Mix CD#1: Jack & Betty

One genre I didn’t hear much of at home, but did hear at my Uncle Jack & Aunt Betty’s house, was progressive rock: Yes & King Crimson stand out; Floyd and Genesis not so much. This is significant because prog rock became — and remains so to this day — my favorite genre of music (if you force me to choose one). So I made this mix CD, burned it, wrote up some of commentary, and sent a couple copies to Jack & Betty.

When I was a kid growing up in the 1970s, I had a lot of musical influences. Both of my grandmothers had a love of music that was instilled to me. We had a stereo at home and Mom & Dad had a bunch of albums, everything from jazz to 50s and 60s folk, rock, & pop. As a little kid I went through an early Elvis infatuation (circa 1977, just before and after his death), and then I discovered KISS.

One genre I didn’t hear much of at home, but did hear at my Uncle Jack & Aunt Betty’s house, was progressive rock: Yes & King Crimson stand out; Floyd and Genesis not so much. This is significant because prog rock became — and remains so to this day — my favorite genre of music (if you force me to choose one). I also heard some edgier stuff (Bob Dylan) that I hadn’t heard much at home.

So I made this mix CD, burned it, wrote up some of commentary, and sent a couple copies to Jack & Betty. Some people have expressed an interest in it, so I decided to writeup this entry sharing it with the world.

Now, of course I’m an audiogeek, so I mastered this CD, adjusting the relative levels between songs (turning the overcompressed ones down a bit, for instance), and trimming off some transitional intros & outtros, making sure the pause between each song is right. This is what I grew up doing with cassette tapes, applied to the digital realm. Modern tools & 35 years of experience doing this means I’m a lot better at it now than I was on my Fisher Price record player, old GE portable cassette recorder, and the cheap cassettes I could afford at the time. :-)

But then, were I to simply upload a FLAC or an MP3 of my mix CD, I would be violating copyright law, idiotic as this fact is. Therefore, I will include the text of what I wrote, and I will embed each song from youtube. Enjoy!

1. Time Flies
Porcupine Tree
from The Incident

I was born in ’67
The year of Sgt. Pepper
And Are You Experienced?
Into a suburb of heaven
Yeah, it should’ve been forever
It all seems to make so much sense
But after a while
You realize time flies
And the best thing that you can do
Is take whatever comes to you
‘Cause time flies

OK, so I wasn’t born in ’67, it was ’69. But the sentiment of the song stands for me. Steven Wilson (see below for more of his solo stuff) is really doing a lot of great stuff these days with music. He is the main songwriter, singer, and guitarist for Porcupine Tree, who are now in hiatus. I really like the drummer, Gavin Harrison, who is now touring with King Crimson. I love the dynamics of Wilson’s arrangements. And he doesn’t have the best voice in the world, but I love what he does with it. He gets some really lush vocal harmonies. I can hear the Yes influence for sure. He also incorporates more ambient and electronic musical forms as well.

2. Good Intentions Paving Company
Joanna Newsom
from Have One On Me

It took me a while to get Joanna Newsom. Morgan turned me on to her, she’s a big fan of hers. She’s a master harpist (people like to call her the Jimi Hendrix of harp), and she’s part of the “freak folk” scene. Her voice is definitive for sure, but this is the first song of hers that I really got. It took her a long time to grow on me but now I really love her music. This song is another masterpiece at layering vocals. I love the Appalachian roots of her sound.

3. Lost In The Woods
Afghan Whigs
from Do To The Beast

Afghan Whigs are Cincinnati boys. They hit it big with Sub Pop in the early 90s when grunge happened. Angsty, angry, emotive young men they were. They were the local heroes because they got the most attention of anyone from the Cincinnati music scene back then. They reunited last year and did this album, and it’s fantastic. I think it’s the best thing they’ve ever done. I love the influence of funk; I think back to the King records/ Cincinnati influence.

