Last week the always-insightful Seo Helrune had a very good blog post titled Restoration, Not Reenchantment. It covers a lot of topics of interest to Pagans and polytheists, including the necessity and benefits of pilgrimage. The post itself is a product of a pilgrimage Seo Helrune took to Iceland – where I very much need to visit some day.
After reading the post and meditating on it, I want to explore the final paragraph in greater depth. I think it helps explain some of the Otherworldly activity we’ve been experiencing and talking about over the past few years. Here’s a brief excerpt:
This is, and always has been the fight in this land – the back and forth of Christians driving out the Other (both human and non-human) in order to maintain their damned, blood-soaked covenant.
For all our magical workings (especially those designed to influence the political process) we tend to dismiss the magical workings of conservative and dominionist Christians. And make no mistake: what they do is magic, even if they would recoil at the thought.
We know there will be no apocalypse and we laugh at each successive iteration of The Great Disappointment. But that doesn’t mean all the magical, spiritual, and political activity intended to claim the land for themselves and to bring about the end of the world has no impact.
Because it does, and it always has.
The settlement of America: God, Gold, and Glory
The government of the United States was founded on Enlightenment principles (at least when it came to white men, but that’s another rant for another time). The foundational documents of 1776 and 1787 pay lip service to Christianity while guaranteeing the freedom of religion and grounding ultimate authority in the people, not in the church or even in the Christian God.
The European settlement of America that began almost three centuries earlier is a very different story. The early explorers, settlers, and immigrants came in search of God, gold, and glory – especially God. And unlike the whitewashed stories I was told in elementary school and in Sunday school, they weren’t looking for religious freedom. They were looking for a place where they could enforce their own particular religious orthodoxy.
The religious refugees who fled England and then Holland for Massachusetts in 1620 are the same people who hanged Quakers and fined people for celebrating Christmas. Their descendants are responsible for the judicial murder of 20 people in 1692 better known as the Salem Witch Trials.
In the Southwest, Spanish settlers used a combination of bribes and brutal force to convert the native people to Catholicism. When Mexico agreed to accept American settlers into Texas, one of the conditions was that they become Roman Catholics – a condition the Texians mostly ignored.
Religiosity in America has waxed and waned over the years. But the dream of a country where everyone follows the “right” religion has never been far from the surface.
The drive for Christian dominion
Part of the myth of modern Paganism is that when immigrants left the civilized and industrialized lands of Europe they were struck by the wonder and awe of the “wilds” of North America. Their romanticization of Nature – particularly as expressed by Thoreau, Whitman, and Muir in the 1800s – went into the primordial soup from which modern Paganism would eventually emerge.
There is truth in that myth. But for every person who saw the wild as sacred there was another who saw it as evil.
As Seo Helrune said:
Early colonists saw the colonization of America as a kind of religious crusade in which they had to “win” territories from the devil and “cleanse” them of the Heathen.
This isn’t surprising coming from a religion that teaches the world is “fallen” and that only humans are “made in the image of God” – a religion where humans are supposed to have dominion over Nature. And especially in a land where the weather periodically tries to kill you and where the native population was understandably less than thrilled with aggressive colonists.
From the first explorers, conquistadors, and colonists, Christians have been claiming land for their God and doing their best to drive out all others, whether those others are other species, other humans, other Christians, or other spirits.
We know what the impact has been on First Nations people, on species like wolves that challenge humans for supremacy, and on the land itself.
What do you think the impact has been on the spirits of the land, the sky, and the sea here in America?
What do you think the impact has been on the Fair Folk, whether they immigrated to this continent with European settlers or whether they were here all along?
Disenchantment is only real because we think it’s real
First Christians told us that any religion that wasn’t theirs was wrong, any spirit that wasn’t “approved” was evil, and Nature was fallen for not making human well-being the primary concern. Then atheists told us there are no spirits, Nature is just matter and energy, and our most meaningful experiences are just the product of brain chemistry.
Is it any wonder we’re disenchanted? Is it any wonder we want to re-enchant the world?
But disenchantment is real only because we think it’s real.
In his book The Myth of Disenchantment, Jason Josephson-Storm presents ample evidence that people have always believed in the world of spirit and they still do today. We’re part of that ample evidence. Most of us who call ourselves Pagans and polytheists believe we live in a world full of Gods and spirits, a world that is probabilistic and not deterministic, and a world where magic exists and we can use it to our advantage.
Unfortunately, Christian dominionists understand they live in an enchanted world just as much as we do. And unlike us, they’re taking their opponents seriously.
There is more power in fundamentalist and dominionist magic than we like to admit
As a religion, Christian fundamentalism is demonstrably false. The Earth is far older than 6000 years, evolution is real, and bible is not literally true. The teachings of Jesus may be a good way to live your life, but they are far from the only way.
That doesn’t mean all spiritual acts by fundamentalists and dominionists are impotent. That’s wishful thinking on our part.
You can’t believe our delineation of sacred space is effective and their claiming land for their God is not. If it will work for us it will work for them.
You can’t believe our invocation of land spirits draws the spirits near to us and their banishing of them doesn’t drive them away.
You can’t believe our offerings and praise nourish the spirits of the land and their imprecatory prayers don’t diminish them – particularly when their prayers are followed by bulldozers, chainsaws, and fracking rigs.
In my travels on both sides of the Atlantic, I’ve come across places where the old religion and the new seem to coexist in peace, where the Fair Folk don’t seem to mind that a holy well is dedicated to Saint Brigid and not the Goddess Brighid.
