• Michael Martin

In my last post, I wrote about my small community’s efforts at rewilding the church, not as a way to rewild the landscape around this or that church building (which, it seems, is how some conceive of it) but in terms of rewilding Christianity. The landscaping approach, which I get and support to some degree, just strikes me as just another bourgeois hobby of the gentile middle class, kind of like fashion jeans or something. I have a more radical project in mind.

Primarily, this is a project of spiritual subsistence. “Subsistence,” for me as a biodynamic farmer, is a pretty important term which as David Boilier has argued, “must be understood not as bare and brutish survival, but as a sustainable life outside of the market order.” My wife, in fact, is pretty fond of saying at our various festival gatherings, “We might not have any money, but we eat like kings.” When you grow your own food, raise your own animals, tend your own bees, and make your own mead, beer, and wine, you can afford (note the metaphor) to say that.

Boilier, however, is writing primarily about the contributions of radical Catholic priest and revolutionary thinker Ivan Illich and the contemporary commons movement (readers of this blog and my book Transfiguration will, hopefully, recall my enthusiasm for the idea of the commons—and my lament for its loss).

But this idea of the commons, as much as it touches on the economic and cultural lives of people, also has import for their spiritual lives. As Boilier writes, “Just as the Catholic Church proceeded to monopolize, regiment and institutionalize the realm of the spiritual—insisting that professional priests and church structures are needed to attain salvation—so the state, too, began to see the advantages of colonizing vernacular life.”

This institutionalization of life, as we have seen all too plainly over the past eighteen months, has also impacted our digital lives. The internet (and even social media) which not all that long ago was understood as a realm of freedom and public access—a digital commons in practice—has increasingly been morphing into a digital enclosure. The commons, that is, is the enemy of the technocrats.

All these things being so, I advocate for a spiritual rewilding, which is a rewilding of the Church writ large. The institutions around us—secular and religious—are characterized by a fetid rot. And I am no longer am willing to serve such institutions. So I propose taking back the sacramental life that has been held—surely not in “trust”—like a ring of power by those interested in maintaining power, by technocrats no less than hierarchs: a power that prohibits sincere Christians from communing together for no other reason than juridical claims to authority. This is uncivilized.

Of course, there is nothing civilized about civilization, and, as H.J. Massingham (who, along with Robert Herrick is one of my tutelary spirits) once wrote, neither is “democracy": “Abstract terms like ‘democracy’ came to mean the rule of a minority by means of propaganda and the power of wealth over vast aggregates with a collective way of life and a collective ‘soul’ pent up in squalid industrial cities.” [1] I believe this now goes under the name “The Great Reset,” the false promises of which even infect religious leaders, the Dalai Lama no less than Patriarch Bartholomew. Surely some revelation is at hand.

As I have written before, the ancient Celtic Church offers something of a model of this way of rewilding the Church. As Christopher Bamford writes of the Celts, “Theirs was a country and a people of individual, autonomous units. Placing great emphasis on freedom, they constituted no state or nation but rather a free federation of tribes.” [2] This is more or less how I envision the rewilded Church. Also from Bamford:

Celts lived a life, as one modern authority puts it, ‘of freedom verging on anarchy.’ Jean Markale writes: ‘The essence of Celtic philosophy would appear to be a search for individual freedom, not based in egoism, but founded in the belief that each person is special and therefore different from others, that behavior cannot be modeled on a pattern created by others.’” [3]

A rewilded Church would follow along much the same lines.

Furthermore, I cannot envisage the rewilded Church as in any way disconnected from both Creation (as in the cosmos) and creation (as in the both the fine and practical arts, not to mention the liberal arts). Only in that way could the rewilded Church be reconsecrated in the ways of life. As Bamford explains it, “They studied, they learned, in order to love. Their theology, their religion, was always practical, vibrant with life, mystical.” [3] But it wasn’t otherworldly. The internet, social media, gaming—these are otherworldly. The rewilded Church, on the other hand, is this worldly in the truest sense, colored precisely by the power of Him from whom all Life flows.

The Hail Mary in Irish. Talk about rewilding!

Michael’s latest books are an edition of The Chymical Wedding of Christian Rosenkreutz and Transfiguration: Notes toward a Radical Catholic Reimagination of Everything. He can be reached at director@thecenterforsophiologicalstudies.com See also The Center for Sophiological Studies' available courses. Also check out the latest volume of Jesus the Imagination: The Divine Feminine.

