Tag Archives: John Griogair Bell

Antagonists in the Church

Some things just seem to keep coming around; like a bad penny.

I’m not entirely sure when I first ran into the book Antagonists in the Church: How To Identify and Deal With Destructive Conflict, by Kenneth Haugk, but I do know where. It must have been some time close to 1995 when Isaac Bonewits posted “Dealing with Religious Jerks“. I read this review in which Isaac wrote:

“If I had read this book 30 years ago, many, many mistakes might have been avoided and Neopagan Druidism would be much further along in its evolution. In fact, if this book have been read by most of our ‘old timers’ three decades ago, our community would be easily ten or twenty times its current size and far more effective at influencing the mainstream death culture. Tens of thousands of lives — and species — might have been saved and the environmental crisis significantly slowed down. Instead, we spent literally millions of hours fighting unending battles with antagonists inside our own community who never intended to ‘fight fair’ because what they really wanted was the attention we gave them and the joy of destruction for its own sake.”

It was a couple years until I actually picked up a copy of the book, but I regretted waiting for so long. In fact, I note that it was almost a decade ago, in April 2001, when I finally picked it up, but I also know that it sat in my stack of “to read” books after that for a while before I actually read it; but this clearly places my reading of the book prior to my return to college where I studied dialogue in earnest. This book, then, is a forgotten influence on my work since then, one which I did not directly include in my thesis but which had been part of my thinking.

While the book is definitely within the context of congregational Christianity, a tradition which I do not find speaks to me personally; even the parts which are explicitly Christian, such as the section of quotes from the Bible, is interesting to a certain extent. But, the overall effect of the work on me was to give me another name for something which I’d recognized to exist, and by having language with which to speak about the phenomena it becomes easier to see those phenomena in the first place; and, it becomes more possible to develop conscious and intentional responses to times when I’ve been confronted by those phenomena.

To a certain extent, I have to admit that I’ve felt like a bit of a Cassandra because of my awareness of this sort of thing. Being able to see and name a thing for myself leads to a feeling of disconnectedness with those around me about whom I find myself wondering, “Why does no one else see this happening?” And, I’ll also admit that I’ve grown exceedingly tired of dealing with this phenomenon when I run into it, especially within groups that haven’t yet developed strong personal and structural responses to such phenomena. This is an example of the overall, deeply disappointing, cycle of lowered of expectations which leads to attrition within groups. For me, in many ways, I’ve found myself responding to what seems like a deafening silence in response to naming and identifying the phenomenon with an increasing willingness to find something else to do with my time. Instead of tilting at windmills within groups that seem to not respond, I admit that I have more often of late taken a pessimistic path of somewhat selfish cost-benefit analysis, and simply chosen to confront the phenomenon to the point where I feel doing more is futile and there’s probably something else more personally satisfying I can do with my time, and then tarry no further.

Still, this topic sure does seem to keep coming up for me. Just two examples will suffice to suggest that this has, for some reason, been something that has been on my mind for as long as I’ve been mindful.

When I was a kid in elementary school, I must have been shown the animated Animal Farm a bazillion times. Okay, maybe not that many times, but for some reason that film was de rigueur. My take away from that film was quite a strong influence on my thinking, but for some reason it didn’t seem to be the same as other people; and it finally occurred to me what was going on. I reflect on this a bit, back in 2006, in “Why do the bastards hate Animal Farm so much?“:

“But, when I was a kid and the schools kept showing the animated ‘Animal Farm’ I didn’t get the message that community was bad. I got the message that the selfish, evil bastards can ruin community for the rest of the animals.”

Ostensibly, the reason I kept seeing that film in school was, I imagine, that I was to understand that Communism didn’t work. But what I got from it was that communism did work, but that Communism didn’t because it was a broken form of communism, one that had been hijacked by bastards. So, be on guard! (Yes, I’m looking at you Capitalism.)