And then there are other places where the Fair Folk are angry and the presence of a church seems like a desecration.
They have magic, they’ve been using it here for 400 years, and the land shows it.
The Otherworld is bleeding through… and fighting back
Twice this year I led a workshop titled “The Shredded Veil.” It covered the concept of the Veil Between the Worlds and why many of us believe it’s now thin year-round and not just at Samhain and Beltane. The workshop included an open discussion where participants shared their recent Otherworldly experiences.
Both presentations had so many responses I had to cut them off due to time.
I got some criticism for last year’s post The Re-emergence of the Fair Folk in the Ordinary World. Numerous people complained that I was universalizing from my American experiences. Those complaints have merit. But what I’m sure is that here in the United States we are encountering the Fae and observing the effects of their presence far, far more than in the past.
How much of this is the natural cycles of magic? How much is the natural cycles of the Otherworld getting closer to this world, and then farther away? How much is the simply our own awareness of what’s going on in the world around us? I don’t know.
But I do know this much: this was once their world, and they have never forgotten it. Nor have they forgiven those who drove them Underhill.
Perhaps the stars and planets are properly aligned and the time is simply right. Perhaps their forces are finally strong enough to take on the Soldiers of the Cross. Perhaps they see our dysfunctional society and see an opportunity to strike. Again, I don’t know.
But what I do know is that the battle has already begun, and it will soon intensify. And the vast majority of people will sleep through the whole thing, and then wonder how their world has been unmade and remade in ways they cannot comprehend.
The Fair Folk are fighting for themselves, not for us
For the love of all that’s holy – and possibly, for the love of your soul – do not squeal with glee “Yea! The fairies are fighting on our side!” They fight for their own reasons, not for ours.
The Fair Folk show even less concern with which flavor of humans is running human society than to do the Gods, which isn’t much. If we allow evil men to rule us that’s our problem, not theirs. And while I have a strong intuition they’re not happy about climate change, they aren’t telling me anything about their plans to deal with it… and I wouldn’t count on liking their plans if they did.
They’re fighting for themselves. Not for us, not for “life” or “Nature” or “Mother Earth” or anything of the sort. Never forget it.
But if we think carefully, we may realize we have some shared goals, and some common enemies.
We’re in the battle whether we like it or not
Despite the predilection some of us have for punching Nazis, by and large Pagans are a non-violent bunch. Some of us genuinely believe in Gandhi-like non-violence, while others realize we suck at fighting and we’re better off trying something else.
So if the Fair Folk, aided by deities who may or may not be part of the Sídhe themselves, decide they’re at war, many of us may try to stay out of it.
Even if their goal (what we can see of their goals, anyway) is to reclaim what was taken from them by missionaries, fundamentalists, and dominionists.
Even if some of our own have been hurt and continue to be hurt in this crusade.
Even if some of those are us.
The current targets are immigrants and transgender people, women and people of color, and Jews. They always target Jews. And of course, the land – which they think is there for them to exploit, no matter who gets hurt in the process.
If that’s not you, it’s somebody you know.
And before long, it will be you.
A note to my Christian friends
I don’t like disclaimers in blog posts, but I feel the need to speak directly to my Christian friends – the ones who are my friends. In case you had any doubts, this isn’t about you. This is about the people who make your religion look bad. You probably don’t like them any more than I do.
We don’t worship the same Gods, but we share a common ancestry, and we will share in the fate of the land, be it good or ill.
The spiritual battle for America is not between Christians and Muslims, or Christians and atheists, or even Christians and Pagans. It’s between those who want to conquer, control, and kill those who aren’t like them, and those who want to live together in peace.
Those of us who want to live together in peace don’t like fighting – it goes against our nature. But if we do not oppose the dominionists and fundamentalists, they will make it impossible for us to live at all.
The world is changing – pick a side
This post has moved back and forth between the historical and political on one hand and the magical and metaphysical on the other. No doubt this will annoy the readers who wish I’d stick strictly to religion, and also the readers who think my blogging should be more politically active.
I’m talking about both because it’s impossible to completely separate the two. The American heritage of Christian dominionism is real, it’s affected life on this continent since 1492, and it’s affecting our lives today. The magic used by Christian dominionists is as real as our Pagan magic and it’s one of the reasons we’re in the mess we’re in today – a mess that’s getting worse, not better.
Whatever metaphor you want to use, the boundary between this world and the Otherworld is less than it’s been in the lifetime of anyone alive today, and I suspect, in very many lifetimes. Our Gods are moving, and it’s not just because they want Their worship restored. The Fair Folk have been mostly Underhill for the past two millennia or so, but now that’s changing.
What does it all mean? I don’t know, not yet anyway. But I’m paying attention, and I can see that great change is coming. Yeah, I know, that’s vague. Wish I could be more specific, but I can’t, and I’m not going to make stuff up, even if my atheist friends think I already have.
Refusing to choose is a choice. It’s a choice that assumes the status quo will continue ad infinitum, and that’s a very dangerous assumption.
I serve my Gods, and I make alliances with other persons with whom I have common cause.
That is my choice.
You must make yours.
For another view on the Fair Folk in our contemporary world, see Calling The Othercrowd Back by Morgan Daimler.
Think dominionists are just a bunch of kooks who’ll never amount to anything? One of them is a Washington state representative who wants to kill gay people and Pagans.