Discover more from From The Forests of Arduinna
A bit like welcoming a new group of guests to a party I’m hosting, whenever I get a flood of new subscribers, I write something to introduce myself. Many of you’ve just come here, and many more are coming in, and I want to make sure you feel welcomed.
Actually, I’ve just told you something about myself already with this metaphor. I love hosting people, having people over for dinner, or tea, or for several days. I used to throw very massive parties in my twenties, back when I lived in Seattle. Once of those parties had over 100 people in and out of the house where I lived, and I had most definitely not bought enough beer for them all.
And that’s something else, then. I lived in Seattle for 16 years, through most of my twenties and on into the middle of my thirties. If you’re new here and came because you’ve just read my latest book, you know a bit about my time there. I was an anarchist-punk-activist living in an over-crowded house that everyone thought was probably a squat (including some of the roommates), but wasn’t. We paid rent … somehow.
During those years, I held many jobs. I’d started out homeless, staying at first with some friends, then on the floors or couches of new friends; sometimes sleeping in bushes, or a friend’s car, or the beds of strange men I’d drunkenly met at a leather bar. Might sound awful, but I never experienced it as awful. I’d actually never even really realized I was homeless until I finally found a room to rent in that house everyone thought was (and treated like) a squat.
That maybe sounds weird, huh? I was a bit of a dreamer, and still am. There’s much to be said about doing that, about making your own reality to get your through times when reality isn’t so kind. We all do this often, ignoring what Marxists call our “material conditions,” and instead narrate our lives in prettier ways. There’s nothing wrong with narrating your own reality, except for one thing: you can’t change your material conditions unless you look at them soberly.
That last statement defines my politics better than any other statement I could probably craft. So I’ll repeat it.
There’s nothing wrong with narrating your own reality, except for one thing: you can’t change your material conditions unless you look at them soberly.
If you’ve been reading me for a while now, or if you are new here and came because you’ve just read my book, you know a bit of what I mean by this. The “left,” and especially what claims to be “left” in the United States, hasn’t been sober for quite some time. They’ve become drunk on stupefying theories brewed up by academics and others of the “Professional-Managerial Class” whose lives are too isolated to see the damage the products of their narcissism wreak on the lives of the lower classes.
Especially, the left’s focus on social identity rather than economic class has put them quite out of touch with anything that was once called left, and it’s also what’s made the left a diminishing group of in-fighting social media addicts.
In the court of Versailles, just before the French Revolution, the powder-faced courtiers had developed a highly refined form of social hierarchy. They’d also become quite good at what we’d now call “cancellations,” identifying and spreading the news of a faux pas another courtier had committed to shame them out of good standing. While the poor were starving and anger welled up on the streets of Paris and other cities, aristocrats maneuvered around each other for just a little more social capital.
That pretty much describes left “activism” now.
But this isn’t a criticism from “the right” — I’m a leftist, no matter how many cancel kids on Twitter and Tumblr with cartoon characters as profile photos might try to tell you otherwise.
Again, if you’re here because you’ve just read my book, you’ll know a bit already what I believe is happening here. Leftist ideas about class consciousness and making the actual lives (“material conditions”) of the lower classes better have been displaced by esoteric and self-referential ideas about identity. It’s rare to hear about capitalist exploitation now: it’s all about “intersecting oppression identities.” That suits the capitalists just fine, actually, which is why even the CIA and the US military have made “woke” recruitment advertisements. Meanwhile, anyone on the left who still thinks that capitalism is the primary problem gets quickly smeared as a “fascist” or “Nazi” online.
Maybe I’m showing my age here a bit. I’m 46 now, which means I still remember a time when leftism meant being against capitalism and trying to organize people along shared needs, rather than uniform identities. Back then, I knew trans and black and lesbian socialists who not only could organize anyone regardless of their identities, but also insisted we all must. Most of them all gave up, though, because they got cancelled by people in their own identity groups for not being “intersectional” enough.
As I said, though, I was a bit of a dreamer back then, and I still am. Being a dreamer means I still think it’s possible this might change. I wouldn’t have written my latest book if I didn’t.
I try not to make these re-introduction essays too long, but I also feel like I haven’t really told you much about me yet. You already know I’m a leftist, and I’m 46, and I lived in Seattle, and I’ve lived a bit of an interesting life.
I’ll tell you more about that part, the “interesting life” bit.
This Substack is called “From The Forests of Arduinna,” and there’s a story to that name, just as there’s a story to my own name.
I don’t live in the United States any longer. I moved to Europe seven years ago, starting out homeless in France for a few months (I lived in someone’s storage garage), then getting an apartment, then getting married, and then fleeing France and that apartment and the man I married because he was very, very violent. Sounds like a sad story, but it wasn’t. I learned a lot about myself, and about the dynamics of abuse, and also a lot of other things that I needed to learn.
I’m not in France any longer, but rather in Luxembourg. I now live in an old house with a new husband in a small village surrounded by forests, fields, and practically littered with old pagan ruins. I’m in the foothills of the Ardennes, which was called “Silva Arduenna” by the Romans, meaning “Forests of Arduinna.” Thus, the name of this Substack.
