Since the posting of the article Confronting the New Right on Gods & Radicals, there has been quite a lot of writing going on in response to it. When I first came across it, I was going to weigh in on it. Then, I caught the flu my son had just gotten over, and in my usual fashion when I get sick, it took me down hard for a few days. I watched from the sidelines as conversations unfolded, and I could not help but think: good. We need to talk. We need to weigh things and figure out where we stand on things.
Rather than seeing these recent developments as portents of doom for the polytheist communities, or for various folks in the Pagan communities, I see these as part of a larger unfolding within these communities.
“Paganism in general—and apparently Devotional and Reconstructionist Polytheism in particular—have been long overdue for a reckoning.”
When I read these words that invoke a reckoning, from Rhyd Wildermuth’s post on Patheos, The Uncomfortable Mirror, particularly from someone who identifies as a bard, that not only gives me pause, but I am urged to ask
“What is this bard calling for, and why this word? What kind of reckoning is he calling for?”
The use of words is a powerful thing. The word polytheism is a word that contains a worldview within it. All the religions within the various polytheist communities take their basic understanding of who they are, what they are, and where their religion starts from this word.
The use of words is a powerful thing. The use of words like devotion, for instance, is one that comes up quite a lot in discussion in Pagan and polytheist circles. It has in Wildermuth’s piece, but how he uses it bothers me. He uses both ‘relational’ and ‘devotional’ as words for identification within polytheism. The reason why this use bothers me is that polytheism is devotional in nature. Devotional means “Of or used in religious worship”. Since polytheism is “The belief in or worship of more than one god” this division in language makes little sense, as worship requires devotional work, offerings, etc. in order to be of or used in religious worship. A religious regard for the Gods renders us in a relationship with the Gods. There is no point to how Rhyd Wildermuth uses ‘devotional’ and ‘relational’, especially in quotes, because without these things as being part of polytheist religion and polytheism itself, you do not have belief or worship because there is no religious regard for the Gods, and thus, no relationship with or to Them, except perhaps as a rhetorical device. Why one would try to divorce devotion and relationality from the Gods makes no sense to me, especially since this is the very ground of polytheism itself.
The problem with Wildermuth stating that his post, Confronting the New Right, was a resource supplement to Shane Burley’s article Fascism Against Time, is that nowhere in the original draft of the piece does Rhyd identify himself, the purpose of the article, or that it is to be an information page on the New Right. As someone more predisposed towards Wildermuth’s left views, and having read the article in question, I found myself consistently simply not seeing what he insists is there in the original article in his latest write up on it, The Uncomfortable Mirror, in which he tries to give this clarification. Had he been clear and upfront in his presentation this incredibly long post would never have been needed. However, I made no connection between Confronting the New Right and Fascism Against Time. It was not until I read this latest post by Wildermuth that I realized there was supposed to have been a connection!
Part of the issue, especially not being part of anarchist, Marxist, or far-left circles myself, is that the article itself provides little understanding of what the New Right itself is. In this, it fails as a resource. I need to know why the right alone, or conservatism alone, is being singled out for this. Why is the right alone being taken to task on this, and what alternatives does the left offer? What is actually wrong with being on the right, politically?
Stating that your piece draws no equivalency while people are actively telling you that they are seeing you draw them in this way is either tone-deaf or actively not listening to the critiques you are getting on this piece. Repeating your disclaimer from the section in question is not actually helping. We have eyes. If folks are not getting it, even if you repeat it three times, the problem may not be with the reader, but with the article. Even in the most charitable reading I gave it, I still was getting quite a bit of false equivocation between the polytheist groups Wildermuth mentioned, the New Right, and fascist ideology. Not only is this unhelpful, but repeating yourself when folks are blatantly telling you that you’re not communicating effectively is not accepting criticism, nor responding effectively to it. If this is what Wildermuth views as an acceptable response to criticism, it reads as doubling down on the rhetoric he has already employed, and pushing the Pagan and polytheist communities to this ‘reckoning’.
Here is one of the keys, though, where The Uncomfortable Mirror really makes me sit back.
