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Religious biological determinism is racism

Posted by on in Studies Blogs

Religious biological determinism, the idea that your race or ancestry determines who you should worship, is just racism by another name, lies beyond the pale of Paganism, and is not to be tolerated.


There has been a spate of discussion on the net about racism in the Pagan community. There is a lot to say about racism, but being an Irish-Slovak male, I tend to take leadership from those who are oppressed by racism and support them like I do women regarding feminism. So, normally I support rather than speak, but today speech is that support. First a rundown of some of the major elements:

On August 24 Piparskeggr Skald wrote a post on his W&P blog site, “A short note on my associations…”, which opened with, “I am a man who freely admits that I am most comfortable with folks who resemble me most strongly,” and quickly followed by
Joseph Bloch on August 28 with “Is this Pagan? (Part 1)”. There were a number of objecting comments and debates regarding their support for racially and ethnically segregated Paganism(s).

On the same day Morpheus Ravenna posted on W&P, “Whose Ancestors?” Which opened with “Issues of race and Eurocentrism in religion have been increasingly on my mind recently, and the anniversary of Dr. King's speech seems a good day to write about them.” Ravenna took the other side of the argument, starting with the problem presented by an upcoming music festival which is reported as being a fascist and racist rally here: “Anon: Fascists Rally at Stella Natura Festival, Guest post by a concerned group of antifascists who are lovers of black metal and Nature”, 19 August 2013 on Who Makes the Nazis? Keeping an eye on the neo-fascists burrowing their way into a subculture near you.

Debate ensued in on-site and off and resulted in Skald, and Bloch resigning their blogs on W&P and Ravenna having hers terminated by W&P. All of their posts have since been removed. Joseph Bloch wrote about his withdrawal in “Why I am No Longer Blogging at Witches & Pagans” on Jön Upsal's Garden, August 29, 2013. Ravenna’s post was mirrored on her own site, Banshee Arts, and so remains to read.

This brief skirmish is just the visible end of a larger conflict heretofore quietly being waged in the Pagan community. I am but a mage and a priest and so my focus is on the religious health of our community. But studies by those far more focused on the subjects of race and politics than I are showing that the Pagan community is being infiltrated by racists and their pernicious ideas, wrapped in clever rhetoric. This is happening on a number of fronts but our Heathen/Norse friends are taking the brunt of it. One of the better summaries of the problem as they see it is here: “Racism in Asatru” by Wayland Skallagrimsson. More about one of the organizations involved, the Asatru Free Assembly is here and here.

Seeing the problem, folks are taking a stance. Thought leaders like Amy Hale in a recent interview with Erik Davis and John Beckett here have started building up the critical and incisive arguments that the Pagan community can use to prevent the subtle but pernicious infiltration by racists and fascists we are currently enduring. Applying my own discipline, I hope to make a modest contribution to this discussion below.

The point is simple: Anthropologists have concluded that there is no factual basis for associating culture with a genome.

The proof is also simple: The foreign born, raised amongst us, adopt our culture. They don’t spontaneously start speaking the language or practice the religion of their genetic inheritance. They take up the religion of their adoptive family.

To use a contemporary metaphor, culture functions more like software on the body-as-hardware. Culture is not even analogous to the Operating System. That is the truly ancient system of knowings, learnings, and doings that are our common humanity. We all eat, excrete, mate and move.

A worthy parallel to culture is something like a desktop application like Windows running over DOS or the Apple Finder over UNIX. Only a little imagination is required to see in a desktop app an implied cosmology (environment, look and feel) and a pantheon of commands and subordinate applications. Culture and Desktop apps condition our way of moving and being in their respective worlds.

Religion, group spiritual engagement, is an aspect of culture, the way a group of people does things. It is learned from those you are with. In today’s world we are exposed to many ‘ways’ and have the opportunity to choose how we will live our lives from among them, even religiously. In the ancient world, while visiting or living in a different culture, one makes offerings to the Gods of the host culture. It is simply polite. If one adopted or was adopted by a culture, one could fully participate in that religious life: if you spoke Greek, you could participate in the Eleusinian mysteries, no matter where you were from.

