Rugged Individualism And Its Impact On Our Communities

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The pandemic has exposed a serious problem in our culture, and I have no suggestions on how to solve it. I honestly wish I did. It’s baked into the system, our laws, and how we function as a society. And that problem is rugged, toxic individualism and its marriage with unbridled capitalism.

I firmly believe it’s tied in with toxic Christianity and all of its problems but that doesn’t provide any additional insights beyond “all of these problems are toxic and are creating one big, toxic stew.” We’re in a pandemic where “every person for themselves” has been pushed on us literally to death and at the expense of the chronically ill and disabled. It’s created a society of people who actively hate the poor, the unhoused, the disabled, and any and all marginalized communities. After all, if any problems one has is strictly theirs to deal with, why help them in any way? A society of individuals isn’t a healthy society and can’t survive for very long, and will indeed (and has already) leave a trail of dead people in its wake.

It gets worse when rugged individualism is weaponized by bigoted, even hateful people with agendas and supported by religious beliefs. After all, anything bad that happens to you must be your fault; there must be something spiritually wrong with you. Or in occult communities? It must be that you aren’t an effective witch/magician/occultist. This gets into prosperity gospel, toxic positivity, and the notion that only “good people” are healthy and wealthy. The idea that “everything happens for a reason” is bunk, and anyone who has dealt with any sort of trauma knows it. 

I can also fully comprehend why such a philosophy can be seductive. After all, people like to feel in control over their lives. If they chose such-and-such circumstance before they were even born, they can feel that control. Life becomes less scary in their minds, easier to deal with. But the reality is that terrible things often happen to good people with very little reason, and when that happens it can make people question their faith in an all-knowing, all-seeing entity or entities that supposedly cares about them and their choices in life. It can also create the illusion that if we have that much control, then we don’t need to care about other people. They should be on their own, or obviously they aren’t doing the right things in their lives.

After all, why help out others if they can simply just pray harder, think positive thoughts, and they would be totally fine? And anything else is just something they somehow brought on themselves.

Society can’t and doesn’t work that way. We evolved as humans to work collaboratively; it’s how we’ve survived for eons. It should collectively care for those of us who have less regardless of their contributions to society, for the sheer fact that people’s lives fucking matter. Basic needs in order to survive shouldn’t have to be earned. No one should have to fight in order to prove they deserve to live. Healthcare shouldn’t be an industry that turns a profit in a pandemic that’s already cost the United States alone a million lives. Housing shouldn’t be so prohibitively expensive that people are sleeping in tents. Access to clean water (looking at you, Flint) and food shouldn’t be a struggle, either. And people shouldn’t die because they can’t afford insulin. The list goes on, but you can ultimately trace far too many issues to two simple facts: rugged individualism and capitalism are literally killing us.

No healthy society can survive this way, not in the long term. Things are so incredibly broken that I’m honestly shocked that they’re not breaking down faster. Unfortunately these toxic ideals have been passed down from generation to generation and are a source of pride for some people. They got theirs, so why should they have to care about anyone else?

“You have to understand, most of these people are not ready to be unplugged. And many of them are so inert, so hopelessly dependent on the system that they will fight to protect it.” -Morpheus, The Matrix

It’s extremely messed up that we have to explain to literally anyone that they should care about other people than themselves. It’s also unfortunate that most people don’t know how broken our society, institutions, and systems are until they face any sort of trauma including job loss, housing loss, chronic illness, and/or disability. One would think that a global pandemic would shove that in our faces, but some people are genuinely unaware still of all of the problems. How people’s lives are currently being sacrificed at the altar of “the economy” or as it should better be known as, the ultra rich 1%. How healthcare industries are getting rich off the pandemic, people’s illnesses, and even deaths. People are still fighting to protect this broken system, likely due to the belief that if they just work hard enough, pray often enough, they’ll be a healthy and wealthy billionaire too.

Because that’s the American propaganda/dream/opportunity, right? That supposedly anyone can just “work hard enough” and make it through, and anything else is a criticism of that belief. And how DARE you not love your country and think it’s perfect in every way.

Unfortunately, life doesn’t work like that. “Thoughts and prayers” won’t end a pandemic, give people free healthcare so that when they inevitably become sick and/or permanently disabled due to COVID they can afford all of the tests and treatments, end voter suppression, or give us affordable housing. It won’t allow us to continue to work from home to protect ourselves, nor get the most selfish of people to wear a piece of cloth over their faces to protect the lives and well-being of others. It won’t make us rich, give us the ability to afford basic necessities, or guarantee our continued health and well-being. And it certainly won’t give us back our loved ones who have died during this time due to the pandemic.

