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EDIT: I see I scrolled over the last paragraph in the second section of Mr. Thompson’s article where where he talks about Stephen McNallen which greatly changed the context of the article for me. I thought he was making generalizations about any kind of emphasis on blood and ancestry. Sorry for the misunderstanding. I will leave this article up as it still addresses issues I have seen online and points that should be made.


 

Today I was going to do an article on winter, Cailleach, Brighid, Imbolc, Seasonal Affective Disorder, “seasons of the soul”, and the “descent (and ascent) from the underworld” trope addressing the  notion of the spring sun and the theme of resurrection as it plays out emotionally and spiritually in February and March for those who suffer from SAD, but I will have to save that for next week.

I woke up to many of my friends reposting this article from Gods and Radicals: “Shapeshifters: The Paganism of Identity and the Danger of Fascist Infiltration

Ethnocentric gatekeeping that resembles religious fundamentalism and should be classified as fascist is definitely a problem within the pagan/polytheist community. Unfortunately, this phenomenon plays out very strongly in the Norse and Gaelic religious community. Fortunately, I have witnessed a lot of people and groups tackling this issue, especially within my age group.

For the record, Gaelic and Norse polytheism have never been closed religions. The ancient world did not exist in a vacuum. Even during the Bronze Age there were trade routes spanning to Mesopotamia, which were fertile ground for immigration, intermarriage, and cultural exchange. The Vikings wore Persian jewelry for crying out loud. Celtophiles also seem to forget that the Galatians in the Mediterranean were also a Celtic people. And let’s not forget the Dacians’, famous for their wolf-warriors and scythe-like swords, were cousins to the Thracians. The Moors came up from spain and Morocco. Also, anyone who has read Leabhar Gabhála Éireann (the Book of the Invasions of Ireland) knows that Scotland was believed to be founded by an Egyptian princess, Scotia, from whence the country gets its name. The idea of cultural and ethnic “purity” is a toxic, racist, modern myth.

The ancient world did not exist in a vacuum. Even during the Bronze Age there were trade routes spanning to Mesopotamia, which were fertile ground for immigration, intermarriage, and cultural exchange[…]The idea of cultural and ethnic “purity” is a toxic, racist, modern myth. 

However (and I do not think Mr. Thompson intended his article to come off this way), articles like this could deter baby polytheists from exploring ancestor veneration and their ethnic and cultural identity for fear of it being “problematic”.

Now, I have never read any of his work before, but I see in his mini bio at the bottom that he is a devotee of Brighid. So I think it is a safe assumption that he does not have quite the same approach to his practice that I do as a person whose practice centers around the Morrigan, Méche, the Cailleach, and other chthonic deities. Obviously the honoring of death and the dead and the gods of the dead/ancestors is at the forefront of my practice.

Mr. Thompson is seeking to address racism and ethnic gatekeeping within the European, and particularly GaelPol community, which is a right and noble cause as that issue is very real (like I stated above).

However, let me pick apart a few issues with how he approached it:

The title. Obviously as a devotee of the Morrigan “Shapeshifters” caught my attention, as it is synonymous with the animistic warrior path and sorcery. And then of course, being devoted to the warrior path I saw the subtitle “The Paganism of Identity and the Danger of Fascist Infiltration” and I was like “Hell, yeah! We gotta fight to keep fascism and racism out of paganism!”—a sentiment with which Mr. Thompson obviously agrees. So I clicked on it. It’s a hot-button issue, how could I not click? However, in online journalism there is a thing called “clickbait” in reference to titles of articles…especially when the article capitalizes on a hot-button issue and then uses a lot of paragraphs to say what could have been expressed in a few. With all due respect to the author, I feel like this was one of those cases.

Fascism is a huge issue that must be stamped out, but blatantly lumping in/equating cultural pride, tribalism, and ethnic pride, and for the love of gods ancestor veneration (which is a huge part of any historically sound reconstructionist polytheist path) with fascism is more than a little, well…ignorant.

