Pagan and Polytheist Monasticism (and me?)

I recently discovered that there is a network of people who identify themselves as Pagan and Polytheist Monastics. It has forced me to confront some things within myself. I have to admit that on one level, there is an appeal to an ascetic religious life, while at the same time, there would be certain sacrifices I couldn’t contemplate and many complications in my current life that would entirely prevent me from making some of these life changes.


Let me back up a little bit. My sister is a member of the Discalced Carmelite order, which is a contemplative order within the Roman Catholic Church. She lives in a monastery with a small community of women (it has varied roughly between 8 and 15 while she has been there. Structurally, it is not meant to be much more than 20 at that location.)

When she joined this order, it was a huge shock to our family. She was a college graduate with a successful career who had lived independently for years. We all knew she had become increasingly religious, and it wasn’t even a great surprise that she was considering becoming a nun. It was the specifics of her adoption of a monastic, contemplative life that was a bit surprising.

When joining a Discalced Carmelite community, she renounced the outside world, and to a large extent, that also included our family. Through various levels of initiation she becomes engaged to, and then marries Christ. She does not leave the house/compound. We, as family members, can visit her, although only at pre-approved times, and the public rooms are always separated from the monastic rooms by bars. She is always on the inside and you are always on the outside.

She does not own anything personally, and is discouraged from keeping personal mementos. All resources belong to the community, including anything we may give to her with a personal meaning. The community is supported entirely by donations – of money as well as time, effort, and various goods. Repairs, yard work, and medical care are donated. Food is sent. They are well taken care of by an army of donors, volunteers and well-wishers.

She wears an outfit that fully covers her body except for her hands and face. I do not even know such simple facts about her as, for example, if her hair has turned gray. She did not take a vow of silence, but they practice silence for much of their day. They are focused on prayer.

Of course, the vows of chastity and obedience are also a part of the package. And she does not leave, with the occasional exception of trips for medical or order-related business matters. She does not visit family, not even for weddings, baptisms, or funerals. This is part of her vow.

Although I was the member of the family whose religious outlook had moved farthest away from our family’s Roman Catholic upbringing, I was the least upset by my sister’s choice. I supported her decision to follow her path, even if it led to some unconventional choices. And frankly, the decision must have worked for her. The monastery is not an environment where “faking it” works, and she has been there for over 25 years.

Her devotion to the Christian God is not my path. Her belief in the salvation and afterlife it promises is not my belief.


But when she was living as a young professional woman in late 20th century American materialistic consumerist culture, virtually every moment was a struggle to live according to her values and spirituality.

This is where I start to feel her tension, her urge to step away from the lives we live. We are bombarded with messages about what to buy and what to wear, how to pick up the newest gadget promising to be faster and more convenient. We’re constantly urged to sign up for this “game changer” service (as if we’re all somehow playing the same game). We hear about hot vacation spots and TV shows we need to be watching.

Meanwhile, finding space for deep thinking seems harder to find. We collect online “friends” but struggle to make true personal connections. No one thinks about the implications of our constant purchases of new gadgets and time-saving services. Compassion is a rare commodity. Insight seems hard to grasp. Wisdom will probably be no more than the brand name of an expensive organic juice that you buy in a plastic carton at the grocery store as of next week.

Although my tradition and beliefs are more “world embracing” than traditional Christianity, less prone to see humans as sinful, more accepting of a variety of spiritual paths, I completely understand the appeal of unplugging from the consumerist world and withdrawing into a community based on prayer, meditation, and mutual support.

But Pagan and Polytheist traditions don’t have such places to plug back in, like the Catholic Church does. The institutions that we have are fairly ad hoc and unstable. There’s no continuity to create an “order” like the Discalced Carmelites and nowhere for people to find those who would help others to create such institutions. Sure, maybe you could try to crowdfund something, but Pagans are rather infamously bad about giving money to support their religious communities.

I know that the Christian monastic traditions, starting with St. Benedict, were very much influenced by the Pagan Stoics of the ancient Greek and Roman world. That said, none of those earlier institutions or the social structures that supported them survived.

The desire to “unplug” and get away from the noise, greed, and distraction of our current culture is something more closely associated with the Hippy movement and communes of the 1960’s and 1970’s. Unhappily, few of those ideological movements and communities have had staying power.


