As you know, paganism isn’t some giant monolythic movement. I, for instance, prefer to think of myself as a heathenish polytheist, meaning, I believe in most gods but prefer to stick with a loose confederation of germanic gods. But even among folks who prefer those same gods, there is a wide spectrum of belief and folks call themselves different things and it’s not always easy to say what someone believes based solely on what they call themselves.
I, for instance, tend to think of the term “heathen” as being the broadest of terms, though I would expect, even among that, that you would find disagreements about how much “acknowledging” of other gods is acceptable. Then, under that umbrella, you have other, overlapping groups–the Asatru, the Odinists, and so on. Many folks in those groups join together regularly for religious and social purposes and so those terms can mean “I worship these gods” or they can be “I worship these gods in these specific ways and have these specific beliefs and if you don’t, you can’t call yourself what I call myself.”
And for anyone who comes to this set of beliefs (again speaking very broadly), there are usually two questions one has to settle pretty urgently in order to figure out where you’re situated on the heathen spectrum. Do you believe that the gods are real? Do you believe that a person’s relationship to the gods is blood-deep and inherited and, if so, does that mean that only white people can be heathens?
I, myself, do believe that the gods are real, as certain as I can be, while also allowing for the possibility that this is where I’m most obviously crazy. I also do believe that a person’s relationship to the gods is blood-deep and inherited, no, I would say blood-deep and inheritable. So, no, I don’t think that you have to be white to be tied in with the germanic gods, though, it seems reasonable to me that more white people than not would be heathen because we don’t have that whole “convert the non-believers” mentality and so, if people are going to come to the gods, it’s most likely going to be because of some old blood-deep stirring or because the gods have come to you and said “Hey.”
It’s not my place to question anyone’s claim that the gods have come to them and said “hey.” If that’s true, I expect I will recognize it as being so. And I would then expect that their descendents would be more likely to feel that blood-deep stirring.
But, you can bet that there are some folks who believe that the only people who can claim affinity with the germanic gods are germanic people. This belief is called “folkish.” And, as you can imagine, the folkish heathens and the racist heathens often overlap. (Though, there are many folkish heathens who make strong distinctions between believing that their religion is only for white people and believing that that makes white people the best people ever and that all other people aren’t really people. Each person has to decide for herself how convincing that argument is.)
For a while, it seemed like people wanted to make a broad generalization and say that anyone who said she was “heathen” probably wasn’t racist but anyone who said that she was “Asatru” probably was and then the opposite was true and then the Asatru folks were like “Hold the fuck on. That’s not true at all.” And then it seemed as if the Odinists were the racists and then the Odinists were like “What the fuck are you talking about?”
And the whole thing is made even more confusing because racists love heathen things–especially our runes. I mean, no one sees sowilo tattooed on a dude and thinks “Oh, there’s a guy who can help me understand what the drawbacks to this translation of the Voluspa is” and for good reason.
Couple that with the resurgence of heathenism in the U.S. prison system and you can see all kinds of potential pitfalls.
So, the Indiana prison system was trying to ban group worship for Odinists, on the premise that white power folks might claim to practice Odinism and, I presume, corrections officials would not be able to tell the difference between Odinists practices (which might border on folkish) and racist propeganda being reinforced. And the federal court just ruled that you can’t ban religious practices in prison based on what problems there might be. Which is good and as it should be.
But, of course, it’s not as if the corrections officials were without legitimate worry. The Wotanists do have a large prison outreach and they are openly racist (though I wouldn’t call them heathen, because they don’t seem to believe in the reality of the gods, but instead see them as archetypes).
But, to finally get to the point of this post, from Wikipedia, I bring you the least surprising sentence in the history of Midwest racism.
Wotanist groups include the Gambanreidi Statement, WotansVolk and the Temple of Wotan. WotansVolk and the Temple of Wotan were both founded under the direct influence of David Lane, by his wife Katja Lane (Katuscha Maddox) and Ron McVan, a former high ranking member of the World Church of the Creator.
Oh, Ron McVan, of course you were.