“Paganism is Not Political”: A Rebuttal

“Paganism is Not Political”: A Rebuttal May 18, 2015
G&R's logo, by Alley Valkyrie. I love this logo. It speaks to me of Black power, feminist power, earth power - and now Pagan power.
G&R’s logo, by Alley Valkyrie. I love this logo. It speaks to me of Black power, feminist power, earth power – and now Pagan power.

Last week I posted a resource list for more information on Paganism. In the list I included a link to Gods & Radicals, a relatively new website for Pagan anti-Capitalism. A certain colleague who shall remain unnamed told me “Paganism isn’t political,” a statement with which I whole-heartedly disagree.

Here’s why: The personal is the political.

No, there is no political litmus test a person must pass to be Pagan. I know Pagans who are Libertarian, politically conservative, Democrat, anarchist, and a variety of other persuasions. The only type of Pagan I’ve never met is a social conservative, though I’m sure those exist too. Paganism doesn’t have a set of political views that one must subscribe to in order to be “authentic.” If anyone suggests as much, FLEE.

That’s right. You don’t have to get on board with the socialist, anarchist, anti-Capitalist view points of Gods & Radicals to be a Pagan.  You don’t have to think that the legalization of marijuana or same-sex marriage is a good idea (though I genuinely can’t understand why you wouldn’t). You don’t have to believe that global warming is real (though I really can’t understand why you wouldn’t). For every political stance someone somewhere can probably find a Pagan precedent.

What I can understand is the reluctance to blur religion and politics the way the Religious Right has done in the United States, particularly since the 1970s and the rise of the Moral Majority. Elections are a nightmare for people who refuse to be taken in with “values voting” and distraction tactics. Political discourse in the US has been dumbed down and we end up arguing over just how finely we should regulate women’s bodies or rehashing the same “values” debates from years past.

Not a single Pagan I know – liberal, conservative, or any other political flavor – wants to be compared to a fundamentalist or Christian conservative in any way.

So I can see the reluctance to appear political and Pagan in the same breath.

But make no mistake, my friends: the very act of being Pagan is political. I’ve said it before (on Facebook) that the very act of my being female, educated, and opinionated is a political act. Throw in witchcraft and ….. well, I’m very much what the Religious Right hates. You’d better believe that my speaking out is political!

As a radical feminist* I think that every decision I make is a political decision: how many children to have; whether I should have children at all; how much and what kind of education to get (I am well aware that my extensive education in theology is a privilege and that, as a woman, it has generally only been possible from the mid-20th century on); what kind of sex I have – or don’t have; to stay at home or work outside of the home; to speak up and to whom about what; what kind of birth control I use or don’t use; and so on.

I can hear some one out there saying “But Paganism isn’t feminism either!” And that’s true (though I can’t understand that, either). You can be a Pagan and not be a feminist – there is precedent. But why wouldn’t you want to be one?

Why wouldn’t you, as a Pagan, want to work for something different than the status quo? All of modern Paganism that I can see – and much of the ancient expressions, as well – stood in direct opposition to the mainstream monotheist overculture. This is particularly true of the way Neo-Paganism developed in the US in the 1960s on. It is also evident in the “back to nature”, Classical Paganism of the mid-to-late 19th century as a reaction to the effects of the Industrial Revolution. I’m also going to take a wild intellectual risk here and suggest that magicians like Aleister Crowley weren’t cozy with the status quo either.

By Rob Bye, Unsplash
By Rob Bye, Unsplash

“Being political” isn’t about which party you vote for. Not really. It’s about how you express your values and virtues in the world. Signing the Pagan Community Statement on the Environment is a political statement. It tells me something about your values and the way you wish them enacted in the world. Not signing it also is a political act and tells me something about your values. (Not everything, but something.) The very act of being a Pagan tells me something about your values and how you envision the world.

Paganism is absolutely political. Your expression, like your mileage, may vary.

 

 

*I reclaim this word and refuse to let trans-exclusive radical feminists steal this phrase from me. I am a trans-inclusive intersectional radical feminist. A TIRF! As opposed to a TERF.

 

 

 


Browse Our Archives

Follow Us!


TRENDING AT PATHEOS Pagan
What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Nice stuff. I have some thoughts on this same topic coming soon on A Sense Of Place. 🙂

  • druidess157

    Thanks for this

  • Ah, this is wonderful, thanks. I came to Paganism through feminist spirituality and was SO puzzled when I first found out that not all Pagans/Witches are ecofeminists!! These days I’m starting to wonder if ecofeminist thought has completely faded out of Paganism altogether.

