Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Dirtiest Trick in the Book

Ever since I got involved in magic and occultism when I was a teenager I have fantasized about some great and exalted secret order of adept master magicians who, from time to time, recruit some promising seeker and train them in the ways of their arcane secrets. There are certainly a lot of myths and stories that appear to promote this idea. I suppose that many of us, whether secretly or blatantly, hold on to the belief that there are true masters out there in the world. The idea is that if you’re a truly gifted occultist and magician and you perform the work in an exemplary manner then over time you will be approached by one of these super adepts and tested, perhaps even unwittingly. If you pass the test then your life will suddenly change in a profound and remarkable way as you are introduced to a fantastical history and taught the secrets of the ages.

According to the stories, these masters congregate in some highly secret monastery or lodge house located in some very exotic and obscure location in the world. They are ageless, immortal and possess super-human powers; but they steadfastly refuse to directly interfere with the daily happenings of the rest of the world. When they do intercede, it is through proxies or some other mechanism that keeps them veiled in secrecy and unknown to the rest of the world. They possess a secret forbidden knowledge and wield incredible powers that they jealously keep from an unsuspecting humanity. As custodians of this great store of secret knowledge, they will allow a small bit of it to seep into the world at large, to be discovered and used in a safe and sane manner, often in the published lore of some exoteric occult organization.

This is a common trope found in many books, both fictional and non-fictional, and many exoteric organizations claim some kind of connection with this supposed secret order of masters. It is a very romantic and intoxicating notion, and it is one that even the most cynical individual can be seduced into believing if approached in the right manner. Because there is no evidence of such a secret society (by definition, how could there be?) it remains something of an urban myth that haunts the various occult organizations and traditions that are known to the public. Many have claimed this august body of occultists as their source and superior order, but not one has offered any proof that such a group does indeed exist. Still, the promise of such a possibility can make a person giddy, credulous and completely foolish, particularly if they are being passed a fraudulent claim that seems astonishingly too good to be true. Some of us, though, are so cynical or narcissistically self-absorbed that we are immune to such a possibly. Unfortunately, I am not one of those individuals. I can be made a fool of when someone comes along with what seems at first glance to be a credible claim.

What I have learned through the many years of research and practice is that there is no replacement for hard and consistent work. What I have achieved in my life has been the product of hard work accomplished slowly over many years. I have never been given much in the way of handouts or unearned opportunities, so I can readily claim that I have achieved whatever goals I pursued in my life by my own initiative and persistence. This is true in both my career, private family life and especially, in my occult and magical practice. I have had mentors, people who have inspired me, friends, family and lovers who have influenced my direction in life, but it required me to act and to persevere on my own. I can safely say that I am a self-made man, but didn’t gain whatever I managed to acquire in my life without being influenced or inspired by others. What this means is that I can’t take exclusive credit for any of the successes in my life, but without my consistent efforts, nothing would have been achievable. However, I can say that I have achieved much in my magical and occult work due mostly to my own efforts. I had some teachers here and there, but mostly I worked either alone or in small groups. Such is the way of Witches who are ritual magicians.

One would think that such a life experience based on individual hard work over time would have made me quite cynical and disbelieving if someone were to present me with an opportunity to greatly accelerate this process. I should be completely immune to such an offer, considering it to be snake oil or highly suspect until objectively proven to be true. Yet, I am a sucker for the old myth of the Masters and the promise of instant enlightenment, and like I said, as a young man I really believed that such a group existed. That belief left its mark on me, so I am susceptible to being defrauded. I have to watch out because I have been recently fooled, but hopefully, I am closer to knowing that such a secret organization probably doesn’t exist. Let me state a few reasons why I think that this myth is a complete fiction.

As the world becomes ever smaller and nearly every location becomes known and documented, it would be quite difficult to keep any kind of active organization and its headquarters completely hidden or obscure. The only kind of secret that is kept is the one that is not divulged to anyone, and the only conspiracy that is maintained is the conspiracy of one person. Any other variation is always subject to leaks and revelations. If such an occult order existed, it would be known in some manner because it would possess property and other financial means. It could be obscure, but it would always be known especially to those living nearby. We live in a world of 24 hour cable and internet news and gossip - nothing can remain secret for long in such a world.

Possessing super-human powers and being immortal, or at least living far beyond the normal life-span, would have to use and engage materials, technologies and innate abilities that would have been discovered by science by now. Human beings can live past one hundred years, but such a person is very elderly and frail. No one has yet determined how to stop the aging process. Science does understand how the aging process works, but to block or modify it would likely require technology that doesn’t yet exist. Super-human powers would require the extension of technology to human physical limitations because the boundaries of human abilities, although remarkable in certain gifted individuals, have been determined and known for quite some time. All that is left is the subtlety of shifting probabilities, so the ideas of untapped mental powers that defy gravity or scientific law are more fiction than science. The only exception to this argument would be if the masters are actually Aliens, and that is a whole other area of consideration! (I won’t bother to expound on that idea in this article.)

Check out the global, national or local news on any given day and you will see that the world is chaotic and disordered. The fact that we can make any progress forward with such a diversity of thought, opinion, cultures, perspectives and even languages is nothing short of an astonishing fact. What drives the various cultures and nations of the world today is the same thing that has been driving them for centuries. Technology has changed, but the various vices and failings in human nature seem to be just as powerful as they have always been. Terrible tragedies continue to happen in the world and often technology seems to create more problems than it solves. This is a human-based world, and there doesn’t appear to be any easy solutions or remedies to what ails it. 

