Column: Essence

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Two powers, bright, heavy, warp the Abyss around them,
twins birthed from the moment of Love
birthed into the moment before Love.
They pull they desire
They push, they fear.

–From Notes From The Abyss, IV

Photo by Ales Krivec (CC0 1.0)

Photo by Ales Krivec (CC0 1.0)

Perhaps you’re aware of some of the recent conflicts between Traditionalist strands of Pagan and Heathen thought and more ‘liberal’ strands. Maybe you’re not. Either way, the differences between them seem impossible to reconcile.

For the Traditionalists, the revival of our ancient religions requires a return to other ‘traditional’ ways of thought, including an embrace of ethnic and racial identity, and disavowal of ‘modern’ conceptions of gender. For the more ‘liberal’ Pagans, rebuilding an earth-based spirituality requires an embrace of ‘progressive’ ideas about race and gender foreign to our ancestors.

For the Traditionalist, the views of the more Liberal parts of Paganism involve denying ancient truths about humans; for the ‘Liberals,’ the Traditionalists hold to primitive or regressive ideas that humanity no longer needs. And it would seem nothing could bridge the abyss between them. One side seems hopelessly racist and backward-looking, while the other side seems too New Age-y, arrogant, and blind to the real conditions of modern life.

Two opposites, twin polarities…there’s a magic for this.

Essentially Wrong

The apparent ideological gap between Traditionalist/Folkish strands and what some call the ‘Social Justice’ strands isn’t rooted in the personalities or really anything fundamental to the people on either side. No one is inherently ‘racist’ or ‘multicultural’ — these are just adjectives. And, actually, the beliefs about what is ‘inherent’ to humans cause most of the conflict between the two sides anyway. It’s where both sides are right and wrong.

To understand this, we need to look at our ideas about what is ‘inherent’ or ‘essential’ about humans, and look at a uniquely modern lie: Essentialism.

Essentialism is the belief that there’s something physically innate about humans which determines their identity. That is, there is a fundamental ‘essence’ which makes a human male or female, Black or white, European or Asian, or gay or straight.

It’s pretty easy to see how Essentialism applies to the Traditionalist strands of Paganism. But, as I said, it’s a mistake both sides make.

Gender Essentialism

Let’s first take one aspect of Traditionalist-thinking, seen in the writings of writers like Heathen Male-Tribalist Jack Donovan. From thinkers such as him, we have the idea that there is an innate man-ness to men which has been diminished by modern civilization and the emergence of feminism. In such a view, men are unable to fulfill their essential masculine characteristics (often: strength, protection, and warrior-hood) because of the feminization of society. They claim society demands they apologize for being men in the first place, and become victimized by rules against certain essentially male behaviors. Their answer to this problem? We must ‘return’ to an older, ‘traditional’ view of masculinity, usually somewhere in a mythic—and often ‘nordic’–past.

If this sounds ridiculous or wrong to you, please wait. You are probably doing the same thing.

“Goddess” spirituality, especially beliefs associated with Dianic Witchcraft or other matriarchist ideas are exactly as Essentialist as Male Tribalists. Is there something ‘essential’ and inalienable about women? According to this other side, women have an ‘innate wisdom’ (usually through the ‘mystery of childbirth’ or an innate connection to Mother Earth) which stands in opposition to the ‘masculine’ qualities which have caused the destruction of nature. In this view, male-dominance (“The Patriarchy”) has caused war, oppression of peoples, pollution, and other societal ills, along with enchaining women into subservient roles to men. Thus, men are inherently violent and destructive, or at least have strong innate tendencies to be those things that must be restrained by society.

Both sides come to the exact same conclusion—that the ills of society and the inability to realise one’s own potential is caused by the other gender.

Racial Essentialism

But before we look at more of the problems with these conceptions of gender—and where they come from–let’s look at another place where Essentialism is the cause of the divide between these two apparently polar opposite strands: race.