1. H.J. Massingham, The Tree of Life (London, 1943), 125.

2. Christopher Bamford, An Endless Trace: The Passionate Pursuit of Wisdom in the West (Codhill Press, 2003), 94-95.

3. Ibid., 95.

4. Ibid., 110.

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  • Michael Martin

In biodynamic farming (of which I am a longtime practitioner), a salient principle is that the individuality of the farm, in addition to crops, domesticated animals, pastures, and orchards, should also contain water—streams or ponds, for example—and wild places, such as woods, coppices, or meadows—which are the homes of a great variety of flora and fauna. The idea here is to practice biodiversity. As Alan York, the late, great master of biodynamics says in the film The Biggest Little Farm (which everyone should see), “Diversity, diversity, diversity.” Don’t plant just one variety of peach tree—plant thirty. Don’t raise only one kind of domestic animal—raise as many as feasible. On our small ten-acre farm, which is bordered on two sides by a State wilderness area, we grow more than fifty kinds of vegetables in garden, not to mention the small orchard I planted. We also raise a dairy cow and her calf (their names are Fiona and Seamus, if you want to know), heritage hogs (American Black Guineas), honeybees, chickens, and ducks. We also forage from the woods and meadows: mushrooms, blackberries, huckleberries, black walnuts. We house our hogs under oak trees in order to fatten them on acorns and we practice sylvo-pasturing with our chickens and cows to some degree. We heat our house with timber from our woods (mostly from trees damaged by storms) and add venison and the occasional wild turkey or rabbit to our diet. Trying to demarcate the lines between the wild and the cultivated here is an almost meaningless activity. In short, we are part of nature and nature is part of us.

Some of my friends are advocates of the “rewilding” movement, a “conservation effort focused on restoring sustainable biodiversity and ecosystem health by protecting core wild/wilderness areas, providing connectivity between such areas, and protecting or reintroducing apex predators and highly interactive species.” I like the idea, but, as with so many conservation groups, the rewilding movement is not too keen on the human species in their quest for a “dynamic but stable self-regulating and self-sustaining ecosystems with near pre-human levels of species diversity.”That’s a red flag for me.

I like something about this concept of rewilding, but I think humans need to be part of the picture. As with arguments about “overpopulation,” it seems some of the avid rewilders think too many people are crowding out native species—but they never volunteer to undertake the heroic work of making more room by their own absence. Overpopulation, that is, is a problem of other people.

But I get it. What I think we need is a rewilding of the human race, not necessarily to a return to the days of hunting and gathering and cave-painting, but in reintegrating our relationship to nature—in much the same way a biodynamic farm combines cultivation and wildness.

And part of this rewilding of the human race, for me at least, includes a Rewilding of the Church.

Some people like to think of Christianity as originally an urban movement, one that initially flowered in cities—like Jerusalem or Rome or Corinth or Alexandria—and that this urbanity is part of the religion’s DNA, as if the guy who started the whole thing wasn’t a carpenter from the sticks and his first followers weren’t rural fishermen and shepherds. Maybe Christianity is an urban phenomenon, but that urbanization has impoverished it. But even the earliest urban Christians were far more embedded in nature than we are; and for a long time throughout Christian history elements of the Church resisted the hegemony of the urban Church, nowhere more clearly than in the Celtic Church. As H.J. Massingham (whom I more and more regard as a saint and prophet) writes, “Thus religion, learning, the arts and crafts, agriculture and the contemplation of wild nature as the manifestation of God, were integrated as aspects of one whole.” [1]

This is what a rewilding of the Church would accomplish. But how do we get there? What I have to offer is speculative, but still based on long years of contemplation and practical work in the world, both as a scholar and as a farmer.

First of all, as I wrote recently, the idea of a house church is very useful. As my friend Chris recently informed me, it should properly be called art of “the independent sacramental movement.” It was a group I did not know existed, let alone that I belong to! As I have mentioned previously, the frustrations we experienced (and continue to experience) with the Church in the Time of COVID became too much for us to bear, and my younger children, we felt, (my youngest is ten) needed to be immersed in the sacramental world. It’s not that I no longer consider myself Catholic (I do), but I have had a pretty plastic notion of Catholicism for a good long while that extends to the Eastern Orthodox and Anglican branches of the family tree. In fact, the original subtitle for my The Submerged Reality was “Ecology and Ecumenism” (or something to that effect). The Year of This Our Contagion required me to interrogate this understanding even further, to the point that it seemed to me that one of the main roles of the episcopacy—of whatever jurisdiction—is characterized by holding the sacraments hostage, or at least by holding that threat. I know this is controversial.

My model and inspiration for this rewilding concept is the ancient Celtic Church, which was not only almost entirely rural and connected to the wild, but was equally distant from the meddling of hierarchs far-removed from the day-to-day working out of the faith in actual, living communities. These communities were suspicious if not dismissive of the authority claims of ecclesial power structures, though they certainly had their own trusted bishops (Patrick and Aidan, for example). Being in Ireland and Scotland at far remove from Rome or Byzantium in an age before postal service, let alone mass communication, the influence of popes and cardinals was almost a non-issue.

