Recognising The Tools That Divide Us

Recognising the tools that are used to divide us is the first step in fighting back.

From Emma Kathryn


I often say that the only real freedoms we have left to us are what we think and how we spend our money.

I am wrong.

Our spending habits are dictated largely by our needs in life. Make the cost of living, the cost of surviving higher, then you are already well on the way to snatching this freedom from us. How many of us, in so-called rich, first world nations, struggle to survive, struggle to eat, to heat our homes, to even keep the roofs over our heads? How much of our income is left over, so that we may enjoy ourselves in a world where everything costs?

For many, this freedom does not exist, and for those whom it does, it is eroded daily. If you can’t even afford to survive, if you can’t afford to buy the basics necessary to survive, then you are not free.

We are sold the dream of normality: our own house, a car or two, branded clothes and package holidays. How many people aspire to such a mundane existence? How many think this is living the dream? Any deviance from this norm, from this mindless, thoughtless norm is regarded with suspicion. If you don’t achieve these things, you’re a failure. It doesn’t matter that this lifestyle is financed for many by debt: car finance; mortgages; credit cards and loans.

It doesn’t matter, so long as it looks like we’ve ‘made it’, that it looks like we are successful.

We are the freaks, those of us who know our true nature and strive for our own dreams and wants. We who shun this false norm, who forge our own paths, we are the weirdos, we free thinkers are the odd ones. Embrace your weirdness, your otherness–for it is this that will keep you free.

Our thoughts, how we think and what we think, are the last bastions of true freedom, and thus, the tools of state, of capitalism seek to destroy this. Thoughts are powerful things. The greatest (and the worst) achievements of the human race all ascend from mans ability to think.

If you take a moment to consider man, as an animal, he is a poor specimen. By rights, we shouldn’t have survived as a species. We aren’t particularly fast, we aren’t physically strong, we have no fur to survive the cold, we’re physically slow. The list of man’s inadequacies to survive in the natural world is long. And yet we dominate the planet, are at the top of the food chain. If not for our brains, for the power of our thoughts, who knows what would have become of mankind! Thoughts are powerful things. If in doubt ask any occultist!

So to dismantle the tools of state, of capitalism then, we must familiarise ourselves with the tools they would use to control us.

The attack on what and how we think is insidious, sneaking in to all aspects of life. Schools are failing our children, so instead of educating them, kids are taught to pass tests, the pass rate and Ofstead (a government body that inspects state schools) rating of the school more important than teaching the children quality knowledge, how to think for themselves. Instead individuality is crushed.

And it’s not the teachers fault! Here in the UK, teachers and successive governments (all governments too, left and right) are always at loggerheads. Teachers increasingly have to teach children things that were traditionally taught in the home, through example and experience and just general parenting. There is often talk of extending the school day in line with working patterns, and in this world where both parents must work full-time but quality childcare is unaffordable, it sounds like a good idea. The erosion of the family (and that’s family in any form!) is not a conspiracy theory!

Then there’s advertising and television programming (they’re called programs for a reason!), all hinting at what we should feel in regards to this stimuli or that. Opinion pieces and chat shows, morning TV, the news, are all designed to elicit certain responses. It’s like a drip effect.

What actually spurred me to write this piece, though, was a government report into race inequality that was recently published. This particular report, the ‘race disparity audit’, looked at the link between races and wealth and privilege factors, including the ownership of homes. The report found that white British people are more likely to own their own homes and be in employment than those from ethnic minorities.

I stumbled upon this story whilst scrolling through Facebook, and though I know I shouldn’t have, I couldn’t help but read the comments section. I had hoped to see people call the report out for what it so blatantly was – a piece designed to invoke difference and friction. What the report ‘found’ was nothing new, offered no new insight, no insight at all really, and only served to make people defensive. Defensive people fight back.