Fast forward to my undergraduate studies at The Evergreen State College, and the continuation and expansion of that work which culminated in my Master’s thesis, The Fifth Principle of Dialogue as an answer to a specific project:

“As a student and practitioner of Dialogue, I have constantly explored the question of how can we cross our thresholds to meet with the inimical other for the purpose of creating peace. Through my exploration of this question, I have developed a unique theory of dialogue that includes a definition of dialogue as an archetypal process that occurs in an enabling space and that has a set of observable phenomenon that emerge from that process.” [via]

I’m not entirely sure I ever integrated the notion of Haugk’s “Antagonist” into my work, but I have no doubt that it was an influence. Where I speak of the Unwilling Autonomous Principle, I realize that in my own thinking I include this idea of an “Antagonist”, which is to some extent like my interpretation and extension of Rosenberg’s “Jackal” as an archetype in my model of dialogue.

“The Jackal is that Other we are willing to engage and is willing to engage with us. Even though the Jackal may not be able to be compassionate and connected, the Jackal is willing to engage, the Hyena is not. The Jackal may take bites out of each and every Giraffe but will stop feeding when it is full, when needs are met. The Hyena will take bites from every Giraffe that it meets and will continue eating until there is nothing left to eat, including attacking the Jackals. The Jackal has authentic needs that can be met by the Giraffe archetypes in order to build a bridge between them. The Hyena archetype refuses to peacefully engage even if all efforts are made to satisfy its needs.

If the project of crossing thresholds into enabling dialogical space is to engage with our own Other, then staying with the safe intramural conversations in the Giraffe herd is not enough. If there is any hope for progress toward dialogue, the Other must be engaged even if that Other will consistently take a chunk out of every Giraffe. But it cannot be the point of the project to place us in suicidally dangerous places, pointlessly offering ourselves as a free meal to the Hyenas, because this also ends the project as surely as if it were not begun at all.” [via]

I’m not sure whether I managed to fully satisfactorily signify the “Antagonist” as either “Jackal” or a kind of hybrid, a “Hyena in Jackal costume”. But Haugk’s notion of the “Antagonist” is someone who, while unwilling to engage in actuality will constantly act as if they are willing to engage in order to satisfy their needs at the expense of others.

These inimical others are the most dangerous, because they are not just lurking about outside of our social groups and structures, but rather are actively hunting. These others are violently predatory toward our constructive social groups.

Paradoxically, as such things often are, these seriously dangerous organizational psychopaths are actually very often well thought of by those with whom they interact. The natural camouflage of these predators is such that they often appear to be the center of attention, and appear to be charismatic members of the social group.

Much like the apocryphal, prototypical serial killer, they seem to have adoring fans everywhere. And, that’s one of the most surreal things for anyone that finds themselves confronted or attacked by these predators within social groups. There is constantly this sense of the bizarre at the difference between one’s own experience and the way these predators seem to be seen by the group. One constantly feels like the protagonist in John Carpenter’s “They Live”; that everyone is blind to the true nature of what is going on around them, that they are surrounded by monsters and being manipulated into docility to ease their eventual slaughter or use as a pack animal (and yes, that’s a weak joke about being made into an ass, or moreover being made into the butt, or something to do with getting screwed there).

As they say, the first step is to admit that you’ve got a problem. The first step to dealing with the existence of those who would damage social groups from the inside without any remorse, beyond the way a predator mourns when all the easy pickings are devoured, is to recognize that such people exist.

Being able to recognize the existence of these “Antagonists”, these inimical others that are quite literally hunting us down from within (or perhaps to break my own metaphoric structure these are a kind of social parasite; dare I even say vampire? And not the fluffy bunny carrot sucking kind. Don’t even get me started on sparkles!), is not enough. Beyond the really, truly transformative experience of being able to name the phenomenon, as expressed by Bonewits above, and therefore validate the experience of that phenomenon, it is also necessary to respond to the existence of those phenomena. It would be nice if merely seeing that “Antagonists” exist was enough to, like some comforting fairy tale, magically dismiss them, but unfortunately what is required is an actual active daily practice of banishing.

In the conclusion of my thesis, I observe:

“I believe that meeting the inimical other is made possible through the practice of dialogue. This practice is for the purpose of human growth on a collective level, and to transform the self, others and the world.” [via]

And, indeed, this practice of dialogue is an intentional practice of both intra- and inter-personal transformation which has many possible similarities to the personal transformative practice of magick. There is need for a daily practice, a consistent commitment to the project. There is also a need for engagement within some kind of tradition, or within some kind of social group; after all, while I do admit to the possibility of internal dialogue, it is the external variety which is the more germane, or to re-use one of my invented terms “Relephant” [via].

