I Apologize In Advance: Anarchism, the Occult, and Identity Politics
From Gods and Radicals
I apologize in advance.
I know there are two ways to read this article and two very different types of people who will respond to it. One’s going to get it and the other is going to hang me from the rafters. Still, you’re better than them, so it’s at least worth saying to you. You’ll see what I mean by the end of this. Maybe. Something’s been on my mind lately, I figure I’d talk to you about it.
The way I see it the practice of magic is not without its uncertainties; much like writing each word is an approximation, a labored attempt to capture lightning in a bottle. Each holy name uttered or limerick rhymed is a weaving of inherent meaning and personal symbol, our attempts to direct a choir of multifaceted forces and intelligences into a coherent whole reflecting our will. It’s in these attempts to swipe the Logos for one’s own words that we can end up being misunderstood. The occult abounds in legends of misheard desires and manifestations not exactly to our liking, baby wizards warned to be perfectly clear and succinct in what they want when speaking to the spirits; we may all want to have more money in our bank account but nobody wants to gain it by having a leg blown off and collecting disability.
It’s perhaps this very desire for clarity, a diminishing of the ambiguous for the sake of “purity” that has moved Occultism towards dogmatic thinking and strangled revolutionary thinking in the US. I lay the blame on the feet of Identity.
I see the look on your face, the consternation lurching as you clear your throat. Let me explain myself.
I had recently been back with the folks over at Free Radical Media for another interview, another great romp drifting easily from politics to metaphysics, our conversation becoming an effortless blending of the seen and unseen. There was Eric Scott Pickard, a dread-locked reporter, poet, and Chaos Magician and his co-host Patrick, a young man who if memory serves me correctly was waist deep in an adventure of his own, wandering the moonlit streets of Asheville pondering the nature of alchemy and Anarchism. We were all writers, all journalists, and of course all wizards to some extent, folk of wide knowledge and weird opinion. Nothing was off topic, nor any real course charted, a shared thirst for knowledge dissolving the barriers of the sacred and the mundane.
Maybe it was in that freedom of thought that drew our minds back to the guard shacks of mental borders.
Coming from different traditions of occult technique Eric wanted my thoughts on a touchy subject that’d he’d discussed previously with fellow Disinfonaut Thad McCracken. “He’s of the opinion that the Occult, especially in this country, has become extremely atrophied and dogmatic, even within circles of…” Eric seemed to trail off, a lighter in the background flicking, “…even in chaos magic…people are shouting people down, ‘this isn’t the right way to do this,’ ‘there’s only this way,’ ‘you can’t mix and match.'” After lighting a cigarette he added that it didn’t seem this new dogmatic line of thinking was coming from practitioners themselves but appeared to be centered in the communities they either built or those that sprang up around them. What were my thoughts?
When I first started writing for Gods & Radicals I had an idea of what I was getting into, at least I thought I did. Coming from the world of Hoodoo I knew the feelings towards gods and goddesses would be a bit different and politically most pagans I met voted Democrat and seemed uncomfortable with the thought of stringing up Wall Street execs from lampposts. I knew I was interacting with a whole new community and an entirely different world than what I was used to. I expected some resistance, maybe some challenges on the Saints or even the “morality” of hexing and jinxing.
I was correct in my assumption that I would end of receiving quite of bit of resistance. What I didn’t expect was the kind of resistance.
My first landmark piece, a scathing and judiciously researched expose’ of the intersection between Capitalism and Materialist Science, was criticized as “bordering on anti-women violence” not for any of the material in the essay, but because I had merely used the word “whore” in the title. People literally refused to read it. I was flabbergasted yet it was only the beginning. I’ve been called a “Manarchist,” and even been told that on top of being a “culturally appropriative title-forger” for practicing Hoodoo, that I desired the “wrong kind of Anarchism.” It was not my content, my self, but the meaning of me to others that mattered.
Then again, I’d always been on the outside.
Whether laughing at newly minted Witch Queens informing the world that the Three Rhedes were real or spitting on certain authors claiming that “truly potent” divination only occurs on Wednesday, my Occult career has always shaken the norm. It was only after really interacting with Western traditions that I began to see responses like the one I got from an individual who, after mentioning I wrote for the same website as Thad, told me to pass along a message:
“You tell Thad to fuck off, and that Chaos Magic never needed him anyway!”
