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Modern Pagans Excerpt: Darryl Cherney

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Darryl Cherney

RE/SEARCH: Can you talk about Pagans and activism–

DARRYL CHERNEY: Just declaring yourself a Pagan in the year 2001, anywhere on the planet, is an act of activism in and of itself! There is a long history of suppression of earth-centered spirituality, and I have my own theories as to how we humans diverted from our interconnection with the earth. I’ll offer a brief history of the world from a Pagan perspective.

I think we began our possession and enslavement of the elements when we first harnessed fire. Actually, we were enslaving two elements; as far as I can tell the elements are always paired off–fire requires air. So we were both harnessing and enslaving fire and air. At that point, they became a possession.

When you light a campfire, there is only a certain amount of space around it. Immediately there arises a power dynamic as to who gets to sit closest to the fire. Fire also allowed humans to eat meat and grains–food that we could only eat after we had cooked it. Further, it enabled us to forge metals and create phenomenal and dangerous technologies. Mastery of fire allowed us to move to other climates and leave behind our original, native habitat, the equatorial belt around the earth. Human beings are the only species on the planet that wear clothing–every other animal on the earth is naked. The reason we wear clothing is because we’re out of our native habitat!

Once we started moving out of the equatorial belt into areas with colder weather, we developed agriculture almost out of necessity. A lot of people think of the “farmer versus the city,” but they’re actually two sides of the same coin. Agriculture creates a sedentary civilization. During cold winters, doubtless the nomadic societies noticed that these cities had all this food in storage. As hunter-gatherers they decided to go help themselves. So the agrarian societies had to develop walled cities and standing armies to defend their food supplies. Thus developed the warrior–the warrior, who once offered his life for the community devolved into the soldier who guards the food and kills for the protection of the community. The food supplies were also fostering population growth.

Through all this, the male supplanted the female as the life-giver and life-provider, developing a violent role in society that ultimately led to the patriarchy. City folks developed bigger and stronger weaponry, and [as seen with Akhnaton, 1379-1362 B.C.], the Egyptian civilization embraced monotheism and the worship of sky gods. Monotheism, in general, reflects the male supplanting the female as the life-giver, as well as it reflects the monoculture, where the same crops are grown–instead of a diversity of foods and animals as food supplies.

As the war against the nomadic Pagans increased over the millennia, the city dwellers decided they needed to wage not just a defensive but an offensive campaign. So they started cutting down the forests where the Pagans lived. This was easy–you can simply ring trees with a saw; you don’t have to cut them down. Even worse, you can burn down the forests, as was common in 3,000-2,000 BC. This is documented in Jonathan Perlin’s A Forest’s Journey, a well-researched history of logging throughout recorded civilization. As soldiers had to go farther afield to attack potential invaders, they weren’t sleeping with their female partners at night. So rape became the order of the day–part and parcel of warfare.

After humans harnessed the element of fire, it wasn’t really long before they developed the nuclear bomb. From the standpoint of geological time, we put ourselves on the brink of self-annihilation within a nano-moment in the history of the world.

The Bible itself gives a fantastic metaphor that describes this process. Satan (or Lucifer) was God’s chosen angel, his favorite. Then Lucifer decided that he wanted to be autonomous, and essentially become an “independent contractor.” Is that not the exact role that human beings–especially men–have taken on for themselves? We have decided to be creators, and supersede God. We have decided to reshape, if not destroy, “the Creation.” We are the living, breathing incarnation of the Satan metaphor!

Obviously, we need to rectify this by understanding our original, true connection with the earth and the entire cosmos. Every single thing on our planet comes from the earth (with the exception of a few meteor scraps). For very pragmatic reasons, humans’ early spirituality honored and worshiped the earth, understanding the interconnection between human beings and the earth.

R/S: What can we do, on a practical level?

DC: Earth First’s slogan, “No compromise in defense of Mother Earth,” implies that an ant can move an elephant if it gets a leverage or fulcrum point sufficiently far away. And we’re ants trying to move an elephant–rather, a planet. So we have to get pretty far out there on the edge of the spectrum.

I firmly believe that we’re never going to truly live in harmony with the earth until we get rid of the Safeways of the world. We can form our communes, utopias, and cooperative communities, yet almost instantly we can escape the frustrations of trying to get along with each other by going to the nearest Safeway or Wal-Mart . . . to the corporate teat for our nutritional requirements. We always have an escape valve that prevents us from working out disagreements with our fellow human beings.

But if we can’t get rid of all the Safeways tomorrow, there are other stratagems. We can build smaller houses grouped in circles, not each one of us living on our own 40-acre parcel as happens in Humboldt County, California. This leaves the majority of the land wild and free for the animals to live in.

Those of us who call ourselves Pagans are trying to reconstruct a workable “Pagan” lifestyle and philosophy. Yet if you try to capture spirituality on the printed page, it becomes doctrine, dead words–inflexible. If you judge things by their results, the Bible, Koran, Book of Mormon and so on have promoted the practices of hatred, bigotry and the subjugation of women.

In a way, the written word has pretty much killed God! Some people think there is a huge, fundamental difference between religion and spirituality. To me, a religion is institutionalized spirituality . . . as opposed to spirituality itself, which is an internal source of self-guidance. Spirituality is what guides our spirit–isn’t that obvious? Spirituality, to me, is the way we live our lives. And the primary spirituality that rules the United States now is capitalism: the love and worship of capital and profit.

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