White Pagans, Self-Victimization, and dispelling the culture of Christian Oppression.

I feel like there’s a lot of miscommunication that happens in the world of religious discussions, so much goes unsaid that really needs to be understood and disseminated. Christians were historically an oppressed and persecuted people at one point in the past, but today are the largest majority group and cultural influence in the Western world. As it stands, there is no continuity to ancient Christians and modern people. This post is not intended as hateful rhetoric aimed at Christians, merely an means for pagans to take a comprehensive viewpoint of what Christian beliefs have been so ingrained into Western culture as to be generally imperceptible, and is an unknowing influence on reconstructionist religious efforts. To be a pagan who supports reconstruction is to inherently stand outside mainstream belief systems and dissect ancient beliefs and actions from modern ones.

So, let’s start with facts, being a Heathen has been a minority identity with protected social status since it was legally recognized in the United States in 1973 (and Wicca shortly after in 1986). This social shift is earmarked by the social workers handbook “Social Work Practice with Pagans, Witches, and Wiccans: Guidelines for Practice with Children and Youths” by Meg Yardley, 2008; which introduces the idea of paganism as a protected religious culture and how to interact with the children born into this cultural identity. This growing acceptance and understanding correlates to the steady growth of people who now include pagan beliefs of some form into their lives, from an estimated 8,000 in 1990 to last recorded 1.4 million in 2014, with continuous growth.

Despite this, the pervasive idea that belittles the validity of paganism as a viable modern religious culture is that it rubs against the grain of conformity; and thus is perceived through a Christianized lens to be an unhealthy lifestyle. And many pagans struggle to defend their household from this idea, as documented in the case of Sylvia Ruiz, who had guardianship of her children challenged expressly for being a pagan. This unfortunately is by no means an isolated incident; I myself have first-hand experience witnessing the custody struggles of a pagan friend in a courtroom, with her religious choices called into question by a prejudiced judge.

Even though being pagan in the United States is a legally protected minority status, there are many who take this to an extreme level of assumed oppression. Here I am criticizing the quixotic habits of white pagans who beat themselves upon the shores of atheist indifference, and waste their efforts. The only influence being to isolate themselves from the larger community of religious legal discourse, where such efforts would do more good than to be the the self-serving platforming of anti-polytheists, and others for whom ignorance is a current cultural fad. This self-flagellation in social contexts is in itself a Western cultural idea introduced by Christianity, and it’s penchant to self-identify as victims and an oppressed class. User Archer Kasai on youtube posts an excellent video detailing excerpts from the bible in specific passages by Paul who she says quote “self-insert fan-fic’d so hard he had an entire religion built around his own canon.” and goes on to compare these examples with the national domestic abuse hotline examples of abuse. Her video essay helps identify for even someone unfamiliar with Christianity how the bible innately includes self-victimization as dogma. Pagans who seek to step away from these Christian identities and reconstruct ancient faiths need to look at how culturally ingrained and pervasive the idea of noble self-harm is.

Any pagan can choose to readily conceal their beliefs to avoid repercussions, like how I tuck my mjolnir under my shirt, unlike race or sex. Sure, sex and/or gender are mutable, but I don’t think anyone will disagree that shifting gender is hard work; sometimes requiring medical innovation. There’s no pagan who has to undergo a medical procedure to change their outward religious choices, and hence lower such risks of exposure to prejudice. Paganism is reconstructed and any attempt to claim continuity or to associate it with indigenous beliefs, or the beliefs of anyone who practices their native cultural traditions in America, is inherently incorrect and racist. The better way to serve either community would be to fight for religious freedoms and cement the legal identities, and the legal rights, of both cultures. By using the privilege of choice that white pagans have to fight for the religious freedoms of the pagan community, we pave the way for all to shed social stigma; and as warranted, garner reparations for those who have suffered under institutional oppression for their race and cultural identity.

citations:

https://wildhunt.org/2012/03/wiccan-convert-faces-custody-battle-in-texas.html

https://www.jstor.org/stable/23718876?seq=1

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Religious_discrimination_against_Neopagans

https://www.thehotline.org/is-this-abuse/

https://qz.com/quartzy/1411909/the-explosive-growth-of-witches-wiccans-and-pagans-in-the-us/

The Gods Embrace Change

I experienced a bit of a religious crisis in 2018, anger and retributive wrath against injustice made me question whether I was even making the right choices for myself and the direction I am going for my spiritual growth. Accepting the call to worship Óðinn entails a considerable amount of growing pains. Being the god of knowledge, Óðinn reveals what must be known in order to accomplish the goal of preventing Ragnarök, and the more I learn the more there is to understand. 

