An Examen of Witches

When I originally started this blog, I saw it as a clearing house for my study and research of Renaissance-era witchcraft and magic. It is still a clearing house, but for a wider goal. My practice of witchcraft was always rooted in my faith as a Pagan. As I have drawn from the well of history to compare modern and traditional witchcraft, I have begun to draw from the same well to compare modern and classical Paganism. As a friend of mine is fond of saying, “We are the modern children of the ancient gods.” What does that mean if we do not honor the ancient ways?

Witches and Pagans are fond of referring to our faith tradition as the “Old Ways”, but very little of what we do is based on the ancient ways of doing things, and mostly based in modern innovations mostly disseminated from 19th Century Hermetic traditions such as the Golden Dawn and Rosicrucians. I’m not interested in a full reconstructionism; most of the worldviews and general social frameworks that informed Classical Paganism are impossible to recreate in the modern age. All faith traditions should be dynamic and responsive to the needs of their present. It should, however, maintain a germ of its past self. To this end, I am endeavoring to study the works of Classical philosophers, especially as they represent pagan voices writing about paganism. Sallust, Julian the Apostate, Demophilus, etc. As applicable, early Christian voices, who readily and eagerly adopted the writings of Pythagoras and Plato, are also being examined. Sometimes for their contributions to the philosophical traditions they studied (as is the case of Thomas Aquinas) and sometimes for what is illuminated by what they argued against (Eusebius and Cyril of Alexandria).

As a modern child of the ancient gods, I seek to attain greater knowledge of their ancient ways for these modern days.


Contra Gnosis

First things first, the Winter 2019 issue of Walking the Worlds is available! My essay, “Making Holiday in the West: Speculative Eschatology in Ancient Egyptian Mortuary Literature” is included. It explores the themes of skeptical religion and speculative realism as they apply to Ancient Egyptian texts which expressed varying degrees of skepticism regarding the afterlife. Go support Walking the Worlds and get yourself a copy!

Next, I’d like to tell you two brief stories. The first is found in the Jewish Talmud–a collection of discussions and arguments pertaining to Jewish practices from the First and Second Centuries CE. It is the foundational text of the Jewish oral Torah, or oral law, which runs parallel to the written Torah (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy) and helps explain and supplement it. The story goes like this: one day, a non-Jew approached Rabbi Shammai and asked him to convert him on the condition that the Rabbi only teach him the written Torah and not the oral Torah. Rabbi Shammai became very angry and chased the gentile away. The next day, he goes to Rabbi Hillel with the same request. Rabbi Hillel eagerly accepts the challenge, but advises the gentile that he needs to learn the Hebrew alphabet first. So he sets him up with aleph, bet, gimel, dalet, etc. and then sends him home. The next day, the prospective convert arrives and Hillel has reversed the order of the alphabet, saying that tav is aleph, shin is bet, etc. The student complains and says “But this is completely different from what you said yesterday!” to which Rabbi Hillel responds “But how would you know that unless I were here to tell you that?”

The second story comes from the Christian book of Acts, a book that tells of the activities of the Apostles after the death of Jesus of Nazareth. In the book of Acts, a disciple, Phillip, is traveling down the road when an angel tells him to go stand by a cart owned by Queen of Ethiopia. While he is there, he overhears a eunuch reading from the book of Isaiah. Phillip asks the eunuch: “Do you understand what you are reading?” The eunuch responds: “How can I, unless someone explains it to me?” Phillip hops into the cart, reviews the passages from Isaiah with the eunuch, explains that it is a prophecy about Jesus, and then later baptizes the eunuch.

These two stories have often been interpreted by their respective traditions as examples of why authority within their organization is important. The Rabbi knows more about the Torah than you do, and the Priest knows more about Jesus’ death and resurrection. But on a much deeper level, they are illustrating a very important epistemic reality–our personal experience with something, particularly a text from a previous age, is not enough to overcome the distance of time. In a much broader context, the appeal is being made that personal experience is insufficient to articulate the world we inhabit.

John Beckett argues for a theology of personal experience in Ascendant II, in an essay aptly titled “The Theology of Personal Experience.” This brief blog post will not be a sufficient response to the essay, though I intend to write such a response and hopefully generate a dialogue about the benefits and limits of our personal experiences. In lieu of a full and proper response to the essay, I will be addressing two points in a related blog post of Beckett’s. The focus of the post is not entirely on formulating a theology of personal experience, and is itself refuting the idea of divine jealousy, but I find his points about experience and gnosis relevant to his essay and my work as a theological skeptic.

First: “Your experience is valid, but your description of it may not be accurate” and second: the process of learning to articulate experience through discernment.

The first point is something I agree with one-hundred percent, though I typically shorthand it to “The world exists regardless of your experience of it.” My phrasing is not identical or synonymous with Beckett’s, to be fair. But the spirit of the two are very sympathetic to one another. Essentially, nobody is questioning that you experienced some phenomenon; however, one’s immediate explanation of it should be treated with caution. We can never have an absolute accounting of the facts on hand, and so we can never have an absolute answer to what it was we encountered. So our explanation of the experience will always be incomplete, and, by extension, it is reasonable to assume that some explanations will always be better than others. It is likely that many of our explanations will fall in the latter part. Better explanations exist, we just don’t yet know they exist.

The second point is one I find intriguing and hope to spend more time with. Beckett’s process of discernment is the accumulation personal experiences to help explain a phenomenal experience better. It is a process whereby we continuously reengage with the phenomena in question so that we can gain more and more first-hand knowledge. And while I am inclined to agree that this is a necessary process in knowledge-generation, I do not see it as sufficient.

To borrow Beckett’s example of the unknown camel, if you have never heard of a camel before and you encountered one in the desert and were asked what it was called, you would be forgiven for coming up with something like “sand horse”. It is, after all, sort of horse-like, and it’s in the sand. But to put the process of discernment into action, we must engage with the sand-horse again and again and again. And thought we may learn much about it including its mating rituals, its social habits, water usage, hauling efficiency, etc. no amount of interaction with the camel will tell us that it is called a camel. We must hear this word from others.

Why is this important? Language is a shorthand that societies use to describe the myriad and infinite nuances of communal experience. At a certain level, the vocabulary that forms the absolute minimum substrate of a given language is largely arbitrary, and the rules that govern language can be seen as a construct, and so, as the deconstructionists might say, do words even really mean anything? On an abstract, Aristotelean level, no, words individually do not actually have any causally essential relation to their meaning. HOWEVER, in order for societies to communicate and coexist, there needs to be a certain level of mutual intelligibility between communicants. This is achieved by a society generally accepting that words and concepts have generally-accepted meaning, even if they fail to capture the infinite nuance of the thing they’re describing. Language is a shorthand. But it’s a remarkably good shorthand.