Following a reconstructionist polytheistic path because you’re trying to “get back to your roots” and looking for a spirituality that “resonates with your blood” is a good and noble pursuit. Someone who identifies as a polytheist, or a reconstructionist/revivalist pagan out of a genuine a desire for religion that, as I have heard the voudons here in Nola say, “calls to your blood,” fascist shows a complete lack of understanding of how ancient cultures actually worshiped. No one I’ve come across who venerates their Honored Dead thinks that Gaelic Polytheism is somehow a closed religion, it is actually people who neglect that practice seem to also be the ones who try to act as “gatekeepters”. The entire Book of Invasions is about different tribes that immigrated to Ireland. Why did they feel that all that was important to record? Because there is a certain sacredness to knowing and respecting where you come from. The best way to connect with your Honored Dead is to venerate the gods that they worshiped. Often, as you get to know your dead they will often lead you to gods who have a vested interest in your practice—the gods that they worshiped in life.

The entire Book of Invasions is about different tribes that immigrated to Ireland. Why did they feel that all that was important to record? Because there is a certain sacredness to knowing and respecting where you come from. The best way to connect with your Honored Dead is to venerate the gods that they worshiped.

Hardline polytheists can’t have their cake and eat it too. White polytheists can’t criticise others for initiating into non-white religions due to the issue of cultural appropriation while (rightfully) praise POC for reviving their cultural traditions, but then only to turn around and tell another European that they are fascist for choosing an open European religion to “connect with their own blood“…after you just told them that because of their blood they can only worship European gods. That is the definition of hypocrisy. You are still denying someone of their own culture. Now, what is also very wrong is telling someone of any ethnicity that they cannot venerate Norse or Celtic gods, because, as I said before, those religions have always been open. That is facist and ethnocentric. I see this kind of spiritual hypocrisy regularly on Tumblr. 

Let me repeat that:

What is facist and ethnocentric: Telling someone of any ethnicity that they cannot venerate Norse or Celtic gods.

What is not facist and ethnocentric: Someone choosing to worship a certain deity because their ancestors did and it resonates with them. 

My mythology professor Seamus was quite the activist back when he was a college student. He is most certainly my inspiration for joining the Occupy Wall Street movement and social justice blogging (some on Tumblr still remember when I was primarily an activist blogger, always “raising awareness” for this and that before I left the site and came back focusing on my spirituality instead, which I feel emcompasses my social and poltical beliefs). Now, back in Seamus’ day, he told us in class, he was one of those well-meaning white college students running supplies/aid to the Sioux during their conflict with the US government and military. The efforts of Seamus and his fellow student activists did not go unnoticed and at one point he was pulled aside by a medicine man and asked a very important question: “Why are you doing this?” He was looking for more than “Because it’s the right thing to do,” he wanted to know why Seamus believed it was the right thing to do.

Seamus told him he didn’t have a tribe. The medicine man asked him where he thought his ancestors came from, if not from a European tribe at some point in history[…]he told him to research his family history and to go to Europe, visit the British Isles, see Scandinavia, visit the old groves and burial sites[…]Then and only then, the medicine man explained, would Seamus be able to feel at home on American soil, only then would the spirits of the land speak to him. He told Seamus that only by getting to know his ancestors could he learn how to be a healer and teacher for his own people [European-Americans] who were children of their own diaspora.

He finally pried an honest answer out of the young hippie which amounted to the fact that Seamus had always envied Native American culture and spirituality. Seamus always loved nature and felt a spiritual connection to it, but Seamus also felt a disconnect to the land he was in; he knew that the American empire was built on stolen ground, stained with the blood of its indigenous people. Seamus didn’t want to feel like a trespasser, he wanted to be a healer, he wanted to help people and the environment, but he also felt kind of powerless in that regard. He told the medicine man  that he wanted to be like him, and always had since childhood, but he felt disingenuous in that desire because of his race. Seamus admitted that he felt isolated and wanted to feel like he belonged, he wanted to belong to a tribe.

