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Racism and Paganism: Exposing the Racist Sects, Prejudice, and Discrimination in the Pagan Community

Updated on January 4, 2017
kittythedreamer profile image

Kitty has been following a pagan spiritual path for seventeen years. Because of this she encourages others to follow their own paths.

Racism is a fire that burns those around it, as well as destroys those enflamed it.
Racism is a fire that burns those around it, as well as destroys those enflamed it. | Source

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.

To preserve one's culture means to not "mix" cultures...is this racism or cultural preservation according to some?
To preserve one's culture means to not "mix" cultures...is this racism or cultural preservation according to some? | Source

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?

A neo-Nazi individual with the swastika in the background. Some of these individuals consider themselves Pagan.
A neo-Nazi individual with the swastika in the background. Some of these individuals consider themselves Pagan. | Source

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?

Is it wrong to borrow things from other cultures if you live in a land where there are thousands of cultures in one?
Is it wrong to borrow things from other cultures if you live in a land where there are thousands of cultures in one? | Source

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.

© 2016 Nicole Canfield

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  • kittythedreamer profile image
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    Nicole Canfield 6 months ago from the Ether

    Rev Joshua - YES! SO MUCH YES! Thank you...I agree with you fully. That's why I don't call myself a religious person or adhere to a particular religion.

  • Rev Joshua profile image

    Rev Joshua 6 months ago

    I appreciate your article, it is spot on correct.

    I have been a Pagan from birth (nearly sixty years) and in that time have attended many hundreds of events and I not only hear, but also see that many so-called Pagans do, in fact have a tendency to denigrate other faiths and races.

    It has gotten so bad that I chose to delete my Facebook page due to the fact it angers me to see Pagans acting so very self righteous and at the same time ranting about how they are treated while directly attacking those who do not view the world as they do. This compares very well with many radicalized ideologies found in our world today.

    I read an article by Rabbi Arthur Waskow in which he posed six questions regarding better ways of preventing and dealing with religious violent outbursts;

    Question 1: Even where it is legal to pour contempt on one religion or on them all, is it wise? Is it compassionate? Should society applaud and encourage such vitriol, or oppose it?

    Question 2: In every religious and ideological community, should its leaders be explicitly celebrating the Infinitude of the One, and thus its manifestations in many different forms -- rather than attacking difference as evidence of apostasy and heresy and falsity?

    Question 3: Should leaders and teachers of varied religions meet once a year to face the bloody streaks of text and action in their own tradition, to publicly make restitution, and to ask forgiveness?

    Question 4. Should those who are powerful in every society be acting to ensure that no community -- religious, racial, sexual, lingual -- be excluded from economic justice, cultural dignity, and political empowerment?

    Question 5: Should the same rule be applied internationally and globally, so that no nation, however much a Great Power, can trample on another?

    Question 6: Does all this point us in the direction of elevating the principle and practice of nonviolence into a more and more central precept of all religions and ideologies? (Waskow) http://www.huffingtonpost.com/rabbi-arthur-waskow/...

    Although he was directing his comments toward religious violence exclusively, I feel his statements document the actions of most belief systems and not necessarily in a positive light.

    There are good and bad in this world, we were granted free will (that is common among just about every belief system), you have to have both in order to maintain balance and free will. If you are eternally committed to a single thought process, are you really exercising free will? Or are you becoming an ant or a sheep? If you close your mind to any possibility except the propaganda you hear through the media are you really exercising free will? Aristotle stated that it is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.

    Most agree that we were created by a single Universal power, yet we tend to believe that we have the only true Religion. How odd that we would think that way. To think that this Universal source created all of us, but made just a handful a part of the one true religion or one race superior to all others, that is simply, how arrogant is it for many of us to believe something such as that? This thought process extends beyond the barrier of spiritual belief and crosses into racial bigotry. What an arrogant stance, do we know more than the entity that created us all in his/her image? Apparently there are many who have far greater wisdom than that being that put us all together on this planet.

