Altar for extinct species and ecological losses at Many Gods West

I will be setting up a public altar at Many Gods West this year for honoring extinct species, destroyed places, and other ecological losses.

There will be two parts to it: one small-scale Life Cairn, and a Memorial Wall where people can post writing or artwork.

The Life Cairn at this altar will differ from the original Life Cairn (see also Life Cairn on Facebook and this essay from a founder of the first one). For one, it will be small and, unfortunately, temporary. In addition, the original Life Cairns are for honoring extinct species, but for the conference, this Life Cairn can also be used to honor other ecological losses (mountaintops destroyed for coal, the forest you played in as a child that’s been turned into a housing tract, etc.). There will be stones and marking implements provided (marking the stones is not required, just an option). The materials – unfired clay and charcoal pencils – have been selected to have a low impact on the earth when the memorial is reverted to the land after the conference.

The Memorial Wall of the space will function as a place for people to leave writing, artwork, photos, etc., acknowledging losses as an alternative to – or in addition to – contributing to the Life Cairn. There will be some paper and pens/pencils provided, but people are also welcome to bring photos, drawings, or other lightweight, flat materials from home. People may reclaim what they leave here at the end of the conference (or when they need to depart); anything that is left when it is taken down will be handled in a respectful manner.

Posted in Land and Land Spirits, Pagan Community | Tagged , , , , ,

If it was a novel, it would have been foreshadowing

I know, looking back makes it easier to see the trail that got you here, but some of those bread crumbs really were much more meaningful than I assumed at the time.

1.

Four years ago, about a week before I left Boston, Odin showed up. During our first conversation, He asked me where I saw myself in five years.

“Well, Portland, I guess.”

There was no response. Okay, good enough, I guess.

More tentatively, “And – doing architecture . . . ?”

“No,” He said. “Landscape.” (This was slightly distressing to hear but not a total surprise.)

2.

I’ve often felt, cycling or walking or driving through Portland, that I was not just moving through the city, but just passing through. I’ve kind of always felt a . . . not-quite-here feeling.

I haven’t been involved in pretty much any of the social or cultural scenes here, despite having been an active volunteer with several organizations, two of them for over 3 years each. I’ve been much more interested in all the plants growing here than the people-stuff.

But, well, I was more fascinated by the gardens some people had in Boston than some of the social stuff, so that feeling of “just passing through” wasn’t anything I paid (enough) attention to.

Even after it would have made more sense to.

3.

This was blatant and clear:

Two years ago, trying to help me cope with some great distress, They said, “Think of this place as a way station.”

This was a few days after I had a visit with one of Them, associated with a place about 200 miles from here. I went there to ask for some insight into an encounter with Them/that place the previous years, which involved an utterly overwhelming sense of “welcome home” from the forest around me. “Home?” . . . I had never lived in that area, I’d maybe been there once before in my life.

So this Power explained. “It is our desire to bring you home.”

The implications that could have for some of my Portland-area relationships were devastating at the time. (Now I do not think it will be disruptive; then I was a mess.)

Shortly after the “way side” conversation, I dreamed an enormous scaled and clawed hand gently plucked the back of my shirt between claw tips, lifted me, and set me down in some other hilly foresty landscape than what I’d been scrambling over.

It was a comforting dream.

I assumed I’d have more time here; I never put Odin’s non-response into context with this until very recently.

Fool.

4.

When I lived in Boston and would come home to Oregon to visit family, I flew in to the Boise airport.

During the drive home, we’d pass through many miles of very dry, sagebrushy landscape. Some parts had awesome views of hills in the distance. I loved seeing this landscape. “It’s good to be home,” was the general sense of my feelings.

I didn’t grow up in that landscape, it was never home; I grew up surrounded by agricultural fields on former grasslands and marsh. So, a silly thought, probably just tied to “Idaho” and “en route to home in Oregon” being just as good as being home, compared to Boston.

But has “home I grew up in” felt like a place I would want to return to now? I love it so much, and I’ve asked myself that often over the last few years – no. It makes me very sad, but it doesn’t feel like my place.

5.

This one sounds really ridiculous to me but for many, many years I’ve thought of myself as “really probably a desert creature.” Because I like heat; I can adapt well to it. And I like dry heat. (I did grow up in a dry place, with hot summers and chilly nights, though I never thought of it as a desert.)

