The events of a story take place in an eternal past / present / future that can be thought of as “narrative time.” Narrative time is not anchored to the unidirectional flow of time in which we live our lives. As a child one can read a story and follow the events as they unfold. As an adult one can read the same story and experience the same sequence and flow of events. Once complete the ending of the story does not become part of history as one can always reread it from the beginning.

Stories we tell in role playing also live in narrative time. As we move through linear time in session after session, we write the events of the story. Nevertheless, we can alway revisit earlier chapters, as players often do when recapping the last session before starting the current one. Storytellers sometimes borrow characters from one campaign for use in another, bringing the character as they appear at one point in the story into an entirely different narrative timeline.

Once they complete a campaign, players tend to speak about it in the past tense. One does not often repeat a previous campaign, so one might confuse the narrative time of the campaign with the linear time in which the sessions took place. On the other hand, insofar as the players are creators, the past tense may refer to production of the story rather than its events.

Role playing games take the form of a performance, one that may have artifacts like notes or maps associated even though the whole work is not fixed in a tangible medium of expression. When the performance is done, the players would sensibly speak of it in the past tense. The story told by their performance remains in narrative time, available for a future performance by these or other players. Translating the story of a campaign into a more tangible form requires realizing it in its narrative time. As a novel the campaign’s beginning and end become available simultaneously. As a game resource the story’s structure is flattened and laid bare, available for the past, present, or future of another campaign.


The Art of War arose from the Daoist reflection on warfare, strategy, and tactics. Daoist analytical methods emphasize the power of holistic frameworks. Placement of soldiers cannot influence the outcome if the soldiers starve due to broken supply lines. Sun Tzu and the classical commentators who expanded The Art of War brought together logistics, psychology, and martial experience to provide a holistic analysis of warfare. While not a Buddhist tradition, Daoist philosophy harmonizes with Buddhist philosophy as evidenced by influence on the Zen Tradition.

Later Zen-influenced reflection on the martial arts echoes both death imagery in Zen and the holistic analysis characteristic of Daoism. Like The Art of War before it, The Book of Five Rings holistically reflects on warfare and dueling. It describes a warrior philosophy of detachment from both life and death, liberated from fear to enter battle but forsaking glory found in murder. While Buddhist ethics discourages combat, its analytic methods have been successfully applied to the practice of violence.

The Tibetan Buddhist tradition contains a panoply of demonic images that project anger and force. Wrathful Buddhas sit wreathed in flame, indifferent to the changing conditions of the world. Beings with tusks and other bestial traits reject attachment to beauty. In the Tantric framing the awakened mind has been freed from the distractions of attachment and desire. When focused the awakened mind focuses completely, embraces emotions indiscriminately, and channels force precisely. Wreathes of flame represent ever-changing phenomena and the awakened mind’s detachment from it while remaining within it.

Meditation focused on mandalas and other intricate images feature in all Tibetan Buddhist lineages. Vivid images invite close inspection and the long gaze required to cultivate mindfulness. Demonic images may be jarring at first but found soothing or comforting after long exposure and a different perspective. Working with the images and the Buddhist concepts they represent serve as powerful teaching tools.

Despite rhetoric that glorifies the free market as the guarantor of ownership rights, late stage capitalism is marked by a concentration of ownership. As wealth flows toward the owner class, the working class becomes less able to acquire ownership rights in property and durable goods. Where a professional class family might have owned their home in a prior generation, their late stage descendents find themselves doomed to tenancy. Possessions of significant value become inaccessible outside of lease or subscription. Ownership narrows in the late stage because capitalism chiefly invents means to extract further capital from resources and transactions. As processes are fragmented and outsourced, opportunities for rents appear at points of transaction, expanding the set of facilitators obstruct what might otherwise be a frictionless process in order to extract rents from both sides. In the tenant society, consumers pay for the privilege of use but remain empty handed.

Zen literature references not only death but the act of killing in describing the path to liberation. Koans from the Blue Cliff Record advise that a disciple must be ready to take life to grasp the dharma fully. Seeing life and death as no different is said to be the attitude of the ancient sages.