Rabbi Hillel and the Apostle Phillip both understood that in order for their religious traditions to survive, there needed to be a generally understood definition of what the received tradition meant. This means using shared language to discuss difficult abstracted concepts. Camel instead of Sand-horse. For Hillel and Phillip both, this was in the context of the immediate aftermath of the Roman destruction of the Jerusalem Temple in 70 CE. For the Jews, they needed to figure out how to keep their religion going without a temple for sacrifices and a priesthood for performing the sacrifices. For the Christians, the nascent Jerusalem community was scattered and the rest of the Jesus Movement had to figure out how to keep their scattered communities together. It was the authoritative transmission of tradition and interpretation that kept them alive.

Very pertinent to this discussion is the favorite gotcha of the Atheist: “Would a child come to know God on their own if nobody ever told them about him?” In the context of a theology of personal experience, this is even more relevant. And it is most relevant in the context of religious traditions based on the ancient pre-Christian gods and traditions for which there is no extant contiguous transmission. In an alternate history where the Greek and Roman classics were never reinvigorated in the Renaissance and nobody ever learned to decipher hieroglyphics, would contemporary Hellenes and Kemetics exist? This isn’t a lazy question. It’s a heavy question, and we see it unfold every time new discoveries or new texts are discovered, because our understanding of that time changes with each of those discoveries. Yet not a single Hellenist or Kemetic or other contemporary pagan has prophetically warned us of the impending new knowledge. We are dependent to a very extreme degree on textual transmission. We are a nascent Rabbinic Judaism or Apostolic Christianity without a Hillel or Phillip.

What this implies is that, while gnostic revelation through personally experiential theology is an important part of the praxis of polytheist religion, it is not a sufficient bedrock for the theory of it–its theology. But without a lineage of sages or priests to transmit the wisdom of the past, we are left only with the tools of textual analysis and synthesis to illustrate theological truth from historic facts. Disregarding the texts in favor of personal discernment is akin to converting to Christianity but developing your entire theology through prayer. Contemporary Polytheism without the ancient texts is like Christianity without the Bible. It simply doesn’t make any sense.

The alternative is, of course, to acknowledge that there are two very different religious traditions emerging. On the one hand is a religious tradition centered on personal experience, borrowing heavily from New Age concepts and postmodernism for its justification, but essentially birthing a new religion from whole cloth in the 20th and 21st Centuries. On the other hand is a religious tradition attempting to reinvigorate the traditions of the ancient pre-Christian civilizations as best they can in the modern age, utilizing a variety of justifications and methods to do so. Both of these are fine. If one finds fulfillment in one but not the other, then pursue it! But as long as we are using terms like Pagan and Polytheist interchangeably to describe both of these religious traditions, it will be hard to tease out the boundaries of each. Further compounding this problem is the tendency for people on both sides to share concepts and definitions. Whether this divide is permanent or temporary remains to be seen, and nobody can see how it will ultimately turn out. Regardless, the Paganism/Polytheism of the 2020’s will look very different from its antecedents in the 1970’s and 80’s. As Polytheism grows and develops, it will be the dialectic that continues to shape it, not our individual experiences of it.

Hymn to the Writing Tools

I have spent the last couple years working with papyrus, even growing, harvesting, and weaving my own. One of the problems I have always encountered is the capillary action of the papyrus. Inks made for pens is very thin and designed for paper, which helps absorb the water so the pigment may sit on the paper. Ancient inks were thicker, and typically made by the scribe to better control the color and viscosity for better control with the quill or pen. Today, I remembered that I have a Chinese ink stick and ink stone! After spending quite some time grinding my own ink, I (mostly) overcame the problem! To celebrate, I have composed a quick four part prose poem to the writing implements. Enjoy!

Hymn to the Writing Implements
Oh ink stick, black rod of earth,
Thy body is firm and resilient;
Yet when rubbed against the grind stone in water
thou giveth up thy form.
Thy form dissolves in water
that thine ink may be taken by the pen
and laid upon papyrus as words
to become a thing of great beauty.
Oh pen, thou art the tongue of God;
Thy lips are painted black by ink,
And from thy lips pour pious prayers,
The very words of God.
From such a rigid beak as yours
comes such articulate songs.
Thy tongue, though made of steel,
Sings the sweetest music.
Oh papyrus, great green shoot of the water,
Thy fans sway lazily in the breeze.
Behold! My sickle comes!
I take thy life that you might live forever.
Like Osiris, thou art dismembered and reassembled,
Thy organs laid out like funerary linen.
Never fear; thy body is the carrier of sacred words–
Thy soul is the spirit of God.
Oh ink stone, strong stone bowl,
Without thy smooth face
There is no ink for the words of God,
And there are no books to be remembered.
There is no Ptah-hotep, no Amenemope,
There is no Book of the Dead;
Thy face reflects the heavens,
Thou art eternity!

The piece I wrote earlier today, featuring all of the writing tools mentioned.

Pyramid Texts, Utterance 269. Translated by R.O. Faulkner:
The fire is laid, the fire shines;
The incense is laid on the fire, the incense shines.
Your perfume comes to me, O Incense;
May my perfume come to you, O Incense.
Your perfume comes to me, you gods;
May my perfume come to you, you gods.
May I be with you, you gods;
May you be with me, you gods.
May I live with you, you gods;
May you live with me, you gods.
I love you, you gods;
May you love me, you gods.

President Ramesses in Iran

In 2017 a man obsessed with making America great again, while surrounding himself with gold and marble to ostentatiously display his personal wealth, assumed control of the institutional executive power of the United States. His manners are boorish but he has a crusade–to rebuild the United States according to a historic image that never existed, and to defeat the enemies of the American people at home and abroad so that his legacy might live forever.

A similar, albeit better, ruler in history did much of the same. Ramesses III, not only continued his predecessors’ restoration of post-Amarna Egypt, but continued to enhance and dramatize the image of what Egypt had been. Much of the Egyptian “classic” literature was canonized during this period, and most of the extant temple ruins also date from this period. Almost everything we imagine when he think of Ancient Egypt is from this period. And it almost wasn’t.

In the 12th Century BCE, a mysterious “Sea People” invaded the Mediterranean Basin. On the heels of the Bronze Age Collapse, these invaders destroyed every civilization they came in contact with (or at least came in contact with already-destroyed civilizations) save one–Egypt. At Djahy on land and at the Delta at sea, Ramesses III defeated the Sea Peoples and drove them away from Egypt. His mortuary temple at Medinet Habu details his battle with the Sea People and celebrates his victories. These inscriptions are also the longest extant hieroglyphic inscriptions we’ve ever found.

By contrast, the current boorish occupant of the White House has eschewed large public works projects in favor of tax cuts for already-wealthy industrial tycoons and property developers. He has waged a trade war against one of our biggest agricultural trading partners, massively increasing the bankruptcy rate of American farmers. To top it off, he has assassinated the top general of the Iranian army–literally an act of war–after having previously unilaterally withdrawn us from a landmark nuclear deal that was the promise of detente in an unnecessarily hostile foreign relationship.

The ostentatious ambition of Ramesses and Trump cannot be understated. But these nostalgia-filled fever dreams of both men are the limit of what they have in common. Ramesses presided over the last golden age of native Egyptian civilization and defeated a people that may as well have been invincible. Trump, meanwhile, continues to expand the swamp of Washington’s quagmire and seems hellbent to expand the theater of America’s Forever War to Iran–a theater of war that we will never succeed in occupying or subsequently pacifying.