Some today are taking a recent notion of nationhood, one developed only since the mid-1700s, and reifying it into a false concept of ‘race’. Then they assign who should worship which pantheon. Normally I would not care. There are only a few behaviors in our fairly antinomian subculture that are unacceptable. Violence and abuse are among them. So is racism, itself a kind of abuse.

Taking one’s genome as determinant of who one should worship is simply another form of racism. It is a way of creating division amongst humans unfounded on any facts, on any reality, other than a misconstrued notion of what makes a people, what makes a culture. Culture, and religion, is found in what you do, not your bloodline. Those who use the idea of culture or religion as tied to one’s genetic inheritance are attempting to sneak racism into Paganism, and this must not be tolerated. It must be spotted, called out and banished. Not in Our House.

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Sam Webster is a Pagan Mage, one of the very few who is also a Master of Divinity, and is also currently a Doctoral candidate in History at the University of Bristol, UK, under Prof. Ronald Hutton. He is an initiate of Wiccan, Druidic, Buddhist, Hindu and Masonic traditions and an Adept of the Golden Dawn founding the Open Source Order of the Golden Dawn  in 2001. His work has been published in a number of journals such as Green Egg and Gnosis, and 2010 saw his first book, Tantric Thelema, establishing the publishing house Concrescent Press. Sam lives in the San Francisco East Bay and serves the Pagan community principally as a priest of Hermes.


  • Christine Kraemer
    Christine Kraemer Friday, 13 September 2013

    Thanks, Crystal. Despite a lot of time thinking and talking about the history of race in the States and the politics of oppression in school and in my various religious communities, lately I've been struggling to connect current conversations in the Pagan community to my actual lived experiences in my neighborhood. I think a lot about how to be ethical in the web of unequal power dynamics we're all caught in, but the problems I think about are all very concrete and nuts-and-bolts compared with the issues Sam kindly summarized here (like how to have positive relationships with my neighbors). So I appreciate your commentary, and I welcome more writing that helps Pagans think about what they can do in their communities and their daily lives to address racism.

  • Ted Czukor
    Ted Czukor Friday, 13 September 2013

    Respectful salutations to you, Crystal, as one whose profession equips her to know the real definitions of these terms! I am indebted to you for this clarification, and for the sociological titles that can be further researched online. In defense of some of other theories expressed here, though, I would just suggest that most individual thinkers assign their own interpretations of what the words mean, and intend no insult to anyone. Though their thesis might be too casual to get an A on an academic paper, they still have some good ideas.

  • Crystal Blanton
    Crystal Blanton Friday, 13 September 2013

    Ted, thank you. And I don't automatically assume insult from anyone (atleast I work not to). But I do think that part of the problem in the concept of free thinking is that out thoughts are truth, they are not necessarily. We have to be informed to formulate opinions that are not inherently biased, or even adversively racist. There are some really, really, really good people who do not even consciously understand that they are saying things that are racist and perpetuating a cycle of oppression that continues to be harmful for others. Education is important for that reason... and doing our research is highly beneficial for our whole community, family and for society at large.


  • Ted Czukor
    Ted Czukor Thursday, 12 September 2013

    Thank you for your points, Frith. Some years ago, after lengthy instruction and inspiration from an Indian guru, and because I had the sincere intuition that I had spent former lives in India, I formed a desire to convert to Hinduism. But my Yoga website got hateful emails from some Indian Hindus informing me that nobody can be a Hindu (or even teach Yoga) unless they are born into it. One of them said, "Stop insulting my religion." It was a very demeaning and discouraging experience, but it taught me that the western religions in which I had been raised did not have a corner on intolerance.

    As you say, not all Hindus agree with the extremists who said such things to me (my guru certainly didn't). But instead of attacking them for it, I simply speak my own truth in my own way, and let everyone else speak theirs.