So: now I am going home. To the sagebrush and desert east of the big mountains. Close to the magnificent and heart-wrenching Ponderosa pine forests. Not quite as far as the forest that reached out to me three years ago, but – close enough, I guess? I never checked up on precisely what that Power meant by “home.” I assumed it meant “near those mountains” but . . .

Anyway. Perhaps in the future I will pay more attention to things like odd “gaps” in conversation, or weird answers, or pay more attention to odd thoughts I have about the places I am in. But sometimes I have wondered, when I’ve looked back at assumptions I never questioned – do They ever nudge me to just a tiny bit of forgetfulness, or to not caring enough to ask too many more questions, because it’s better if I don’t get a high-resolution roadmap earlier?

Posted in Communication with Spirits, Land and Land Spirits | Tagged , ,

Five years on

I saw a post recently on Tumblr in which the original poster was making an attempt to list what sorts of magic/energy work/etc. skills, techniques, etc., ought to be considered basic, intermediate, and advanced. Some of it seemed reasonable, but there was plenty there that really made no sense to me (talking to deities: on the advanced list; ummmm why? that was my first basic step, and I know that’s also true for lots of other people). I suppose there are a LOT of ways people can take their first step into witchy/pagan ventures, and thus a lot of ways to go from Beginner to Advanced, but at any rate, it got me thinking about what sort of progress I’ve made over the last five years. Because it’s been five years and change since I set out the door, literally, to try out this polytheism thing, and WELL. It’s brought a lot of other things with it.

But I can’t say I feel like I’m an advanced anything.

I feel pretty confident and comfortable with how my relationships with my Spouses are (“pretty confident” is not the same as “100%”). So there’s definitely been advancement there!

My divination skills are way better than they used to be; I’m pretty comfortable reading cards intuitively vs strictly by-the-book, though sometimes I do turn to the book when I feel stumped. I’m also comfortable just pulling cards as needed, rather than needing the structure of a spread to answer questions; lots of spirit communication happens this way – pull cards and lay them out as needed.

I’ve also started to learn Lenormand and geomancy in the last year. Those are both fun! Lenormand is something of a challenge because it isn’t supposed to be read intuitively, and memorizing the cards’ meanings, and how to relate them to each other in spreads, is kind of slow going.

I’ve never done much witchcraft or other forms of magic, so my skills there are, like, whatever. LOL. Ad hoc, and I’ve no idea how successful they’ve been (for some of the things I’ve worked on, I seemed to get results, but how can I tell if that was truly my doing).

One of my biggest frustrations has been the seeming lack of advancement of my visionary skills, or perhaps only minimal improvement. I learned real early on how to “daydream” and let that become the platform for an encounter/communication with a god/other spirit, but while that is a SUPER USEFUL technique, 99% of the time that feels less “real” and vivid than most of my regular old dreams. (Not that the encounters themselves feel unreal; they are plenty real, sometimes VERY VERY IMPACTFUL, they are just mostly in black and white, and lack some of the other details I experience in real dreams.)

Part of my frustration comes from the fact that various Powers have done things to me that apparently were supposed to improve some of my “communication” skills, but I’ve never noticed any immediate change. Perhaps it’s something that, for me, requires lots of adjustments over a long period for there to BE a noticeable difference? I should ask.

I have noticed, in the last year, an increase in the number of not-really-dreams I’ve had during my first few hours asleep in which spirits who are not Loki have been showing up and communicating/interacting with me. Is this because something about my skills have changed, or did some other barrier get shifted?

I’ve also noticed that certain dreams in the last year have been WAY more vivid in particular ways than those types of dreams ever used to be. But again, I’m not sure why.

I haven’t been putting much into trying to improve a lot of skills, either. So much of my energy has been burned up just with my (now former) job, and trying to survive, that even contemplating doing more stuff – trance techniques, whatever – felt exhausting. And, you know, what I’ve been able to do seems like it’s been plenty good for what I’ve needed to do, so I haven’t had a lot of motivation to put more effort into any of it.

A total noob I am not, but I also don’t really give a shit if I’m considered “intermediate” or “advanced” or whatever.