The standards of war have certainly changed over the course of 3200 years; however, Ramesses was not fighting a conventional war even by the standards of his own time. In the midst of what was a generalized collapse of the known world at the time, Ramesses had to fight a war without allies and with strained resources. This was the 12th Century’s definition of unconventional warfare. By contrast, conventional warfare of the 20th Century began to give way to unconventional warfare during the Vietnam War, and the US Army has simply not kept up. Assymetrical warfare is now the required norm for any target of US aggression, not only because our numbers and technological edge give us a distinct advantage, but also because it works. This year marks the first year that young servicemen and women who were born after 9/11 will be entering the theater of war in Afghanistan–a theater of war that was initiated before they were born. George W Bush’s War on Terror has finally become a true intergenerational conflict. This is not because the Taliban put up a terrific conventional fight and we’ve been bogged down in trenches ever since. It’s because the assymetric tactics they developed as the Mujahideen in the 1980’s and 90’s have been honed and perfected since. Even as we armed and trained them, we gave them the rope to hang us with, and they are using it. Our attempt at assymetrical warfare in Syria and Iraq birthed ISIS. And, in what is probably the greatest contemporary example of a self-own, as we armed ISIS in Syria to fight against President Bashar al-Assad, we ended up fighting ISIS in Iraq to defend our occupational puppet government. We literally armed and trained enemies in one theater so that we could fight them in another. And all this in the midst of a colossally devastating manmade disaster called climate change, and not-so-colossally-devastating-but-still-colossally-devastating manmade disaster called austerity. We are physically killing the world while we completely hamstring the economy for the vast majority of people on the planet. And somehow, that corn-yellow hair in Washington hides a brain that thinks foreign and domestic policy is best rendered in 140 characters or less.

If Iran is playing the long game, I suspect they will win. The US military and foreign policy establishments are clearly some of the worst players in the world right now when it comes to the long game. They are certainly very good at achieving incredibly superficial and expensive short term gains. But long term planning and strategy? Hardly. If warfare moves out of the theater of conventional arms and men dying in droves and into the state-sanctioned assassination of generals, contractors, and other US occupational actors in Iraq and Afghanistan, eventually it will become too great of a liability and expense to continue on with business as usual. The question will be, of course, whether or not a ground invasion of Iran is worth the cost already incurred in such a war. Given the logistical nightmare Iran’s geography would present, not to mention that absolute clusterfuck the loss of the region’s only counterbalance to the genocidal psycho-dynasty of the House of Saud would create, I am absolutely certain the cost of such a war would be unthinkable. Luckily for Washington, it won’t be they who pay for it; it will be you and me.

Chapters 22 and 23 of The Teaching of Ptahhotep say:

If you are a man who leads,
Who controls the affairs of the many,
Seek out every beneficent deed,
That your conduct may be blameless.
Great is justice, lasting in effect,
Unchallenged since the time of Osiris.
One punishes the transgressor of laws,
Though the greedy overlooks this;

If you are mighty, gain respect through knowledge
And through gentleness of speech.
Don’t command except as is fitting,
He who provokes gets into trouble.

The flame of the hot-heart sweeps across,
He who steps gently, his path is paved.
He who frets all day has no happy moment,
He who’s gay all day can’t keep house.

Ramesses, who would have been taught this text as a child, knew well that leadership is more than barking commands and flying off the handle at every base provocation. For this, his is a legacy that stands forever. Trump, by contrast, probably has never read a book, let alone contemplated the didactic, formative texts that help a man contribute positively to human society. It would be easy to laugh at this and rest upon our laurels that history will not look kindly on him. Unfortunately, he wields the relative power of Ramesses but has none of the restraint or self-awareness necessary to use it well. For this we may all be rewarded with the collective legacy of oblivion.

Correction: This post originally referred to Ramesses III as ‘The Great’. This epithet actually belongs to Ramesses II.

Ascendant II

Happy Yule, Happy Moomas, Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah! Ascendant II: Theology for Modern Polytheists is now available courtesy of the good folks at Bibliotheca Alexandrina!

I have two essays in this edition–the first a general outline of my proposal for an Object Oriented Theology specifically discussing the real and imminent being of the gods as related to myth and idolatry, and the second a repurposing of St. Anselm’s Ontological Argument. Please help support the work of Bibliotheca Alexandrina by purchasing a copy! Full disclosure, I do not receive any royalties from any sale. The people at BA, if you are not already familiar, do great work producing excellent devotionals for the contemporary Pagan community, and work like Ascendant and Ascendant II go a long way in helping promote the conversations surrounding praxis and theology. It is these conversations that help contemporary Paganism mature and demand a seat at the pedagogical table. You don’t have to agree with what I or any other contributor says, but by reading our work, engaging with it, and responding to it, everyone benefits.

Happy Yule!

Shabbat Shalom!

An Argument for Celebrating the Weekend

It’s Friday night and the sun set about two hours ago. In Jewish households all over, the Shabbat candles have been lit, the blessing over them has been sung, and they are embarking on the weekend. Tomorrow night, they will celebrate Havdalah–a return to the work week and the end of Shabbat–by passing around a box of sweet spices. Its purpose: to uplift the spirit before the return to the labors of the rest of the week.

I am not Jewish, and I was not raised Jewish, but I have a particular interest in Judaism. Were it not for my Polytheism I may have left Christianity for Judaism instead. My interest in Judaism is two-fold. In the more polemic sense, Jewish exegesis of the books that make up the Christian Old Testament and the Jewish Tanakh seems to be a more faithful treatment of the material. It certainly underscores how badly Jesus failed to fulfill the Messianic Prophecies, and a material-critical reading of Paul in the same context makes his innovations incredibly glaring both in regard to established Jewish practice of the Second Temple period as well as in regard to what is actually written in the Synoptic Gospels. My distrust of Pauline Christianity is for another time, however. The other interest I have in Judaism is that it is the only pre-Christian, Mediterranean/European religion to survive intact. Its rituals, its praxis, and its outlook gives us a living window into much of the type of worldview Mediterranean Classical Pagans would have shared, yet most moderns ignore this.