‘Whiteness’ has become a rallying cry for many ‘blood-and-soil’ Traditionalists, though they sometimes describe their actual ethnic or racial identity as European, Germanic, or Nordic. And this makes sense, of course, since they are attempting to bring back the culture, beliefs, and spirituality of the indigenous European religions. So, in essence, they’re reclaiming their racial, ancestral beliefs, just like any other racial group, right?

The problem is, of course, race. In order for there to be a racially-white religion, there must be such a thing as a category of humans called ‘race,’ and a category of race called white. And there must be certain qualities which are inherent or innate (that is, Essential) to whites which are not present in other races.

Thing is, those who oppose racism in the Liberal strands of Paganism often re-affirm the essentialist idea of race. If a blood-and-soil Traditionalist Heathen is claiming a racial/ethnic heritage unique to themselves, calling it white-supremacist only re-affirms the idea that there’s such a thing as ‘whites.’

Unfortunately, it’s not so easy to just drop the idea of a ‘white race’ because of the experience of Black folk in the United States. Since most on the liberal end of things have some idea of the history of slavery in the United States, you’re probably familiar with the idea of ‘white privilege.’ White privilege is seen by many as an inherent or Essential aspect of white people that cannot be gotten rid of, can not be washed off or exorcised. That is, whites are essentially a privileged race, and no white, rich or poor, anti-racist or racist—can claim otherwise..

So, while the blood-and-soil Traditionalist is being Essentialist by claiming that there’s something innate and inalienable about their ancestry as ‘white’ (or European, or Nordic, etc.), those who wish to fight racism are just as Essentialist by claiming that whites have inherent traits like privilege. In fact, it’s precisely upon this hypocrisy that some of the more political and ideologically fierce “New Right” theorists who influence many Traditionalists are happy to pounce.

Problem is? They’re kinda…right. The way most social justice activists understand privilege (like ‘white male privilege’) is indeed Essentialist. They treat these negative traits of being male or white as something that can’t be undone. White Privilege can only acknowledged, confessed and constantly guarded against … much like Original Sin

Fated Flaws

Original Sin is the Christian idea that some ancestral flaw was passed down from Adam and Eve which makes every human descendant of them inherently (that is, essentially) inclined to sin. In this idea, no human can avoid this primary flawed attribute, and nothing can ever eradicate this trait. It’s an essential aspect of every human, and it means each person is fated to commit sin.

This idea that anyone, because of some part of their Essence, is fated to do something, is called Determinism. It’s the insistence that Essential aspects of people determine and predict the way they behave, what sorts of decisions they make, and other characteristics of their being. In a way, they become ‘enslaved’ or at least bound by aspects of themselves they cannot change.

Gender and Determinism

We can see how this functions pretty easily in Gender Essentialism, which proclaims that men always act in certain ways toward each other, toward nature, and toward women. In some Matriarchist or Progressive thought, men act rapacious (the root of this word is the same as ‘rape’) towards the natural world, taking, using, and consuming without care for the things they harm. Essentially, it is in a man’s nature to harm.

The same sort of determinism happens to women, too. Women are said to be ‘slaves to their biology.’ For instance, an old conservative argument about women is that they are unable to see outside the needs of their family. Therefore, women cannot make self-sacrificial decisions for the good of a people or a nation. Basically, women are so innately nurturing, protecting, and life-affirming that their instincts would prevent them from engaging in a violent war against a foreign enemy.

Male ‘Tribalists’ and other Traditionalist theorists on the ‘man’ side accept these categories readily. They embrace the idea that men are innately rapacious, and even glorify male violence and sexual conquest. But those on the other side embrace these categories just as thoroughly.

We can see this best when a man commits a violent crime. “Women wouldn’t do that,” goes the argument. I’ve personally heard, “women don’t kill large groups of people” or “women don’t rape,” because it is not in a woman’s nature to do this.

Of course, instances of women murdering, raping, or ordering the State murder of others (think Margaret Thatcher or Queen Elizabeth) get completely ignored, just as all the examples of men acting nurturing rather than rapacious get ignored, too.

