Power. Is there any substance more glorious, more addictive, more potent in this universe? People seek power, they hold on to it, they fight for it, they kill for it. Those who have it embrace it. Those who don’t have it, hate those who do.
What a difference a year can make.
Nothing happens in a vacuum. There’s always some event that triggers another event. Around a year ago, there was something called the Pantheon Foundation. I think it might still be around, but you don’t hear much about it. It was started by a guy named Sam Webster, with one singular vision. A united, controlled, funded Paganism that would take all the disparate groups under that umbrella and unite them into a social and political force, much like the Black, Hispanic, and GLBT communities have done over there years.
It was an attractive idea. Paganism’s growth has in the past been heavily restricted by lack of centralized power and funding. We’ve had some issues with people advocating/practicing pedophilia, to hear a lot of people talk we’ve got problems with racism, and other issues that a centralized “governing” body could deal with more effectively. This funding and centralization would allow us to push the legal battles for our rights more effectively. Political and capitalistic power could be ours, the same way it is for other, unified, minority groups.
I’m sure a lot of people reading that thinks it sounds pretty good. And really, in a lot of ways, it is. There are some draw backs though. Paganism isn’t like other minority groups, there’s tons of different paths with their own traditions and trying to streamline and unify paganism would destroy most of those paths in the process. It also runs counter to what Paganism has been evolving into. Instead of unifying under our “umbrella” into one religion, Paganism has in fact been splitting off into dozens of religions, each growing their own organizations.
So in a lot of ways, Webster’s idea is going to come about…but not for “Paganism.”
Now, if you’re like me, most of you may not have heard about Webster or the Pantheon Foundation. I only found out about it because some people pointed me to an article. The when the Pantheon Foundation was moving towards its goal in 2015, a number of people started to speak against it because it was basically an authoritarian, political movement determined to enforce its will upon all of Paganism in such a way that a number of Pagan Religions probably would have been heavily wrecked if not outright destroyed.
If you’re thinking to yourself, “Hey, that sounds familiar,” then you get a cookie. Because it is mostly the same thing that Gods & Radicals attempted to spark off with “Confronting the New Right,” written by Rhyd himself. Here’s the thing though, one of the people who stridently stood against Webster and his vision was Rhyd himself. But I think, ultimately…there became an issue. (Sorry for the long quote, but you’ll see why).
I could almost advocate for his vision of a future better than he can.
Last year, a Pagan leader named Kenny Klein was arrested for possession of child pornography; after his arrest, the internet flooded with accounts of people who’d endure abuse by him, and one was left to wonder why no-one had acted before. With a grand Pagan council, perhaps he would have been stopped earlier.
Multiple witches have been shown to have plagiarized other sources, selling spiritual knowledge as completely their own. If you count up the number of years certain Brand-Named Pagans claim to have studied under mysterious teachers, you find a lot of people who apparently initiated at 6 years of age. And speaking of early initiations, there’s the Frosts, who advocate sexual initiation of underage children. A television ‘warlock’ outed several critics as witches and publicly wished one victim to think about him while she’s raped, and yet he hosts large festivals and gets no censure from those invited to reap profit with him. With a certification body and a reporting structure, we could force people to speak the truth about themselves and chasten those who advocate abuse of children or the vulnerable in the name of profit.
Fuck. With a legislative body, we could make rules on who gets to call themselves a Pagan! No more Atheo-Pagans or Christo-Pagans or Naturalist-Polytheists. We could have rules people have to obey about claiming Wiccan identification, or Feri/Faery, or perhaps an entire testing apparatus to verify someone who claims to be married to Loki or have a direct line to Dionysos isn’t just writing masturbatory fan-fic. No more racialist Heathens or fluffy-bunny woo-witches; no more Otherkin or Otherfaith or Other-anything except what we name as true and accepted.
