Robert Taylor's "Remnants"

Robert Taylor's "Remnants"

Excerpt from the "Introduction" to Remnants of a Season: The Collected Poems of Robert N. Taylor (Dominion / Ultra)

Robert N. Taylor was born in 1945 and grew up in a working-class area on the south side of Chicago. His father, George Ellis Taylor, encouraged him to read and shared with his son his own enthusiasm for European writers like Oswald Spengler and—most importantly— Friedrich Nietzsche. His appetite for books opened up a world much bigger than the narrow parochial boundaries of his neighborhood, but he was never a “bookish” kid. When he wasn’t reading he was lifting weights or hardening his hands and feet with martial arts, and he actively engaged in violent street brawls with Puerto Rican gangs like the Vice Lords and the Egyptian Cobras. But more serious battles were yet to come.

By the time the other young men in his neighborhood were starting families, punching in at the plant, and settling into lives of quiet frustration, Taylor was fully ensconced in the armed underground struggles of the “Minutemen bands.” These small, independent fighting units—which Taylor had discovered through ads in the back of gun magazines when he was a teenager at the end of the 1950s—were formally incorporated into the Minutemen organization founded by Robert Bolivar DePugh in 1961. The Minutemen shared many aspects of the conservative revolutionary ideology Taylor had imbibed from his father, and were ostensibly formed to defend against a homegrown communist insurgency. While most historians see the Minutemen as a precursor to the paramilitary militia movement that would later arise in the American Heartland, they might better be understood in the context of organizations like the Weather Underground—a group which the Minutemen successfully infiltrated—or the Red Army Faction in Germany. Although driven by a diametrically opposite worldview, the Minutemen’s total commitment to their cause and willingness to employ criminal means to achieve it bore little resemblance to the “weekend warrior” fantasies of the militias. In 1968, DePugh was indicted for conspiracy to commit bank robbery and various federal firearms violations. He skipped bail and went on the lam before eventually being apprehended in Truth or Consequences, New Mexico. Taylor also dropped out of sight, backpacking his way through Mexico, Guatemala, and the American Southwest while he waited for things to cool down. He hung out with hippies, bikers, and other outlaws. Like many disillusioned young people, he also read the Beats, dropped acid, and sampled the delights of Free Love. Although he’d never really been a part of it in the first place, the predictable middle-class dream of the 1950s had been blown to bits like one of the Minutemen’s improvised explosive devices. Now the Technicolor visions of the psychedelic experience seemed to point the way to new horizons.

After the Minutemen episode, Taylor largely renounced political activism. Like the leftist revolutionaries who ultimately ended up in Buddhist ashrams, Taylor the right-wing revolutionary had concluded that only a spiritual sea change could stem the downward spiral of European culture. He formed Changes with his cousin Nicholas, and they wrote and performed as often as they could (Taylor’s reminiscences about Changes’ brief stint as a “house band” for the Chicago coffeehouse run by the mysterious Process Church of the Final Judgment are recounted in Adam Parfrey’s Apocalypse Culture [Feral House, 1987]). He also refined and developed his craft as a painter and illustrator. For a time in the 1980s, Taylor and his wife Karen moved to rural Tennessee where they opened a bookstore and café that served as a meeting space for the local arts community. They ultimately settled down on a strikingly beautiful piece of property on Washington Island, Wisconsin, where they raised two sons, Randy and Thor, and developed a thriving homestead.

In addition to his artistic and musical endeavors, Taylor has also been one of the early trailblazers for Germanic heathenry, or Ásatrú, in the United States. Adherents of Ásatrú reject the “slave morality” of the Abrahamic religions in favor of the more virile virtues found in the sagas and traditional epics of Europe: values like honor, strength, perseverance, and individual assertiveness. They also draw a strong connection between ancestry and spirituality, suggesting that the best way for people of Northern European descent to relate to the Divine is by invoking the gods and goddesses of their own forebears.

In the late 1970s, unaware of anyone else who shared these same convictions, the Taylors founded a group called Northernway that was active in the Wiccan-dominated Midwestern pagan scene. The core of this group would eventually become the Wulfing Kindred and later the Wulfing Tribe, so named because it had outgrown the merely local fellowship that a “kindred” implies. Membership in the Wulfings is conferred to recognize a certain level of achievement in the real world, and is reserved for writers, artists, and musicians working within the same constellation of ideas that has always been important to Taylor. This also reflects another basic tenet of Asatrú. What one does (and the Wulfings have done a lot) is more important than what one merely believes. Or, as followers of another religion that shall here remain unnamed like to say: “By their fruits ye shall know them” (Matthew 7:16). There can be little doubt that the efforts of groups like the Wulfing Tribe have begun to have ripple effects in the wider community. This was clearly the case at the “Stella Natura” music festival in 2013, where Taylor and Stephen A. McNallen (of the Asatru Folk Assembly) took to the stage to perform blót (a blót denotes an Ásatrú ritual) before an enthusiastic audience of hundreds of young people. Though mainly a celebration of (über-?) folk and heavy metal music, the atmosphere at Stella was one in which heathen ideas and aesthetics—once practiced in isolation by men like Taylor—now enjoy a much wider cultural currency.