We, as the people of this planet, have created the mess that we live in, and we will have to clean it up and square it away if we are to survive as a species. What passes for miracles these days is nothing more or less than the good will, compassion and the desire to engage in collective assistance that has been humanity’s blessing since the beginning of our species. We are always discovering something new, but everything that we discover exists within the rational and material boundaries of our physical and mental existence. However, you would think that if there was some kind of secret order of super adepts that they would be mitigating some of the more tragic and fiendish things that have happened in the world. Of course, the only thing that mitigates tragedies is the philanthropy and assistance given by other human beings. Similarly, there is no simple or single solution to the world’s problems, so correspondingly there is no secret organization that steps in and helps to push humanity in the right direction.

A careful examination of the facts can readily prove that there are no god-like super adepts operating in our world. There are only remarkable human beings who operate in the mundane world, and who are known and identifiable even if they are obscure and anonymous. I have met a couple of these remarkable men and women, and I have also read about them in books or talked to others who have met them. These are the real teachers and great minds who challenge our assumptions and preoccupations - but they aren’t masters in the Theosophical definition of the term. In fact, based on that definition, there aren’t any masters living in the world. It’s a nice fantasy to wonder about, but it isn’t real. I should know this in my heart and soul after researching the occult and magic for so many years. However, I possess one very profound flaw in my reasoning - I often doubt myself.

Yes, it is true about me. After so many years of study, research, practice and experience, I find myself often locked in the grips of self-doubt. I guess you could say it is because I truly know that I don’t have all of the answers, and that I am not the most intelligent and cleverest person around. As Merlin the Magician said in the movie “Excalibur” as he was trying to capture a fish in a pond with his hands, “You can always someone more clever than yourself.” I have found that to be true, so I often ponder what I know and I doubt the truth of my own beliefs. This makes me open to other ideas, even ones that are completely contrary to the ones that I already hold. I am open minded, perhaps to a fault, but not about everything. Yet this is one of my greatest vulnerabilities. It means that I can be made into a fool, but not for very long. I give people the benefit of the doubt over time until the evidence reveals the truth about them. I am very patient, and those who are false and deceptive will expose themselves over time.

This leads me to the main point of my article. I know that there are no masters in the world, but I am open to the possibilities that they might exist because I realize the limitations of my own knowledge and experience. I am open minded, but I am also skeptical. If someone presents to me that they either represent or are a member of that supposed august order of secret masters then I will take what they say as conditionally true unless it is presented in such a manner as to be ridiculous. It is probably better for someone making such a claim if they have some kind of proof, or at least, that what they are saying has a likely possibility of being true. I will accept what someone claims, but I will reserve judgment over time to see if what they are claiming is true or false. So far, a few have made this claim to me over the many years of my occult work, but I found all of their claims to be false. If the messenger of such an august group doesn’t have his or her shit together to a degree that is impressive (and remains so or increases over time) then I can dismiss them and their claims as false.

There are delusional people in the world who have all sorts of beliefs and ideas, but a detailed examination of their claims can show them to be based on either imagination or on facts that are grossly exaggerated. I can forgive people for their delusions, but when people make astonishing claims that are very cleverly assembled in such a manner as to fool a large group of people, then I am quite unforgiving. I think that promising the public spiritual or magical mastery and personal ascendancy for money is probably one of the dirtiest tricks that has ever been perpetrated on honest seekers. I really despise individuals who play these kinds of games with the public, because I know from experience that any kind of personal transformation only occurs with a great deal of work, persistence and personal drive. You cannot buy enlightenment or spiritual mastery - it has to be earned over many years of arduous struggle and effort. The same could be said for achieving unearned wealth, health, or any other desired outcome. Also, no one can make something happen for you along these lines - it requires you to do the work yourself. You can be inspired, taught some basic concepts, share ideas, but in the end, it is completely your responsibility.

The current internet and social media-based occult world now has a certain degree of slavish salesmanship and “self-mastery for sale” that is both shallow and shameful. I won’t name any names, but if someone promises to make you an “Ipsissimus,” a “Living God,” or if such an individual or group has the backing of some order of “secret chiefs” then you should be very skeptical of what they are selling. They just want your money and they really don’t have anything to offer you in return except what is already out there in books and internet based information. They are not truly selling snake oil to you. Yet they are grossly misrepresenting their own abilities, teachings and their role in your personal transformation. It will take you years of effort and work in order to achieve a modest degree of personal ascendancy. There are no guarantees in matters of personal spiritual attainment, so goes the saying “caveat emptor,” buyer beware!

If you really desire to achieve spiritual transformation then do whatever you need to do to learn, grow and to make achievements without selling your liberty or your ability to think for yourself. Read and study, but also look for loose affiliations or groups of other like-minded practitioners who offer their friendship and comradery as well as their rational appraisal of your work. Avoid the seductive sirens of irrational and unearned personal attainment and the egregious hucksters who peddle them. These individuals are true barriers to actually achieving anything in life. They are the despicable purveyors of the dirtiest trick in the business of magic and the occult.

Frater Barrabbas

Friday, March 11, 2016

Fascism and the Occult

Roman symbol of the Fasces - bundled sticks with attached axe head carried by lictors to denote the authority of magistrates

During my long engagement with occultism, magic and witchcraft, I have found that politics tends to play a peripheral role in these disciplines. It is not obvious and it is not central. Yet sometimes the boundaries between politics and the occult seem to be more porous, and in other situations they seem to be mutually exclusive. It really depends on the particular bent of the individual practitioner or the group, but there are traditions whose emphasis is very political in nature. I have tended to behave as if the magic and occultism that I practice is politically neutral, but other individuals and traditions have a long history of engaging their practices and beliefs in the political arena.