Sin is a line of a poem
Unknown with a need to know
A throne in a room with a view
But you’re lost in the woods

4. Home Invasion &
5. Regret #9
Steven Wilson
from Hand. Cannot. Erase

So Steven Wilson realized after the last Porcupine Tree album in 2009 that he liked being a solo artist better. And I admit it’s pretty cool, because he gets some amazing musicians to play with him. The lead guitarist, Guthrie Govan, is one of my favorites playing today, but these two songs are driven by the organ/keyboard player, Adam Holzman, who has played with Miles Davis and a bunch of other people. I love the organ groove throughout Home Invasion. Nick Beggs on bass/Chapman Stick is also very good. Marco Minneman is a great drummer. As Steven Wilson says at his solo live shows “I’m by far the worst musician on this stage.” I can hear the King Crimson influence on this track for sure in some of the edgier pieces, but Wilson also gets some dreamy, ambient soundscapes in it. And a stellar guitar solo from Guthrie Govan in the second half of Regret #9. I love this stuff.

6. I Feel Your Love
Laura Marling
from Short Movie


Laura Marling is another big inspiration for Morgan, and she turned me on to her stuff. She’s young, like 23 or 24, but has a very mature sound to me. This album is her newest one, and is self produced after working with Ethan Johns (son of Glyn Johns, nephew of Andy Johns) for a few albums. Her vocals are outstanding.

7. These Walls
Kendrick Lamar
from To Pimp A Butterfly


If these walls could talk
(I can feel your reign when it cries, gold lives inside of you)
If these walls could talk
(I love it when I’m in it, I love it when I’m in it)

I don’t listen to a ton of hiphop, but this album is really good. I love the acoustic instruments on it, and the sonic spaces in the arrangement. And the vocals on this are really good. Some good guitar and organ too.

8. Matamoros
Afghan Whigs
from Do To The Beast

This one just has a groove that I love. The sound is a bit overcompressed for my taste, but for a song like this they can get away with it. It just kinda slams. I like the jarring string arrangement in parts of this, and just another masterpiece of midwestern angst.

9. Deform To Form A Star
Steven Wilson
from Grace For Drowning

This is from his 2nd solo album in 2011. All his solo albums are good. He’s a busy guy, having been remixing a lot of back catalogs for people like King Crimson. He’s fond of, good at, and known for doing mixes in 5.1 surround sound. It’d be awesome to hear his stuff in 5.1 sometime, I never have….. Anyway, Tony Levin does bass on this song, and Jordan Rudess on piano is really good. Theo Travis on clarinet. The sense of space in this song is really lovely. This is one of his strongest vocal arrangements he’s ever done, in my opinion. And as always with Steven Wilson, the dynamics on this song are stellar.

10. Gurdjieff’s Daughter
Laura Marling
from Short Movie

This is the single from her newest album. It’s nice to hear her play some electric guitar. Look at the stars. Keep those eyes wide….

Who’ll weep for them? Sometimes I do.
I do sometimes
You can’t see it, it might be behind you
Keep your eyes wide
Keep your eyes on the back of your mind

11. How Much A Dollar Cost
Kendrick Lamar
from To Pimp A Butterfly

A great question. How much does a dollar cost? Backing vocals on this by James Fauntleroy are gorgeous. I love Kendrick Lamar’s flow, and the fact that his lyrics are very intelligent and paint a vivid picture. Production on this entire album is really good.

12. These Sticks
Afghan Whigs
from Do To The Beast

Greg Dulli, the singer of Afghan Whigs, is at his achy-est here. And that’s saying a lot. He’s really got a good range, he can do the quieter, haunting stuff, but then he can snarl & belt with the best of them. Incidentally, Dulli sang the parts for John Lennon in the Beatles movie Backbeat in 1994. Not bad for a Cincinnati boy….. although technically he’s a Hamilton boy.

13. Happy Returns
Steven Wilson
from Hand. Cannot. Erase.

Hey brother, I’d love to tell you
I’ve been busy
But that would be a lie
‘Cause the truth is
The years just pass like trains
I wave but they don’t slow down

This one ends with a lush arrangement and another tasty guitar solo from Guthrie Govan.

Many Happy Returns indeed!

Clearly, a foodie post is overdue.

So over the weekend I had some time to indulge in some prime foodiness, among the highest orders of such that I am capable.

Chaga Spruce Mead

I began on Friday night, when I went to the spring to gather some water. While I was there, I saw thousands of fireflies in the field across from the spring — by far the most I’d ever seen in Maine. That place always feels magical to me when I go. Some places are just like that…. Glastonbury Tor is another (I took the main photo at the top of this website when I visited there in 2005). When I returned home with with a lot of gorgeous spring water, I put on 3 gallons of chaga tea. This requires a slow simmer for about 12 hours, and produces a wonderfully rich tea that looks like coffee.