I do not mention these things to lament the attention of a few critics. Bisogna che si levi di buon’ora chi desidera piacere a tutti. The reason I mention them is that something strange is indeed happening, and it’s not necessarily political in nature. So I’ll speak to you today from a place of radical subjectivity, as a real person, in a place beyond ideology. Let us sit in the grass.
Confronting the Echo Chamber
It’s a behavior seen in street fights, sports riots, and increasingly amongst the magically inclined: across the internet people rally around favorite individuals to hear what magic, paganism, or politics are supposed to be and spend the rest of the time eviscerating any who deviate from the revealed wisdom of the Holy One. I can’t tell you how many times Berner’s attempted to rip me to shreds as I tried to warn them they were doomed to fail; gods help you if you advocate some spellcraft that isn’t found in one of Hyatt’s or Crowley’s books. Politics and the Occult act the same way in the head: a belief system draped over the world like a blanket, pre-fabbed points on a map to co-ordinate from. There’s nothing wrong with earth-shattering views that become part of our core identity, but as we increasingly rely on that one point on the map, that one theory, that one source of information to be our entire key into the world we begin to run into problems. The more inoculated the group is into one point of view, the more distant they become from reality.
In a Harvard study it was found “group cohesion, satisfaction, and motivation were not found to be predictors of collective intelligence or success” but rather “groups where a few people dominated the conversation had less collective intelligence than groups in which many members took turns talking.”
A few people dominating the conversation is the central thrust in what many call identity politics. But what few seem to talk about is how crowds, sites and groups that strongly identify with this attempt at liberation are guilty of the same behavior they seek to destroy.
Take for instance Tumblr. “The Tumblr community, like most online communities has an echelon of posters who dominate the collective voice of the community. Because of their social weight, it is easier for them to set the tone of the group as a whole….The people I follow on my personal Tumblr are people that are like me. They, for the most part share my ethics, interests, even political leanings and I purposely filter out Tumblr’s who don’t. In some ways, the people I communicate with on the platform are simply a reflection me.”
But they aren’t you and never can be; it’s not a reflection of the Real you, the unutterable you, the Unique you that defies explanation. What’s actually occurring is the slow summoning of another being, an egregore, a symbol or collection of symbols you come to recognize as you. You stare into the mirror and see minor pieces of you (favored brands, styles, and political ideologies) as the totality of your being.
This is the exact same behavior perpetuated by racist and sexist movements merely done in reverse. The real human beings involved in all this are sacrificed on altars belonging to Cults of the Ideal, sovereign churches where “REAL heathens/witches/polytheists or liberals/marxists/progressives do/wear/think/say THIS.”
Nietzsche’s warning rings all the more dire:
“Beware that, when fighting monsters, you yourself do not become a monster… for when you gaze long into the abyss. The abyss gazes also into you.”
This bears repeating: it’s not self-identification that’s the problem. It’s all good and well if you’re a gender-fluid otherkin and you should be free to live as such, really. I will gnaw, rend, claw, and howl to make sure you have that ability. If you want to be all about one miniscule aspect of your greater being go right ahead. But when you start defining the roles of others, start projecting that behavior and forcing those you meet into your pre-defined boxes, you become my enemy.
My Identity Can Beat Up Your Identity
Identity politics has yet to “liberate” anything other than a few college campuses, yet its vitriol and cannibalistic behavior is world renowned. Recall what happened to members of Bash Back!, an insurrectionist queer current that attempted to raise hell at the 2008 Republican Convention:
“Members of the Welcoming Committee (the aboveground anarchist organizing body for the protests) publicly referred to the planned Bash Back! blockade as ‘fluffy’ compared to the presumed militancy of the hetero-barricades. This was in spite of the fact that all propaganda for the Bash Back! blockade leading up to the convention made explicit reference to historic queer riots, and to the intention of Bash Back! folks to fiercely resist the Republicans and the police….
