Rest

What is it to not do spiritwork for months on end? It is service to others, whether to the Gods, Ancestors, or vaettir, and/or those in my communities. The pause I have taken was to rest. As was pointed out to me by several loved ones, I was definitely burning my candle at both ends and sometimes in the middle too.

Since October I have taken time off from spiritwork. That means no public rituals, no divination work, and almost no spirit travel for others. It has also meant I have done as little personal spiritwork as I am able. This does not mean everything is cast aside, though.

I still cleanse, ground, center, and shield everyday at least once a day. I still make prayers every day. I still make time to think and pray. I still do magic as I need to. Clearly, I still write.

I will not pretend like taking this time off has been easy. It has not. I deeply enjoy doing spiritwork. The writing prompts, whether the topic suggestions, Q&As, or prayer requests, all provide a powerful challenge and incentive to write and do spiritwork on their own. Likewise, the videos I have been producing have pushed me to think hard about how to be informative and concise about the Basics of Heathenry.

Something I have remarked to folks through Around Grandfather Fire and its Discord server is that I struggle with the need to be or feel productive. Rather than constantly fight with myself over this, I have reframed the last few months’ break as a form of service. When it comes to brass tacks, that is what it is. I cannot perform well if I am constantly overworking myself. I cannot do the best work that I can for the Gods, Ancestors, vaettir, my communities, or myself, if I am constantly exhausted. Reframing rest as service, as furthering the work, helps to put my mind at ease. I recognize how fucked up that is, that the only way that I feel I can relax and put things aside is by framing them in terms of service to the work. I hasten to point out, though, that no God, Ancestor, or vaettr has put this mindset on me. This is definitely the product of the overculture. Sometimes Odin will push, but He has not pushed me as much as I have pushed myself.

Am I going to start back up with spiritwork in February? I am not sure. I will be doing some talking with my partners, friends, and doing some thinking and praying. ConVocation has been postponed until next year. My two weeks of vacation I was going to take for it are locked in. I either take the vacation or simply lose it. I am seriously considering just taking February off to enjoy the two weeks in our new home, and relaxing.

Funny enough, I started to write this post before the latest episode of Around Grandfather Fire. We are just starting our 4th season with Episode 83. I had not yet decided on whether to take February off. By the end of the episode I had decided that I would. It would mean six months off from professional spiritwork.

Why, if I valued my spiritwork so highly and the work I do for others would I take so much time off? I need it. In the time since I began my break I have encountered heavy mandatory overtime at work, worked on buying our home, and finally, came down with COVID-19 before moving in. We are mostly moved now, and despite the many months off from spiritwork, work in various forms has eaten what would have been the empty space there. Had I been doing spiritwork alongside all the work I am doing as a father, partner, and worker, I would probably have collapsed by now.

What helped turn me around on a lot of this was framing things not through an individual narrative, but a collective one. Being a goði, spiritworker, father, partner, and community means I am part of a whole. I am part of a tribe. I do not live for just myself. If anyone in my Kindred or tribe came to me with my workload what would my response be?

“Take some time off and relax for fuck’s sake!”

I have held unreasonably high expectations of myself for a long while. Part of reframing my mindset on rest was not just ‘this is good for me, Sarenth the individual’. What I needed was ‘this is good for my communities’ and ‘this is good for Sarenth, and this good benefits the communities I am in’. Much of my mindset is not about myself, but about what I can do for the Kindred and tribe I am in. If I crash, break down, collapse, or fall apart I can no longer do my best within those communities. It is not only in my interest, but in my communities’ interests that I care for myself, learn to pace myself, and do right by myself. So, for the time being I will do that: I will rest, so that when I return to spiritwork I can do so with my full faculties and do the best job that I am able to.

Patreon Topic 41: On Keeping Multiple Paths

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From Streaking Fate comes this topic:

“I’m not sure if you posted much about this or not, but how you keep multiple paths running smoothly without colliding (ie Anubis and Odin).”

I am not entirely sure it is possibly to keep them from colliding. Sometimes you can have obligations that reach over one another, and you will have to pick what comes first based on your priorities.

Having clearly defined priorities is the biggest way that I avoid collision in the first place: having clearly defined priorities from my Gods, my family, my friends, and for the things in my life. This can be established by direct contact with the Ginnreginn and/or divination. I need to communicate my needs fully and honestly while also fulfilling any obligations I have to Them, my family, and communities. To communicate what I need I must have a clear idea of how my days go, what I can or cannot budge on, and what needs must come first so that I can best fulfill the obligations before me and live well.

