The Magicial Revival and Right Wing Paganism

An Interview With Amy Hale

  1. What things excite you and/or concern you about new developments in Paganism and Witchcraft?

 

There are a couple of things that are concerning me about recent developments in Paganism. A lot of what we consider “religion” is influenced by Protestant conceptions of religiosity. This is certainly true in the field of Religious Studies and that field is trying to change, working to find ways of looking at indigenous and non-Christian religions that do not rely on Protestant language and frameworks. In other words, many people instinctively believe that “legitimate” religions must look a certain way, have certain institutions and foundational concepts, many of which are actually based on models established by Protestantism. I believe that American Paganism has been influenced by the rise of evangelical culture and media from the 1980s onward and in the past few decades there is more emphasis on cultivating a higher public profile for Paganism and to have it seen as “legitimate”. As a result, I feel in the US that we are seeing a bit more conformity to other religious norms. For instance, I have heard people referring to Wicca as a “faith” which would have been a very odd thing to say 30 years ago, and still would be in the UK. Within Paganism I have also been seeing an increase in orthodoxy emerging from some sectors which is worrying. There is an expectation in some quarters that you will understand deity in a very specific way, and that if you don’t, you are not really Pagan. Within Paganism there has always been a variety of ways one can have a relationship with deities ranging from hard polytheism to animism and atheism and it never mattered. It was no one else’s business. To some now, it matters a lot and any sort of prescriptive view of faith can be quite divisive.

But the flipside, and what I find exciting, is that there is a wider cultural interest in the occult and in Witchcraft that is moving away from the formalized and legitimizing tendencies that have pervaded Paganism and Wicca over the past three decades. We are seeing an interest in folk magic, and a witchcraft that is culturally diverse, creative and perhaps a bit more wild than we have seen previously. While mainstream occult publishers like Weiser and Llewellyn are still doing well, I have seen a resurgence in punk tinged DIY witchy and occult zines focusing on spell work, herbalism and creative ritual. Apothecaries are popping up in New York and Oakland, and people are learning how to work with herbs and tinctures. There is in increase in interest in astrology and even lesser known divination systems like geomancy. We are seeing more focus on magic and less focus on religiosity and religious identity. Now, there are arguments that this magical resurgence is driven by commodity and capitalism, and is more about image than substance. And while everyone might not make this a spiritual focus for life, I don’t think it’s shallow. While I reject the idea that the occult only emerges during times of crisis, I think people are definitely looking right now for ways to be empowered and to bring joy, colour and enchantment into their lives. This is mirrored by the massive upsurge in film and television about witches and magic. People want to see stories that suggest that the universe has much more to it than we see, and that maybe we can be a part of something bigger too.

Finally, this is a really ugly time to be slogging through this world. We seem to be continually inundated with shocking images and stories of abuse and corruption. The climate crisis is a staggering problem, and I suspect most of us just don’t know how to contribute materially to meaningful change. The magical turn we are experiencing at the moment has the potential to empower us and add beauty and a sense of connection that we are hungry for. I keep returning to the tagline of David Southwell’s amazing fictional online creation Hookland. Southwell has created a fictional British village which he reveals bit by bit on Twitter. He uses the tropes of magical British landscapes, hauntology and folklore to bring to life an eerily enchanted place from another reality. Definitely worth checking out! Anyway…the tagline for the Hookland Twitter feed is “Reenchantment is resistance”, and I embrace that every single day. Don’t submit to alienation or the grey forces that are served when our spirits are crushed. We need to grab magic and beauty with both hands and refuse to surrender it.

2. What is the Third Position? And how do Progressives respond when confronted with a 21st century right that preaches environmentalism, and which justifies racism as preserving diversity?

Third Positionists define themselves as being both anti-Capitalist and anti-Communist; and although they present themselves as being neither right nor left, they normally float around the ultra-nationalist and fascist end of the political spectrum. Movements which could technically be described as Third Positionist have been around since the 1930s serving as a critique of both state-run communism and capitalism. In the late 1970s the Italian Terza Posizione (Italian for “third position”) and later the International Third Position, emerged in both Europe and the US as an alternative right wing voice that was both populist and ultra-nationalist in addition to being anti-corporate. These organizations were strongly influenced by the European New Right, which started in 1968 in France as a response to the leftist protests of that year, and the writings of Julius Evola. Third Positionists are against imperialism and globalization. They advocate small racially homogeneous ethnopolities, which they sometimes couch in terms of bioregionalism.  You can see why their position could confuse some anti-capitalists on the Left who also advocate for bioregionalist policies and a reduced used of technology.