Wildermuth freely admits that:
“Do I put my politics first? I don’t actually know what that means. Do I favor political ideology over what the gods say to me? Do I favor political action over spiritual activities? This is not a question I can answer, because in my world, they inform each other and are inextricably linked. My gods help me understand my relations to politics, and my politics helps me understand my relationship with my gods. There is no wall between them for me.”
So…wait. If a fascist said this exact same line wouldn’t he be criticizing them for hijacking polytheism in favor of the New Right? Why is Rhyd’s view of this suddenly preferential to a New Right view? He glosses right over this point and heads into the next one, but this bears some serious looking at.
Just because I may have some sympathies with Wildermuth’s views does not mean he is above reproach here. I believe polytheism needs to be open to all political viewpoints even if its individual communities are not. Polytheism and polytheist communities are two different things. He says that both Beckett and Krasskova admit “the possibility that political views might shape beliefs and practice.” Meaning, this shapes their beliefs of polytheism and their practice of polytheism. However, it does not change polytheism for polytheists as a whole. Polytheism is, and remains, the worship or belief in many Gods whatever the ideology, politics, etc. of the individual polytheist and/or polytheist communities they are involved in.
Being unable to differentiate whether or not you are putting your politics before your Gods, or that your politics are so intertwined with your Gods that they are inseparable is something he takes Galina to task for in the very next paragraph, and calls her out directly for. The problem with doing so, in my view, is that in the Confronting the New Right piece he blatantly says that “The New Right is difficult to define precisely, which has been one of their greatest strengths. But here are some core ideas that are common in most New Right thinkers”. He’s going to take someone to task for having ideas that align with people he does not agree with. He is critiquing a group of people for intertwining their politics with religion, while intertwining his politics with his religion. That he can actually point to Krasskova’s views and say “Look, these are New Right!” means that she and others are being open about their politics. It is also true that she is being open and forthright with where her religious views take her, including tribalism, hierarchy, eschewing to tradition, and caring for how these things unfold rather than her personal interests.
“Is there a leftist infiltration of Polytheism? And am I—and the writers of Gods&Radicals—leading it? Or did I, by gathering information about the New Right hold an uncomfortable mirror up to a tradition I am a part of? Have I violated sacred traditions, or merely revealed their political aspects?
While I and the writers of Gods&Radicals are quite open about our political views and how they relate to our practices and beliefs, it might be a good time for others to consider being more open about this, too.”
Rather than there being a leftist infiltration of polytheism, I see that this piece is a political litmus test that is being put on polytheism. So yes, in this sense, he and the writers of Gods & Radicals are leading this. He gathered information, poorly laid it out, and called a cracked surface a mirror. He did not violate sacred traditions, but spent a lot of digital ink on why those he is aligned with are superior to the communities he points out in his piece, that the New Right is a threat to polytheist communities and is, itself infiltrating polytheist groups while not actually effectively talking about why the New Right is the threat he makes them out to be.
A good chunk of the issue I had with Wildermuth’s Confronting the New Right had to do with the poor definitions I found in it. Not being inside left academia or thought, especially that of anarchism or Marxism, I found there were a lot of assumptions being made and nowhere near enough bread crumbs to find my way to where Wildermuth was making his assertions to begin with on the New Right.
The definition of fascism from OxfordDictionaries.com is: “An authoritarian and nationalistic right-wing system of government and social organization.” Authoritarian is defined as “Favouring or enforcing strict obedience to authority at the expense of personal freedom”. Nationalistic is defined as: “Having strong patriotic feelings, especially a belief in the superiority of one’s own country over others”.
One of many problems with Wildermuth’s piece is that what he is pointing out here has less to do with these definitions and more to do with the general use of the term, as pointed out in the same source: “(In general use) extreme right-wing, authoritarian, or intolerant views or practices: this is yet another example of health fascism in action”. He also does not provide context nor definition for what traditionalism is, nor tribalism, nor does he provide much else in terms of context or definition for the other terms.
The problem is not that Wildermuth is pointing out that the New Right is seeking inroads into Pagan religions, polytheist religions, and the like, but that he provides little-to-no-context within this post for it, nor does he provide any effective means of sussing out the working definitions he has here before diving into what the New Right stands for. A large part of the dismay and anger has erupted directly from this in both articles, and the section titled ‘What is the New Right’s Influence on Paganism?’ in Confronting the New Right.