Chaga Spruce Tea
Chaga Spruce Tea

At the very end of the simmer, I put in some freshly-harvested spruce tips, let it steep for about 30 minutes, and then let it cool overnight. The next day I mixed it with honey, pitched the yeast, put it into the carboy, and now it is happily bubbling away.

I have had more people tell me that my spruce mead is the best mead they’ve ever had than any other brew I’ve done. It’s not my personal favorite, but there is no question it has a magic to it that is palpable. Perhaps it is because much of the flavor comes from my own immediate ecosystem, namely the spruce trees in my yard.

There is a full writeup over at BardicBrews.net.

Rocking the Ribs

It’s funny. I spent nearly 20 years as a vegetarian, many of those as a vegan, and some as a raw vegan. These days I’m more about eating the best quality local food I can. Since I’m cooking meat again these days, I finally got a Weber kettle charcoal grill last year and have been learning how to use it well. I finally feel like I’m starting to achieve some mastery with it.

Weber grill set up for indirect heating, with charcoal only on one side separated by bricks. Ribs on indirect, with sauce directly over the fire to simmer.
Weber grill set up for indirect heating, with charcoal only on one side separated by bricks. Ribs on indirect, with sauce directly over the fire to simmer.

I haven’t made ribs all that often, but this batch I made was really good. I’m sure I’ll make them again, regularly. I started by setting up the grill for indirect heat, basically dividing the bottom half of the grill with bricks, so that the charcoal stays on one side. This allows me to do indirect heating, treating the grill basically like an oven for cooking. For those curious about how I cooked these ribs, here’s a rundown:

  1. First, I prepped the ribs by peeling off the membrane and applying a rub. The rub I used is DIY, is a mixture of a lot of spices (salt, pepper, garlic, chili powder, a bit of cinnamon, cumin, and who knows what else, it’s different every time). I put the rub on a couple of hours before starting the fire.
  2. Then, I started the fire using 1 chimney of charcoal, with another half-chimney full of unlit charcoal already in the grill. When the chimney was lit I put it into the grill, put on the lid, and opened the airvents so the grill would heat up and stabilize. I restricted the airflow to get about a 300 degree fire to start with.
  3. Almost done....
    Almost done….

    While the charcoal was starting, I made a homemade barbecue sauce in my old cast iron skillet that belonged to my grandmother. I began by sauteeing a diced onion, then added salt, pepper, garlic, molasses, cayenne-infused honey, vinegar, a handful of raisins, and enough water to fill the pan about halfway.

  4. I then brought the rib rack and the skillet full of sauce outside. I seared the rib rack on both sides, then moved over to the indirect heat side. Then I added a chunk of dried apple wood from the tree in the yard for the flavorful smoke, put the skillet back on directly over the fire, and covered it up.
  5. Every half hour, I opened the grill to baste the ribs, and if necessary add more water to the reducing sauce, so it wouldn’t scorch and would keep cooking down. Every other time I opened the grill, I also flipped over the rib rack.
  6. Ribs ready to serve.
    Ribs ready to serve.

    I did not use foil to cover the ribs as many do. I found that by keeping the air in the grill moist from the simmering sauce, the ribs don’t dry out.

  7. About 3 hours in, the outside of the ribs was perfect, so I cut the rack in half and put both halves in the skillet with the sauce, and moved everything to the indirect side.
  8. After another 30-45 minutes, it was ready, so I cut the ribs into pieces.

All in all it was one of the best grills I’ve done yet. It came out perfectly.

In other news….

Writing has slowed down a bit, but I will publish my next article over at Gods&Radicals next week. The trend of seriously awesome writing over there has continued as of late…. check it out if you haven’t.

And suddenly, it’s summer.

Since the last update, Summer has arrived. It was kicked off by Beltane On The Beach, where a bunch of Maine Pagans celebrate the unofficial arrival of summer. In my own neck of the woods there is much more green; the trees have finally sprung their leaves and temperatures are higher. Wonderful.

