Everyone should read this book. Especially Canadians. Especially Pagans. Whether or not you care about Indigenous people in Canada. If you do care, you need the information in this book. If you don’t care, you need the myth-busting provided in this book. (If you don’t care, what’s wrong with you?)
I am angry, and I am angry for a very good reason, so I am sick of people telling me to “calm down”.
Brexit is already hurting the UK, and the sickening anti-immigration policies of this government will hurt the economy, and are hurting real people.
I am not a football fan, personally, but I have always believed that the fans in the Hillsborough disaster were innocent.
For those who are not familiar with what happened, on 15 April 1989, there was a huge crush at the football stadium where Liverpool fans had gathered to watch their team in the semi-finals of the FA Cup. Due to fears of football hooligans, the spectator areas were arranged in pens. In part because of the poor way that these had been constructed, and in part because of overcrowding, one of these pens collapsed and 96 people were killed.
I will never forget the time I was at Paddington Station in London, trying to get back to Bristol, and there had been a football match. Barriers were set up all along the platform, and the fans (and me) were herded along the platform, and had to queue for ages to get on the train. They were apparently used to this sort of treatment and responded with good humoured banter to the whole thing. I had not experienced this corralling before, and found it extremely frustrating, claustrophobic, and potentially panic-inducing. I was only calmed down by the good-natured chat of the football fans.
At the time of the Hillsborough disaster, police and politicians tried to pin the blame on the fans – but now, after the third judicial inquiry into what happened, it has been ruled that the fans were unlawfully killed.
Today, after 27 long years, the 96 victims of the Hillsborough tragedy – and their families – have finally received justice.
The youngest victim was just 10, Jon-Paul Gilhooley, and the oldest was 67 years old, Gerard Bernard Patrick Baron. These were fans that went to a football match, as so many of us do, on the 15th April 1989, but never returned to their loved ones.
I pay tribute to the families and friends of all the victims of the tragedy – as well as many others from the city of Liverpool – for the passionate and dignified campaign they have fought for almost three decades.
Today they received total vindication for their fight for the truth and for justice.
But what does all this tell us about the state of British society? In my opinion, it tells us that the ruling classes want to create a caricature of working class people as an unruly mob of workshy slobs who eat terrible food and behave badly at football matches. The authorities also made efforts to conceal the truth about what actually happened. The ruling classes fear the solidarity and organisation of the working classes, and have done their best to destroy it by undermining or destroying the power of the unions, and removing every social measure that creates an even playing-field for the less-well-off. Council houses were sold off, utilities privatised, and now they are trying to destroy the NHS. However, perhaps this victory for the Hillsborough families means that the tide is turning. I hope so.
It also tells us that you don’t get justice without struggling for it, campaigning for it, and organising together in solidarity to get it. It tells us that the families of the victims of the Hillsborough disaster pulled together, through thick and thin, for 27 years to get their victory. As the Liverpool football anthem has it, “You’ll never walk alone”.
I congratulate the Hillsborough families for their victory. Justice at last. The names of the victims are no longer besmirched – may they rest in peace. As The Hávamál puts it:
Cattle die, kindred die,
Every man is mortal:
But the good name never dies
Of one who has done well.
That is why posthumous reputation is so important. Now that the Hillsborough victims’ good names are restored, perhaps they can rest a little easier.
These victories (small or great) for social justice are won by real people getting together in solidarity, setting aside their differences, to campaign for truth and justice. Yes, we must change ourselves, but we can and will change the world by working together. We cannot sit idly by, arguing about how many gods can dance on the head of a pin, in the face of climate change and social injustice and environmental destruction. My theological musings tend to be of a mostly practical nature: how to put our values into practice, and how our theology underpins the struggle for social justice. I chose my values (of democracy, fairness, justice, equality for all, environmentalism) on the basis that all life is sacred. The gods I am in relationship with also seem to share these values – otherwise I wouldn’t be in relationship with them.