For instance, the Reclaiming tradition of Witchcraft is very politically based, and some of its magic is founded on making social and political changes in the world. Most of the individuals that I have met who operate in this tradition are very liberal. They believe in the social empowerment of all people, especially those who politically lack such a presence or a voice. I believe that democracy is a good thing, and I agree whole heartedly with the ideals of consensus and equality in regards to groups. I have had my fill of undemocratic hierarchical groups, and I feel that they tend to bring out the worst in human nature when practiced on a small scale.

All leaders within an occult group should be chosen by a majority consensus, and that authority should always be vested in the group and not specific individuals. Otherwise, groups tend to coalesce around a powerful personality and soon only that person’s directives and desires are being fulfilled. The Masons have run their Blue Lodges quite successfully for years using democratic principles and rotating authority roles within their organization. They also have strict by-laws for governing their lodges. Their main operating principle is that everyone is considered an equal member despite their outside social standing. I think that this model of egalitarianism, equality, personal liberty and consensus are very important, but also there should be some kind of functional by-laws that keep a group’s operations within some kind of definable boundaries.

Still, groups functioning within this kind of democratic organizational structure are quite unsatisfying to some people. Some will say that getting things done will take more time. That it requires everyone to have a say and state their own opinion, however erroneous or misguided, and this just seems too inefficient. It is tempting for some to make organizations more efficient by imposing upon the group the leadership and direction of an elite sub-group or a single individual. I believe that such temptations to use hierarchical organizing systems often produce regrettable circumstances, since without proper checks and balances, human nature often is unable to withstand the corrupting influences of personal power.

We live in a social organization that has a lot of undemocratic structures in it, such as the business model for management. A manager seldom seeks complete consensus before following a directive from the corporate leaders, and there are hierarchies that are established that are not based on actual voting. Corporate officers are chosen or voted into their positions by an exclusive board of directors and voting stockholders. It is not really democratic, and when a single individual or a family owns a business then whatever they decide becomes the primary directives followed by managers and laborers. Bureaucracy tends to run using a similar model, but the authority invested in leaders is also held accountable to politicians and more distantly, the voters.

A bureaucratic official might be able to act in an executive manner, but such actions are bounded by law and limited by budgets. However, these social models have a certain currency and necessity, but they tend work best when there is some kind of balance imposed, either from within or from the outside - or both. We have, in the West, graduated from social and governmental forms of despotism (hopefully) so there isn’t any need to allow or even tolerate such organizational structures to endure in smaller social settings. However, for some reason they tend to persist, despite the idealistic intentions (or lack of the same) from some individuals and groups.

One organization structure that is quite infamous is, of course, fascism. This has become something of a pejorative term since it is associated with the German Nazis of the early to mid 20th century. Calling someone a Nazi or a Fascist is a kind of meaningless ad hominem attack that happens all too often in conversations on the Internet. In fact there is a term called Godwin’s Law that states if an online argument goes on long enough that sooner or later someone will declare someone else either a Nazi or compare them to Hitler. Of course, the moment that happens, the person who made such a declaration immediately loses all credibility and therefore, loses the argument.

Still, fascism is an actual political phenomenon that has been studied quite a bit, and examining its definition might shed some light on the social organizations of occult and magical groups. It could be said that some groups have certain structural characteristics or social tendencies that would make comparing them to the political movement of fascism instructive and insightful. It would also seem to explain why some individuals who strongly gravitate to fascist ideals seem to permeate the body of occultists in the West. Fascism still has a certain following and romantic appeal today, even though it was thoroughly vilified and rejected by the world body politic at the end of WWII. Let us look at how fascism has been defined as a political and social movement and see if what we discover can help us understand its allure and engagement by certain types of occult organizations.

The birth of the fascist political movements can be traced to the impact that the First World War had on certain political organizations in Europe. Some historians have stated that the real advent of the 20th century occurred at the start of the First World War, since it was only after that time that Europe finally shed its monarchies from their various institutionalized social structures. The map of Europe was redrawn after WWI, and the many kingdoms, duchies, and principalities became, in some fashion, modern liberal democratic states.

Fascism was a reaction against liberal democracy on one hand, and also against conservative traditionalism on the other. It was initially neither politically left or right, but it did realize and invest itself in the power of mobilizing the public into a homogeneous organization that eliminated the barriers of family and region. This mobilization and homogeneous unity, as well as the unprecedented intrusive ruling authority wielded by governments, was the by-product of the First World War. The power of governments to employ, in this manner, the masses of people and material for production and war was not lost on certain individuals who lived through that terrible time. In many ways, Fascist political organizations sought to continue the kind of authoritarianism that had been a hallmark of the emergency governance used during the war. Because Fascist political parties needed the businesses and industries to build up their capability to project international military power, they became aligned to, and later co-opted, the wealthy elite who belonged to the various nascent right-wing political groups. (Fascism is now considered an ultra right-wing political philosophy.)

Sociologists have argued for decades over the definitions of what characterizes fascism as a political organization possesses, but they have settled for the following common characteristics. One of these sociologists, named Roger Griffin, has defined fascism as being a palingenetic form of ultranationalism. Palingenesis is a word that means rebirth, so fascism is a political system that is based on a rebirth or restoration of a nation or empire to its more illustrious predecessor, such as the German Reich or the Roman Empire were to Germany and Italy. Fascism can be defined as a political system that promotes:

  • A rebirth myth,
  • Populist ultranationalism,
  • Myth of decadence,
  • Single state political party,
  • Heroic and charismatic leader,
  • Violence against targeted "others."