  • Niki, perhaps it is because the Religious Right has blended religion and politics that some of us are reluctant to do the same. I suspect you and I would agree on just about every major issue. Where we would disagree is on how to go about becoming an agent for evolution, whether it be punctuated or equilibrium (stolen from Steven Jay Gould, I know). Or if we need to become one, except as how we govern our own behavior.

    Then there are things like mobilizing against fossil fuel projects in your neighborhood while using fossil fuels that I find somewhat hypocritical. I might agree with the goals of Greenpeace or EarthFirst! but disapprove of their tactics. I may hate Monsato with a passion but support the 2/3 of capitalists that, like myself, run a small business. The Statement does not speak for Pagans like me.

    You are right. There are Pagans of every political stripe, except perhaps social conservative (I haven’t met one of those either.) Too much of the Community Statement on the Environment supports only “socialist, anarchist, anti-Capitalist view points.” In doing so, it loses those Pagans, who are like me, libertarian (small l) and fiscally conservative.

    That includes a majority of Pagans on the east side of our state. Most believe that capitalism can be fixed, or will evolve into something better. Most would put a higher priority on utilitarian ethics than on activism. A large number of Pagans on the east side are ex-military – you can imagine how they feel about certain “activist” organizations. The Statement is unlikely to speak to them, at least not as strongly as it speaks to a more leftist crowd. I wish it were otherwise.

    In spite of that, I really hope you get your 10,000 signatures. I have promoted the Statement at spokanepagans.com. Good luck,

    • For what it’s worth, I have not signed the Statement. My mentioning it was not because I am involved in it. I support it insofar as I encourage people to speak up for what they believe in. But my name is not attached to it, in any way.

      • I guess I read too much into your reference to it. My apologies.

    • Interestingly, as a person on the inside, we took out and watered down a lot of the “socialist, anarchist, anti-capitalist” viewpoints intentionally to try and make the statement more palatable to a wider audience, and we’ve gotten flack from both ends of the spectrum.

      • Welcome to politics where everybody hates the middle! As I told John, had the last section not been included, and the “Take Action” page left off, I could have signed it. Those are the parts I see as polarizing. I would be curious to hear what specific portions others objected to.

      • There is no pleasing everybody. But we can’t let that keep us from doing our own good work.

    • I feel like I’ve done something extra awesome! Finally! I get this in a comment! 🙂

      • Remember when we’d hand out award images for sites and you’d have a collage of them in the sidebar. This should be the “official” Citizen Kane Slow Clap award. You just put him over there clapping way distracting all the readers….

  • Henry Buchy

    well yes, modern paganism is political. that’s exactly the reason why I’ve distanced myself from any association with it over the past few years. Despite your statements to the contrary, one does have to ‘get on board’ with certain political ideologies. It doesn’t matter one bit whether or not one holds the same political goals as much as one ‘toes the line’ in regards to that ideology. ‘Talking the talk’ is more important than ‘walking the walk’ lol. The ‘movement’ is really no different than the ‘status quo’ in methods and tactics, and it’s ideas about derived ‘authority’ are dependent on that same ‘status quo’. It’s just two sides of the same coin. Just a bunch of dogs barking at each other.

    • Well, perhaps there are lines to hoe with certain groups. I certainly support you doing your work. While it’s nice to be engaged with ideas I think are worthwhile, it is more important to make sure that I’m doing my work and not getting caught in a barking contest.

      • Henry Buchy

        my old poly sci professor defined political acts as any act done to sway others to do one’s will, short of violence. sound familiar?lol

  • Agni Ashwin

    Actually, paganism is not political. “Pagus” is Latin for “rural district”, and “polis” is Greek for “city” — two very different things. 😉

    • That literal, Latin definition is entirely irrelevant to the discussion at hand. Most Pagans in the US, most people in the US, don’t live rurally anymore. Moot point.

  • David Pollard

    I have difficulty anytime a way of organizing money is assigned an intrinsic moral value. Unquestioned capitalism in the US can be abusive, likewise unquestioned socialism in the old Soviet block was often abusive. In Scandinavia, you had a mixed system where both systems worked in check and balance against each other – and it generally has served its population better than just about anything else we’ve seen. Likewise our democracy was saved by the check & balances put in place by the US Constitution – until in recent decades they seem to be increasingly circumvented.
    I guess what I’m try to point out here is that any method of economic activity is not “bad”, but when it refuses to be in relation to other ways of being is when problems crop up.

  • About six months ago, while trying to gauge levels of experience among a group of pagans in the community, one question I asked was about participation levels linking political and/or community activism with their personal pagan beliefs. Not a single person who responded stated they participated at ANY level.