These statements reflect confrontational interpretations of Buddhist philosophy. All of them can be interpreted charitably and aligned with the framework set down in even the most ancient lineages of the tradition. Yet, the Zen tradition reaches for provocative inferences within that framework. The vivid images and incongruous claims require the student to address deeply held attachments such as identifying with the body or illusions of permanence. Violence is not given prominence, highlighting that we bring assumptions of violence into thinking about death. Zen practice directs students to examine, question, and abandon assumptions because they often obscure attachments that should be let go.


Just War Theory outlines conditions under which the use of force by a state actor can be morally justified. Philosophical traditions have addressed the moral justification for war since ancient times, all over the world. The problem can be easily framed. Morality in general forbids harming another being due to a simple reciprocity of duty and obligation. Moral duties derive from universal principles, commands that are applicable in all situations no matter the participants. A moral duty against causing harm can be readily derived from this configuration of shared desire and the universality of moral duty.

All moral agents, indeed all sentient beings, desire to avoid pain and therefore violence and harm that can cause pain. Given this shared desire, an agent avoids being the cause of harm to others because they want others to avoid being the cause of harm to them. An agent who desires to harm others but not to be harmed themselves must embrace an inconsistency that explains why they are permitted to harm while others are not. The two desires are considered inconsistent because, with respect to a desire to avoid harm, the agent who wants to harm is the same as other agents. One must articulate a reason that they would be permitted to harm while others do not share the same privilege.

A successful Just War Theory must provide an account of circumstances that suspend a general moral duty to some extent. A Just War Theorist must argue against the grain of morality and identify a configuration of conditions or events that render immoral acts morally permissible. In fairness to Just War Theorists, the circumstances identified are generally fairly narrow. When facing an invading force, when other paths to resolution are exhausted, and when violence now will not preclude a peaceful resolution later, Just War Theorists will generally agree that the use of force can be morally justifiable.

When one compares those conditions to the causes of war over the last two hundred years, one labors to find a “just war.” World War II often enjoys the status of a morally justifiable war, but the designation becomes more fragile in light of the atrocities committed by all parties, the imperialist motivations that motivated war in Europe, and the Iron Curtain that divided erstwhile allies in the aftermath. For the most part wars prosecuted by so-called “great powers” find their justification in greed, in power, and in revenge.

The wars familiar to a 21st century person are the wars of empire, of colonization, of hegemony. An examination of the Roosevelt Corollary and the Bush Doctrine readily shows motivation to assert sovereignty beyond national boundaries. While the overt reasoning includes preserving security or preventing worse consequences, the actions that follow from those foreign policy frameworks reinforce the dominance of one group by the subjugation of others. Just War Theory serves only to identify heroes and villains in propaganda in service of imperialist ends.

In the clash of empires the proper protagonists are the people trapped between clashing villains. Imperial governments act out of disregard for people other than their own, and even then often only their own wealthy and privileged citizens. The interests of the owner class become the interest of the imperial state. If a foreign country is not a peer considered either ally or enemy, it is merely a collection of resources and territory, both prize and battlefield of proxy wars. For all the good intentions of scholars, Just War Theory fails to safeguard against improper violence. Instead, it advances a contradiction to support imperialist interests and transmute violence into a noble duty.

Baphomet appears in numerous occult contexts, often aligned with demonology, medieval witchcraft, or Satanism. The contemporary Church of Satan features its image in their insignia. It represents the Devil on Trump XV of the Major Arcana in the Rider-Waite deck. Ceremonial magicians in lineages from Eliphas Levi to Anton LaVey encounter Baphomet as a demonic name, a symbol of alchemical or arcane concepts, and a power to invoke.

Nevertheless, Baphomet originates in a phonetic corruption of “Mahomet” or Muhammed. Allegations against the Knights Templar included participation in the foreign “cult of Mahomet.” Islam was cast as an Old Testament paganism by racist imaginations to fuel lurid stories about the Templars worshipping “Baphomet.” The accusations became charges of heresy and witchcraft, ultimately bringing about the end of the order and the execution of its last grand master.

