Horns of Dishonor: Conspiracy and Racism in Pagan Spaces

Horns of Dishonor: Conspiracy and Racism in Pagan Spaces January 7, 2021

For many Americans his image will forever be associated with an attempt to subvert the will of the American people and overturn the results of 2020’s Presidential election. With his horned helm, and prominent tattoo of Mjölnir, the image of Jacob Chansley aka Jake Angeli the “Q-Anon Shaman,” has been hard to escape from the past 24 hours. Sadly, this American traitor, disgraceful buffoon, perverter of Odin, and all around nutter will probably taint many a Pagan/Heathen going forward.

As a devotee of the Horned God, I’m especially sickened by Angeli’s perversion of the horns. For me those horns represent oneness with the Earth, the pursuit of knowledge, and the liberation of the oppressed. The sickened MAGA crowd that stormed the Capitol building shares none of those values, and I hope Angeli is soon brought to justice, gets the mental health assistance he most obviously needs, and is then sent away to rot in jail for twenty years.

Angeli’s presence on the news has been disheartening to many Pagans (as well it should be), and has brought renewed calls for vigilance in our communities against the growing specter of Naziism and white supremacy. I’m here to echo those calls.

(For the reactions of REAL HEATHENS on the appropriation of their symbols, read this article on the Wild Hunt.)

WHITE SUPREMACY IN PERVERTED HEATHEN TRADITIONS

The Modern Pagan movement that you (probably) and I subscribe to is an invention of two different eras. The first was 19th Century England, with its renewed interest in the magickal and esoteric (thank you Golden Dawn and Freemasons) and its rediscovery of myth and the power of poetry. This was a Paganism that sought to find beauty in the natural world, and to praise the gods of antiquity for the joys we experience in life. It’s from these impulses that the first Wiccans and other early Modern Witches arose.

By the end of the 1960’s Paganism would begin its second flowering. In this case it was second wave feminism, ecological concerns, exploration of the self, and freedom of sexual expression that served as the impetus. If you think this sounds like something that comes from the hippy era, you are completely correct. Many expressions of Modern Paganism either come from some of these ideas, or were directly influenced by them. The ones that preceded this era often absorbed these ideas.

Scottish drawing from 1860.

By contrast, racist Heathen groups emerged in opposition to the ideals of tolerance and acceptance. Some of those groups appropriated ancient pagan ideas and symbols, but the point I want to make most clear is that racist groups emerged as a reaction against the greater Pagan Community.

These assholes don’t share our values, they also don’t share our point of origin. And while most ancient paganisms have some extremely problematic parts, worship of deities was cultural, not racial. There’s a reason why the worship of many ancient pagan deities was widespread in the Ancient World, because that worship was not limited by the color of one’s skin.

I like to think that racist Heathen groups haven’t made a lot of inroads to the Pagan Community, but that’s not quite true. A 2004 listing of the most influential Pagans in the world included Stephen McNallen, founder of the Asatru Folk Assembly, a white-supremacist organization. If you aren’t sickened by that, you most certainly should be.

People like McNallen occasionally reach a degree of prominence in our community by hiding what they believe using linguistic gymnastics. Many racist groups like to use the term “folkish” to describe their beliefs, arguing that Norse beliefs belong to people who can trace their ancestry to Northern Europe. Without close examination this can sound reasonable, but worship of Odin is not limited to only people of a certain skin color.

CONSPIRACY THEORIES & RACISM

I would argue that most of our Pagan Spaces are generally free of racist Pagan groups. Our largest platforms and publishers mostly exclude the racist, (though I continue to be saddened by Samuel Weiser’s decision to publish books by Edred Thorsson (Stephen Flowers), who has appeared on racist TV shows). You are probably not going to find anyone from the Asatru Folk Assembly at your local Pagan Pride event, and those people won’t be blogging at Patheos Pagan either, but they are out there in the weeds surrounding our community.