“The blockade went on to clash with horse cops and to attack members of the Westboro Baptist Church. The blockade gained but a single mention in an entire issue of Rolling Thunder (CrimethInc’s magazine) that was dedicated to resistance to the RNC…In their magazine-length coverage of the rioting at the G20 protests in Pittsburgh, they describe the march for queer liberation (which went on to be the wildest and most destructive at the summit) as “bash-back-themed”, their only acknowledgment of the riot’s queer content. That is to say, queer struggle was a token slogan for rioters, rather than the elan of the riot.“
Identity becomes a coat you never wanted to wear sown by people you’ve never met. Queer insurrectionists become “fluffy” and non-threatening to straight comrades, riotous individuals seething with anger merely put behind the mental shorthand of “non-threatening gay person.” Because their actions did not fit the desired narrative they were ignored.
Isn’t this what we’re trying to avoid? The silence of voices? The Individual was sacrificed for the image, the ideal. They were transformed, by force, into something else.
This is the same behavior of our enemies!
The Prussian-esque defining of groups and identity should be an anathema to revolutionary politics and normally it is whenever some fascist calls for defending his “race,” his “people,” or his “nation.” We all are quick to remind such an idiot that these things are constructs, immaterial spooks rolling around in his head. Yet when the same behavior rolls out of the mouth of “progressive” forces or some “educated and reformed ally” we fall under a spell. We seem unwilling to attack the same abuse in this new form with the same ferocity.
We’d all agree women being excluded from male spaces is terrible, ungodly oppression, yet we only hear a few coughs and the shuffle of feet when “female-positive” organizations lead authoritarian attempts to exclude Trans practitioners. The funny thing is you’ll hear even less of a peep when Trans folks do the same thing to Drag Queens. Free Pride Glasgow quietly removed Drag performers from their event because “It was felt by the group within the Trans/Non Binary Caucus that some drag performance, particularly cis drag, hinges on the social view of gender and making it into a joke; however transgender individuals do not feel as though their gender identity is a joke.”
The acts were removed for they might “disempower” Trans Folks, one blogger applauding the act, and claiming any outrage was due to the event “decentering cis men, by declining to feature an art form which is dominated by them. Their crime is placing the comfort, concerns, and safety of the trans community at a higher priority than making space for cis men to perform.”
And they say I paint with a broad stroke! Did anybody ask the performer’s how they felt about their gender or were we just going off of a narrative we’d been fed?
Jerick Hoffer (Jinkx Monsoon) suffered under similar conditions when trans activists said that he didn’t have a place to discuss issues regarding “offensiveness” as a “cisgendered male.”
“That really upset me….I in no way consider myself as a cisgendered male. I think the closest thing I would refer to myself as is transgendered or nongendered.” Even out of drag, he explains, “I really don’t consider myself a man or a woman. I just kind of float in between and that’s how I’ve always felt.”
Mark Daniel Snyder, an individual who identifies as genderqueer feels the same. “I’ve been assumed and called cisgender and it hurts because it erases. It assumes I want to identify with manhood, which I don’t.”
In these instances entire sections of human beings, The Real, have been de-humanized and turned into mental abstractions to be excluded at will for the sake of group identity. Aristo Orginos in “Social Justice Bullies: The Authoritarianism of Millennial Social Justice” noticed
“with such a strong narrative that focuses on which group one belongs to, there has been an increasing balkanization of identities. In an attempt to be open-minded toward other groups and to address social justice issues through a lens of intersectionality, clear and distinct lines have been drawn between people. One’s words and actions are inextricable from one’s identities. For example: this is not an article, but an article written by a straight, white, middle-class (etc.) male.”
It is the same behavior so often seen on the Right yet it goes unchallenged: the ludicrous idea that Black folks are “inherently violent” is openly scorned and laughed at, yet would-be revolutionary men get reminded they are Schrodinger’s Rapist until proven otherwise.
Excuse me if I speak bluntly, but how in the fuck is this okay?
