The Anarchy Gauntlet: Radical paganism

The Anarchy Gauntlet is a column attempting to move away from my more traditional Marxist-themed articles to a framework centered around anarchism, which better reflects my beliefs. Anarchism advocates for the end to unjustified hierarchies from boss-worker relations to even parent-child dynamics as we know them. Anarchists believe in the same post-capitalism, communist society as other far-left groups but differs in the practice and means of achieving that society. These ideas of anarchism will be inherent throughout these articles.

     In my quest to exorcise the malicious spirit of injustice, it is high time I discuss the role of spirituality in politics. How are the two connected? Well, anyone who merely glances in the direction of U.S. Christianity, for example, will notice the plethora of involvement in issues like gay marriage and women’s reproductive rights. 

     I doubt this has anything really to do with Christianity itself other than, perhaps, its hierarchical nature as a church-based religion, but, rather, has more to do with the power structures involved in the various Christian faiths in the U.S. along with its historical ties to imperialism, colonialism and capitalism. This isn’t an article about Christianity, though, it’s about Paganism. So why even mention it?

     Christianity and Paganism have intertwined histories, so it’s important that we review that complicated relationship. I’m no student of history nor religious studies, so read with a grain of salt. While Christianity became entangled in European monarchies, Paganism has been historically rooted in the masses of peasants and workers whose livelihoods were directly tied to the seasonal changes, such as harvest, growth, spring, fertility, death and life. 

     Paganism is largely polytheistic and celebrates the Earth, nature and the joys of living. Throughout the year, Pagans celebrate a mixture of seasonal changes (i.e. solstices and equinoxes) and agricultural events (e.g. harvests, May Day, growing season). 

     As such, Paganism is very much tied to the land and the natural world, helping us be mindful of our origins in life and birth. With the increasing societal power of Christianity, though, Pagan practices were deemed as hedonistic rituals rife with sin. Rather than doing away with seasonal rites, though, the church often absorbed Pagan holidays into its own lore. 

     This includes holidays of sainthood, but the classic example is Christmas, which so blatantly falls onto the same time of year as Yule (winter equinox), though Jesus’s birthday was never written in the Bible.

     However, the assimilation of Paganism into Christianity didn’t solely include changing the names and lore around holidays. It involved an active attempt to erase Pagan values of free sexuality, communalism and the celebration of nature. 

     If we look at the U.S., sexuality — often women’s sexuality — was repressed in the name of holy modesty. Communalism was shafted for the atomization of relationships to heterosexual nuclear families, which perhaps embody Adam, Eve and their progeny. Nature became not something to integrate into our everyday lives and beings but a God-given thing to conquer and tame. 

     Again, these phenomena may or may not be integral to Christianity itself, as I am aware of liberation theology and attempts to decolonize Christianity. 

     That is something for Christians to reckon with, though, and I am merely here to recount the history of Christianity’s self-imposition on top of Pagan values.

     Knowing this history and the prominence of Pagan livelihoods as they were, Paganism has called to my own revolutionary spirit as well as my internal ties to the Earth. 

     Rather than rooting our concept of time in capitalist enterprises of, say, academic calendars, business years or whenever we’re given a free holiday, Paganism asks us to notice the changes in the trees and their leaves, in the birds, in how the air feels, in what foods we eat; it asks us to notice that, though the sun may shine ever so constantly, its presence graces us differently when we can’t feel it on our face so warmly or when it leaves our corner of the planet earlier than two months ago; it asks us to look up and stare at the cosmic bodies that dot our skies every night, like Mars which has sat in the east as of late or the moon which will be full on Oct. 31, on Samhain.

     You may be wondering how this makes Paganism revolutionary in any way, but the centrality of nature as a force of love, life and creation in Pagan spirituality is revolutionary. Too often in our industrialized, capitalist society are we alienated from natural forces and our animal origins. 

     You are much more likely to reject the exploitation and pollution of natural resources if you feel spiritually connected to the land. If we compare Paganism, an indigenous spirituality of Europe, to Indigenous spiritualities on Turtle Island, for example, the Menominee River is one such example. 

     The Menominee Nation has been fighting the authorization of the Back Forty Mine (developed by Aquila Resources), which would pollute their river, a body of water which is tied to their history and spirituality as Natives. 

     Though I don’t have that history or personal tie to this land, as a Pagan immigrant inhabiting Menominee land, I do feel the spiritual connection to the Earth more broadly and its bounties of love and joy. And, for that, I can stand in solidarity with my Indigenous friends and fight for their right to maintaining their spiritual ties to this land.