Once again I haven’t done a great job at keeping this blog updated. My apologies. There’s been a lot going on. Since the last update, Summer has arrived. It was kicked off by Beltane On The Beach, where a bunch of Maine Pagans celebrate the unofficial arrival of summer. In my own neck of the woods there is much more green; the trees have finally sprung their leaves and temperatures are higher. Wonderful. A lot of people around me are complaining about their allergies from the pollen in the air; I have to say I don’t miss my allergies at all. I struggled with them for more than 40 years. I credit my cleaner diet and my regimen of medicinal mushrooms for the fact that they don’t bother me anymore.


Morgan has a new video up, from our recording session recently at Halo Studios. This time we set up a camera, and took a video of it. I love how talented she is, that pretty much all of her music thus far has been live in one take with no overdubs. Anyway, enjoy Thigh-High Apprehension:

Also, I have been crazy busy mixing some really cool stuff that I can’t really talk specifically about yet. More on that front as it develops.

Writing, Politics, & Paganism

I’ve been writing a lot lately, taking it much more seriously for the past half-year or so.

My next piece over at Gods & Radicals was Debt, Stories, & The Violence Of Silence:

Most of us, of course, don’t really have enough money, at least not to live the way we wish to live. Most of us will use our limited “survival tickets” to buy food and shelter, meeting our most basic needs for survival, while in the meantime the spectre of unpaid debt keeps growing in the back of our minds, gnawing at us, creating fear that eventually men with guns will come and take away our limited survival tickets and our home. This fear keeps us willing to engage the capitalist system, so that we can struggle for more survival tickets, showing how powerful this story of debt is in our culture.

Incidentally, the writing in general over at Gods & Radicals has been outstanding. I’m really happy and blessed to be a part of it, and the amazing writing going on over there is definitely keeping me on my toes and inspiring me to keep working at being a better writer. In particular, pieces from Sean Donahue on Capitalism, Neurotypicality, and the War on Consciousness, as well as Rhyd Wildermuth on The Roots of Our Resistance, among many other pieces, have been just outstanding.

I also had a piece over at A Sense Of Place called On Place, Pagan Values, and Politicizing Paganism where I talk about Pagan values and the sorcery of capitalism:

Capitalism’s ability to concretize abstractions in our minds is pure sorcery at the highest levels, such that billions of people behave as if these purely abstract and arbitrary rules of capitalist engagement are quite real and concrete, beyond question at the most fundamental level. They take the place of the gods and spirits, turning our experience of the world upside-down, seeing every aspect of the ecosystem in terms of its own rules rather than in terms of the actual physical things in the world and the labor of its people.

I also talk about whether or not Paganism can be politicized:

any Pagan with a Sense Of Place, encountering the land beneath their feet, will undoubtedly be able to discern how their Paganism is politicized, and has been for the better part of 500 years. I am lucky, I live in the Maine woods where I can walk right outside my door and be surrounded by nature without leaving “my” 2 acres of forest. These woods where I live have a spirit to them, a kind of consciousness, and my own spirit is bettered when I deepen my relationship with these woods. This is my Paganism. But I am also acutely aware that no tree on “my” property is more than a century old — pretty much the entire state of Maine has been clearcut several times in the past 300 years. When I speak to the trees of capitalism they get quiet, and their sadness is discernible to me. This, too, is my Paganism.

I feel like writing is still a struggle for me (another factor behind the radio silence on this channel). I committed myself to being more disciplined about writing starting last December, and I do feel like I’m making some progress. But it still seems like I struggle, almost agonize, over every word. I’m still waiting for the day when I can just tune in, turn on, and just have awesome writing come out on its own. Perhaps it’s a pipe dream, but when I read the amazing work of Rhyd Wildermuth, Sean Donahue, Alley Valkyrie, and others, who manage to produce writing that hits hard on the mind level as well as the heart and spirit levels, I see just how far I have to go.


My meadmaking has slowed down the past year or two. This is for a variety of reasons (storage space for mead bottles, the high cost of honey, creative energy going to different places). But as I mentioned above, the spruce tips are poking their neon green nutritional goodness out, and soon it will be time to make another batch of Chaga Spruce Mead, one of the favorites that I do. Also, soon I will bottle last year’s Harvest Berry Meads. And soon I’ll be able to taste my very first bochet that I did a few months ago, can’t wait for that one.

Ever Onward

I have been quite busy lately, all with good projects. But it can be a bit overwhelming sometimes, to the point where I’m feeling like I might benefit from reprioritizing a bit. It’s difficult, because I love everything in my life at the moment. But there are only so many hours in the day.