Counter-examples musts be ignored or explained away in order to protect the Essential gender category. This allows those with the most strict beliefs about Men and Women to entertain fantasies that, were they allowed to be more their essential selves, the world would be a better place. From the “Men’s Rights” crowd we get arguments that, if men were allowed to be the brutish, strong, conquering males they were born to be, there would be less violence against women (since, in their ridiculous reckoning, ‘feminism’ is the reason they are compelled to become violent). And from the other side we find the fantasies that global warming, pollution, and most social inequality would end if women were in power instead of men.

Race and Determinism

Determinism is an important part of Racial Essentialism, too. It holds that people in specific racial categories cannot help but act according to the essential aspect of their race. This is the root of Race-Theory itself; Blacks are ‘genetically inferior’ to other races, Asians are inherently mathematically-oriented, Caucasians are strong, privileged, and civilization-minded.

Because of its history, most of the negative essentialist qualities are assigned to Blacks rather than whites in the United States, including ‘criminality.’ That’s why, when a police officer shoots an unarmed Black man, the officer is given a greater benefit of the doubt when she defends the shooting. Blacks are seen to be Essentially and Deterministically prone to violence and criminality.

The result of all this determinism is that each person becomes bound and imprisoned to the Essentialist category. Men, who wish to act other than how they are told they are supposed to act, are still judged according to what men actually are, rather than what the individual man has done. Similarly for women, for whites, and for Blacks. And each polarity is bound in perpetual conflict to its opposite.

If it seems that what I am saying is coming from my own (Essentialist, Deterministic) existence as a ‘white male,’ we should remember that this is precisely the point that post-colonialist theorists like Frantz Fanon, as well as Malcolm X, made repeatedly. The essentialism which created a racial category called Blacks also created whites, binding them both into perpetual conflict that cannot be transcended or resolved by the categories themselves.

Racial conflict must exist as long as we accept Essentialist Race theory, just as gender conflict must exist as long as we accept essentialist categories of man and woman. Worse, the categories actually cause the conflict.

Now, let’s look at why and how those Essentialist categories were created in the first place, and then look at the magic which can undo this perpetual conflict.

Photo by Padaruria Alexandru (CC 1.0)

Photo by Padaruria Alexandru (CC 1.0)

Humans in The Machine Age

This is hard to wrap one’s head around, but the way humans view each other and themselves in the modern age is actually quite new. Race and Gender were not Essentialist categories for the vast history of humanity. There was a time—not very long ago—where no-one considered that there was anything innate, inherent, intrinsic, or ‘essential’ about certain groups of humans rather than others.

The Birth of the Homosexual

Maybe the best way to understand what it was like to not believe that there are Essential characteristics of Race or Gender is to look at the sexual Essentialism, particularly the ‘homosexual.’

Gays and lesbians often describe themselves as innately ‘born this way,’ just as heterosexuals might define themselves as biologically ‘wired’ to only have sex with people of the opposite gender. This results in situations where a man who doesn’t call himself gay or homosexual, saying something like, “I’m just a guy who likes to have sex with other guys” actually receives quite a bit of trouble for his statement. He is often said to have ‘internalized homophobia,’ or declared ‘in denial’ about his true nature.

Essentialist ideas of sexuality are much, much newer than essentialist ideas about gender, but only a little older than Race-Theory. Up to the 1800’s, it was never argued that a man who had sex with another man was innately inclined to do so. In fact, there was no word that described someone who desired sex with the same gender, only labels that described what that person had done. Words like “Sodomite” or ‘Buggerer’ were the equivalent of “Murderer” or “Thief,” defining not what a person is, but what act they had committed.

While the sort of person who has committed murder or stolen might be likely to do it again, we don’t tend to believe that there is some Essence of them that has always been a murderer or thief. Nor do we generally think that a person who has stolen was ‘fated’ by their genetics to steal.

It was once the same thing with people who we now call gay or homosexual.