When it is one’s identity (chosen or not) that becomes the sole signifier of the Unique individual–and how the world appears to her–we firmly cross a dark and polluted stream from liberation to oppression as is now widely seen:
“All transsexuals rape women’s bodies by reducing the real female form to an artifact, appropriating this body for themselves…Transsexuals merely cut off the most obvious means of invading women, so that they seem non-invasive.” (Link)
“Apart from the conspicuous presence of feminists, faux-anarchists, marxists, jews, people of “color” (brown?), homosexuals, and self-hating White beta males amongst them, the thing that is most amusing about so-called anti-racist Heathens is the inherent hypocrisy of their comments on our pre-christian forebears in relation to the issues of racialism and politics….In reality they are nothing but a bunch of secular christians who have turned “God” into a woman, replaced misogyny with misandry, and who adhere to a modern “progressive” morality and worldview.” (Link)
“I believe we must remove men from the community and place them in their own specific sections of society, akin to subsidised or state-funded reservations, so they can be redefined. We can make not only men safer, but women as well. By subsidising said reservations through the state we can provide men with activities, healthcare, entertainment, shelter, protection, and everything that one could ever require in life. This will remove conventional inequality from society. By reducing the number of men to 10 percent of the total population, their socio-biovalue will be raised.” (Link)
From Weakness to Will to Power
The guards at Auschewitz and Kolyma both oversaw massive amounts of human suffering, yet were unmoved precisely because the people they imprisoned were no longer people, they were merely “jews,” “enemies of the revolution,” “gypsies,” mere living vessels for the symbol they portrayed in the minds of their captors. What’s not as well known is how the identities handed to prisoners by the camps often caused them same thing to happen between prisoners. A “Green” in Auschewitz would never risk losing his privileges by being seen with a “Red,” just as a Red would never risk the social scorn of talking with a “Pink.”
When the identities we project onto others mean more than the actual Real people they represent, including the struggles we share, we have planted our flag firmly in idiocy and fascist territory, regardless of what you may choose to call it. Social Activists who remain in echo chambers like Twitter or Tumblr are objects of scorn because they are so wrapped up in identity they can’t see the forest for the trees. They are the liberal twins of Republicans who only watch Fox News endlessly having their opinions reinforced. Data points get shrunk to talking points; dialogues and personalities are lost to the symbols we decide they represent.
With how ferociously identity politics is fought you’d think it was the final key to global liberation, that in this mess there was at least something worthwhile to be found. The reality is far less exciting: rather than gaining we end up losing something when we surrender part of ourselves to a group identity, no matter how “liberating.” Natasha Maria Phoenix, a fellow Occultist, laments the role this has played in modern Feminism.
“If self looks to self as sovereign authority, then it is she who makes decisions, not the never ending line of external entities looking to take on the mantle of decision-maker. One may think of liberalism, secular free thought, the narration of contributing to man’s collective knowledge, and other similar Enlightenment ideals which continue to this day though costumed in heavily commercialized and herd-like branding. Indeed, Max Stirner made such a point. Even the strain of ‘free thought humanism’ or what some call ‘progressivism’ today is still an intangible ‘spook’ that is all too ready to take on the role of arbiter….
“Outsourcing to trending groupthink such as ‘progressivism’ and various other socio-political trends is antithetic to autonomy. If one declares themselves a feminist, one who has disregarded the yokes of external authority concerning women (religion, tradition, patriarchy, consumerism, etc.) commits an error if they soon after don the yoke of yet another socio-political authority, be it groupthink or hive-minded political movements, no matter their use of rhetoric claiming free thought or diversity.”
The Queer Insurrectionists of Bash Back! saw even less revolutionary potential in identity politics:
” Identity Politics promote cross-class alliances, thus offering those with more power (and thus an interest in the proliferation of class society) to silence the most marginalized within these alliances.
Identity Politics are rooted in the ideology of victimization, and thus celebrate and comes to enforce norms surrounding what activity people are allowed or able to participate in. This plays out by reinforcing certain mythologies about struggle (i.e. “only cis-white-men participate in black blocs or “oppressed people are incapable of certain strategies of revolt”)….A queer in prison has more in common with their straight cellmate than with some scumbag gay senator, and yet the mythology of the “queer community” serves to suffocate enemies of society and subjugate them to their self-appointed representatives.
