Thursday, May 12, 2016

The Ugly Side of Northern European Paganism

WARNING: The following blog contains concepts that some may find offensive.   ...and if you do you are a horrible person.

Our world is plagued with an ugliness.  It has been with us for as long as there has been human beings.  It is a self created and self-perpetuating influence in our societies.   Even in the mostly liberal modern Paganism it is a secret shame.   I am talking about racism.

I grew up in the rural south of the United States.   Racism was a part of the landscape.   It was the "hidden in plain sight" secret that we all lived with.   But growing up I always knew that it was not right.   I was lucky as it wasn't a part of the earliest times of my life.   For three years when I was very small we lived in Wisconsin.   My parents were surprisingly different people when we lived there than we we moved back home to North Carolina.   Certain words were never a part of their vocabulary while we were in the north.   Once we were in the south I remember having difficulty understanding why it was suddenly acceptable that people of color were now different.   But I am not here to discuss my life growing up, that is just an example of how I see the problem of racism.  What I want to touch on is the hidden racism within Northern European Pagan traditions.

When I was new to Celtic Reconstructionist Paganism I would read conversations in online groups that seemed a bit, for lack of a better term, prickly.   Offhand comments were sometimes made that made me feel a bit uncomfortable.   Nothing ever overt.   Nothing ever blatant.   Just a bit of snide here and snark there.   Sometimes it was just elitist scholarly posturing, but other times it bordered on racism.  At this time I was also doing research into Norse Paganism and was finding some outright racism in some circles.  I was blown away at seeing what I thought were forward thinking people who were racist.   I was unsure how to proceed in my path because I am not a racist and I do not want to be associated with racist movements.   Luckily there are many more people out there that are not racist nor who are wanting to have the racist elements within Celtic or Norse Paganism that I was able to learn with.

When I first met my brother-in-law and I told him that I was a Druid he told me a story about a incident that happened to him.   He recently wrote it about it and I want to share it with you.

Years ago, when I was relatively new in my faith, I attended a Pagan gathering and sat through a lecture by one of the leaders of the group putting on the event. He presented himself as a "Arch-Druid" and I have no reason to doubt that he was held in high regard in the community.

In the course of his lecture he talked about how he had rejected a potential student of his path, because that student was black. "You have your own Gods," he told her. He turned her away because he didn't think black people should be worshiping the same Gods as him.

I was repulsed, but I did not speak up. I was afraid to rock the boat, maybe. Maybe I didn't want to risk being rejected by the other Pagans. Maybe I was just a little chickenshit. For whatever reason, I just sat there listening to a racist in a white robe tell me I was entitled to something that people of other races shouldn't have access to.

I don't think I was a good person that day. And while I can't go back and change how I reacted then, I can do my best not to repeat my mistake.

Sure, sometimes I still give in to that subtle fear, and just walk away instead of engaging the issue head on. I'm not really a confrontational guy. But when I'm at my best, I stand up for what I know is right.

This is one of the things that gets bandied around by these people.   The idea that "Non-white people" have "their own Gods" and should seek them out instead of wanting to worship ours.   No matter how you say this, it is racism, period.    Here is the thing, no human agency has any right to say who the Gods we worship can (and DO) call to.   If a Celtic (or other Northern European) God or Goddess calls to someone of African or Asian descent (or of anyone!) who the hell are we to tell them that they should "look to their own Gods"???   When does a mortal tell the Gods that the person they chose is not the right skin color???

As the current Chancellor of Sylvan Celtic Fellowship I will say that our organization will not tolerate bigots.   Racism in any form is considered a bad thing, but religions based in Northern European mythos already have a black eye because of bigotry that has infiltrated them over the years.  As an organization we of Sylvan Celtic Fellowship pride ourselves on being inclusive and that goes for people of any race, color, or national origin.   No matter who you are, no matter where you come from, if the Gods we worship call to you, you are always welcome here.

Domhnall Irvine
Chancellor, SCF