’s about how a strange feeling from a man in a rest stop marked me for a crash, about how a couple of swipes of my thumb over a talisman might have marked me not to die in it.
When I read this essay from Prosper, I couldn’t stop smiling. Not because of the horror and fear they endured in the accident they detail, but because Prosper recounts with wry wit the story every magician, every witch, every gods-bothered fool recounts to ourselves when the Other intersects our lives. Read it and I suspect you’ll recognize their story as your own, too.
It was not until two thousand years ago, when Christianity began establishing its authority, that humanity’s link with the weather-gods was severed and the widespread persecution of witches began. The demonisation and rationalistic dismissal of animistic and polytheistic worldviews laid the ground for the hegemony of modern science and new mechanistic ways of controlling the weather.
Lorna Smithers is without a doubt the most influential person on my own spiritual practices. More than any writer I’ve encountered, Lorna is able to summon from the Otherworld images and truths which our souls touch but can never grasp without help. In this series, she weaves from history and myth the tragedy of how we’ve forgotten what we once understood about weather, and how our civilization now tries to rend the skies to recover that wisdom.
I learned how to do a lot of violence, I saw many different kinds of exploitation, often time so comprehensive it took me two more decades to understand, and put it all together, and generally helped the U.S. government to spread its vision around the world. A vision that shattered on 9/11. I cringe to hear people talk of 9/11 in tones that suggest it was a simpler, kinder, more peaceful time. It wasn’t really. The world was never simple, or kind, or peaceful. These unfortunate people don’t realize that the times weren’t simpler, kinder, and more peaceful; they were.
Sometimes reading Patacelsus feels like listening to a batty old leftist professor, at other times a mischievous trickster, and sometimes like a wizard teaching you to summon aeriel servitors from economic texts. There’s always something you’re forgetting that he’s trying to show you, and by the end you remember a lot more than you actually knew in the first place.
Suddenly the crust peels back and all-women are looking into a burning pit of rage. From the troublesome memories of yesterday right back to sexual dimorphism taking away the female proto-human’s right of no, there has never been a good reason for treating one sex or some people as inherently less than the other sex or some other people. Only the ‘better’ group getting away with it is what permits it.
An elder druidess in a small town in Canada won my relentless admiration five years ago with a slender book that made me laugh myself off my bed and onto the floor (we’ll be republishing that book soon, by the way). Her essays always make me smile, letters full of wisdom so obvious we miss it until someone tells us.
“In an age where all our movements and words are tracked, and in which internet call-out culture and aggressive trolls make it difficult for any would-be dissident to express viewpoints that fall outside of party lines, it seems timely to be reminded of the poetry of Al-Andalus and in particular that of arguably its most saucey knave.”
Like drinking a good wine from a plastic cup or taking a selfie in front of Stonehenge, reading Slippery Elm’s lush, florid, and decadent prose on a screen feels cheap and quite wrong. One wants flickering light from beeswax tapers or sunlight through a dusty window to read him by. That being said, read him anyway, and try to imagine the soft scratch of ink upon parchment.
Everyone was a cancer patient and everyone was–like all those people who go to cancer hospitals, have the best care in the entire fucking world and don’t make it–going to die. This was an all-consuming thought. And really, what was the point of it all? Why had I bothered to go through all that, if it was just going to be a less intense version of that for the rest of my time alive?
This isn’t the Hallmark story of a cancer-survivor praising modern medicine’s ability to extend life. Like Barbara Ehrenreich’s account after her own cancer, Julian’s story tells a tale not of servile thanks for modern society and its medical “miracles,” but instead of how cancer made him challenge everything about civilization. This isn’t an easy piece to read, which is exactly why you should read it.
Modernity and industrialism, we believe, frees us from work but in truth, all it does is deprive our work of any meaning. There has never been a more overworked human being than the industrialized one. Work becomes labor, crushing the body and soul. The idea of the home retreats into the world of dreams, while we are bled dry to pay for the meanest and most squalid tenements. Let the home and the idea of the home become a pillar of strength. Let the home become a site of defiance, a bold denial of industrial society. Let the home be made into a bulwark against the modern world.
I can count on one hand the number of good anti-capitalist Heathen writers in the world, and that’s an utter shame. Fortunately, Ramon Elani, whose writing is sometimes like deft weaving and sometimes like a defiant fist, more than makes up for this lack. This piece, in particular, offers a beautiful example of how rich meaning can be taken back from those who would try to steal it—and the gods—from us.
These are my gods—my scorned gods, my shunned gods, my forgotten gods, gods whose continued breath pulsates in my own lungs and courses through my own veins, gods whose myths are like fires in my belly and my head.
And speaking of Heathen gods, this is probably one of my favorite pieces of 2018, which was first published in A Beautiful Resistance: The Crossing. Anything else I might say about it feels like I’d detract from its beauty. Please read it—it’s fucking gorgeous.
Be always well,
Rhyd Wildermuth is a co-founder and the publishing manager of Gods&Radicals Press. He’s also a bard, poet, and theorist. His published works are available here, and his other writing can be found on his blog, Paganarch. Along with Alley Valkyrie he co-hosts Empires Crumble and can be supported on Patreon. He currently lives in French-occupied Bretagne.