To read the Siddur (the Jewish liturgical prayer book) is like reading the daily temple ritual off the walls of Karnak. The opening of the Ark is not dissimilar to the opening of the altar cabinet in Kemetic ritual. The relationship between Ancient Israel and Egypt cannot be understated, and it is perhaps my own Kemeticism that helps enhance my appreciation of Judaism. Nevertheless, it astounds me the degree to which this connection is ignored. For an orthopraxic religion that values what we do over what we believe, there is a huge amount of Paul the Apostle at play in the cultural worldview we bring to the table–seeking deeply personal relationships with our deities, “working with” them instead of worshiping them for instance, being one of my bigger shibboleths in this regard if for no other reason than my having been raised in the Catholic Church where this emphasis is decidedly lacking. The ancient record is much more clear on what these relationships between human and god looked like. They weren’t personal. Offerings were made to propitiate the will of the gods and to invite them to meddle in our affairs. Worship was a matter of correct form and decorum, not “how much do you love me?” Traditional rites and practices were valued over boisterous testimony over a god’s role in one’s life. None of this is to devalue the personal benefits one derives from their practice–if we do not feel we are benefiting personally there is really no reason to continue. But this underscores the similar attitude toward worship that is evident in the Synagogue of the modern Jewish congregation. The rituals are traditional even where changes have been made by the Reformed and Conservative movements. The texts are derived from ancient manuscripts and sources. Commentaries by Rabbis from the First Millennium fill the margins of the Siddur. One’s worship in the Synagogue is not necessarily because you literally believe the word being said or because you literally believe that G-d is actively, materially interfering in the world. It’s because lighting the candles on Erev Shabbat, attending Shabbat services to hear the Cantor sing the Torah, and celebrating Havdalah is what G-d said to do. It is a mitzvah. It is a good thing to do.

And here is where the similarities between Judaism and Paganism end. We are not a religion of commandments. We aren’t even a religion of scripture. Though the argument can be made that myth is revealed scripture and we should treat it that way (I make that argument, but, again, a discussion for another time). We are, however, a religion of the temple. Every Pagan home has at least one altar, even if it is not permanent. This space is sacred, and entering its environment is entering the environment of the Gods that are invested upon that altar. The weak-reconstructionists may not utilize the ancient liturgies, whereas strong-reconstructionists probably will. But we are all lighting candles and incense and sometimes making actual offerings of food and drink. Sporadically, regularly, or daily, we are all doing the traditional things involved in temple worship of the ancient world, to more or less faithful degrees regarding the rubrics actually used in the past. Nobody has commanded we do this, let alone presented a command directly from the Gods. We do it because it is right to do. It is correct to worship the Gods if we believe in them. We don’t need an extensive moral exegesis or justification to recognize this. We also don’t need an extensive moral exegesis or justification to recognize that a time of rest is also right.

One innovation of the Abrahamic religions, courtesy of Moses on the mountain, was declaring a day of rest. Most Classical Pagan societies did not have this. It set the Israelites apart from their neighbors and helped differentiate them as their Yahwist henotheism moved more and more in the direction of overt and obligate monotheism. One’s relation to the land and the state was determined by one’s position in the social hierarchy. While Pharaoh certainly worked on a day-to-day basis, it is inconceivable to believe they were devoid of leisure while Ra was high in the sky. The farmers and artisans, however, worked seven days a week with the only exceptions being during festivals (of which there are plenty on the Egyptian calendar–so, to be fair, it’s not as though they were devoid of leisure either). But what Shabbat accomplished for the Israelites was a great equalizing of leisure. One day out of every week, all work was forbidden. It didn’t matter who you were, the Law of Moses commanded that all be allowed to rest. The 19th Century and early 20th Century saw a massive contraction of the vast majority of people’s ability to rest. The labor movement sacrificed thousands of lives in the name of reclaiming at least one day of rest. The weekend, declared by Moses as holy writ, was literally won for the gentiles in blood. Now, a century later, we are watching Amazon, Uber, PostMates, Walmart, and every other corporate master impress upon us the need to be “flexible”, and the contraction of the economy continues to erode our ability to take advantage of a day of rest, even when it is offered to us in our normal work schedules. We offer ourselves up to gigs and second jobs. If we as Pagans are to be judged by what we do and not what we believe, then it behooves us to demand rest and leisure for ourselves and others. It behooves us to demand the right to our own Shabbat.

Tonight I lit a candle and recited a prayer to Atum, the evening sun, as he journeyed to the West and was embraced by Nut of the nighttime sky. I recited an offering formula from an ancient tomb, making a vocal offering instead of a traditional food offering. And I made my requests of the Gods. But I also thanked them that the weekend exists. 2020 is going to be a rough year for many reasons. I intend to be grateful for every day of rest I have. But I do not intend to take such rest for granted or forget that we many wage slaves are under assault from hostile powers intent on denying us this rest.

If Kemetic ma’at has a modern corollary, it is Jewish tikkun olam–the making of a better world. Our obligation is this and this alone.

Shabbat shalom.

Dua Tut-ankh-Amun; Celebrating the Restoration Stela

In Tutankhamun’s regnal year 1, in the season of Inundation, on the 19th day of the fourth month, Pharaoh erected a stela announcing the restoration of the temple at Karnak following decades of neglect during the heretical Amarna Period. Cleverly titled “The Restoration Stela” by Egyptologists, it serves as an open declaration of the state’s abandoning of the Atenist heresy and the re-establishing of the old orthodoxy. Usurped by a later successor, Horemheb, the stela nevertheless is an important record in Egyptian history. Following our dating of the Egyptian New Year, Wep Ronpet, to August 11, counting three months of 30 days each and then an additional 19 days puts the liturgical celebration of the Restoration Stela to today, November 28. The full text will not be listed here, but selections will follow the transcription and translation of Mark-Jan Nederhof, linked below.[1]

The Restoration Stela holds a great symbolic usefulness for modern Pagans, not just Kemetics, since our renewed polytheism is in its own way restored. Recognizing this, I think it is important to honor perhaps the most historically significant act of Tutankhamun apart from happening to be buried in a tomb that would not suffer the inglorious fortune of being disturbed by grave robbers.

He has restored what was in ruins, as monuments of eternal age. He has dispelled injustice throughout the Two Lands and justice was established [in its place]. He lets falsehood be an abomination, and the land as in its primordial time.

As I argue in Walking the Worlds (Vol 5. No. 2), Ma’at’s function as a goddess is incredibly passive, but eminently important.[2] There is no real historic evidence that the Amarna period was seen as a lawless or otherwise unjust period, so the references to the dispelling of injustice–or, isfet, the opposite of maat–and the restoration of justice, apart from their propagandistic value in establishing a new king’s reign, the Restoration Stela is remarkably different from other “National Distress” literature. The Amarna heresy was a different kind of isfet than the chaos of the Intermediary Periods. The country itself was not in ruins, but the houses of the netjer were.

Now, when His Majesty arose as king, the temples of the gods and goddesses, from Elephantine [to] the lagoons of the Delta, […] had [fallen] into ruin. Their shrines had fallen into decay and had become ruins overgrown with […]-plants. Their sanctuaries were as if they had never existed, their temples were foot paths. The land was in distress, the gods were turning away from this land.

What follows is generally emblematic of “National Distress”; a litany of woes is enumerated in which the favor of the gods has withdrawn and failure stalks the land. But unlike most literature in that genre, these woes only extend across four lines (8-11) of a total of thirty. Instead, the bulk of the stela concerns itself with pleasing the gods and rebuilding the temple at Karnak.