The way our understanding about the innate/essential nature of sexuality changed occurred not through religion or philosophy, but through legal strategy and changes in the scope of scientific theory. There’s no space for the entire story in this essay (and Foucault has described it quite thoroughly already), but it’s important to keep in mind that our conceptions of what is innate about humans can shift, and often do so through external forces.

So, let me tell you about how our understanding of Gender and Race changed recently.

Women Make Bad Workers

Essentialism arose as part of what is often called ‘the mechanistic’ world view. Mechanistic-thinking was a shift in the understanding of the world from earlier, pre-industrial societies to one dominated by industrialisation, capitalism, and machines. It marked the end of an Animistic world-view where everything was seen as having soul or spirit.

You’ve maybe heard this idea already, especially if you’re familiar with “Neo-Animism,” Dianic Witchcraft, Deep Green Resistance, or many other ideologies. Forget what they say about this for a moment. Most of them place this shift very far back in time with the birth of agriculture and cities, basically so far back into prehistory where nothing can actually be done about it, and there’s no historical evidence to argue against them.

There was plenty of animism in Europe during the middle ages, as well as Pagan and Heathen beliefs. In fact, there was a Pagan kingdom in Europe up until the 13th century, and part of the Catholic reconquest of Spain up to the 15th century involved converting Pagans. Alchemists and astrologers continued to exist in courts up to the 19th century, and one of the fiercest criticisms of the Catholic church during the reformation was that it never fully eradicated Pagan and Heathen beliefs (as well as Witchcraft) from the common people.

The Age of the Machine was also the birth of modern Science and secularism. Both claimed that the world was not a magical place but one that was run by mechanistic laws which determined the behaviour of everything in the world. Before this, humans understood the natural world to consist of ever knotted threads of relationships and incomprehensible mysteries. If there were natural laws, they were either from the god(s) or the stars, and these natural laws were also magical laws.

Now, we approach the world, each other, and ourselves as assemblages of component parts, reducible to the physical material which comprises existence. The new science which arose during that time fixated on plumbing the inner secrets of the natural world, finding out what it was about a plant or a human that made them act certain ways. Starting from their own personal theories of difference, scientists, philosophers, doctors, and engineers dissected, disassembled, and otherwise took apart dead and living things to get to the core of their being—that is, their ‘essence.’

These attempts to determine what precisely made a woman different from a man—or what made someone from an African culture different from someone in an European culture—were no longer just a matter of curiousity. We must never forget that knowledge of all sorts—be it the court alchemists and astrologers of the middle-ages, the priests and augurers around Emperors, or the scientific advisers to world leaders today—has always been crucial to the powerful.

Most important of all, knowledge of how humans ‘worked’ during the start of the Age of the Machine was not just to understand how they ‘ticked.’ It was also to understand literally how humans work, because learning how to exploit human labour (and the wealth derived from it—also called Capital) unlocked the key to more wealth.

The mechanistic worldview accompanied the birth of factories for a reason. Factories were ways the wealthy could arrange human workers in such a way to maximize the wealth they generated. Because factory owners needed certainty in order to predict profit and expenses, the humans who became workers had to act like machines, too. They needed to stop doing things which were useless and counter-productive in a factory setting–like carousing, resting, social interactions, as well as activities involving family, like breast-feeding or caring for children.

This last part is really important, because it helps us understand how women became essentialized. Certain activities of women got in the way of a smooth-running factory. Pregnancy, menstruation,and breastfeeding all required breaks from working. It kept women from fitting perfectly into the new Machine-Category of ‘worker.’ Though there were plenty of other such human activities which got in the way of the creation of the worker (like resting and eating), women were the only ones who could successfully argue a natural, impossible-to-overcome limit.

Male workers weren’t able to claim the same natural limits that women could, so they had a harder time resisting the demands of their bosses. The only limits they could claim were the ones that all human had, like the need to sleep and eat. Also, because population had decreased significantly after the Plague and factory owners needed a steady supply of workers, birthing children (that is, more workers) was an important activity that factory owners couldn’t argue against.