    Regardless of the belief system, if you look deeply enough, you will discover that almost all beliefs had at their core a philosophy of understanding and acceptance of others; it is the 1% found in virtually every belief that perpetuate racism, advocate violence or press for a single religious path that have done much of the damage.

  • kittythedreamer profile image
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    Nicole Canfield 6 months ago from the Ether

    RJ - AWESOME points you've made here. Inevitably, whether a person believes in evolution or creation, we all came from the same place if we go far enough back in time. So it really depends on how the individual looks at it. I agree with those who believe their traditions and rites should remain sacred, for instance the Native Americans, but I don't agree that if a person outside of the tribe is interested (truly interested) in their beliefs and traditions should they be shunned or persecuted for it. And yes, I agree, the whole "pure blood line" thing is such a load of crap anyway. Barely anyone on this planet has a "pure" blood line...even if the person says "Oh I want to keep my English bloodline pure"...they're denying the fact that they have Angle, Saxon, Celtic and potentially Viking blood mixed into one. Even the Irish share DNA with the Spanish. There is a tribe in Africa who share DNA with the Jewish. So where does the pure blood line start and end? Thanks for commenting and having an open mind, friend.

  • kittythedreamer profile image
    Author

    Nicole Canfield 6 months ago from the Ether

    Susan - I don't call anyone a racist who assimilates with their own culture/ethnicity/etc. I am merely pointing out the racist sects and potential prejudice in the pagan community.

  • kittythedreamer profile image
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    Nicole Canfield 6 months ago from the Ether

    Thanks, Phoenix. Like I mentioned above, I got a lot of crap from pagans in the community telling me I shouldn't talk about this. I did anyway!

  • RJ Schwartz profile image

    Ralph Schwartz 7 months ago from Idaho Falls, Idaho

    Very informative and interesting piece. You've most likely opened doors for many younger pagans who may not even realize some of these fringe groups exist. You've also shared just enough information to drive an engaging conversation about many different topics, which will likely raise delicate points.

    The entire premise of cultural appropriation has been something I've thought about for a long time. With a totally open mind, I can't find myself supporting those who feel their culture "owns" anything. Over the planet's history, nations have been defeated and their cultures assimilated into the culture of the conquering nation. That scenario happened time and time again, diluting many of the old cultures. The Roman Empire adopted much of Greek culture. Most people aren't aware that many of the things everyone thinks are Roman, actually originate elsewhere.

    The debate over whether keeping ancestral heritage and blood lines pure is most certainly tainted by the Nazi Party's approach in World War II. I wonder hoe people would regard the concept if it didn't come with the slaughter of millions of people; would a peaceful approach to an exclusionary group work?

    Thanks for sharing !

  • Susan Cummings profile image

    Susan Cummings 7 months ago from Salem, New Hampshire

    What do you call Muslims who do not assimilate into a culture other than their own? How about Native Americans? Being born and raised white, black, hispanic or otherwise identifies each individual separately, but includes them into a common discrimination that is healthy. Asian people in restaurants they may own usually do not hire whites, blacks, hispanics, etc. Is that discrimination, too? Or, is a choice? There is good and bad in everything, but for you to single out one race is being discriminative in and of itself. Holding on and identifying with others who are common to your genealogical, physical, cultural ideology or theology isn't necessarily racism. Many Indians from India will only become friends and hold common interests with other Indians. Is that racist? No. It is a very human and common human trait to want to be around or protect your heritage and culture. It's when it interferes with others by taking life or limb that you can now say it's hateful and racist. People gravitate toward what is familiar to them and what makes them comfortable.

  • phoenix2327 profile image

    Zulma Burgos-Dudgeon 7 months ago from United Kingdom

    I believe you are right in raising awareness of this issue. It never occurred to me that racism was a problem in Paganism. If we don't know there is a problem, we can't fix it.

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