I Stand with ‘Gods and Radicals’

The reactions to Rhyd Wildermuth’s post on Paganism and the New Right have been incredible and disturbing.

Essentially, Rhyd wrote about the influences of racist and ethnocentric ideologies on various traditions of Paganism. It was brave and it was necessary. Extremely important stuff. And Paganism/polytheism have exploded at him and his allies.

And not just that, but Rhyd is saying some things that I consider to be *very clearly* a problem in Paganism, and that I have believed for quite some time. So I had no idea people would react quite so negatively. I suppose I should have realised that not everyone in Paganism shares these radical views. But it’s so easy to create Paganism in your own image. To believe that it’s what you want it to be. Only, it’s not. The reactions to Rhyd’s post, and his co-founder Alley Valkyrie’s support of it, make that clear.

I think I am most upset by the idea, shared in response to the post, that the *gods* demand new right and racist ideologies. And that without these ideologies we cannot be devotional polytheists. What a way to wheedle out of responsibility for your own behaviour. “The gods told me to.” Only following orders?

I am a devotional polytheist. I am a social and political radical. My gods and my radicalism are so closely intertwined that they are inseparable. You cannot divide the threads without pulling apart the tapestry. It is not possible to be neutral, to be apolitical. It is only possible to pretend that you are not political. And the less you understand the ways in which you are political, the ways in which ideology controls your behaviour, the more your hidden politicism can be used against you. Your life, too, is inseparable from your politics and ideologies. Including your ideas about race, ancestry, genetics, culture, the land, the country, empires, colonialism. Maybe you just can’t see where the threads of these things are determining your behaviour towards others. But they always do. There is no such thing as neutral. Decide where you stand.

I have stood in all-white Pagan gatherings and despaired that no one else seems to notice the lack of representation of people of colour, nor seems to care that their nativist ideologies are keeping away Pagans of colour. I have sighed as the Pagan message board where I post has been inundated with people saying that they believe they can only worship the ‘Celtic’ gods because their ancestors were ‘mostly Irish and Welsh’ a very long time ago. I have screamed internally as people said ‘Africans’ should worship ‘their own gods’ and should not come to druid gatherings. I have walked out of meetings where a speaker talks about ‘Celtic values’ like being physically perfect (and probably white) and the importance of this to ‘the gods’.

But I have not spoken out enough. It’s time for me to stop being so quiet about these things. Silence is complicity.

Don’t you dare tell ‘Gods & Radicals’ that it should lose the moniker ‘gods’ because it’s ‘not polytheist enough’. Our polytheism is inseparable from our politics. Mine is inseparable from my radicalism. I cannot have one without the other. I essentially left Christianity because its god did not demand enough radicalism from me. I refuse to listen to another group of people telling me what my gods should or should not ask for me. Didn’t a lot of us already leave a religion that told us what to do, and what values to hold, because we disagreed with those actions and values? Can we really drift into another religion or tradition that does the same?

My Lady Bhearra asks for my total commitment to social justice, to the light that flickers in the chaos of human society. That is my reason for writing on a site that is aptly named ‘Gods and Radicals’. My radicalism is polytheist. Let ‘Pagandom’ dare to tell me otherwise. I would never again follow a deity who asked any less than that. Who asked me to compromise my own values and principles. Who asked me to put myself before others. Who asked me to be silent in the face of racism, neocolonialism and right-wing politics.

I remain a member of ADF (my membership has accidentally lapsed, actually), though I am giving this some thought. My first thought on being confronted face-to-face with ideologies ADF is influenced by, was not to be offended, but to start thinking. I can’t even claim I never realised this stuff before. I’ve just never confronted it so directly. I need to consider whether I can continue to stand with ADF and with reconstructionist polytheism more widely. This will probably involve shadow work, deep work with my goddess, and real, practical thought about social justice. I left OBOD, rather publicly, because I considered its policies disablist. That was something that directly affected me, and was easy to stand against, as a result. What about ideologies where I have the privilege and others do not? Am I truly committed to social justice if I remain silent on these things? Maybe there are no groups I can be a member of anymore. Maybe that’s OK. Right now I feel like am always likely to be a polytheist with reconstructionist tendencies. But maybe I should allow my goddess of Chaos to tear even that down and make me start again. Any ideology I hold should be held onto lightly, whether it is religious, political or something else.

I stand alone on the seashore, between land, sea and sky, and the gods call me to be better than my ancestors. Am I strong enough to answer this call? I don’t know. But I can try.

I stand with Gods and Radicals. I stand with Rhyd Wildermuth and Alley Valkyrie. I am a polytheist. I am a radical. I am a social justice druid. Go on, tell me I’m not allowed to do or be any one of these things. Great gods of justice stand with me. And Truth will out.

Social Justice Druid t-shirts. I need dis.