I know Pagan intentional communities (the currently-favored terminology for such places) do exist, but they are hard to find, and I don’t have any sense of how many are well established communities versus being simply aspirational experiments. I have tried to research such places with very little luck, and I would love to learn more about them. In any case, Paganism and Polytheism are diverse movements and communities, so there would be no guarantee that any such community would be compatible with my own path. I am fascinated by this idea, though, and I may even find myself daydreaming a bit about living a simple life devoted to spiritual pursuit. For the moment, it doesn’t feel like it could be much more than that.

Ecstasis Event October 8th – Brotherhood of the Phoenix

In the cosmology of the Brotherhood of the Phoenix, we are in the season of the Divine Androgyne. I think the Androgyne has many things to teach us about accepting parts of ourselves and finding a way to keep a dynamic balance, particularly in times of change.

Ecstasis is our celebration of the Androgyne, and it is open to people of all genders and sexual identities (ages 18 and over). Because it is open to everyone, we typically get a nice crowd, filled with our friends and supporters. I would like to welcome you, too. It is the evening of October 8th, at a location just west of Chicago’s Loop. We will have a ritual followed by a potluck. Find more details at one of the links below.

Facebook Event Page

Event information on the Brotherhood of the Phoenix website

Is “Hospitality” Enough For An Anti-Racist Framework?

Let me start with an admission. With all the back-and-forth that Heathens have been having about racism, tribalism, folkishness, etc. I am so glad that I have never been called to a path in Heathenry/Asatru/Northern Traditions. It’s not my intention to offend those who are called to these paths, but I’m sure many will be offended, at least in part because outrage seems to be the default mode of online discourse in many of these communities.

I feel like Heathens have a certain stigma to accommodate, even if they aren’t white supremacist, even if they adhere to the more “universalist” interpretations of Heathenism. The fact there are so many white supremacist voices within the community is horrifying. To feel the need to put your time and energy figuring out what place, if any, these people have in your tradition – well, it has to be a drag on the whole tradition. Not only that, since people outside the Pagan and Polytheist community don’t know the difference between the various factions, it’s an embarrassment to everyone who calls themselves a Pagan and/or a Polytheist.


But let me move on to my main point here. There has been a loud and ongoing series of discussions, arguments, angry exchanges, accusations, defensive responses, (etc.) around the topic of Heathens and Racism. It has been a dominant topic within the Pagan/Polytheist online community for a while. I have already made my thoughts about this clear.

I have to make an observation for those Heathens who are striving to assert themselves as anti-racist.

Many of those who argue for an anti-racist Heathenism point to the ethic of Hospitality (which is one of the Nine Noble Virtues taught by some Heathen traditions). They argue that anti-immigrant, xenophobic rhetoric, policies, and violence are the opposite of hospitality. They argue that welcoming those who are different is a lauded virtue in the lore. That’s great. I am a believer in hospitality. I think there is much to be admired in using that spirit of generosity and hospitality as guiding principles. Another often repeated addition to this is that we should treat strangers as if they may be Gods in disguise, for there is a long tradition of just such stories.

But hospitality is dependent on a certain defined relationship. Someone is a host and someone is a guest. The host is the owner. The host belongs there. The guest is an outsider. No matter how gracious the host, the guest is always a guest, i.e. the outsider.

As Americans, we live in a land that is multi-racial and multi-cultural, as well as being open to people of different religions and immigrants from different parts of the world. All of these people are part of our country. Hospitality works fine when we are talking about welcoming people into our place of residence, and sometimes when we are talking about our small local organizations. But it breaks down when we try to apply a Heathen hospitality to a larger societal scope.

Heathens don’t “own” towns, much less states or the country. People of northern European descent don’t “own” these, either. They may own property and participate in the political process and economic life, but American values and laws guarantee that entry into these activities is not determined by race, ethnicity, or religion.

Further, everyone in this country of northern European descent is descended from an immigrant. Thinking of those Americans of northern European descent as our society’s “hosts” and people of darker skin or other religions as our society’s “guests” is a thought trap.

It’s a manifestation of the same racist thinking that assumes that a default American is a person of white race. This country obviously had people of Native American background long before the Europeans showed up. People of African descent have been on these lands for nearly as long as Europeans. Chinese people and other east Asian populations have been in this country for hundreds of years. We should not think of ourselves as a white European population with non-European guests. That never was a true way of thinking about it, and as time goes on, it is less and less representative of the reality of the American population.

