occult features of anarchism by erica lagalisse08 Jan 2023
I like to think of my reading journey as some fantasy quest. Books are paving the way, but along the path I see beautiful fascinating plant-ideas that nourish the whole adventure.
The first book I finished reading this year was the short Occult Features of Anarchism by Erica Lagalisse, which I read in one sitting. The book offers an historical overview of anarchism, putting in the light the occult dimension of it. It suggests :
Modern anarchism has never been purely atheis except in name, and instead develops based on overlapiing syncretic pagan cosmologies that behold the immance of the divine, In fact, utopian socialism, anarchism and Marxism each rely […] on a specific syncretic cosmology that is incipient in the Middle Ages, changing and crystallizing in the Renaissance, and gradually given a scientific maeover throughout the Enlightenment up to the twentieh century. (p.34)
The book also posits firmly this hypothese I’ve been dancing around for a while now (see last digital garden entry) that the discarding of the spiritual/magical is something deeply anchored in oppressive systems, or as Lagalisse put it in relation to anarchism :
It is one thing for anarchists to maintain that they are ‘‘against all forms of domination’’ nominally speaking, yet a decolonized anarchism that properly challenges gendered power requires acknowledging how the secularization of social movements agains the state mirrors the secularization of the modern colonial state itself, which privatizes religion and gender yet continues to embody a specific cosmonoly and patriarcgal arrangement in both structure and ideology. (p.28)
Once again, it was highlighted how an “elite magic” anchored in Western occultism was deemed acceptalbe, but folk and women magic wasn’t. Lagalisse showcased namely how (male) scientists during the Enligthment were working through alchemist traditions in their experiments. She gaves the example of the “magical” Johannes Kepler who received the title of Imperial Mathematician while his mother was imprisoned for witchcraft.
Anyway, that was a very nice read. It was refreshing to learn that communist and anarchists symbols took their origin in witchcraft and secret societies (freemasonry), or again that the anticapitalist May Day has link with pagan celebration. Even more pleasant was it to discover the “spiritual side” of anarchist thinkers, like this Bakhunin quote did a good impression on me :
Let the religion become the basis and reality of your life and your actions, but let it be the pure and single-minded religion of divine reason and divine love… [I]f religion and an inner life appear in us, then we become conscious of our strenght, for we feel that Gos is within us, that same God who creates a new world, a world of absolute freedom and absolute love… that is our aim.
The essay also covers how women and indigenous thinkers are often left out of anarchism history, but it feels as if this section could have been more explored. Conspiracy theories also have their dedicated chapter, as it was actually the starting point of Lagalisse’s investigation into this occult alley, and it was very interesting : it motivated me to go back to my own conspiracy theories studies (see entry fascism and conspiracy theories), and this aspiration to make it part of some kind of left populism in the line of what Chantal Mouffle advocates for, but also in the spirit of Amitav Ghosh’s call to involves religion in the fight for climate justice. Nonetheless, here as well, I thought this section was short and I would have wanted some more.
Nevertheless, it was a very good and interesting read. To the suggestion of the writer, I think I will pursue my own investigation with this following book : Magic, Science, Religion, and the Scope of Rationality by Stanley Jerajaya Tambiah.
Also shoutout to the first digital entry I’ve post on Ravirer on 2020 on mystical anarchism, we’ve gone full circle!