    This was pretty shocking, even in Kansas – not a place known for it’s ‘liberal’ bent. Like you, Niki, I cannot fathom practicing pagans NOT caring about feminism, equal rights, income inequality, LBGT progression or environmental concerns…and that’s just the short list.

    Most seem to react out of a sense of powerlessness – “What good is my vote? It’s a rigged system anyway”, “Both political party are crooks” – you know the drill. Many others echoed some of Woods Wizard’s sentiments, fearing becoming like the very system we fight against.

    So, after five decades as an activist both ‘on the street’ and ‘within the system’ I have arrived at the conclusion it doesn’t matter if all pagans share my level of outrage, passion and participation. I don’t get bent out of shape if they choose not to vote or get involved in local community concerns. If they want to stick their heads in the sand and ignore the gathering storms – fine. As Otter G’Zell Ravenheart states: “If you don’t like it, you can’t have any”.

    That stated, I will continue to challenge myself to “be the change you wish to see in the World’…and by World, I mean involvement.

    • I need to spend some thinking about this phenomenon: “Most seem to react out of a sense of powerlessness – “What good is my
      vote? It’s a rigged system anyway”, “Both political party are crooks””

      Because I too often feel this way. I need to unpack this a little more and do some writing around it.

      • I might have come across as a little(!!!) contrived in my responce to non-involved Pagans. Part of my own baggage is that I came to Witchcraft through feminism, anti-war/anti-nuke and environmental activism…aka Starhawk. We have marched together, created ritual together and been jailed together. It’s unrealistic to expect all Pagans to feel the same.
        . One thing I learned early on is that to wage Peace is more difficult than War, that compassion is tougher to achieve then hatred. I do get discouraged from time to time, because I want to remain an optimist even as humanities chances for survival seems less and less likely.
        . We all fight the illusion that “There is little I can do”. Thank the Gods we have more to relate to then an anthropocentric view of Creation.

      • Ealasaid A. Haas

        I struggle with that stuff too, it’s hard not to in a country as huge and polarized as the US – but I also believe strongly that I should behave as I wish others would — so I recycle, try to reduce/reuse/recycle, etc. And I vote, because if everybody voted, our country would be REALLY different. If only the aggro vote, things get ugly.

        I also volunteer when I can, give money when I can, and generally support the candidates I feel strongly about (for example, I was one of the many Californians who drove to Nevada for Obama’s first run to do canvassing and data entry for the Dem field offices!). I’m also trying to get more involved in local politics, where my vote will have a bit more oomph all on its own.

        Everything is political at this point – politicians control everything from healthcare to the environment, it’s hard to find an area of life that ISN’T somehow political! Paganism shapes how pagans view the world, so of course it’s political — though, as you say, not inherently Dem/Rep/Lib/Whatever.

        Great piece, Niki!

  • Secret Blue

    “Why wouldn’t you, as a Pagan, want to work for something different than the status quo? All
    of modern Paganism that I can see – and much of the ancient
    expressions, as well – stood in direct opposition to the mainstream
    monotheist overculture.”

    Frankly, because all of the alternatives sound a whole, whole lot worse(you learn a lot about “community” when growing up in the deep south, for example) and my experience with the actual groups has been almost universally awful. Most of my experiences with socialism, anarchism, and anti-capitalism have consisted of, “Sit down, shut up, and let us harangue you because you are white and middle class.” This is true even if I don’t say anything to anyone.

    • People are always the worst part of any group. 😉 These don’t have to be the only alternatives though. I hope you press forward in your own ways.

      • Mother Wolf

        Like Stalin said, “All problems are personal. No person, no problem.” I find it hard to see any activity that *isn’t* political. As social animals, every choice we make is a statement of our ethics and preferences and has an undeniable effect on others. Each of us is our own little butterfly of Chaos.

  • Verónica Morales

    Exactamente. Analizar profundamente qué grandes diferencias hay entre activar políticamente, religiosamente, o científicamente incluso. Y por qué se supone que todos estos elementos son contrarios entre sí.

  • Lyric Kali

    The act of choosing a tradition that is just narrowly within the definition of legal religion is absolutely political. And too many pagans, who also identify as Wiccan, don’t stand up enough for their recognition in Interfaith circles. Is simply being a “pagan” political? I’m not feeling it, too many wide and varied traditions are “pagan” – not all with the same underlying codes, ethics, morals, ways of being, etc. I think it is more apt to say that pagans can and are often also political stemming from what they feel is a righteous stand or their focus on justice. I’m political in a variety of ways, but rarely because I’m a Wiccan Thelemite. I was political in that realm to fight for my right to teach Wicca in faith-based institutions such as the Florida Department of Corrections. I’m political in fighting for access to gender neutral bathrooms, clean water, SNAP benefits, safety to walk down the street, but that isn’t because I’m a pagan, it is because it is who I am.