It’s easy to romanticize the Vikings and their way of life, there is so much that’s good! Their women had equal say in their communities, women had the power to divorce their husbands and own property, they had equal representation in court, and if a woman said “this man assaulted me” then her word was taken as absolute truth. There’s a story of a woman who went to her father-in-law and complained to him that her husband hit her, and he flew into such a rage that he killed his own son, just to restore her honor. 

There is more to the legacy of Vikings that is hard to justify though, and it’s hard to feel at peace with the facts of reality of the past. The Germanic peoples kept slaves, and abused them terribly. They weren’t all women stolen from their homes from far away lands, these were also women from their own countries, neighboring villages, and even their own communities too. A woman who stole from a man could become his slave. Ibn Fadlan gives an honestly very horrifying accounting of the ritual burial rites of a Viking Cheiftan, and the “honor” bestowed upon one of his slave girls, destined to follow him into the afterlife. I wont recount it myself because it was very triggering for me, but it was a lesson that needed to be learned by anyone who wishes to follow the Heathen path.

It is taking some serious soul-searching to understand what it is that Óðinn could even want from me, or find valuable from a woman as a modern follower who would find all of this history of female sacrifice to be morally disturbing. How can one wear a Mjölnir with pride and also call themselves a feminist? A moral contradiction to say the least, to praise the gods that have the blood of sacrifice on their altars and give thanks to the ancestors who created the patriarchy we exist in, and yet personally stand against the tide of misogyny and misunderstanding in a modern world.

Through a delicate confluence of past and present, there is a new paradigm I’ve witnessed emerging from the ideas of others who also embrace progressive reconstructionist beliefs: we can rebuild on what was good before to make something new and vital, without also resurrecting old elements that would smother progressive ideals. Óðinn is not a god that wants the past to repeat itself, and history must be studied for the mistakes that should not be repeated. Óðinn’s embracing and love of femininity is not only reflected in his historical accounting of drumming with the völva in women’s garb, but his current reaching out specifically to women who are brave and confident. He’s a god that many men caution to stay away from or be fearful of, but honestly Óðinn is the type of deity to be disdainful of such dissuasive treatment of women following their faith, and the men who perpetuate it. He’s a god of war that understands that there is more to war than bloodshed on the battlefield, it’s also a labor of protecting what you love. 

This post was helped with a lot of reflection given to the work and writings of Dyanne and and her fantastic archaeology blog on Tumblr, https://dyannehs.tumblr.com/ , and Diana Paxson’s publication https://hrafnar.org/articles/dpaxson/norse/odin-women/, to which I often reference when discussing Odin, and his nuanced characteristics.

The Issue with Tribal Heathenry

It was discussed in a space with some other Heathens I know that have been discussing the prospect of the use of the word “tribe” as a self descriptive term amonst other Heathens.  I actually really appreciate the idea of using “Tribal” as a moniker to symbolize the end goal of wanting to immerse yourself in a reconstructed pagan ideal, disregarding and reworking the imperialistic euro-centric Christian frame of perception, IE: the Patriarchy, Late-Stage Capitalism, ect. 

But it just didn’t sit right with me, there was a moralistic twinge in the back of my brain that objected to the idea of using the word tribe, and incorporating it into a Heathen societal framework. So I called my brother, and I absolutely hate the indignity of calling on my big brother’s heritage to use as some sort of…conversational token to prove a point on the internet, but there is the matter that there is in fact, a point to prove. My biological half-brother is also.. half Pima, registered to the Gila River Tribe of Phoenix, AZ (an ethnically convergent culture to the Hopi). We grew up together, and though I myself do not share his cultural heritage, I grew up learning how to appreciate his respectfully. I feel it’s important to mark this distinction to my upbringing based on the reaction of “shove it up your ass” and “Your opinion makes me want to use this term more”, when attempting to calmly declare my stance on the subject. I called and asked my brother his opinion, which I will not repeat, for it was not polite, but the sentiment is explained herewith.


