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The diversity in Pagan Community in the Americas is astounding, and as a much-needed alternative to outdated religions in decline, an ongoing source of wonder for our collective re-enchantment and inspiration.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!

Key Resources

  • 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
  • http://www.beyondwhiteness.com
  • 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

Pegi Eyers

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!

Contemplating The Ruins and Reviving Mythic Stories

(We are pleased to host this piece by Pegi Eyers, which first appeared in A Beautiful Resistance: Everything We Already Are.)

“Our Ancestors experienced life in terms of imagination and intuition, and this mythic worldview has value for us today. A new interest is awakening in primal mind, fantasies and dreams. We have the need to relate back to a deeper level of life which is more direct and full of feeling, with a natural grace and wisdom that is more appealing than all the dazzling accomplishments of the intellectual ego. Myth has once again become important.”

“When the stories a society shares are out of tune with its circumstances, they can become self-limiting, even a threat to survival. This is our current situation.”

In these last days of Empire, the “endless growth” agenda of eco-fascism, economic hegemony and corporatocracy is dissolving, falling apart under the weight of unsustainability, and a groundswell of people from all walks of life are moving away from these delusional and insane systems. The paradigm of humanity as lord and master of Mother Earth has run its course, and it is becoming harder and harder to believe in the fallacy of a mechanical universe and our separation from the natural world.

“We are living at a time in which the old story of domination and control has lost its power, and we are in a liminal, in-between time, still searching for a new story.”

At this point in history, it would seem highly apropos to reject the human-centric and hubristic notions that human beings are a “God Species” who rule the world, that more and better technology will solve the problems that technology created in the first place, or that continued “progress” is the only way forward. That the colonial dream would have been adopted planet-wide was perhaps something the early “meme spreaders”(1) did not foresee, but the Earth clearly cannot sustain billions of people living at the height of civilizational benefit and luxury. “Unless you believe infinite growth is possible on a finite planet” (2) it is time to redefine our paradigm and adopt a different mythic story for self, community and the world, to return to the values of interexistence and a respect for natural law.

The conveniences, communication devices and media bombardment of our high-mobility modern lifestyle have given us the illusion that human beings are the center of the universe. Our addiction to entertainment and diversion, the ongoing incestuous interaction with our emotional dramas and human inventions—to the exclusion of all other life on Earth—is narcissistic, dysfunctional and immoral. What spell have we been under? Thinking that human endeavors and human-centric concerns are the only ones that matter keeps us trapped in the sinkhole of modernism, contributes to the ideology of Empire, and does nothing to return us to right relationship with the land. Unlearning the habits of civilization means rejecting the domestication we have adopted from techno-industrial society in favor of earth-wise Pagan skills, returning to the rich matrix of indigenous mind, and learning how to be “true human beings” once again.

We need the vision of an earth-rooted paradigm to counteract Empire’s mandate to devour the earth’s resources and spirit. Experiencing, creating and believing both ancient and new narratives that honor and celebrate the natural world (and our place within it) are urgently needed to bend the curve. Based on the Old Ways, we need to tell revived stories about ourselves, reclaimed eco-myths to guide us forward, and rejuvenated manifestos that celebrate our integration with the natural world. Our archaic spirit needs to rise again in a weaving of timeless stories of growth, regeneration, rites of passage, energy, motion, illumination, magic, decay, and all the earth’s processes that dwell both in us and the other-than-human-world.

Mirroring the “new myth” in full interaction with others is both a spiritual and political act that will disrupt the business-as-usual of Empire in ways we can only imagine. Diverse human groups worldwide have always used mythic stories to record our most sacred origins, to hold the keystone beliefs, cultural meanings, values and destinies specific to each society. Creation stories (or accounts of how our particular social order came into being), along with explanations and exemplars, are human attempts to answer the most fundamental questions of existence and form the building blocks of a collective reality. Arising from both the intellect and the imagination, narrative epics and parables are “lessons for living” that offer us guidance for navigating both the inner and outer worlds.

Keystone stories and important events in history are transferred from one generation to the next, and are integrated in rituals and ceremonies that include the bardic arts, entertainment, music, songs, call-and-response, poetry, dancing and drumming. Throughout history, pagan peoples have relied on the story-keepers to maintain the tribal records, to continue the richness of history, identity and culture. By reaching back to ancestral knowledge, conveying teachings or validating the prestige and responsibilities of tribal members, each storyteller brings with them a unique piece of the mythic puzzle. The oral transmission of collective memories becomes a living worldview that keeps the cultural traditions of the group alive.

Focused on interspecies communication and our soul connections to the other-than-human world, our shared stories can outline our rapport with other beings and the realm of the shapeshifters. The natural world is the entry point to the “dreamtime,” a place where our access to soul expressions and personal mythology merge.

“Stories and their ceremonies weave our world together: the story of corn maiden and mother, of salmon’s death and rebirth, of bear’s human wife, of coyote’s foul tricks and lynx’s loneliness. These stories of ecological conscience are a council where the voices of all species may be heard. It is through these stories that the Earth can be restored, for these eco-narratives are an ‘ilbal’, a ‘seeing instrument’. Looking through the eyes of others as their stories are told, we may hear and understand the voices of our relatives.”(3)

An important purpose for our ongoing oral history is to outline the interactions and lived experiences that arise from our essential bond to Earth Community, to recount the stories that are held within geographical locations on the land. Whether at key points like sacred sites or more personal lived places, the storied landscape brings our lore to life – the earth deities, Gods, Goddesses or sages we honor, the creatures we dream about, and the paradoxes we cannot explain.

For a powerful example of the oral tradition as a living worldview, we can look to the life of the great Okanagan storyteller and orator Harry Robinson, who was wholly immersed in the natural world in every waking moment. During the transcribing of his priceless story-cycles, scholar Wendy Wickwire noted that:

“Harry travelled to Vancouver to undergo medical treatment under the care of an elderly Chinese herbalist. Only then did the depth of Harry’s mythological world become truly apparent. As we passed through downtown Vancouver on his visits to the doctor, I realized that all the traffic lights and cars meant nothing to Harry. They were almost an abstraction, an interesting but fleeting diversion from the timeless real world of Coyote, Fox and Owl.”(4)

In our own process to reject the failed experiment of industrial civilization, connect deeply to the land and embody the brilliant mythology of our own ancestral knowledge, can we also have no doubt that entering urban space is an illusion and an aberration, an insult to ourselves, the Earth and Her many creatures and elements? Can we too contemplate the ruins of Empire and see it as an abstraction, a fleeting diversion that for a long and unmerciful time tried to demonize Gaia and separate us from our one true home? As we examine our own life story within the context of Empire-building, we need to deconstruct the experiences that do not serve us, and reclaim the kinship model of our relationship to the wild.

To re-indigenize ourselves means re-inhabiting our local ecosystems, and returning to the various features and creatures in the bioregional landbase that inform and inspire.

Developing eco-mythic literacy means unlearning the consensual worldview of Empire in favor of older ways to see the world, to think and feel our way into a re-landed perspective with storytelling, ceremonies, intuitive workings and sacred art. Our creative, mystic, and eco-poetic abilities will blossom again when we dwell in a sense of oneness with the natural world, and we gain new wisdom when we are living as a part of (rather than apart from) the Web of All Life. A keen knowledge of the surrounding ecosystem is fundamental to a deep sense of interconnection and is imperative to a sustainable future, and communicating this eco-literacy to others, especially children, is the most important task we face.

”Stories nurture our connection to place and to each other. They show us where we have been and where we can go. They remind us of how to be human, and how to live alongside the other lives that animate this planet.”5

So, what are the new Earth Stories? In addition to narratives that arise from our localized re-landing, these thoughts and “chapters” may be a good beginning:

  • To return to our pre-colonial Paganism or indigenity knowing we are all children of Earth, and that our place is within, not above, the circle of creation,
  • To reorient our consciousness toward a more integral relationship with the Earth,
  • To move toward a paradigm shift that includes the land and the other-than-human world,
  • To look to nature as a knowledgeable and inspiring teacher, as Gaia herself provides us with the stories for a new era,
  • To address ecological solutions that maintain and improve the health of natural systems and the diversity of all life,
  • To revive and embrace the natural law of species diversity in a multiplicity of ethnicities, belief systems, partnerships, unique societies and Earth communities,
  • To revalue our bodies, the dignity of materiality, and working with our hands,
  • To live each day as a sacred act,
  • To love the land as central to our most cherished dreams and memories, to care for and restore the Earth, and
  • To take a stand for ecological defence.

The human mind is as much a part of nature as a boreal forest, and the imaginal states of dreaming, imagining, wandering in nature, making magic and creating mythologies is key. In times of massive change and transition, sharing and collaborating with our kindred spirits and communities on old/new ecocentric stories is an integral part of reclaiming our primitivist, animist, Pagan, Neo-Pagan or re-constructionist paths. Human beings have a role to play as earth protectors and earth keepers, and our challenge is to honor each other, all beings, and the earth as Sacred.

Reframing and rewriting our own stories where we find ourselves right now—in the ruins of Empire – will automatically reconnect us to the mythic realms of spirit, and will enlarge our transformation to knowing that we belong to the Earth. When your thoughts and actions go beyond the narrow confines of your individualistic concerns and revolve around the land and the welfare of the whole, you are well on your way to becoming a “true human being!” In these times of cataclysmic return, the “new myth” is the same one already in place that humanity has had for millennia, imbedded in worldview(s) that respect the human place within the circle of creation, and that express our overwhelming love for Earth Community.


  • 1. Daniel Quinn calls the foundational worldviews of culture “memes.” Daniel Quinn, Beyond Civilization: Humanity’s Next Great Adventure, Broadway, 2000
  • 2Charles Eisenstein, A New Story of the People, TEDxWhitechapel video, February 13, 2013: (www.youtube.com/watch?v=Mjoxh4c2Dj0)
  • 3Joan Halifax, The Fruitful Darkness: Reconnecting with the Body of the Earth, Harper Collins, 1993
  • 4Write it on Your Heart: The Epic World of an Okanagan Storyteller, by Harry Robinson and Wendy Wickwire (editor), Talonbooks, 1989. From the first of three volumes, the stories of Harry Robinson (Interior Salish, Lower Similkameen Band, B.C.) were collected by Wendy Wickwire. While working on her doctoral thesis, she recognized in Harry Robinson what Thomas King (Cherokee) would describe as “the most powerful storytelling voice in North America.”
  • 5 Susan J. Tweit, Walking Nature Home: A Life’s Journey, University of Texas Press, 2009

Pegi Eyers

Author of “Ancient Spirit Rising: Reclaiming Your Roots & Restoring Earth Community,” Pegi Eyers is occupied with challenging worldviews, contributing to the paradigm shift and working with the decolonization process in herself and others. A Celtic Animist who sees the world through a spiritual lens, she is a devotee of nature-based culture and all that is sacred to the Earth. Pegi Eyers is an advocate for our interconnection with Earth Community and the recovery of authentic ancestral wisdom and traditions for all people. She lives in the countryside on the outskirts of Nogojiwanong in Mississauga Anishnaabe territory (Peterborough, Ontario, Canada) on a hilltop with views reaching for miles in all directions. http://www.stonecirclepress.com


 

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