It is in developing a social system which is adapted to respond by individuals invested in a fundamental social bond, in recognizing “an inescapable, essential connection between people that is bigger than any of us” [via]; in this is the foundation of meeting the challenge of “Antagonists” as a limitation to dialogue. But, it is also essential to recognize that the implication of not developing an adaptable social system is to be at the mercy of those who will, no doubt, happily take advantage of every opportunity to feed off of the essential vitality in any group in which they are allowed to hunt for food, or in which they are allowed to suck, for several meanings of that term.

It may in fact be possible, as I suggest in my thesis, to develop systems within organizations, founded on personal willingness and ability, to develop enabling dialogical environments where confronting inimical others is both possible and constructive; but, doing so very likely will require a strong dynamic archetypal engagement, one which may require intermediaries, mediation of one kind or another. But, it may also require something which I didn’t fully develop in my thesis, and about which I’ve apparently only spoken about in passing elsewhere: enclaving [Look for “enclave” or “enclaving”: see, also, et, et, et]. But, in essence, it may be necessary, not to abandon the project of crossing our thresholds, but to be willing to exclude when necessary those that stand in the way of dialogue in order to have any hope of progress:

“Dynamic balance within dialogical space as part of the dialogic process includes the notion of balance between inclusion and exclusion, a dynamic balance between collective and autonomous principles. This is one of the qualities of the boundary between the circles of engagement. Including the truly inimical is something that can be fatal, so exclusion is an essential function of creating a boundary at the edge of a dialogical environment. In my thinking is the notion of ‘enclaving’ where groups determine their useful and necessary boundaries. But, it’s also essential to the overall dialogical environment that these boundaries, which create enclaves, have the possibility for permeability. It is not necessary to take in the inimical, but it seems necessary to have an open invitation to those willing, and moreover to those that become willing in the future as the dialogic process builds and then permeates the surrounding larger environment, to come willingly into a more interior circle of engagement. Further, it also must remain possible for a group to hive itself off from a larger group when the larger group does not offer an enabling dialogical environment.

Thus a sub-group choosing to enclave with those actually willing can become the catalyst for future change in the larger group because they’ve excluded disabling or inimical entities, until such time as it becomes possible to re-cross their group boundary to further, ongoing inclusion. But, even if it does not happen obviously that further inclusion becomes possible, in the meanwhile the emergence of dialogue can create change in the environments within and without the circles of engagement.” [via a response to a comment]

So, it turns out that I’ve ended up recommending Haugk’s “Antagonists in the Church” to people I care about in every social group I’ve been in since I finally picked up a copy and read it. It is a very quick read, but I think it has the potential for catalyzing some very important conversations within organizations, and perhaps also the potential for helping to develop an environment in which true dialogue can emerge.

While I admitted to a certain loss of faith, if you will, in the necessity for the project; I have had recent occasion to have the seemingly surreal experience of having a social group, in which I was heavily invested but from which I had distanced myself due to disappointment, suddenly have, if you will allow the unexplained irony, a “come to Jesus” moment with Haugk’s book. Apparently, the book has spread like wildfire and it seems that the topic of “Antagonists” will be included within several of the internal organizational development structures of the organization in relatively short order. Huz-freakin-zah!

I had one long time member of that organization echo in a private conversation with me the sentiment expressed by Bonewits, saying “If only I had read this ten years ago, so much pain could have been avoided!”

So, I’ve recommended this book to people in every organization I’ve been in since running into it, and now I’d like to recommend it to you, and to the people in whatever organizations you are in. There’s something that is both seriously validating that comes from reading this material, but also, I hope, and moreover, contained within is something that will catalyze your next step toward both personal and organizational change.

Originally posted over on my personal blog at The antagonist as a limitation to dialogue.

Låt den rätte komma in

When I saw the movie, I didn’t know there was a book. I think the movie just kind of showed up one day and moved into my Netflix queue. All very normal. Who knew? Then, I watched it. I was so amazed by the originality and atmosphere and everything of the movie that when someone mentioned, “The book is better,” I knew I had to read that too. However, it sat on my stack unread. In fact, I almost gave it away as a present since it seemed a shame to waste a brand new book like that if I wasn’t going to read it.

