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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.


  • Greybeard
    Greybeard Thursday, 19 September 2013

    Well, Ian, some of my ancestors were tried and sentenced to hang for being Witches, a crime they admitted. Some of their other descendants became Christian. Maybe all their descendants should stop being Christian and become Witches.

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