If the New Right is difficult to define, how much harder will it be for those who are not in leftist, Marxist, or other political groupings to understand where he is coming from? Read from the outside looking in, much of what he has written in Confronting the New Right does not read like an effective guide, so much a document meant to damn certain ways of doing things while providing a few sentences to the notion of everyone being free to go their own way.
Wildermuth says in regards to the Red Scare and witch trials that, “In both cases, there was a political agency obscured by the hysteria and scapegoating. The Red Scare significantly reduced the influence of leftist critique in the United States at the same time that it strengthened the power of Capitalists and the State against workers.”
I wonder if he understand that by adopting a lot of these stances and putting political litmus tests like these on polytheism in the manner he has done, he is actually playing in the us vs. them politics of left vs. right, and is slowly eroding support, even from those on the left. Even if he is actively resisting putting political litmus tests on polytheism, that folks cannot see that, and in fact are seeing the opposite is a problem.
Then I read this:
“Paganism in general—and apparently Devotional and Reconstructionist Polytheism in particular—have been long overdue for a reckoning.” [Emphasis mine.]
Whoa what? Apparently to whom? What kind of reckoning?
I first came across this point in detail when I read The Lettuce Man’s A Thought on the Recent Radical Brouhaha, and it’s gnawed at me since I read it. It still does. Were the right to use this rhetoric would there not be worry -with reason? Why not so with the left?
By what right or direction does Wildermuth make this judgment call to bring polytheists to a reckoning, and who is he to make it?
This statement on dialogue is absolutely chilling, and it’s implications are of deep concern. This is from someone who identifies as a bard, and bards, like skalds, wield words with spiritual impact and power. A reckoning is “the action or process of calculating or estimating something” and “the avenging or punishing of past mistakes or misdeeds”. The use of his words here most definitely point at the latter definition than the former. So, in what way would Wildermuth avenge the ‘apparent’ lacks he sees within their communities? Who or what he is avenging? If not avenging, how will he, or anyone who takes him up in this regard, judge these communities, and mete out punishment? How could he not expect resistance to this overstep?
Wildermuth goes on to say: “Tribalism, Sacred Kingship, Traditionalism, natural hierarchies (specifically, ‘warrior/priest/cultivator’), and anti-egalitarian notions are all crucial aspects of New Right ideology”.
Again, he does not define these things. He does not give clear, useful definitions of what these mean to New Right ideology. Rather, he asks the rhetorical question “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?” and then launches into the aforementioned quote. He links these ideas, and those of us who hold some or many of these ideas together, giving no context. It’s a good rhetorical move, but it does not do anything to bring in trust from those of us sitting giving the side-eye to this whole thing.
For a long time I have identified as left in America because of my belief in and understanding of human rights, my view of the role of government, and how people should be left alone to live their lives with full rights and choice available to them regardless of ethnicity, skin color, creed, gender identity, sexuality, etc. Increasingly, especially with works like this, I am wondering if there is a place for folks like me. I am feeling alienated more and more by the political system, and then the activists for folks on both ends of the spectrum. I am feeling more and more ‘cut loose’, as perhaps the best term for where I am right now, because of the things unfolding as they have been.
The left/right divide is increasingly becoming a point of contention without much of a point for me. At this juncture, I am caring less and less where you are in the political divide, and caring more about “Are you effective at helping us overcome obstacles in our communities?” This does not mean I’ll just open my arms up to fascists, racists, or the like, but, at least in American politics, I am only 30 and getting pretty quickly burnt out on this bullshit. I have a limited amount of time in my life that I am not devoting to a job (now two), raising my family, or helping my tribal religious community, and other religious communities to which I am bound. If I cannot see a political ideology actively contributing to my family, my tribe, or my larger communities I do not have a lot of time or energy left to engage it.
Going back to the quote, I want to dig into some other issues I had with it:
“Tribalism, Sacred Kingship, Traditionalism, natural hierarchies (specifically, ‘warrior/priest/cultivator’), and anti-egalitarian notions are all crucial aspects of New Right ideology”
Tribalism is “The state or fact of being organized in a tribe or tribes.” A tribe is “A social division in a traditional society consisting of families or communities linked by social, economic, religious, or blood ties, with a common culture and dialect, typically having a recognized leader”. Sacred kingship is an active factor in many polytheist religions, including mine, and many of our Gods are, Themselves, sovereigns in Their own rights. Traditionalism is “The upholding or maintenance of tradition, especially so as to resist change.” I’ve already said my piece elsewhere in my writing (such as here and here) on why I find hierarchy useful and good to uphold, and not so with egalitarianism as an organizational tool while still believing in equal rights and protections for people.
