Racism and Paganism: Exposing the Racist Sects, Prejudice, and Discrimination in the Pagan Community
Racism and Religion? Why They Are Not Mutually Exclusive
I began my research for this controversial topic by posting my question on FaceBook in private pagan groups. One of the first comments I received was backlash for the fact that my question said "racism in paganism". I was told I shouldn't use the term "racism" as it is not politically correct, while others seemed to believe that because they haven't met any racist Pagans, they must not exist. Let me first say the reason I decided to write on this topic is because I felt called to expose it. Either Pagans aren't aware that it is happening or they ignore it. The issue is that most Pagans want to believe that other Pagans should all be just as open-minded and accepting as they are, when in reality this is not true. Just as there are extremists and hateful individuals in other religions, they exist in the realm of Paganism too. Whether we want to admit it or not.
While racism (in a perfect world) should be excluded from the realm of religion, unfortunately there are those who use religion as a means to fuel or support their racist or hateful beliefs which means we can't fully separate the two. This dates back thousands of years. Racism stems from a long history of hatred and exists today.
I learned so much from the hundreds of responses I received online, and I plan to incorporate those lessons and my research here so that you can be informed on this issue. Perhaps if we meet the racism and discrimination head on, we can decrease if not fully eradicate it altogether from the community.
Ethnic Preservation: Fuel for Racism?
One of my first experiences with racism in paganism was through individuals who associate themselves with Norse belief systems such as Odinism or Asatru. These individuals claimed they wanted to build a "tribe" of people of their own beliefs, which would exclude anyone who wasn't white and of Scandinavian descent. Let me state that this in no way means that everyone who follows a Norse or Asatru path is racist in any way, I'm merely stating that at least a group of individuals label themselves as such and also use it to back up their hatred for those of different ethnicities and races. These same individuals also said that they are working to preserve the "bloodline", and also found women to be inferior. So not only was racism present, but also misogyny and bigotry. Unfortunately these individuals aren't the only ones in the religion of Paganism to hold such disgusting, hateful beliefs. There are more.
One association brought up time and time again in relation to this topic was the AFA (Asatru Folk Assembly). There was much debate around this group of pagans. Some said they are blatantly racist while others said they were "folkish" meaning to preserve their own ethnicity but that they weren't necessarily racist for this belief. In their core beliefs, the AFA seeks to preserve the bloodline, and in a post on FaceBook the leader of the group blatantly mentions preserving their "white children". Whether ethnic preservation is actually racist is up to you, but ethnic preservation in its most basic definition means to not "mix" bloodlines. This means a white German individual shouldn't marry and mate with an African individual. Is this racist? Should this be supported by religious groups of any kind?
White Supremacy and the Odinist Movement in Prisons
The blatant racism in paganism stems from certain movements within. When extreme white supremacists needed a religion exclusive of other races they found Paganism. Specifically the Paganism related to their "heritage" of Germanic and Scandinavian descent - Odinism or Asatru. They felt this could be the ultimate "white" religion because it's not from a foreign land such as Islam from the Middle East or Buddhism from India, etc. These individuals live in the United States, where mostly every resident has ancestors from other countries. If they want to be completely true to their ethnic roots, why not move back to the place of their ancestors? Why not build a wall around their entire "tribe" and culture to keep everyone else out and keep their bloodlines pure?
In recent decades, the United States prison system has seen an increase in Pagan religions, namely Asatru and Odinist movements. In fact, for a time in the 90s, books about Odin or the Norse faiths were banned from prisons as the prison system felt it encouraged the prisoners towards racism. In 2005, the Supreme Court ruled to require prisons to allow prisoners to practice Odinism or Asatru in whatever form they deemed fit including allowing books into the prisons, allowing the prisoners to wear emblems of their faith (such as Thor's Hammer), and also to request visits from religious leaders of the Odin movement. Unfortunately, not all prisoners who follow this religion are racist, but many wardens have come to associate Asatru and Odinism with blatant racism and are rather weary of it.
