On one of the last nights of a four-month exile in the spirit-drenched marshlands of Eugene, Oregon, Alley Valkyrie and I sat under a sky full of stars, sitting across from each other around a fire, sipping thick hot cocoa and talking about the state of the world.
We’d only just met a few months before, and our friendship had been automatic. You know, the awesome sort that feels like you’re travelers from the same country meeting in a foreign land, relieved to find someone who shared the same language.
We’d both spent many years living in spaces I call ‘between-the-walls,’ dwelling in liminal places within–but also outside–society, identifying more with the living ghosts of humanity and the whispering spirits of the past than with the bright-yet-pallid pretense of the ‘modern’ and ‘the future.’ Both of us Pagans, both anarchists and also Marxists, speaking to the same sorts of gods and refusing to look away from the same sorts of current apocalypse that most people–pagans or otherwise–are happy to ignore.
And we’d talk often, particularly that night around the fire, about what we’d both noticed about Paganism, its radical existence in a world that would deny the truth of magic and gods, and about that particularly odd, constipated silence of other Pagans regarding questions of the political. For myself, at least, it’d been precisely this deafening silence that made meeting and then becoming fast friends with Alley so synchronous. What she and I seemed to notice about the world was precisely what no other Pagans seemed to be talking about.
Like, really–why wasn’t anyone talking about Capitalism? And why had Paganism begun pretending to be non-political?
All Quiet on the Pagan Front
It wasn’t, of course, that ‘no-one’ was. We’d both read Peter Grey’s work, and Silvia Federici’s book. And we knew other Pagans who noticed what we had, but few of them had much of a voice or influence. Instead, narratives about the gods and magic seemed dominated by a weak sort of new-age liberalism and an almost plastic, glossy sheen over what we’re all on about. There were scores of blogs and books where you could find information on how to purchase the ideal wand or how to get the spirits to help you find a job, ways to bring ‘The Goddess” into your everyday suburban life or how to find your spirit animal, how to bake magical desserts or how to schedule a Sabbat around the Superbowl.
But almost nothing was being written about the state of the world, the destruction of the environment, the abject poverty on the sidewalks of every American city, or our connections to it. It seemed, almost, that Pagans had begun to hide in a fantasy world, perhaps fleeing the hideous weight of all the world’s problems, a creeping denialism and a paralysed theology.
Perusing any of the major Pagan-themed sites yielded a depressing dearth of any talk of intersections between the world of gods, spirits, and magic and the world in which the humans interacting with them actually lived. And we were certain we weren’t the only ones looking for such things, and noticing this silence.
In June of 2013, almost exactly the time we sat around that last fire before both leaving Eugene, Peter Grey published his essay Rewilding Witchcraft. It seemed like a summons, a clarion call, a war cry from the dying earth, precisely what we’d been on about, what we’d been desperately wishing others would say:
Our elders have failed us, they have not provided leadership, they have not provided counsel, they have been silent and compliant in the face of power.
They have said nothing on fracking, climate collapse, the extinction crisis and done even less. The old have, for the most part, betrayed the young. This is as true of witchcraft as it is of our wider culture.
It is therefore down to us as individuals to take our lead from the only source of initiation, living spirit, and through it embody the new witchcraft.
We must become a witchcraft with a renewed sense of meaning and purpose, of responsibility to the land which is in crisis, or we are nothing more than consumers of the earth which will all too soon eat of us.
The extreme popularity of his essay amongst the more radical-leaning (and more interesting) folks we knew–as well as some angry dismissals from ‘established’ leaders–had the same affect for me as meeting Alley Valkyrie had. Not only were we not alone, but we saw there was a desperate desire to talk about this stuff, to ask the questions our leaders stopped asking.