Pagans and the (Zombie) Apocalypse

Editors’ Note: This article is part of the Public Square 2014 Summer Series: Conversations on Religious Trends. Read other perspectives from the Pagan community here.

Lately, the only big picture writing I’ve read on the state of our world is from writers on the fringe of the fringe. Peter Grey and the writers at Scarlet Imprint have written some of the most heart-searingly honest and downright chilling pieces on how witchcraft and the state  of the world intersect. Grey’s essay Rewilding Witchcraft is required reading. It’s been shared all over the internet, and for good reason. He calls out witches, magicians, and Pagan culture generally for being more interested in cozying up to the status quo and gaining respectability than hewing to the Craft’s wild core – a core that includes wild lands.

Reading Grey’s essay and other books in Scarlet Imprint’s stable, notably Apocalyptic Witchcraft and pieces of The Blood of the Earth, scare me witless. Combine these writings with pictures of the melting glacier in my hometown, scientific reports about the increasing acidification of the oceans, tales of rapid species die off, and international behemoths coming close to claiming that “Water is not a human right” and you’ve got pieces of the scariest horror movie ever. Especially when I think of my children and your children and our friends’ children growing up in this world.

It’s enough to make a person give up.

My hometown glacier, the Mendenhall Glacier, Juneau, Alaska. From

Why be green? My individual actions can’t possibly change things. Me, my family, we cannot save this planet, nor uphold society as we know it. We cannot buy our way green. Companies ‘greenwash’ their products, make them half a smidge more environmentally friendly and encourage us to spend our money on their products in an effort to be environmentally friendly.* Driving a Prius on the daily commute is just another Liberal lie that upholds the status quo. Shouldn’t we be questioning the commute altogether? Why are more people moving into Southern California when the desert cannot sustain that many millions of people? Why should I use horrible recycled toilet paper if no one else is? Why be in discomfort just to feel like I’m doing my part? Isn’t it like playing a poorly tuned violin on a sinking ship?

So what do we do? Do I stop reading disturbing things? Do I brush off Grey and think that he’s just stirring the pot to make a buck? Not on your life. I think Grey is right on. I agree that much of Paganism is more concerned with affirmations and being respectable in the eyes of the overculture than it is with getting our hands dirty and making magic. Much of Paganism’s values come out of 1960s counter-culturalism, the same generation that is now running the megatheocorporations** that are part and parcel of our problem. Mainstream American liberalism is not going to get it done (neither is the Right, nor “letting the market correct things”).

I think it’s important to be shocked from time to time. I can’t read too much about the environment these days, because with these new mama hormones I am extra super sensitive. Yet, I need the ice water shock from scientific reports and the harsh reminders from fellow travelers like Grey. We cannot be complacent, especially the witches, spirit workers, and magicians of the world.

I agree with the message, this much I’ve made clear. But I disagree with the use and theme of ‘apocalypse.’ It’s become a trendy word, what with vampires and zombies taking over like a plague. Whatever you believe about the state of the environment and society as we know it, we are not facing an apocalypse. No, society as we know it cannot last. But an apocalyptic mindset will not help us.

Apocalyptic writing is a product of prophetic post-Exile Jewish writers. The genre employs an ‘end times’ theme, when Yahweh (and/or Jesus in the Christian versions) comes back to destroy the world and save the righteous. Using the term ‘apocalyptic’ implies that there are those who are righteous and those who are not. That leads to an ‘us vs them’ mentality, a mentality that helps no one. Apocalypse implies that history is over when humans die off. This is anthropocentric thinking of the worst sort, and Pagans worth their magic will avoid thinking that humanity is the be all and end all of life forms. Apocalyptic thinking is also bound up in linear understandings of history and creation, rather than cyclic conceptions of history, which are more appropriate to Pagan and other non-monotheistic understandings of the universe.

Photo by Reagan Hackleman

Apocalyptic thinking feeds the lies of extremes. If the (zombie) apocalypse is coming, it’s a myth; no need to prepare for something that isn’t real. Or you can get completely scared and overwhelmed and shut down. Do nothing. Maybe try to remember to drop your disposable coffee cup in the recycling bin rather than the trash. Or you can get completely freaked out and overwhelmed and decide that since the only solution is a zombie proof house off the grid and you can’t do that with four kids and a sickly mother in law, well, you may as well just buy a Prius and a flame thrower and call it good. Or you can get completely overwhelmed and  go so extreme that you really do build your urban bunker, complete with compostable toilet and a food garden on the roof. While that seems like a reasonable solution, most of us cannot move off the grid.