So, women became an essentially different sort of person from men because they did not make ideal factory workers, and men did. But as I mentioned earlier, one of the things men could claim as a natural limit to work is one common to all humanity—the need to rest and the need to eat. Add to this all the other activities any human needs in order to survive and you can see how any factory owner would have a problem. A male worker couldn’t work 16 hours a day in a factory and still feed himself—all machines, after all, wear down.

This is how women got shunted into the ‘traditional’ (which was actually mostly new) gender role of housewife. To exploit male workers—to make them act like machines—men needed someone to perform all the tasks they no longer could do for themselves because they were working in the factories. Women thus had to become exploited by men in order for men to be exploited as workers.

Here we can see how to dissolve one of the primary complaints of the Male Tribalists, that modern men are forced to act less like men, less natural, less themselves. They’re actually almost right: men have been forced to act less natural, less like themselves. They’ve been shaped by the same social and political forces which forced them into factories in the 1700’s. They were forced into an essentialist gender role where they could not claim natural limits against the demands of the machine, as well as finding themselves now requiring a wife to perform all the activities necessary to keep them alive. But they didn’t lose their ‘maleness,’ they lost part of their humanity.

The exact same problem has occurred for women. Preference for male workers in the factories (again, no ‘natural’ limits to their ability to work) meant women got paid lower wages than men (as continues to the present). Worse, the Commons (land available to all in a community for grazing, foraging, fishing, etc.) were being destroyed, divided up fenced off and sold to individuals, so women had no access to the way to support themselves. They became bound into a position of reliance upon men to labor on their behalf, trading household work to men (husbands, lovers, sons, fathers, and also to domestic employers) in return for a share of the wage earned by the men.

So, when either side of the gender essentialists (male tribalists or matriarchists) look to the ancient past to construct their views of ‘traditional’ gender, they are accepting the Machine-Logic which was foisted on humanity during the birth of Capitalism.

Black and white, or Revolt

What about Race, then?

Race-thinking did not first become a ‘thing’ until late in the Age of the Machine, when scientists, theorists, philosophers, and others began trying to determine the relationship of the bodies of Africans and indigenous people to their culture. This involved an awful lot of dissection of the dead (and some vivisection on the living), particularly studying the shapes and sizes of human skulls through ‘Craniometry.”

Before the 1700’s, while the conception of difference between peoples existed, ‘race’ didn’t mean a separate line of humanity. To anyone familiar with European slavery, then, this fact presents an intriguing problem. The enchainment and forced-labour of peoples from the continent of Africa is seen by liberals as an inherently racist act. And while it was certainly justified by theories that Blacks were of an inferior race than Causasians, the slave trade wasn’t actually racist.

This isn’t to say that it wasn’t horrible, only to state that race-thinking was not a justification for the subjugation of people from Africa by the early slavers, because they had no conception of race as an essential category of human being. Race-theory (or ‘scientific racism’) actually came later, and was empowered significantly because it helped justify the continuation of slavery to those who thought slavery was immoral.

Just like the demands of the rich and powerful required the Gender Essentialism which brings us to think that women are innately one thing and men are innately another, Racial Essentialism arose to maintain another sort of labor: unwaged, forced, slave-labor.

There was another reason for the creation of Race-thinking. In the European colonies (including what is now the United States), poor people from Europe (particularly the British Isles), working in conditions as awful as the poverty from which they fled, started to befriend and make alliances with slaves. Neither group liked their rich masters/bosses very much, and both groups could see that they were paid much less (or not at all, in the case of indentured servants and slaves) than the wealth they created with their work. For both groups, the difference in their ethnic backgrounds, culture, and ‘race’ were much less important than their common enemy.

The workers from Europe weren’t considered ‘white’ until law-makers and bosses saw the potential revolt. Laws were passed which defined those workers as ‘white,’ and gave them different rights and privileges than the slaves from Africa or the indigenous people in the colonies.

Privileges were something actually granted to whites, rather than something essential or innate within them. And ‘white’ was a created category of human being, a new racial and judicial category of human being. An entire group of people, a small subset of Europeans, woke up one day to find they had no colour.