So, to be honest, I don’t see how hospitality on its own can really encompass true inclusion in a multi-cultural and diverse society. Those of us who look like what our culture has told us is a default American identity – i.e. cis-gendered, able-bodied white people – need to realize that this doesn’t automatically mean the country is “ours”. The inclusion and participation of others who don’t fit that definition should not be defined by whether we are feeling generous that day. African Americans, Asian Americans, Jewish Americans, Muslim Americans – these are not our guests. They are fellow Americans, who have an equal share in our society.


Since I am not a Heathen, there will be those within those traditions who won’t even consider my voice in this conversation. But since the conversations happening within these communities reflect on the larger Pagan and Polytheist communities, I am impacted by those conversations. I hope that they can embrace a way of thinking that is more in line with full rejection of xenophobia and racism. I think that will require moving beyond an ethic based on simple hospitality.


If you are curious about the Heathen anti-racist movement, one of the most prominent groups is Heathens United Against Racism (HUAR).

Online vs Face-to-Face Community: The #mypolytheism Question

John Beckett recently voiced some doubts about the #mypolytheism website and project. There was a huge number of comments in response, mostly expressing disappointment, and sometimes anger, at John’s lack of support. As I mentioned already, I am a contributor and fan of the project. I love hearing from a variety of polytheists presenting their religious perspective in a non-judgmental platform.

John’s main criticisms were that he questioned the “no debate” format and felt like it would squelch potentially fruitful discussions. More to the point of what I want to address here, he felt that to form a community, people must come together face-to-face via groups or events. An online forum, especially one so diverse, is not going to manifest a real Polytheist community.


To address my thought on this, I have to break a convention, in a way, and talk about this blog. I have been blogging for over three years here. I think the habit of writing regularly has improved the quality of writing. I would like to think that the level of writing and thoughtfulness is on a par with most of the “Pagan blogosphere”, although I would not claim to be among the best. I have certain posts which seem to show up in search engines and get somewhat regular clicks. I occasionally catch the attention of a high profile blogger who comments or shares a particular post, which means extra clicks.

But let’s be honest, I have a low readership. As a gay pagan vegan writing reflective posts, I don’t exactly expect to be a viral sensation. But honestly, I do wonder why I am still relatively obscure within the world of pagan bloggers. For example, when The Wild Hunt does a compilation of commenters and the subject is something I write about frequently, they would never think to ask for my contribution. I am even toward the top of the list of “Fall Funders” (it’s alphabetical), so my name appears prominently on their web page. Yet, I am not on the radar.

Part of my lower profile is that I don’t court controversy. I don’t make outrageous assertions just to get clicks. I don’t write rants or screeds. I don’t jump online and respond in a heated way to something I just read. I usually think about and balance various perspectives before writing on a subject.


But to take John’s point and turn it on its head, I am beginning to suspect that a lot of people don’t pay attention to writers in the Pagan blogosphere unless they’ve physically met the blogger or seen them talk. It’s like the online presence isn’t acknowledged or deemed worthy of attention when there’s no physical presence at events.

I don’t show up at the big national conventions. I have never been to PantheaCon or Many Gods West. I have never gone to any of the major camping festivals. I haven’t even been to more regional conferences like Paganicon or ConVocation. I just have not had the time or money to play along, to “show up”. I also feel like flying across the country several times each year is not compatible with an environmentally responsible ethic.

I belong to my own local group, which is very small. Many of them do read my blog. It’s rare that the content is so tradition-specific that they would be the only ones to appreciate it. I have gone to our local Pagan Pride, and I will again. I have met some other Pagans and Polytheists in this context. I have even been on a local esoteric radio program and made presentations to local groups. I am still far from a well-known person, even within the local Pagan community.


So, sadly, unless I am overestimating the quality of or audience for my writing. I think that there’s a kind of harsh validity to John’s point. An online voice is probably an unheard voice – unless it has been backed up with some other presence, particularly a physical presence at the right events. The online Pagan community is basically a way to amplify the voices of people who already have a voice via books, public speaking or group leadership.


Judging from what I’ve read from many of the contributors to #mypolytheism, many will never have those other platforms. Many will have difficulty attending large events to get the attention of the right people. Many of them are not likely to lead groups, even at a local level. This isn’t me criticizing these contributors. This is simply meant to be an honest observation.

Can #mypolytheism be a true community that brings unheard voices to a larger audience? That is certainly a part of its aim, and I hope it can achieve that goal. We’ll have to see if it works out that way, if it can sustain this initial flush of new and unique contributions, or if it ends up sliding into being a platform for voices that are already represented in the Pagan and Polytheist online world.