Ultranationalism is defined as an extreme devotion to a nation in exclusion to all other nations. It is the exact opposite of international cooperation. Devotees to ultranationalism promote a nation’s unilateral pursuits and exploits within the world community. They tend to despise collective organizations and treaties, such as the United Nations (previously, the League of Nations) or the Geneva Conventions. Ultranationalism is obviously a problem in a world of many nations striving to achieve some kind of overall peaceful co-existence and economic cooperation, but the cause of such unilateralism in a nation or a group is basic self aggrandizement. This has often manifested as a form of aggressive imperialism, although it can also manifest in nations that are not readily defined as being fascist, such as Russia, China, or the U.S.

The myth of decadence represents the belief that the current national state has been brought down to a lower (degenerate) level because of social and political plurality. This myth presupposes through nostalgia a previous golden age where the societal beliefs and practices represented a purer and more idyllic condition when the nation-state was believed to be at its height of achievement. The fall from that height is due to the successful conspiracy and intrusion of certain specific scapegoats or undesirables who represent a deviant “other” that does not belong. The myth of decadence is used to galvanize the populace to violently oppose a selected minority of people who are powerless to defend themselves against these accusations. It has the dual purpose of coalescing the majority of people into a conforming and depersonalized mass, and it shifts the blame for any problems or issues away from those in power to a minority (who do not belong to that group).

Social redemption, such as a national palingensis, must also have some kind of hero to appeal to the populace as their national savior. Typically, a single charismatic individual is endowed with this popular mystique, and he becomes the leader of this homogeneous political regime. Such a leader appeals to the basic need that underlies this political philosophy, and that is the need for order, authority and a respect for hierarchy as determined by a single charismatic individual. Fascist regimes are totalitarian dictatorships with an overly romanticized nationalistic character, but it is one that is based almost entirely on a mythic and nearly religious consensus. Those who either don’t believe in the myth or are unable to conform to it are forever outside of the political and social organization, and such individuals are considered dangerous and subversive. (They are ultimately declared "enemies" and either imprisoned or executed.)

So now that we have briefly defined and examined the basic premise of fascism as a political philosophy, we can ask the question whether any of this would be something that might impact or infect occultism, paganism or the practice of magic. If you are functioning as a completely autonomous practitioner and adherent then all of this speculation is irrelevant. However, if you belong to groups of occultists who are loosely functioning as a social organization then you will find this analysis useful. We need to determine why fascist romanticism is so alluring to various occultists, and why some organizations become fascist or develop fascist tendencies.

First of all, fascism affects the emotions and it uses some very power mythic elements to cloth itself. The ideals of cultural, religious or racial purity, when given a mythic quality, can seem to be quite compelling because they represent an allegiance to the supposed core values of the genetic or cultural self. If you identify emotionally as a white person then romantic notions about a superior white Aryan precursor race might appeal to you. This is particularly true if you feel that the current world of racial mixing and cultural/social diversity is troubling and intrinsically wrong.

Such an identification would produce both a sense of being a part of a potential mythic rebirth and also would starkly identify those who are enemies attempting to thwart this renaissance. The world would become simplified within such a belief system, with good fighting evil, light opposed to darkness, and all of this played out within a profoundly mythic background. Of course, all that is needed is some kind of messiah or deliverer and you have the basic structure of a monotheistic cult. Because such a mythic structure speaks directly to the emotions and even one’s soul it is able to resist any kind of reason or rational exhortation. It becomes an enclosed religious creed that powerfully motivates one’s actions and sustains itself through circular reasoning and the denial of detracting truths. It is a system that confers power and authority on those who participate in it, since such members represent an elite group who are seeking to impose on their nation or society a final solution to all of its supposed problems.

When you think about the various elements of the mythic foundation of fascism, you can see just how intoxicating it is, and how difficult it is for the rest of society to uproot or eliminate. Like an evil weed, it is pernicious and continually threatening to grow and expand its influence. People who feel powerless, nostalgic for a fallen past and alienated by the chaotic nature of diversity are the kinds of people who will gravitate to fascism. Myth is a powerful anodyne to an emotional and psychic crisis. Since we live during a time that represents the end of traditional society and values, more people are investing in mythic perspectives to heal and empower themselves. All magicians engage in this activity as a matter of course, however, only some seek to empower themselves at the expense of everyone else. That is an important difference between those individuals who are seeking to enlighten themselves and the world at large, and those who are just seeking to empower themselves and the specific psychic clan to which they belong.

Groups that espouse fascism sometimes are difficult to identify if they are not engaging in obvious racism or cultural imperialism in the public arena. They can sometimes share the same attributes as those who would be classified as a cult, since such groups often become cults at some point. Certain qualities that would classify an occult order as being fascist would be:

  • Strict differentiation between members and outside “others,”
  • Initiation that confers personal racial, religious or cultural redemption,
  • Participation in a mythic battle for racial, religious or cultural rebirth,
  • Nostalgia for spiritual and cultural antecedents,
  • Charismatic leader invested with a savior role,
  • Unquestioned adherence and obedience to authority,
  • Maintenance of internal secrecy and conspiratory beliefs,
  • Group empowerment and the suppression of individual identity.    

As you can see from this list, such a group might be easily identifiable to outsiders, but then again it might be quite hidden or subtle. Certainly, few individuals would be interested in giving up their freedom and individuality to be a member of this kind of group. However, such a group would maintain a very reasonable facade to outsiders, and only the inner-most members would be fully aware of what was really going on. It is a gradual process of assimilation that begins with a seemingly reasonable perspective. The mythic elements that such a group would employ to attract certain individuals would be seductive, and once fully engaged it would be tough to undo the deep level of imprinting and brainwashing that members have undergone.

What can anyone do about such groups or individuals when discovered in our communities? What can we do to arm ourselves against such seductive romantic notions that fascism appears to use to attract the alienated and disaffected? I have found that “shining a light” on such groups and individuals is the quickest way to damage their effectiveness. We do have an extensive social media at our disposal and an internet, so questioning someone or some group is the first step to nullifying the effects of fascism in our community.