And His Majesty built monuments for the gods, [fashioning] their statues of real electrum, from the best of the foreign lands, building their sanctuaries anew as monuments of eternal age, endowed with property forever, setting aside offerings for them as daily sacrifices, providing their sacrificial bread on earth. He surpassed what had been before, he outdid what had been done since the time of the ancestors, he initiated priests and prophets, children of officials from their towns, sons of noted men whose names are well-known.
He multiplied their [altars] with gold, silver, bronze and copper, without limit of [anything]. He filled their workhouses with male and female slaves, brought as booty of His Majesty. All [tributes] to the temples were [increased], doubled, trebled and quadrupled, with silver, gold, lapis lazuli, turquoise and every kind of precious stone, royal linen, white cloth, fine linen, moringa oil, resin, fat, […] incense, balm, myrrh, without limit of any good thing. His Majesty (l.p.h.!) has hewn their barques on the river, from fresh cedar from Lebanon, the pick of Negau, plated with gold from the best of the foreign lands, so that they may illumine the river.

The restoration of the traditional religion of Tutankhamun’s ancestors is the restoration of maat invoked earlier. The suppression of the Atenist heresy is the restoration of the underlying cosmological order and proof that disorder does not need to come in the form of complete social collapse. “To walk the road of God is to be filled with light,/Great are the advantages gained by those who/Discipline themselves to follow it,”[3] says the inscription of PetOsiris, a sentiment that Tutankhamun shares:

The gods and goddesses who are in this land, their hearts are in joy, the lords of sanctuaries are jubilating, the banks are cheering and exulting, jubilation is throughout the [entire] land, since a good [state] has come into being. The ennead in the Great Temple, their arms are raised in adoration, their hands are full of Sed-festivals [of] all eternity.

The restoration of the gods is the joy of the land. Disciplining oneself to their worship and the following of maat is the great advantage to those who worship the gods. Dua Tutankhamun, ankh udja seneb!

[1] Nederhof, Mark-Jan. “Restoration stela of Tutankhamun”. Nov. 4, 2006. https://mjn.host.cs.st-andrews.ac.uk/egyptian/texts/corpus/pdf/RestorationTutankhamun.pdf Accessed Aug. 16, 2019

[2] Hensley, Brandon. “The Speech of the Eloquent Peasant: An Object-Oriented Investigation of Ma’at in Ancient Egyptian Didactic Literature.” Walking the Worlds. Krassovka, Galina, ed. Vol. 5, No. 2. Summer, 2019. pp 73-91.

[3] Djehuty. “Inscriptions from the tomb of PetOsiris (from: Christian Jacq, ‘The Living Wisdom of Ancient Egypt’).” Aug. 28, 2015. http://djehuty.org/inscriptions-from-the-tomb-of-petosiris-from-christian-jacq-the-living-wisdom-of-ancient-egypt/ Accessed Aug. 16, 2019

Stoicism and the Week from Hell

Samhain 18

We are halfway through the month of November, and eighteen days into the season of Samhain. The last two and a half weeks have been a bizarre lesson in stoicism. For a brief review of what stoicism actually is, here’s Existential Comics. Before I get into stoic virtue, a little background as to what has been happening.

On the evening of October 31, we were faced with a medical emergency. In lieu of handing out candy, I spent the night into November 1 first in an ER waiting room and then in an ICU waiting room. That very Saturday, my husband and I were driving downtown when someone ran a stop sign. Trying to stop to avoid an accident, I felt the front tires slip in a way that was both unusual and simultaneously screamed “Danger” in my mind. I tried to move the car out of the intersection only to realize that wasn’t going to happen. So after waiting 20 minutes for a tow truck, we got the car to the body shop and we got home. The following week, my car decided to give up on life and it, too, wound up in the body shop. At this point, facing $1700 in repairs on the first car and an unknown bill on the second car, and already planning on getting new cars in 2020, we decided that it was in our best interest to go ahead and buy a car, wait for the estimate on the second car, and decide which car to save. All of this was going on at the same time that our family member was still recovering in the hospital.

As a child, I had a tendency to react to emotionally-overwhelming situations by crying. I don’t remember how old I was, but we were vacationing in Pennsylvania when the hotel caught on fire. I followed my parents out the door to the parking lot when my parents remembered they had brought cash on this vacation instead of travelers checks and went back to the room to get their belongings. My response? I assumed they were going to die in the conflagration that was confined to a single pine tree and began to react accordingly as a child should who has convinced himself his parents are dying. My parents were fine; I was just an emotional wreck. Similarly, I fell to pieces when my car blew a head gasket in the middle of the night, in the middle of nowhere, on a highway, halfway between Columbus and Dayton, Ohio. In short, I have had a tendency in my life to look at things beyond my control and fall apart.

The “week from hell” that began on October 31 and finally resolved itself this past Friday when the repair bills were paid and our family member left the hospital showed a different side of me. I was determined, focused, and just kept moving from one crisis to the next. I never had a real overall plan except to see each crisis resolved. When we were finally able to sit down and say “It’s done,” the wave of relief was palpable. Plus I got to get several good games of mahjong in with the friend who took me to get my car on Friday. So, cheers, Stary!

My stoic response to the unfolding shit-storm that was my life these past two weeks gave me plenty to reflect upon. The stoics were a group of Ancient Greeks who argued that the world exists as it exists, and there is nothing we can do to change that. Therefore, the only thing truly within our control is how we react to things and deal with adversity. They became very popular among the Romans, with Marcus Aurelius being probably the most famous. My refusal to allow myself to fall into an emotional catharsis caused me to believe I was dealing with the problems without any stress. A friend pointed out I was likely confusing stress and anxiety, and I think she was right.

A tree may be bent without breaking but still not be free of stress. Similarly, we may be undergoing a great deal of stress while maintaining our cool. When our stress brings us to our breaking point, that is when stress begins to manifest as anxiety, fear, anger, and other emotions that the stoics would have called excess. I do not consider myself a proper stoic, but I have definitely seen the work of the stoics in action first hand this month and I cannot say I disapprove.

This article on Thoughtco compares the well-known Serenity Prayer to the Stoic Agenda, and I find it intriguing enough to repost it:

Serenity Prayer

God grant me the serenity To accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference. (Alcoholics Anonymous)

God, give us grace to accept with serenity the things that cannot be changed, courage to change the things that should be changed, and the wisdom to distinguish the one from the other. (Reinhold Niebuhr)

Stoic Agenda

To avoid unhappiness, frustration, and disappointment, we, therefore, need to do two things: control those things that are within our power (namely our beliefs, judgments, desires, and attitudes) and be indifferent or apathetic to those things which are not in our power (namely, things external to us). (William R. Connolly)

As pointed out in the article, the principle difference is that the Serenity Prayer also asks for the wisdom to be able to differentiate things not in our power from things that are, whereas the Stoic Agenda assumes the difference to be self-evident. But it is a feature of Stoicism that this ethic of gaining mastery over things within our control while remaining apathetic to things that are outside that control should help us cultivate wisdom along the way, so a request for said wisdom is moot to the stoic. It is not something that can be granted or received externally in the first place.