What is the relationship between Paganism(s) and politics? Some have argued that Paganism is not political. Some have criticised the political style and presentation of the emerging polytheist movement. Some are uncomfortable with the politics around consent culture, racism, gender, and sexuality in Paganism and polytheism. Some are uncomfortable with the critique of capitalism offered by Gods and Radicals.
I do agree with those who say that being Pagan doesn’t automatically predispose people to a particular political stance. There are Pagans of many different political persuasions, for reasons which may or may not relate to their particular way of being a Pagan. Not being expected to sign up to a particular political stance or party is an important aspect of Pagan religious freedom.
One of the things that enables me to function more-or-less effectively is the notion that bad things won’t happen to me. I call this “the bubble of complacency”. The bubble is a sense that all is well, life is generally benevolent, and other people do not actively wish one harm, and that the arc of history may be long, but it points towards justice. When bad things do happen to me, of course, the bubble gets popped, and I walk around all raw and unprotected. In 2010, I was in a car crash which was not my fault, and it was then that I first realised that the bubble existed, as the car crash popped it, very suddenly and abruptly. there was also a wonderful rush of relief at not having been killed in the car crash, during which I loved all my friends and family intensely, and even tiny mundane details of existence were intensely beautiful.
The following year, 2011, was really awful in a number of ways. I had an awful line manager, my relationship was on-again-off-again, I was planning to leave my job and start a course, but had no idea where I was going to live or how I would support myself during the course, and all the options I thought I had kept closing down. In November 2011, my beloved cat Harry died. I now realise that all those options closing down was actually the Universe trying to tell me that I was headed in the wrong direction, but it was painful at the time. My home, job, relationship, income, and spiritual journey were all in question. Normally it is pretty stressful if only one of those things is in doubt, but all of them at once was bad.
So, during 2012, my bubble of complacency started to reassert itself, living in Oxford, enjoying my job, and gradually getting everything together. I met my lovely partner in August of that year. But even in my bubble, I remained aware of social justice issues and tried to raise awareness of them.
In her excellent novel, The Fifth Sacred Thing, Starhawk talks about El Mundo Bueno (the good world) and El Mundo Malo (the bad world). Every situation has two possible outcomes, a good one and a bad one. With our magic, prayer, and positive thinking, we constantly try to create the good world, the one where everything goes right. But every so often, we fall through the cracks into the bad world, the one where everything went wrong. My “bubble of complacency” is an attempt to keep walking in El Mundo Bueno.
“Doña Elena used to say that there was the Good Reality, El Mundo Bueno, literally the Good World, and the Bad Reality, El Mundo Malo, and they were always vying with each other. In the Good Reality you have a mild headache; in the Bad Reality you have a fatal brain disease. In the Good Reality, you catch hold of the rail as your foot slips; in the Bad Reality, you miss, slide down the stairs, and break your neck.
“We walk in the Good Reality as if we were treading the thin skin on warm milk. It’s always possible to break through and drown. …
“There is a hopeful side to Doña Elena’s teaching. … Even in El Mundo Malo, the Good Reality is always just on the other side of the surface of things. If you can learn to reach and pull yourself through, you can make miracles.” (Starhawk, The Fifth Sacred Thing, page 44)
But recently I have become aware that my “bubble of complacency” may actually be a bubble of white privilege. Part of white privilege is the ability to walk down the street without being suspected of a crime, to get a job based on one’s qualifications, to get a house without being discriminated against by the seller, the estate agent, or the person renting it to you. In short, these are actually rights that everybody should have access to. White privilege is also the inheritance of wealth and resources stolen from colonised countries and enslaved people – again, something that the descendants of those people should be entitled to, but are still denied, due to the lack of a will to offer or even discuss reparations.