It’s almost glorious how much power we could wield thereafter. Imagine–with the coin we could have our own political parties, our own institutions, our own networks. More festivals, more conventions and conferences. More Pagan academics, perhaps our own media outlets, maybe our own political party and candidates. Blessed by our certainty of truth, we could fight the behemoth golems of Corporations, wage war on the polluters, support impoverished and oppressed communities like the Yezidis rather than urging military intervention and I’d never again be accused by a friend of supporting genocide.
We could have a brave new powerful Pagan future, and his work would succeed where all our other efforts have failed.
But the waves of Llyn Dinas are lapping through my boots, and I felt like Galadriel giving Frodo back the ring.
Power is seductive.
Power ever seeks an expression.
Power will not be denied.
I didn’t know Rhyd back then (arguably, not sure I “know” him now), but if you go read the article that quote is from, and then you read any of his latest stuff, there’s an interesting transformation. Back in late 2014/2015 Rhyd seemed more…innocent, kinder, softer. He was a young man, eager to get along, filled with dreams of what the future could be even as he fought against the evils he saw in the world. Compare it to 2016 now where he sounds more like a zealot, eager to purge evil wherever he finds it.
In a way, he was right to use the image of Galadriel and the Ring. But what he failed to mention then, perhaps even failed to realize, was that no one may touch the Ring and walk away uncorrupted. Galadriel handed back the Ring, it is true, but both books and movies note that she was diminished, tainted in some ways, by having had it at all. But I think in another way, he was wrong to use the image of Galadriel and the Ring. Looking over all Rhyd has built, with Gods & Radicals, Many Gods West, his ties with the Wild Hunt, Patheos, and via his writers, many, many other organization world wide, I think there is another person from the Lord of the Rings whom Rhyd fits much better.
People must rule themselves; there’s no other way. We cannot hope for benevolent dictators or kind benefactors to end our suffering and fractiousness and abuse. No great ruler will make racism go away, no brilliant queen will re-grow the forests.
We beg the government to give us recognition, to restrain the police they hire to kill us, to protect our sexual preferences and drinking water and children from the very same abusers who bankroll their political campaigns. The answer isn’t the coin, it’s the fucking soul, the reclaiming of our sovereignty not just as will-to-power but responsibility-to-love.
Paganism isn’t a religion; it’s a collection of religious stances who all find succor and joy in each other’s presence, some recognition in the others who claim the word a shared understanding. I worship really-existing gods, and some of those dwell in trees that are dying to make way for our cars. I revere the dead, and many more will die at the hands of police or soldiers or polluters before I join them. An atheo- or Christo- or Neo- Pagan can see the same thing as a polytheist or a witch–choking oceans, bitter air, murdered Black folk and caged immigrants and starving children.
It’s around such a center we cling. We need no Authority to lead us, only a myriad of sovereign souls favoring love over profit, truth over fame, and revolution over the security of a gated plantation.” – Rhyd, Percival, 2015
Paganism in general—and apparently Devotional and Reconstructionist Polytheism in particular—have been long overdue for a reckoning. How do we differentiate our own practices and beliefs from someone whose identical practises and beliefs actually lead them to advocate for racial purity or separtism, the primacy of European gods, eugenics to prevent the birth of disabled people, and even human sacrifice? What is really the difference between the Fascism of Augustus Sol Invictus, or New Right ideology of Stephen McNallen and Alain de Benoist, and the rest of polytheist belief?” – Rhyd, An Uncomfortable Mirror, 2016
Boromir too, had the ring for a moment. Boromir too, returned the ring to Frodo. But Boromir was consumed by the thought of using the Ring’s power to save his people. That, even knowing the tool was evil, he believed he could master it and use its great power for good.
Ultimately, while fighting Webster’s vision, Rhyd has in many ways completed that vision. But where as Webster was intent to use capitalism, Rhyd desires to use Marxism. Where Webster wanted to work within the existing system, Rhyd desires to completely destroy the existing system and create a new one in his image. Both though, ultimately, seek to prune and shape and solidify “Paganism” into they way they think it needs to be. The power to cleanse, the power to preserve their vision of what Paganism should be.