You don’t have to be rude or start out by accusing someone of being a fascist. However, if someone is making a lot of racist statements or behaving like a bigot then don’t be afraid to call them on it. Keep in mind that you probably won’t be able to change their minds since they have become wired to respond exclusively to their own form of motivational reasoning. You can refuse to deal with them and can reject them socially once it is clear that they are actually expressing views and opinions that are fascist. As for what we can do to arm ourselves against fascism? Here are some important considerations to think about if you ever feel alienated or somehow threatened by what is happening in your world, and you start feeling inclined to promote some kind of final solution.

  1. There is no Golden Age - things were never better in the past. They were just different.
  2. There is no such thing as purity in race, culture or religion. Diversity is good, both genetically and culturally. We are part of one species.
  3. There is no group or organization with a monopoly on truth. There is no hidden organization of elites who can transform your life if you give up your freedom and autonomy.
  4. No single leader or authority figure can help you change and master your life. Only you can do that.
  5. Democracy is better than tyranny. Rule of law is better than anarchy. Consensus is better than coercion. Peace is superior to conflict. Love is the ultimate self-government.
  6. Cooperative efforts are longer lasting and more satisfying for the group and the individual.
  7. You are not alone and your troubles are not unique.
  8. Learn to listen to others. Be open minded and maintain curiosity.
  9. The only conspiracy that is lasting is the conspiracy of one individual - the rest ultimately fail or never occurred. World conspiracy is an oxymoron.
  10. Respect the dignity of others and you will gain their respect in turn.  

These are my ten conceptual remedies to fascism, but I am certain that you could probably add a lot more. We live in a pluralistic society that is full of diversity; this is also true regarding occultism, alternative religions and the practice of magic. It is a fact of our lives, and it has been a reality in our nation since its inception. There never was a period of homogeneity in our country and I think that is good thing. We are a nation of immigrants and we live in a culture that is a fusion and a patchwork amalgamation of many cultures, ideals and beliefs. We haven’t suffered because of this seemingly chaotic intermingling; in fact it gives us our strength, resilience, and the ability to constantly reinvent ourselves. Our country is diversity itself, but we can, when required, work together as one people. That, by itself, represents the beauty of our culture and our system of government.

Frater Barrabbas

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

What We Take For Granted - We can Lose

A Libertarian Paradise

Since this is an election year, I thought that I would write up a political piece stating my opinions on the state of the nation. I believe that our middle class existence is threatened not by outside forces, or minorities, or immigrants, or religious zealots, but by the greedy and ruthless plutocrats who seek to be the sole power and determinant force in this country. Only We, the People, can overturn this terrible crisis put upon us by regressive political forces, and democratically push the political establishment to once again represent all of the people. We are all tied together in an invisible bond of nationalism - we are all Americans. But what many might not understand is that whatever happens to some of us affects all of us. Being divided by race, economic station, ethnic origin, religion, region, gender, or sexual preference will only make us easier to control and manipulate by those who care nothing about our collective fate. Politics does impact Pagans, Witches and magical practitioners. We should never be victimized by our choices, or lack of choices. Therefore, please consider your options and vote in the primaries and the in general election this fall.  

Perhaps one of the biggest issues facing Americans in the early 21st century is the fact that we are living in a time of great inequality and an accelerating contraction of the middle class. Our country is becoming an oligarchy of wealthy patrons who appear to have a greater influence on what passes for governance and legislation than what we have seen since the 1920's. This country was supposedly one that established its government by the people and for the people, but it seems that it is now by the wealthy and for the wealthy. Libertarian altitudes seem to be nothing more than a selfish antisocial desire to freeze the status-quo and eliminate the government sponsored leveled-playing field between businesses and the rest of the 98%. This attitude can be summed up by the simple phrase, “I’ve got mine, and the hell with the rest of you!”

White people who were once part of the privileged middle class are now finding themselves at the whims of powerful forces that they neither comprehend nor control. We are experiencing a kind of underlying unifying integration between races, creeds, and ethnic cultures, but the forces of fear and prejudice have returned to divide us into warring factions. It is a time of economic contraction and decline, where the younger generations are saddled with massive education debt and the forces of automation, labor force reductions and increased productivity have eliminated the prospect of good paying career jobs for all. It has, in effect, produced a situation where the connected and otherwise fortunate are the only ones who are benefiting, the rest are put into a precarious social and economic condition. It is a time when the younger generations will not be able to exceed the ambitions and expectations of their parents or grandparents. It is also a time that I never thought I would live to see - but it is now becoming a reality.

Not all is doom and gloom - there is hope for change and the possibility of a peaceful populist political uprising that will change the status-quo so that the economic inequalities and lack of justice for all can be overturned and replaced with a more sensible and just system. We have the power to make changes and to fashion a better world for everyone, but we also have obstacles to overcome. People’s fears and prejudices are probably the biggest obstacle because they obscure the real problems impacting our lives today.

The reason why all of this is happening now is because over the many years since WWII we became complacent and forgot how the middle class was built in the first place. We have forgotten that our forebears fought terrible social battles so that they could force the corporations and the wealthy elite to give them a livable wage. They fought for a 40 hour workweek, overtime compensation, unemployment benefits, health benefits, workplace safety, paid vacation, paid sick leave and retirement benefits. At the time these seemed like egregious and impossible demands that would destroy our economy, and they were fought tooth and nail by the corporate owners and the financial elites.

