“It is immoral to use private property in order to alleviate the horrible evils that result from the institution of private property. It is both immoral and unfair.”
–Oscar Wilde, The Soul of Man Under Socialism
In the light of the crescent moon she creeps in, hooded in black. It’s late, and hardly anyone would be awake. The darkness is her friend, her ally, and it is best to stalk in silence. Slipping under the fence, her jeans and sweatshirt covered in dust and fallen leaves, she gazes one last time upon the secret garden she and her neighbors had spent much of the year tending.
Autumn was already upon the world, and though the tomatoes were not yet fully ripe, she’d harvest what she could now, hoping the green fruit might mature in the slanted autumnal light on her windowsill. The winter-vegetables had just begun to sprout, spinach and kale and late broccoli, but they wouldn’t make it. She sighs, feeling this loss, and then remembers the even greater loss she and her neighbors would endure the next day.
‘A few days more,’ she muses, turning her attention to the machine before her. Massive, made by man to rend from the solidity of ground the soil into which she and others had sown and tended those flowers and vegetables. She couldn’t stop it, but she could slow it a bit. She pulls from her backpack the tube of glue she’d bought with the scrounged change–money she’d been hoping to save for a beer later this week with her girlfriend. They’d share a beer instead, perhaps celebrate her courage, perhaps mourn what was lost, mourn that feeling of helplessness.
Tonight, though, carefully squeezing out the adhesive into the crevices of every moving part she can reach within the cab of the bulldozer, she feels a little less helpless. Though the garden would soon be gone, this whole “vacant’ lot becoming the foundation for expensive studios she’d never be able to afford, tonight, at least, she had power. She could hold off the inevitable for another day, perhaps, and make known to the world that she thought a garden is a good thing. She finishes with her “destruction” (and what is a stuck gear-shifter against the loss of land? she asks herself, sadly), she inscribes three letters across the machine, her offering to the sylvan spirits of northern lands and her solidarity with others who’ve done the same.
The next morning, the subcontractors will not notice her footprints, nor the hole in the garden where she’d uprooted what she could salvage. Instead, they’ll notice the word she wrote and wonder why someone would have written “ELF.” Maybe they’ll even get the day off.
You’ve probably noticed by now, I’ve got a bit of an agenda. If you haven’t figured this out from my writing thus far (or the title of my personal blog), I’m an anti-capitalist, an anarcho-socialist. I’m also a Pagan, a Polytheist, and a Druid-in-Training. And there’s no contradiction here.
The history of modern paganism is rife with anti-Capitalist protest. The Molly Macguires and related groups in the middle of the 1700’s in Ireland are said to have issued evictions and warnings to landlords in the name of local land-spirits, and their largest protests occured on Beltaine and Samhain. Speaking of Beltaine, it later became the worldwide day of worker solidarity and leftist resistance to capitalism, “May Day.”
Many of spiritual orders in England at the end of the 1800’s (The Golden Dawn, the Theosophists) were rife with anarchists and socialists, one of the founding ancestors of modern Druidry was an anarcho-socialist (George MacGregor Reid) who spent part of his early years organizing unions in New England, and the (Neo)Pagan revival in the 60’s co-incided with intense leftist uprisings. And up to the present, you can’t throw a rock at a window in the middle of an anti-globalisation protest without risking hitting a Pagan. In addition, resistance to hegemony and empire in Celtic areas up to the present invoke Pagan language and symbol (oftentimes the triskelion) in much the same vein as indigenous resistance to Capitalism in the Americas invokes indigenous religions.
Much of this intersectionality, I believe, comes from a shared critique of the core logic of Capitalism, which is Private Property. As I mentioned before, land has become something to be bought and sold, not sacred in itself. Capitalism began when land was cordoned and fenced off, no longer a shared heritage of humanity but a privilege of the wealthy. While there’d been reserved property before (Church-owned lands, royal hunting grounds, etc), the notion of anyone “owning” land is a radically new concept, and it’s gotten us nowhere good.
The inaugural essay of this column, by Elinor Predota, introduces a series of questions which are heavily worth considering. The title itself is a poignant question: “Whose land (spirit) is it, anyway?” As Pagans who revere the earth and seek both to fully inhabit the places we live and to work with the spirits who dwell therein, we cannot ignore the question of our conception of land as property. Beyond the environmental damage that our capitalist outlook has caused, beyond the disenchantment our worldings without the gods and spirits has wrought upon our lives, the question of land and whether or not it can be owned and consumed gets at the very core of what it means to be Pagan. It also makes us confront why the society we’ve co-created (whether we’re conscious of our shared worlding or not) can justify streets full of landless, homeless humans in order to maintain the notion that land is something that can belong to those with money.
And fortunately, we’re not alone in confronting this question. Besides human allies in other religious traditions (and even non-religious traditions), there are the land spirits and the gods themselves. Even the briefest of readings about Dionysos make clear he’s often been on the side of resistance to tyranny, and multiple others have noticed that Brighid seems to care deeply about the hearth-less/homeless.
Worlding the earth with the gods and spirits is a radical act in our societies, as is fighting the systems of control and profit which maintain our distance from the earth and our disenchantment (and disenfranchisement). It can seem daunting, dangerous; it will alienate us from some, and the decisions we make may cause us to experience poverty rather than exploit the earth and each other.
Fortunately, we don’t have to do it alone.
–For more on the radical origins and intersections of the spiritual groups responsible for modern Paganism, see Affective Communities, by Lela Ghandi
And please note–acts such as the one I described at the beginning of this essay would qualify as Domestic Terrorism in the United States. Liberate land spirits responsibly, and may the gods and spirits be with you.