    • I like the way you’re phrasing things. Yes, there may be inherent personal traits that make some of us more less politically active. But see, I wasn’t saying that being Pagan means being politically *active*, but that merely the act of choosing to embrace Paganism is a political act.

      • Lyric Kali

        I’d say that being yourself in any way that varies from the outdated “norms” is a political act. So yes, choosing paganism while extremely personal is also a political act. It is an act of embracing who one is, which by its nature is political.

        • Lyric Kali

          And to those that say, “My paganism isn’t political” I would say, how you express your paganism may not be political. But the act of being one is political. Things are what they are because they’re larger than individuals

  • Weaver95

    For what it’s worth, here’s my .02 cents on the matter: its not about pagans. as with most things in this country these days, it seems to come back to a particularly virulent (and very vocal) minority strain of evangelical christianity. you know the types i’m talking about – the ones who believe that all birth control is abortion, that planned parenthood only does abortions and nothing else, who believe that despite literally mountains of evidence otherwise, this is a ‘christan nation’ and that only christians should rule over us. the folks who cannot leave others alone, who have an almost pathological need to force the rules of their religion on everyone else, regardless of the consequences to them AND their victims. who see same sex marriage as the work of their devil. yeah – THOSE folks. They set the agenda, they defined the environment we’re living in right now. they believe they are in a vast spiritual conflict, and are at war (sometimes physically, sometimes, spiritually, and sometimes psychically) against anyone NOT christian enough for their liking.

    so its not about us. most pagans i’ve met don’t care much for politics. they don’t bother with local or state elections. they don’t understand the issues, or care about the people involved with politics. the money side of elections bores them, the hair splitting over the law confuses them. Most pagans just want to live their lives, honor the god and goddess, and be ‘in the moment’ as much as possible. But we don’t get to step back, do we? not when someone else is trying to define our lives for us and make us follow THEIR rules on how to live our lives. we might want to live and let live, do our own thing…but we won’t be given that option because those evangelical christians I mentioned won’t LET us be ourselves. we didn’t start the war, but like it or not – war has come to us. If we don’t fight, if we don’t get involved, then we risk having evangelical christians being able to tell us what sort of marriage we can have, what sort of choices we get for our health care, and what kind of jobs we can work. if we don’t defend our right to worship, our faith could once again be outlawed (at worst) or extremely socially unacceptable (at best). we could be fired from our jobs because we aren’t christian, we could be evicted from our homes and towns, because we aren’t christian. unchecked, evangelical christians have told us that they WILL impose their version of biblical christianity on all of us and will not stop until we all convert to their faith.

    I apologize for being wordy, but…this is something i’m passionate about.

  • Ive been thinking about this topic for a few days and have some more of my crazy ideas to share.

    During the Watergate hearings Gordon Strong, a young, somewhat idealistic man caught up in the scandal, was asked “What advice would you give other young people…” He answered “The advice I would give them is stay away from government.” As an idealistic college student at the time, I found that depressing. That I remember it after all these years says something about how it affected me. One might argue that too many young idealists have stayed away. Yet, I think Gordon Strong’s advice probably still applies today. In one way, Watergate showed that the system worked. In another way, it showed how badly the system was broken – and it has gotten worse since.

    Over the course of my lifetime I have been an anti-war activist, a pro-environment activist (both in college), served as Vice Chair of a school board, chairman of a P&Z commission, writer for a political newsletter, and a county-level vice chairman for a political party. In my experience, politics is no place for idealism. It is no place for the ethical person. It is war, a war where you can never kill or vanquish your enemies. A war that practices the politics of personal destruction, For the most part, political leaders are power-hungry egotists with no sense of morality, or if they have any at all, it is consequentialist in nature.

    I have seen too many people become involved at the local level, become disillusioned and drop out. I have seen others corrupted by it’s power. If politics is personal, we are all in big trouble.

    Government no longer exists to serve the people, but to preserve its own power. This may be because too many good people are taking Gordon Strong’s advice (whether they realize it or not). Unfortunately, it is good advice.

    • Alicia Velice

      I always took that to mean stay away from the dark side of power…. But I come at things from a different place.
      My Grandfather was black balled by Nixon, called a communist shunned by the community.
      My Grandfather never stopped being informed never stopped voting or speaking out.
      He taught me that politics is all around us in every interaction we have, you can not truly choose to not participate because it is so ingrained in human behavior.

      As a Pagan and a woman and a feminist, If my politics did not all fall in line I would not be living my truth.

