Webs, Not Pyramids

Earlier this month, our esteemed publisher, Jamie Morgan, invited us to write about the current political situation, and our reactions to it. I appreciated this, as the current situation of the United States is abhorrent to me, and keeping my reactions to it productive (if not positive) is taking up a great deal of my time and concentration. It’s taken me all month to come up with something vaguely coherent for you.

Problem is, I haven’t been sure what to write. It’s not that I don’t have a reaction to the rising tide of racism and authoritarianism in the nation around me, it’s that I have too many reactions. Rage, horror, dread, disgust… Every time I turn on the TV or the computer, there’s a fresh outrage. Being awake and aware these days is like channel surfing an endless variety of cultural sewage.

I hate that we’ve elected a spray-tanned shitgibbon to the highest office in the land. I hate that said shitgibbon surrounded himself with faux-populist, racist fascists. I hate that the kleptocrats and oligarchs feel safe in looting the civic till with the barest of disguises, and no shame at all.

Picture from Chuck Tingle, or whoever does his photoshop.

Worse, if I’m reading the signs correctly, the shitgibbon is nearing the end of his usefulness to his capitalist masters, and conservative Christian war-hawks are maneuvering to take his place.

But the question relevant to this blog is, how to respond to all this as a worshiper of old gods, ancestors, and the land?

Elseweb, I hear a few people framing this as the actions of some evil god, or that the alt-right, fascist folks are working to awaken one. I’m not sure how I feel about that, especially since such folks are pretty vague about the identity of said god. For the most part, it feels like folks adopting a pulp fiction narrative so as to give their anger and fear (and magic) a target to focus on.

I can see some utility to this stance. Lack of focus leads to inaction, it exacerbates the feeling of being helpless before an amorphous threat. Also, to a certain subset of the Pagan community (myself included), engaging the myth of magical war against an ancient evil is very seductive. I see two problems with it, however:

First, I’m concerned that approaching the problem this way is a kind of spiritual bypass. It’s too easy to become fascinated by the cosmic conflict, and lose sight of the good that can be done on the ground, right in front of us. There will always be people who feel that lighting a candle and visualizing the fall of an enemy is enough, who then go about their days as normal, without changing a thing. Let’s not encourage them.

Second, it might actually strengthen the mythic mystique that fuels fascist fervor. Their myth, whether they think about it magically or not, is one of a rising spirit of strength and pride uniting them against their enemies. Taking on the role of the other side in this plays into that myth, and worse, strengthens in ourselves the kind of good vs. evil thinking that is at the core many forms of oppression.

I’m not at all advocating an “ignore it and it will go away” stance–my own history has taught me that bullies don’t stop when you ignore them, they just bully harder and take advantage of the opportunity for a sucker punch.

I’m also not saying that there isn’t some kind of spiritual force at work here. Maybe it’s an old god, maybe not. It could just be the aggregate of all the fear and hate being focused through fascist symbols and slogans, accidental theurgy creating a spiritual Frankenstien’s monster. It just doesn’t seem like a clear target, and scattered, mis-aimed action diffuses energy, leading to people exhausted from chasing shadows.

What I am saying (I do have a point here) is that we can and should use our magic, our ritual, and our religion to build up what we need. Rather than lobbing fireballs at a dragon that may or may not be there, we can build relationships with gods and spirits that strengthen our position, that help us build places of strength and safety by combining our actions in the mythic with our actions here and now.

We have many gods, many spirits. We connect to them through our rituals, our magic. So let’s do that, each of us with those gods we are closest to. Let’s reach out to others who have relationships with the same powers, and come together. Build our temples and our circles, to make strong bases to stand on. From there, let’s reach out to each other. Let’s forge alliances among our gods (like they’re not doing that already…), and reflect that amongst ourselves.

Dream the dream, then live so as to make it real.

Alliances, not homogeneity. That’s the secret, you see. The secret that the whole good vs. evil thing exists to hide: there aren’t just two sides–there are so, so many. Those who fear diversity, difference, who fear not having the largest share, they work to hide their own differences. They struggle to make themselves the same as each other, spinning myths of purity as strength and the Other as the Enemy.

That’s not us. We’re strange and different. We take pride in our weirdness. Our strength is our diversity, not our sameness. It’s a different kind of strength, yes–it’s the strength of resilience, of adaptation, of resourcefulness. Theirs is the strength of inflexibility, of brute force…

And there I go, back to the myth of the two sides. Our and Their, us and them. It’s insidious. See why I worry that engaging with it can be a trap? But here’s the key to that: they aren’t a They, they’re just a they. They aren’t The Nazis, they’re the white supremacists, right-libertarian populists, Christian conservatives, middle class white folks who fear falling down the ladder…

We have to maintain our awareness of the diversity that underlies unity, not only so we don’t lose ourselves, but so we can find them.

I don’t mean that in a “we have to save the poor fascists, heal them so they don’t hate anymore” way. It goes back to that point above about clear targets. Sure, love-and-light can be an effective tactic to take with some, but just as there’s no one Us or one Them, there’s no one tactic that works on all those who would build their dream by crushing the dreams of others. Some Nazis just need punching.

That’s why we need healers as well as warriors, hearth-keepers as well as explorers. That’s why we need our differences, and why we need leaders who inspire, but cannot have leaders who command. Webs, not pyramids, yeah?

About the Author

Lon Sarver is a Dionysian priest in the San Francisco Bay Area. He's been at this for 28 years, more or less, in the Midwest and California Pagan and Polytheist communities and is still functionally sane, or at least puts up a good front. Lon leads a devotional group, Thiasos Bakkheios, in monthly rites to Dionysos and annual public rituals at Pantheacon. He edits fiction and provides disability care for his paying gigs. His cat approves of his blogging activities, as it gives her more opportunities to climb up onto his shoulders as he tries to type.

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