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Today’s essay is a guest post by fellow Substacker Nelson Elliott. My blog is somewhat unusual in that it tackles the overlap between the political and the religious from a theoretical and exploratory perspective rather than a denominational and prescriptive one. Nelson felt this essay would appeal to my audience, and having read it, I think he’s absolutely correct. Enjoy!
Dusk falls in the woods. Men crouch in the deepening shadows, approaching a dangerous quarry. Nothing is clean save their weapons. Beneath their muddy armor hangs a motley collection of amulets and crosses. They pray to different gods for the strength of themselves and their brothers, but all know their survival now rests on that strength.
They have followed evil home and are far from the village. Neither the parliamentary codes of the longhouse nor the intricacies of the cathedral will save them from the danger they face. But face it they do, whatever might come after it.
If they die, perhaps they will see each other again in Heaven or in Valhalla or in their next reincarnations. Perhaps not. Here, now, in this plane, they face a common foe. They say their prayers or cast their spells. Then, the signal is given and, as brothers, they charge.
There is an accelerating spiritual revival happening among free-thinkers. I see it in myself, in online communities, in my real-life relationships, and in books that I read.1
People who think outside of mass-media narratives are increasingly coming to the conclusion that evil is real and are grappling with what that means for their physical and spiritual well-being. Agnosticism, secularism, and atheism struggle to address this, so these thinkers turn to ancient religious traditions.
Although these new searchers choose many different religious traditions, I believe they have more in common with each other than with many of institutions they find themselves within. Without a focused ecumenical (i.e. cross-denominational) effort, there is a risk that this revival will be split into old factions, turned against itself, and extinguished.
I hope that by explicating some core beliefs and giving a tentative name to this movement (“the woodland”) that we can identify each other as allies and act as such.
When the great Tao is forgotten, goodness and piety appear… When the country falls into chaos, patriotism is born.
-The Tao Te Ching, v 18
Like many Westerners raised in the halcyon ‘80s and ‘90s, I took the ideas of good and evil for granted. They were “common sense” — which was basically true. Old Christian values were common, even if only in a modal sense. Even materialistic ‘90s nihilism wasn’t generally carried to its philosophical conclusions. The country had a moral grounding, even if I wasn’t interested in it.
But that grounding shifted. Values I had implicitly adopted and assumed were stable were not just rejected but attacked. I asked why. I questioned my own attachment to those values. When something struck me as “evil,” was that reflexive judgement valid? Was evil real?
Many others around me came to similar conclusions around the same time. Of course, because we were prompted by a dissatisfaction with the new religions, we looked backward. “Any old religion is better than any new religion,” may sum up the general sentiment.
I returned to Christianity, largely on the basis of heritage. Others did as well. But because of the obvious flaws in Christian churches or differences in their own religious heritages, many other people found their way to other traditions. Most popular after Christianity is probably paganism, especially of the Norse variety (and not Wiccan, New Age, or other Longhouse pagan variety). At their best - focused on health, not hedonism - vitalists are on the cusp of being another part of the movement.
We all found the pieces that fit us the best. But once we found them, we have often been guilty of being too quick to turn on ourselves. Both Christianity and paganism are imperfect. The Christian world has been dissolved in misguided pacifism4 and wrinkled khaki aesthetics, to say nothing of the fact that wokeness is probably a Protestant heresy.5 Norse paganism addresses pacifism and weak aesthetics, but I have yet to hear a compelling answer for why Christianity conquered it (as Christianity the first time, as wokeness recently).6 These are worthy of debate, but we should not lose sight of advancing the common cause against evil.
What is that common cause? I have three core beliefs that led me back to church. I believe that many of the the newly religious share these beliefs:
1. THE WORLD IS BIGGER THAN US
You need only look around to see that this is empirically true. Things happen outside of our control and against our will. Forces beyond us are at work - planets, stars…, Gods?
Many of us have brushed up against the veil at some point.7 Whether this is truly another dimension or an artifact of our own imagination is not the point here. The point is that there are aspects of this world we do not fully understand.
This isn’t necessarily a solid belief in the existence of a spiritual dimension, it is simply an openness to the possibility that it exists.
This suggests that we should approach the world with some humility about our own power and some deference to bigger forces. We should approach our brothers too with some humility about what we understand. Perhaps they are touching a different part of the elephant.
2. EVIL IS REAL
Whether they are demons or misaligned synapses or both,8 there are forces that destroy and degrade people. Evil is chaos, disorder, and domination. It disregards the truth and natural order; deception and corruption are its signatures.
There is a corollary: good exists. Even if good is only the absence of evil, then good is still order, freedom, health, and truth.
3. EVIL MUST BE RESISTED IN THIS WORLD
If evil is real, it must be resisted. Because we are here and evil is here, that means that even if we are “not of this world,” we must still resist evil here, while we are here. Physically if necessary.
The new religions deny one or more of these core beliefs. They deny that they are even religions, so much the easier to infect and corrupt without detection. People convert from Christianity, Judaism, and Islam without anyone ever announcing a conversion. There is no baptism into Marxism, no confirmation for nihilism, no First Communion for materialism — just the slow erosion of a few critical beliefs. In fact, many converts continue to profess their prior faith.
Many of the new searchers recognize this. They know that their churches are as compromised as their governments,9 but carving out a new religion is scarcely easier than political secession.
So, what do we do? Reform from inside? Schismatic separation? Whatever we do next, it will require allies.
Books lie, he said.
God dont lie.
No, said the judge. He does not. And these are his words.
He held up a chunk of rock.
He speaks in stones and trees, the bones of things.
-Cormac McCarthy, Blood Meridian
Ultimately, the believers of these three core concepts may have more in common with each other than with members of corrupted sects that are nominally their own.10
I propose calling that shared core “the woodland.” As suggested in the opening, it stands in contrast to the faux security of “the longhouse” and to the doctrinal isolation of “the cathedral.” It is connected to the natural order, understanding this comes with danger. It is practical, but not to the exclusion of ritual and the divine. Not for nothing, the woods have been home to many of our most storied dissidents, from Robin Hood to Francis Marion.
Woodland acolytes can be rough when they must be. The fallen world is home not only to the beauty of creation, but to death and corruption. They forge alliances.11 They are travelers in a strange land, and though their companions may call God by different names, their enemies are the same. They must band together to find their way home.
Are you a member of the woodland? Have you come to the belief that evil is at work? Do you feel the call to resist it? Are you struggling to understand how? Perhaps you have gone to a church only to be dismayed by its apathy and weakness. Perhaps you sit at a desk, isolated spiritually and possibly physically. You wonder if you are alone.
You are not. Come sit by our campfire. Tonight we will look for God in the stars and the smoke. Tomorrow, we will march.
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This post was directly inspired by Clay Martin’s “The Wrath of the Wendigo” and its fictional depiction of a pagan-Christian alliance.
The “Inclusivity” rules for Reddit’s r/NorsePaganism at the time of this posting read: “This sub is inclusive off all peoples. All theological perceptions, races, genders, ethnicities, and marginalized peoples are welcome. We also have r/Pagan_Shieldwall to promote inclusivity and acceptance in Heathenry, and inclusive posts are welcome here.” As a bonus, “advocating for violence” is not allowed either… which I guess means Valhalla is off the table?
I debated whether this was a fourth core belief, but decided it wasn’t. A true belief in the first three points will get you here eventually.