Amy Hale on the Third Position, Radical Traditionalism, Surrealist painter Ithell Colquhoun, the Golden Dawn, reenchantment, and the evolving fauna of the contemporary occult and pagan communities. She is the author of a new book on the English Surrealist painter and occultist Ithell Colquhoun, Ithell Colquhoun: Genius of the Fern Loved Gully, soon to be published by Strange Attractor Press and distributed by MIT Press. She holds a Ph.D. in Folklore and Mythology from UCLA and writes frequently about myth and magic, and its co-option by the Far Right.
In 2019, as the 21st century overtakes the 20th,
we see accelerating changes and transformations in sexual morality, drug policy, politics, and culture. Apocalyptic foreshadowing used to be the exclusive province of punk rockers in the 70s. Now, as climate change intensifies and Right Wing authoritarians surge in popularity, it’s the world we all live in, even those most in denial. In the 21st century weed is legal in many U.S. states; psychedelics, once the definition of self indulgent hedonistic criminality, are revolutionizing the field of psychology, and have become a hot area for investors. Behavior that was the definition of “Alpha Male” masculinity twenty years ago will get you in serious trouble today.
Among these many trends and counter-trends, magic and the occult are growing in popularity. Neo-paganism and occultism tend to be associated with counterculture Leftists and hippies. Remember the Yippies who tried to elevate the Pentagon and exorcise its evil spirits in the 1960s? It turns out these are, increasingly, areas of fascination for many on the Right Wing.
Do some research on known writers currently active in the field and you’ll find a surprising number of political reactionaries. In his youth Trump himself was groomed by Norman Vincent Peale, who promoted the power of positive thinking to overcome all obstacles, a dangerous ingredient when added to a recipe that includes the tactics of Roy Cohn. The “traditionalist” occult thinkers Julius Evola and Rene Guenon from the early 20th Century are undergoing a revival, enabling purveyors of recycled prejudices to masquerade as protectors of authentic values. The term “Radical Traditionalism” has been with us at least since the 1970s. Recently, the so-called “Third Position” has gained cachet.
“It’s just reasserting itself as a more palatable ideology that brings lefties into a hard right framework by using the rhetoric of “neither right nor left”. It’s an intellectually dishonest strategy opportunistically emerging to capture a segment of the anti-globalist, anti-corporatist zeitgeist. In my view that appeal in itself attracts people who want to be seen as independent and not bound by traditional political labels.”
The Third Position is a more sophisticated restatement of racist ideology. A new generation of white supremacists dedicated to “blood and soil” have revived Hitler’s ethos, here described by psychologist Erich Fromm:
In defense of planetary ecology, and an anti-modernist, pre-Christian cultural heritage, the Third Position subverts the entire hippie/punk concept of THE MAN as an anti-ecology, anti-freedom, racist, misogynist, guardian of the status quo. The flag of cool, in the possession of progressives since the 1950s, has been captured by the Far Right. A growing number of people – the inexperienced and the fed up – reject the beat-hippie-punk-grunge-raver-burner Progressive rebel ethos as a corrupt 20th century hangover. They find ideologies like the Third Position to be rebellious and cool.
One area of good news is that pagan and occult communities on the Left are also evolving. Beyond the explosion of feminist witchcraft, and millennial astrologers and tarot readers, on Instagram, and the surprising inclusion of a presidential candidate overt about her beliefs regarding dark energy, there are new movements of resistance rooted in occult ideas and practices such as Horse Hospital’s “The Night of Magical Resistance,” Extinction Rebellion, and the increasing popularity of synchromysticism among Progressives.
Amy is co-chair of the Contemporary Pagan Studies Section of the American Academy of Religion (AAR). She sits on the editorial boards of the Black Mirror Research Network (Arts University Bournemouth), Correspondences Journal (Western Esoteric Studies), and is a past editor of The Journal of the Academic Study of Magic. Her areas of interest include “modern Druidry, Cornish ethnonationalism, Pagan religious tourism, color theory, the occult, and extremist politics in modern Paganism.”