ecosophia: JMG in lecture mode (Default)
Beardsley illustrationFor some time I've been watching, with wry amusement, the antics of a certain subset of Neopagan witches who have apparently decided to embrace the Christian notion of what witches are, i.e., evil. These are the folks who have been posting long earnest essays online insisting that witches have to curse people and do other forms of nasty magic, since after all that's their heritage, and it's justified at least sometimes, and real power means the power to harm, etc. etc. Me, I'm an old-fashioned occultist and not any kind of witch, so what witches do is really no business of mine -- not my circus, not my monkeys -- but as my academic background is in the history of ideas, I'm intrigued to watch this particular remake of a familiar pattern. 

A few days ago one of the Neopagan witches just mentioned, one who's sufficiently on board with the idea of witches being evil that she's embraced the term "banefolk" for herself and those who agree with her, posted a lengthy diatribe on her blog that denounced Neopagan witches for being, well, evil. Specifically, she accused them of making up traditions and then lying about their origins, of making money off witchcraft, and of various kinds of sexual improprieties -- all of which, in her eyes, are apparently sins far more serious than (say) using magic to hurt people. 

There are plenty of things that could be said about the diatribe in question. It's amusing, for example, that she starts out by denouncing the habit of equating "pagan" with "Wiccan" and then goes and does exactly that, treating habits and teachings specific to modern American eclectic witchcraft (such as the "Thirteen Principles of Neopagan Belief") as though they're common not only to all Neopagan traditions, but to unrelated phenomena such as the Druid Revival and chaos magic (!). Still, the thing that struck me most was a powerful sense of déjà vu. 

La-Bas cover artI don't know how many of my readers are familiar with the French author J.-K. Huysmans, a very popular literary figure at the turn of the last century, or with his most notorious novel, Là-Bas. (Down There is the usual English translation, though it's very rough; the French idiom "là-bas" is pretty much untranslatable.) It's a novel about Satanism -- specifically, the fashionable Satanism that became wildly popular in French occult and countercultural circles at the end of the 19th century. The viewpoint character, Durtal, disgusted by the banality and crassness of modern life, lets himself be drawn by the mysterious Mme. Chantelouve into Paris' devil-worshiping underground, attends a black mass, and then tears himself away from Satanism to return to the Catholic faith of his childhood.

once had a lurid reputation, though it's frankly pretty tame by modern standards; the thing that often gets mislaid by modern readers is that it's a profoundly Christian book, and it accepts as a basic truth the orthodox Christian attitude toward occultism -- essentially, that if it's serious it's devil worship, and if it's not devil worship it's just play-acting and dress-up games. The Paris occult scene at the time Huysmans was writing was large, active, and those people who weren't playing at Satanism were by and large involved in serious work; the Martinist tradition and the modern alchemical revival are just two of the things that were getting under way then and there; but you won't learn that from Huysmans. 

What's more, Huysmans spoke for a significant movement in the counterculture of his time. There really was a big Satanist scene in late 19th century Paris; last I checked, most biographers of Huysmans agree that he probably based the black mass in his novel on one he actually attended. That movement had a predictable outcome, too, one that W.B. Yeats wrote about in his visionary essay Per Amica Silentia Lunae. In his early visits to France, he recalled, "one met everywhere young men of letters who talked of magic." Fast forward a few decades, and that had changed: "It was no longer the soul, self-moving and self-teaching -- the magical soul -- but Mother France and Mother Church." 

Beardsley illustrationSatanism was the intermediate step between those two conditions, and it's easy to see why. If you embrace the idea that Christian orthodoxy is right about the nature of occultism, it's a very short step to embracing the idea that Christian orthodoxy is right, period. Once people got tired of the fringe benefits of being evil -- in turn of the century France, those mostly involved plenty of cheap sex and the opportunity to shock people, more or less the same as today -- they could then go through a fine melodramatic repentance, renounce their sinful ways, and be welcomed into a community of people who were eager to give them lots of attention and encouragement. This they accordingly did. 

It's far from the only time that's happened. Some of my readers are old enough to remember the twilight of the hippie scene at the end of the 1960s. Peace and love and brotherhood got chucked overboard by a significant faction of hippies, who took up in its place the kind of evil-hippie image made permanently famous by the late and unlamented Charles Manson. This was followed, after an interval of a few years, by the transformation of a great many hippies into "the Jesus People," and after another brief interval most of the latter ditched their countercultural values and settled down to get jobs and raise families as ordinary Christian Americans. 

