Review: Witches in a Crumbling Empire by Rhyd Wildermuth

EMPIRE+promoWitches in a Crumbling Empire is a book of Pagan political theory by Rhyd Wildermuth, and it’s more than that. Its words of mystical prose are a vision and a spell to win back our relationship with the land and the magic at the heart of Paganism, which we lost between ‘the factory floor and the witch’s stake’.

Rhyd speaks of those who go into the Abyss. Those who go ‘to find out if there is meaning… some go mad. And some never return. And some… come back wielding light against the darkness… a fire that can reforge the world.’ Those who are branded heretics, made outcasts. Rhyd is one of those people.

Against the horrors of the crumbling Empire and a resistance made impotent by divisions between Left and Right and social identity Rhyd carries a torch that illuminates, unveils, and shines as a beacon to unite Pagans against ‘the one thing’ that is the source of environmental and political injustice: Capitalism.

For Capitalism ‘has the power to affect every single person, destroy every life and make every person suffer. White and Black, First Nations and Asian, European and African, male and female, trans and cis, able and disabled – each suffers under this thing.’

Rhyd, of course, calls for revolt. He notes that witchcraft (and this applies more widely to Paganism) can be political or anti-political, but never apolitical, as we’re all political subjects in countries dominated by political structures – private property, workplaces, shops; governments and police to maintain law and order. When these ‘reproduce themselves within you… You become Empire.’

Against our becoming of Empire, against our internalisation of its ‘thou cannots’, he opposes ‘thou wilt’. ‘When we are told we cannot grow our own food, we must grow our own food. When we are told we cannot survive without money, we must survive without money. When we are told we cannot be safe without the police, we must become safe without the police.’

No mean feat, but for inspiration we can turn to the revolutionary ancestors: to the Luddites, the Rebeccas, the Molly Maguires. To the gods: to ‘the Raven King, Brighid, or Dionysus’ and of course that ‘spirit’, ‘king’, ‘or general’, the eponymous Ludd himself (who may be a modern appearance of the ancient god Lludd/Nudd/Nodens) as the leader of ‘a new Luddite Revolution’.

Such a revolt aims to win back the land from Capitalism and the magic at the heart of witchcraft and every Pagan path. Not the magic of on-line courses, of vending tables at conferences, oils and candles from Etsy, but the magic ‘which has always been you, you and the world around you… the breathing forests, the scream of the owl and raven as you wander alone through darkness.’

This magic also lies beyond the limitations of the the world as we know it in what Rhyd refers to as ‘the World Without Forms’. The fathomlessness of the Abyss into which we must walk and return with new myths to win back our mythic power and territory from Fascism.

This book will probably not be an easy read whatever your Pagan or political persuasion. Rhyd is critical of all and of himself too. Yet the fire that burns also lights and brings hope. In the unveiling of uncomfortable truths, in the facing of the death of Empire and the resistance going down with it, it shows how we might learn to love and dance in the flames of new worlds being forged and live anew.

Witches in a Crumbling Empire can be purchased HERE.

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