Magic-users know that every problem invokes its own solution. I submit that we Pagans were invoked into existence by the crisis humanity is undergoing right now. We are especially suited as the catalyst that will reify a successful future for humanity.
Pagans are of a new religion, formed as a reaction and critique to orthodox Christianity in the Renaissance, and more importantly as a recollection, and now a restoration, of ancient ways of spirituality. Our origins and development are entwined with science and we take spiritual inspiration from its findings. As we developed we have also absorbed insights and practices from cultures the world over, both the great civilizations and what we call today the indigenous peoples (not always gracefully, but we are still learning). This was the topic of last month’s post.
That humanity is undergoing a crisis is commonly accepted. We are making our environment uninhabitable to ourselves. Wealth and resources are being concentrated into levels of disparity that are usually resolved through bloodshed. Un-renewable resources are being expended at ever faster rates while our population is still growing unchecked. A Malthusian reaction could happen at any time: war, famine or plague.
Solutions depend on understanding the problem, and the problem here is that we as a species are behaving like children. We makes messes and don’t clean up after ourselves. We selfishly acquire and hoard. We consume and breed without limits. Humans as a species look like teenagers.
In traditional societies, teenagers are only tolerated so long. Their destructive capacity must be brought within societal limits and their creative capacity directed into societal good. This is the function of adulthood rituals. In them the immediate reality of death and the consequences of actions is deeply impressed upon the young minds. The elders of that society take responsibility to recognize when the child reaches the crisis point and for transmitting that lesson along with other the values of the society. It is important to note that there are only two outcomes to an adulthood ritual: an adult or a corpse. Traditional societies can ill afford adult-children.
I propose that to understand the global crisis, we need to see it as an adulthood crisis at the species level. Conditions have changed such that the consequences of our behaviors can no longer be tolerated by our planet and now threaten our existence. We have grown too big to continue behaving in this manner. We need to grow up and take on the duties of adulthood or we will experience species-collapse leading to extinction or a massive die-off and a deep dark age. Sometimes I even hear folks advocating for a dark age as a somewhat romantic escape from the crisis.
I think the better and more interesting, even more fun solution is to become adult as a species. When a species, rather than a child, is confronted with this challenge, there are no elders to conduct the rite. We will have to bootstrap. This will require some portion of our population to take on the task of inaugurating the shift to adulthood. They will need to be at the critical time and place. They will need to focus the resources of our whole species. They will need to be able to use the past without being bound by it. They must have the tools for change.
While I presume that there are multiple populations on this planet that fit this criteria, the one I know that does is the Pagan community.
Yes, we, the archetype of disorganized religion, the Pagan community has the capacity, possibly the destiny, to save the world. We are unique to this time and nothing has been like us before…
We are cosmopolitan. We share with Buddhism, Christianity, and Islam, the ability to cross cultural, racial, and national boundaries, welcoming all who would worship with us. While some have closed up, most of us approach our practice with an open architecture, able to learn from anyone and absorb their insights and spiritual technologies. We are seriously tolerant, at times perhaps to a fault, but if we must have a weakness, that is a good one.
There is a maxim in religious history: when new communications media arise new religions flourish. To name some local examples, Christianity arose with the book, Reformed Christianity with the printing press, Fundamentalist Christianity with radio and television. Pagans were involved in the rise of the Internet and exploded in numbers once the net became commercially available. The Internet is our medium and with it we reach the world.
But the Net is not the only critically valuable position we hold. Respecting population Paganism is a Western, principally Anglophone, especially American phenomenon. Here we must turn away from discourses of privilege to the language of power. America is the fulcrum of the future world. Its overwhelming military, economic, media and technical power make it the single most important culture to determine what our world will become. And we are embedded in it. We are at the critical time and we are in the critical place.
Power is not the only thing that makes the West, and especially America unique. Ours is the only non-ritualizing culture in the world, and this is pathological. The ossification of Catholic ritual and the Protestant rejection of ritual in general has left the West without the most effective, and ancient, method for transforming the condition of individuals and groups, especially when they are in a maladaptive state like an adulthood crisis. Ritual transmits values in a way that nothing else does, not speech, not media, nothing. There is no population in the West like Pagans that has our skill and creativity with ritual. We will need this because fundamentally the problem facing us as a species is one of values.
Since the 1970s we solved the production problem for the first time in human history. We could make enough for everyone, but could not deliver it. By the 1980s the supply chain revolution had solved the distribution problem (think FedEx) but we did not yet have the means to know who needed or who had. But by the mid-1990s the internet solved the market knowledge gap (think EBay) and buyers and sellers could easily find each other. What this brief sketch shows is that there is no material reason why we can’t “feed, clothe, shelter, educate and medicate” everyone. It also points to why: we don’t choose to.
The absence of the value that says that humans can and should be “100% successful on planet Earth” (thanks R. Buckminster Fuller) is killing us. We as a species think it is alright to poison parts of our world, so long as it is not in our backyard. It is acceptable for some to live in ghettos, slums, and favelas, while others have more than they can consume in a dozen lifetimes. It is acceptable to keep women subordinated as uneducated breeders and domestic servants.
The Pagan community is deeply tied to environmental, economic, and gender justice. While we are big enough now that racist, authoritarian, and isolationist elements have crept into our fold, the fact that we react powerfully against them shows these are not our core values. Even our very low level of economic attainment as a community displays our rejection of the consumer materialism that traps much of our nation in debt.
The crisis is upon us and we are in the right place and the right time. We have the tools, the internet and ritual (and magick!) The problem facing us is not material but in the minds and hearts of humanity. A change in values will change, and save, the world. Values are of the mind, and we are skilled in the Realm of the Mind, and growing stronger. We can change the situation.
Next time I will turn from ‘why’ to ‘how’ but before I end, there is one last critical and unique aspect of who we Pagans are. There is a secret power in us that make us especially unique to this culture and this time. While we are a new florescence of religious life, we have reclaimed and built ourselves of the rejected, forgotten, suppressed and oppressed parts of Western culture. We have even taken as ours an ancient name of calumny: Pagan. This tells me that we are the Shadow of Western Civilization. It is to the Shadow that we must turn, when all of our conscious and socially acceptable modes of behavior have failed. In the Shadow is what we need. From the Shadow comes renewal. We, Pagan folk, are the children of the Shadow.
And this is why they, the Established ones, fear us, and they rightly do: for I assert that we have the power to bring about the end of the unjust and unsustainable ways of our global civilization, and those who are invested in defending those injustices know in their hearts we can.
Will we step up?
Next time: How.