Then, I’m not sure why, but I picked it up. And, devoured it. But, the whole time I kept thinking to myself, “I wish I’d read the book first.” The pacing seemed really slow to me as I was reading it. I felt that had to be because I’d seen the movie and so I wasn’t discovering the story for the first time. It had to be something, because it was a wonderful story to read.

Well, maybe the word “wonderful” isn’t right, is it? It’s a bleak affair, after all. The pacing is part of the atmosphere. Everyone is struggling to find love in spite of their dysfunctions in a world which indifferently exists around them. I’d say hostile, but that’s not really it. Everyone is doing what they can to survive as wounded individuals, and sometimes that means hurting other people. But, it’s not really out of malice, even the bullies are really not so much vicious as much as indifferently cruel because they are living. And, there’s really no good people, per se, as much as everyone being flawed in such a way that it’s all ultimately ambiguous. And, in the cold and wintery dark, isn’t that idea the real horror? To be alone is to die, but to be around others is to get hurt. To live is to decide to continue hurting and being hurt, and to refuse this is to refuse to go on living. And, that struggle is one that strangles the heart in strange ways, unless you can find the right one that balances out that struggle for a while. So, try to let the right one in.

(It’s an odd coincidence, which will only make sense to those having read the book, that I was proofreading Liber Cordis Cincti Serpente as I was reading the book. After you finish the book, go and read through this Liber to see why this stuck me as synchronicity.)

Then I finished with the story and watched the movie again. As I watched the movie, I realized how very different the two were from each other. The pacing of the movie really was strikingly fast, and after the book the movie is almost dizzying. The movie literally zooms from the start to somewhere in the middle of the book across a couple of minutes. I was really shocked at how much wasn’t there from the book that I had to reassure myself that, in fact, the author was also the writer of the screenplay. Now, that makes it very interesting to think about what got left out, by the author’s own hand; in collaboration, to be sure, but still. Re-watching the movie, I realized there were things that couldn’t have made sense the first time, things that must have seemed odd or wrong about the plot. The movie could have been so very much creepier and scarier. But, it also turned the story from one of many individuals trying for survival, trying to live in a indifferently hostile world, into more of a love story.

In fact so much was left out, that, given what was left unexplored on screen the first time, I’m holding out a bit of hope now that the Americanized remake will actually be truer to the book. Faint hope to be sure, if I’m relying on American cinema to outdo a European film for awesome moody dread and willingness to go uncomfortable places, without turning to shlock and satire.

Of course, I’m reminded of anything by Bergman, but that’s too easy. Like in Cyrano de Bergerac, no one really gets what they want in the end. Like the end of The Princess Bride, it’s really not clear how much time there’s left for those riding off into the sunset. And, as I think about this I’m strongly reminded of my experience of The Silence of the Lambs, because of the realization that instead of any of what would normally be the creepiest stuff, the violence and gore and so on, what really was creepy was the psychological, existential horror that went on in the exchange between the main characters.

While reading the book, there were two places where it seemed to me the translator’s choices stuck out in odd ways, and there was one point past the half way point in the story where I had a feeling that the style of storytelling had abruptly changed. But, all in all the writing and translation seemed to carry me along and into the narrative without making themselves obvious, dissolving into a seamless experience. Nothing here like a tour de force of language, but well suited to the story and did well to maintain my immersion and momentum through to the end.

Now I’m flummoxed over whether I’d rather have read the book first or not. I actually like the movie a lot less now than I did before I read the book. The book is a much richer tapestry and much creepier and much more compelling. I can only, in the end, recommend both, and highly, even in spite of my confusion. They’re such different creatures, the movie and the book, that they both almost live unlives of their own. Both manage to survive, to find a way through the dark; both manage to come out in the end. At least, for a while.

Originally posted over on my personal blog at Låt den rätte komma in.

