All Our Relations: Pagans and the more-than-human world.

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International Women's Day in a time of Trump (a Pagan perspective)


I write this on March 8, International Women’s Day. In America today is a day of painful paradoxes.  During last year’s electoral campaign women’s issues received greater attention than ever before, and for the first time ever, a major candidate for president was a woman.  She also received millions more votes than her opponent. Were our system like other democratic nations she would have been our first woman president. However, a constitutional quirk gave the office to the most aggressively misogynistic president we have ever had.

After Donald Trump’s inauguration the largest demonstrations in our history took place, with marches by millions of women and their male supporters. Since that time many women in particular have become energized and inspired into degrees of political action beyond anything they did before.

On the other side, Trump and his Republican enablers aggressively targeted women’s issues and values.  From attacking Planned Parenthood to reinstating a global gag rule prohibiting nongovernmental organizations from receiving government assistance if they offer accurate information about abortions, they have sought to destroy women’s control over their bodies.   Jeff Sessions, Trump’s Attorney General, had opposed the Violence Against Women Act, and voted against providing $100 million for federal aid to enable Family Planning services to provide needed information and contraception. He also defended Trump’s claim that grabbing non-consenting women by the pussy was not really evidence of sexual assault.   In many states Republicans are making further efforts to deprive women of control over their bodies and their futures. 

What is happening?

The contrast between those of us who honor International Women’s Day and those who do not could hardly be greater. It illustrates a deep and growing division often called a ‘culture war.’ To exaggerate only a little, it seems as if our country has split into two incompatible civilizations, one resembling Northern Europe, the other seeking to be a Christian version of theocratic Iran.

If we look at the Blue state/Red state division, I think the most important distinction in these states and within them, is between urban technological and rural agricultural cultures, and the values each claims to honor.  Agricultural societies, particularly strong ones, have long been biased to favor hierarchical relations, masculine superiority, and a concern with maintaining clear and strong boundaries. These values needn’t be based on monotheism, but monotheism is particularly compatible with them, for it extends steep hierarchies and strong boundaries through all of existence. These values are universally seen as masculine. They have long shaped our cultural heritage, such as how we think about rights, property, law, and our relations with one another. 

Not all Trump voters made their living through agriculture, or he would have lost badly. But he was disproportionately favored by rural regions and, more importantly, by that portion of our country that continues to view this world through that lens. They are not all Trump voters, but without them he would have been crushed at the polls.

People holding these values are repelled by urban equalitarian values emphasizing flattening hierarchies, more distributed and cooperative kinds of authority, and more porous distinctions between people, as well as between ourselves and our larger other-than-human world. These increasingly prevalent values are often described as “yin,” or in an American context, feminine. The rise of feminine values is closely associated with growing urbanization, and are most visible in those parts of our country strongly influenced by urban cultures even if they are relatively rural.

These two ways of experiencing our relationships with one another go to the core of how we experience ourselves and our world. In my view this crisis reflects the largest shift in the nature of human societies since agricultural cultures replaced most hunting and gathering ones thousands of years ago. This shift deeply threatens those who still identify with the values of the old order, for their claims to dominance are systematically undermined by the new.

Dissolving Boundaries

Consider the transformation in marriage that has occurred in our lifetime. The growing practice of marrying for love rather than to serve political, economic, or familial roles was perhaps the first major penetration of feminine values into a core Western institution. What followed has been a gradual unfolding of its implications.   It was not that long ago that interracial marriage was illegal in many places.  Today a majority of Americans support gay marriage. The strongest argument on either’s behalf is that love is a central reason for marriage. To the extent love enters into society, social boundaries weaken, and in marriage it increasingly transforms one of our most fundamental institutions.

Today’s growing attention to treating bi- and transsexual Americans as equal to others is another example. I suspect many people are bisexual to various degrees, for why else would critics of gay relationships call being gay a choice?  Legitimizing gay relationships threatens those whose identities depend on their making only a heterosexual choice when they are drawn powerfully to both.  I can’t imagine why anyone else would care very much.

There are only a tiny number of transsexual Americans, yet few as they are, again these people challenge any notion of clear sexual identities.  Most Trump supporters have never knowingly met a trans person, yet simply knowing they exist is deeply threatening to many. The legitimacy of transsexual Americans as well as accepting gay and bisexual Americans challenges boundaries and hierarchies fundamental to the society we inherited. 

This disconnect between our increasingly diverse and intertwined urban world and the primacy of sharp boundaries and hierarchies embedded within our inherited culture is developing elsewhere as well. Nowhere more than in science.

