I started writing this a few weeks ago, before the Christchurch shootings in New Zealand. I am so incredibly sorry to all the victims and those who were close to them; sorry that my religion had a hand in encouraging this tragedy. My ex-husband’s family is Muslim. My children attend the local masjid on occasion. The implied threat of more behind each occurrence of this kind of violence is terrifying.
I will not resort to a no true Scotsman argument, and claim that the shooter could not have been a Heathen because of his actions or his beliefs. The truth is that hateful beliefs are not uncommon within Heathenry, especially where they are toned-down and made to sound more palatable as Folkish Heathens do. We as a religious community need to face that, and then do what we can to change it.
This alt-right, white supremacist interest in Nordic religion has been around for awhile, and has already manifested in many violent incidents. While I cannot say that these terrorists do not share my spirituality, I can say that the hate they spew is not an inherent part of modern (or ancient) Germanic Paganism. There are many groups devoted to keeping racism and NeoNazi philosophy out of Heathenry: Heathens Against Hate, Heathens United Against Racism, Vikings Against Racism, and the Alliance for Inclusive Heathenry. Any of these groups are a great place to start if you would like to make a difference.
If you’re reading my blog, chances are you’re not a Neo-Nazi or a white supremacist. But that open, obvious racism is not the only kind of prejudice we have in Heathenry. I’d argue it’s not even the most dangerous. Folkish Heathenry is common, it’s largely seen as acceptable, and it is a racist philosophy.
What is Folkish Heathenry? There’s a few different ways of defining it. The hard-liners are very exclusionary; only people of Germanic or Nordic blood heritage are able to be Heathens or honor Germanic deities. Many Heathens will water this down a bit, saying it’s okay if you’re from a Nordic ‘cultural’ heritage, or is you are from an Indo-European culture. Some say they are inclusive, but encourage people of other ethnicities to look to their own heritage for spirituality first. It’s not usually stated outright, but to many folkish Heathens, Germanic religion is superior to other Pagan beliefs and to monotheistic religions.
It’s not okay. Claiming that it’s about culture rather than blood is a distraction. Bringing up the various Native American and indigenous religions as a defense (if they can be exclusive why can’t we?) is incredibly disingenuous. These are for the large part living cultures that are still being actively oppressed, having their culture stolen and appropriated. Some Heathens will say the same about ancient pagan Germanic culture – but that culture is not ours by virtue of blood or heritage. That culture is dead. It passed at least a thousand years ago in the onslaught of Christianity and the passage of time.
Very, very few Heathens were raised with the deities Thor and Odhin; or probably more historically accurate, the worship of wights and deified near Ancestors. Those that were are at most two generations into a family practice rather than a community-wide religion. No one can claim this religion belongs to them in a way that allows them to restrict the access of others.
Folkish Heathenry is exclusionary by its very nature. Often they (and overt racists, too!) will try to frame it as an ideological difference, an issue on which both sides must be listened to and accepted. Stephen Flowers, better known to Heathenry as Edred Thorsson, lamented on his facebook page that the Troth (which he founded as the Ring of Troth) was now a liberal PC playground and not the haven for all ideologies it was supposed to be. How he expected a group consisting of racists and people against racists to last long-term is confusing, until you realize that it was never intended to harbor people against racists – just racists and people who quietly tolerate it.
I understand. Many of us in the modern world want a sense of exclusive belonging, a place we feel at home. Religion is a good place to feel that. Many people also idolize the past, seeking in it a return to a sort of Golden Age; this is a thread that runs through Neo-Paganism deeply. For those with latent race-based biases (nearly everyone!) the idea of a religion that calls to only people like us can be subconsciously appealing. But we need to work through these biases in ourselves, not defend them with half-baked excuses.
After years of trying to bridge the gap between folkish and inclusionary Heathenry locally, I was publicly burnt out. I am a Heathen and still practiced devotion to my Gods, my ancestors, the local wights; but I took a long break both from writing and participating in religion-focused groups. I’m convinced now that there can be no bridging that gap. You cannot hold a ritual with people of color and folkish Heathens who believe the others have no place there.
So that’s it. I am no longer trying to find common ground, to reach out and educate those with folkish leanings against their will. I am a proud inclusionary Heathen, and I will not recommend or participate in groups that tolerate those who are not. If you have no local inclusive groups, start one – and make it clear what you’ll be standing up for. Wear your hammer, or sickle, or boar, or whatever Heathen symbol you choose; and then represent inclusiveness in your daily life. We may not be able to do much on a large scale, but this kind of local movement will make a difference.