  • Terence P Ward
    Terence P Ward Friday, 13 September 2013

    This, from a religion which embraces reincarnation? Talk about cognitive dissonance!

  • Frith Wierdman
    Frith Wierdman Thursday, 12 September 2013

    Much respect to you Sam. I always enjoy your insightful and thought-provoking posts. This one obviously rubbed me the wrong way, but please kep up the good work.

  • Jamie
    Jamie Friday, 13 September 2013

    Mr. Webster,

    Thank you for this much-needed discussion.

    Gradually, as more and more people of various backgrounds convert to one of our Pagan paths, discussions about race and ethnicity are only going to increase. Better to deal with it constructively and rationally, in a way that honors the Goddesses and Gods.

    I am also very grateful that Ms. Blanton contributed her opinions. I am not likely to have personal discussions about racism with my African-American co-workers. Who wants to accidentally press the big red nuclear button on their employment, when misunderstandings and arguments could so easily result?

  • Terence P Ward
    Terence P Ward Sunday, 15 September 2013

    It's important to know that these struggles go well beyond northern European traditions. Hellenismos has its share of biological determinists, for example:

  • Jamie
    Jamie Sunday, 15 September 2013

    Those people crack me up. Was most of the Roman Empire doing it wrong?

    Hellenic and Roman cultures are the bedrock upon which our modern Western civilization was built upon. When Percy Bysshe Shelley famously said, "We are all Greeks", he wasn't wrong. If you hear the call to honor the Olympian deities, and you are oriented towards Western civilization, then it would be unwise to ignore least on a deeply private level.

    If the total adoption of modern Hellenic culture is the litmus test for worshipping Zeus, then certain ex-Muslim immigrants from Afghanistan have a claim on Hellenismos that many Greek-Americans don't.

    If the Deathless Ones only listen to prayers from members of the Mighty Master Race of Hellenic Superhumans, then I have some bad news: Modern 'Greeks' derive their heritage from quite a few places.

    The sad thing is, I really believe that many of the ancient philosophers who helped create the glory that was 'Ancient Greece' would today be disgusted at the behavior of certain modern people who invoke their memory.

  • Greybeard
    Greybeard Tuesday, 17 September 2013

    Choosing to support "MY" family, clan, tribe, people against "those" family, clan, tribe, people is a successful evolutionary strategy that predates humans as a species by millions of years. While there is a very modern criticism of "racism" and promotion of "diversity" it can be observed that those promoting the modern criticism usually do so while pushing away "them" and supporting a chosen flavor of racism.

  • Greybeard
    Greybeard Tuesday, 17 September 2013

    It has been my observation that almost all of the Asatru bashing is racist in nature. Racism doesn't vanish by changing its flavor to that which is PC. Neither does sexism.

  • Crystal Blanton
    Crystal Blanton Tuesday, 17 September 2013

    If it systemically affected the entire group (race) economically, politically, socially.... then it might qualify. Otherwise it is not racism. Again... there is a definition to that word that does not mean what you are attempting. It is misleading, and inaccurate.

    There is a lot of research out there defining the definition of racism. To attempt to correlate it with a dislike is another way to adversively and covertly diminish the effect that real racism has on people and society.

  • Greybeard
    Greybeard Tuesday, 17 September 2013

    Shovel...... Shovel...... Shovel...... Getting very deep in here.

  • Crystal Blanton
    Crystal Blanton Tuesday, 17 September 2013

    Greybeard, it is obvious that your cognitive dissonance stops you from intelligent conversation and learning what you do not know. But for others interested, here is a good snapshot of the changing definitions of racism and the mention of the interfering cognitive dissonance.