Some Updates for September

It’s Pagan Pride season, and our Chicagoland celebration will be held on Sunday September 18, 2016 in Oak Park, Illinois (just west of Chicago). I wrote about last year’s celebration here, and I included a number of photos.

Brotherhood of the Phoenix will be leading the opening ritual this year, and I will be helping our spiritual leaders in that task. Leading a large public ritual, outdoors and filled with many strangers, is quite a bit different from celebrating our usual group rituals. Two years ago, I did take a role in a public ritual at Pagan Pride led by Earth Traditions, so it’s not an entirely new experience for me. I held one of the eight points of the circle around which a giant web was woven, which was a wonderful visual image. (I am in the deep background in photos 5 and 12 in this photo set.)

If you are in the area, please join us on Sunday the 18th. In addition to leading ritual, the Brotherhood will have a tent/table, so you can connect with us there.


On a separate note about my ongoing involvement with Brotherhood of the Phoenix, I was elected to the Council of Guardians at the National level for the organization, which is the organization’s governing body. I have already been involved with the Council for our Chicago Temple, but this is a new level of involvement, and as always, I am learning a great deal at each step along the way. It is an exciting time for the Brotherhood, since there is likely going to be a new temple within the next few months in a new city, which represents a significant expansion for our small and emerging order. We’re also revamping the website and going through various other interesting changes.


I love the Fall, and my garden has been very productive with tomatoes, summer squash, turnips, kale, and other goodies. Ceres is a great provider and I am in constant awe. I think the worst heat of the summer has passed (although you never can really tell). I’m looking forward to the next few months, even as I realize the country in general, and the Pagan community in particular, is in a divisive mood. Certain people’s prejudices have been on display more boldly and harshly than usual lately. I want to hear people’s perspective, but sometimes I have to unplug from the anger and, frankly, lack of compassion that I hear so often.


Enjoy the harvest season, my friends!

My Polytheism

As part of a project to present many different views of polytheism, as shown on the My Polytheism website, my contribution is here.


My Polytheism is about variety. At its heart, it’s based on a belief that no one is “in charge”, at least not in any over-arching sense. There are many powers in the world, many of which are greater than human powers. As we make our way through the world, we encounter many of these (if we are paying attention) – Gods, Goddesses, spirits, genii loci. Some are specific to places and times. Some have greater power to exist over long periods of time and great expanses of space. Human perception of them is limited. Human understanding of them is incomplete. But, if we are lucky, we are able to have some kind of communication with them.

I understand these powers to be distinct beings, therefore I embrace the term polytheist. Trying to think of them as part of some unified being seems intuitively wrong to me. Sometimes they seem to look almost human and communicate in a human way, but that may be either their effort to be relatable, or my own mind’s attempt to comprehend what I am experiencing. Sometimes they have existence that is clearly not like that of humanity.

In creating my own framework for a modern polytheism, I look to ancient Rome for inspiration, but I do not aim to slavishly recreate Roman practice.

I love that the Roman religious world was multicultural, eclectic, and pragmatic. Gods and Goddesses from various traditions were incorporated into the Roman religious landscape without any perceived contradiction. I love that at least one major strain of Roman devotion has a tradition of not using animal sacrifice (the Numa tradition).

I am fascinated by the way that Roman religion worked in multiple layers.

  • There was a home-based religion, based around the hearth and the lararium.
  • There were public temples and shrines, as well as festivals, often sponsored by wealthy individuals or groups. These could be for the benefit of a neighborhood, a full city, or on the roadside for travelers. I would love to see some of this in our modern age.
  • There was a state-sponsored religious cult*, dedicated to certain Gods, and eventually to deified Emperors. I don’t have much interest in a revival of this (and I don’t even understand how that would work in our current society).
  • At the same time, many people belonged to mystery cults* – initiatory organizations usually devoted to particular Gods and Goddesses and offering a more personal revelatory and/or ecstatic experience. These organizations had their own rules and practices.

None of these methods of devotion were contradictory. People could pick and choose their devotion (although for political reasons, there were expectations or even compulsions for the actions of public figures around the public festivals and state religious rites).

*When I use the word “cult”, it refers to a devotional tradition and it does not carry the negative connotation that it often does in modern usage.

