HOMELESS HUMANS have become the new exemplars of capitalist reality, particularly in the United States. (I made these portraits with my digital Canon SLR while on unpaid/volunteer assignment last week, then processed the pictures as if I were once again working with my beloved M Leicas and Tri-X at 800 ASA developed in D-76 and printing the results on DuPont Varilure, which had photographic paper's highest silver content and was therefore the best paper in the world but was discontinued in 1973 due to capitalist manipulations that triggered skyrocketing silver prices.) Photographs by Loren Bliss © 2016.
PLEASE CONSIDER THE following as an open letter to the pagan community, the first of the essays on the relevance of socialism to paganism and of paganism to socialism I promised on 18 July I would soon write. Please also forgive the delay; the 18th was the last time my circumstances actually allowed me the time and energy essential to prepare anything genuinely contemplative for this space; my neighbors and I here in the geezer ghetto are still plagued by our heartless landlord's innumerable and invariably disruptive intrusions as he renovates his for-profit properties to comply with federal low-interest loan requirements.
As I wrote in that most recent OAN essay, how “do I resolve the apparent conflict between being a Marxian (and therefore a dialectical materialist) and... also being a Gaian Pagan (and a Pagan not by fad or adaptation or mere inclination but as a direct consequence of two undeniable, inexplicable and unquestionably demanding encounters with its Source)?”
“Preview: in the ultimate sense, I see no conflict at all. In fact I am convinced each is essential to sustain the other.”
But of course I was describing a feeling, emotional reality rather than intellectual reality, right brain rather than left brain, and I as soon as I began applying logic to the question, I initially feared I had stepped into a miasma of contradictions I might never be able to resolve.
Then – as so often occurs in my habitually agnostic/skeptical (if not downright cynical) relationship to all forms of spirituality including my own – synchronicity intervened. As it happens, I am working, again as an unpaid volunteer, on another editorial project which brought me into contact with the mostly unacknowledged truth all philosophies – even our own informal assumptions about life – embody the bias imposed by our socioeconomic class: whether we are part of the 99 Percent or part of the One Percent and its Ruling Class vassalage. Philosophically speaking, our overlords in the One Percent and its Ruling Class view the world as their rightful “god-given” possession, an exploitable commodity – we the people included – to subjugate as greed, sadistic whim and capitalism's mandatory quest for maximum profit dictate. Meanwhile we of the 99 Percent – all of us capitalism's victims – either (further) shackle ourselves by adopting the philosophies dictated by our oppressors or we (somehow) wake up and evolve our own philosophical view.
Socialism is, of course, one of the (self-protective) results of our awakening; Marxism is merely socialism's purest and most disciplined form. Paganism – especially in its Wiccan or Gaian forms – is another such awakening. The functional twinship of socialism and paganism begins with their common purpose: the preservation of our species from extinction by capitalist depredation, either as World War III or environmental apocalypse.
Indeed I would go so far as to argue that while one may be a socialist without being pagan, one cannot be a pagan without also being a socialist.
Capitalism, remember, is a direct derivative of Protestant Christianity (for which see Max Weber, The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism). The ultimate form of Protestantism is the Prosperity Gospel, which reasserts the divine right of kings in its modern form as the divine right of corporate executives and of the One Percent in general. It defines wealth as an expression of divine blessing and attributes poverty to sin. (Backtracking for a moment, Christianity is one of the three Abrahamic religions. It and the others, Judaism and Islam, define the universe as the asexual creation of a male deity and thereby reduce female reproductive power to virtual irrelevance. From this reduction results the contempt for Nature, the misogynistic hatred, the clitoris envy and the implicitly violent insistence on hierarchy that define all patriarchal belief systems.) Predictably, the associated malignancy is intensified to its most extreme, ecocidal and genocidal form in capitalism, which is Abrahamic religion's ultimate distillate. (The historical dynamics of patriarchal religion's distillation into an ever-more-murderous philosophy of exploitation is eloquently documented in The Great Cosmic Mother, Barbara Mor's invaluable work in post-Abrahamic, post-capitalist anthropology, a book that should be twinned with Howard Zinn's A People's History of the United States in terms of significant revelations of our methodically suppressed past.) A basic pagan library should include a well-read copy of each volume.
Remember too the relationship between capitalism and its Abrahamic-religion father is symbiotic: one reinforces the other – hence Marx's condemnation of religion as the opiate of the masses. Hence too the liberation of scientific inquiry resulting from the Soviet suppression of Abrahamic religion – specifically the widespread Soviet investigation of subjects damned as “Satanic” in the Christian-dominated U.S. Moreover the Soviet suppression of Abrahamic religion encouraged not only the U.S.S.R.'s indigenous tribal religions but the resurrection of European paganism by Soviet and post-Soviet youth.
Given that the official, dominant and often violently sustained philosophy of our pre-revolutionary, pre-apocalyptic era is capitalism cum Christianity (or vice-versa), what then are socialism and paganism but efforts by ourselves, the 99 Percent, to liberate ourselves from enslavement by capitalism and Christianity? (I presume I need not add our enslavement is indisputably proven by how capitalism – its depredations countenanced if not encouraged by the Prosperity Gospel – has already reduced half the U.S. population to low-income destitution during the past 43 years. As to how this has come about, see Jeff Sharlet's The Family: the Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power [Harper: 2008].)