In my case Anpu stepped back when Óðinn came to the forefront of my relationships with the Gods. This made the prioritization of one God’s work over the other’s relatively straightforward. Not everyone has this, and even in my case I still have to prioritize my spiritual work.

If you are encountering a time where you need to choose what work to do when, it may be best to think of what you can realistically do with the time you have available to you. If Óðinn wants me to do a large-scale research project over the course of a year, do I have the ability, energy, resources, and time to do this? Can I negotiate on the particulars of the project? Is whether I can do the project dependent on these factors, or is it more a matter of my time-management? Can I do this work in addition to the obligations and other factors already at play in my life? If this is a high priority being put on me, what can I put on the back burner, or stop doing during the duration of the project so I have the time and energy to get it done?

How do I organize my priorities?

This is how I lay out my months: I start with my day job which has a set schedule and the overtime I have preplanned for it. Then, I lay out what days I have regular spiritual work engagements such as divination, workshops, and the like. In between all the time where I have the spiritual work I regularly do is when I have my work as a father, husband, community member, and then, me time. Sometimes the me time gets sacrificed, and sometimes it is my time in the community. I try to hold back as much time as I can for being a father and husband, yet sometimes I need to give that time to spiritual work so it gets done. I am lucky that I have family, friends, and community that understands this and supports me, both in our collective outlook and in direct support of my work. I would not be able to do it otherwise.

Within that broad category of spiritual work will be the things I do for folks on my Patreon, blog, Around Grandfather Fire, 3 Pagans on Tap, Crossing Hedgerows Sanctuary and Farm, and any personal spiritual work that needs doing. When I am negotiating with the Gods on priorities, I am negotiating on things that are not as scheduled out in my personal spiritual work time. If a God or Goddess comes forward with work for me to do I weigh it against the work I am already doing. Why did I list all that out? Because if I am going to come to the negotiating table with any God, Ancestor, or vaettr I need to clearly account for the obligations I already hold before I take anything else on. I need to be sure that what I am negotiating for or against can realistically fit into my life.

Even with all of this work to prioritize and plan collisions still happen. How do I negotiate that? I apologize and, where I can, work to do better in the future so it does not happen again. Maybe I know a piece of work leaves me with little energy, or I have a double to work every week so certain days will not be possible for me to make offerings. If I need to I negotiate these things out with the Ginnreginn. Then, I do whatever work that I can do. Sometimes what is easier in the moment gets done first, and sometimes it is what is harder. I do the work at hand, even if it is piecemeal.

Without going into disaster thinking, explore what a collision of paths looks like well before you get there. In all likelihood it is going to be something simple, like “I have X amount of energy to do Y and Z. This thing I agreed to do with/for Deity A and Deity B requires that X to do, so I have to choose one or the other today and do the other tomorrow.” Does it radically harm your relationship(s) to do this? In all likelihood, no. However, at least for me, it does head off anxiety at the pass so rather than overfocusing on what I cannot do I focus on what I can, and then get what I am able done. If you know you have weekly offerings and time can slip you by easily, making reminders in calendars, set alarms, and work with any housemates you have so you remember to do them promptly. If you need to buy offerings setting reminders in your calendar a day or two ahead, and always setting them in the same spot not only breeds familiarity with the routine, it gives the offerings a place to be, and less likely to be misplaced.

Everyone’s priorities and spiritual work is different, and each person’s way of avoiding collisions in their life will be as well. What matters is that when you do have collisions, and you likely will, you do whatever is in your ability to do. Then, when you can finish the work at hand, you do that. Do your best and relax. We are weaving Urðr with our Ginnreginn; They have vested interest in each person doing their utmost to weave well.

Patreon Topic 34: On Rune Signs and Confirmations

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From Leslie comes this topic:”Do runes or runvaettir ever appear as signs or confirmations of a Working, well, working? Outside of divination, if they do, how might they do so?”

Oh yes, They can. I have had branches fall down in front of me, unmistakably forming a Rune after asking for a sign. Unless it is something that blatant I will ask that a Rune show up as an answer three times before I will accept it. Sometimes the way the Runes have made Themselves known to me is a little subtle, such as graffiti on a wall or municipal signs.

Sometimes I only see such things after the fact, eg the graffiti really sticks with me and I can’t figure out why until I sit with it. I had this once where Gebo showed up on a wall three times, and I just took it to mean Xs instead, maybe a tag or something. It hit me a little while later that the meaning of Gebo three times was a sign and fit with the question on my mind at the time. Sometimes you recognize it in the moment as something seemingly mundane that just…leaps out at you.

Can They make Themselves known in other ways? Sure. Understanding that Runes are vaettir, spirits, They can communicate with us other than through visual mediums, such as by touch. If you know the literal feeling of how a Rune feels when it has been cut into an object, then that can be a way They use to communicate, such as by running a hand or finger gently along a concrete wall or a wooden table. Since They are vaettir and can work with any of our spiritual senses that happen to be ‘on’ at a given moment, They can work through sound, even smell and/or taste if you have experienced Them in this way. There was a couple of books I encountered a while back where you would literally bake cookies and take the magic of the Runes into you through them, so if you did something like this with a recipe specific to each Rune even the taste of a cookie could kick-start a conversation.

Depending on the Rune(s) at hand, how They come to you, and whether or not you asked a question beforehand can have an impact on your answer. For instance, if I ask for a sign and get it by sight, smell, and feel I might consider that a confirmed sign, and then need to interpet what the medium of communication is saying to me, and what the Rune Itself means. For instance, if I see Hagalaz, smell a smell that I interpret as corresponding to Hagalz, and feel the etching of Hagalaz in a stone I felt called to pick up, then I need to interpret the meaning of Hagalaz from there. This is where having a cache of understanding for the Runes is really helpful. That cache ideally includes knowing the Rune poems well enough to where you can reference them for guidance, your experiences working with the Runes, and correspondences you have built up otherwise with the Runevaettir.

Let’s apply this to my example of Hagalaz showing up in sight, smell, and feel. When Hagalaz shows up in a reading I tend to interpret that much in the same way as a Tower card: things are going to go to shit. Unlike the Tower card where folks reading them might see some kind of light at the end of the tunnel, with Hagalaz that light may well be a damned train. It is one of the roughest Runes to get in a reading, and only occasionally do I get the understanding from the Anglo-Saxon Rune Poem of it being the ice that melts rather than the Icelandic Rune Poem where it is ‘cold grain, sleet, and sickness of serpents’. This translation here by Bruce Dickens on Wikipedia is a good, accessible one. Both Hægl and Hagall are hail, and hail can be incredibly destructive to crops and people. So, when this pops up in a reading whoever gets this Rune is generally not going to get away unscathed.

So how do I interpret this in context of “is a Working, well, working?” If Hagalaz shows up it is a hard “hell no, and this might turn quite ugly”. At the very least if I am asking an Up/Down or Yes/No binary answer it is in the hard “Down” and/or “No” category. Context is key, though. If the working was, say, to cut someone out of my life or to bring something to an end, then it may be effective, if painful.

The context I receive Hagalaz be sight, smell, and feel matters as well. If I receive Hagalaz by sight, say, on a building, then it may be a commentary on how the working was built up, especially if it is at the foundation or ground level. If I receive Hagalaz by smell, say a sharp, clean, and/or piercing smell like cleaner, new-fallen snow, or the like, it may be a comment on something I missed during the working or something that needs to be done so the working can be completed. If I receive the feel of Hagalaz on a stone I have picked up and it is jagged then it may be the working will be ragged, uneven, or is being disrupted by the process itself having been so. This is highly subjective, personal, and completely dependent on your relationship with the Runevaettir, your correspondences, your experiences, and your understanding of Them and yourself at minimum.

While the Rune poems and various books can point you in the right direction to interpret signs and omens from Them, in the end you are doing the interpreting. If I am not getting a clear enough signal I will usually take things to divination. There is nothing wrong with being sure you are understanding the message clearly. There are times you may not need that, and you will understand the meaning of the message crystal clear the first time you get it. In the end, it is up to your relationship with the Runevaettir, and your intuition and understanding.

Patreon Topic 28: On Patreon

If you want to submit a topic you would like me to write on for this blog or my Patreon, sign up for the Uruz or Thurisaz level or above here on my Patreon.

From Amanda Artemisia Forrester comes this topic:

“Can you talk about your experiences making a living as a pagan writer? How long have you been doing Patreon, do you think it’s too soon to draw any conclusive conclusions?”

It is way too early to refer to it as ‘making a living’. The Patreon is a wonderful addition to my income and I am proud of its success. However, it is not making enough to support my family and I. I can talk about my experience as a Pagan writer, though, because it took me almost ten years to get to this point.

Patreon started in 2013, and by then I had been blogging on WordPress for two years. For the nine years I have been blogging on this platform I spent all but the last without being paid for my work. I wrote for pleasure. I still do.

There has been a big change in content in that time. Before launching the Patreon, most of the subjects I wrote on, especially early on, were reflections and reactions to things I saw in the Pagan communities both on and offline. I would write the occasional deep dive into a topic I wanted to explore or thought needed to be fleshed out. In the last couple of years I took to writing more breakdowns on subjects like what ritual praxis is and how to do it, worldview, animism, polytheism, Heathenry in general, and Tribal Heathenry. I would occasionally dedicate months to devotional poetry to the Gods, but my output of devotional poetry would come in fits and starts.

Before the Patreon I would have large chunks of time where I would not write. There were a few reasons behind this, usually to do with home life and especially my jobs. I had it in the back of my head that maybe I should start one, though, but that is where the idea stayed.

Finally, the idea would not let me be. I talked with loved ones, friends, and colleagues. I took the plunge after a lot of encouragement. Given I had heard from so many folks that they wanted to hire my Spiritwork Services (what I used to call my Shamanic Services) but could not afford the $75 flat fee I still have for a Rune reading and most of my other spiritwork, I began to look at how to incorporate my spiritwork into the Patreon. What I offer now is the result from that.

Now, I write several articles every month on this blog for the topics and prayer/poem/song requests my patrons make. The Q&As I write are posted right to the Patreon page. My focus in writing is tighter than it ever has been. Rather than restricting my work, producing content my Patreon patrons want to see has made me open it up. The topic suggestions and Q&As keep me thinking, and exploring my views as a polytheist, especially as a Heathen. My thanks to my patrons for pushing me to be productive, for challenging me, and for supporting my work.

I think that Patreon’s structure came at a crucial time for a lot of content creators. Online ad revenue’s value took a huge nosedive in the last decade or so, and a lot of places in the late 90s and early 00s that relied on that to keep producing content were forced to shutdown. YouTube’s restrictions and algorithms over the years crushed a lot of channels that likewise depended on that steady income. Patreon came in to fill a niche at the perfect time. Where Kickstarter has had great success helping folks produce projects, Patreon’s success has come from helping folks produce regular content.

For me as a writer, as well as a spiritworker, Patreon is a powerful way to connect with my readers and folks wanting Rune readings and spiritual consultation. It allows us a solid platform for communication and Gebo. My hope is things continue this way, and I can expand what I offer through my Patreon. Thank you to all of my readers and Patreon supporters!

Ves Þu heil!

Patreon Topic 20: On Worshiping vs Working With

If you want to submit a topic you would like me to write on for this blog or my Patreon, sign up for the Uruz or Thurisaz level or above here on my Patreon.

From Maleck Odinsson comes this topic:

“Working with vs worship. Where is the line, is there a line, how does this dichotomy play into a layperson’s spirituality vs a spiritual specialist’s practice from your perspective?”

I am going to start with the basic definitions of the words and work out from there. I also want folks to bear in mind that the answers I am going to give come from my perspective as a Heathen. In my experiences with Wicca there is a lot more blending of worship and spiritwork vs that of Heathenry, especially for laypeople.

Work is “1 Activity involving mental or physical effort done in order to achieve a purpose or result…2 A task or tasks to be undertaken.”

Worship is “1 The feeling or expression of reverence and adoration for a deity. 1.1 Religious rites or ceremonies, constituting a formal expression of reverence for a deity.”

The fairly bright line between these two is the purpose for which a spiritual activity is engaged in. Is the work with a God a religious rite or ceremony ‘constituting a formal expression of reverence for a deity’, or is it ‘effort done in order to achieve a purpose or result?” Where that line gets a lot less bright is in the shades of gray where a God may have us do work in service to Them. Even so, unless the worship of my God is the point of the activity at hand, then it is work of some kind of work I am undertaking for Them rather than worshiping Them. Work can, of course, be done as a devotional activity, “Of or used in religious worship”, such as dedicating the sweat of one’s exercise as an offering, or the money one earn’s going to a monthly donation to a water preservation effort in one’s State as an offering to the watervaettir.

Can working with the Gods, Ancestors, and/or vaettir involve worshiping Them? Certainly. Every time I engage in Runework I am making prayers of worship and thanks to Óðinn and the Runevaettir, my Dísir, Väter, Ergi, Þverr, other Ancestors, fylgja, kinfylgja, and other vaettir who may work with me during the Runework. I make offerings before and/or after the Runework. However, the overall focus of the Runework is in the name: it is to do work with the Runes. Likewise, spiritwork of all kinds (including Runework obviously) can involve worship even if the worship itself is not the sole focus.

So we could be very stark and say ‘this is work and this is worship and never the twain shall meet’ and just a cursory look at my own practice would not bear this out. I explored this a bit in my August 2020 Q&A 1 where Elfwort asked me about magic.

I think where the dichotomy comes into a layperson’s spirituality is if they choose to engage in spiritwork. My wife very rarely engages in spiritwork, and when she does, it is usually because Frigg or Brighid, has called her to do it. Most of her expression and experiences, religiously speaking, are those of worship. I would say that unless a layperson is regularly choosing to engage in spiritwork this is also their experience.

A spiritual specialist does tend to blend the two, especially in work they are called to do. My work as a spiritworker are areas where I tend to blend a lot of worship and work together. In order to do a Rune reading well I need to have had a developed relationship with Runatýr and the Runevaettir, have studied the Runes, and experience reading the Runes. Initiation into working with Runatýr and the Runevaettir was part of this for me. The set up for doing this work well is to have a good relationship with Runatýr and the Runevaettir, and so this requires to make prayers and offerings. Spiritwork and worship come together into a whole relationship.

Is it necessary for every spiritual relationship in spiritwork to combine worship and work? No. There are some spirits that I may have to work with, eg the spirits of disease, for whom I have no desire to have a worship relationship with. I just want them gone or handled. Here, the line is fairly bright since I have a goal in mind for working with (or working on, as the case may be) a spirit. A spiritual relationship can also be quite different depending on context. My work with Yggr has been “We have things to work on” rather than a worship relationship. Yggr is Óðinn, to be sure, but this heiti generally comes forward when something needs to be done or worked on.

If there is a hard, bright line between worship and spiritwork, I do not often see it. Often my spiritwork is interwoven with worship, and my relationship as solidified through my worship is the backbone of how and why I can do work with the Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir in the first place. I think this can be equally true for laypeople, since laypeople are not spiritual specialists but can have entire swathes of spiritwork available to them. Where it plays into one’s life is where we choose to go with it, and where we are called to by our Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir.

Patreon Topic 19: On Seiðr

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From Elfwort comes this topic:

“Would it be possible for you to discuss seidr work in some depth?”

I will. Before I get started a few things need to be acknowledged up front. Seiðr is a lot of things to a lot of people. This website provides a good very basic overview on it. I also recommend reading my overview post on seiðr here.

When I write about seiðr I am specifically writing about the working with spirits to achieve an end even when establishing communication and retrieving information is involved. Spá is working with spirits to make prophecies, establish communication, or retrieve information. I differentiate seiðr from spá, while some use the terms interchangeably or as close to one another. While it could be said that a seiðkona could also be a spákona, I like to keep terms as neat and tidy as I can. The big difference, as I see it, is the purpose. In doing a seiðr working you are seeking to cause some kind of change, whereas with a spá working you are seeking to see what is there or to prophesy.

When it comes to seiðr I cannot speak about seiðr work in depth as Hrafnar does it. In my experiences with their oracular seiðr, it strikes me as being spá, since the work is about getting information from the Gods, Ancestors, and/or vaettir and to those gathered for the work. I also cannot speak to how others do it. Most folks who do seiðr and spá take inspiration from The Saga of Erik the Red, or Eirík’s saga rauða and the few scant references to it in the lore.

The majority of my experience in seiðr and spá is being told by Óðinn I was going to study it from Freyja. Her instructions were very clear and to the point. It started with my usual regimen of cleansing, grounding, centering, shielding, and then warding the space. Describing the work itself is simple: I start by breathing deep, rocking, and shaking. Once in trance, I call to the spirit or group of spirits I am to work with. They are to come to me, or come into me, as is needed for the working. Once done they depart, and I do cleansing, grounding, centering, and shield work to be sure I was clear of spirits and then the space was clear prior to taking down the wards.

In going back and rereading my experiences and looking around online, what I learned from Freyja was more in line with the interpretation of Jan Fries’ understanding in the book Seidways, which I have only recently run into since writing this post. I would have to read the book to see where what Fries’ understanding and practice of seiðr and spá is.

What does it feel like, engaging in seiðr and spá?

It is a spirit sliding into you, not unlike in The Matrix or Shadowrun where a person is jacked in, a feeling of sliding into the base of your skull and a click, or some other sensation that lets you know the seiðr or spá has taken hold. One moment you are trancing to the beat of a drum, a song, and/or the rhythm of your own breath and heart. I usually do this work with my eyes shut or under a cloak or hat.

The next moment, a new consciousness joins you in the dark. Maybe it is a voice, a scent, a taste in the air, a touch, or a knowing. Whatever it is, it is outside you, definitely not you, and in this space between with you. Assuming this vaettr (spirit) is not one of your fylgja, kinfylgja, Ancestors, and other vaettir (spirits) that you trust and are with you, you ask if the vaettr that has joined you is legit, both that it is a vaettr and that it is who it says it is. Maybe you get confirmation from Them, maybe They turn hostile and eject the vaettr. Maybe you have to do divination so you are not just relying on your own experience and intuition, so you take a moment in this space to pluck or throw a Rune, or draw a card.

Working with the Runevaettir before, during, and after the seiðr or spá through galdr or other spiritwork, putting Them on your body, or through asking Them to help through a reading, can be a powerful ballast. Provided you have done right by Them, the Runevaettir can help provide clarity or power in a working that your Ancestors, fylgja, etc may not be able to. So much of seiðr and spá work is dependent on the reason you are doing the work. It depends on what you are looking to do, or to bring back knowledge on. It can also depend on Who you ask the question. Given I have seen and experienced Gods in seiðr and spá work, it is entirely possible They can come into the session whether you ask Them or They come on Their own.

For however long the work needs to be done, I am often engaging in some kind of rocking motion alongside regular breath patterns, often in groups of three, six, or nine. I generally will lose my sense of time. Timing is often a fruitless endeavor for me. It takes however long it takes to do the work. It can feel like I have been gone mere moments, or for days, depending on the working.

For anyone who has received divination from me, you have likely seen me do this spá work. When I learned how to do seiðr and spá from Freyja I incorporated this into my divination work. It stayed as I developed my divination protocols.

There is only so far in depth I can really get until we hit the wall of experience.

The way to learn how to do seiðr or spá is to do it.

Thinking on Chris Hedges, Revolution, and Climate Change

I was watching a lecture by Chris Hedges entitled Corporate Totalitarianism: The End Game. In it, Hedges engages with the subject with both frankness and humor, both of which I appreciate. Hedges has, for a long time, spoken quite well on the problem facing us. What he, and most any social or political critic has been awfully short on, is how to address the predicaments we are in.

He rightly points out that the prison systems rely on slave labor to operate and that, were prisoners retaining even a minimum wage salary, it and the industries this work supports would collapse. He rightly points out that our democracy doesn’t function, which by this point is almost “No shit?” passe. He could have cut a huge chunk of his lecture out by just saying “There is no top-down approach coming because the top is going to watch the bottom burn and drown.” It is the same damned song regardless of political party that has been pursued for the entire length of time that I have been alive. This is a point I am grateful that Hedges hammers on throughout his lecture and in the Q&A. The politicians are not coming to save us.

Something a lot of folks watching this lecture are probably going to miss is a very key point I felt was buried in the lecture among all the socio-political commentary. It is something I hammer on a lot in my writing and that folks from the Post-Carbor Institute, JMG, and others have been hitting on the head for some time. Namely, that the oil and natural gas markets are operating on what amounts to gambling to keep money in the system and keep production somewhat commensurate with needed supply. Except the field outputs are down. The Bakkan Oil Shale is being run by large companies with lots of land that they lease to small, risk-taking companies whose primary income is venture capital. The main way most of the large fossil fuel companies here stay afloat has nothing to do with well productivity, but land leasing. When that glut runs out the ability to generate income will also dry up, not because the gas will all be gone, but because the cost to extract and produce it in useable forms will eclipse the revenue from selling it.

In other words, the EROEI (Energy Returned On Energy Invested) is going to go down and bring a good chunk of the energy market with it. The whole system is facing this all at once alongside climate change. We would be lucky, and I use that term loosely, if the whole damned facade of the energy industry fell away before that 12 year mark for 1.5F increase in global temperature hits, because the damned near complete demand destruction we saw in 2008 when oil hit almost $150 a barrel of crude was one of the most effective acts in reducing greenhouse gas emissions that we made in this country. It was hell for any of us who were low-income, as I was fired in 2007 not long before the financial chickens of the crash came home to roost. When a gallon of gas hit $4 and was threatening to hit $5 the ripple effect was enormous. So trust me when I say such a thing will not be a picnic nor even desireable for the average person, but it may be something that could save us from our own consumption of fossil fuels.

Hedges’ point in the lecture about going to Scranton, PA where the city is insolvent is happening in every State and damned near every city I can think of in my own State. Hell, the DIA in Detroit almost sold off its collection to pay debts. His point that capitalism eats itself and its own until collapse is what we are in the middle of right now. The economic system is simply unsustainable. I appreciate he hooks this into his point in the lecture where he talks about the money system, especially in regards to how personal and student debt cannot keep churning out new debtors if the means to pay off interest and principle are subject to these interruptions. As he says, 1/3 of the employed people of America make less than $12 an hour and have no health insurance provided by employers. Keep in mind that Obamacare takes another chunk out of that, either directly through one of the health care plans, or with the year end penalty for not choosing a provider. There is a growing swathe of Americans who bought into the lie that a college education would help us become solid middle-class members. Instead, it has indebted us, some of us through our whole lives. Those, like myself, who went into public service with the promise that if we gave 10 years of our lives that our debt would be forgiven are now coming out the other side, having served that obligation, and our debt forgiveness being rejected. With the costs of living tracking to increase with energy costs there’s not going to be a way to pay off the debt, let alone stave it off much longer.

If we are to make any progress anywhere it is in getting that point across. It doesn’t matter if you are a conservative, liberal, leftist, rightist, any of it. The economic system is unsustainable. The energy infrastructure that allows for the modern American way of life is unsustainable. If you don’t get that then there is no conversation to be had. Without energy being available, on which money depends so it can work, the whole house of cards collapses. If folks disagree with basic reality, that we cannot expect infinite growth on a finite planet, then there is no more conversation to be had. The person can be on the same exact part of the political spectrum that I am on and if they deny the basic nature of where we are then speaking with them is completely without merit.

If, as I feel, Hedges is speaking well and pointing out fundamental problems in regards to our political and economic systems why do I feel such a disconnect from him? For the same reason I imagine most folks do. Though he has covered war and conflict as a journalist and lived alongside folks in those horrible situations I get the distinct feeling that his life, given he was educated at Harvard and has taught in prestigious universities, is a world apart from my own.

Hedges is right in saying that we were conned by Bill Clinton and his pushing through NAFTA, stating it would make us countless of middle-class jobs. I can look out into the neighborhoods where the auto industry was king and clearly see this lie on display, as can anyone who has seen similar scenes in coal and natural gas country. He is right to talk about the collapse of societies and bring his experience of what that looks like into this lecture. He got to watch Yugoslavia’s disintegration up close from the sounds of it. He’s right that we could well be facing the same damn thing here for the same kinds of reasons.

Hedges speaks of democracy as though we could possibly save it at this stage in America. His proposal to save America from totalitarianism is “sustained mass acts of political disobedience”. To me this is completely and hopelessly naive. He uses Standing Rock as an example, and I think it is a poor one in the way he uses it. Standing Rock was a powerful example of civil, sustained disobedience because, at its core, there was and continues to be a series of communities, the Standing Rock Reservation peoples, with real spiritual and physical stakes in the care of Standing Rock and in opposing the Keystone XL Pipeline. So long as there is abstraction there is inaction, and for far too many people Standing Rock is and remains abstract. Mni Wiconi for too many people is a slogan, something to put on their Facebook wall and to think about every now and again. If Mni Wiconi is merely words then its impact and its meaning is truly missing. The peoples of Standing Rock, and those who joined them long-term in their work, had real skin in the game and something to lose: sacred lands and sacred water their people were tied to in sacred right relationship.

I was at Occupy Wall Street protests near me not long after OWS started to come together across the nation. I attended rallies and I found them complete and utter wastes of time. Hedges states we need to not be restrained by the tyranny of the practical. I got to see what that looked like with OWS rallies local to me. The decision making process, if ever it could be called such a thing, was long, drawn out, tedious, needlessly time consuming and without any sense of order, duty, or use to the communities in which they were arranged. They actively repelled anyone older than maybe folks in their mid-30s. Even for those in their age group, many OWS folks pushed us out because we could see nothing was going to get done. There was no interest in folks with years of experience in organizing, non-profit work, none of it. The OWS in my area died about as quickly as it appeared.

Not a few moments after this statement regarding the tyranny of the practical Hedges calls for revolution, for ‘the overthrow of the corporate state’. Without practicalities addressed this will never happen, not for all the faith one has. Countless Marxists and Communists since Marx wrote Das Capital have been eagerly awaiting the Worker’s Revolution. So many millenarian, apocalyptic, and radical sects who have had faith in and waited for the coming of saviors and the awakening of ‘the people’ have been waiting for the exact same thing. Whether secular or religious, both groups who have had abiding faith in their salvific movements have ignored that revolutions that seek to succeed must pay attention to the practicalities of things so that not only is the revolution succesful, but that any of its gain can stick.

For anyone that has studied the abdication of the Tzar and the rise of the Bolsheviks, to call that anything like a nonviolent movement is foolish at best and obfuscating history at worst. It also ignores that deep, ravaging pain that the Bolsheviks and later Communist regimes would exact on those people they would be in charge of or conquer. These are not revolutions to look at as examples. Rather, I would see such be avoided.

The Founding Fathers understood that the practical and idealistic had to walk hand-in-hand. They understood the notion very well, organizing on levels that I think anyone thinking of such revolutions would do well to pay attention to. They did not merely speak pretty words. Their necks were, on signing the Declaration of Independence, very-much on the line. Hedges’ assertion that we can have a revolution with non-violence, especially in this country where corporate interests are entrenched with violence, where the State stands as it had with the Pinkerton agency in coal’s heyday times with TransCanada and Enbridge Energy today, and come through to victory, is foolish at best and at worst dangerous for his would-be revolutionaries.

The corporate people who hosed down the Standing Rock protesters in sub-zero temperature were committing violence. That pipeline is still getting its building permits worked on. The company, TransCanada, has not stopped to see that its aims are realized. Non-violent protest stalled the progress of the pipeline, but has it stopped it? No. For all the attention the pipeline garnered, all the protest, needed as it was, for all the symbol it was and how good a victory it felt when it was temporarily stopped, folks need to get that it, and countless B/l/a/c/k S/n/a/k/e/s like it are not done. They are not stopped -yet. These B/l/a/c/k S/n/a/k/e/s still need killing. Thankfully, the Standing Rock people of the Dakotas, the Anishinaabek Line 5 Protesters here in Michigan, and so many others are standing up again and again with folks in and across their communities. Not everyone standing up, proverbially here, will be doing so before a pipeline; not everyone can. There are plenty for folks to do who are unable to be a physical presence, and the best place where people can go to and learn how best they can contribute is to talk to those who live on the land and waters being threatened.

Another source of disconnect I feel with Hedges is that he is still living a very comfortable upper middle class life. Unlike many peak oil folks there is nothing I can point to that comes through in the lectures I have seen or interviews he has given that give me an impression of him like those I have seen of Richard Heinburg, James Kunstler, or JMG who live their values through living as sustainably as possible on the land each lives. He is not showing the future, showing where he has put up solar panels, started community gardens, or grown his own food. For all that he speaks well, he has not shown, even in general, how he seeks to enable future generations to live well in a post-petroleum climate change future. It is one thing to approach a crowd with a good speech. It is another to approach a crowd with a vision of the future where a good life is possible, even if it is not the life we have been sold by countless companies and TV shows. We need more than speeches. We need living leaders whose lives show us how we may live better on and with the planet and one another.

Now is time to do everything we can to live well with our Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir. Now is the time to organize our communities; the politicians will not save us, and the States are not going to make the coming crises easier to face. Now is the time to learn the skills we can, to pass on what we know, to do everything in our power so the next generation can face what is coming with every possible advantage on their side. We must do the work before us however we can do it. It is not enough to merely write and speak on what we need to do. Each of us concerned with our Holy Powers, our communities, and the Earth we live on will, wherever possible whenever possible, be living examples.