We are a little over a third of the way through the Season of Samhain. Yule is just around the corner, and the holiday shopping that accompanies it will be in full swing soon enough. My personal budget is now pretty much nonexistent thanks to an almost $900 car repair bill, so I’m going to continue on my merry way towards a mostly-stoic attitude this year. I can’t help the external problems. I can only help the way I react to them. If shopping lists are trimmed, so be it. What have I to be upset about? The people I love will surround me at Yule. We will have a wonderful holiday of light, love, and laughter, and we will all know the wisdom of cherishing the memories over the things.

Samhain, Memory, and Politics

The Liturgical Season in Which Mysticism Reigns Supreme and Politics are Absurd

Between Samhain and Yule there are 51 days. In the traditional, Western liturgical division of the year for Pagans known as the “Wheel of the Year”, the Samhain season is one of the longest. If we Pagans had a liturgical calendar similar to the Christians, these 51 days would be given a scattering of religious observances focused on the Blessed Dead, Mighty Dead, Ancient Wise, and other ancestral categories of veneration. While many contemporary Pagans do engage in varying degrees of ancestor worship year round, for some Samhain is the one time of year they truly turn their focus toward their ancestors, both familial and traditional. As a dogmatic skeptic, I spend a lot of my time outside the Samhain season musing on more Aristotelean ideas about the soul and the afterlife. But during the Samhain season I allow myself the indulgence of suspending disbelief and diving head first into the mysticism of the period.

While it’s already the third of November when I’m writing this, there is more to the why of timing than just laziness (though there is that, too; I was no where near the thought of writing this the day of October 31). Two things occurred this year. On June 9, I got married and was given a tea set that belonged to my maternal grandmother. On October 31, my mother suffered a massive stroke that resulted in us turning the lights off in the face of approaching trick-or-treaters and spending the evening in the ICU.

Since my wedding, I’ve been on-again, off-again trying to write up my thoughts on the ephemera of memory, and why the oral, familial legacy of our ancestors is such a powerful force. Particularly in the case of my grandparents, my grandmothers loom large in my mind because one of my grandfathers passed before I was born and the other passed before I was old enough to form lasting memories of him. My maternal grandmother also died while I was young, but I have many fond memories of her attending Thanksgivings and Christmases. My paternal grandmother died several years later, but I used to spend my days after school at her apartment waiting for my mom to come pick me up to take me home. Incidentally, she taught me how to box by waiting in the linen closet all night until I had to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night, then leaped out and got me in an impromptu boxing match (she won). Having since faced the mortality of my father, and having a serious reminder that my mother is also mortal, this season is fraught with reasons why I personally set the skepticism aside in favor of the possibility of life after death and the various traditions contemporary Paganism has claimed for itself.

A few years ago, I posted really bad images of a dumb supper. This yearly tradition takes many forms historically, but we tend to follow the “eat in silence, eat the courses in reverse, do some fortune telling qua spirit communication afterward” basic format handed down by the Spiritualists (we, however, do not refrain from salting our food). It’s in these moments that I remind myself that skepticism and mysticism are not either-or propositions. Perhaps the post-dinner tarot is just a psychological exercise that uses veneers of spirit communication and prognostication to communicate psychological archetypes. Perhaps when the medium at the 2017 Witches’ Ball started yelling my name from across the room, grabbed my hand, and very sternly said “Do not get on the plane”, my dad was making as much fun of me for attending as he was making fun of the medium. It would 100% be within my dad’s sense of humor to descend upon a medium in the middle of a mass seance and make the medium say things like “Don’t get on the plane” to make fun of the entire premise of mediumship.

It’s these rituals and the stories they bring out of us that keep our familial memories alive, which I believe to be important in the age of maturing capitalism and the erosion of communities it has brought us. As individuals increasingly feel alienated from their jobs, communities, and families, the ability to maturely approach these sorts of questions–the afterlife, memory, oblivion–that allows us to root ourselves in the moment and find a place of belonging. Church services increasingly are less about literally believing the words of the book and the pastor and more about rooting oneself in the few stable communities we have left. Our eight public rituals a year serve this same purpose for us.

It’s interesting, then, how little attention is paid to memory in the political circles of our time. For every invocation of “Make America Great Again” and “We need to make this country work for every American”, there seems to be less and less actual political memory at work. In today’s Columbus Dispatch, a long article regarding the work the Democrats and the Republicans have to do if they want to win Ohio in 2020 centered on technocratic statistical readings of voting patterns in Ohio’s suburbs from 2016. Ironically, it was this hyper-fixation on statistics that convinced Hillary to campaign the way she did and subsequently lose states that, as many as eight years ago, could not conceivably go red. Yet, here we are, in 2019, and a newspaper that may as well be entitled “The Mouthpiece of the Ongoing and Never Ending Reagan Administration” is running stats like it’s the paper of record for the Clinton campaign. To be fair, most of our politics nowadays are run this way. But this is very much the reason Clinton is the case study par excellence of why doing politics this way is not a feasible consideration, and an indictment of our country’s lack of memory.

I do not put too much stock in the oft-quoted quip “Those who do not know their history are doomed to repeat it,” since Hegel and Marx did a bang up job explaining how each historic epoch is unique, and their unique challenges produce unique solutions, but I don’t throw the quip away under the understanding that history has nothing to teach us. Quite the contrary. I think history has a great deal to teach us, but quite often we get stuck romanticizing the further history and as a result fetishizing a vision of the past that never was to the detriment of recent history which is still very much relevant to the contemporary moment. No, Trump is not literally Hitler, but we forget that the cabal of Pelosi, Schumer, Clinton, Obama worked together to stymie the demands of vast swathes of Americans in the aftermath of the 2008 crash in order to hand over billions of public funds to the banks and developers, directly influencing the sentiments and voting patterns of 2016. Just remember that this is the woman leading the House investigation against Trump:

I don’t point this out to demean the efforts of House Democrats to investigate a gangster president who sees his role not as one in which he works for and within the polis of the body politic but as a role in which he must come out the other side of his tenure with more money and more credentials than he went in with. But I point it out because Nancy Pelosi looked at the Occupy movement, looked at rising leftward sentiment (particularly among young people), and looked at an upcoming vote between two oligarchs only to decide “We cannot do better.” Two years later, she is still wedded to the the policies that gave us Trump and also gave us the largest surge in political activism among young people since the Vietnam War. On the one hand she (and the establishment she represents) wants to say “Get out the vote” while simultaneously saying “Be happy with what you have and don’t demand more.”

People like Pelosi bank on our cultural lack of memory, because it’s how they get re-elected and how they continue to get away with passing policies that the people despise. While I don’t think I have any good, deep insights into what memory actually is or how it functions, I think I can at least articulate why memory, familial and political, is important. Without memory we atomize. We become lone individuals in a sea of other lone individuals. We lose our connections within our communities and our wants and demands become little more than shouting into a void. While we can definitely rally on Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr around other void shouters, the ability to articulate a demand becomes harder and harder when we only see ourselves as one of The Oppressed, and not as communities of oppressed people. Capitalism has obliterated our communities and will continue to do so until we are able to replace it with something else. In the meantime, it is the rituals of Samhain, of Halloween, of Thanksgiving, Christmas, etc. that help us keep these connections alive. It is the memories of our passed loved ones that keep us anchored in traditions that transcend today’s material conditions if even just for a little while. So, for the 51 days of Samhain, I set aside my doubts and name the ancestors, even to those I never knew, and even those whose names I don’t know. It’s a small act, but in its way, a powerful one. And it helps keep my memory sharp so that I don’t forget when it’s my turn at the ballot box.