Just as socialism is our instrument of economic revolution, so then is paganism our instrument of spiritual revolution – though the class-based nature of modern paganism (another expression of the socialist/pagan twinhood) – has yet to be commonly recognized by either group.
While the revolutionary origins and history of socialism are thoroughly documented, the modern history of paganism (or neo-paganism as it is sometimes called), is virtually unknown – even to many present-day pagans. Though such a history is beyond the scope of this essay, it can nevertheless be summarized in three sentences. The modern pagan renaissance – and in particular the resurrection of the Great Goddess as its primary deity – began with the 1948 publication of The White Goddess, Robert Graves' definitively revolutionary “Historical Grammar of Poetic Myth” (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, New York: 1966). Its initial collective expression occurred within the Beat Movement of the 1950s. (See for example Diane DiPrima's epic Loba (Penguin Books, London: 1973-1998), which, probably more than any other associated work, exemplifies the spiritual revolution implicit in the Beat ethos.) The resurrection process was accelerated by the the Folk Renaissance of the late 1950s and early 1960s, which popularized traditional British and European balladry, much of it the disguised yet still-psychically potent remnants of pagan liturgy, a connection explored in detail by the late Holger Olaf Nygard, Duke University's resident folklore scholar. (Alas, Nygard's cutting-edge work, A Literary History of the Popular Ballad [Duke University Press: 1963], is long out of print – and my copy, probably one of the last in existence, was destroyed by the 1983 fire.) In any case, the point here is that paganism acquired its present global momentum as an extension of the Counterculture of Rebellion that reached its apex during the 1960s and 1970s – an expression of the same save-the-world-from-capitalist-depredation instinct that birthed the Gaia Hypothesis, Second Wave Feminism, Environmentalism and the Back-to-the-Land Movement. And I think it no coincidence paganism is, with feminism and environmentalism, among the only Countercultural remnants surviving today.
But from the socialist perspective is spirituality – any spirituality – not inevitably yet another “opiate of the masses”? And thus, again from the socialist perspective, should not all spirituality therefore be discarded as expeditiously as possible?
Firstly, history shows spirituality is a characteristic human activity impossible to suppress. It is ultimately an expression of our species' quest for individual and collective meaning, as instinctive as other forms of creative expression, as definitively human as sexuality, though – alas (precisely as Abrahamic religion demonstrates) – equally subject to perversion. Secondly the emergence of Liberation Theology, a radical variant of Catholicism that presents Jesus as a martyred revolutionary and attempts to sidestep Christianity's inherent Abrahamic misogyny, contempt for Nature and hierarchical despotism, proves even a classic, trickle-down opiate might be made to (deceptively) serve the cause of socialist revolution. Thirdly, while Liberation Theology was ultimately an effort by the Ruling Class (as personified by the church) to retain Ruling Class religious dominance (i.e. philosophical supremacy) in an era of rising revolutionary anger, paganism by contrast is an instinctively revolutionary response by those of us increasingly alienated by the roles of organized religion and capitalist governance in spawning, fostering and intensifying capitalism's threat to human survival.
As if to further confirm paganism's revolutionary nature, there is compelling evidence the One Percent and its Ruling Class consider the resurrection of paganism (and particularly its Great Goddess) to be at least as subversive as socialism. (This evidence includes several premature deaths and the mysterious fire that destroyed “Glimpses of a Pale Dancer,” my meticulously researched collection of the evidence that would have redefined the Counterculture as the first wave of a revolution against patriarchy.) Paganism's danger to the One Percent and its Ruling Class thus lies in its accelerating rebuttal of Abrahamic despotism, which remember is the root of capitalism. The contrast between the Abrahamic god and the modern pagan goddess is literally a clash of diametrical opposites. Whether one accepts the Abrahamic god as real or symbolic, he is in fact the personification of oppression – the limitation, destruction and/or perversion of our quintessential humanity. Just as, whether one accepts the goddess as real or symbolic, she is the personification of nurturing – the recognition, encouragement and fulfillment of our individual and collective potential.
In this context paganism offers genuine liberation – not just from the Abrahamic religions' patriarchy-sustaining misogynistic anti-sex, anti-sensual and anti-Nature taboos, but from the innate Abrahamic hostility to science as well. While the Abrahamic myth of creation by a male deity is a genuinely unnatural act, contradicting physics, astronomy and biology, the Gaia Hypothesis restates in scientific terms paganism's core principle – that our planet (and by extension the entire cosmos) is alive, conscious and self-regulating. Moreover, paganism – unlike so-called Liberation Theology – is not dictated from above; the Ruling Class, which sneeringly denounces paganism as childish superstition or damns it as “Devil worship,” wants nothing to do with it and suppresses it at every opportunity. Modern paganism is thus born entirely of rebellious intent – a 99 Percent philosophy intended, as I wrote in a long-lost essay, “to fault the (patriarchal) bedrock of (what passes for) civilization” and thereby free us from the psychological component of patriarchal/Abrahamic/capitalist shackles.