I mentioned pagan ruins and Arduinna, and this brings me to a strong thread woven throughout my life. I left the United States because I kept having really strange dreams, both the sleeping and waking sort. They all felt like memories from the future, a bit like a déjà vu before you see it the second time. As I said, I’m a bit of a dreamer, and I decided to go follow some of these dreams to see where they led me.
They led me here, now, and also led me to many things before I left the United States.
My name is Rhyd Wildermuth, but Rhyd isn’t the first name my parents gave me. They picked their name for me out of a phone book, and it never felt right. Some 23 years ago, though, I had a dream where people were calling out for someone, and a woman next to me asked why I wasn’t responding when they called my name. “That’s not my name,” I told her in the dream, and she looked initially confused.
“Oh. You don’t know it yet,” she answered, finally. “Rhyd is what we call you later.”
So I started using that name. It’s a Welsh word, and is pronounced like “Reed,” and it means ford, as in a river-crossing. And as a funny bit of happenstance, one of the primary Celtic goddesses here in Arduinna’s forests was named Ritona, “she of the river-crossings.” (The rit- part of her name in Gaulish Celtic is what became rhyd in Brythonic Celtic.)
Ritona is also the name of a non-profit publisher I co-founded and direct, formerly called Gods&Radicals Press. It also started from a dream almost ten years ago, and also from something that deeply irritated me. Modern neo-paganism is usually quite laughable, and while it professes to be earth-centered it’s often just as consumerist as any other internet subculture. I always found that to be quite tragic, but quickly understood that this problem derives from the same thing that turns everything else into mere products to be bought and sold: capitalism.
So, I and many others started writing about pagan anti-capitalism. A close friend and I wrote a short zine about it, and then we started an online journal (now also on Substack), and then started publishing books (ours and others’) about it. We’ve now published 36 such books: you can see those here.
My belief — and it’s a rather strongly held one — is that the mess we’re in now is because we’ve stopped being in relation with the world around us. Marxists call that “alienation,” and it’s a good word for it. I don’t just mean alienation from our “labor,” but also from the body, from each other, from the land, and from our own ability to create meaning. I write about this often, and I’ve also written a book about this, called Being Pagan: A Guide to Re-Enchant Your Life.
As I mentioned earlier, you’re probably here because you’ve just read or heard of my most recent book. Or maybe someone posted a recent essay of mine and you really enjoyed it, and you don’t know about the book yet.
It’s called Here Be Monsters: How To Fight Capitalism Instead of Each Other, and it’s about how the left we once knew became something else completely. It’s a history of certain ideas and how they changed, a common-sense look at the contradictions in these newer ideas, and a guide to getting back to a place where the left can actually accomplish something again. I write about these things often on this Substack, as well.
So, I write about anti-capitalism, and I write about paganism, and I sometimes write about other things, too. My current fascination is “political theology,” which is the study of how our modern political understandings of the world are informed by — and often indistinguishable from — unacknowledged theological beliefs. Even a supposedly secular idea such as “progress” has a theological basis: it comes from the Christian view of time as a linear march towards final judgment.
I also write travel journals, and book reviews, and personal essays about my own life. Quite often, I especially write about our alienation from the body and my own experiences of overcoming that alienation and “being body” again.
If you’re new here and don’t know where to start, here’s a list of suggestions:
The Garments of the Goddesses: One of my favorite essays, and also one of my most popular. It’s about rivers, forests, and drought.
Soap Has Always Been With Us, and Longer Still: Another of my favorites, and it’s about, well, soap.
Book Club: Not one essay, but rather a series of essays on one of the most important books I’ve ever read: Caliban & The Witch, by Silvia Federici.
A Leftism of the Garden: This essay is about my lettuces, and my cilantro, and also about how the left can start thinking again about material conditions rather than identity.
The Art of Excess, the Excess of Art: This is a video essay about the role of art and ritual in society. I still tear up in joy each time I watch the video…
The Forests of the Dead: The way we deal with the bodies of the dead isn’t just a personal matter, but has been shaped by political wars. This is about that, and also forest cemeteries in Europe.
Naked (paid): This is a very personal essay about finally learning to overcome body shame by going with a friend to a public sauna.
Neurodivergence? Or Alienation? (paid): Ever wondered why “everyone” seems to have ADHD or some other form of attention problem? That’s what this is about.
Settling (paid): This is a meditation on the hips, and the stars, and the Tao.
The Sacred and the Symptom (paid): Written after the overturn of Roe vs Wade in the United States, this is about abortion and the politics of human thriving.
The Mysteria (mostly paid): A series on political theology, and especially on how Christian terror of pagan beliefs resulted in the nightmare of modern capitalism.
I also host an occasional video/audio podcast, called The Re/al/ign.
I’m really happy you’re here, and I look forward to getting to know you. I always read and appreciate comments on my essays, even if I don’t always have time to respond to every single one.
Supporting my writing by becoming a paid subscriber, or by sharing my essays, or by buying my books is also always deeply appreciated. Paid subscribers get access to extra essays each month and also a few other things (free digital downloads of some of my older books, for example).
I don’t use social media much except Instagram, where I post occasional photos (usually of myself after the gym). I’m also on Twitter for a little while to help promote my book. That’s temporary, as I really don’t like social media.
Again, I’m really glad you’re here. If you really like my writing, do please consider telling others, and also telling me. I love to hear from you.
Thanks again for coming, and be always well!