Environmentalists and others concerned about our lands have become the new end times preachers. And since when did those prophets make converts? Fear of a radical apocalypse keeps us from being radical in our responses. Apocalypse is so extreme that, while it can shock us in ways necessary for action, mostly it alienates us from action due to fear and anxiety from overwhelming odds.

And yet, we, the giant collective We of Humanity, need to take action. Especially any one calling themselves a spirit worker or a witch or Pagan. Because the apocalypse isn’t coming (Jesus isn’t coming back either, sorry). If society is going to have to radically, fundamentally shift, shouldn’t we be the ones best able to weather that change? Best able to guide it?

My choices don’t matter, but our choices do. I can be pretentious all the live long day with my opting out of buying my way to a solution and deliberately living my life so my family doesn’t commute and so on. If enough of us start making similar choices, start opting out, start not buying things, start forging alliances with the Land and each other, maybe be we can turn this ship around. My husband likened this dilemma to a ship the other  day. You can’t turn a freighter around quickly; steady pressure over time will turn it.

The beginning is near.

The end of the world as we know it is not the end of the world full stop. Together, we will find the hope beyond hope, the paths which lead to the unknown world ahead of us. – From the Dark Mountain Project’s Manifesto


*Don’t get me started on ‘pinkwashing’ – buying our way to breast cancer cures.  **Word coined by Twisty Faster of I Blame the Patriarchy.

Like Patheos Pagan on Facebook!


The First Harvest of 2015
Relational Polytheism
Polytheism, Politics, Discomfort, and Growth
Many Gods, Many Peoples, Many Experiences
About Niki Whiting
  • Scarlet Imprint

    Thanks for sharing this Nikki. I rarely get drawn into online discussion, so just a couple of quick points.

    Firstly and most critically that apocalypse is not limited to post-exilic Judaism but seems rather to be a mythic theme from pre-history. It is common to all cultures and ages.

    Secondly that like it or not, many in positions of power do have an apocalyptic
    world view, whether we like it or not and that these ideas underpin much
    of our culture. That does not mean that we cannot subvert it.

    The anti-apocalyptic viewpoint has been well drawn by John Michael Greer in both Blood of the Earth and on his blog, as well as recently in an article by George Monbiot talking to the environmental movement. I courteously choose to disagree, having a more tantric (for want of a better word) view. People will make that choice based on their temperament as much as their intellect.

    For me an apocalyptic worldview does not prevent fighting back, though I
    understand that it is a fierce and difficult position to hold.

    I hope I don’t come across as anthropocentric, that is the furthest point possible from my beliefs.

    What does concern me is the danger of there being a conflict created between
    ‘anti’ and ‘pro’ apocalypse positions rather than attacking the real issue. Note that I am not implying that is what you are doing!

    We have a fight on our hands, and with the bleak future unfolding around us I welcome all who take a stand in whatever way they deem appropriate.

    In Friendship,

    Peter Grey

    • A Witch’s Ashram

      Perhaps it is my Tantric outlook that colors so much of how I interpret Paganism that makes me eschew apocalypticism. I agree that much of the world has an apocalyptic viewpoint – because Western monotheism is the foundation of most of global capitalism! (Wow, there’s a master’s thesis waiting to be written.) I am not convinced that “all cultures and ages” have engaged in apocalyptic, but that’s because I don’t see the world’s end as inherently apocalyptic.

      You absolutely don’t come across as anthropocentric – your writing makes that very clear.

      Thank you for clarifying. Let us not go gentle into that not-so-good night! Like I said, we have a huge tanker to turn around and every effort to help turn it is needed.

      • An Elder Apprentice

        because Western monotheism is the foundation of most of global capitalism! (Wow, there’s a master’s thesis waiting to be written.) –

        I believe Max Weber beat you to that idea 😉

        • A Witch’s Ashram

          I will admit to not having read Weber directly, only *about* him and his ideas. *goes to track down his works*