Thus too modern paganism is the spiritual and emotional counterpart of what socialism is for economics and politics. If one is truly a dialectical materialist – that is, genuinely committed to understanding “the real conditions of materialist existence” (which include the material of human consciousness) – one must recognize that sociological and psychological realities are equal to economic and political realities in the symbiosis that shapes our circumstances. Moreover, if one is genuinely committed to the pagan ethos of rescuing our human selfhood from beneath the jackboots of patriarchal religion and capitalism – thereby reconnecting ourselves with Nature and (perhaps) saving ourselves from extinction – the socialist ethos of “from each according to ability; to each according to need” is the only way to expand the pagan principle of “as above, so below” to encompass all human society.
Here ends my open letter, which I hope will achieve the widest possible circulation within the pagan community.
DONATIONS FOR WARBRIDES of Japan, a documentary, are desperately needed and are 100 percent tax deductible. While I do not normally use OAN for fund-raising, this is an especially worthy cause, as detailed in an e-mail Director Yayoi Winfrey recently sent me:
“Our production team has scheduled interviews with 11 Japanese war brides and/or their adult children in eight cities and three states. However, donations to our crowdfunding campaign, which began two weeks ago, has slowed down considerably, leaving us short on production funds. We desperately need your tax-deductible dollars for two airline tickets, car rental and gas plus hotel accommodations and meals for two weeks while we shoot. Won't you please help us get this documentary onto the screen? we would appreciate your participation no matter what size your donation. Again, every dollar is tax-deductible if you donate at this site. And please don't hesitate to ask questions you might have about where your donation dollars will go.”
I HAVE COME to regard it as a kind of cheating to re-post comments I wrote on threads at other websites, but the following is the first time I have ever been able to bring myself to write publicly of the tragedy that – because it occurred during our society's pre-feminist refusal to acknowledge reproductive trauma – shattered the marriage shared by my second wife and me.
The writing was itself a surprise, my entirely unpremeditated response to an emotionally wrenching report detailing the birth of a dead child and the creditor-intensified emotional devastation it inflicted on both parents.
What follows is slightly expanded from the original, which was condensed to fit Reader Supported News' 1500-character space restriction:
Albeit without the crushing debt that afflicted the author of the RSN essay after the death of her daughter, my second wife and I were similarly wounded by the death of our son. Hence we share Ms. Blossom's sorrow.
Ironically, we lived in Manhattan, the psychiatric capitol of the world, but it was 1967, and the feminist movement had yet to raise USian emotional consciousness enough for the shrinks to recognize the trauma associated with a still-born child.
We had made our baby deliberately and knowingly, gazing into one another's eyes amidst the exquisite pleasure and infinite joy of love, and like the Blossoms, we were anticipating, with all the characteristic happiness and apprehension, our transformation from a couple into a family. Adrienne, in that singularly female bio-emotional way of knowing – a mode of perception we men can never truly comprehend – had decided as a child age seven or eight she wanted a son named Loren, and now she was collecting the requisite baby clothes and related items ancillary to the fulfillment of her desire and intention. I on my part had already decided to give up the uncertain life of an editorial freelancer, take a staff job on one of the many New Jersey dailies that surrounded the City and thus aim for an eventual slot on one of the Manhattan papers, most likely The New York Post, which then before Rupert Murdoch bought it and destroyed it was the most proudly Left-leaning daily in the United States.
But at the end of our sixth month of pregnancy a moral imbecile for whom there are not vile enough pejoratives in any language ran for a train, and in his vicious haste – cursed may he be – he knocked Adrienne down the long flight of iron stairs to the lower level of the Union Square subway station. It was a Sunday; she had gone to visit friends on the Upper East Side, returned home that evening massively bruised and limping from the fall, and three days later our son was born dead.
My wife saw him briefly in the emergency room, an experience she cannot talk about even now, 49 years later. I viewed him for a moment as a nurse carried him in a glass jar through the Beth Israel Hospital emergency waiting room.
“Is that the Bliss baby,” I asked.
“Who are you,” she asked in reply.
“I'm the father,” I said. “May I see?”
Except for his purple color, he seemed perfectly formed, almost a twin of the infant I knew from pictures of myself as a babe-in-arms, his hair as near-black as my own was then.
I cannot yet describe my feelings as the nurse bore him away; even now no words suffice.
In keeping with that era's accepted practice, we stifled our grief. A year later it seemed we despised one another, and by 1974 we were divorced – though now in the final years of our lives we are again emotionally close though we live on opposite coasts.
Thanks to feminist consciousness-raising, trauma such as ours and the Blossoms is at last acknowledged, even unto the fact it is a wound from which full healing is rarely if ever achieved. But its hurt can indeed be ameliorated by therapy – save when capitalist greed prices such relief out of our reach, an atrocity the only cure for which is the abolition of capitalism – another of the many reasons my politics are what they are.
Meanwhile, if reincarnation is real, may that which animated our son live again as someone else's child – and this time thrive.
And yes, we would have named him Loren.
LB/8 August 2016.