A Darkness Surrounds Him

Outcast, Vol. 1: A Darkness Surrounds Him by Robert Kirkman, Paul Azaceta, &al., collects the first issues in an interesting new story in just as dark and depressing a world as Kirkman’s The Walking Dead and the show. It’s an interesting take on possession horror, but here’s the thing: I’ve gotten tired of the depressing and awful trudge through mud that is The Walking Dead, and that’s not even mentioning the unappealing-to-me descent fully into torture porn, so the promise of another whole series just as persistently relentlessly repetitively rotten and dark just doesn’t do it for me. Beyond the gore in this one, given the way exorcism horror goes, more torture porn is sure to come as well. It’s not bad. It’s actually good at what it does. I just have trouble finding a way to want to go further in either story. But, if you’ve got the wanderlust for more dark travels without respite, this would no doubt appeal. For myself, I enjoyed it for a while, and again here, but I’ve moved on.

Originally posted on my personal blog at A Darkness Surrounds Him

Bubba Ho-Tep

I was looking for books set in the weird west, for reasons, and ended up being reminded that Bubba Ho-Tep by Joe R Lansdale was a book before it was a movie. So, I got sidetracked by this one, which is a kind of hillbilly gumbo of conspiracy theory supernatural horror humor. As a bonus, there’s even “West Texas” hieroglyphics. Turns out there’s also a sequel, which is probably just as ridiculous … ly awesome as this one. Guilty pleasure, to be sure, but who isn’t seduced by the spectral comfort of butter fried peanut butter and banana sandwiches like this, especially in our declining years as we try to remember which famous person we once were while battling the forces of evil?

I made 25 highlights.

Originally posted on my personal blog at Bubba Ho-Tep

The Dulwich Horror

The Dulwich Horror by Oliver Harris is an entry into the corpus of Cosmicism, but not really Lovecraftian. It’s not set in New England, but rather in London, England proper. It doesn’t feature the Elder Gods, but rather an interesting twist on the Old Norse Gods. The protagonist’s name is Ursula, and that’s a bit too on the nose; and I just couldn’t get Disney out of my mind each time I read her name; but, on the whole there’s a good story with interesting ideas, with a real-feeling setting, and compelling familiar flavours of horror in an interesting new mixture. The story is from the viewpoint of a female protagonist who has a bit of a family secret, and so this also, it seems to me, overcomes some of the sexist and racist othering legacy of the Lovecraftian corpus, and thus I feel this is another welcome addition to the ranks of new Cosmicism.

I did get this book because Oliver Harris is the author of Lovecraft, Cyclonopedia and Materialist Horror, in the Cyclonopedia Studies section of Hermetic Library. Harris should not be confused with the crime writer of the same name, but consider checking out that essay and this story.

I made 6 highlights.

Originally posted on my personal blog at The Dulwich Horror

Itsy Bitsy

Itsy Bitsy by John Ajvide Lindqvist is my first return to the corpus that contains Låt den rätte komma in, and its adaptions, about which I swooned a while back.

It’s definitely the same literary voice I recall, though from translations by the same translator, so … who’s voice is it luring me in? Ironically, the title story is only the first 1/3rd of this volume. The remaining 2/3rds is taken up by two previews for other Lindqvist books. So … this story is something of an anglerfish trying to tempt you in with promises for more of what you want.


The story itself is a twist on what seems at first to be a simple tale of a paparazzi waiting to capture the perfect picture to sell, but is taken down by a tickle being given to his deep desires.

I made 3 highlights.

Originally posted on my personal blog at Itsy Bitsy

Red Dragon

Red Dragon by Thomas Harris is the first story where the character Hannibal Lector appears, and is the launching point for a series of books, movies and television, not the least of which are Jonathan Demme’s revelation that interior menace was far creepier and disturbing than the externally gross on screen with Silence of the Lambs and the tour de force apotheosis of everything Bryan Fuller that is Hannibal. I could say so much about those two reifications, but will try to focus on the book in particular, though they must be included in passing by reference.

After so many years, this was the first Thomas Harris book I read, and I must admit I finally put it on my to read stack because of Fuller’s television series. But I was surprised by how many esoteric references there were, and some of that comes out strongly in Fuller’s series. To be sure there’s the obvious William Blake connection with the Great Red Dragon image, but there’s so much about becoming and will and good and evil and nature and choice and the interaction and intertwining and internecination and integration of all these selves and shadows here to contemplate and with which to make pacts.

There’s plenty in this fiction to entertain and worth recommendation, but even moreso for those with esoteric interests who will find an even heartier eucharist.

I made 144 highlights.

Originally posted on my personal blog at Red Dragon