At the same time, the Romans were deeply conservative, in the sense that they revered any practice or tradition that was seen as ancient. There was a strong cultural drive to maintain rituals, both in the broad and specific senses of the word. They were very picky about the specifics of how rituals were performed, often stopping and starting again from the beginning if something unexpected happened. They had the tendency to continue traditions long past the time when anyone had the faintest idea of their purpose or origin.

This kind of unexamined adherence to the past is not my way. In fact, if it were, I would likely still be a Catholic, perhaps even a priest of that Christian religion where I was raised. The truth is, for my family and for nearly everyone in this country, there is no unbroken line of polytheists. Any such traditions are revived (with varying degrees of guesswork involved) or created anew.

Because I believe in the reality of the Gods, Goddesses and various other spirits, I believe these new traditions can be valid and guided by divine inspiration. But going from divine inspiration to concrete ritual, texts, and institutions will always be colored by the current cultural landscape and individual personality of those involved.

And that brings me to my involvement with the Brotherhood of the Phoenix. The Brotherhood is a neopagan order for men who love men (gay, bi, trans, queer). Being neopagan, it isn’t explicitly polytheist, but my experience of the Gods of the Brotherhood is polytheistic. As part of the emergent tradition, there are eight Gods that we work with (an example of my work with them here), and I understand them as distinct deities. Not everyone in the Brotherhood does. But the training that I have gained through the Brotherhood has been formative for me, and it has effected my practices beyond the Brotherhood Gods.

The Brotherhood traditions are influenced by Western Ceremonial Magic tradition, and my sense of ritual and ecstasy, of mental preparedness for spiritual experience is formed by this. Going back to the framework of Roman religion, this is an initiatory group, with a special spiritual focus for the enrichment of its members. I include it in the broader scope of my religious life, and lately, it has been in a central place.

Finally, I want to say that my polytheism is ecstatic (or it aspires to be). I think the experience of Gods, Goddesses, and various other spirits is what makes it all meaningful. My polytheism doesn’t give commandments, it offers experiences. It may be that sense of wonder when walking in the woods on a gorgeous day or looking out over the ocean and trying to comprehend its vastness. It can be much more specific – a God talking to you, appearing in some form, giving you messages. It can be the feeling of a Goddess giving you a message that you must write down and pass along.

To me, much of the purpose of devotion is to honor and grow closer to the deities and spirits, to welcome them into our lives and value who they are, as far as we can understand it. It may even be just to express our awe and appreciation, and it may be to ask for guidance, focus our minds and hearts, or provide us peace. As long as we understand that these relationships do not work like vending machines, but rather that we are cultivating relationship, we can see the value in our practices.

Where is the Spirituality? (or Why I Stay Away From Certain Controversies)

This is supposed to be a blog about my spiritual journey, and it occurs to me that not much of what I have written just lately is quite what most people think of as spiritual. A lot of it has been social justice, cultural trends, environmentalism. These are bound up with my spiritual self, certainly, but much of what I have been writing is not specifically about Pagan spirituality.

I have started writing a number of posts on theological topics that are hot within the Pagan blogosphere just lately. There has been a good deal of argument between atheist Pagans and devotional polytheists. There’s an ongoing spat between radical left political pagans (particularly those of anarchist and Marxist leanings) and those who are more concerned with piety than politics (and seem to be eternally offended by the political types).

I even started a rant, of sorts, against Pagan and polytheist use of the term “blasphemy”. In a world where people are literally killed for things like blasphemy and apostasy, I have no interest in my community adopting these poisonous concepts.

I never completed any of these posts. It just hardly seems worth it to defend one side or another in these disputes. One of the basic ideas of the Pagan “umbrella” or “tent” is that there is no orthodoxy, i.e. required belief, to fit into the Pagan community. There is no single unifier that defines Pagan identity.

I am still a fan of the Big Tent version of Paganism (as explained by John Beckett here). It explains how I see that we come together as a community, even as we are dramatically disparate. I have always know that the paths that I follow make me a minority even within the relatively tiny community of Paganism. I am not a Wiccan. I am not a Druid. I am an initiate into an order that has a very small number of initiates. Even the Reconstructionist traditions that inspire some of my personal practice don’t have the critical mass for a local group. But I still see a value, or at least I want to see a value, in being a part of a larger Pagan community.