Rewilding the Church could have a profoundly vivifying influence on a faith ossified by centuries of the corruption and abuse so endemic to bureaucracy. Imagine Christians living a sacramental life in all of its dimensions—Eucharistic as well as in relation to the natural world. As my friend Chris (who is studying for the Episcopalian priesthood) recently told me, “I’d bless rivers, fields, woods… everything.” Amen.

My thought is that the faithful should feel free to take things into their own hands. I know—this is controversial. Eventually, bishops may catch on—but they’d have to stop being middle-managers and, like Aidan and Patrick, get a little dirt on their hands. I fear, however, that they will probably respond like Dr. Leo Marvin (in the film What about Bob?) when Bob Wiley teaches Leo’s son Sigmund how to dive.

Here comes the bishop!

Such a rewilding, an absolute and sincere sophianic gesture, could save Christianity from its rapid decline as it holds onto the structures that no longer function. The structures, the hierarchies of whatever jurisdiction, are not the Church. We need to remember that. Now is the time.

Steve Winwood in the wild.

Michael’s latest books are an edition of The Chymical Wedding of Christian Rosenkreutz and Transfiguration: Notes toward a Radical Catholic Reimagination of Everything. He can be reached at director@thecenterforsophiologicalstudies.com See also The Center for Sophiological Studies' available courses. Also check out the latest volume of Jesus the Imagination: The Divine Feminine.

1. H. J. Massingham, The Tree of Life (London, 1943), 47.

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  • Michael Martin

In my book Transfiguration, I write about various possible alternatives to the sterile and anti-human, anti-sophianic institutions that surround us. For one, I propose the idea of “the sophianic hedge school” as a healthy alternative to Education, Inc. that has done so much to ruin human flourishing and poison society. I also floated the idea of perishable currency, inspired by both Rudolf Steiner and Guido Preparata. This is to say nothing about the importance of the CSA (“Community Supported Agriculture”) movement as well as the availability of herd shares as a way to secure clean food and dairy products uncompromised by the death-bestowing toxins of BigAg and the diabolical interventions of BigPharma that follow in their wake. What I propose in that book is a kind of alternate society, almost, as I’ve written in this blog, like the invisible society within society that operates almost like the parallel universes found in the novels of Philip K. Dick.

I am not the first one to suggest such movements, of course, but in my ongoing consternation at the increasing totalization of the Governmental-Pharmaceutical-Technocratic paradigm, I have found myself reexamining the responses of earlier (but not that much earlier) generations when faced with such menacing totalitarian structures. As I’ve mentioned before, Czeslaw Milosz’s The Captive Mind is a great place to start if one wants to trace the gradual acquiescence of more or less good people to the will of the corporatocracy’s insidious egregore. In such scenarios (and this was also the case in England’s gradual transformation from a Catholic into a Protestant nation in the 16th and 17th centuries), the Archons first work on the middle-manager class—the intellectuals, professors, teachers, prelates, and so forth—trusting that they will lead the rest of society into a brave new world.

I also revisited the writing of Václav Havel. I probably first heard of Havel when I was in high school and he was a Czechoslovakian playwright and dissident imprisoned behind the Iron Curtain in his homeland. Some years later in one of my first major publications as a poet (in the journal Cross Currents), I was very proud to find my work alongside an interview with Havel in which he argued that a “sense for the transcendent” was the only hope for uniting multicultural and multifarious societies. This time, however, I revisited his essential essay, “The Power of the Powerless.”

“The Power of the Powerless” was written in 1978, long before the Iron Curtain showed any signs of cracking. But crack it did. Havel and his compatriots in the Eastern Bloc at that time were advocating for “parallel structures” or a “parallel polis” (the term contributed by his fellow dissident Václav Benda) as ways for peoples under whatever form of oppression (things were very different in Poland than in Czechoslovakia, for instance). For Havel, the lynchpin for such an undertaking is the ability to “live in truth,” since the Communist governments were notorious for lies (not that modern Western democracies are any better), what led in the USSR to “hypernormalization” (i.e.. “everybody knows everything is a lie, but let’s all act like it isn’t”).

According to Benda, “the mission of the parallel polis is constantly to conquer new territory, to make its parallelness constantly more substantial and more present. Politically, this means to stake out clear limits for totalitarian power, to make it more difficult for it to maneuver” [1]. This parallel polis was envisioned as primarily cultural, as in the arts, but also social. It simply had to do with giving up on the lie and living in truth (I think of Pope John Paul II, when still a Polish cardinal, leading a procession through the streets of Krakow with an empty frame since it was illegal to process with a religious image, in this case of the Virgin). As Ivan Jirous writes in “Parallel Polis,” “Those who take part are active people who can no longer stand to look passively at the general decay, marasmus, rigidity, bureaucracy, and suffocation of every living idea or sign of movement in the official sphere” [2]. How these words resonate today.

Havel extends this:

The point where living within the truth ceases to be a mere negation of living and becomes articulate in a particular way, is the point at which something is born that might be called the ‘independent spiritual, social, and political society.’” [3]

I think our own moment calls for such a rebirth, much in the way the Dark Ages presaged the coming of Hildegard of Bingen, Thomas Aquinas, and Francis of Assisi or the waning of the Middle Ages opened onto the Florentine Renaissance. Surely the second coming is at hand.

I have been waiting, in vain as it turns out, for some Distributists or Communitarians to step up and be counted at this, their moment. But...no. They seem either to have retreated into their pipes and ale or become Catholic Marxists or worse.

But part of the problem is the overarching tyranny of our technology, a technology that has so aided the Archons in their quest for totalizing power. Havel—like Heidegger, Lewis Mumford, Jacques Ellul, and so many others—was onto this. In 1978, he wrote,

Technology—that child of modern science, which in turn is a child of modern metaphysics—is out of humanity’s control, has ceased to serve us, has enslaved us and compelled us to participate in the preparation of our own destruction…. We look on helplessly as that coldly functioning machine we have created inevitably engulfs us, tearing us away from our natural affiliations (for instance, from our habitat in the widest sense of the word, including our habitat in the biosphere) just as it removes us from the experience of ‘being’ and casts us into the world of ‘existences.’” [4]

I will submit that part of the instinctive resistance we have to “lockdown culture” resides precisely in such a sensibility. A Zoom meeting with nature, even human nature, is not possible.

Like Havel, his exact contemporary Ivan Illich also saw what technology (not to mention modern medicine!) was doing to us. “If tools are not controlled politically,” he writes, “they will be managed in a belated technocratic response to disaster. Freedom and dignity will continue to dissolve into an unprecedented enslavement of man to his tools” [5]. It’s almost as if he were watching us. I can only imagine what he and Havel are thinking.

Havel, for example, observed the trajectory upon which even Western democracies were headed:

It would appear that the traditional parliamentary democracies can offer no fundamental opposition to the automatism of technological civilization and the industrial-consumer society, for they, too, are being helplessly dragged along by it.” [6]


We have many ways to build our own parallel polis. We can extricate ourselves as much as possible from the technocracy and their flunkies in government and simply live. At Stella Matutina Farm (where I live), for example, we rely almost entirely on traditional tools (with the exception of a few modern contraptions like my chainsaws). We mow some of our grass, but the cattle take care of most of it. And what we do is not an anomaly: most sustainable farmers employing no-dig methods operate pretty much the same way—and even our tiny 1.5 acre garden supplies an enormous amount of food.

But even more, our idea of a parallel polis extends to the social sphere, in particular in the ways we celebrate the Christian year. We observe all the feasts, but our biggest celebration occur at May Day and Michaelmas. At May Day this year, when our state was still under various mandates and most social activities were suppressed by government and, alas, the Church, a friend asked if she could invite some of her friends who were starving for conviviality. Surprisingly, over fifty people—mostly families—showed up to dance around the maypole and feast together. This is what a parallel polis looks like. It may not be much, but it certainly fits what Jiří Dienstbier described as something contributing to “the continual renewal of the meaning of authenticity” [7]. Bureaucracy may be death by a thousand papercuts, but the parallel polis—by which I mean “a sophiological structure”—bestows life by a thousand tiny, some might even say “insignificant,” gestures. Even our recent forays into house church can be seen as an example of this. “The failure of the modern experiment,” as H.J. Massingham so cogently observed, “is seen to be so because it is anti-Christian, anti-natural, and anti-realistic” [8].

It’s not hard. Live in truth.

Michael’s latest books are an edition of The Chymical Wedding of Christian Rosenkreutz and Transfiguration: Notes toward a Radical Catholic Reimagination of Everything. He can be reached at director@thecenterforsophiologicalstudies.com See also The Center for Sophiological Studies' available courses. Also check out the latest volume of Jesus the Imagination: The Divine Feminine.

1. Václav Benda, et al., “Parallel Polis, or an Independent Society in Central and Eastern Europe: An Inquiry,” Social Research 55, nos. 1-2 (Spring/Summer 1988): 211-46, at 219.

2. Ibid., 228.

3. Václav Havel, “The Power of the Powerless” in Living in Truth, ed. Jan Vladislav (Faber and Faber, 1986), 85.

4. Ibid., 114.

5. Ivan Illich, Tools for Conviviality (Harper, 1973), 12.

6. “The Power of the Powerless,” 116.

7. “Parallel Polis,” 231.

8. H.J. Massingham, The Tree of Life (London, 1943), 173.

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