    "We all have our prejudices, and we can be prejudiced about things, ideas, or people. Hence anyone, regardless of color, can
    harbor prejudicial, even hatefully prejudicial feelings about any race. To be guilty of racism, however, to be a racist, say the revision proponents, one must have power, and power of a special sort. For the revisionists, racism is prejudice plus power leveraged at an institutional level to maintain the privileges of the dominant social
    group. (Henceforward I refer to this formulation as the R = P + P formulation, meaning racism equals prejudice plus power.) This line of thinking leads to the obvious-seeming conclusion that
    because in our society white people are the dominant social group, black people, who do not control the levers of macro level, institutional power, cannot be said to be racist.
    In my experience (and as is reflected in the writings of authors reviewed in this article), there are usually some students who agree that the R =P + P formulation makes sense (and then interpret
    disagreement with it as resistance to acknowledging the collusion of white people in a societal structure of privilege and advantage). Other students, however, experience a kind of cognitive
    dissonance when presented with the R = P + P formulation and decry what they feel is an abandonment of logic and a tendentious reengineering of a perfectly good term to isolate white people as
    evildoers and let black people off the hook even when they commit similar offenses. This schism that emerges in the classroom reflects what exists in the professional discourse on the definition of

  • Crystal Blanton
    Crystal Blanton Tuesday, 17 September 2013

    Deflection disguised by misinformation and ignorance does not work for most people. Especially those who are educated. It just exposes more misinformation.

  • Greybeard
    Greybeard Tuesday, 17 September 2013

    Translation: "Their racism is racism. My racism is not racism. " Total cowshit. Doesn't matter how you cloak it in pseudo-intellectual nonsense. Racism still stinks.

  • Heather Freysdottir
    Heather Freysdottir Tuesday, 17 September 2013

    I feel the need to repeat this, as some people reading this conversation might be where I was some years ago, when I found the Norse pantheon interesting, but the reputation for racism put me off. Heathens Against Hate:

    I would hate for anyone reading to be put off of the Northern Tradition because they feel that there are no spaces for them to be welcomed, and there are a lot of us who despise those who use our holy symbols for hateful purposes. I have said that I am not folkish, and indeed I don't espouse it because to me it is contraindicated in the Nine Noble Virtues. How can one be hospitable if we create an atmosphere that makes people of color feel unwelcome? Who are we to decide for the Gods?

    We can't. And for anyone reading who is interested in finding inclusive groups, please ping me. Some are listed on HAH, but there are more out there than that.

  • Pegi Eyers
    Pegi Eyers Wednesday, 18 September 2013

    There is only ONE issue here, that is, that a group within the Asatru community are white supremacists. All of us, progressives, liberals, feminists, heathens, pagans, wizards, witches or just mainstream folk should be ever-vigilant, and call out all forms of racism, including overt racism, wherever it is found. Hyper-whiteness is on the wane these days as the body politic widens in ever more ethnically-inclusive circles, but the patriarchal white supremacist monster is not going to go down easy. The pathetic, psychopathic domination ideology of the white supremacists has boiled down to the simple fear that the “white race” (read white men) is threatened in some way (as if). The Arastu white supremacists aren’t concerned with other white pagans, they are worried about the “rising up” of people of colour. Instead of all forward-thinking folk coming together against the outdated notion of white superiority, the squabbling, finger-pointing and censoring inside the pagan community (like the recent blogs and comments) is totally unnecessary, mostly off-base, and sidelines the real enemy (white supremacy). Junk science (Morpheus) and identifying new forms of racism where none existed before (Morpheus, Sam Webster) all miss the point. (You guys, “religious biological determinism” is exactly how most of humanity organized themselves before the rise of Euro-Empire, and it seems that we white North Americans are the only ones who don’t recognize this anymore! What a joke. Try telling your theory of “religious biological determinism” to the millions of ethnically-specific indigenous groups around the world.)

  • Greybeard
    Greybeard Thursday, 19 September 2013

    It would be nice if the rants against racism weren't so racist.

  • Ian Phanes
    Ian Phanes Thursday, 19 September 2013

    The gods of my ancestors are the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Every ancestor I ever knew, and every ancestor they ever knew, was Christian. And that's true for the vast majority of modern pagans who suggest that people should worship the gods of their own ancestors. Does that mean that all descendents of Christians should stop being pagan and become Christian?

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