Hey, Polytheists….

Hey, Polytheists…. I love you guys. I absolutely mean that in all earnestness. Polytheists are some of the most interesting people in my reality, whether virtually or embodied as some of my closest friends.

Seriously, I love you guys. And there is no “but…..” at the end of that sentence.

I love your language of divinity. I love to listen to your stories, to learn from your experiences in relationship with your gods. If I’m being honest, I’m envious. I sometimes feel like Salieri to your Mozart. See, I was raised in catholic school and served as an altar boy. They got me early, and I internalized the idea that experience with the divine was not direct, it was mediated through a clergy class.

I remember sitting in a parent-teacher conference with some nuns, who told my parents that I would “make a fine priest one day,” meaning that one day, God might talk to me directly, and that I would interpret the divine for my future flock. Maybe that’s something I still haven’t gotten over. I don’t know. I walked away from Christianity nearly 30 years ago now, and have been a Pagan ever since.

But I am not a Polytheist, in the sense that I don’t experience relationship with gods that manifest as coherent personalities. I’ve tried, and I haven’t given up that it may happen someday. I’d love that (at least I think I would….. as more than one of you have pointed out to me). I’ve spent a lot of time over the years, in meditation, in devotion, in prayer. I’ve burned candles, incense, and bonfires, sitting in contemplation, in service, honoring them, learning about their stories, their personalities. I give regular offerings, mindfully, “from the gods to the earth to us, from us to the earth to the gods, a gift for a gift.” And for me, it’s all just energy.

Energy comes and goes, ebbs and flows. Every moment is a dance between context and novelty, and all of it is driven by consciousness. This is my interpretation of the world I inhabit, more metaphysical than theological.

There is the magic of relationship, the direct experience in each given moment, where we can brush up against the ineffable or up against other personalities. Then, there are our representations of these experiences, linguistic or otherwise. I suspect that this is where we differ the most. The map is not the territory; the menu is not the meal. And this is where semantic quibbling often gets us into trouble. The words and ideas in our minds can almost become more real to us than the original event itself. Words, and our attachments to them, can just as easily divide us as unify us.

But does that mean I think gods are a figment of imagination in consciousness? No I don’t. I accept the idea that there exist other consciousnesses apart from my own, and that each one has its own will that comes along with it. Therefore, if there are gods, and if they are endowed with consciousness, then they will have their own motives and wants. I accept this as axiomatic. And like I said, if you have relationship with other consciousnesses who are gods, I’m envious.

Polytheism excites me, even more than monotheism scares me.

For all these reasons I want you to know that I love you, and I will fight for you. I have your back, because the world needs you.

Politics & Paganism: Facing Our History

godsandradicalsMy first article for Gods & Radicals went live today. It’s called Pagans are a Conquered People, and it is an analysis of how I see pagan values and identities in the context of the modern world:

I am convinced that our history reveals a very strong characterization of our tribe & our subcultural identity in the 21st Century. We Pagans are a conquered people, and we have largely become so within the past 500 years.

The Pagan ways-of-being were much more intuitive and apparent to people living 500 years ago, before the Scientific Revolution, the birth of Capitalism, and the beginnings of European Colonialism. Modernity itself rose from the ashes of the Pagan ethos as it was systematically and globally incinerated from popular consciousness on thousands of pyres and stakes of the victims of the witch hunts.

Indeed, even today the smell of smoke from The Burning Times lingers. This period in history remains the paradox of our age.

In other words, I see paganism and modern politics as being irrevocably intertwined, as things stand in the world today. For me this is no more than historical fact, and my article explains where I am coming from in this area.

Here’s the thing. For me, paganism is more an ethos — a way of being — than anything else, including theology, metaphysics, dogma, religion, or ritual. Other pagans are fiercely protective of their conceptions of paganism, particularly in the polytheist community, where I saw two articles published today questioning whether politics should be part of religion in general, or polytheism in particular. One of these articles found it “repugnant” to “politicize polytheism.”

But paganism is not polytheism. I am not a polytheist and would not presume to say what should or should not be a part of polytheism. But when we conceive of paganism, which for me is a broader term that includes polytheist pagans, atheist pagans, and all pagans in between, as an ethos, there is room at the table for all of us. Whether your pagan ethos centers around devotional relationship with the gods, or getting lost in the forest bonding with your ecosystem, urban activist work with the homeless, permaculture design, quiet solitary ritual…. it doesn’t matter. There is room for all of us.