Ronald Asa Hensley — 1951-2011
Robert E Hensley — 1920-1993
Thomas J Hensley1880-1932
William S Hensley — 1811-1892
Benjamin Hensley — 1793-1862
Sarah Elizabeth Penick — 1922-2002
Thomas Patrick O’Brien — 1924-1981
Norann Parker — 1922-1998
Margaret Millea — 1883-1948
Honora English — 1855-1930
Margaret Stack — 1821-1893

Samhain Season and Fandom

The Tacky Cult of Halloween

Insert banal basic internet rant about the appropriation of pagan holidays here. Now disregard that because, strangely, nobody does this for Halloween despite it being standard hat for Christmas and Easter, and despite Halloween being ostensibly the most pagan-y of the supposedly appropriated holidays. In lieu of pointing out that nobody’s holidays were appropriated because you, my dear, have no directly cultural connection to the people who would have been affected by such an appropriation, I instead want to talk about the consumerist identity of this season and how your slavish devotion to The VVitch and Hocus Pocus doesn’t make you spookier-than-thou.

The fact that I possess all three Funko Pop! Sanderson sisters and Black Phillip makes me spookier-than-thou.

Peter Coffin has a lot to say about consumerism and cultivated identity, and how the insertion of neoliberal capitalism gamifies fandom. In fact, he has several videos on YouTube about it. But I’ll just link one and you can watch it at your leisure.

In case knowing that it’s that Peter Coffin turns you off because he’s so totally #cancelled, here’s another short piece that explores a different but related issue of direct government interference in the things you consume.

In case it’s not abundantly clear the point I’m going after, it is very simple. Your entire spooky witch aesthetic and your desire to be a part of it was designed and cultivated by people who want to make a profit, and the pathway to this reality was literally laid in the blood of the Cold War. As the Yalta Conference wound down and WWII segued into the Cold War, the dominant and most popular mode of artistic expression was Social Realism. The Soviet Union, with its government ministry of agitation and propaganda–Agitprop–was able to harness the power of Social Realism, codify it and propagandize it as Socialist Realism, and began to dominate the soft power front of an international war for hearts and minds. As Bob Chipman in the Escapist video above makes very, very clear, the US didn’t do away with propaganda so much as learned how to subvert its own public into consuming it by choice. Whereas the Soviet Union and other command economies can just demand great works of culture on a whim, the United States had to throw money into a lot of places to corral artists and writers into doing this work for them, make it look organic, and convince the public to consume it. This paved the way in the post-Cold War period for Neoliberal economists and Francis Fukuyama “end of history” type liberals to assume that the victory of the free market meant the supremacy of market activity. As Peter Coffin (I know, I know, yuck, he did that thing nobody liked but he’s making good points on this topic so can we continue please?) points out, consumer culture and activity was already present long before Neoliberalism sought to constrain all behaviors into the market, but that just laid the groundwork for profit-hungry corporations to help gamify the things that people love and create a culture of competition among fans.

As Coffin explains, you’re never just a fan. You may like the thing, but you have to like it in the right way. This means buying the right things, and more of the right things. It means developing an identity around the thing itself, which in turn generates a sense of ownership around it, and once you have that sense of ownership, what is done with the thing becomes incredibly important to you. Lindsey Ellis adds a very important component to this gamification of culture in discussing #girlboss and Woke Disney, and how the market not only corrals your identity of a thing you love but also your politics.

As an aside I’m really sorry for the sheer amount of embedded YouTube links I’ve thrown into this. But I’m a fan, which means I own YouTube, so I should drive views…and….and…..

As Ellis explains, particularly with Mary Poppins I and II and with Dumbo, a lot of criticism against Capitalism has been forthcoming in our current Zeitgeist. Coffin also identifies many of the problems in our culture with Capitalism, and Chipman centers this point at the heart of his analysis. What Ellis goes on to explain though is that, specifically with Disney but we can extrapolate it to pretty much every media outlet and producer of consumer fandom merch, the bosses who want to continue making money are aware of this, so critiques (and meta-critiques) in media are turned away from capitalism as a system and towards capitalists as individuals. “No,” says Disney, “It’s not that we are about to own everything that’s the problem, it’s that there’s a few bad apple racists out there and if you just demonstrate that you’re profitable as a commodity they won’t be as racist towards you,” which was essentially the plot of The Princess and The Frog despite being set in the heart of the Jim Crow South. Racism? What systemic racism? Never happened. Here, buy stuff.

What does all this have to do with your witchy aesthetic? Well, it should be fairly easy enough to connect the dots, but Disney owned properties just love trotting out the 13 Days of Halloween, 31 Days of Halloween, etc. etc. to showcase all your favorite cute and scary Halloween films from your childhood. From The Addams Family to Hocus Pocus, they really truly love that you love this stuff. And what’s not to love? These are fun stories with a unique aesthetic which provides an alternative to the typical schlock that Hollywood puts out for children and young adults. It’s fun. And there’s nothing wrong with this. But Hocus Pocus premiered in 1992. Why am I, at 32 years old, being given Funko Pop! vinyls of the Sanderson sisters in 2019? This isn’t even classic merch. This is new. This is re-released. Cross reference America’s favorite nostalgia critic Lindsey Ellis. No this is not a paid, commercial endorsement.

Less than a year ago, the New York Times ran a piece on the increasing number of self-identified Pagans in the United States. Quartzy (or QZ) ran a similar piece shortly before that, and this Newsweek article from the same period but just came across my Facebook newsfeed a couple weeks ago. As a veteran to the scene myself, I would be lying if I said I wasn’t at least partial to this increase in numbers, if a bit weary about the self-reporting aspect since we as a faith community have notoriously fuzzy definitions on what it means to be a Pagan or a Polytheist, and we live in a world epistemically dominated by Postmodernism which says Paganism can be literally whatever you want it to be. Followed to its logical conclusion, there are actually three-hundred-million Pagans in the US even if 99% of them don’t know it yet. But the problem of epistemic definition aside, this sudden rise in Pagan numbers has been going on for some time. As the QZ article points out, it really took off in the early 2000’s when people who were really forming their identities around movies like Hocus Pocus, The Craft, and television shows like Charmed and Sabrina: The Teenage Witch were starting to come into their late teens and early adulthood. This is also when Neoliberal economics were going into overdrive on the aftereffects of the Clinton Years but before the Big Recession. It isn’t very difficult, given all of the above, to connect the dots to explain why this has taken off the way it has. Subsequently, most of these young adults graduated into one of the worst job markets this country has seen since the Great Depression. Given that God, Guns, and Gin are the go-to coping mechanisms when you’re young and broke, and our generation generally frowns on guns, the hardening of our identification within the Pagan umbrella (and drinking culture) is hardly surprising. Once Trump comes along and there’s a lot of public demonstrations surrounding witches trying to curse him, Raymond Buckland shaming them for cursing from beyond the grave (seriously he’s still alive but I honestly thought he wasn’t), and then witches trying to curse Brett Kavanaugh, the publicity of Real Witches(TM) paired with Disney’s money-boner for spooky shit no doubt has had a particularly material effect on the number of people crossing the line from Christianity to witch and Pagan.