Is societal collapse immanent? Yes, but not in any way that people would readily expect or identify it. Most people’s risk assessment is terrible; unless there are drastic, overnight changes they don’t see impact or consequences before it happens. One can see this problem when dealing with the climate crisis, for instance. Which is one more thing that we are barely even able to focus on with everything going on. There are just too many things that are endangering us both as a society and as a species, and they’re all piling up on us.

We are all boiling frogs, and the pot is starting to run over. And there aren’t enough people taking the time to prepare and take care of their own because understandably, we are all too traumatized and too overwhelmed with current circumstances to do much of anything further. Even worse, it’s very likely that a good number of the people most likely to see these issues and/or be able to potentially help others are the ones who will be too busy putting on their own oxygen mask to assist.

And I want to take the time to address those people: you are valid. You have to do what you have to do in order to stay afloat, because everything has fucked us over so very, very good. If you are drowning you can’t help others not to drown, and that’s just the sad reality. You are not failing people, people have failed YOU. This entire society has failed you, and I’m so sorry. It’s the not-drowning ones who need to help the drowning. It’s 100% not your fault, and I want you all to know that no matter what anyone else might want tell you.

It’s the perfect storm, we’re all in our respective boats, and some of them are leaking water faster than others. In short if you have rescue boats or lifevests to offer others and are capable of doing so, I’d start now. And if you have any suggestions on where to start to unpack any of this and possibly save others, I welcome them in the comments.

Cis-centric Heteronormativity Must Die: The Craft, All Of Magic, And Paganism Is Marching Into the 21st Century Whether You Like It Or Not

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It’s pretty clear at this point that we are at a crossroads of a social revolution, one that is taking us into a direction where the long-held and accepted notions of both gender and sexuality are being questioned and in many cases, outright thrown away. However, it’s nothing new–they’ve been questioned for some time now, but people have gone on willfully ignoring or blowing it off for literally decades, and so the battle continues. Conversations which began years before I was born that were never resolved and ended in blood and tears are still happening. Why? Because people are stubbornly clinging to their security blankets and shields in the form of tradition, religion, and/or philosophy in order to avoid self-examination. And we can’t afford to coddle these individuals anymore, because it’s quite evident that hatred, ignorance, and bigotry mean more to them than the dire need to allow the craft and other magical traditions to evolve, not to mention entire pagan and polytheistic communities.

We can’t pretend it’s all about adhering to the tradition, or the letter of the law. For instance, there is more than enough documentation to demonstrate there were conditions under which Gerald Gardner himself was fine with same sex initiation, and that Alex Sanders himself performed such rites. So we can’t argue that “strict opposite gender initiates always” is core to either lineage. We also know that during their time that the laws and culture surrounding non-heterosexual and non gender conforming people were pretty negative, to say the least. This is increasingly no longer the case. As a result, it would appear to be that the majority opinion within various initiatory Wiccan traditions is finally heading in the direction of acceptance of same sex initiation in addition to recognizing the validity of those who identify as a different gender than the one assigned to them at birth. Even more importantly, people are finally beginning to publicly admit that this is where they stand. This is both huge, and necessary.

And these traditions are not alone in these discussions–far from it. People can point fingers and claim that initiatory Wiccan traditions are the only ones having the gender and sexuality issues and debates, but the reality is that in many if not all pagan and polytheistic communities, there are problems. I’ve regularly had to block homophobes, transphobes, and all sorts bigots in general from the Facebook group I run on Hellenic paganism. Those people whom I blocked and banned included people from white supremacist groups. We cannot pretend, as these screaming bigots want, that the Greek gods were all heterosexual and that homosexuality and bisexuality did not exist among them. Given the countless tales of the gods and their same sex trysts, I don’t think I need to state what an incredibly inaccurate view this is. And I’ve already gotten into some of the genderqueer, non-binary, and genderfluid gods in that pantheon besides in another blog post. Once again, we have an example of narrow-minded, hateful people trying to apply historical revisionism presented as “tradition” and using it as a shield for their bigotry.