Now, after many years of enjoying these benefits, we have grown accustomed to having them, not realizing that they were given to us grudgingly. That if a way could be found to acquire cheaper labor, corporations were bound to discard their contract with the American Middle Class and force them to accept less and less over time. It is not an accident that this has happened, in fact it is the long term plan of a powerful and wealthy cartel who have pushed a regressive counter social revolution.

What built the middle class did not come from the generosity or humanistic tendencies of the corporations and businesses that employ people. It came from many years of social strife and actual bloody battles between labor unions and corporations. Still, the middle class didn’t really find its true foundation until after the end of the most terrible economic calamity that ever befell the world - the Great Depression. It took an economic collapse to force these changes, where the common people found themselves without any means of either sustaining themselves let alone elevating themselves. It was a time when a large percentage of the population either experienced complete abject poverty and unemployment or the contraction of their wages.

The government failed to do much about this calamity, so the people elected a new government that would actively seek to mitigate the problems that the Great Depression had caused. It was the first time that the government allied itself with labor in order to build a more just economic environment for the common people. The new president was Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and the Keynesian economic policies that he employed were called the “New Deal.” Some of the programs that he tried failed, but others were successful. Social Security was one of programs that he signed into law that is still popular and relevant today. Yet when it was first proposed it was rejected and denigrated by the upper classes as a policy that would bankrupt the country. (This also happened when Medicare was signed into law.) Now we couldn’t imagine life without it, but it was hotly contested, as were all other progressive policies.

Perhaps the most enduring social contract was that which was fostered between the federal government and labor unions. Whatever criticism one might make against this relationship, or the supposed problematic corruption of powerful labor unions, that relationship was the one force that helped to build the middle class. After WWII, the power of labor unions continued to grow, and their support and influence was courted by politicians from both parties. That lasted through the sixties.

Ironically, this decade of the 1950's was the supposed golden age that many movement conservatives talk about incessantly. Yet they never seem to mention the fact that the immediate post-war era was marked by the power of labor unions who ensured that the workers under their stewardship were properly represented and received the best labor deals that could be achieved. There was a greater sharing of corporate profits between the corporate owners and the workers because the unions held the power of strikes and labor stoppages if the corporate owners didn’t give their employees a fair deal. This threat often had to be backed up with the drama of strikes, but a close examination of the demands that unions raised were typically reasonable and appropriate. They were a powerful counter weight against the inherent greed and avarice of the wealthy power elite.

All of the rights and privileges that we take for granted today were forged during that period, and it created an overall cooperative environment between the forces of the wealthy elite (the owners and bankers) and the common laborers. Government institutions made certain that corporations cooperated with labor unions, and they established laws that enforced a fair working environment free of exploitation. It wasn’t a perfect system, and sometimes there were dramatic fights between organized labor and corporate owners and managers. However, it was considered such an important element of the overall social contract that the U.S. enforced this kind of contract on the defeated enemies of WWII, most notably Japan and what became West Germany. As long as the government maintained a watchful eye and enforced national and local labor laws, the corporations grudgingly fulfilled their social obligation.

Everyone made a living wage, and the top salaries and compensations given to corporate owners and large stock holders were not considerably greater than the humblest worker. Tax rates for the highest earners were steep, but the government used that money to make the country better, such as building the super highway system, investing in the infrastructure, crafting the next generation of technology during the space race, and building up the most powerful military in the world. This was the source of the American Dream, that the government provided the people a level playing field and that labor unions and businesses worked together to ensure social and economic justice for everyone. As the 1960's passed into the 1970's, social and economic justice became something that nearly every person, including and especially minorities, sought to achieve. Naively, it seemed like this was something that we could all achieve, and that everyone was on-board to achieve it.

It wasn’t a perfect system, and in fact, there were many problems and social issues that seemed to boil over during that time. However, there was a powerful sense of hope despite setbacks and retrenchments. America proceeded, steadily but also at times, stumbling, into the future, all with seemingly endless possibilities near at hand.

However, the dream of equity and cooperation between labor and business owners quietly receded sometime during the late 1970's. I recall the president at the time talking about the national malaise during a televised speech. He seemed to be saying that many of the social levels of the people in our country were infected with this malaise. Yet what was really happening, unbeknown to us (and the president), was the institution of a powerful counter movement based on conservative ideals, but truly fueled by greed and the lust for absolute political power.

These conservative politicians and intellectuals had begun the work of reversing everything that had been put into place by progressive policies. They said that the government was too powerful and too intrusive, and that what we really needed was for business to be unfettered and unrestricted. They promised that a new golden age would dawn if these various Libertarian and social conservative policies were put into place. They also vilified the unions and said that they were too powerful, and that they caused businesses to be hamstrung by excessive demands and arbitrary labor stoppages. They claimed that unions were corrupted and tainted by contacts with organized crime, and in some cases they were correct, but all institutions, including corporations, were susceptible to forms of corruption. 

Unions were an integral part of the ability for labor to collectively bargain with corporations, and as they were weakened, it allowed for cheaper non-union labor to take their place. Perhaps a dramatic representation of this process can be found in the construction trades, once the bedrock of the labor union movement. As the power of unions was dissolved and overturned, non-union employees became the norm. Ultimately, construction worker roles, especially unskilled, were filled by migrants and perhaps, even illegal ones. The need for ever cheaper labor drove out the higher paid union workers and replaced them with migrant workers. However, to blame the migrants for this situation is patently ridiculous since it was the desire for cheap labor that allowed it to occur.