Baphomet is only one example of entropy in occult traditions. The history of magic is entwined with religion, science, and fraud. Occult fraudsters drape themselves in whatever will lend them credibility, instill fear, or enhance their stature, yet some of their marks are true believers who practice sincerely. A critical pagan values detecting entropy and sifting truth from lie. In that way one can embrace the organic change of a living tradition, acknowledge fraudulent accretions, and rest on a solid foundation.

Meditation instructions that include contemplating death can be found in the Pali canon, the oldest collection of Buddhist philosophy. Looking directly into the nature of reality is a path to awakening and liberation in that tradition. The Buddha instructs his monks to seek desolate places such as graveyards and cremation pits to remind themselves of impermanence.

Buddhist philosophy advises that we remember that the body is a material thing and subject to all of the changes that matter can undergo. The Mahasatipattana—Sutta directs the meditator to imagine the body as a fleshy sack containing hair, bones, blood, and other bodily fluids. The purpose of these meditations is to embrace the fragile nature of physicality. Nothing that we can hold onto will last forever, and some things can be crushed by being held too tightly. Instead, one should reflect on the value that arises because things because it cannot endure. The next time you drink from a treasured cup, it could be the last time. In thinking about the end, one gains the perspective to appreciate the present moment.

Gothic artists are famous for trysts in cemeteries and other places of the death. Percy Shelley wooed Mary Wollenstonecraft Godwin by reading poetry in a graveyard. Edgar Allan Poe often dwells on physical processes of death and decay in his writing. The contrast between the quick and the dead forms a cornerstone of the Gothic aesthetic. The flame burns more brightly when seen against the shadows. As Buddhist philosophy argues, we appreciate what we have when we appreciate its fragility.

Both Gothic art and Buddhist philosophy channel a fascination with death, decay, and destruction into reflection on happiness, beauty, and life. A common repulsion, the fear of darkness, pushes these images to the edges of our attention most of the time. In turning away from darkness, one turns away from a tangible and inescapable reality. Unrealistic desires and presumptuous neglect arise from the delusion of permanence. The wiser path is to keep both creation and destruction in focus.

The Meaning of Witchcraft by Gerald Gardner provides some interesting insights into the founding of modern Wicca. Gardner begins each chapter by introducing a feature of witchcraft, paganism, or the occult, but he avoids fitting any of those concepts into a unified framework for Wiccan theology. Instead, the concept becomes a springboard for winding stories that weave witchcraft into history and folklore. While there is an implied theology that one can infer from ritual forms, Gardner devotes his writing to seeding the historicity of a continuous witchcraft tradition rather than establishing pagan epistemology, metaphysics, and ethics.

Much of The Meaning of Witchcraft contributes to the Wiccan founding myth by presenting interpretive evidence of a continuous witchcraft tradition existing in secret alongside and being persecuted by Christian institutions. Each narrative frames a belief about witchcraft, traces evidence of that belief in history, and interprets symbols, events, and motivations to support the framing. The resulting digressions suffer from all of errors Gardner inherits from discredited folklore theories such as the Murray Thesis and other frameworks no longer widely accepted. Many later Wiccan and Pagan writers follow a similar pattern in their books.

Gardner neglects any pagan account of epistemology or metaphysics in favor of a loose collection of themes. There is emphasis on communion with the God and Goddess through ritual without an account of how one has knowledge of the God and Goddess. Karma anchors ethics without any normative theory that defines good. Reincarnation supplies an answer for the afterlife, but Gardner does not supply an ontology that explains that nature of whatever provides continuity between lifetimes.

In the absence of these accounts, the Pagan community embraces a loose federation of beliefs supplied by European occult traditions, Asian religious traditions, and cradle religions. Fusion with the New Age contributed additional layers as Wicca crossed the Atlantic Ocean. In this unstructured tradition, Pagan practice has more consistency than Pagan belief.

