The Myth of the Pagan Passcard
By Pegi Eyers
(As a “manifesto” addressed to white folks in Pagan Community, my sincere apologies to people of colour or mixed heritage who may feel excluded.)
The diversity in Pagan Community in the Americas is astounding, and as a much-needed alternative to outdated religions in decline, an ongoing source of wonder for our collective re-enchantment and inspiration. Every conceivable genre of paganism is thriving, and this healthy diversity has meant the suspension of “togetherness” or “unity” narratives in recent times (which is probably a good thing). As with all human societies, the idea that we need to be homogenous or come to any kind of agreement as a movement or a subculture is not a realistic expectation. Yet there are some social dynamics that transcend mere “opinion” or “belief” such as the consequences we live with from historical actions, and the overarching truth of our own positionality. “Who am I? Why am I here? What do I remember? Where am I going?” These timeless questions continue to underscore our complex lives here in at the end of Empire, and we encounter a similar self-searching at the heart of Pagan Community.
Moving past the brilliance, innovation and miraculous achievements of leaders, groups and solitaries alike, we come to a dire and complete disconnect between those who are schooled in social justice and those who are not. Delving into this great divide there is one question that immediately comes to mind. “Are Pagans progressive, or are we stuck in the webs of our own conditioning?” If the answer is the former, there are a few simple (and relatively painless) adjustments that we can make on how we understand reality. After all, a wider circle of wisdom can change our worldview forever!
Like so many who have been the frequencies holders (or vicious derailers) in the recent public debates on issues of white supremacy and racism, we have been shocked to witness the dialogue having real consequences in terms of personal identity, well-being and finances (not to mention ideological platforms). The initial flares have settled into a somewhat more nuanced conversation, yet blind spots remain, and these glossed-over themes are still being justified in a thousand inventive ways. By far the greatest mistake and major sidestep from accepting the truth about our own positionality, has been the ever-popular “Pagan Passcard.”
Like the One Ring of hobbit fame, or Excalibur the legendary sword of King Arthur, the schooled activist can’t help but feel an obligation to present “the click” that would right the wrongs of this erroneous thinking. So in the spirit of mutual understanding, activating a personal and collective moral compass, and initiating the equity that could lead to equality in our time, here are a few basic points on positionality (with key resources) that Pagan Community needs to know.
(1) If your ancestors are from Europe you are white. Yes, we know that the theory of “race” is a complete fabrication, and “whiteness” and the Caucasian myth need to be dismantled along with the appellations of “black” “brown” “red” and “yellow.” But until all people of colour are free from discrimination based on skin colour in a post-racial world, we who fit the “white” bill have no right to reject the term. After all, that would make us “exceptional” once again, and our cultural group has already tried that, what with dominating, oppressing and trying to get rid of people of colour through white supremacy. (Key resource ~ “The History of White People” by Nell Irvin Painter)
(2) If your ancestors are from Europe, you belong to the colonizer class. If you have Anglophone roots your people believed themselves to be “the masters of the universe” and if you are Scottish, Irish, Welsh, French, Italian, Greek, Portuguese, Germanic, Slavic, Baltic, Nordic or another European ethnicity (which evolved into “nation-states” yes we know), then your parents, grandparents and other Settlers (if applicable) joined the “white club.” Except for a few isolated groups such as Amish, Mennonites, Pennsylvania Dutch or Doukhobors, without exception all light-skinned Europeans jumped on the irresistible bandwagon of building Empire as governed by Anglophone worldviews, beliefs, memes, and lust for profit. (Key resource ~ “The History of White People” by Nell Irvin Painter)
(3) Therefore, if you are part of the colonizer class, to this day you benefit from the subjugation of the colonized. All the amenities, luxuries and benefits you receive and enjoy today come directly from the enslavement of people of colour who provided the labour to build Empire in the Americas, and from the theft of indigenous lands. If not subjected to genocide, people of colour on Turtle Island were colonized, and in these post-colonial times, we who are the descendants of the colonizers should accept the responsibility to right this wrong. (Key resource ~ “The Colonizer and the Colonized” by Albert Memmi)