Because for all pagans, unity and solidarity is important. Respecting and mutually supporting one another is the only way forward. It need not be either/or.

My Pagans are a Conquered People article has been live for less than a day, and already I have had several comments from friends about it being “depressing” or “pessimistic.” I agree, on the surface, the history of paganism over the past 500 years is distressing. But it is our history, and we cannot pretend it isn’t. I appreciate positive thinking, but I also know that ignoring the unpleasant facticities of our history will do far more harm than good. The sooner we accept what has happened to us, the sooner we can unify, decolonize ourselves, and create a better world.

On A Pagan Community Statement on the Environment

One of the defining features of capitalism is that it privatizes wealth, and socializes risk and responsibility. This feature pervades the way we think about capitalism, to the point where people blame “humanity” for the destruction of the planet rather than capitalism and colonialism.

I have mixed feelings about the petition/statement that was published recently, A Pagan Community Statement on the Environment. On one hand, there is a lot to like about it. I agree with pretty much all the cosmology of the effort; that “nature is sacred” and “we are part of the web of life” are pretty axiomatic to me these days. In addition, I respect several of the people involved with writing it.

But where I disagree with the statement — strongly enough that at present I cannot sign it — is that they blame “humanity’s actions” for the destruction of the planet. This is a tough issue, with a lot to unpack around it.

 There was some good discussion on this today, particularly from Alley Valkyrie:

“I refuse to sign a ‘community statement’ that blames ‘humanity’ for the destruction of the Earth. If you need details as to why, read the article below. I appreciate the effort put forth into the idea, and I want to be respectful towards those who worked on it as I love many of them dearly, but if we can’t name the elephant, we can’t actually do anything about that elephant.”

And Sean Donahue:

“Humanity isn’t to blame for the destruction of the planet — capitalism and colonialism are. To blame the species as a whole for the ecological crises we face is to blame the oppressed and the colonized for what global systems of domination enact on them. And its also to engage in a fruitless despair that obscures the reality that other worlds are possible, that it is not “human nature” to devastate the living world. Until we are willing to name the systems responsible for the destruction we are witnessing and until we can begin to imagine life outside those systems, we will see ourselves as prisoners on a train hurtling toward a cliff. But once we recognize where we are we can grab the controls and steer a new path.”

I want to sit with this statement for a bit longer, and think more deeply about it. At the very least I am happy to see some in the pagan community at least paying some attention to these matters.

Spinning in Circles…. of Resistance

Fraser Spiral. Image in the public domain.
Fraser Spiral. Image in the public domain.

Periodically, it seems, I get into a headspace where not much comes out of me. My writing slows, I’m doing any music, not really hanging out with many people. It seems as if the energies of my consciousness are spinning in circles. They haven’t stopped moving, it’s not an input/output issue, but the trajectory of consciousness is not directed toward producing anything tangible.

It often happens after I get my head cracked open when a new concept lands on it, or a conversation sparks me to see things in a different way, ways I hadn’t seen before. I kind of wrote about this, definitely in a somewhat cryptic way, recently on Patheos, in my column called Footprints in the Muck, Blind Spots, & Seeing Past the Light.

Such is the nature of consciousness: while we have some measure of control over what it does and where it goes, attention has a will and an eye of its own. Usually, the untethered consciousness is on the lookout for Awen, that strange Druidic word-concept that means so many things. Inspiration, the Druid will say, is the best way to think about Awen, but it goes deeper than that. Every creative person will have their own relationship with Awen and its flow; the really skilled bards and artists will have mastered it. For Awen is always there all around us, if we can only learn to see. Sometimes, Awen is timid and shuts down under direct observation. We have to engage it, seduce it, often with play. The best artists know how to play.

Playing with indirect viewing can help us transcend the blind spots we don’t even know we have. Concepts are like light; when we perceive them, it tends to influence what we don’t see. They are useful and illuminating, but they create blind spots. In terms of perception, this is called masking, where two stimuli of similar type (such as frequency range for sound), the stronger stimuli will tend to render the weaker one invisible.