There are many arguments around definitional issues for specific terms and who gets to use them. In terms of the atheist vs. polytheist argument, trying to adopt both of those terms does seem like a logical contradiction, but that doesn’t mean that people of both identities can’t be called Pagans. Some traditions do have specific definitions and processes that allow people to use particular titles. These should always be understood in context, though. If your organization defines what it means to be a Priestess in your tradition, that doesn’t mean that somehow you own the word and anyone else who calls themselves a Priestess is a fraud. They’re just not a Priestess of your tradition.

And I am not about to set myself up as the arbiter of who can be called a Pagan and who cannot. I can tell you what particular titles mean within certain traditions I know, and whether you fit the qualifications (as defined by the current organizations or by traditions and text). That doesn’t mean I can claim any right to own these terms or their specific definition, and it doesn’t mean I need to rage each time I disagree with the way someone uses a term. The world is vast and varied place. It is not my job to police every claim someone makes, particularly on the internet, which is a special home for baseless claims.

So here is my spiritual goal for today:

I will work to learn my own path.
I will work to embody the spiritual virtues that will improve the world. I will deepen my relationship to my deities, my community, and those spirits who are in relationship with me.
I will continue to seek further understanding.
I will make room for those who believe and practice differently than me, but stand firm in my assertion that my perspective has a place in the larger conversation.

Riots in Milwaukee – My Native City’s Racist Heritage

I grew up in Milwaukee, on the north side, although not in the Sherman Park neighborhood where this week’s rioting happened. I haven’t lived in Milwaukee for over two decades, but I still have many connections with the city, including family and many high school friends in the area.

I am a little too young for any memory of the late 1960’s race riots, which seemed to have had an indelible mark on my parents and many adults I knew. I grew up with the idea that outward signs of racism against black people were not socially acceptable. “The N word” was not to be used, ever – not at home and certainly never in public. I attended the aggressively desegregated Milwaukee Public Schools, and I count myself very lucky in this. I went to a magnet high school located in an almost entirely African American neighborhood. The school population was slightly over half African American students. It was a wonderful place to go to school, and I will always appreciate that education for many reasons. The true diversity of the student body was a definite asset, and the ability to make friends with people from different backgrounds was a great benefit. Also, I was lucky enough to be in a choir with singers who had grown up with the marvelous tradition of choral singing in African American churches, and the rich musical culture that came with that.


But in spite of the effort in the schools, segregation ran deep in Milwaukee, and racist attitudes were common. It wasn’t until I was in high school when I began to understand some of the racial dynamics of Milwaukee real estate. Many north side neighborhoods experienced dramatic “white flight” episodes, when a few black families move into a neighborhood and racial panic-selling ensued. The plummeting property values then motivated other sellers less concerned about race, but were sensitive to a perceived impending financial disaster. The racial makeup of a neighborhood could change dramatically within a few years.

My neighborhood had a real estate agent who practiced what I now know as “steering”. I didn’t understand the dynamic at the time. It wasn’t until I thought back on it years later after getting my own salesperson’s license. If a house in our subdivision went up for sale, she simply did not show it to African American buyers. Eventually, sellers began to realize that her method often resulted in a lower sales price, and she lost her dominance.

I am sad to hear that Milwaukee is just as residentially segregated as ever – one of the most segregated cities in the country, in fact. And I am sad to hear that the program to keep the schools desegregated has been entirely reversed. The schools are more of a reflection of the neighborhoods, and therefore segregation and disparities are the rule.


In addition to these dynamics, I remember a certain narrative often repeated. The story went that unemployed people would come to Wisconsin to take advantage of our generous welfare benefits. There was a certain hand-wringing that we were attracting the lazy and the parasitic to Milwaukee because we were too generous. Like Reagan’s “Welfare Queen” story, it was charged with an unspoken racism. These people were presumably African Americans coming from southern states to take advantage of the system.

In truth, industrial jobs held by workers of all races were being lost throughout the 1970’s and 1980’s. Low-skilled workers were finding it harder to find employment, and that was undoubtedly at the root of the larger dependence on government aid programs. Milwaukee is a “Rust Belt” city. Iconic factories were closing and downsizing. Even those that stayed around began to depend more heavily on automation and employed fewer people. There was no need for this bogeyman of the welfare immigrant. There were more than enough people right under our noses that needed help.


But it seemed that a spirit of generosity was far from plentiful. And things only have gotten worse for those who are in greatest need. Government aid programs, youth employment programs, public education – all these safety nets have been cut. Milwaukee area was hit hard in the housing crash. Job opportunities in the suburbs are often inaccessible with the area’s patchy public transportation system, so are unavailable to those in the poorest areas of the city.