Casper Crowell, 46, is the leader of the Holy Nation of Odin, Inc., and is also serving a life sentence for murder in a California maximum-security prison. Seems harmless, right? Crowell is also a past member of the White Supremacist gang the Aryan Brotherhood and sports a swastika tattoo on his chest. He now recruits people via various websites and social media sites and proclaims his reverence to the "14 words" of nationalists which are: "We must secure the existence of our people and a future for White Children". He's also been found stating "White Pride!" on his websites.
That's just one person, you might be thinking. At this time the Holy Nation of Odin boasts some fifteen hundred members and growing each year. And while other "Folkish" movements claim they are not racist, others on the outside looking in believe they indeed are racist. These movements boast thousands of individuals - confirmed by the number of "likes" on their individual group FaceBook pages, as well as websites' claims to the number of members. Keeping in mind, this isn't just a problem in the United States, there are groups in Iceland who are also racist (or might be considered so when evaluated carefully).
Another Layer: Cultural Appropriation
While there are blatant racist sects within Paganism, there are other more subtle forms of prejudice and discrimination in the Pagan community. Again, this is not to say that every Pagan is racist, prejudice or discriminates against others. This is just to expose the fact that there is prejudice and discrimination in nearly every religious tradition. Where there are biased or hateful people, these things will be found easily.
One topic for debate underneath this main topic is cultural appropriation versus. Cultural appropriation is a use or abuse of another culture's traditions or beliefs with little to no knowledge of the culture itself. This happens frequently in the United States because we are such a melting pot of cultures from all over the world. We have our indigenous citizens, as well as those whose ancestors came here from Europe and Africa in Colonial and Victorian times. We also have an influx of new immigrants on a daily basis. When there are thousands of cultures all living together in one country, how do you separate traditions? How do you keep your traditions sacred and out of the hands of individuals who might use and abuse their sacredness?
An example of cultural appropriation might be a fashion brand who uses Native American headdresses and moccasins as a part of their "trend" for a season. Using these pieces of indigenous history is disrespectful to many Natives because these headdresses have a history of sacred ritual and attainment upon which most American citizens are not educated. Or how about if a young white girl uses hoodoo in her magical practice...is this cultural appropriation if she has studied the practice and also the culture who founded it?
Cultural appropriation happens often in Paganism. For instance, those who call themselves "eclectic pagans" often use different beliefs, traditions, and rituals from various cultures aside from their own. Where does one draw the line between being eclectic and committing cultural appropriation? Is this discrimination by exploiting other cultures' sacred beliefs and rites to help oneself? Or is it impossible to determine who should use what when it comes to their own spiritual or religious beliefs, particularly under the realm of Paganism where almost any belief goes?
Note: I Am Pagan
To inform those who read this article and believe I am slandering Paganism and all Pagans by posting this information, I am a pagan myself and have been for the last seventeen years. The reason I decided to research and write this piece was to bring the reality of racist sects and discrimination within the realm of Paganism to the forefront of the Pagan community's minds. I have witnessed and seen the fact that many Pagans don't realize there are those within the community who hold onto racist and prejudice beliefs. While most keep these beliefs to themselves, there are those who use their religion as a means to spread their hatred and racism to others (i.e. the Holy Nation of Odin).
I was told NOT to write or even talk about this topic because it will offend people. I was also told that it will give Pagans a bad name. But I won't sit on the sidelines and act as if every pagan is a good person. There are genuinely bad people in every religion...this includes my religion, as much as I hate to admit it. I wish to bring the reality of this to light and to expose the hush-hushed issues with racism and prejudice to the community so that we can take an active stand against it. The world won't change if we allow these hateful things to continue...particularly within our own community. Within a community who claims to be open-minded and accepting of all paths—be it race, creed, lifestyle, sexual preference, ethnicity, occupation, etc. We must band together to show the world that Pagans aren't bad people, but in order to do this we have to realize that there are those who claim to be Pagan and are also spreading vile hatred to those around them in the name of Paganism. The more we are informed, the more power we have.
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© 2016 Nicole Canfield