The medicine man then explained to Seamus that he could, in fact, be a medicine man—but a healer for his own tribe. Seamus told him he didn’t have a tribe. The medicine man asked him where he thought his ancestors came from, if not from a European tribe at some point in history. Then it finally began to click for Seamus. The medicine man gave Seamus homework: he told him to research his family history and to go to Europe, visit the British Isles, see Scandinavia, visit the old groves and burial sites, and really connect with the land over there. Then and only then, the medicine man explained, would Seamus be able to feel at home on American soil, only then would the spirits of the land speak to him. He told Seamus that only by getting to know his ancestors could he learn how to be a healer and teacher for his own people [European-Americans] who were children of their own diaspora.

Obviously Seamus followed the instructions to the letter, otherwise I would not be here writing this today. I myself, have gotten similar advice from Santeros and Voudons here in Nola, although I never attempted to pursue those paths. One of the snippets of advice from them that I repeat the most is “Do not neglect your ancestors, for they are the source of your power.

Do not neglect your ancestors, for they are the source of your power.

Most Gaelic Polytheists should be familiar with the legend of beansidhe (literally: “fairy woman”). Short definitions will describe her/them as a wailing spirit that warns of inevitable doom, but more specifically it is said that “all the Macs and the O’s” (so, every Irish clan, essentially) have a beansidhe. They say she often will take the shape of a beloved deceased aunt, grandmother, or some other matriarch. But she is a fairy woman, a demigoddess of sorts, and a guide and protector to the clan. The notion of a protector spirit that is bound to one’s bloodline is a cross-cultural phenomenon. So if every person of Irish descent has a family beansidhe watching over them, aren’t you shitting on your own ancestors and the Sidhe by decrying any kind of veneration of blood ties as fascist?

it is said that “all the Macs and the O’s” (so, every Irish clan, essentially) have a beansidhe. They say she often will take the shape of a beloved deceased aunt, grandmother, or some other matriarch. But she is a fairy woman, a demigoddess of sorts, and a guide and protector to the clan. The notion of a protector spirit that is bound to one’s bloodline is a cross-cultural phenomenon. So if every person of Irish descent has a family beansidhe watching over them, aren’t you shitting on your own ancestors and the Sidhe by decrying any kind of veneration of blood ties as fascist? (For more on this tradition read “Death Customs in Rural Ireland” by Anne Ridge and “The Faery Faith in Celtic Countries” by Walter Evans-Wentz)

I’ll answer that for you: Yes. It is downright detrimental to the “Faery Faith” as some call it. The dead are intrinsically linked to the Sidhe and Tuatha de Danann, and even the chthonic gods like the Morrigan, Méche, the Cailleach. Dismissing ancestor veneration is downright disrespectful and disrespect to your dead is the closest thing to a “sin” in Gaelic Polytheism. Honoring the dead, of your bloodline and those who settled the land before them was of the utmost significance in pre-Christian Ireland. That is why we do not trespass on or steal from the burial (faerie) mounds.

As a devotee of the Morrigan, I will fight injustice such as racism and fascism wherever I see it, but I will also fight equally as fiercely against the demonization of ancestor veneration, necromancy, and the warrior path. Demonization of such practices also has its roots in racism and classism.

As a devotee of the Morrigan, I will fight injustice such as racism and fascism wherever I see it, but I will also fight equally as fiercely against the demonization of ancestor veneration, necromancy, and the warrior path. Demonization of such practices also has its roots in racism and classism. Which is why traditions that involve the honoring of Death and the Dead and practice the sacrifice of livestock are dismissed as “primitive” and “barbaric”. I will not stand by while neopagans pretend like those practices were inessential to the lifestyle of, not just my ancestors, but everyone’s ancestors. Race is not the only way paganism is “whitewashed”. [See: My thoughts on this recent fucked-up news story from Florida and On “Primitive” Magical Practices for more of my thoughts on the subject]

To conclude: I appreciate the sentiment that Mr. Thompson was attempting to convey, but he did what our ancestors called “Throwing the baby out with the bathwater”. I hope my readers find this educational. I would appreciate it if the GaelPol community especially, stopped being culturally insensitive in an effort to be culturally sensitive

So go ahead; wear a kilt , get knotwork tattoos, braid your hair, rock out to some Folk Metal, wear a triskele pendant, yell “Éirinn go brách”, and go share your favorite whiskey with your dead—love yourself and your ancestors without guilt—regardless of whether you’re of Gaelic descent or not.