I’m also curious about what the next few months or year might bring. Pretty sure some of it may qualify as “advanced” or something (terrific, just what I need). Last fall, the Plant Powers, and some Others, indicated there were some fairly significant tasks and roles They’d like me to take on. Some of this stuff seems like it requires a lot more responsibility than I’ve had for the previous years. I’m sure it will be fine, I just need to figure out what it is. I love plants, so I said I would, and then – typical spirits – They basically stopped talking about it except to indicate more would come when certain other conditions were met.

Some of those conditions seemed to be related to material aspects of my life, and those have undergone some major changes, and are about to undergo more. I left my job near the end of winter, due to being super awfully burned out, and have spent the last few months recovering my physical and mental stamina and considering my next move.

I also realized about a month ago that I need to move out of this city, and NOT to another city, to a much more rural environment in Central Oregon. The landscape there has taken hold of my heart several times in the last few years, some of the spirits told me a couple years ago They wanted me “home,” and now is apparently the time. It hasn’t been an easy realization. I’ve built a life for myself here over the last four years and had hopes and expectations to continue building on some of that. I thought I’d have more years here; as much as I want to be out there, the impending change has been hard to cope with at times.

I am not going back to another fucking desk job. I cannot. (If need required it, I’d temp again, but only that.) There is work I want to do, in a place I love, and these things seem maybe kinda more-than-slightly related to Plant sorts of concerns, so I suppose I’ll get more info from Them about these tasks once I’ve made the move and gotten going with my new life.

It will also be great to be living in a place that feels good, and relaxing, in a way that I can’t find in densely-built places. I’m hoping for further recuperation, and along with that, more involvement with my spirits and the work They have in mind. Might even finally learn what They’ve been slowly working me up to!

Posted in Spirit Work | Tagged

“When They come courting” at Many Gods West

So there are some really awesome presentations and rituals planned for Many Gods West this year, again.

I’m scheduled for Sunday morning, for this one: “When They come courting: Spirit marriage and related relationships”

“A presentation on spirit marriage, godspousery, and similar relationships, in two parts. First, I will present examples of such relationships from numerous cultures past and present, drawing on myth, folklore, and contemporary traditions. Secondly, I will provide an overview of experiences of modern consorts, lovers, and spouses of gods and other spirits, focusing primarily on relationships with gods, as those typically get the most attention and draw the most controversy. In this part I will also debunk some misconceptions, discuss struggles people have in those relationships, including problems within the pagan community, and address cultural biases contributing to the problems.”

I am planning on publishing some notes/sources/etc. here after the conference, because I’ve found A LOT MORE stuff in books than I can possibly get into during the presentation (and more than I’m even going to have time to read up on by August), and because I want the information to be available more than just that one time.

So that’s a thing that’s happening.

I’ve done public speaking and presentations before in a variety of contexts, but I’m way more nervous about this one than anything else; I’ve never talked publicly about anything as personal as this – not mentioned in my brief summary is that I am going to talk a bit about my own personal background and experience, to give some context for my perspectives (and what limitations that puts on my perspective). So. That’s. Um. Yeah. Exciting.

Posted in Spirit marriage | Tagged , , | 5 Comments

Advancement (or something) means a new discomfort zone

For the past few years I’ve been eager, and anxious, and impatient to see some kind of “progress” with different aspects of my spiritual path. Maybe I should say “paths,” plural, because I don’t know if the various “roles” I seem to be filling/learning about/whatever, I don’t know, it’s a mystery are really all part of one big thing, or if they truly are separate things related to separate parts of my life, or separate “groups” of spirits.

Periodically there have been big bursts of Stuff happening that seem like more information about what it is, but not so much about what I should be doing . . . When I’ve gone to divination to get more insight, I have usually gotten some, but almost always it comes with a message or two that says “more will be revealed” and “just wait” and “that’s all for now.”

I don’t do real well with that kind of thing, but I have gotten used to it. Another thing I’ve finally gotten used to – though it’s taken a couple years! – has been how the gods (and other spirits) have indicated They prefer a pretty casual, informal way of relating. No need for big rituals . . . or any rituals . . . no, don’t bother making an offering, I’m just here to give you some advice!

Since earlier this year, when some career-shaped things did not go as I believed they would, I’ve found myself unwilling to ask seriously about timelines any more, at least on that topic. Since starting a permaculture course, I have regained some hope things will work out, and might even work out in the next year, but I can’t bring myself to throw runes or ask for a sign.