Businesses moved their factories to southern states that were more friendly to corporations and hostile to union organizations. As time went on, manufacturing was even off-shored and outsourced completely outside of our nation to other countries. This became a continuous process aided and abetted by the corporately influenced government, which ultimately pulled money out of the country and dissolved much of the manufacturing infrastructure. What fueled it was the ever rapacious need for greater profits, which meant that the labor costs had to be reduced considerably. America became a country of financial and service industries, while the manufacturing sector dwindled to a fraction of what it had once been. There were still jobs, but they had become either poorly paying unskilled service jobs or highly paying professional careers. The only bright spot was the IT industry, but some elements of that industry had to compete worldwide for labor costs, so it, too, was subject to off-shoring.

Then, due to an unprecedented orgy of greed and shady dealings, the Wall Street banks caused a catastrophic economic downturn that nearly collapsed the economy. The government bailed out Wall Street, but was kept from doing much to help the millions of people who lost their investments and savings, as stocks and bonds took a terrible beating. Changes were put into place to try and keep such a perilous misadventure from happening again, but the legislation was flawed, purposely weakened by special interests and it wasn’t able to really address what actually caused the problem. While the economy improved and things seemed to get back on track, millions of people either remained unemployed or took service jobs that didn’t pay as much as the jobs they had previously. Inequality grew even greater, but there were forces already in play that made certain that the government wouldn’t be able to help those who really needed help. The government bailed out Wall Street, but failed to help out Main Street, because the conservative forces were selfishly arrayed against such an effort. Perhaps the most astonishing thing that occurred was the level of contempt, disregard and disrespect given to the president by his political foes. This was fueled more by the inherent racial prejudice that they secretly espoused than because of his moderate policies.  

So, here we are, in the present times. We face many daunting challenges, but there are also many possible opportunities for us as well. There are remarkable inventions and new technologies available to those who can afford them, but our social contract between government, labor and corporations is broken. We face an uncertain future without any government institution or social action organization to fight for our rights as citizens and as laborers. We have mostly lost the unions that would have advocated for us, and the profound and unchecked greed of the 1% seems to have achieved a powerful stranglehold on all aspects of life. The greatest obstacle facing our country is the corrupting influence of the elite wealthy donors who have taken our political system hostage, and who have changed the laws to benefit them at our expense.

What we need to remember is how our grandparents achieved the wonderful benefits of the middle class life. We need to once again focus our attention on political processes and to fight so that the seemingly indelible bond between the wealthy elite and the government is broken before it becomes a permanent feature of our lives. There is much more work that needs to be done. We need to evolve our perceptions so that universal healthcare becomes a right, and that higher education becomes either free or very affordable again. We need to ensure that social and economic justice is equally available to all, and that the playing field for economic opportunity is fair and accessible. We have lost the American Dream for the moment, but we must understand that only progressive policies can build on the dwindling middle class - to enlarge it, preserve it and make it a basic economic right for all citizens of this nation.

What we don’t need now is another oligarch running for president or some movement conservative foisting their bad policies and social conservative ideals upon us. We also don’t need the mendacious Neocons pushing us to start yet another war in the Middle East. The policies, social prejudices and military misadventures of the Republican party is exactly what has gotten us into the political and economic difficulty that we currently face. What we need is a more progressive political approach to reverse the damage that has been inflicted on us, not more Libertarian self-centeredness.

If this sounds like I am in the tank for Bernie Sanders, then so be it. 

Frater Barrabbas

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Sympathy for the Devil in Witchcraft?

I wanted to hold back and really think about the controversy linking Satan and the Horned God of the Witches as being somehow intrinsically related. I have listened to what others have said, and I have also had some interesting conversations with some of my peers. After digesting these various opinions and ideas, I feel that I now have pulled together my own thoughts about this controversy. What follows is how I perceive this issue.

Recently, there was an article in Patheos, written by Pat Mosely, that proposed Wiccans should reconsider incorporating the Devil into its Duo-theological framework, or at the very least, consider the tropes of the Devil in history and how it could relate to modern Witchcraft. You can find that article here. While the article attempts to justify this theme, I found myself unconvinced for a number of reasons. First of all, if the author had said that Modern Witchcraft in at least some of its forms should consider the relationship between the Devil and the Horned God, I would reply that such a thing is already well underway. It's just not occurring in the manner that the author has suggested. Secondly, I think that it is problematic for anyone to suggest that Wicca, or any other Pagan religion, reconsider the Devil as a deity if that particular entity itself doesn’t function as a deity in any other religious system, with exception to Classical Satanism. I find this whole argument to be counter-intuitive, and that is a form of argument that has been overly-used lately, in my opinion.

However, the word “Wicca” was used in the article, and it is a fact that the only individuals who use that word to identify themselves are engaged in the British Traditions of Witchcraft (BTW), as established by G.B. Gardner and continued through myriad offshoots. The problem with this kind of “devil’s advocate” writing is that it just over simplifies what is actually a very complex issue overall. Therefore, to tell the adherents of an existing religion that they should revise their beliefs to suit the whims of a small group of individuals in their semantic whimsy is probably hubris in the extreme. If Modern Wicca has not embraced the Devil by this time in its development then it probably would be silly to suggest it now. 

First of all, there is a distinction between Witchcraft and Wicca. One is a magical practice and the other one is a modern Pagan religion. A magical practice is much more flexible and mutable than a religion for obvious reasons, so it has the advantage of being able to examine and engage with various cultural tropes to which a religion couldn’t and wouldn’t engage. (I will address this later in this article.) The other problem is that the concept of the Devil, or Satan as a cultural trope, is far too multifaceted and layered to be able to be resolved into a single deity-like entity. As my brilliant and insightful friend Steve Posch has related to me when I asked him for his opinion about this controversy: “Does the tree equal the particle board that is made from it?”

