Why Am I Not Surprised?

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.

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18 thoughts on “Why Am I Not Surprised?

  1. Not to get all nit-picky, but I thought that ‘heathen’ as the word is used these days referred to any worshipper of several deities. But it seems that you are restricting the terms to refer to worshippers of pre-Christian European deities only. And I realize that your point is the racism of many who believe or profess to believe in pre-Christian Germanic divinities. But it’s kind of jarring to read a sentence like “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?” when in this hemisphere alone there are practitioners of Santería, Condomblé, and stuff like that.

  2. Ah, well, of course, that’s up for discussion as well. None of these terms are set in stone. But, in general, folks use ‘pagan’ to mean any worshipper of several deities and ‘heathen’ to mean worshippers of pre-Christian non-Celtic European deities. But I don’t think that anyone would grouch about folks who practiced any polytheistic religion calling themselves pagan or heathen or whatever they wanted. But, if you’re going to call yourself a heathen and run in neo-pagan (as opposed to just polytheistic circles), you should be aware that most folks use that term to mean a worshipper of pre-Christian non-Celtic European deities.

  3. I see. Looking in from the outside, I don’t know the language. What do worshippers of pre-Christian Celtic deities call themselves, do you know?

  4. What do worshippers of pre-Christian Celtic deities call themselves, do you know?

    I have two friends who call themselves Druids, and another who simply refers to herself as A Follower Of The Old Ways.

  5. Kat, that’s been my experience, too. Though I certainly don’t think that they would be insulted to be called either Pagan or Heathen either. Heathens and Druids have a lot of these same racists in common-problem, as we’ve run a lot of them off (though the Wotan folks prove we’ve not gotten rid of them all) and they’ve just taken up Celtic beliefs in response.

  6. > 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

    That’s funny, because I was just reading about scientists testing Quantum Mechanics and Einstein-Podolski-Rosen entanglement. Many of the people who study this topic very closely, don’t quite believe in the reality of what you and I call “reality”.

    > there are some folks who believe that the only people who can claim affinity with the germanic gods are germanic people.

    Does Odin ever get pissed at these people for telling him who he’s allowed to let into Valhalla?

    > Which is good and as it should be.

    Hear, hear. People are allowed to be dicks. Freedom of Religion means that you are allowed to believe dickish things. Freedom of Speech means that you are allowed to say dickish things. We wouldn’t need Constitutional guarantees of freedoms if we only wanted to believe and say things that everyone agrees with (this parenthetical statement added so that the preceding sentence would not end with a preposition).

  7. Not that I know, but I would have to assume that a guy who never met a barrier he didn’t want to get on the other side of or a rule he didn’t want to break just to see what would happen would be, at the least, bored by folks telling him what he could and couldn’t do.

  8. I thought the Druids were the Celtic priesthood. The name is now applied to all the believers?

    You realize that this naming problem is all a result of universalizing religions. Before then, one could say “I am a [insert ethnic identifier here]” and the pantheon or single deity would be understood, or “I worship [insert divinity’s name here]” and the primary devotion would be understood.” Then the idea that all people ought to be members of the one true religion, which had a name. So the idea arose that there must be a name for every religion, and for its adherents. And the older religions, which didn’t have that requirement, don’t give us easy terms for talking about them.

  9. Holy Moley – I had a hard time keeping up with all the different versions of Chrisianity!

    You’re hurting my brain!

    I just attend a UU Church and forget about labels.

  10. > I just attend a UU Church and forget about labels.

    But those labels probably appear more often at a UU church (esp. among CUUPS members), than at your average monotheistic church. :-)

  11. I thought the Druids were the Celtic priesthood. They were. And are.

    The name is now applied to all the believers?

    Hence the two different names (druid and FOTOW). Some Contemporary Celtics believe that their act of believing confers upon the mantle of druidic preisthood, as they are the reincarnate souls of the ancient druids–Druidism is big on reincarnation–and in place to keep the Way alive.

    Others believe that with so much lost to history it is presumptive to claim title as Druid. I have known a few who started out calling themselves Followers or Practitioners and then graduated to Druid–but I’ve lost track of them.

    I can see both sides, but I must admit that as an outsider looking in, many of the folks who call themselves Druids seem to have just a touch of Ren Faire to them and don’t really take the whole Craft as seriously as those who call themselves FOTOW.

  12. NM, I think you’re exactly right. What we’re running into is exactly that problem–that beliefs which just used to be how things were now seem to kind of need a name, but trying to name them is not easy.

    I know two flavors of Druids–the ones who believe themselves to be reincarnated priests and the ones who don’t but want a short answer to a question the questioner doesn’t know is complicated.

  13. B, yeah. And I think so completely within this language that I also want the quick names, even though as a Jew I am completely aware that the quick names aren’t ever really accurate.

  14. I know two flavors of Druids–the ones who believe themselves to be reincarnated priests and the ones who don’t but want a short answer to a question the questioner doesn’t know is complicated.

    What number do you have to roll to be called a Druid?

    See, I guess I know three flavours of Druid. Because while I am well-acquainted with the two types B. mentions, I’ve also met at least a half-dozen of the Sarcastro-pegged variety. Those who seem to be more into costume and show. Sort of like all the fourteen year old “witches” out there whom we’ve discussed in the past.

  15. So I’m late commenting, because I’m way behind on blog reading. I’m a Swedish Wiccan. We work with the Celtic pantheon, with a bit of Arthuriana thrown in. I’ve a Scottish friend who’s working with the Asa. And I know a Welsh coven who also work with the Nordic gods – sometimes it seems many pagans are more comfortable with a somewhat remote pantheon, perhaps because we have fewer preconceptions about them.

    I don’t know any pagans who are racist, but I’m certain that a lot of us are, only not overtly. Hell, being a white privileged woman, I am racist – I try not to be, I try to be aware, but it’s just as uphill as it is for some of my male coworkers to realise when their stupid jokes are sexist.

    Anyhow, In the European pagan community (insofar as there is one pagan community in Europe), most people are open to anyone calling themselves what they want. The flip side of that is of course that some terms have all but lost their meaning – saying that one is Wiccan is about as useful as saying that one is Christian, it can mean anything from “goes to church once a year” to “wanting to burn all the gays”.

    In my coven we do the discussion about whether the gods are “real” or not about once a year or so. It seems to me that the gods can be one of three things – they can be a figment of our imagination, they can be separate aspects of one divinity, or they can be separate individuals of some non-human type. The thing is that, to me, it doesn’t really matter which of these three things is true. What does matter is what I experience in the circle and in meditation, how it affects me. That is real, whether or not the gods are.

    As for the “only germans are allowed to worship germanic gods” thing, that makes no sense at all to me, and I’ve never actually met any pagan in Europe who thinks like that.

  16. Jenny, glad to see you here again! Yeah, I get the impression, just from strolling around the internet, that the whole “you must be germanic to worship the germanic gods” thing is very much an American thing. Again, like you said, not that there aren’t racist European pagans, but we seem to have a much more noticeable problem.

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