Progress in understanding most of the separate paths/roles I’ve been working on has been so slow and sporadic over the past years that I think I’d maybe expected that to keep on being the way of things.

But suddenly, it is not, at least with one category of spiritual stuff: the plant stuff. Or at least some of the plant stuff; I am not sure there is just one “plant stuff” category, but I am also not sure there’s more than one, either.

I had a totally unexpected, and extremely strong, healing interaction with a plant at the beginning of the month, which came just a couple days after realizing there is something pretty major I need to do related to plants. And I’ve started it, but it’s not ready for public announcement yet, though I am SO EXCITED I WANT TO TALK ABOUT IT BECAUSE IT’S SO GREAT. But it’s not ready.

And so this was/is a big thing! And I expected to be talking to TPTB more about it! Because They are totally into me doing the thing!

And so I was not expecting Them to bring up some other big things on top of that!!

YAY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! *panic*

Yeah, Plantkind wants more from me than “just” the not-ready-for-announcement thing.

I was already struggling a little with my role in dealing with “secret” project, because uhhhh it involves other people, too, right? And um. Yeah. Community stuff + me = hahaha You’re kidding right? Wrong.

Now They’ve indicated other things They want from me, and I /love/ plants and I want them (and Them) to be /happy/ and well-treated and and AAAAAAAAAA but but why do You have to use that term to categorize it? I don’t know that I’ve ever wanted to be considered a “priestess,” but. That’s the word that came up.

Here are some of my struggles with the term: kinda maybe probably implies some more public stuff than I am used to and/or comfortable with. I’ve got 4.5 years of dealing-with-spirits experience, virtually none of it in any kind of human community-facing way. Who the hell am I to do that? (Obvious answer: I’m who They asked. *facepalm*) I don’t know how much actual public work there will be but there’s one of my fears.

It also just doesn’t fit well with my own self-image, my own thoughts about who I am and what it is that I do. I suspect some of this is lingering atheist baggage, but it’s also about the patterns of my spiritual life so far, too, and the expectations I’d created about that pattern continuing. (I see you out there, shaking your head, “Oh, you should not have expectations like that.” I know. And yet.)

And and and it seems probably more formal, at least some of the time, than what I’d (finally) gotten used to as The Way Things Are. (So I am mildly outraged; some of Them made such a point of encouraging “informal,” and now we’re going to this?!)

Then there’s some weird mystical emotional aspects to it. I have some intense relationships with some individual gods and other spirits. I also have some similarly intense feelings towards the land, but it’s only reciprocated via individual trees and other spirits that inhabit rocks and things, not “the land” as a whole (or even in part).

I have a similar kind of “big picture” love for the plants, and it’s most similar to my love for the land in not being about individuals but an entire collective. I have some relationships with individual plant Powers, but They aren’t the ones talking to me about these exciting new jobs-and-projects; I’m being approached by “collectives,” for the most part. (Which seems appropriate, given how plants grow and exist.)

It’s weird having really strong mystical feelings for things-that-aren’t-individuals – and it’s different in getting that reciprocated in various ways. It’s not like my spirit-marriages, but it’s still affection and “We will help you, too!” and kiiiiinda feels kindasorta similar to the marriages in some ways? because I feel like I’m getting swept up in, or am on the verge of getting swept up in, and subsumed in, Intense Mystical Feelings and “of /course/ I want to be with You,” and this time that’s /weird/ because I’m not interacting with a single individual. Or even 2 or 3 different individuals.

I’ve always found it kind of terrifying feeling myself on the verge of giving in to whatever, wherever, those feelings take me, but at least in the past, it was with Powers with, er, individual personalities and “faces” and I had some sense of Who They are. I love plants, but the individual plant Powers I’ve interacted with have tended to feel weird and alien in ways that most of the gods don’t (and They may be arguably “alien” in ways the plants are not! the plants don’t always seem as interested in putting on a human “mask” as gods tend to be).

I’ve had some lengthy, stressy dreams about some of this, too, that tell me part of me is really distressed about taking on responsibility. I imagine this fear will fade once I actually figure out how to do some of the “job duties” They told me They want, though I’ll probably be grappling to accept the job title for a while longer.