I’ve seen similar issues as described above in Thelemic groups, Asatru groups, Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn groups, and a ton of other places. In all these communities I have seen people from the alt-right, neo-Nazis, TERFs, and all sorts of hate groups attempt smear their maggot-ridden feces everywhere while they try to twist facts, science, and history to support their bigotry. These groups are also very typically anti-women and filled with internalized misogyny, which surprises no one who is aware of the studies linking misogyny with white supremacy. And the reality is that these movements are painfully in support of nothing but the cis-centric heteronormativity that is anti-women (either cis or trans, they hate them all), anti-non whites, antisemitic, anti-LGBTQIA+, anti-anything of the non-binary gender because let’s face it, it’s harder to police what you consider to be women when gender is far, far more complicated than mere genitalia. All of these movements are connected to that concept, which is why in order for all of us to continue to exist let alone evolve, cis-centric heteronormativity must die–and why we need to be suspicious of anyone seeking to strictly preserve that overly rigid, limited narrative. We must stand up to these movements and not tolerate intolerance, so that we may preserve and protect tolerance.

Unfortunately no pagan, polytheistic, or occult community is without its loud, bigoted minority. If you think your community is exempt, think again. The problem is widespread, and we need to own it. We can no longer afford to pretend it does not and will not affect us, and those of us not directly impacted by the beliefs of the loud and hateful few need to learn how to be good allies and stand up on behalf of others in our community. And not enough people are doing that.

We also need to stop being afraid of challenging people who are perceived as leaders when they say or do inappropriate and outright hateful things in regards to large groups of people. Misha Magdalene in their blog sums up the issue with such savage finesse that I will quote from them here:

“(I)f it’s not some ceremonial magick dude managing to simultaneously junk-punch himself and hang himself with his own tongue by clumsily conflating rape and rape culture with BDSM, it’s some Pagan dude bloviating about uppity women, queers, and trans folks getting peanut butter in his Ten Thousand Year Old Book of Cisgender Heterosexual Shadows… or, in the case of the current bee in my bonnet, it’s a Well-Respected Feminist Elder™ running her tattered TERF1 flag up the flagpole to see who salutes.”

I’m honestly not sure why so many Known Names™ are becoming louder than usual in banging their bigot drum, even including those who normally describe themselves as “liberal” or “moderate”. It’s certainly not that they’re secretly hateful people who side with neo-Nazis, as most of them are pretty far from it. But those same self-described liberals and moderates are also painfully oblivious to how their attempt to “see things both ways” is harming people who have considerably less societal advantages than they, and so much of the discourse seems to be very defensive of their own position in society. My theory is that we are seeing the “rage, rage against the dying of the light” from those whose comfort zones have been challenged as they desperately cling to those very societal advantages. But the “dying of the light” is happening, and as a result, we are seeing a much-needed shift in power and dynamics. Challenging the status quo, particularly when it has benefited you, can be very uncomfortable. And these people are not just uncomfortable; they are chafing from the friction of the reality around them against their cushy privileges. They need to realize that they have nothing to lose having others gain vital and necessary civil rights. After all, it isn’t pie; you don’t suddenly have less rights once other people who have been traditionally under heavy societal disadvantages finally get rights too.

It pays to be be self-examining, and realizing your own prejudices due to institutionalized sexism, racism, homophobia, transphobia, and so forth requires a great deal of that examination. It also means becoming comfortable with being uncomfortable. Part of it is realizing that there’s a vast difference between hatred due to bigotry versus ingrained biases that are the basis of prejudice. Truth is, you don’t have to hate a group of people in order to have incorrect judgments and assessments about them. You just have to be raised from birth in a society that sees being different as dangerous, and questioning the status quo doubly so. And unfortunately it is entirely too human to stick groups of people into biased boxes. Once one realizes that having these biases is not a negative judgment on them as a person–and therefore being on the defensive is unnecessary–they will be able to move beyond the constrictions of those prejudices and relearn what they have learned.

For spiritual and/or esoteric movements to have issues challenging societal standards is sadly ironic given how much of what we do and what we believe being so terribly, vastly different from the mainstream. But for those who were raised in strictly religious homes (read: orthodox or even fundamental), taking those ideas with them into a new religious or tradition is all too common. They may be able to take the pagan or polytheist out of strict orthodoxy, but sadly it is often difficult to remove the strict orthodoxy from the pagan or polytheist.

