I am in love with the essay To Rust Metallic Gods: An Anarcho-primitivist Critique of Paganism, by Autumn Leaves Cascade, published in BAGR No.1. This essay spoke to me in a profound way, and I am grateful to ALC for writing it. As it pointed out in its opening sentence, most green anarchists of European ancestry have rejected the civilized religions that dominate and maintain this culture. And as the essay asked in its conclusion, "So where does this leave those of us of European descent, who wish to live a more 'spiritual' and earth-centered existence?"
Given that Europeans were civilized pretty far back, those of us of European heritage that reject universalist civilized religions often feel rootless and disconnected spiritually. The traditional antidote to this, besides ignoring the emptiness and remaining spiritually rootless, is to either valorize pagan religions rooted in Old Europe and pre-Christian European ancestry, or to appropriate some other ethnic group's Earth-based spirituality, which here in North America often means Native North American traditions.
But cultural appropriation of Native American spirituality by European descended people is wrong, and is an extension and continuation of colonization and cultural destruction that began over five centuries ago. Turning to our own ethnic roots and land-based traditions as a way of reconnecting and revering the land is always preferable than cultural theft, and is an act of resistance to the civilized mentality. And it can help revive the beautiful diversity of the human mosaic that civilization would love to see eradicated into sameness.
Unfortunately for Native Europeans like myself, our land-based life ways and spirituality were eradicated thousands of years ago, so the information that remains about our pre-civilized folkways is mostly gone. There are plenty of sources for our pre-Christian ways rooted in Neolithic, Bronze and Iron Age paganism however, and I think this is the reason for paganism's appeal - they're the only folkways we know, and compared to civilized modernity, they're definitely rooted in greater connection with the land.
I've thought of this over the years, and I too have felt the pull of pagan folkways. The desire for spiritual connection rooted in ancestry and ancient land-based lifeways, a reason to feel pride in one's heritage despite the atrocities committed by our more civilized ancestors, and a deep sense of community and shared experience are all appealing aspects of paganism. But I have never believed in gods, and the general woo that exists in modern paganism, the focus on weird rituals, magic, witchcraft, the eclectic cherry picking of European ethnic practices, and wizard cloaks are all very unappealing aspects of paganism. And the gods that they worship in the traditions typically romanticized are often civilized gods of royalty, of law, of iron and war, rooted in agricultural societies based on warfare culture and engaged in totalitarian relationships with nature, not ones of veneration. Many valorize heathen conquerors and warrior societies. Others use paganism as an excuse to run naked through the woods with a staff, or other such ridiculous things that make a mockery of land-based spiritual connection as well as non-Christian Native Europeans in general.
But although I had already come to similar conclusions as an anti-civilizationist, this essay put things into a context I hadn't thought of. Statements like these really resonated with me:
"All of these religions existed estranged from connection to any actual living landscape or uncontrolled terrain, purporting universality precisely because they functioned as rootless archetypes."
"traditional pagan polytheism...all advanced theologies of domestication or the city-state. ....Governing divinities continually channeled spirituality toward imperial ambitions."
"As clerical religions, they atrophied participatory spiritualities rooted in place. Increased human domination of landscapes coincided with personification of natural forces as humanoid figures.... These militaristic chiefdoms and kingdoms may have claimed to worship the land, but they owned the land as property.... They had class hierarchy, slavery, and conquest. Anti-authoritarians have no good reason to venerate or romanticize 'heathen' conquerors. Do not worship gods of farm and forge, gods of tillage and grazing, palace gods. Do not idealize the pastoral-agrarian war myths of Bronze and Iron Age colonizers, do not worship metallic gods."
Rituals "emphasize abstraction and reductionism", and they "continue the pagan legacy of separation" rather than "intimate relationship with the living wildness."
"Paganism as a pastoral-agrarian phenomenon, meant subduing lands and subjugating species." They "ritualized from a sense of lost connection, while still maintaining separation."
The essay goes on to discuss the alternative of animism, and details how animism is indigenous to Europe, and that European paganism arose from animist roots. It emphasizes that many European folk traditions have redeeming value, and this suggests an advocation for animistic European folkways for those of us of European descent as a viable path and practice for landbase connection and Earth-based spirituality. And I agree, as it is an alternative to paganism, to the cultural appropriation of other ethnic traditions, and to just making things up out of rootlessness. It gives us Europeans a way to recognize our ancestral connection to the land, a heritage we share with all peoples, despite the millennia of domestication and civilization that has so destroyed us as a people and led to the horribleness of our more recent history in our relations with others.
Given all of this, I have a few questions.
If one feels a calling to the veneration of wildness in a spiritual way, seeing all wild things as having personhood and intention, even seemingly inanimate objects like river rocks (since even those are animate, in the sense that they are part of a complex self-regulating system), and if one embraces animism as it is described in this essay, and for the reasons this essay discusses, would it be appropriate for a green anarchist of European heritage to do so in a way that also embraces the more animistic aspects of their ethnic folkways?
For instance, my family celebrates the wheel of the year, as dancing through it each year keeps us grounded in the changing seasons and cycles of nature. We celebrate the traditional markers along that wheel as well, the solstices and equinoxes and the cross-quarter days, and even call them by their indigenous European names, specifically those of the northwestern islands our family hails from.
There's also the tradition of blotting, offering a drink to the land by raising a horn as a way of offering thanks and saying "I was here, I care, and thank you." Similar to how animistic Mongolians will offer drinks to the land with a tsatsal, or how native North Americans will do so with pottery, and on and on with many other cultures.
Anthroplogical evidence shows ancient and moden European foragers honored the cycles of the land, sun and moon. Bonfires were a normal part of the night landscape. Ethical systems developed around family and community, honor and reverance. I believe these unique aspects of European folk traditions can be embraced by European descended people in an animistic way that ties us to the land, our past and to each other.
Obviously these traditions emerged from a people and a land I am no longer apart of, and true relationship can only emerge from direct relationship with one's landbase. But these traditions would be incorporated with a bioregional practice as well, blending ethnic pre-civilized traditions with emergent relationship with current place.
And if this is appropriate, would one simply call themself an animist, or would they add some kind of qualifier denoting a native European bent, like heathen animism, or native European animism? Or would a label at all be too confining, and instead one should just denote their relationship to the land as animistic, and discuss the European folkway adherence only in further conversation if the other party is interested? The essay suggests embracing animism and wildness, but never specifically advocates calling oneself an animist.
Thank you for taking the time to read all of this, and sorry about the length. This is a really passionate subject for me, and I'm hoping it sparks conversation and even debate, as I'm truly interested in what others think about the questions posed as well as the subject in general from a GA perspective.