These things aren’t 100% surprises. There have been hints going back 3+ years, some more blatant than others, and some of the plant stuff has definitely intensified in the last 12-14 months (I got really into orchids starting about a year ago? and I know the Plants are behind that somehow but I’m not sure why). I can understand why They wouldn’t have told me sooner any specifics: I was definitely not up for human-community stuff until late this summer, and I’ve said many times I didn’t really want a major community kind of role and would in fact FIGHT EVERYONE if They said that’s what They wanted. But, well, here I am, not fighting, just mildly despairing of being capable.

But hey, They seem cool with that; They told me through divination that I’d experience problems and set backs (not quite “you’re gonna fuck up” but I figure that’s part of the message) and it would be okay.

I know there’s more to come, and I have such mixed feelings about it. Need to know more to do things as best I can; am afraid there’s gonna be another “big” reveal.

I know I’ll calm down some once I have real understanding of how this is all going to work out in practice, but I don’t have that yet, so I get to chew on it all anxiously for a while longer.

I’ve read many warnings about how you shouldn’t ask TPTB “when is this stuff going to HAPPEN??” because that might encourage Them to throw you in the deep end, but, well, I’ve steadily ignored all those warnings, and despite feeling angst about having some Stuff Happening (FINALLY), I will undoubtedly continue to ignore those warnings. I’d rather know, and have things to do, than feel vaguely, comfortably lost.

Anyway. Here’s a picture of some of my orchids; the bloom in front is from the orchid that kind got me understanding I have an orchid thing, though it’s not my first orchid:

Orchids

Foreground: Phalaenopsis flower; background: Dendrobiums (one in bloom), oncidium hybrid, and another phal.

Posted in Plant Priestessing | Tagged , , ,

Community and (my) polytheism

I am very much an introvert. I love – and need – long stretches of time alone where I cannot be forced into interaction with other human beings on their terms. I don’t have any human roommates, and it’s great.

I also really wish I had a community of some kind to be involved in – ideally, it would be one in which I could be open about my spiritual life, and occasionally do group rituals or celebrations.

My workplace isn’t going to provide that; I haven’t done much in the way of trying to make friends with coworkers, partly because I’ve intended to never be here long and partly because this place is not one I really care about; I’m not particularly emotionally invested in the company. The organizations I do volunteer work with don’t really provide community, either – with one, the work I do is completely by myself, and I only see the other volunteers once or twice a year at get-togethers. With the other, the physical space where I do most of my tasks is slightly isolated from other people, and, being not prone to striking up conversation with others, I’ve failed hard for three years to get to know the other people there very well.

I get a lot out of contributing to organizations whose goals/mission/whatever I value, but it’s been a really long time since I had the opportunity to put a lot of energy into such a group AND for that group to also provide some meaningful social support for me, too. The last such group I was part of was before I became a polytheist, and a lot of that experience left me feeling really, really, like 5,000%, burnt out on even wanting to have anything to do with “community” or helping create/sustain it. (I’m feeling better now, maybe only 45% burnt out!)

When I became a polytheist, I was fortunate in that I lived close enough to a group of people who worshiped the gods I was drawn to, and I was able to participate in some rituals they did, and talk to people – and get advice from them! – who wouldn’t think I was delusional. It was incredibly beneficial. However, during those early months it also became undeniably clear that I had to move back to Oregon, where I had no social network other than my parents, and I wasn’t going to move back to my (small, rural) hometown anyway.

That was three and a half years ago, and it’s only been within the last 14 or so months that I feel I finally have something like offline community with others of similar spiritual bent.

This city has a very large pagan population, and I’ve been to some of the big weekend-long events here as well as taken some very “woo” herbalism classes. It has been worthwhile, and I particularly enjoyed the plant classes, since we were doing ritual work as part of getting to know the plants. I’d never done that kind of group work, or that kind of ritual, and it was really wonderful to be in a group of people doing that. However, as much as I really hoped that might turn out to be “my” community (or a part of it), it never felt quite right, and so at this point, I’m continuing my plant work on my own.

The other pagan events also have felt like not-quite-mine, although over the years, I’ve noticed some of the same people at those events showing up at some very clearly polytheist events; the paradigm a lot of those folks are working in (witchcraft traditions, many of them) is not quite mine, but at least some of those folks are people I can talk to about gods and spirits, as real beings, and know we have some similar experiences.