Thankfully, these attitudes which stem from rigid orthodoxy are a part of a minority that is rapidly becoming outnumbered by those around them. And the more of a minority they become, the louder are the cries of discomfort, rage, and belligerence from said minority. Because truth be told, the rest of us are marching into the twenty-first century whether they like it or not. We do not require their consent nor should we desire it. Should they choose to change their minds, they’re more than welcome to join us. But as our march continues, their days are numbered for the old ways must die in order for us to continue to live, let alone thrive. And it’s the essence of the reality of those numbered days which makes them protest, because their world is ending and ours has just begun.

And as I keep mentioning, the future is not just female; it is intersectional.

Toxic Christianity, Patriarchy, White Supremacy, Toxic Masculinity And Its Impact On Pagans And Occultists

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I tweeted recently that at some point as a nation, we need to sit down and have a serious chat about toxic Christianity and its relationship to the patriarchy, white supremacy, and toxic masculinity. Screenshot and link below:

Now to the meaty bits (or seitan if you don’t eat meat): what exactly do I mean by toxic Christianity?

Like with the phrase “toxic masculinity“, I’m not saying that all of Christianity is toxic. I’m referring to a very specific flavor of Christianity which IS toxic, and has perpetuated a number of problematic to outright bigoted and hateful behaviors, particularly here in the USA. This especially includes Dominionism, which everyone needs to read up on in order to understand some of the political and religious power struggles here in the United States. It’s also led to a number of people to get involved in lawmaking and try (and sometimes succeed) in passing a number of laws based on them. These laws are actively working towards making the rule of the land be mostly white cis men while taking away the rights of literally anyone else.

We can’t pretend that Christianity is the only place where we’ve had this toxicity, as certainly a number of ancient cultures were patriarchal and in them women had few to no rights. But right now, those cultures are not in a position of power, and neither are we pagans/polytheists/witches/magicians/etc for the most part. While some of us do indeed come from a Christian background–particularly since witches and magicians can pretty much be of any religion–we are still partaking of a lifestyle that is not mainstream and often targeted for abuse.

So where am I going with this, and what can we be done? What do we collectively need to realize in order to withstand the potential threats we face to our rights and well being?

First of all, we are all affected by politics, some of us more than others. And we are all impacted by our upbringing, some of us more so than others. This is a good chunk of why I have urged pagans and polytheists to work on dumping their baggage as too many have come into polytheism–especially reconstructionist and revivalist polytheism–and other branches of paganism dragging their match luggage behind them and letting it color their perspective on the faiths they are attempting to practice. We all need to work on dismantling our pasts and the crap that holds us back, and in dealing with this topic especially so. There’s a lot we have to rethink, and institutionalized sexism, racism, transphobia, and homophobia are among those things. Unfortunately there’s a great deal of religious fervor devoted to the feeding and protecting of those -isms and phobias, and that is part of why the struggle continues in the United States.

More than anything regardless of our respective backgrounds we need to discuss the problem of toxic Christianity, as it’s dooming us all. We have Dominionists in the White House, people making laws not based on science but based on beliefs that focus around misogyny and the control of anyone with a uterus (especially black women), and children in cages in actual concentration camps. Yes, they are concentration camps and yes, I am Jewish. “Never again” is now. America needs to wake up, strengthen the protections and walls between church and state, get the offenders, enablers, and grifters out of their respective offices and take back our government from toxic Christianity and its followers which infiltrated the Republican party.

We need to stop making excuses for the attitudes that enable the behavior to go on. We need to stop pretending that voting won’t solve the problem, and also that voting alone will solve the problem. We must become comfortable with multitasking and with being vigilant long after the danger has past. Our culture, lack of proper regulations, and lack of consequences for those responsible are just a few things that are letting the cancer continue to grow and eventually kill us all. Toxic Christianity and its beliefs prop up white cis men at the expense of literally everyone else while tax exempt churches make large donations to politicians who back up their views.

I know that people are exhausted of the state of the world, especially those who have been fighting the longest and hardest, but I’m talking about the very heart of the issues that allowed America’s current government administration to do all that they are doing, and with the issues that affect us globally it won’t just be Americans who are in trouble, but the rest of the entire planet. Climate change alone has become a huge part of this, and it will literally kill us all if we don’t do something. We have 10-15 years left to be able to do anything about it. Toxic Christianity won’t care because toxic Christianity wants to usher in the end times and bring back Jesus. Toxic Christianity doesn’t think women should have rights let alone vote. Toxic Christianity only likes white people, heterosexuals, and cis men. The rest of us are deemed unworthy, unacceptable, and less than human.