What Steve meant by this terse statement is that the cultural persona of Satan (in the West) consists of many different elements. Some of them were part of something else originally, and others were invented over time, and all of it is hopelessly fused together into something totally unlike the original sources. We won’t talk about the fact that Satan means one thing in Christianity, another in Judaism, and still another in Islam. However, the mythic image of Satan has changed over time, accumulating many different elements (in many different cultures). It is also something that can’t be extracted from the context where it has its archetypal existence, namely in the Abrahamic religions, to be used in an already established religion. To do this is to create something that has no real link to a polytheistic pagan past or relevancy to Modern Paganism. Also, Satan was never considered a pagan deity, even by those who promoted the idea of this fallen angel as the preeminent adversary in Christian theology. All of this is obvious to many despite certain modern apologists (and Christian fundamentalists) who seem to think that one became the model for the other. This is why the founders of the craft rejected the notion that the principle male deity of their newly established religion had any relationship to Satan. (They were right, as we shall see.)

If you still want to examine all of the myths and underlying sources, as well as the evolving concepts associated with Satan, then I would recommend that you get a copy of Elaine Pagels’ book “The Origin of Satan: How Christians Demonized Jews, Pagans, and Heretics.” I think that you will find it an interesting read, just as I did some years ago when it first came out.

A quick examination of the attributes of the God of the Witches in Modern Witchcraft can readily show that the Horned God has little in common with Satan, other than they are both entities depicted with horns and hooves. The Horned God of Witchcraft is a deity that cyclically dies and is reborn. As an icon of the various wild fauna that represents part of the divinized food stock for human beings, he, of course, dies and is consumed by humans and then is reborn to contribute to the furtherance of life in all its forms. He is the semi-divine-mortal representation of life and death. That which dies is always reborn and what is born must therefore always die. Life gives itself to life so that life can continue. This represents a seamless continuity in which all living things participate, so that humans themselves become food for various plants and animals thereby serving the eternal cycle of life and death.

The God of the Witches is therefore a dying God, and according to a recent article, this Deity is a very recent creation based on very ancient and primordial themes. However, unlike the Devil, the Horned God is a more perfect vehicle for the ancient European concept of the Divine Hunt, and that the Hunter must also be the one hunted at some point in the ever changing cycle of life and death. Does this mythic image in any way relate to the monotheistic concept of the Devil? I think that the more we examine and compare the mythologies of the Horned God and Satan, we will see that they are two completely separate and distinct entities. While there are some similarities, such as the image of Satan being that of a hybridized human and goat, with horns, goat legs and hooves, and a tail, these similarities are probably overly superficial and do not constitute any kind of intrinsic relationship.

Additionally, the mythic concept of the Horned God, although based on ancient elements is a rather new development, a product of modern Pagan revisionism. An article recently written by Jason Mankey for Patheos clearly makes the case that the Horned God of the Witches is a recent invention. He states: “The ancients didn’t have a universal Horned God, what they had were various horned (and antlered) gods who served a variety of needs.” After reading through his article, I find that I agree with his premise. There might be various ancient elements in the Horned God mythos, but it is a new concept fashioned for a specific purpose and function, which is to be the God of the Modern Witches.

This is not to say that the Horned God is the only representation of the Modern God of the Witches. There is also the Sun God, represented as the logical consort of the Moon Goddess, who has the names of Dianus, Apollo, Helios or Lugh (to Diana, Selene, Artemis or Arianrhod). In the 1960's and 70's the Wiccan Sun God was also called Lucifer, but here the Latin “Light Bearer” was used to denote this deity as opposed to equating him with Satan. Other, more obscure comparisons to the Horned God were the Celtic deity Cernunnos and also Herne, the Hunter. The former was chosen because it was an antlered Celtic deity with a limited purview and an unknown character and worship, and the latter because it fit with the mythic theme of the hunter and the hunted in the dance of death and life. All of these comparisons and additions attempted to somehow lend an antique character and pedigree to the Horned God, but it would seem that such attempts must ultimately fail. In the end, what is important and relevant is how this Deity is perceived and worshiped today among those professing an adherence to Modern Witchcraft.

Regarding the practice of Witchcraft as a form of magic, in contradistinction to or included with the Wiccan religion, it is my opinion that individuals and groups will encounter the chthonic roots and aspects of the various Pagan Deities as one engages with and plumbs the depths of the iconic Spirit World. They will also fully experience the impact and affects of the various activated and functioning cultural myths and beliefs. A belief has power in our world as long as people believe in it, and it doesn’t matter if it is valid, authentic or even legitimate. Whatever people believe is going to be found in some manner or form within the cultural and spiritual underworld that we are the inheritors thereof.

While the adherents of the Wiccan religion can ignore the affects and impacts of Satanism, demonolatry or diabolism within our cultural continuum, those who practice magic will have to deal with these various archetypes, themes and cultural tropes at some point in their development. This is already occurring to some degree, and it is relevant because it is an experiential reality in the Spirit World. For those who practice this kind of magic, the issues and considerations that Pat Mosely brought up in his controversial article are relevant, but not in the way that he brought them up. Wiccans, on the other hand, don’t have to sing “Kumbaya” with avowed Satanists of whatever stripe and allow them free access to their mysteries.

However, being cordial, respectful and sensitive to other people’s beliefs should be a hallmark for all Wiccans, since we are all too aware of active prejudice and malice in our present world from those who would brand our faith as immoral, unlawful and heretical. In time, I suspect that Wicca will evolve as a religion and become more differentiated, and this means that there might be traditions or offshoots that espouse and embrace demonolatry and chthonic based practices. However, it can only effectively occur when our religious culture has become less polarized than it is now.

It is, after all, the Joy of Sects, that we are talking about here. (And I enjoy talking dirty about them.)

Frater Barrabbas