I'm pretty sure that's what's going on in this case, too. Countercultures die when their members give up their own independent value judgments about the counterculture, and accept the (usually hostile or dismissive) judgments of the mainstream culture from which they previously distanced themselves. Now that a significant fraction of the Neopagan scene seems to be embracing the notion that witches are evil, and a few early adopters (like the author of the essay cited above) are generalizing from that to denounce the whole movement for its sins, I don't think we'll have long to wait before the current trickle of defections from Neopaganism turns into a flood. Conservative Christian denominations, on the off chance that this post of mine comes to their attention, might want to brace themselves for the arrival of a great many loudly repentant sinners in the years immediately ahead. 

It's Back.

May. 5th, 2018 10:10 pm
ecosophia: JMG in lecture mode (Default)
peak oil signI don't know how many of my readers have been keeping track of the price of oil, but -- ahem -- it's rising again. West Texas Intermediate (WTI), one of the two standard benchmark grades of crude oil, ended the day a little below $70 a barrel; Brent -- the other standard benchmark -- was just below $75 a barrel. Just a few years ago they bottomed out in the low $40s. Now some thoughtful observers are starting to warn of an imminent oil shock

It's hard to tell at this point whether the price of oil will keep going up until it cracks $100 a barrel and once again starts drawing blood from the world's economy, or whether we'll see another downward lurch before the next oil price spike. My guess is that we're nearing the next spike. The gimmicks that kept petroleum prices under control for a while -- frantic extraction of shale oil and tar sands, on the one hand, and economic policies that suppressed demand by forcing a growing fraction of people in the industrial world into poverty, on the other -- were never more than temporary kluges; they postponed the problem while doing nothing to fix it and, inevitably, made the final consequences worse. 

The predicament we're in isn't hard to understand. The Earth is a sphere, and therefore contains a finite amount of fossil fuels; we're drawing down that stock of fossil fuels at a breakneck pace; most of the good stuff -- light sweet crude, anthracite coal, and so on -- was extracted and burned a long time ago; and now we're trying to keep the global industrial system running on low-grade fuels that are increasingly costly to extract and yield less and less energy. Renewable resources can't meet more than a small fraction of the demand -- despite whopping government subsidies in many nations, renewables account for only 9% of energy production worldwide, and 7% of that consists of hydroelectric; wind, solar, and all the other renewable resources produce a fraction of one per cent each. 

The solution isn't hard to understand, either.  We have to reduce our consumption of energy, and the products of energy, to levels that can be supported indefinitely by renewable resources -- let's say, 10% of current energy consumption. "We," furthermore, means you, personally, and me, and everyone else. The only choice we have is  whether we do this deliberately, or whether shortages, soaring prices, and economic dysfunction do it for us. 

You've heard this before, dear reader. I've talked about it at length since the early days of my old blog, The Archdruid Report.  The only thing that's changed since then is that billions more barrels of oil from our planet's dwindling supplies have been extracted and burnt. There may be another round of short-term fixes that will push off the day of reckoning a little further...or there may not. What will you do? 
ecosophia: JMG in lecture mode (Default)
Cover of The UFO PhenomenonHere we go again, skywatchers...

Today the New York Times splashed a supposed UFO research program at the Pentagon all over the news. No doubt in the months and years ahead we'll get the rest of the usual package -- neatly photoshopped images, breathless claims of imminent alien landings, leaks from Air Force intelligence, if you know your UFO history you already know the whole story. 

The last time this happened in a big way, it was the era of the "black triangles." Funny how much they looked like the first generation of stealth planes, which started flight testing right about the same time...


The UFO phenomenon was manufactured in 1947 by US military intelligence as protective cover for tests of high-altitude reconnaissance balloons. It's been deployed over and over again since that time to provide the same service for U-2 and SR-71 flights, the first generations of spy satellites, and a galaxy of other activities that our military (and, to be fair, other militaries that borrowed the gimmick from us) didn't want to make public. This current flurry of feux news simply means that the new Pentagon budget will cover tests for a new round of spyplanes, or some similar gimmick. Pay attention to the "UFO sightings" that will get splashed over the internet in due time, triangulate that with the latest trends in aerospace technology, and you should be able to figure out pretty clearly what the folks at the "Skunk Works," the famous Lockheed secret-airplane facility, have come up with this time. 

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