So this brings us to a rather unavoidable conclusion. Your true-blue devotion to the spooky aesthetic isn’t some organic development of rebellious counter-culture. It’s been especially tailored, focused-grouped, and market researched to death before being sold to you, all to encourage you to spend as much money on things that serve zero utility to you or your life except to brand yourself as belonging to a particular clique in the Zeitgeist. It’s Mean Girls but goth.

And at the end of the day, it’s not a moral judgment against anyone for indulging it. There is no ethical consumption under capitalism, so since we live in a capitalist society run by zombie neoliberal overlords who see wallets instead of people, you cannot avoid this consumption. As Coffin diagnoses, however, there is a difference between healthy fandom and unhealthy fandom. And while the ZOMGTOXICFANDOM things have been deconstructed to death, they generally miss the point that what’s toxic isn’t exclusive to the gatekeepers and the people who sexualize children’s television ponies. It is just as toxic to tweet endlessly that Trump is Voldemort or to take J.K. Rowling’s twitter feed seriously at all. It is just as toxic to fantasize about shipping Steven Universe characters as it is to identify as a Hufflepuff well into your adulthood, and to take this identity as seriously as people take their Astrological signs. Identifying with what you consume means that the line between consumption and reality is blurred. The real material effect of cursing Donald Trump and binding Brett Kavanaugh is a blindingly excessive nothing. No matter what you believe regarding the practice of witchcraft and magick, the demonstrable effect of putting one’s witchy aesthetic identity into practice on the mainstage of public perception has been nothing short of a disaster. Why? Because instead of empowering people to organize and analyze the political-economic-social situation on a results-oriented basis, these images just reinforce the soft-power #girlboss image being pushed by the same people who profit off our endless consumption of vinyl dolls that don’t even have mouths (most of the time). It reinforces the idea that it’s not the system that’s a problem, it’s isolated individuals that are the problem. It’s not zombie capitalism shambling its way to ecological collapse, it’s Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos having too many billions of dollars instead of the right amount of billions of dollars. It’s looking at Hillary Clinton, Elizabeth Warren, and Kamala Harris and thinking their realized politics are substantially different from Ronald Reagan, George Bush Jr, and Donald Trump. It’s a failure to reckon with the system as-it-is, the system-in-itself, and instead framing the discourse of what should be done and how it should be done according to the predetermined definitions and talking points of Disney.

None of this of course is to say that nobody should wear what they like or watch what they like. Again, because of the system we live in this type of consumption-as-identity is unavoidable. However, we can choose to recognize this behavior and the limitations it imposes on us in confronting a horribly exploitative system and start doing something about it. And just so nobody accuses me of diagnosing a problem without offering positive solutions, I recommend reading Rosa Luxemburg’s seminal 1900 classic, Reform or Revolution, as a starting point of discussion.

Blessed Samhain, everybody!

Praying the Hours

Pagan Monasticism and the Ivory Tower

In my early 20’s I spent a summer with the monks at Gethsemene, Kentucky. It was a powerfully formative moment of my life during which I encountered a community arrayed for a single purpose, each member dedicating themselves to realizing that purpose. It left an indelible mark on me, and one that I have never tried to expunge even as I walked away from Christianity and monotheism. It raised a desire in me to see the maturation of pagan theology and praxis, and I more than once contemplated suggesting a ritualized order of prayer and devotional living to those I consider my co-religionists. This plan has never materialized, and as I age I realize such a cloistered life is really not my calling.

In most religious communities, there are those known as “lay members” who are not bound to the rule of the order but choose to observe the rule and principles in their own way. This is no different for Pagan monastics, such as the Order of the Horae associated with the First Kingdom Church of Asphodel. Their Order of the Horae site goes into more detail on why one would contemplate joining a monastic order despite it appearing as decidedly un-Pagan as one can get, so it’s not really my aim to get into that here. However, in recognizing that Pagan monastic orders exist, the undying question of doctrine and dogma rears its ugly head again.

The Order of the Horae is an eclectic tradition, pulling its influences from many different traditions and sources. They also accept a transcendent view of divinity, which is more common than not so it’s not surprising. This makes the Order of the Horae impossible for me to join if I wanted to, even as a lay member. Why? Quite simply, Object-Oriented Theology is fundamentally incompatible with pure eclecticism. As a realist theology, it is also at odds with a transcendent understanding of divinity. These might seem like minor differences but they present major conflicts.

Firstly, eclectic, transcendental Paganism is thoroughly infused with appeals to Unconfirmed Personal Gnosis. The Order of the Horae has several instances of this. In their discussion of their Twelve Principles, it is mentioned that gods “claimed” the principles during their development. In their discussion of their prayer beads, they mention that the design for them was located in the Akashic Records. Both of these are instances of UPG asserting itself on doctrinal norms. Regarding transcendence versus imminence, imminent divinity demands a closer relationship with established myths and traditions associated with each god’s cultus. Simply reflecting them on an altar set according to a standard Wiccan aesthetic disregards this.

None of this is to disparage the Church of Asphodel or their Order. It is simply to draw a comparison to the other option available to the reclusive, reflective Pagan–the ivory tower. WordPress is replete with Pagan ivory towers, and the wider internet has even more. As a religious community principally composed of individuals rather than congregations, there is a vast plurality of views. But, as with many things in this neoliberal marketplace of a society, we tend to celebrate diversity for diversity’s sake instead of having in-depth investigations of our personal beliefs. The internet is a place where we can shout this to the world and maybe get some traction and feedback if we’re lucky. But this freedom to assert one’s own vision has its downside, and that is that we lose the community that helps reinforce our practice. As much as the Trappist monks were and are an inspiration to me, I do not pray or spend time in devotional reflection nearly as often as I would really like to. Were I to join a community such as the Order of the Horae, even though our respective theologies are absolutely at odds with each other, I would have a supportive framework to help encourage my devotions.

Like everything in life, there is a give and take. The community of believers has its pros and cons, the ivory tower has its own share of both. The 2015 Winter Solstice issue of Walking the Worlds was themed around developing local cultus. Perhaps it’s time for the community and the ivory tower to work on meeting in the middle.

Gangleri's Grove

The Musings of Galina Krasskova

Roving the Two Lands

A former New Atheist following Wepwawet into Kemetic polytheism


Philosophy and Theology

The Trickster's Guide to Geopolitics

International Relations for the Outsider

Buckeyes and Broomsticks

Practicing Neo-Paganism in The Buckeye State


Alexandria Reborn

Temple of Athena the Savior

A Modern Polytheist's Constantly-Evolving Spiritual Journey

Per Sebek

The House of Sobek Shedety

Down the Forest Path

A Journey Through Nature, its Magic and Mystery