I think a lot of Progressives are genuinely unaware of this ideological complex which is promoted by segments of the radical right. In America, Progressives tend to view the Far Right as mostly made up of Confederate flag waving thugs, or more recently polo wearing Alt Right thugs. The areas of ideological crossover between the far left and the radical right are just not well known by many people, and this lack of awareness provides opportunities for the radical right to infiltrate left wing spaces with a shared interest in environmentalism, bioregionalism, or anti corporate activism.  I am certain most Progressives have no idea how the concept of “diversity” is being spun as “separatist”, but we need to do a better job of understanding the underlying structures of thought and rhetoric these folks are using so we can dismantle this dangerous ideology before it grows too powerful.

3. What is the origin of the Radical Traditionalism political movement in the pagan and occult worlds? How does it relate to the rising popularity among right wing occultists of writers like Evola?   

“Radical Traditionalism” may refer to two distinct movements, and this causes some confusion.  One usage refers to a movement within conservative Catholicism. But more relevant to this discussion is the more distinctly Pagan-friendly radical right-wing movement. The term was coined by British earth mysteries pioneer John Michell in the 1970s. It has since been appropriated by activists to promote the agenda of the European New Right within a Pagan milieu.

Radical Traditionalists characterize themselves as anti-modernist, anti-materialist, anti-corporate and desiring to return to ethnically homogeneous tribes found in Europe prior to the spread of Christianity. That last bit is code for anti-multicultural and generally white nationalist. The movement is associated with an interest in the works of 20th century Italian occultist Julius Evola, who was considered even too right wing for Mussolini’s Italian fascism in the 1930s.  Evola believed in a spiritual caste system and longed for a race of perfected male warriors. He had no time for populism. Evola was both a mystic and very politically active, he created a body of esoteric work including books on Tantra, hermeticism, sex magic and yoga which have been of interest to some occultists for decades when there was little being published about Tantra or sex magic, but not far under the surface of these texts were other views promoting authoritarian rule, serious misogyny, hyper masculinity, and cultural hierarchies. Like many on the right-wing spectrum of the early 20th century, Evola believed that the West was in a state of decline and rallied for a return to spiritually driven, anti-materialist, pre-modern societies where everyone knew their place. Although his books have been around for decades, his occult works are gaining in popularity now because they provide a convenient gateway for politically oriented publishers in the past decade to present a wider range of his thought in a more radical right context.  Despite Evola’s anti-populist stance, his views are attractive to anti-modernists who feel as though modern life is spiritually bankrupt and that traditional social orders have broken down.

4. To an outside observer it seems like much of the political fervor in the world of occultists and metaphysical authors is on the right. Is there a similar intensity on the left?

It may look that way because the fight is loud, organized and really strategic in terms of institution building. But there is a whole bunch of vibrant leftist activity emerging in occult and Pagan communities. In a June 10th article, the New York Times outlined some of the more high profile progressive magical responses to the right. People are taking action in a variety of ways, big and small.  We see organized magical projects such as the Bind Trump efforts, and the anti-capitalist, polytheism driven project of the blogging and activism website Gods and Radicals. But I think the most exciting leftist forms of magical resistance are not coming from within the established Pagan and polytheist cultures. The emerging “New Witchcraft” is explicitly intersectional, diverse, and feminist, and I think it is really hitting something in the popular imagination about the role of agency on the margins, where witchcraft has always lived. The explicit political tactics of the New Witchcraft are varied and I wouldn’t say that they use a single approach. Some, inspired by W.I.T.C.H., the late 1960s protest theater group Women’s International Terrorist Conspiracy from Hell, become involved in street protests.  Others quietly hex. Primarily, however, I believe that New Witches are more concerned with social justice, diversity and inclusion.

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