Identity Politics are fundamentally reformist and seek to find a more favorable relationship between different subject positions rather than to abolish the structures that produce those positions from the beginning. Identity politicians oppose “classism” while being content to leave class society intact. Any resistance to society must foreground the destruction of the subjectifying processes that reproduce society daily, and must destroy the institutions and practices that racialize and engender bodies within the social order.”
I think back to Eric’s question, as I often have, as to what kept Hoodoo squabbles out of the same acidic realm the American Left and Western Occult scenes have fallen into.
I think it’s the fluidness of our identity.
All agree Hoodoo comes from the African-American community and from the South, that it has certain techniques and a metaphysical language all its own. After that, it’s wide open. Black and white; male, female, and everything in-between, the Power, a syncretic blend of multicultural influences, was open to all. No initiation, no lineage, meant anything. What mattered was what you could do. The Man at The Crossroads would hear all prayers, and if you were willing to pay the price his gifts were given to all. Good, bad, we learned these things were concepts determined after the fact by people who had no hands in the situation itself. The only limit on yourself was what you could get away with.
Hoodoo flowed like water into the hands of the willing, poor whites borrowing what they could just as easily as they had traditionally African crops. No matter the color of your skin you listened to the wise, and picked up tricks you knew to work. Priestesses and Grannies were given wide-berth by plantation owners, not out of concern for a “safe space” but because these woman refused to be chained to what black folks “should do” and had they power to create their own destiny.
Authenticity was based on experience, on lives lived. In those ancient days slaves saw in Native American herbalism knowledge worth valuing, not an opposing culture that threatened them. European grimoires were not seen as “Eurocentric” colonialism but as a means to an end. This syncreticism has blossomed beautifully: if some polytheist told a Rootwoman she didn’t have “the right” to talk about black struggles because she was white the result would be whooping laughter; no serious practitioner of any ethnicity would pretend that black folks haven’t endured unique and terrible outrages upon their people as a whole or that each of us don’t owe a special debt to those struggles today. Identity in Hoodoo is flavor and substance, not diktat and dogma. It’s an aspect of our practice that we never forget yet never forces us to be anything.
Hoodoo is an African-American practice open to all if they have the cunning and the power. It has retained this identity because it doesn’t beg anyone to “allow it” to be. It does not need to be coddled or protected. It is rudely, loudly, and joyously black. Nobody has the power to make it otherwise because it refuses to give the power of its Own-ness to anybody else.
Power, maybe that’s what this is all about. Power and the lack of it.
You see rootworkers (at least the ones I knew of) always had an identity that revolved around power: how much they had and how they used it. Often under the radar of whites and at odds with the law Conjure Doctors knew the only “right” that existed was to be what their strength allowed them to be. This active position sees good in itself, ones own-ness, not in the determinations of others, and allowed woman like mixed-race Marie Laveau to rise to prominence in New Orleans. These two-headed folk refused to be bound, did what they wanted, and won radical freedoms for themselves.
Compare that to the Cult of Victimization so endemic to the Left today.
“Here differentiates the reactive and active,” continues Natasha. “The reactive is one who rages against the Other, demanding emancipation, condemning the Other as the oppressor, the violator, leaving oneself as the morally good and downtrodden. ‘Those whom reign, whom have a position of power, they are the bad, and thus that makes me the good.’ There is little power of ones own in the reactive position, indeed any power that is acquired is through the negative, via deflecting from the active. Stirner Egoism is concerned with the active, which Stirner refers to as Ownness or Self-Enjoyment. It is not the crusade for freedom or social justice. Instead, it is the focus upon ones ownness, ones own unique intrinsic power and autonomy…
There are tangible situations in which a person is indeed a victim of an injustice, be it mild or severe. Be the injustice real or imagined is another argument entirely. What must be eradicated is the constant victim mindstate which is inherently and relentlessly reactive to the Other. Whether it be words, actions, or images; the reactive victim state is perpetual, is always the persecuted, is always the ‘good’ based purely on the fact that they are the downtrodden. The definition of self is defined based upon the latest whims of the Other; be it called patriarchy, capitalism, systematic sexism, or whatever it be labeled….An individual who is at the whim of the rhetorically aggressive has freely given away their power and autonomy.”