In addition, there has been some dialogue over at Gods & Radicals and other places on the internet that has me questioning the most efficient application of my own energy toward projects that are fulfilling for me, and helpful for the wider world. I think it is useful and valuable to write and to share my opinions and some of the training I have toward the end of creating a better world. Anti-capitalist activism — indeed activism of any kind — is fraught with the potential for burnout. In particular, I seem to find myself engaged with people who not only aren’t aware there is a problem with capitalism, but also think that capitalism is something to be defended. Having discussions like this is exhausting for me, and I have purposefully stopped engaging in these debates. This is a difficult step for me because I pride myself on being patient, and helping people see things in a different way is something I am occasionally good at. But it takes its toll on me.

And I am far from alone on this: Crystal Blanton writes over at The Wild Hunt:

The emotionally, physically, and spiritually demanding effects of social activism often mean an increased toll on the body and the spirit. I have personally experienced this work as emotionally draining, and know this to be true of most who are present in the consistency of the struggle. The interconnectedness of our experiences puts stress on the delicate balance of holding space for social change, fulfilling our commitments to our deities, spiritual practice, personal growth and allowing one to take care of the self simultaneously.

Her article also contains a survey of how some other people feel balancing their activist work and burnout.

In addition, Rhyd Wildermuth has been rocking some of these issues, in addition to managing the Gods & Radicals site. When asked what his biggest challenge was in terms of being compassionate, he responded:

“Holding the hands of middle-class people, coddling them, softening my words and critiques in order to ease them oh-so-gently into an understanding that the homeless person screaming profanities at them is suffering from the same system that makes them middle-class.”

I think maybe I can relate to this middle-class outlook, as well as the mostly-subconscious resistance to the idea that the very power structures that sustain their privilege also create enormous suffering. This is my world. I was raised in it, and it’s where I come from. My ancestors are a few dozen generations of Norwegian land tenants, workers who were too poor to own land and had to sell their labor for their subsistence.

It is precisely this re-examination of my own blanket of privilege that I have been circling around lately. The circles of thought in my consciousness aren’t spinning without traction, they are ever-searching for new ways of seeing and new understandings.

I don’t know why the stories of capitalism never resonated with me, despite the fact that I was programmed with them from an early age. Many of my classmates from high school, who were in the same privileged classes as me, have made a lot of money exploiting the system and whatever privilege they were blessed with. When I was younger, say 14 or so, I thought I’d be one of them. I remember thinking about how I’d become an engineer (like a mechanical, electrical, or computer engineer, not an audio engineer), make a lot of money, and retire by age 40. Well, it never happened. I’m 45 now, and won’t be retiring anytime soon.

But I have devoted most of my adult life toward understanding capitalism, and the political reality we humans have created for ourselves. I’ve learned a lot of things, not the least of which is that choosing to not engage the system any more than necessary for subsistence was a good choice for me. Had I chosen to play the game by the rules and make as much money as possible, this is about the time in my life where I’d have hit the wall of the mid-life crisis, where that deep-seated, gnawing feeling that your entire life’s existence is little more than an empty lie would have become too much to bear. Instead, my burden is imaginary numbers in someone’s computer (ie, debt), and I have endured with my spirit mostly intact and better-trained than many, with a wonderful near-adult daughter I raised, with people I love and who love me nearby.

The circle of resistance continues. I will still get frustrated at the in-fighting, how the dominant power structures are so adept at getting various factions of the victims of capitalism to fight and nitpick over every last scrap of privilege rather than band together and maximize resitance to the power structures. As Rhyd recently wrote, from within the state of scarcity that capitalism systematically creates for the vast majority of folk,

Privilege is the hierarchy of the poor. The more privilege you wield, the more scraps that fall from the tables of the rich you get to eat. Sure–the high-wage able-bodied white heterosexual cis-male tech worker gets to eat more, doesn’t have to worry about getting shot or raped or driven to suicide or becoming homeless. He wields his privilege over the others crawling across the floor with him, but as nauseating as it is for those of us making a fifth of his income or less to remember, he’s not sitting at the table either. He’s just at the top of the hierarchy of the exploited, most likely to be compliant and thus least likely to revolt.

But we must remember: the rich don’t have privilege–they’re the source of privilege, and they dole it out to the rest of us, favoring those who’ve volunteered to be most compliant, buying them off with higher wages and more access to justice.

The true way to end the deadlock is overturning the table so none of us have to fight over scraps.