Examining the principles underlying belief through philosophical inquiry or scholarship in history, anthropology, or archeology risks challenging the same brittle foundations as the Wiccan founding myth. Tolerance of diverse beliefs allows the community to unite across lineages and define a pluralist religious community. Pagan pluralism itself provides a refuge for inquisitive seekers who feel confined by overly rigid traditions.

On the other hand, the absence of direction on what Paganism is rather than what it should not be leaves a seeker at the mercy of whatever resources they find. A local community must find its ways of discouraging abusive behavior and ensuring that uninformed seekers have access to guidance. In this capacity, pluralism limits the community’s response because it motivates a reluctance to challenge brittle and self-serving beliefs. While the Wiccan Rede would appear to provide this standard, in the absence of a normative theory to define harm, its application becomes a matter of interpretation.

Is the absence of a unifying and prescriptive theology a problem for modern paganism? The Buddhist tradition is carried by a wealth of lineages not formally organized but all tracing themselves back to the Buddha. Lineages do monitor their teachers by endorsing teachers and enforcing codes of behavior. All Buddhist traditions have a robust tradition of ethical scholarship, extending back to the Pali Canon. One may hesitate to pass judgment on incomplete information, but a Buddhist can explain very clearly the boundaries of moral behavior so that an individual can draw correct inferences.

Pagan covens lack a unified ethical tradition. One may derive ethics from a combination of acculturated norms, general principles, and personal gnosis, but there is no shared framework to provide consistency of judgment. While all religious organizations are vulnerable to corruption and abusive individuals, mature traditions have developed means for mitigating those harms by warning newcomers and censuring abusers. To mature in this way, modern paganism needs a robust ethical framework that defines harm while embracing pluralism. The framework should answer:

• What actions, intentions, or traits constitute harm or facilitate harm?
• What responsibilities do we have toward one another?
• How do we come to know morality?
• How are moral judgments formed and justified?

Addressing these questions would give greater weight to the Wiccan Rede, resist spiritual bypasses that circumvent moral introspection, and discern abuse from difference of opinion.


If you consider the high price placed on one of a kind collectibles, you can note the value placed on being something no one else can have. Economists call items valued for exclusive possession, such as movie memorabilia or works of art, “positional goods.” A positional good has value only insofar as one can possess it and no one else can. Anyone can have a replica, but there is only one original. The difference in value between a unique item and the material that composes it can be thought of as its positional value, the value it accrues through exclusive possession.

Capitalist systems motivate the creation of positional goods because the value of sentiment is unbounded, unlike the cost of labor and materials. A merchant dealing in collectibles can turn a significant profit by purchasing from one party ignorant of the item’s value and selling it to an interested collector. Positional goods can become status signifiers, attracting increased value based on the associated status. Without producing any new material good or fulfilling any need, positional value inflates prices in favor of merchants and to the detriment of consumers.

The sentiment that enables positional value reflects some of humanity’s worse impulses. When a person enjoys positional value, they place an equivalent degree of value on the dissatisfaction of others. One celebrates not what one has, but that someone else does not have it. Embracing positional value then entails embracing another’s deprivation.

From a moral perspective positional value encourages immoral attitudes such as greed and insensitivity to suffering. The separation created between people who have and people who do not enable fragmentation of the community into factions anchored on their status and associated signifiers. Positional goods provide a perpetual wellspring of carrots for the owner class to offer workers in exchange for betraying their class interests. An anarchist should be skeptical of positional goods and positional value, and a communitarian should treat them as a pollutant.

The persuasive utility of positional value appears in the pitch for many scams, threatening the mark with missing out on something significant. The NFT market exploits two forms of positional value, inherent and external. Inherent value refers to the core concept already discussed, but external positional value refers to status signifiers associated with ownership. NFT promoters encourage adoption so that the buyer can be part of the next big movement. Owners create community around NFT collections, as if they have attained membership in a clique of Bored Apes. If you don’t buy any NFTs, you won’t have any stake in the cryptocurrency economy to come. In the end, the value of the asset will increase until no buyers remain. The price plummets, and the status withers.