Poverty, hopelessness, and violence often go hand-in-hand in many of the largely African American neighborhoods of Milwaukee. I wish I could say it was surprising that violence would flare up like it did this weekend. The truth is, it isn’t. Sherman Park seems to have had a recent history of racial tension centering on the gas station that was burned down. When the police shoot someone in the neighborhood, the residents’ anger and grief, primed by a string of recent national incidents, will come out and be directed at police and institutions like that gas station. And it shouldn’t be a surprise that all this will result in violence.


I think tonight, things are quiet in Sherman Park. Aggressive policing may calm things down temporarily, but the underlying issues are still there. The segregation, economic inequality, hopelessness, and anger are still there. And I’m afraid my native city doesn’t even seem to be moving in the right direction away from these. My heart breaks for those who live in fear and hopelessness. My heart hopes that my native city can turn this around, recognize and help their neighbors and find some real change.


Here is some more reading on these recent incidents and reflections on the larger picture:

Reggie Jackson in the Milwaukee Independent – a voice from the neighborhood

Syreeta McFadden in the Guardian

A sad history of the re-segregation of Milwaukee schools

New Name, Same Blog

Hello, Friends and Readers!

I just wanted to put a quick note here about the change in the title of the blog. I have been contemplating a “rebrand” for a while. After three and a half years of blogging, my focus and perspective have changed. I originally started with the title “Looking for Wisdom, Ancient and Modern” with the subtitle “A Seeker’s Journey”. Last year, I decided “Seeker” was no longer quite the right word. I am still a seeker in many senses, but I have been around Paganism in general and my chosen traditions in particular for a number of years, so at least in those contexts, I am a little less inexperienced than that title may suggest.

Now, I decided to change the main title to something more concrete as a theme for my blog. I have always said this is about my Pagan “path”, and I decided to give the metaphor a context. Of course, I am still looking for wisdom (as we all should be, right?)

I hope you continue to enjoy my writing here, and as always, feedback and respectful discussion is welcome.

Reading List for “John Michael Greer and the Steampunk Future”

My talk to The Owen Society for Hermetic and Spiritual Enlightenment was pretty well received today. We had about 15 people, many of whom seemed interested and engaged. Of course there is so much more source material than I could present, so I put together a reading (and watching) list to follow up on some of the issues covered.


The Long Descent and Catabolic Collapse

How Civilizations Fall: A Theory of Catabolic Collapse (academic paper that is fairly technical)

On Catabolic Collapse

The Trajectory of Empires


The Myth of Progress

What Progress Means

This Faith in Progress


The Steampunk Future

The Steampunk Future

The Steampunk Future Revisited


Green Wizardry

Seven Sustainable Technologies


John Michael Greer – YouTube Playlist created by me


John Michael Greer books:

The Long Descent: A User’s Guide to the End of the Industrial Age, 2008

The Ecotechnic Future: Envisioning a Post-Peak World, 2009

The Wealth of Nature: Economics as if Survival Mattered, 2011

Apocalypse Not: Everything You Know About 2012, Nostradamus and the Rapture Is Wrong, 2011

Green Wizardry: Conservation, Solar Power, Organic Gardening, and Other Hands-On Skills From the Appropriate Tech Toolkit, 2013

Not the Future We Ordered: Peak Oil, Psychology, and the Myth of Progress, 2013

Decline and Fall: The End of Empire and the Future of Democracy in 21st Century America, 2014

After Progress: Reason and Religion at the End of the Industrial Age, 2015

Collapse Now and Avoid the Rush: The Best of The Archdruid Report, 2015

Dark Age America: Climate Change, Cultural Collapse, and the Hard Future Ahead, to be released Sept 2016


Other resources:

The End of Suburbia (52 minute documentary about Peak Oil and the work of Howard James Kunstler)

A Victorian lifestyle in the spotlight (Sarah and Gabriel Chrisman of Port Townsend, WA)


Other books:

Muddling Toward Frugality Paperback by Warren Johnson

Small Is Beautiful: Economics as if People Mattered by E. F. Schumacher

Limits to Growth: The 30-Year Update by Donella H. Meadows, Jorgen Randers, Dennis L. Meadows

Rainbook: Resources for Appropriate Technology by Lane deMoll

The Book of the New Alchemist by Nancy Jack Todd