Unity should not be a problem for most of us. When the system systematically favors so few, among a population with so many, you’d think it’d be easy. But the circles of resistance creates small tidepools and eddies, little ecosystems-within-ecosystems that have their own food chain, their own territorial settlements, and their own border skirmishes. It is easy to forget that another world is not only possible, but necessary; What Comes After is where the excitement is, where the life is, and where the human legacy — if there is to be one — will endure.

Gods, Radicals, and Respectability Politics

godsandradicalsI’m happy to say that I am involved with a new website, godsandradicals.org. This site was started by Rhyd Wildermuth, inspired by a recent conference presentation he did with Alley Valkyrie on pagan anti-capitalism (in particular, check out their pagan anti-capitalist primer). Of course I signed on early to help out, as a writer and a we’ll-see-what-else-is-needed. The site went live recently, and the first real article, by Jason Thomas Pitzl, went live today, and it’s a great one. Respectability Politics: Act Like The System So That The System Will Listen? addresses the very question of what it means to be both radical and respectable, in the context of the neopagan movement start in the 1980s during the “Satanic Panic.” His conclusion makes a lot of sense:

The truth, of course, is that most people simply do not care about us, our struggles, or what we think. That’s a hard pill to swallow, but there it is. I slowly realized that all of our work to be sensible, safe-seeming, and sharp-looking has barely dented our (alternately silly and scary) image with the general public. Have we made some small in-roads in some small areas? Of course, and those are to be welcomed, but you don’t overturn centuries of oppression, propaganda, weaponized folklore, and moral panic, with a nice tie and a winning tag-line.

I agree with him, and I find the notion of respectability politics framed in this way to be self-contradictory. For me, authenticity is a big part of respectability, and by becoming less authentic (by adopting appearances and behavior patterns of the dominant culture at the expense of one’s identity), one in fact loses respectability.

A great start to this site, and I can’t wait to see where it goes in the coming months. I’m still working on my first article for the site, I will certainly be updating you dear readers regularly as things progress.

On Snakes, Truth-Speakers, & St. Patrick

St. Patrick driving the snakes from Ireland. Wikimedia Commons, CC-BY-2.5; Released under the GNU Free Documentation License. Photo editing by the author.
St. Patrick driving the snakes from Ireland. Wikimedia Commons, CC-BY-2.5; Released under the GNU Free Documentation License. Photo editing by the author.

My latest article for A Sense Of Place on Patheos Pagan is up. Like my previous article on A Pagan Short History Of Valentine’s Day, it is a short analysis of a popular holiday in our culture.

I find it interesting that these two posts have been by far the most popular of my writings at Patheos thus far. For me, the Elemental Ethos series I have been doing (Earth, Air, and Water thus far) have far more meaning to me, in that they are a reflection of how I try to live, and contain useful, real world applications of what I perceive to be a useful pagan ethos. Yet these haven’t been nearly as popular as my admittedly snarky deconstructions of the two popular holidays. Ah well. I have said all along that I will write what I feel for Patheos, without regard to aiming for a particular hit count or targeting my posts to a particular audience or reaction. It’s just interesting to observe.

Some have commented that the notion of St. Patrick as The Great Oppressor Of Ireland Who Converted The Pagans/Druids With The Sword is historically inaccurate, and they are concerned that this myth just won’t seem to die. I agree completely, and I don’t want people to think this is my claim in this post. On the contrary, the meme is what it is, and it is not particularly accurate. I wanted to deconstruct the meme on its own merits, without regard to whether or not it is historically accurate. It self-deconstructs, in other words. My post just helped it along a bit; hopefully in due time it won’t have the widespread acceptance that it has today.

Máni Traditional Mead, and a Wooden Overcoat

“The Wolves Pursuing Sol and Mani” by John Charles Dollman (1909). Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.
“The Wolves Pursuing Sol and Mani” by John Charles Dollman (1909). Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.

After making the bochet last night, I had some leftover ingredients so I made up a batch of traditional mead. In honor of the full moon today, I named this one after Máni, the Norse God of the Moon. Details over at BardicBrews.net.

In addition, my lovely and talented daughter, Morgan Lindenschmidt, released a new song recently, called Wooden Overcoat. We recorded this at home in the living room, and like all her recordings thus far it was done in one take. Details on this are over at CraftedRecordings.com, and check out the song: