Hello everyone, this is my third interview already. I’m very excited about this particular one, as Professor Brendan Myers is one of my favorite writers. Prof. Myers earned his Ph. D at the University of Ireland, Galway, and he is currently a professor of philosophy at CEGEP Heritage College, in Gatineau, Quebec. Professor Myers is a member of the Order of Bards, Ovates, and Druids, and he was very gracious enough to take the time and answer my questions. I’m hoping these will spur your interest in some of his material. Enjoy! –Sean
SWH: Professor Myers, thank you for taking time for this interview. I am honored. So, we’ll start off the basic question, can you please tell us about yourself? A little about your education and upbringing?
BM: I was born in a small city in southwest Ontario Canada, and raised in a nearby small village. Being the eldest of a very large family, and also being the target of severe bullying by my peers, I often retreated into a conservation park outside the village, to find my privacy and peace. My parents were people of deep Christian faith, but even before I knew about paganism I found my spiritual home in the cedar and pine forest of the park. I also loved the village’s library, and made up my mind very early that I would grow up to be a writer. I now have three degrees in modern philosophy, including a Ph.D in environmental ethics and history of ideas.
SWH: How did your pagan path evolve? Can you describe your personal practice?
BM: Over my twenty-year involvement in the pagan world, my practice has grown less about “practice” (understood to mean ritual work or ‘following’ some deity) and has grown more about thinking, researching, artistic creation, and intellectual discovery. An expedition into the woods, to sit by a lakeside and think without distraction for an afternoon, is ritual enough for me. As is playing guitar with my friends. And cooking and sharing food. I now regard myself as an human being and a philosopher first, and everything else second. But between you and I, being a philosopher– that is, one who investigates the highest and deepest problems in life by means of logic and reason– is a spiritual path. Systematic critical reason is one way that we mere mortals can discover the immensities, and put ourselves into a better relationship with them.
A very simple reason: those who read on a page it couldn’t pronounce it; those who heard it spoken couldn’t spell it! But more to the point: I decided it was simpler and more honest to use one name for my life instead of two. The name I was given at birth is, after all, not so bad.
You are a very prolific writer of both fiction and non-fiction. Which do you enjoy writing more?
It’s difficult to say. At this moment, I’m working on a new nonfiction project, about environmentalism and the philosophy of civilization, and I find intellectual discovery a very exhilarating experience. But earlier this year I completed a four-part urban fantasy fiction series which expressed some of my most intimate and thoughts and feelings, and which created a world I very much want to share with others. I will certainly write fiction again; a sci-fi project has been growing in my mind these last few weeks; but I will remain a philosopher at heart.
You have a Ph.D in Philosophy. You’ve written several books on the subject of pagan virtues and the history of pagan philosophy, most notably The Earth, The Gods and The Soul – A History of Pagan Philosophy: From the Iron Age to the 21st Century and The Other Side of Virtue: Where Our Virtues Come From, What They Really Mean, and Where They Might Be Taking Us. “How would you describe pagan virtues”?
The pagan virtues can be described in two ways. In the first, we can describe them as the qualities of character possessed by the heroes and gods of pagan mythology. This gives a reasonably consistent picture: courage, generosity, and friendship are the three that almost always stand out. In the second, we can describe them as the qualities needed to enact a spirited response to the immensities of life and death, and so to create for oneself and one’s associates a flourishing and worthwhile life. These are the virtues of integrity, including courage, rationality, loyalty; the virtues of humanity, including generosity, friendship, kindness; and the virtues of wonder, including artistic sensibility, life-affirmation, and the ability to dance, sing, feast, make music and love.
In your book Loneliness and Revelation: A Study of the Sacred, you talk about how loneliness is avoided in our society, but you discuss how this can be a time of self-discovery. How did you come up with the idea for this?
BM: Naturally there was my own experience with loneliness and solitude; I have lived alone most of my adult life, and most of the time I have been happy to do so. Yet I have not always been at peace with my own solitude, and it occurred to me that my experience with it was probably not unique. I asked myself what are the questions no one is asking, and what problem do we all face which no one admits facing. Loneliness was one of the answers. Loneliness, I am now convinced, is an existential condition; there is no permanent escape from it. But loneliness is not the problem. It’s the antisocial, addictive, even self-destructive things people to do avoid loneliness which constitutes the real problem. And that’s a problem we can solve, too.
BM: The most honest answer is “the next book; the one I’m writing now.” Whichever one that happens to be when someone asks the question. But to choose one that’s already published, right now it’s “A Trick of The Light”, a little novella about a young girl in a small town who receives a magical telescope as a gift, discovers that it might have been stolen, and then must outwit a big city lawyer so that she can keep it. The story is my love-letter to philosophy, astronomy, and the little Ontario village where I grew up.
You’re an environmentalist. What do you think we as humans (and pagans) can do to change the tide with global environmentalist changes?
Most everyone can do more than they’re already doing; and most everyone can do more than what they think they can do. And, naturally, the simple daily things that people already do should continue: simple daily things like recycling, reducing waste, reducing electricity demand, and so on. But to be frank, “think globally act locally” will not save the world from global warming. Even if everyone on Earth did them, they would not be enough. The global capitalist market is tooled to reward big developers, big industrialists, and big polluters. A recent example of this is the Volkswagen emissions scandal, which (until the scandal was publicized) rewarded an environmentally destructive corporate deception with rich global profits. But global capitalism is also the system that houses, clothes, feeds, and employs most people around the world. Therefore, few are willing to question or to doubt its goodness, even while evidence of its destructive environmental impact is readily available. But that kind of radical questioning and doubting is precisely what we must do. What would the economy look like with something other than greed in the core of its psychology? What would culture and civil society look like if most people really did care about the health and stability of ecosystems, climate, and the well-being of their neighbours? Whom should we vote for, how should we spend our money, what kind of jobs must we create, to create a better world? These are not unanswerable questions. All that’s missing is the courage and the political will to ask them.
I brew my own mead and wine; I play guitar; I love international travel; and as often as I can I go hiking in the Gatineau Hills National park, which begins less than a mile from my front door.
What is your greatest passion?
Hill walking, philosophizing, and curating my library by day; feasting, singing, and making music and love by night.
How do you see paganism evolving in the coming years?
Well, I don’t know how it will change in the future; I don’t think anyone does; but I think I can name the force that will do more to change it than any other: demographics. We are now at a state where lots of people are pagan because their parents were, and not (necessarily) because they discovered it at a certain age. We’re also at a state where there’s enough middle class pagans to financially sustain organizations for teaching, publishing, political advocacy, event management, and even land ownership. Demographic forces like these not only affect who is attracted to the community, but also how it changes people who join it. I suspect these forces will stabilize the community such that “witch wars” over territory, history, and purpose, and especially identity, will mostly disappear: most people will see those questions as mostly settled, and they’ll see the arguments over them as time-wasting nonsense. But exactly where, or on what platform, those questions will settle, is anyone’s guess.
BM: Writers like myself depend very heavily on the good-will of our readers. If you like any writer who works with small and independent publishers (as I do), please talk about their books with as many people as you can, as often as you can. Write reviews on Amazon and on your own blogs; encourage your friends to buy them. We do not have the multimillion dollar marketing budgets of the writers you see in the window displays of major bookstores. Instead, we have you. I offer my deep and abiding thanks to those who have supported my writing habit over many years, including the good Mr. Harbaugh here; and in return for your support I continue to research and to write the best quality work that I can, in the hope of producing the ideas that will move our world closer to a better way of life, for everyone.