Transgressing The Essential

We can see that all these Essentialist categories require an opposition. The racial category of ‘white’ required there to also be a category of ‘black,’ otherwise white was a meaningless category. Women were not the only victims of Essentialism, because an Essentialist category of one gender required an opposition—Man—to also be essentialised. Even if one category (Black, woman) became subjugated by the division, its opposite suffered as well.

And unlike class categories which describe changeable characteristics (think “rich” and “poor,”) gender and race categories are seen as completely static. A Black person cannot become white, nor can a woman become a man…right?

Actually, this is the last important thing we need to understand about Essentialism; any attempt to escape, transgress, or transcend the dichotomies is punished severely by those who’ve built ideologies (or religions) around Essentialism.

Transgressing gender categories can be done multiple ways. Since heterosexual sex was originally an important part of Gender Essentialism (‘heterosexual,’ by the way, is also a new category, actually coming after the term ‘homosexual’), gays and lesbians were early targets of hatred, both by men and women.

A man who has sex with men is doing something non-essential to male-ness (despite, of course, ancient societies which saw same-sex relations as signs of higher manhood), so he inspired hatred from conservative Christians and Muslims who saw what they did as a transgression. Similarly, the existence of gay men erodes one of the core doctrines of matriarchist thinking, that all men treat women as sexual objects.

A sort of peace has been made with the queer man or woman now, because both sides have another enemy: the transperson. Transmen experience quite a bit of hatred, certainly, but the majority of the ire has been aimed at transwomen on all sides.

In fact, hatred of transwomen might be the only thing that unites matriarchist traditions and political groups (including Deep Green Resistance) with Fundamentalist Monotheism and New Right Traditionalist Heathenism. In fact, they’re all in perfect agreement with these words, written by Male Tribalist and Heathen Jack Donovan (but just as easily by Ruth Barrett, Lierre Kieth, or Pat Robertson):

The only way to prove you’re not afraid of trannies is to agree that transsexuals are not only sane, but heroic, and should be welcomed into any women’s restroom.

The transperson transgresses the Essentialist categories of male and female by moving from one to another, utterly eroding all social foundations for Essential Gender.

The same ire is levied against those who attempt to transgress race. “Miscegenation,” or the mixing of racial lines, is considered anathema by racial essentialists because it erodes the very concept of race. If a Black man has a child with a white woman, what race is that child? And if that child has a child with another such child, where did the essence of race go?

This question led to authorities who needed race to be essential to come up with bizarre calculations of what made someone actually Black. One drop of Black blood (one Black ancestor) was, in many places, enough to make a child Black, no matter how many white ancestors they had.

Similarly, though, the attempt to transgress whiteness by calling yourself “European” or “American” rather than white meets with anger both from those who believe in white separatism and those who believe that all whites bear a sort of Original Sin for the historic crimes of slavery. Is there a difference in culpability and privilege between a U.S. born woman of Irish immigrants who came to America in 1980 and a woman of the same age whose great-great grandfather owned and beat slaves in Mississippi? By the logic of Essentialism, there isn’t.

But you may by now be asking if there’s really an equivalence between all these positions. Is a goddess-loving matriarchist who believes transwomen aren’t women really equivalent to the Male Tribalist Heathen who believes the same thing? Or the social justice activist who believes all whites have inherent privilege and responsibility for slavery—are they really equivalent to the white Heathen blood-and-soil Traditionalist who believes in the existence of a Nordic race?

Yes.

They are equivalent, at least ideologically. I’ve my own moral preferences, of course, and those who’ve read me for awhile know which side I take in these arguments and which side I’d fight on if I had to fight. But ideologically, there’s no difference, and we need to stop pretending there is.

Anyway, this whole war is stupid.  Besides, the rich and powerful started it, not us.