EDIT: I see I scrolled over the last paragraph in the second section of Mr. Thompson’s article where where he talks about Stephen McNallen which greatly changed the context of the article for me. I thought he was making generalizations about any kind of emphasis on blood and ancestry. Sorry for the misunderstanding. I will leave this article up as it still addresses issues I have seen online and points that should be made.

 

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9 thoughts on “EDITED! Re: “Shapeshifters: The Paganism of Identity and the Danger of Fascist Infiltration”

  1. Hi, sorry my article had a negative impact on you. I’d just like to clarify that much (if not most) of my daily practice is actually cthonic and based on the dead and the ancestors, that I venerate Macha as well as Brighid, and that I also value the warrior path- I am a martial arts instructor, after all. My comments were directed at the dangers of fascist infiltration in the pagan community through the medium of things many of us find valuable – including myself.

    1. Oh, one more thing- I’m certainly not against shapeshifting practices. The title refers to the fascist policy of cloaking their real opinions under various disguises and code phrases. Just because our enemies try to use shapeshifting against us does not mean there is anything wrong with shapeshifting.

    2. Thanks. Like I said, I did not think you intended it to come off that way. It did not negatively impact me any more so than publishing generalizations without proper context or clarification hurts all of us. Being a little more specific about what kind of “emphasis on blood and ancestry” you were talking about is important. Sure, those of us who have been around for a while know what kinds of people and organizations you are implicating, but not all your readers do. This is the internet and what we write can be read by anyone.

      The thing is, kids and teenagers read these articles, and it’s important that we, as “visible” pagans, do not make sweeping statements assuming our readers know the context. For example: A 13 year old who wants to learn more about say, Heathenry, may not be aware of the the overlap between Neo-Nazis and the Asatru community, however reading an article that broadly decries Heathens as war-mongering racists may make him toss out all his Thor action figures and foam swords and lego viking ships and maybe even never get into his ancestral path at all. We want young, sensitive, conscious people in the pagan community. What we don’t want is to breed more self-loathing into a generation that has already been taught to hate themselves by society. It’s bad enough that kids are now so terrified of often misdefined cultural appropriation that they have no knowledge of the beauty of cultural exchange.

      You see what I’m saying?

    3. I’m sorry, on a re-read of your article I see that I scrolled over the last paragraph in the second section where you talk about Stephen McNallen. Sorry for the misunderstanding.
      I have edited my post to reflect the error. Thank you for taking the time to reply. Sorry again.

      1. No harm done, I was expecting the article to strike a nerve with some readers, but you’ve handled it in a really classy way and your blog looks interesting. Plus, I’m always happy to make the acquaintance of another Occupier. 🙂

        1. Thank you. 🙂

          Like I say in the article, and the above comment I posted prior to re-reading your article, I think it’s still important to allow the descendants of the Irish diaspora (and other immigrants to America) their cultural pride. It must be clarified to young pagans that pride in one’s ancestry is not “White Pride” as white is not an ethnicity.

          My mother was Jewish, but left her family and the religious community due to ideological differences. Still, no one is going to tell me that wearing a Star of David or showing any other kind of pride in my maternal ancestry is wrong—that would be antisemitic. Likewise, I believe it is anti-Irish condemn the idea of Irish-American cultural pride.

          Like the Sioux man told my professor, “connecting with one’s roots” is how the healing of the wounds that stem from colonialism begins.

          It is unfortunate that Asatru and Heathenry has become synonymous with Neo-Nazism, and while that is something the European and American pagan and polytheist community at large should addressed, but I think that it is a cancer that can only be fought and stopped from the inside out—as in, only only self-identified Heathens are going to be able to change the image of Heathenry.

    1. Thanks for sharing! It’s lovely 🙂
      Sorry for the delayed reply. I only just saw this comment because I’ve been busy teaching a class the past six weeks and moving into a new house.

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