I realize that there are a fair amount of occultists who are Christian, engage in Christian mysticism and Christian derived magical practices (yes, they exist). I’m also painfully aware that most occultists are not engaged in toxic Christianity. However, some are. There are a few fairly famous examples that I could give, particularly in the ceremonial magic communities. Some of you who are Christian mystics, witches, magicians, and occultists are already actively involved in fighting against fascism, white supremacy, and the patriarchy. I salute you and stand by you. We need to stick together and remember our commonalities over our differences. Please continue to use your religious privilege to call out those who continue to act as if religion is synonymous with Christianity and try to make decisions for the rest of us based on those beliefs and ideas. It continues to amaze me that someone like Jesus who challenged the patriarchy, those in positions of power, and his culture in general could possibly have inspired the ideas which these people perpetuate, and the failure falls not on religion but that of humanity.

The rest of us, however, do not come from Christian backgrounds. While most pagans and polytheists were originally Christian or from Christian homes, I was not. I lack religious privilege on a fairly substantial level. I run into monotheists and atheists all of the time who equate religion with Christianity and monotheism in general and use phrases like “Judeo-Christian” when they really just mean Christian. Religion is assumed to be entirely anti-science when my very faith honors deities for whom science and medicine are both sacred. When I don’t run into bigotry against paganism and polytheism, I run into anti-Semitism. Antisemitism stems from toxic Christianity, too–as does Islamophobia. Anti-witchcraft and magic sentiments? Also from toxic Christianity. Anti-science beliefs and ideas surrounding climate change denial, anti-vaxxers, and flat earthers? Same.

And the list goes on.

We don’t need less religion or less Christianity; we need greater protections, more conversation, and the dismantling of the support toxic Christianity has received up to now. The problem lies not with specific religions, genders, or races, but in disproportionate privilege and power. Deconstructing privilege and balancing the scales begins with starting the necessary conversations about concepts such as the Paradox of Tolerance, and why tolerating intolerance needs to stop. We need to challenge ourselves and call on people around us who behave and speak inappropriately as compassionately but as decisively as we can.

Removing toxic Christianity from power both in our culture and in the American government will unfortunately not remove the attitudes and ideas it perpetuated. But it will prevent further harm to those who are among the marginalized and disenfranchised while we continue to try for a better world.

Book review: Trump Card

“The year is 2017. America is a tire fire. The resistance is led by Teen Vogue, Badlands National Park, and the Merriam-Webster dictionary.”
One tweet that has since gone viral and been replicated and paraphrased in a variety of ways has best summed up the surreal political and social climate since Donald Trump was elected President of the United States. Many of us have found our solace in humor and satire from places like SNL and Last Week Tonight with John Oliver while others have been (understandably) burnt out and have chosen escapism in the form of kitten videos and Game of Thrones. Regardless of how you’ve been handling the current hot mess that is the American government at present, the new book release Trump Card is for you.
Trump Card brilliantly weaves together the hero mythos from Joseph Campbell with themes from the Hunger Games, well placed mystical and occult references, and biting wit and satire leveled mostly at the Trump administration but not without words of wisdom towards those in the “resistance” either. It also takes a number of laugh out loud shots at the occult community in general, “hex activism”, “meme magic”, and various colorful characters who have attempted to seize their fifteen minutes of fame in this tense political climate. In short, no one is safe, and this book may be the meme to end all memes. From references to the LBRP to hilarious commentary on the spelling of magic(k), it’s fairly obvious who the audience of this book is intended for. And while various specific references to ceremonial magic may go over some reader’s heads, it won’t escape others that the main character’s name is none other than that of the goddess of wisdom.
While I can’t promise that this book will be a magic spell against the forces that have placed Trump in a position of power, I can promise you that it will piss off all of the right people. And while this may be both a good and a bad thing, fortune favors the bold. Both the heroine and the story itself will pull you right in with just enough elements of humor to reassure you that it’s not taking itself seriously.
Or is it? Maybe this book will be the magical device we need to combat authoritarian governments. Or perhaps instead we should regard the carefully placed text at the start of the book: “This entire book is a lie“.
Nothing is true, everything is permitted.

 

Trump Card is available in print:
https://www.createspace.com/7313032

Kindle:
https://www.amazon.com/Trump-Card-Scott-Michael-Stenwick-ebook/dp/B074F3FZQV/

E-book on Smashwords:
https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/739434