I’ve also attended several of the rituals the local ADF grove does. They’re well-done, and at two of their rituals, they honor Norse gods, including Loki, which is fantastic! I’m really glad they exist, I like what they’re doing and the social aspect is nice, but I have to line up a car to get there and the structure is also . . . just not my thing.

Meanwhile, I have always had some level of online community. It’s how I’ve found literally every offline group I’ve checked out, how I first got to know local people who are now friends, and a place I can always go to talk about my spiritual life and get support. It does not provide me those vital kinds of connection that I can only get in face-to-face conversation, but it’s been absolutely invaluable, especially when I’m too tired or depressed to even contemplate attempting to leave the house for any in-person anything.

I appreciate very much the effort that people put in to organizing regular offline religious community and all the associated projects that can go with that. I know how difficult it can be to just get a group of people to get together to talk over tea!

I also share the concern in the wider polytheist community to see traditions become more fully developed, grounded in physical place, passed on to others, and generally more a fabric of society. I have a hard time imagining what that would be like, but it sounds really wonderful, and I’m glad there are people making it happen.

I’ve also seen people spend huge amounts of time and effort into creating online community: educating co-religionists, sharing celebrations, handling conflicts, and supporting each other, and I’m pretty blown away by that, too.

Creating healthy communities is hard and valuable work, regardless of where it’s happening.

I personally, selfishly, want more community in which we all have enough in common, religiously/spiritually, to do some stuff together, and so I’ve periodically put out feelers towards my gods, to see if maybe this time, this spiritual group is one I should get more involved with, to learn more from, to develop as an additional path of spiritual development, but the answer has always come back as no. No, I have to do what I’m doing (whatever the heck that is) pretty much on my own. I can take classes here and there, but no, not that tradition, and not that one, either. (And to some degree, I get it – my personal relationships with spirits have to be done with me and Them and that’s it, it can’t/shouldn’t be a human-community project – but gods . . . having structure presented by other human beings? Who are doing the same things within that structure?! . . . I want it, and for reasons that would turn into too much of a digression here.)

Someday, I’d really love to have other people to do some level of in-person group worship with, but I don’t know that I also need my religious community to provide me other things such community often does – like volunteer opportunities, ’cause I’ve got that sorted.

I’ve sometimes wished I could do more community building on my own, but I don’t have the best set of skills for it, and I’ve also had to be very careful with my energy for the last couple years, due to being burnt out by previous “community,” and dealing with internal crap that’s left me with little for anything beyond necessities, so I haven’t made much effort to get together with the other local Lokeans (there are several other Lokeans here!! !!!!!) or other polytheists more, but I feel like I’ve gotten enough energy back (finally!) that maaaybe I can get more involved in what’s already here (like the “Portland Polytheists” group) and see how that goes.

In the meantime, I am grateful for the communities I have that are sustained by this series of tubes, and I’m particularly glad for some of the more recent additions to that (like G&R, and, more recently, the “My Polytheism” thing), since it’s brought me into more/deeper contact with people who have really interesting things to say, some of which are similar to some of my things, yay!, and one of the most valuable things about community is, after all, feeling that there are others with whom you belong.

Posted in Pagan Community | Tagged , ,

Authoritarianism, leadership, hierarchy, etc.

This may be kind of a jumbled post; I’ve been thinking about writing about some of this stuff for several months now, off and on, but I’ve just never quite felt motivated to get to it. (I don’t really enjoy writing “serious” posts, see, and there’s always been something more interesting to distract myself with.)

So anyway!

I’ve seen some really interesting writing this past year or more about authoritarianism and hierarchy and leadership, some of it coming from polytheists, and some of it not, and since I think this is a really vitally important topic, I want to encourage people to read it.

From the polytheist section:

A Conversation on Power and Authority in Polytheism starts with this:

We (meaning western polytheists, and still I resist the idea that there is a big We – we are too small and too diverse) have an opportunity. If we really do want to bring polytheism back (the Gods never left), and grow the polytheist community, (which I take to actually mean grow the religious movement of polytheism in the West), we have the opportunity to do that from the roots.

Now is our chance to do our best to root out totalitarianism, Authority and power over, and oppression. To really examine what it is we want, who we want to be, and how we want to build the community.

and expands on that, touching on topics like structure and community-building.