Photo by Caleb Ralston (CC0 1.0)

Photo by Caleb Ralston (CC0 1.0)

From Conflict, A Weapon Is Born

There is another way past these oppositions. Not many will like this answer though, because it involves giving up something we all believe to be essential to ourselves. But there’s a certain magic trick most of us know, one of the most powerful Mysteries in any of our traditions.

Think about the problem we’re in. If male and eemale are essential, unchangeable categories, then there’s no way to end the modern war between them. Likewise with race—Blacks and whites will always be at war with each other if Blackness and whiteness are divinely-ordained categories of human that can never be transgressed.

And who benefits from this relentless conflict? Governments and the rich: literally non-essential classes of humans for whom the rest of us are just workers, consumers, expendable soldiers in their wars.

There’s another way of looking at why we cling so tightly to Essential categories of race, gender, and sexuality. Something Essential about us as humans was taken away with the birth of the Age of the Machine. Our beliefs, our relationships to the earth and ancestors and gods and each other, our traditions, and our ways of life were severed, cut and ground down by the coming of machines and factories, waged-work and alienated urban life.

Our ancestors, Black or white, man or woman, lost their connection to the world and to themselves, lost what was most essential to our existence as humans. What was left to us was the drudgery of the long work day, cheaply-made products in faceless markets, and a deterministic Science that told us we are not what we decide we are, only what we have no choice but to be.

The Matriarchist and the Male Tribalist are looking to recover something essential about themselves, but all they have left to them is the false category of essential gender and deep, obsessive hatred of their opposite. The white Heathen and the Black activist are both trying to heal an ancient wound done to their ancestors, but cannot ever fully regain what was lost until both are liberated.

We’re caught in these polarities, neither side ever able to give in to the other, neither twin able to be complete without the other.

And therein’s the deep magic we need.

The alchemists knew this secret. Witches know what happens next. Astronomers have seen this in the stars. Druids study this mystery for decades. Even atheist Marxists know this trick, but would never admit that it’s a kind of magic.

When two stars meet, get caught in each others orbit and don’t slingshot each other out into the Abyss of space, they begin to revolve around each other. Their gravities conflict, both pushing and pulling each other until they hit a sort of equilibrium. But they don’t actually revolve around each other, but around a third center that arises from their conflict.

Druids know this to be the secret of triads, how two things which exist as opposites generate a third that is the resolution of their polarity. Hegelians and Marxists know this as the dialectic, how a condition generates its opposite that can only be resolved by a synthesis arising from the gulf between the two.

Esotericists know this by many names, including the lunar current and the Grail mystery. When the solar current and the telluric current arise in equal proportion, a third current arises, one only possible because of the other two. Alchemists and Wiccans know this by many names, as well—it’s the pursuit of the divine androgyne, or the Chalice rite, opposing principles of feminine and masculine, or lord and lady, birthing a new state of existence when united.

And Witches know this to be the secret of the Divine Twins. Two equal yet opposite beings, born of a severed unity. First the one, then sundered into two who both fear and desire each other, and between them rises the winged serpent, the peacock angel, the light-bearer.

It’s also the secret of love. When your fear of someone is equal to your desire for them, you are caught in their orbit. When their desire of you is equal to their fear, they are likewise caught, and you are both in love.

It is impossible for the damage done to women in the Age of the Machine to be healed without the damage done to men to also be healed. The same is true of Blacks and whites, and the colonizer and the colonized.

We can remain in perpetual conflict, clinging to our ‘essential’ difference, never finding ways to resolve the wounds wrought on our peoples by the archons of the Age of the Machine. And if so, the forests will die, the oceans rise, and wars will rage on.

Or maybe we’ll remember that it takes two to create a third, and perhaps take up the powerful weapon which arises in from this Mystery, finally wielding it against those who have actually stolen our Essence.

*   *   *

[Author’s Note: My second book, A Kindness of Ravens, is now available in print or digital. It includes several essays originally published here at The Wild Hunt.]

This column was made possible by the generous underwriting donation from Hecate Demeter, writer, ecofeminist, witch and Priestess of the Great Mother Earth.