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Pushing Back at Life: Paganism, Strength, and Heavy Metal (Part 2)

Though I am usually happy to leave social analysis and reportage of Paganism to the Wild Hunt, while writing up Saturday night’s club experience several thoughts kept poking through. Not wanting to make the already long blog entry even longer, I told these thoughts they’d get their turn.

The thoughts that recurred were about Paganism, racism, sexism, fascism, and power. Sexy stuff. Difficult stuff. Intriguing stuff. Stuff we’d sometimes rather just avoid, in order to play nice with one another. There are volumes to be said on all topics, and I am not going to do that. I will likely miss facets that others find important, so up front I will state: “These are simply some of my thoughts on the matter. Let us keep discussing it amongst ourselves.” And, with Pagan Values Blogging Month coming up soon – let alone the festival season of summer – there will be plenty of opportunity! So, back into the fray, to the steamy nightclub and the pounding music:

The chords pumped through us, surrounded us, filled us, and we sent that energy back. Banging heads in concert to the music were white faces, Latino faces, black faces…. I kept wishing that a representative from the Southern Poverty Law Center (whose work I tend to support, but who’ve made some mistakes regarding Asatru) could see the effect of these raucous songs bringing this mostly white but still disparate group together. Yes, racism is a terrible scourge that can infect metal or Paganism just like any other religious or social group, but the Gods do not know color, what they rise to is our fierceness and our grace. I wished they would talk to the Heathen priest in my own Solar Cross organization who moshed mightily in the pit and who brings non-racist Heathen education and worship to the women in California prisons. Light can be shone anywhere, to anyone, by anyone.

We crashed into each other. We stomped our feet and clapped our hands. And yes, the crowd was mostly men, but women were lending energy to the rites of music as well. I wished Z Budapest could have been there, in light of her recent poignant statements at Pantheacon about being disappointed in women and their powerlessness. The women at the club soaked up and transmitted power, side by side with each other, and with men. While pushing back at life in the roiling mass of bodies, I could not help but be grateful for the sheer power generated in the room, and the love of strength evidenced. Women are trained to not push back, to step aside, to neither fight, nor test our strength. Yet there are strong women who fight for justice with minds or bodies, and strong women who teach their children the strength of peace. There are also some myths that can still infuse some forms of Paganism and feminism: that women are naturally more peaceful than men, and that if cisgendered women ran the world, there would be harmony. The other myth is that women are victims. Some of us are. So are some men. As a feminist I recognize that there is still social and economic inequality. The systems of sexism are strong, just as the systems of racism are. Yes, injustice exists, but that is not the entire story. The stories of Goddesses riding into battle, the stories of women standing strong together are also there. The power of metal can feed us. We can tell new stories, and release some of the old. Together, we can rise.

Fists pumped the air. People chanted in unison, exhorted by the lead singers. Does this hearken back to fascism? Does this look like crowd control? It can, if we would let it. But we won’t. Does the music here control the crowd, or does the crowd control the music? It is an intercourse of bodies meeting sound. Chords slam into chests and bellies and upraised arms hurl the music back into the waiting band. The music and the crowd exist within and for each other. There is no coercion here, only a celebration of raw, thrumming, power. When we are powerful, fascism crumbles. As Hannah Arendt tells us, for totalitarianism to be successful, it requires an apathetic crowd. Metal is epic, it is inspiring, it is filled with power, and a sense of scale that most of us do not access during our day-to-day lives. Of course fascists love the epic, how better to inspire? Let us not leave the epic to those who would control us. Let us reject apathy and live large. Let us live boldly. Let us push back.

Pagan rituals do not always have to be gentle. We can meet each other, mind and body, with the full force of our being. Love for the Gods, each other, and the earth can rise with passion. The concert can be training ground for battle: for the fight for social justice, women’s rights, and the caring for this mother, Earth, who is our home. Singing of a heroic past can trap us there, ‘tis true, but those who seek more deeply can know this: songs of ancient heroes can seed heroes for the present and the future. We can become heroes for each other. We can stand tall, broad shouldered, straight backed, and brimming with pride.

Though I’m sometimes thankful I cannot understand the lyrics – most bands are just not Tyr or my inspirational favorites, VNV Nation – I found vitality in this concert with compatriots in the tiny San Francisco club. I wonder where you find it. What fills you with pride, with energy, with grace? What makes you feel fierce and strong? One thing our Heathen brothers and sisters gift to us is a love of heroes and their boasting. I challenge us then, to find something we feel proud of and to share that boast with our circles of friends, and then listen to their heroic stories, large or small: She stood up to her boss. He led an environmental campaign. She wove a gorgeous cloth. He started baking bread to feed his family. We stood up against racism, or cleaned up a beach, or fed the hungry…

We are human, and together we have learned new ways to dance.

[edit: some folks have asked about Z’s comments. They can be found on installment #29 of Elemental Castings podcast via iTunes or the link provided in the text.]

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