However, most of us in the Pagan World don’t operate in just Pagan Spaces. We are a part of our larger world, and sometimes our interest in the natural and esoteric can lead us down rabbit holes which are full of white supremacists. This is especially true today of many in the New Age or “Wellness” community. “Natural” cures and remedies often appeal to Modern Witches because it feels like something a village midwife would have done 500 years ago and blends in nicely with practices like herbalism and aromatherapy. However. . . .

Misinformation is no longer just a problem on the fringes of the right, it’s everywhere.

There’s nothing wrong with researching teas that will help with your headache, but many of the spaces where that information is being shared have become over-run with QAnon Conspiracy Theorists. QAnon, with its blinding hatred of Black Lives Matter and former President Barak Obama, is a major source of disinformation, and it’s not a big step from doubting “big pharma” and “the media” to believing that the world is being taken over by George Soros. (And if you’ve fallen into the “vaccines are the problem trap” you aren’t very far from dropping into this hole.)

The problem with many of these groups, and what makes them so dangerous, is that they often have what feels like credible sources backing them up. In a world where it’s become increasingly easy to create one’s own eco-system for news and information, there are thousands of webpages, podcasts, and videos full if disinformation. It’s slick, it’s sometimes easily digestible, and it all leads to places we should not visit.

It’s weird to think that researching a different way to charge your crystals could lead to dubious health claims, to becoming anti-vaccination, to slowly believing that there’s a world wide cabal of Satanic Jewish pedophiles who are created COVID-19, but it happens. And it happens so quietly that most people don’t even know that they are getting caught up in the nonsense. Something as innocent as #SavetheChildren has been turned into a conspiracy theory recruitment tool.

I love conspiracy theories, and most of them are harmless. Believing in Sasquatch doesn’t hurt anybody, but some people believe every conspiracy theory that pops up. Once you’ve learned to distrust one media source, why not the next one? And the next and the next? And when you start to find yourself isolated from others and the voices you hear are only the deluded ones, it can be far too late. That happens to people.

VIGILANCE IN OUR COMMUNITIES

Given the racist tendency to talk around their true beliefs, how do we stay vigilant and keep racists out of our community? How do we keep the door barred from the Qanon Shaman and others of his ilk? Luckily, there are a few easy things you can do when you encounter someone you think might be a closet racist.

Check up on people. When you run across people that don’t share any of your friends and are not a part of any of your online groups, you’ve probably got a problem. The Pagan Community is small, and it’s rare for someone to have absolutely no intersection with other Pagans you might know. Don’t know a lot of people? Check pages or friends lists of authors and other influential people in our community that you trust. (When I encounter a Heathen I don’t know, I immediately talk to Ryan Smith, the author of The Way of Ice and Fire..)

Questions not all answered? A big tell can be what people read. If you think a racist wolf has entered the hen house ask that person what books have influenced them. If it’s a list full of people you’ve never heard of, things might be problematic. Look up those authors, check the publishing houses, and see if those writers have links to racist groups.

Image by Alexas Fotos on Pixabay.

Words like blood, heritage, and genetics should scare you. Most people don’t like to come out and say “I’m a racist” they tend to hide it by talking about things that sound more acceptable. There’s a long history of racist genetic theories, especially in New Age spaces. Today I don’t even like hearing the term “Witch blood.” I don’t have Witch blood, there’s no such thing as Witch blood, I chose to be a Witch, there was no greater genetic destiny that led me to it.

Pagans don’t generally proselytize, but racist groups masquerading as Pagans do. When your values are morally bankrupt and what you are spouting is bullshit, it’s hard to attract new members. That’s why many white supremacist groups actively seek new members. If someone is just a little too aggressive about trying to get you to visit their activity and a few red flags have already been waved, there’s most likely an issue.

There’s also nothing wrong with confronting people if you have questions about their beliefs. If someone can’t say “black lives matter,” “Trans women are women” or refuses to use someone’s proper pronouns there’s a problem. And remember, many of these people will try to talk around you, and attempt to hide their racist views under more accepting sounding language. Ask for clear answers, if you can’t get a clear answer, those people clearly need to go.

Be safe, be vigilant, and be aware. And don’t let anyone disgrace our beliefs or masquerade as one of our own. There’s no place for racism or treason in American Paganism.

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