      • Each of us have to walk our different path. For me, politics is the Dark Side of power. In these times, government service of any kind strips you of your privacy. I chose to no longer walk that path, as I see it as self-destructive.

        You are right that politics is all around us in every interaction we have, yet it is a different kind of politics, though it can be equally self-destructive. It is the kind of politics where one tries to exert ones own power, however that may manifest, put oneself above another or others. It is also negative and destructive. While I am far from a “fluffy-bunny Pagan” (forgot where I first heard that term), I dislike drama and do not tolerate it well.

        What others may say or do does not diminish what I am.

        • Alicia Velice

          Nor Should it.
          I should confess that I did not mean to answer you directly but the thread in general.
          If it felt like I was disagreeing with you or disputing your viewpoint, I am sorry.
          I agree drama and conflict are not my cup of tea either, although I do enjoy a good rousing debate, as long as both sides know it is not personal and we will not attack each other.
          I am disappointed in the politics of the day because so much of it seems like a rehash of issues we have already made progress on.
          Nope as soon as I hit post and realized I directed it at you I was ” Oh Shit, I hope he does not think I meant anything against him.”
          Please take my deepest apologies, and I will do better at not posting directly at someone unless they are rude then I most likely will.
          Alicia M Velice

          • No problem Alicia. I look at these discussions as an opportunity for each of us to learn from the other, whether we agree or disagree. If you want to discuss something I said, I welcome the opportunity to do so.

  • Lyric Kali

    I recently was on a Facebook group called “Pagans” and was appalled, but really not surprised at some of the stuff I saw. One woman strung crystals on cord (I won’t say she was making jewelry, because that isn’t making jewelry) and then took pictures of her ‘for sale’ items on a confederate flag. I. Kid. You. Not. I posted, “WTF, is that a confederate flag? Are you seriously trying to sell your stuff with that as a supporting element?” Dead silence. NO ONE – I mean no one responded, took up the call, even to argue with me. There were, however, tons of shares of this persons picture of her work on the confederate flag. Another post, “I’m having a bad day, I just want throw a curse!” Really? No, I’m not against cursing when it is appropriate, sometimes it is, and there is a proper way to do such a thing; however, “I’m having a bad day?” What are you, eight? There is a gathering of people who call themselves “pagan” who don’t “fit” into other groups, but since pagans are pretty open and accepting, they join that group. Humans being social creatures. Most, I’m beginning to realize want to call themselves that, but don’t want to find out what it really means to be a pagan. There is a watering down happening and honestly that is across any group these days. What is it that people are lacking? They’re lacking any real connectivity – figuring they’ll just connect via social media. Social media does not make for real community. It is a tool, but it will never solidify a real beingness with others who also ascribe to paganism. My strongest links are the people with whom I circled with over the years from 4 Quarters to my own circles in Florida, Daughters of the Moon and Tribe Dogpile. I am still deeply connected to all of these people on the etheric spaces and am consistently in real time communication with many, even though I haven’t circled with some of them for 12 years and others for 7 years. The reality of being in circle and practicing with others is powerful, connective, and is a solid statement of our paganism. I also say that is political, especially since I practiced extensively with a group in the bible belt. Even to the extent, when we put on our annual Samhein ritual right smack dab in the middle of Tallahassee (in a park) we were protested. It was a proud moment for me as Priestess for that ceremony.

  • To me ‘political’ means ‘relating to public affairs.’ I think to say one’s religious practice is not political, one would have to avoid public life entirely — and I’m not sure, with our communications technologies, that that is even possible anymore. Perhaps if you live on a self-sufficient commune with other like-minded people… but then ‘public’ and ‘political’ simply end up being redefined as what relates to the whole group.

    There’s a historical narrative of Victorian times about the public vs. private worlds of the middle class — the public being governed by men, the private by women. If women did at that time feel insulated from public life, with their men as a buffer… those times are clearly over. I find it difficult to imagine how one could, in our society, recreate that kind of clear psychological and logistical division.

  • WitchWay

    When one lives in a community which is part of a larger whole, how can one not become interested in and active in trying to help the whole instead of just ourselves? Politics is nasty stuff, but if we don’t wade in and make it better, do we deserve to be left alone? And if a person is dependent on social services in any way, shape or form, shouldn’t there be some interaction? I don’t get the whole Anti- everything. I am Heathen and Proud. I am politically active and refuse to change. I want to be a part of the change not be forced to accept the change that others have wrought. Military? You bet, all the way back in each generation. Can one live in abject apathy and succeed? Whether you like it or not, there is politics even within the smallest of covens or Pagan Communities and there are more than a few with huge egos that love to make sure that everyone knows who runs things.