Regardless, I have come to a formulated opinion. There’s some logical inconsistency in not recognizing that Tribe in regards to Native Americans/First Nations is a legal thing too, indicating a sovereignty and agency that includes independent legal citizenship status and rights.

In the United States, the Indian tribe is a fundamental unit, and the constitution grants Congress the right to interact with tribes. More specifically, the Supreme Court of the United States in United States v. Sandoval, 231 U.S. 28 (1913), warned, “it is not… that Congress may bring a community or body of people within range of this power by arbitrarily calling them an Indian tribe, but only that in respect of distinctly Indian communities the questions whether, to what extent, and for what time they shall be recognized and dealt with as dependent tribes” 

Like, yea, tribe as a concept has been around awhile. But we can’t ignore what it means in the US/Canada and what led to that point, and start calling ourselves “tribes” and play ignorant to the legitimacy of separation from the overculture that implies, there’s a specific recognotion status at stake for the people who depend on it for economic and social survival. Survival especially, because there are tribes that have gone extinct in living memory, and what we’re doing isn’t about survival. Kinda makes calling a social group such as a group of Heathens, no matter how tight the bonds, a tribe… seem trite in comparison to the disparity ethnic tribes have experienced. The Native tribes as denoted weathered a firestorm of genocide so intensely harmful that Hitler used the Indian Wars as part of his template for the shoah. They are tribes despite prolonged multi-decade efforts to wipe them out. So my ultimate conclusion is this: I am not a member of a tribe, and as a white North American I will never be a member of a tribe, and absolutely will not refer to myself as such. However I also will not hold prejudice against people who use the word tribe in the context of their social groups in reference to familial association, and oppressed status. 

Heathenry has other words that are more accessible, and more appropriate to use: kith, kindred…ect.

Smoke Cleansing PSA, Elaborated

A guide for pagan parents, and how to protect our vulnerable family members while protecting our homes.

image

There’s not much information stated on this often enough to be common knowledge through the pagan or witchcraft communities, the hidden dangers of improper smoke ventilation during the ritual use of incense or potentially caustic herbs is clearly present, and often ignored. There is no form of smoke cleansing of any herb or material that is safe to do around babies and small children, and should be avoided while pregnant if you cannot ventilate your space, as studies have shown how smoke inhalation while pregnant can lead to future respiratory issues for the child, such as asthma and other more severe medical conditions. Always check to see if your potential offerings were chemically treated during their production, or simply are straight up poisonous. Such instances like cedar, while pleasant to smell, can be carcinogenic and easily mistaken for safe materials. There is the food-safe cooking variety of Western Red Cedar, and the highly toxic and not-at-all-safe-to-breathe Eastern Red Cedar.

Ventilation is in itself an important part of smoke cleansing. Even if you’ve done your research and vetted your incense, all materials intended to be burned for ritual usage should be utilized safely. Smoke cleansing rituals are as diverse a practice as they are the rich global cultures they spring from, and anyone can conduct their rituals as they see fit, but there is a general basic formula to the idea. When “cleansing” you clean away a foulness in some form or another, much like taking a bath, and when you are finished with a bath you drain the water to wash the muck away. By not ventilating smoke after a cleansing ritual, you retain that spiritual “muck” alongside with the actual danger of continuously breathing cloying smoke particles, and exposing it to yourself and anyone else who shares your household.

Our furry family are also those we must consider the safety of when conducting smoke rituals indoors. Their small size means they have just as much risk to experience the detriments of smoke inhalation as children, particularly sensitive pets like birds, or dogs who have up to 290 million MORE olfactory receptors than humans, each one dedicated to collecting airborne particles.

If you wish to do cleansing in a safe manner with or around your families, some suggested alternatives, depending on your needs, could be to make an herbal tisane or tincture and sprinkle it around your home, particularly on windows and door frames. Or you can simply hang fresh herbs like mint and basil in doorways to waft pleasantly around your home. Other suggestions I’ve heard are to use sound as a cleansing method instead of smoke or aroma methods, singing bowls are a popular means of accomplishing this, while I personally prefer singing.

Accomplish your spiritual needs while also doing double duty to protect your home with some safe alternatives!

Relevant links and citation:

>https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5010412/

>https://www.preventivevet.com/cats/scents-that-are-harmful-to-your-pets

>https://www.cdc.gov/tobacco/basic_information/health_effects/pregnancy/index.htm

>https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28859274

>https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10311-015-0521-7