(4) White privilege is not a figment of a crazy SJW’s imagination. Even if you have been raised by those at the very bottom of the economic, gender, sexual orientation or disability ladder(s), by virtue of your white skin you have huge privileges as compared to a person of colour. Do you see your own ethnicity reflected in the majority of media programming, advertising and publishing that surrounds you? Do you have any other barriers (other than economic) to renting in any neighbourhood you chose? Do you have relative freedom when going about your daily business? Do you have to worry about your teenage son being killed when he goes off to the store? In every single one of your activities or ambitions, your whiteness puts you ahead of people of colour. (Key resource ~ “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack” by Peggy McIntosh)
(5) Newsflash! Self-identifying as Pagan, Neo-Pagan, Eco-Pagan, Devotional Polytheist, Anderson Feri, Eclectic, Kemetic, Faerie, Wiccan, Feminist Witch, Goddessian, Thelema, Hellenismos, New Orleans Vodoun, Shamanic, Neo-Shamanic, Druid, Neo-Druid, Sinnsreachd, Avalonian, Reconstructionist, Restorationist, Traditionalist, Norse Heathen, Forn Siðr, Ásatrú, European Indigenous or Animist does not give you a passcard from being a member of the colonizer class. The reason that so many in Pagan, Transformational and New Age Community are mainstream, non-liberal and non-radical folks in the first place is that they are the generational inheritors of the predominantly WASP suburban middle class. (Boom.) Also, i.e. being a good and caring person, participating in the paradigm shift, living in alternative community, belonging to the “Rainbow Tribe,” mastering oracles and magick, having an intimate connection with a pantheon of Gods and Goddesses, dwelling in an animist universe, recovering the Bard Tradition, doing community service, building a Wiccan Church, learning to speak Gaelic, or creating Pagan curriculum in school systems where none existed before – all these and other “spiritually awake and aware” activities and belief systems also do not give you a passcard from being a member of the colonizer class. (Key resource ~ “Ancient Spirit Rising: Reclaiming Your Roots & Restoring Earth Community” by Pegi Eyers)
(6) Being marginalized, shamed or persecuted for being a Pagan does not give you a passcard from being a member of the colonizer class. Certainly as a new religion in the Americas, Pagans are extremely familiar with oppression along religious lines and the struggle to claim equal rights and civil liberties. But even as we celebrate and honor the freedom fighters among us, we still have white privilege, and belong to the colonizer class (see points 2, 3, 4 and 5). Without learning the truth about our own positionality and the intersectionality of oppressions, we may continue to perpetuate white supremacy and racism. (Key resource ~ “What Does it Mean to Be White? Developing White Racial Literacy” by Robin DiAngelo)
(7) White guilt is not necessary (well, maybe for a couple of days). Instead of white fragility and an endless array of inventive justifications, the best response to all this challenging new information is to take responsibility to right the wrongs of history, and to correct the horror show created by white supremacy here on Turtle Island. Good examples of this work would be activism and allyship for the rights of POC, LGBT and other marginalized groups, undoing the implicit bias or explicit racism in ourselves, and the abolition of white supremacy. (Key resource ~ “White Like Me: Reflections on Race from a Privileged Son” by Tim Wise)
(8) And last but not least, our final point is the one most likely to enrage. To be extremely clear about history in the Americas, the memes and methods of Empire were created and enacted by European patriarchs, the rich, rapacious, entitled, racist, privileged, greedy, misogynist, bloodthirsty, warlord, bible-thumping, immoral, power-mad and dysfunctional white men who imposed their will on our bodies, minds and souls, and dictated the destruction of our world. White men – not any other group – have monopolized the reality of our ecosphere and ethnosphere for centuries with their manipulation, lies, justifications, fear-mongering, economic traps, silencing, peer pressure, brainwashing and lateral violence. Unfortunately, even as a subordinate group white women are not off the hook, as in the total supremacy of a “man’s world” we were the supporting cast and game players who internalized the values of the patriarchy, and were complicit with the Settler-Colonial directive. And as much as white women have achieved emancipation and empowerment today, we need to realize that the benefits and privileges we experience are the direct result of Euro-supremacy, and the near-annihilation of both indigenous cultures and the land. Both white men and white women hold equal responsibility to dismantle the systems of oppression. Simply put, with their humancentric worldview of entitlement, dominance and psychopathy the patriarchal founders and robber barons of Empire were wrong. (Key resource ~ “The Heart of Whiteness: Confronting Race, Racism and White Privilege” by Robert Jensen)
“In addition to the movements of the soul, deep group loyalty is actually what many human beings have used as their barometer for good and evil, and this group census and support actually serves as a collective conscience. Many of the horrible (and heroic) acts of humanity have been supported by some form of this group conscience. The genocide of Native Americans in the United States, and the slave trade, were both approved within a group.”
(Francesca Mason Boring, Connecting to Our Ancestral Past: Healing Through Family Constellations, Ceremony, and Ritual, North Atlantic Books, 2012)
Subtle and systemic, the racist values, stereotypes and microaggressions of the white patriarchy have been part of the education of every person born in the Americas, and it is this web of conditioning we need to unpack in our adult lives. Even as members of Pagan subculture(s) and communities, the inconvenient truth is that we benefit from being members of the dominant white supremacist society. Coming to terms with this fact is definitely a turning point, and staying grounded can be hard when the world we thought was real turns out to be an elaborate sham. Yet absorbing this new information takes absolutely nothing away from our self-identity or ongoing life purpose, but adds another layer of meaningful engagement with the world. In addition to our ongoing work in the realms of magic, spirit and culture, the best response is to shift to a social justice awareness, as every action (whatever the scale) can add to the impact of anti-oppression. With all the connective and educational tools available to us today, there is no shortage of information on engaging with protest, grassroots organizing, solidarity with marginalized groups, and effective allyship.
As Pagans we want to live in a world that reflects our egalitarian values, a world free of racial stratification, and where everyone has the right to realize their potential. And we want to believe that this equality will happen in our lifetime. There is a very real possibility that it is our generation – the most privileged and wealthy in human history – that has the most work to do in dismantling the systems that oppress both humanity and the earth. Trying to make amends is part of our own search for wholeness, and together we can co-create solidarity cultures of love and mutuality. To support and nurture each other across cultural or color lines, we need to be tough on issues yet compassionate with people. And as dismantling the toxicity of racism may take a long time, we need to celebrate our successes, value our contributions along the way, and be nurtured by our own earth-connected and Pagan spiritual practices.
Walking the labyrinth of personal introspection and interracial competency can be painful and convoluted at times, but based on a diversity of social justice paths there is one overwhelming guideline we all share. Regardless of lingering questions, the amount of “inner work” we have done, or the lack of approval from our peers, community, the wider world or people of color themselves (!) we perform the work on principle, with the profound belief that racism is wrong. The false system of racial hierarchy imposed in the Americas is deadly to all who are not white, yet the criminality of this legacy affects us all. For those of us who belong to the dominant society and benefit from the historic subjugation of POC every day of our lives, taking responsibility means speaking “truth to power” until the day when racism is reversed. Silence is no longer an option. If we reject the ethics of white supremacy, we must believe that at some point in the future a determined collective force will undo the intersectional oppressions. And in collaboration with all those who have resisted injustice in the past, present and future, we find ourselves committed to that struggle!
- DiAngelo, Robin, What Does it Mean to Be White? Developing White Racial Literacy, Peter Lang, 2012
- DiAngelo, Robin, “White Fragility,” The International Journal of Critical Pedagogy, Vol 3, The University of North Carolina at Greensboro, 2011
- http://libjournal.uncg.edu/ index.php/ijcp/article/view/249/116
- Eyers, Pegi, Ancient Spirit Rising: Reclaiming Your Roots & Restoring Earth Community , Stone Circle Press, 2016 http://www.stonecirclepress.com
- Jensen, Robert, The Heart of Whiteness: Confronting Race, Racism and White Privilege, City Lights Publishers, 2005
- McIntosh, Peggy, “Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack,” Beyond Whiteness, 2015
- Memmi, Albert, The Colonizer and the Colonized, Plunkett Lake Press, 2013
- Painter, Nell Irvin, The History of White People, W.W. Norton & Company, 2010
- Wise, Tim, White Like Me: Reflections on Race from a Privileged Son, Soft Scull Press, 2011
Author of Ancient Spirit Rising: Reclaiming Your Roots & Restoring Earth Community, Pegi Eyers is a Celtic Animist who sees the world through a spiritual lens, and is a devotee of nature-based culture and all that is sacred to the Earth. She is an advocate for the recovery of our authentic ancestral traditions, and lives near Nogojiwanong in Mississauga Anishnaabe territory.
Pegi Eyers was featured in both the first and second issue of A Beautiful Resistance. Digital versions of both issues are now available for $4 each!