Whilst people were busy blaming one group or another for being ‘lazy’ or ‘privileged’ (divide and conquer indeed!), they were missing the obvious flaws of the report. For one thing, in Britain, and as far as I have experienced, issues of race and culture can be quite complicated. For example, the report looked at White British, Black, and Asian, all seemingly very concrete, very different subsections of society. But what the report fails to do, or doesn’t make clear, or outright ignores, is that such differences, in real life, are often very blurred. For example, I’m mixed race (White British and Afro Caribbean if you’re wondering), and British. Half of my family are white, the other half black, where would someone like myself fit into it all? And that’s the problem, issues like this aren’t clear-cut, are multifaceted, with many contributing factors. Reports like this are designed to cause friction between friends, neighbours, and sometimes even family.

Reports like this are designed to distract us. Whilst we are busy arguing amongst ourselves about man-made castes and classes, we aren’t scrutinising the government. I think people sometimes forget that governments are meant to be our representatives, are meant to govern for us, not over us. I think governments have forgotten this as well. Or maybe they haven’t, hence the need to divide us all over shit that doesn’t mean anything and doesn’t matter.

And distract us they do! How many pointless online arguments are there between groups and people, who often times have quite similar beliefs and opinions? Instead of uniting, people get caught up on the semantics of a concept, arguing obscure points that mean absolutely fuck all in the real world (what I mean by the real world is the everyday lives of the people who just want to get on and live their lives ). We argue over the most trivial things, blame one another for the problems created by an unfair system.

This separation of people, this ploy to distract us can be seen in all aspects of modern life, personal and professional. At work recently, my manager had to do a progression plan with a head office type. We have a small staff in the shop, and we all get on, are a team. In an employee survey, our manager received full compliments from us, his staff, and instead of this being seen as a good thing, the manager was told it was too much! That he shouldn’t be so popular amongst the other plebs, because that is what we are, what we are seen as.

When the plebs, the people, (because we are all plebs in the eyes of government)  unite, it spells danger, not only in work, but in life generally.

Any kind of unification of the people is a danger to governments. Look at Catalonia! Look how other governments around the world denounce the Catalonian people and government. It reminds me of the Brexit campaign, when other governments threatened us with no trade agreements, that we as a country would be ‘at the back of the queue’. Fear is a motivating factor, and as such, another tool that governments use to separate us.

It’s hard to stick to your guns when your threatened with this and that, harder still when you have children or others who depend on you. It is scary, change and the unknown, but we are powerful, we must stand united, all people, from all backgrounds. It’s the only chance we have for any real change.

And so, an important aspect of the good fight is to learn to recognise the tools the state would use to divide us. Learn to recognise media reports that aim to set one group against another. Do your own research, form your own opinions based on solid research because media reports often try and portray a certain perspective, elicit a particular response. Get out and about in your community, because a good, strong community cannot be turned in on itself, neighbour will not turn against neighbour when they know one another. Start at the grassroots level, because everything stems from there.

We are powerful things, and we must learn to recognise the tools and tactics capitalism, and thus The State, would use against us. Recognising the tools that are used to divide us is the first step in fighting back.


Emma Kathryn

My name is Emma Kathryn, an eclectic witch, my path is a mixture of traditional European witchcraft, voodoo and obeah, a mixture representing my heritage. I live in the middle of England in a little town in Nottinghamshire, with my partner, two teenage sons and two crazy dogs, Boo and Dexter. When not working in a bookshop full time, I like to spend time with my family outdoors, with the dogs. And weaving magick, of course!

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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!

How “Gods Before Politics” Perpetuates Privilege

(A version of this essay was previously published at allergicpagan.com.)

“Ever and always, the Gods come before politics.” — John Beckett

What does “political” mean?

There’s been a lot of argument on the Pagan internet lately about whether Paganism and Polytheism are political, per se, or whether we need to have political-free zones in Paganism.

Some of the confusion has to do with definitions.  When people hear “politics”, they tend to think of political candidates, elections, and voting.  And they think about people arguing about political candidates, elections, and voting.  And, really, who wants to have that at your next Lughnasadh ritual or in your devotional ritual to Lugh?

But politics is a lot more than elections and voting.  It’s even more than signing petitions, boycotting products, and marching in the streets.  Politics is about power: who gets to use it and when and how.  Politics is how we decide who has power … and who doesn’t.  Carl von Clausewitz famously wrote that “war is the continuation of politics by other means.”  If we flip that around, we see that politics is how we peacefully (more or less) resolve the question of who gets to exercise power over whom.

When politics is understood in this way, then it’s easier to see that there is really no place or zone that is free of politics.  Not the marketplace.  Not school.  Not church.  And not your Pagan and Polytheist circles.

Why?  Because all of these places are permeated by complex power relationships, and in all of these places, we are either working to reform these power relationships or we are reinforcing the status quo by our passivity.  You’re either doing one or the other.  There’s no escaping it.  And if you’re not doing it consciously, then it’s happening implicitly, in the background of all your words and actions.

Privilege makes politics invisible

And this is why statements like “Gods before politics” reinforce white, male, hetero-, and cis- privilege.  And this is why the notion that there should be non-political spaces in Paganism is so insidious.  The idea can sound very reasonable — especially when it is delivered in a calm and equanimous fashion to others similarly situated.   So much of privileged talk is like this.  While those who are less privileged seem to be railing about invisible powers.

It’s easy to say there should be non-political spaces when your existence is not perpetually under threat by virtue of your difference, by virtue of your conformity to white, male, hetero-, cis-normativity.  But if you are female, if you are a person of color, if you are queer, or gay, or lesbian, or if you are trans, or if you are disabled, then there is no such thing as a non-political space for you.  Because almost everywhere you go, you are being told implicitly, if not explicitly, that you do not belong, that you do not have the same rights as others, that the exercise of power over you by privileged others is right and justified and deity-sanctioned.

Ginger Drekisdottir explained this well in an article here on G&R entitled, “Paganism is Personal, and that’s what makes it Political”:

“There are groups in Western society which are systematically oppressed: women, people of colour, LGBT people, disabled people, the list sadly goes on and on. These groups are […] oppressed through the very structures which make up our society […]

“For members of these oppressed groups, our daily lives can often be a struggle just to survive, a struggle to carve out a space to live, a constant fight to demand that our lives have just as much value as others. We live these fights just through carrying on with our normal lives, every time we go out to the shops or to see friends, through carrying on breathing; as well as through our activism.

“[…] for oppressed people it is these continued struggles in the face of systems of oppression which make our personal lives political. Yes many of us do activism, engage in demonstrations, engage in direct actions or even the dreaded party politics I mentioned above; but continuing to exist in the light of a system saying that you are lesser, that your life is worth less than others simply because of who you are is just as political. We can’t just shed these aspects of our identities when we step into a space, even a Pagan space.”

In a recent post, entitled “Why the Gods Come Before Politics”, John Beckett responded to Drekisdottir, arguing for the possibility of non-political spaces in Pagan and Polytheist circles.  Interestingly, in the process of trying to make his point, Beckett actually disproves it when he says that “there are limits”.  He writes:

“There is no place for racism in Paganism and polytheism – Stephen McNallen is not welcome at any circle I lead. There is no place for transphobia in Paganism and polytheism – Ruth Barrett is not welcome at any circle I lead.”

That is a political position, an explicit one.  And every time Beckett holds a circle and explicitly or implicitly communicates that racism and transphobia are not welcome in his circle, he is being political.

Consider another recent example, when the Pagan Federation of Ireland was recently asked by a couple of Odinists for help finding a Pagan clergy member to marry them “who only performs heterosexual ceremonies and refrains from marrying those of mixed races,” and the Pagan Federation responded:

“We are most happy to report that none of our clergy subscribe to your views on mixed race or gay marriage, and so we cannot assist you in your upcoming visit to Ireland.
“F**k off.
“Yours very sincerely, Everyone at Pagan Federation Ireland.”

That was a political action.  If the Pagan Federation had helped the Odinists find a racist, homophobic clergy-person to conduct their wedding, that would have been a political action too.  And (pay attention now) if the Pagan Federation had just ignored the request, that would have been a political action too.

The next time someone tells you their Paganism is not political (or the next time you think it yourself), ask whether they would welcome a Neo-Nazi to their ritual or place a swastika on their altar.  If the answer is “no”, then ask them why.  Their answer will inevitably be political — because it has to do with who has power and who does not.  If they say “yes”, then ask how they think a Black person would feel at their ritual or standing before their altar, and whether they care, and why or why not.  That answer will inevitably be political too.  We are being political whether we are conscious of it or not.

Is your Pagan circle explicitly open to LGBTs?  Is so, congratulations, your circle is political.  If not, shame on you, but your circle is political too — it’s implicitly political.  Has your Polytheist group declared that Black Lives Matter?  If so, good job, your group is political.  If not, you need to wake up, but your group is still political.

The luxury of being “non-political”

Only a white, male, heterosexual, cis-gendered, able-bodied person like me, or like John Beckett, could really believe that such non-political spaces exist.  As Kiya Nicoll wrote in the comments to Drekisdottir’s essay:

“When I observe someone saying ‘This is not a political space’ what I hear is ‘I have never had to think about whether or not my sort of person is welcome to show up.'”

Only people like Beckett and me have the privilege or the luxury of being (or seeming to be) non-political.  We have that luxury because every aspect of society is structured so as to make us feel empowered and diminish our discomfort.  We have that privilege because the people who exercise power in our society look like us, and act like us, and love like us.  And because of that, we can believe in the myth of non-political spaces.  Other people don’t have that privilege.  What I perceive as politically neutral spaces are in fact highly adversarial spaces for people who do not look like me or love like me.

(Not to mention, we have the luxury of being “non-political” only because two generations of Pagans have fought for our political right to be Pagan and openly so.  We still have a lot of work to do to secure our rights as Pagans, but we’ve come a long way.  If we we couldn’t hold open Pagan circles or if Christianity were the national religion, I wonder how “non-political” Pagans would be then!)

It’s true that there is no political test for Paganism.  There are Pagans who Democrats and Republicans and Greens.  There are liberal and progressive Pagans and conservative and right-wing Pagans.  There are anarchist Pagans and there are libertarian Pagans.  But saying there is no political test for Paganism is not the same thing as saying Paganism is not political.  Your Pagan tradition may not tell you how to answer specific political questions of the day, but there is no escaping those questions.

If you’re not being consciously and intentionally political, then you being unconsciously and non-intentionally political.  And I think there are good reason, good Pagan reasons, for favoring the former over the latter, for favoring conscious activism over unconscious conformity to the status quo.  In fact, I think the definition of an “activist” is simply someone who performs their politics actively and explicitly, rather than passively and implicitly.

Beckett writes, “Good religion has both an internal focus (becoming better people) and an external focus (building a better world).”  He’s right about that.  Where he’s wrong is thinking that one of these is political and the other isn’t.  Both inner work and external activism are political.  Being political isn’t just about working to change the world; it’s also about working to change ourselves too.  And some of that work has to do with recognizing our privilege and learning how to use it for good, rather than perpetuating the status quo.

change

The politics of the gods

Beckett is right that we all need to do spiritual work, to stay connected to our source.  If activists don’t engage in self-care, if we don’t stay connected to the source of our inspiration and energy, then we burn out.  But it’s not a question of whether to perform devotions to our gods or get out in the street and march.  We need both, obviously.  But if you think you’re not being political when your praying to your gods, then you’re deluding yourself.  Think about it … What are you praying for?  Are you asking for help to make the world a more just and peaceful place?  Or are you only praying for more divine favors for yourself, to keep what you have, and get more for yourself?  If it’s the former, then you’re being political.  If it’s the latter, you’re being political, too — just in a bad way.

And what about our gods?  Do your gods bear an uncanny resemblance to you?  If your gods are Black or queer, then your choice of gods is political, because it is a challenge to the status quo.  And if you’re white, male, heterosexual, cis-gendered, and able-bodied, and your gods are too, well then, your choice of gods is also political.  If it’s because you’re avoiding cultural appropriation, that’s political.  But if it’s because it’s what you were drawn to, then that’s political too, implicitly.  And if you tell me your gods chose you, not the other way around, and that their resemblance to you is purely coincidental … well, I would invite you to look more closely at that.

Consider these images, which were among the first that came up when I Googled “Pagan god” …

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Consider the implicit sexism of this image. (Source: “The Council Of Cernunnos” by Emily Ballet)
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Why are images like the one on the left ubiquitous in Paganism, but not images like the one on the right? (Sources: Left: “The Tree of Life” by Laura Zollar; Right: “Pagan Gods – Wincest” by Milla1990)

Our choice of gods is a highly political act.  I wonder why so many Pagans can be critical of the actions of the Abrahamic god, and yet seemingly uncritical when it comes to Pagan gods.  As “timberwraith” wrote in response to Beckett’s post, just because a god is more powerful than us, does not make it more virtuous or more just:

“[…] the Abrahamic god is deeply flawed at best. So, that begs the question of how many other gods are questionable in their values and conduct, the degree to which they value human life, and their preference in followers. […]

“The Abrahamic god has been a source of active and violent oppression of queer people for ages. I’m not about to give any other deity automatic respect as a divine guru of awesomeness. Just because people label an aware, non-biological entity as a ‘god’ doesn’t mean I’m going to automatically kiss their supposedly divine bottom. […]

“If the gods are truly individuals, some will behave like complete rotters, some will behave with care and empathy, and a large swath will fall between those possible modes of conduct. Respect should only be applied to those individuals who deserve such consideration. That means one must actively evaluate the nature and persona of said individuals…and that inevitably involves politics, for politics, by definition, concerns the flow and conduct of power, and allegiances formed in the context of power. If god-like entities hold greater power than those of an embodied existence, then said power differential indicates that the realm of the political applies.”

Beckett quotes Abraham Lincoln as saying, “My concern is not whether God is on our side; my greatest concern is to be on God’s side,” to support his argument for putting the Gods before politics.  But — and this is critical — Lincoln’s conception of “God” was of an infallibly just and virtuous being.  The pagan gods, in contrast, are not described in this way.  In fact, they are often ambivalent and sometimes antagonistic to human cares.  As I’ve written before:

“If the myths are to be believed on any level, the gods are just as flawed as human beings — they just have more power.  Why bow down to power, if it is not paired with virtue?”

The notion that the pagan gods are embodiments of virtue seems like a very Christian conception of deity.  Compare Beckett’s statement, “Ever and always, the Gods come before politics”, with the one below:

jesusisking

Now, if one of these statements bothers you and the other doesn’t, you have to ask: What it is about the Pagan gods that you think puts them, and not Jesus, above politics?

I admit, I’m just starting to understand how privileged the statements like “gods before politics” is.  And when I first read Drekisdottir’s essay, I didn’t really get it.  So I shouldn’t be too hard to Beckett.  But people like him and me need to get this.  We need to see that when we are supposedly being “non-political” we are nevertheless reinforcing structures of power that privilege us and hurt others — and that is political.  The myth of non-political Pagan spaces acts as a blindfold for many of us in the Pagan community — especially those of us Pagans who are privileged.  It perpetuates implicit racism, patriarchy, and hetero- and cis-normativity — all of which continue to exist in our Pagan spaces, whether we see it or not (especially if we don’t).  And if we’re not consciously and actively working to see it and deal with it, then we’re passively helping to sweep it back under the rug.