Tribalism, sacred kingship, traditionalism, and hierarchy are all, in some way, part of the polytheist religion I am part of.
Why would I let these go at all?
Wildermuth asks this:
“There are some deeply difficult questions that we need to ask. Do the gods want us to return to ‘tribal’ societies, do the gods demand we war against Muslims and Atheists and Leftists, do the gods demand we institute strict hierarchies and authority-relationships between priests and the rest of us?”
First, these are all separate questions. I think that for some of us returning to a tribal society is precisely what the Gods want us to do, while this is not what the Gods want for others. Since I’m not the Gods I’m not going to guess Their minds on this, and I trust Their worshippers have the sense or ability to figure out Their views on this on their own, and make their own choice in response.
Placing this together with “do the gods demand we war against Muslims and Atheists and Leftists” is not a good rhetorical trick, since returning to a tribal society has nothing to do with warring on Muslims and Atheists and Leftists. It does not follow that returning to a tribal society means we’ll be making war on Muslims, Atheists, Leftists, or our other neighbors.
For the last question “do the gods demand we institute strict hierarchies and authority-relationships between priests and the rest of us?” the answer, for at least some of us, is yes.
That ‘rest of us’ though, who the priests serve, is pretty key, and pretending that a priest of one religion serves everyone is foolish at best. Catholics have strict hierarchies and authority-relationships between laity and the priests, and between the priests and those of the ecclesiastical authority. They enter into these relationships with Catholics and sometimes other Christians. They do not serve me specifically as a Catholic because I am not one. They cannot institute that strict hierarchy on me.
I have no desire to institute the hierarchy of my religion on folks unwilling to take part in them. If you do not want to have a strict hierarchy in your religion then don’t belong to one that has one. If you do not believe there should be authority-relationships between priests and the communities they serve, well, I’m not sure what kind of priests you want, but good luck to you. You’ll probably not be served by me, then, because if you’re coming to me as a priest of Odin asking for my help, say, in what to give Him an offering and then completely discount what I have to say, there’s not much incentive for me to keep helping you.
The very last bit Rhyd leaves us with though, bears some looking at:
“And did those gods happen to notice those are the same ideas of the New Right?”
If They did….do They give that big of a damn? Perhaps it is about what ideas work rather than where they are politically aligned. Maybe They prefer the New Right vs. the Left, or vice versa, and you need to consider your allegiances here.
“Perhaps some gods do want that, but that leads us to another question:
Do we want that?”
Well, that really depends on how we view things then, doesn’t it? What matters the most, as polytheists, to us? Our ideology and politics, or our relationships with the Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir? At some point, we will have to decide which view is most important: our own, or that of our Gods, Ancestors, and/or vaettir. I would say that if you do not want what the Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir you are dedicated to want, then it is you that needs to adjust your thinking.
Are there people I disagree with religiously and/or politically that I still venerate? Hell yes. For instance, the Catholics in my family who hold onto Their religion beyond death and still keep up a relationship with me. I have no interest in converting, but if saying the Psalms makes Them happy and is taken in the respect it is meant, as an act of offering and service to Them, then I will do so. It is not about my personal comfort here, because my personal comfort here would probably be to offer Them water, mead, or some other form of food, and praise Them in the religious manner I am most comfortable with. This gets into host and guest, Gebo and similar kinds of considerations, though. Do I do what I am most aligned with personally, or what I ought to do as a good host in my religion in relation to my Ancestors?
How we answer these questions determines whether we are acting out of our own interests, or actually engaging with the Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir on Their terms and in respect with Them. It determines how we live our polytheist lives, how we pass on our ways to the next generation, and what place these things take in our lives individually and communally, in our lives and intergenerationally. The answers to these questions determines the kinds of communities we will build and maintain so that future generations do not have to take on the struggles we did. It determines what we leave to those that follow after us.