The horrific shootings of far too many Black people in the US, and the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement, has made me aware that for Black people in the US, there can be no “bubble of complacency”. If you can’t walk down the street without fear of arrest or shooting for “walking while Black” – if you fear for the safety of your children when they leave the house – if you know you will be treated more harshly by law enforcement, and cannot get justice or equal treatment in any sphere – then El Mundo Malo is always lurking just beneath the surface, ready to swallow you and all that you hold dear.
Here in the UK, I have become involved recently with two organisations, both of which have made me aware that my bubble of complacency is very much a privilege.
The first is Movement for Justice by Any Means Necessary. They are a group that campaigns against institutional racism, in particular the indefinite detention of asylum seekers by the Home Office. They have campaigned (successfully, in several cases) against the deportation of LGBT asylum seekers back to countries where being LGBT is illegal. They also campaign against the detention of other asylum seekers and people who have been imprisoned for very minor crimes who are under threat of deportation. One of the most egregious injustices that they have highlighted recently has been the death in custody of Pinakin Patel, a 33-year-old holiday-maker from India who was detained with his wife Bhavisha by the UKBA (UK Border Agency) on arrival in the UK for a holiday, on suspicion of coming here to look for work. Detaining innocent holiday-makers from India is deeply racist (assuming that they were lying about coming here on holiday, among other assumptions). Make no mistake: Yarl’s Wood and other detention centres are, in effect, concentration camps. Another very worthwhile campaign against them is Close Campsfield, which in addition to campaigning for the closure of the immigration detention centre just north of Oxford, has also organised conferences to try to raise awareness of these unjust and inhumane places. Britain is the only country in Europe which detains asylum seekers indefinitely.
I have also been talking to other people about the issue of how badly asylum seekers and immigrants are treated in Britain, and have been met, for the most part, with indifference and in some cases, casual racism. The only people who get it are people who either come from elsewhere, or have partners or friends in the same situation.
If you read my recent post, Blue Beltane, you will see that El Mundo Malo was trying to break through into my world, as my partner was having visa issues. Thankfully, these have now been resolved, and he is back with me, in time for a belated Beltane celebration. But that situation heightened my awareness of other people’s problems with visas and immigration.
The other organisation is the International Liberty Association, an organisation which has consistently campaigned for democracy and human rights in Iran and the Middle East, and which promotes a tolerant and egalitarian version of Islam, where women are recognised as equals and encouraged to take up leadership roles. 2700 of their members are currently trapped in a transit camp (called, somewhat ironically, Camp Liberty) near Baghdad airport. The forces of ISIL are closing in on one side, and the Iraqi forces on the other. Because they promote democracy and human rights, the Iranian regime wants to extradite them to Iran and execute them. The Iranian regime has already murdered thousands and thousands of people who campaigned for democracy and human rights. Last night I had the privilege of meeting some people who have recently been rescued from Camp Liberty. Brave, brave souls. These are people whose relatives have been murdered, who have been in constant fear of their lives from rocket attacks, arrest, torture, and imprisonment. They have never had the luxury of a bubble of complacency.
How can we, as Pagans, respond to all these horrific situations? Certainly not by retreating ever further into a cosy world of magical illusion, bickering over the right way to cast a circle, or what colour your candles should be. Rather, by engaging in the struggle for social justice, and promoting a vision of a world where all life is sacred.
Laura Bruno expresses it well:
…we live in a Both/And Universe. El Mundo Bueno and El Mundo Malo exist simultaneously, and we summon them by honoring or rejecting the sacred — in ourselves, in others and in the “world” at large. Every time we calm ourselves and remember (re-member … give new form and vessel to) the sacredness of Air, of Fire, of Water, of Earth and of Spirit, we pull ourselves back into the Good Reality.
Rhyd Wildermuth, Alley Valkyrie, T Thorn Coyle, Crystal Blanton and others have all been doing their best to promote a compassionate and engaged Paganism, one that connects deeply with the sacred, with the gods, and with the vision of a way of living that acknowledges that life is sacred. Rhyd and Alley in particular have correctly identified capitalism as the biggest threat to the flourishing of life. Why? Because capitalism disconnects the maker from the made, the worker from their work, and encourages the idle rich to make money from the labour of others. In the UK, the gap between rich and poor has become even wider during the Conservative administration and their austerity programme.
