Anarchism has been a big feature of my life for the past number of months; it’s something I’ve dived headfirst into, learning about and engaging others about. I’ve learned that simply saying “I hate money” around my father will get a reaction from him like I’ve said “I hate you” instead. (I have a complex opinion on the role of money in society, so I say things like that just to get a ruse out of him at this point. It’s hilarious.)
And at some point I knew that I would eventually have to write on the subject of anarchism and religion–specifically my religion–and how I reconcile the two.
One of the more famous slogans of the movement is “no gods, no masters”, so it’s assumed that anarchists hate religion and theism as much as they hate private property and non-democratic systems of government. One of the biggest misconceptions of what anarchism is about is that we’re pro-chaos, anti-leadership, and anti-organization in any form. This can be debunked by even the barest glance at an anarchist group of free associating individuals; we’re not anti-leadership, we just want our leadership to be completely democratically-elected and held completely accountable for their every decision. We also want to be able to remove them from their position in the community whenever we see fit.
For those of us who are not god-bothered, that is exactly what our relationship to the gods and spirits is. We democratically “elect” our gods to have a position of authority over our lives and a place of honor in our hearts, and if they prove themselves undeserving of being there, many of us have no problem with turning our worship to someone else who will.
So to me, polytheism is one of the only forms of religion that relies on the democratic participation of its adherents. The relationship most of us have with our gods and spirits is a combination of that of communalism (“I will work with you to achieve something good for us both”) and what we as humans have to endure from the Earth itself. We wouldn’t consider the threat of earthquakes to be “coercion”, would we? No, earthquakes are just a fact of life and we can either try and petition someone to keep them from wreaking havoc on communities or not. Anarchism has no reason to oppose crossing one’s fingers, or good luck charms, or “good vibes”, and so I don’t see why the practice of religious petitioning should be treated any differently except on the comparative complexity of the superstition. Like knives, these practices and beliefs are simply tools– they can be used as a means of oppression or as a means for tremendous spiritual good.
And of course, like any other personal relationship, that of god/devotee has the potential to appear coercive and damaging to those on the outside. BDSM relationships raise the hackles of anarchists and feminists for that very reason. But sometimes people are not meant to exert the certain kinds of autonomous functioning that society might expect of them, and simply function better under constraint and direction. Those people tend to find themselves with self-identified masters and mistresses, or sometimes they might find themselves making an oath of service to a god. And the praxis of anarchism necessitates that we support these members of our communities, because they are expressing their right to free-association in ways that they see fit for themselves and their mental well-being without harming others. I see no reason to rail against those kinds of relationships.
At any rate, I could go on and on about this, but I’ll end this post with half-thought: witchcraft is also, I believe, one of the purest manifestations of anarchic ethics in any kind of non-materialist arena that I can think of. It’s free association on steroids, it goes hand-in-hand with strategies of direct action, and it does much to rewild our society and heal the rift formed between us and the natural world.