He rejected the Ring, only to form his own.
The truth is…it’s an attractive prospect.
During the fight with Halstead, I did have the idea of putting together a website with a bunch of writers. Patheos, Wild Hunt, Gods & Radicals, all have a seriously hard “Progressive” bend to them. There was virtually no space for Classical Liberal, Libertarian, or even Conservative Pagans/Heathens out there. There also wasn’t really a place for devotional polytheists (who tend to fall more into those categories than Progressive). Ultimately, a site did form (I wasn’t a part of it, never got an invite to join it, lol) and so I sat back, gave it a passing nod, and went back to my life. Halstead had been driven off, the movement to push out polytheists seemed fairly well defeated, and like Cincinnatus, I retired to my “farm.”
Then Gods & Radicals broadsided everyone. Guns blazing with “anti-fascist” furor, they launched out a wave of accusations, lines in stone, and a battle cry that anyone who didn’t “purge” as they suggested was guilty of supporting fascism. Rhyd popped up on Patheos. The connections spread wide, linking every major pagan website collective and some of the conventions. It was like watching the start of #GamerGate all over again, where each new day brought fresh tales of journalistic corruption, and threads linking threads showing ultimately not the corruption of individual journalists, but an entire culturally Marxist movement intent on enforcing it’s ideas on everyone and purging the “wrong think.” Only where the gamer’s protesting were called Sexists, we Pagans were labeled Fascists. The buzz words were different, but the intent was the same. Destroy the existing culture of a group in favor of replacing it with a Marxist culture held by those in the places of power.
And I’ll be honest, the idea of gathering together a bunch of Pagans of like mind with me is…attractive. To provide a unified focused effort against the Marxists who have decided that the time has come to unify Paganism into another tool in their box with which to build their “glorious, egalitarian future” and with which to “destroy oppressive systems and hierarchies.”
We’re all staring into the abyss.
And the truth is, I know who I am in the Abyss. I’ve constantly stared into it for over a decade and a half. Heck, that’s what drew Hel to me in the first place. I know that deep down in the darkness, I am not Cincinatus.
I am Sulla.
I would march on Rome and take ultimate power, purge those who would destroy the sacred traditions. I would violate and destroy everything against my chosen theology in order to preserve the sanctity of that theology. Ultimately I know I’m not that much different than Webster or Rhyd. I too, hunger for the power to reshape the world in my desired image.
Some of you may be wondering why I’m saying all of this, rather than doing it. Hela’s grace, even Bellona is wondering why I am not going full Lucius Sulla, gathering up everyone I can, and storming the hallowed halls of Paganism, and proscribing everyone from Rhyd and Webster on down. In a lot of ways…I’m wondering it too.
But I suppose that the thing holding me back is the same thing that would drive me to do it. Faith.
I have faith that the Gods of the various Pantheons have plans for their people. I have faith, just by looking at how Paganism is growing, that there is no need for a “unified Paganism” simply because enough paths out there are growing large enough where they can stand up for themselves rather than collectively.
In a lot of ways, Webster wanted to gather Pagans together like the LGBT community gathered together. But if you kept up with such things, the LGBT communities have all grown large enough that they can start to function independently of each other and no longer want to work together. (The trans are turning on the lesbians for being “TERFS”, the Lesbians are turning on the Gays for being Men, all three hate the Bi’s for “not picking a side,” and the Gays are turning on the Trans for being totalitarian assholes with a habit of convincing young gay men they’re in fact trans).
The truth is the Wiccans, the Heathens, the Cultus, the Druids, and every other path out there are growing rapidly. The AFA has already achieved the purchase and building of their first Hof. The Troth, apparently, might not be far behind if they chose to focus on that rather than going to conventions. From my facebook groups (which seems to be the primary activity area of the Cultus) the Cultus Deorum is growing rapidly, and with the framework of ancient Rome there’s already been pushes to form their own “Roman Nation” on both a political level, and as the idea of “settlements” and I suspect given another decade at present rates you could start to see Cultus Temples and even towns being build (or at least public shrines). And these are just the groups I know of.
Soon, things like Many Gods West, Patheos, and so forth will be relics of the Past. A Past where numbers were so small for individual groups that they had to come together. But taking the AFA as an example again, once you reach a certain point of population, you do not have to interact with other groups or even pay attention to those other groups’ dictations about what they find offensive in your practice. If they haven’t already achieved it, the AFA is on the cusp of that moment. Other Pagan Religions are rapidly moving to the same. As numbers grow, theologies become more concrete (thanks largely to the growth of devotional polytheists), and groups can “self preference,” you’ll likely see the death of the “Umbrella” that is Paganism.
And I think, ultimately, that’s part of both why I am not going full Sulla, and why Rhyd and G&R decided to do what they did now. I don’t think I’m the only one who sees what’s coming. I don’t think I’m the only one who sees where the natural evolution is taking us. And I don’t think I’m the only one who sees which paths are naturally going to succeed, and which will not succeed if they do not use force to propagate themselves.
Ultimately, I think what happened with Halstead was a test. Halstead is tied in real tight with Rhyd and G&R it seems. But was the test by Rhyd’s crew (To see who might resist) or was it by the will of the Gods (to show us our strength)? That is something I will debate internally for a while. Halstead attempted to (or at least appeared to) push a Unified Pagan existence. That everyone was Pagan, and that those things (like polytheism) which divided us and put a supremacy of focus on something other than Pagan identity should be done away with. In return, it showed just how fundamentally fractured Paganism was instead, and that the growing power was not in Paganism but in the various Religions known under the “umbrella” of Paganism. And that the vocal majority were more interested in Who we Were (Cultus, Heathen, etc) than What we Were (Pagan).
In a lot of ways, “Confronting” was about an attempt to break down those dividing lines which set up Who we are. Everything that makes the individual religions unique to be done away with, primacy of the gods removed, and in the end would have been basically a homogenized “Pagan” existence (as Upsal points out well with their view of how Heathenism should be). It ultimately, was an attempt to consolidate the power in Paganism where it is now: “Unified” as a collective with people like Rhyd at the head. Rather than separate individual religions that would go on to be able to hold up their own ideals, rather than say Marxist principles.
Were I interested in a “unified” Pagan identity, then sure, I would be tempted to gather folks together as Webster did and Rhyd has done, and then push my theocratic vision of Paganism forwards rather than allow Rhyd’s Marxist vision to take supremacy. But at the moment, I don’t think I need to do that. Rhyd so far seems to be failing as hard as Halstead did, and with a lot more back walking. Ultimately, as posts like Krasskova’s where she shows how connected everyone in those circles is, how incestuous and corrupt the Pagan Establishment has become start coming out more and more…that’s not going to unite Paganism…that’s going to be the hammer that shatters it fully into the various Religions we are already becoming.
We don’t need another hammer trying to forge a united Paganism. And while I have full faith that I could do it (and probably do it better than Rhyd or Webster), I am over joyed to see the fracturing, the restoration, of our individual paths. I am proud to see a future were Heathens, and Cultus, and Wiccans are all different peoples who practice their own ways, without interference from anyone else. Where we can choose our own leaders, rather than having them chosen for us. We we can police ourselves, rather than be policed by those offended by us.
Webster and Rhyd stared into the Abyss, just like I did. But the ultimate difference between us is….they blinked.
I punched my way out the other side.
Which means ultimately, if I ever do grow in power and influence, it will be for my Path, and my path alone. Not for Paganism, not to unite everyone under the umbrella and make the whole umbrella the way I think it should be. But for those people who followed me, who walked the same Path I do…and for no one else outside of it. If someday I must be like Sulla, it will be for the Cultus Alone, or for Hela and Helheim, to preserve the sanctity of those things…but not to bend all of Paganism to my will.