Wikipedia’s definition of capitalism glosses over the biggest problem, which is the extraction of profit by shareholders from the enterprise.
Capitalism is an economic system and a mode of production in which trade, industries, and the means of production are largely or entirely privately owned. Such private firms and proprietorships are usually operated for profit, but may be operated as private nonprofit organizations.
Capitalism is not simply a market economy, where small traders make and sell their goods. It is the notion that a person who invests in a company, but does none of the actual work, is entitled to a share of the profits. The alternative to this (which has proven to be very viable and successful) is the co-operative, where every worker in the co-operative is a member and gets a share of the profits.
Pagan worldviews and visions – of what is sacred, of how we might live in harmony with the Earth and each other – are deeply important in showing what is possible. Pagans were among the first to argue that the Divine is both feminine and masculine. Now that view is widely acknowledged. Pagans were among the first to argue that Nature is sacred. Now that view is more widely acknowledged. We also were among the first to welcome LGBT people to our circles and groups (though there are still issues with heterocentrism). Many Pagans (but not enough) are actively involved in the struggle against racism. We are often at or near the forefront of movements for social change. We can be agents of transformation, both in the struggle for social justice, and in the practice of magic to help bring about change. I would argue that showing up for demonstrations against injustices is a form of magic, in that it brings about a change in consciousness.
So, I aim to transform my “bubble of complacency” into an effort to bring about the manifestation of El Mundo Bueno for as many people as possible. Instead of luxuriating in my privilege, I intend to work to extend that sense of comfort to as many people as possible.
The Enchanted, a beautiful article by Lia Hunter at Gods and Radicals expresses the contrast between a world of selfishness, greed, and exploitation and a world where everyone is valued, including the natural world. She writes:
We can cancel the terrible show and start writing and rehearsing, or even remembering one that does not eat our children and destroy mind, body, soul, Earth, and connection. It made us forget what community is, and what sacred means, but we can find them again. Some of us have already begun. Some of us in indigenous communities never lost them and can share them. There are paths strewn with fulfillment rather than endless hunger. We can find the paths with vital air to breathe, clean water to refresh, and solid ground to stand and circle with each other upon. Our ancestors knew them, walked them, danced them. Some continued to remember them throughout empire, despite the illusions of usurious capital and divine right of kings, and preserved markers for us in myth, symbol, and language. Nature, itself, contains markers and inspiration. Our home and kin are calling us.
Yes! We do not have to dance to the tune of war, austerity, destruction, greed, and selfishness. We can articulate a vision of a world of beauty and sacredness. We can build communities, friendships, and connections. We can work towards a world where all are equal, safe, and free. This is the sacred vision towards which our gods are calling us, which the whole of Nature is crying out for.
I hear the lament coming from the gods
The people are crushed beneath the heel of the tyrants
I hear the lament coming from the trees
The birds cannot sing over the roar of monstrous engines
I hear the lament coming from the waters
The land is wounded and the waters are polluted
I hear the lament coming from the sea
Too many have drowned in the flight from oppression
I hear the lament coming from the land
The mills are grinding the animals and the fields
I hear the lament coming from the people
Our hearts are heavy and our eyes are full of tears
I hear the lament coming from the animals
Exploited and crushed beneath the wheels of progress
I hear the lament coming from the stones
Nothing is held sacred any more
Lamentation, lamentation, lamentation
Our tears are flowing and our hearts are heavy
We must turn away from destruction
Without destrying in our turn
We must turn away from seeing only things
And learn to see the sacred in everything
We must rise up against the oppressors
Without becoming oppressors ourselves
We must rise up against injustice
Without meting out injustice ourselves
We must turn toward the sacred
Without forgetting the joy of the profane
We must turn towards the way of the heart
And open our hearts to each other.