Early science assumed a world of hierarchies, boundaries, and linear mechanical relations.  Newtonian physics, its greatest achievement, assumed a world of mechanically related objects moved from the outside.   Einstein discovered energy and matter are ultimately mutually convertible. Quantum physics took this demolition of the old worldview even farther.  Newton’s universe evaporated within a few decades.

These transformations now continue in biology.  The ecosystem is a central term in the life sciences today, and, like evolution, ecosystems exemplify porous boundaries and the primacy of relationships, both feminine ‘yin’ qualities.  Today many biologists describe even individual people as “ecosystems” or “super-organisms.” What it means to be an individual has been transformed. Individuality exists, but among biologists and those conversant with recent research, the old idea of individuals has gone the way of Newton’s universe.

I have often wondered at red state hostility to such an unpolitical concept as global warming. Of course oil and gas corporations and those in harmony with their values will hate it, (unless they can find a way to make money off it). We saw the same thing regarding tobacco and health. But why should others care? 

Global warming arguments are powerful expressions of nonlinear networks where we can never do only one thing. This perspective threatens the old idea of an individuals as bounded entities, of property as a thing rather than defined by possible relationships, and of our exercising hierarchical power over the world rather than being, as Aldo Leopold wrote, a “plain citizen” within it. It is significant, I think, that all popular arguments against global warming are simple linear ones assuming hierarchies of cause and power.

Again, in science the feminine yin is ascendant over or at least equal to the masculine yang.

It is no surprise those trapped in the old order have come to distrust science. It now strengthens feminine yin perspectives, rather than reinforcing their masculine yang values, as it had under Newton. This points to the ultimate problem for the masculine order of the Red states. Theirs is an ideal that no longer fits human experience or what we know about the larger reality within which we live. We see this crisis illustrated in the abject failure of its spokespeople to actually abide by the values they praise. It is reflected in their desire to abolish scientific research when it does not support their preconceptions.  It is reflected by a degenerate religion based on will to believe and that alone. It is reflected by a political movement that despises truth and prefers “alternative facts.”  In other worlds, the old culture has reached a dead end and can only exist in increasingly pathological forms. 

The bigger picture

Most NeoPagans exemplify this change from a hierarchical masculine order increasingly valuing only domination, to one reflecting feminine values honoring deeper and more interrelated relations both among people and our world in all its dimensions from the most seemingly trivial to the most sacred. While some reconstructionists do look backwards to old agricultural values that no longer fit this world, most of us clearly reflect values and insights in keeping with the world arising around us. We not only recognize the importance of feminine values in creating and maintaining a world in which human beings can flourish, we also recognize these values penetrate to the core of All That Is. The divine manifesting through the feminine is not only real, She exemplifies the future of this society if it is not to degenerate into a nihilist horror dominated by the most pathological expressions of an old order we have outgrown.

This is the context in which we can understand the painful paradox we Americans  confront on International Women’s Day. Knowing this we can push back confidently against the pathological manifestations of the past that today have concentrated themselves in America’s right wing and the Republican Party.


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Gus diZerega DiZerega combines a formal academic training in Political Science with decades of work in Wicca and shamanic healing. He is a Third Degree Elder in Gardnerian Wicca, studied closely with Timothy White who later founded Shaman’s Drum magazine, and also studied Brazilian Umbanda  for six years under Antonio Costa e Silva.

DiZerega holds a Ph.D. in Political Science from UC Berkeley, has taught and lectured in the US and internationally, and has organized international academic meetings.

His newest book is "Faultlines: the Sixties, the Culture Wars, and the Return of the Divine Feminine (Quest, 2013) received a 'silver' award by the Association of Independent Publishers for 2014. It puts both modern Pagan religion and the current cultural and political crisis in the US into historical context, and shows how they are connected.

His first book on Pagan subjects, "Pagans and Christians: The Personal Spiritual Experience," won the Best Nonfiction of 2001 award from  The Coalition of Visionary Resources. 

His second,"Beyond the Burning Times: A Pagan and a Christian in Dialogue" is what it sounds like. He coauthored it with Philip Johnson. DiZerega particularly like his discussion of polytheism in Burning Times, which in his view is an advance over the discussion in Pagans and Christians.

His third volume, "Faultlines: The Sixties, the Culture War, and the Return of the Divine Feminine," was published in 2013 and won a Silver award from the Association of Independent Publishers in 2014. The subject is obvious, and places it, and the rise of goddess oriented spiritual movements and our "cold civil war" in historical context.

His pen and ink artwork supported his academic research in graduate school and frequently appeared in Shaman’s Drum, and the ecological journals Wild Earth, and The Trumpeter. It now occasionally appears in this blog.


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