Rupaul, a native to the home state of the legendary Minerva, agrees and naturally sees this extend to gender.
“We do not stand on ceremony, and we do not take words seriously. We do take feelings seriously and intention seriously, and the intention is not to be hateful at all. But if you are trigger-happy and you’re looking for a reason to reinforce your own victimhood, your own perception of yourself as a victim, you’ll look for anything that will reinforce that….
“We mock identity. They take identity very seriously. So it’s the complete opposite ends of the scale. To a layperson, it seems very similar, but it’s really not… Some people take identity very seriously. I don’t. I choose to laugh at identity and play with it.”
Harper Jean Tobin, Director of Policy for the National Center for Transgender Equality, recently addressed this point in her speech at the Philadelphia Trans-Health Conference
“We need to ensure that our movement, and the progress we’re making, really reflects and includes all of us. That means, among other things, that those of us whose identities do not fit in a gender binary are not ignored or pushed to the sidelines by those of us who do….There is also a fear, I think, on the part of some trans men and women that even acknowledging the existence of non-binary identities will threaten our right to be recognized as the men and women we are. We must resist the fear that there is not enough dignity and justice to go around.”
Anyone whose done invocation or been under possession should have no illusions about identity. We exist not as solid cores of this or that but floating systems of thoughts and beliefs, a nest of wills, drives, hopes, and dreams coming together day by day. Our souls, our personalities, can easily be switched on or off as something very different slides into our skin. Ritual by ritual our minds and spirits move, sometimes becoming so different they shock or scare us. This lifetime, culture, or identity you so cherish is nothing more than the newest layer on a soul that may be older than the planet. To take an identity as a zero-sum measure of yourself is ultimately limiting, especially when focused on exclusion in the name of “safety.”
While useful, identities are merely Apollonian illusions, ludic self-created fictions that can serve a valuable purpose as long as we remember we ultimately summon them out of collective thin air.
Remember those two “types of people” and “reactions” to this article I mentioned? Did you find yourself measuring your thoughts, your opinions, against this immaterial “other?” Did you find yourself trying to guess just how you should feel about what I’ve said? In reality there is a host of ways to react and an innumerable amount of diverse spirits that will do so. By forcing you into a binary choice how many of you ended up censoring your thoughts or, even worse, trying to figure out who you were supposed to be?
As long as the question of identity remains at the forefront of radical politics talk of “revolution” will remain nothing but piss in the wind. As long as we remain obsessed with the question of what our esoteric traditions are instead of how they work we will watch school after school slowly slump towards ossification, just like the Golden Dawn and OTO did. Magic exists in-between the cracks of the world, dancing freely between probability and fate. The moment it stops moving, entropy sets in.
We should treat our souls the same, refusing to allow the spark stolen from the unknowable Penumbra to be prodded and poked by the flesh it temporarily resides in. We are unnameable, unmanageable, we defy every explanation and limitation because these things are merely abstractions–whereas we are very real.
“The Nationals are in the right; one cannot deny his nationality: and the humanitarians are in the right; one must not remain in the narrowness of the national. In uniqueness [Einzigkeit] the contradiction is solved…I am not swallowed up in my quality — as the human too is my quality, but I give to man his existence first through my uniqueness.” – Max Stirner
Revolutionary politics has come so far, broken so many shells of being, only to seem hopelessly entranced by the identities given to the oppressed by their oppressors. Our occult work has only made it more clear that like candles soaked in oil and wrapped in words of power we are more than the sum of our parts. We are magic spells in action, prayers spoken mid sentence. Rather than lament the past, rather than become what we say they are, we must truly begin to make ourselves.
Dr. Bones is a 9 year practitioner of the Southern occult tradition known as Conjure, Rootwork, and Hoodoo. A skilled card-reader and Spiritworker, Dr. Bones has undertaken all aspects of the work, both benevolent and malefic. Politically he holds the Anarchist line that “Individuality can only flourish where equality of access to the conditions of existence is the social reality. This equality of access is Communism.” He resides in the insane State of Florida with his loving wife, a herd of cats, and a house full of spirits.
He can be reached at The Conjure House, through facebook, and writes for Gods & Radicals and Disinfo.