I’ve seen multiple posts on Magick from Scratch over the past couple years that talk about the importance of consent in human-divine relationships (as an alternative to the “but you must not tell a deity ‘no’!” notion that some people promote). Here is one of them.

On the not-polytheistic side, The rise of American authoritarianism is something I consider a must-read, as the general topic of “authoritarianism” is something that is not limited to the United States or to the impact on partisan politics (the article talks a lot about “why do so many people find Donald Trump appealing” but it’s a much, much bigger thing than just this current presidential election).

Authoritarians prioritize social order and hierarchies, which bring a sense of control to a chaotic world. Challenges to that order — diversity, influx of outsiders, breakdown of the old order — are experienced as personally threatening because they risk upending the status quo order they equate with basic security.

I also strongly encourage reading Bob Altemeyer’s work on authoritarianism; it’s a good complement to the Vox piece. It was written during the Bush years; he’s also got some later writing discussing the Tea Party. Altemeyer discusses the differences between “authoritarian followers” and “authoritarian leaders,” which the Vox piece does not talk about; the Vox piece, however, talks about people can go from a “latent authoritarian” (someone who doesn’t seem to have an authoritarian stance) to actively being one, which I don’t recall Altemeyer discussing (but it’s been several years since I read Altemeyer’s work, and I might simply be forgetting). It’s really interesting and an engaging read and I cannot recommend it highly enough. It’s free! It’s online!! (I may reread it at work myself . . . I’ll likely have ample downtime to fit it in.)

Authoritarian tendencies, or oppressive tendencies by any other name, that rely on having power over others are tendencies I am really not a fan of. It’s not, however, that I am fundamentally opposed to hierarchies – people who are in subordinate positions are not necessarily going to be abused, any more then people in groups with “no hierarchy” are going to be free from being abused by others in the group (see: “The Tyranny of Structurelessness“).

I was once an officer in the Air Force. I was treated much more respectfully and collegially by my senior officers than I have been treated in volunteer-run organizations where supposedly there wasn’t much hierarchy at all (ditto my post-military work; I’ve had more jerkass “I’m senior therefore” bullshit to deal with in civilian jobs than I did in the military). I know other people have had horrible experiences in the military, so I know mine isn’t, unfortunately, a universal experience, because some people will take an “official” position as license to mistreat other people.

One of the few things I remember from some of the leadership training I got, however, was being told that one of your duties as a leader is to take care of your people. As an officer, you’d have access to things your subordinates might not (rank, even very junior officer rank, has its privileges), and you’d be responsible for writing up annual performance assessments that affect things like promotions, and so it’s important to make sure they get what they need to do their jobs well and be happy and thus the whole unit does well. You have responsibilities to the people who report to you, in part because – in the military – you very literally have power over them. So I have little patience for leaders who don’t even have that fucking basic down.

I also think that authoritarian/power-over dynamics are the fundamental problem we need to address to create a healthier world. Capitalism is terrible, sure, but it’s just one expression of those dynamics. Civilizations have fucked themselves over ecologically well before capitalism gave us another nifty justification for overusing water/land/trees/whathaveyou, and people have found reasons to justify oppressing “other” people, and getting wealthy off of it, before this free market bullshit came around. (Is it inaccurate to conflate capitalism and the free market? I’ve lost track, and at this point in this post I don’t care.) Capitalism is really effective at rolling all that up greed and oppression into one mess and calling it progress, but the basic problematic concepts predate the economic system. So, you know, I’m a fan of replacing capitalism with more horizontally-structured ways of doing business, kill two birds with one stone, so to speak. Replace with what?? Well, like finding more and more ways to recreate various commons. If you want more on commons, hit up the search bar on resilience.org. LOTS of readings about commons and cooperatives and so on and so forth. Also here’s a podcast.

(Another thing I have little patience for: “But whatever will we do without capitalism? What is the alternative? What will this great capitalism-free future look like??” I don’t know, buddy, the future’s really unclear, we’ve never been exactly here before what with the global environmental catastrophes and all, but let’s look at other ways we do things that are NOT capitalistic and also maybe, just maybe, consider the principles we want to recreate, like non-coercive, non-abusive, non-exploitative ways of doing things, and see what happens when we put that into action – and check in and see if what’s being created really does match those values! – instead of sitting around hand-wringing about the supposed lack of “alternatives.”)

Posted in Miscellaneous crap, ranting | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment