Overheard at a Park Bench in Bangor

“Hello Sir. What are you reading?”

“It’s an essay called ‘The Will To Believe,’ by William James.”

William James.

William James.

“Oh, nice, I haven’t heard of him before. what’s it about?”

“Well, basically it’s a philosophical justification of Belief, in which it can coherently exist alongside rationalism and science.”

“Oh, interesting. I’ll have to look into it. William James, you said?”

“Yes, he was an American philosopher and psychologist who wrote in the late 19th and early 20th century, around the time that psychology was becoming its own discipline, separate from philosophy. You might be more familiar with one of his most famous books, called The Varieties of Religious Experience.”

“I’ll have to look into it. So, what do you believe?”

“Well, I don’t really believe in belief.”

“What do you mean?”

“Put it this way, I’ll give you another line from one of my favorite writers: Belief is the death of intelligence.”

*blink* *blink*

“What does that mean?”

“Well, I interpret it to mean that when we fixate something into a belief system, we tend to close ourselves off from the possibility of novelty, and seeing the world in a different way than we did yesterday.”

“Ah, so you have to keep thinking and challenging yourself.”

“Sure, something like that.”

“We believe that too. I’m from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.”

“Oh, cool. I have a copy of the Book Of Mormon in my library. One of your colleagues gave it to me, probably 30 years ago now.”

“Have you read it?”

“Not all the way through, and honestly I haven’t picked it up in years. I find Mormonism to be one of the most interesting religions out there.”

“Oh, how come?”

“Mostly because its history, how it was founded, is a great story. I really like stories about Christ that are outside the norm, as portrayed in the Gospels. Also for other little things that make me go hmmm. For instance, that they call someone as young as yourself an ‘Elder,’ if I’m reading your nametag correctly. In my tribe, that term is used for people with quite a bit more life experience than is possible for one so young.”

“What religion are you?”

“Well, I don’t really believe in Organized Religion with capital letters, and for the most part I think monotheism is a blight upon humanity. But if you want to call me something, call me a pagan.”

“What do you mean, pagan?”

Pagan is Latin for Redneck.”

*blink* *blink*

“Well, that stuff you were talking about earlier, about not stopping thinking when you believe something, well we believe that too.”

“Cool.”

“So, would you mind if we stopped by sometime to talk to you?”

“Well, I don’t live here. I’m in town for a gig, I live 100 miles away.”

“Oh. Well, can I give you this card? You should look something up on the web, I bet you’d get a lot out of it.”

“Sure, if I can give you a copy of my Radical Paganism pamphlet. I bet you’d get a lot out of that, too.”

“Have a good night, Sir.”

“You too.”

Radical Paganism pamphlet

Tomorrow is Maine Pagan Unity Day in Portland. I am giving a workshop with C.S. Thompson, that I am greatly looking forward to. C.S. and I both write for Gods & Radicals. This should be a fun workshop.

Radical Paganism: Magic, Capitalism & Resistance

The processes that gave birth to the modern, industrialized world were the same processes that drove people off the land, severed their connections to ancient, magical ways of being, and forced them to subsist as worker/laborers in the capitalist system. People all over the world resisted these changes by calling on Gods, Land Wights, Spirits of Place, Faerie Queens, and other indigenous energies as allies in resistance. In this workshop, James Lindenschmidt & C.S. Thompson of GodsAndRadicals.org will look to their examples as inspiration in our own quests to resist beautifully & re-enchant the world.

There is also a handout pamphlet I made, that you can see here. It’s a 4 page pamphlet, that you can print on both sides of a letter size page, and fold in half.

Radical Paganism: Magic, Capitalism, & Resistance

So yeah. If you are anywhere near Portland tomorrow, you should come check it out. Lots of cool workshops, and I’ll also be doing sound all day.

Frenzy

It has been a busy summer thus far. In addition to my day job at RealTraps, which keeps me quite busy by helping people make their realities sound better, I have been writing quite a bit, and also doing some mixing & recording.

alley-fistMost of the writing has been over at Gods & Radicals, where I’ve written 3 articles since the last update here:

Also, I published here my first ever published article, written way back in 2000 when I was a student at USM. It’s a piece called A Barnraising In Cyberspace: Linux & The Free Software Movement, and is an analysis of my early days using Linux back in 1999, as well as some of my thoughts about the broader potentials of the Free software movement as a commons (though I didn’t really have that language of the commons back then). I think the piece holds up really well, if I do say so myself.

In addition to the writing, much of my free time has been spent working on Morgan Lindenschmidt‘s next EP, which is coming along beautifully. Not that I’m biased, but it’s great fun watching this young artist continue to grow in every possible way as an artist. I can’t wait for the world to hear this stuff.

I’ve also been trying to spend more time outside, given that it’s summer and I live in one of the most beautiful places on Earth. So, yeah. Busy time of year. Not too conducive to lots of writing online. Let the lamentations begin.

 

Hey, Polytheists….

Hey, Polytheists…. I love you guys. I absolutely mean that in all earnestness. Polytheists are some of the most interesting people in my reality, whether virtually or embodied as some of my closest friends.

Seriously, I love you guys. And there is no “but…..” at the end of that sentence.

I love your language of divinity. I love to listen to your stories, to learn from your experiences in relationship with your gods. If I’m being honest, I’m envious. I sometimes feel like Salieri to your Mozart. See, I was raised in catholic school and served as an altar boy. They got me early, and I internalized the idea that experience with the divine was not direct, it was mediated through a clergy class.

I remember sitting in a parent-teacher conference with some nuns, who told my parents that I would “make a fine priest one day,” meaning that one day, God might talk to me directly, and that I would interpret the divine for my future flock. Maybe that’s something I still haven’t gotten over. I don’t know. I walked away from Christianity nearly 30 years ago now, and have been a Pagan ever since.

But I am not a Polytheist, in the sense that I don’t experience relationship with gods that manifest as coherent personalities. I’ve tried, and I haven’t given up that it may happen someday. I’d love that (at least I think I would….. as more than one of you have pointed out to me). I’ve spent a lot of time over the years, in meditation, in devotion, in prayer. I’ve burned candles, incense, and bonfires, sitting in contemplation, in service, honoring them, learning about their stories, their personalities. I give regular offerings, mindfully, “from the gods to the earth to us, from us to the earth to the gods, a gift for a gift.” And for me, it’s all just energy.

Energy comes and goes, ebbs and flows. Every moment is a dance between context and novelty, and all of it is driven by consciousness. This is my interpretation of the world I inhabit, more metaphysical than theological.

There is the magic of relationship, the direct experience in each given moment, where we can brush up against the ineffable or up against other personalities. Then, there are our representations of these experiences, linguistic or otherwise. I suspect that this is where we differ the most. The map is not the territory; the menu is not the meal. And this is where semantic quibbling often gets us into trouble. The words and ideas in our minds can almost become more real to us than the original event itself. Words, and our attachments to them, can just as easily divide us as unify us.

But does that mean I think gods are a figment of imagination in consciousness? No I don’t. I accept the idea that there exist other consciousnesses apart from my own, and that each one has its own will that comes along with it. Therefore, if there are gods, and if they are endowed with consciousness, then they will have their own motives and wants. I accept this as axiomatic. And like I said, if you have relationship with other consciousnesses who are gods, I’m envious.

Polytheism excites me, even more than monotheism scares me.

For all these reasons I want you to know that I love you, and I will fight for you. I have your back, because the world needs you.

Politics & Paganism: Facing Our History

godsandradicalsMy first article for Gods & Radicals went live today. It’s called Pagans are a Conquered People, and it is an analysis of how I see pagan values and identities in the context of the modern world:

I am convinced that our history reveals a very strong characterization of our tribe & our subcultural identity in the 21st Century. We Pagans are a conquered people, and we have largely become so within the past 500 years.

The Pagan ways-of-being were much more intuitive and apparent to people living 500 years ago, before the Scientific Revolution, the birth of Capitalism, and the beginnings of European Colonialism. Modernity itself rose from the ashes of the Pagan ethos as it was systematically and globally incinerated from popular consciousness on thousands of pyres and stakes of the victims of the witch hunts.

Indeed, even today the smell of smoke from The Burning Times lingers. This period in history remains the paradox of our age.

In other words, I see paganism and modern politics as being irrevocably intertwined, as things stand in the world today. For me this is no more than historical fact, and my article explains where I am coming from in this area.

Here’s the thing. For me, paganism is more an ethos — a way of being — than anything else, including theology, metaphysics, dogma, religion, or ritual. Other pagans are fiercely protective of their conceptions of paganism, particularly in the polytheist community, where I saw two articles published today questioning whether politics should be part of religion in general, or polytheism in particular. One of these articles found it “repugnant” to “politicize polytheism.”

But paganism is not polytheism. I am not a polytheist and would not presume to say what should or should not be a part of polytheism. But when we conceive of paganism, which for me is a broader term that includes polytheist pagans, atheist pagans, and all pagans in between, as an ethos, there is room at the table for all of us. Whether your pagan ethos centers around devotional relationship with the gods, or getting lost in the forest bonding with your ecosystem, urban activist work with the homeless, permaculture design, quiet solitary ritual…. it doesn’t matter. There is room for all of us.

Because for all pagans, unity and solidarity is important. Respecting and mutually supporting one another is the only way forward. It need not be either/or.

My Pagans are a Conquered People article has been live for less than a day, and already I have had several comments from friends about it being “depressing” or “pessimistic.” I agree, on the surface, the history of paganism over the past 500 years is distressing. But it is our history, and we cannot pretend it isn’t. I appreciate positive thinking, but I also know that ignoring the unpleasant facticities of our history will do far more harm than good. The sooner we accept what has happened to us, the sooner we can unify, decolonize ourselves, and create a better world.