Sam the Eagle
There’s never been a time in history when Paganism didn’t have some kind of political aspect to it. While I disagree with using the word “pagan” for the ancient polytheists, their spiritual practices were strongly tied to their political situations and their social values. The Pharaohs weren’t just kings; they were also the messianic high priests of their nation. The priesthoods of Egypt were civil servants and tax collectors as much as they were officiants of rites to their Gods. Refusing to swear loyalty to the Roman emperors wasn’t just an act of political sedition; it was also an act of religious blasphemy. And the druids weren’t just wise men who lived in the woods; they negotiated treaties between warring clans, and they sometimes used their esoteric wisdom in battle.
When it comes to contemporary Pagans (with a capital “P”), things have been political from the very beginning. Charles Leland’s Aradia is chock-full of socialist sentiment, encouraging the little people to rise up against their feudal masters. Aleister Crowley went back and forth between offering his services to the British Secret Service during World War II and writing propaganda for the Axis Powers. Gerald Gardner conducted a ritual with his coven mates to ward off German planes during the London Air Raids. The explosion of interest in Wicca during the 1960s and 1970s went hand-in-hand with the development of second wave feminism. Anton LaVey’s writings were heavily influenced by Ayn Rand, Friedrich Nietzsche and other libertarian right-wing figureheads. And like it or not, there has always been a contingency among certain reconstructionist and left-hand path circles that serves a blatantly authoritarian right-wing agenda.
On the one hand, the word politics can mean much more than just voting for a particular candidate in a particular election; it can include all the ways in which we interact with other people, from our nation’s foreign policy to holiday interactions with our in-laws. In this sense of the term, nothing involving more than one human being can be apolitical; even refusing to discuss or think about politics is itself a political stance. On the other hand, this is not very practical; if we define everything as being political, the word becomes meaningless. I can safely assume that when I say the word “political,” other people will think of the same things I’m thinking about: election campaigns, public policymaking, civil rights issues, etc. They probably won’t be thinking about whether my wife and I will listen to Alice Cooper or Nine Inch Nails during our next road trip.
(Just in case there’s some smart ass out there who’s reading this right now and wants to give me a nice academic explanation as to why listening to the Coop vs. listening to Trent really is a sociopolitical matter of some kind: we’ll probably listen to them both.)
There has been much argument this past year between Pagan political activists and Pagan writers who prefer to say they are apolitical. There’s also been a great deal of dispute between left-wing Pagans and their right-wing counterparts. Seeing what some of these people say to or about each other gives me the same reaction that most Americans probably feel about politics in general: a mixture of impatience and disgust. Naturally, there’s no one out there whose views are completely aligned with my own; some say things I can agree with, but even they eventually say something else that just gets my blood boiling. And then there are the various ad hominem attacks I’ve seen, which I think are the worst part. I’ll willingly listen to someone with whom I disagree, and I might even agree with something they say if they make a solid point. But if they’re going to resort to name-calling, I’m going to lose interest real fast. It’s even more disappointing when I see it coming from someone with whom I would normally agree. Maybe I’ve set my expectations too high, but I expect much better than that sort of behavior from the people I count as allies.
I don’t consider myself “apolitical,” but I guess I’m not really an “activist” either. My spirituality is not exactly “separate” from my politics, but I am capable of discussing one without discussing the other, and I prefer to discuss the former more often. I can stay up all night talking about Gods and myths and rituals, but I become bored very quickly whenever someone wants to discuss the current Presidential election. This isn’t because I don’t care about the outcome; on the contrary, I care a great deal. But without fail, someone always gets really heated during these discussions, and I just don’t care for that. I want civil discourse, not angry tirades. And despite all the talking that people do, it seems to me that no one’s really saying very much. We all know what we think we have to do already, and it’s just a matter of waiting for Election Day so we can do it. Then we’ll know who the winner is, and we can either calm down or defect to Ireland accordingly.
But just for the record – and just because this is my blog and I can say whatever the hell I want – I’m proud to say that Hillary Clinton has won my vote for becoming President of the United States of America. There is literally no way that anyone with a fully-functioning adult brain can convince me to think she isn’t the best candidate, objectively speaking. No, she isn’t who I really wanted at first – I voted for Bernie Sanders in the primaries – but she’s a real politician, she has an impressive amount of experience under her belt, and her concerns are close enough to mine that I actually want to vote for her (rather than simply choosing her as “the lesser of two evils”). Which is a hell of a lot more than I can say for Donald Trump, a washed-up playboy with absolutely no political experience who says a lot of asinine things, who sees nothing wrong with bullying and threatening his opponents on national television, and who clearly doesn’t give a fuck about middle class voters like me. I’m totally mystified by those who don’t see this asshat for the raging public menace that he actually is. If you’re middle class and you’re voting for Trump, you might as well douse yourself in pig’s blood and throw yourself into the lion’s den at your local zoo; you’ll be accomplishing the same fucking thing. And the fact that Hillary stood up to him in both debates so far without being intimidated or losing her cool? Wow, what an excellent role model for young witches everywhere!