Other things worth reading that are not-unrelated:

Daughters of Eve – a blog by Pagans of colour, as well as many of the people Crystal Blanton mentions in this post (and everything Crystal writes)

Truth and Joy: Confronting Racism in Religion by T. Thorn Coyle

Yvonne Aburrow on getting out of the bubble of complacency

And everyone should read Kavita Maya‘s research on racism in Paganism, specifically the Goddess movement. She is a great thinker who is much needed by modern Paganism.

15 thoughts on “I Stand with ‘Gods and Radicals’

  1. Me too. As a Buddhist, especially.

    I’ve had to swat away comments from devotional polytheists that “Buddhism is atheistic” more times than I care to count. Sure, it doesn’t seem like much, but since it’s often the opening remark in an attempt to deny Buddhism the same consideration as other world religions…

  2. I think there’s a potentially dangerous false dichotomy that’s being applied here, which is the suggestion that anyone who criticizes Rhyd’s post (which I didn’t realize was written by him when I responded to it on my own blog) is also against him. Granted, I can clearly see that his most outspoken critics on this matter are very much anti-Rhyd (not to mention anti-Left); but I am generally a fan of the man’s work, and even I have some issues with his New Right post (which I’ve explained here if you’re interested).

    I will likely continue reading Gods & Radicals because I too am both a devotional polytheist and a leftist political thinker, just like you. But I do think the New Right post could have been phrased much better and that some of the statements it makes will alienate some of its intended audience. It certainly felt very alienating to me when I first read it on Saturday, though this is a little less severe now that I know who the author was.

    • I didn’t say the post was beyond criticism. There were certainly some issues with it. But it’s funny how posts with similar, and more, issues slide under the radar because they’re about things that are widely agreed with in the pagan community. It’s funny how this issue is the one that has everyone up in arms. And it’s funny how everyone who is criticising it is calling for us to just ‘go back to spirituality’. I’ll get to critique of the post later. For now I wanted to stand behind the very, very important message. We all get things wrong when delivering messages sometimes. The *content* here is completely one of the most important things I’ve read from a pagan blog, that I never thought I’d see pagans talking about. Another topic delivered in the same way would not have seen Rhyd vilified in this way. I stand with his message.

      • I don’t know – it seems like there’s another controversy that flares up like this every week. Heck, the Pagan community already went through this particular issue back in the 1990s (e.g., the feud between Isaac Bonewitsand Michael Aquino, among others), and it got pretty volatile then, too. I guess my point here is that I can’t fully support any statement that includes fallacious claims (especially when those claims are being directed categorically at people like myself), no matter how much I might agree with the rest of it. And I worry that the rhetoric that’s being used in both sides of this dispute is misleading people into forgetting that they can support one part of a statement while rejecting another.

      • It’s easy to derail this by talking about how often controversy arises in the pagan communities. That is still derailing. And I’m in ADF too. The accusations directed at traditions were valid. I don’t wish to continue to dealing with derailing; I’ve stated my position.

      • I don’t agree that anything I’ve said here qualifies as “derailing,” but neither is it my wish to antagonize you. Thank you for your time and for the discussion.

  3. What I found obnoxious was the implication that the majority of Paganism/modern Western polytheist movements are “vulnerable to fascism” but somehow a few traditions that he happens to like, or participate in are magically immune. OBOD, Feri, and Reclaiming all borrow from multiple cultures in ways that can be debate-able about whether or how they may be harmful to said cultures. And various other social justice issues- people in those traditions are working on those things, but we are also doing so in ADF, Wicca and Heathenry/Asatru etc. In fact, I was just talking with some of the G & R folks on another post about fascism/racism in Gaelic polytheism- and acknowledging/apologizing for the ways in which people in ADF and other forms of Druidry have been inhospitable towards folks in living Gaelic cultures. This is the sort of thing that often is erased/ignored in discussions of white privilege & racism in North America- saying that yes, there are nuances and groups of people that while considered “white” are in other ways marginalized does not negate other types of racism & oppression. We have to be careful in not derailing discussions however “My ancestors experienced oppression X” does not mean your parents didn’t buy a house in the ‘burbs that was denied to Black & Latino folks.

  4. Co-signed, and trying to figure out how to reblog on WordPress, because I am not very good at this. It’s actually one of my primary criticisms both of ADF and of Bonewits himself, especially after reading his Essential Guide to Druidism, where he goes through ridiculous gymnastics of logic to try to explain that the reason black people are welcome in Druidry is that the Yoruba people were originally somehow secretly a Celtic diaspora culture. Why can’t people of color be welcome just because the gods call who they call, and because hospitality is a core value?

    Also, I love that you linked the Social Justice Druid shirt I tagged you on–my first thought when it came across my Facebook feed was MY FRIEND NEEDS THIS!

  5. Reblogged this on The Remote Controlled Hearth and commented:
    This is deeply important and worth reading. It’s been a long time since I’ve taken part in any of the controversies within the online pagan community, but the way so many of our pagan organizations have roots in and shared ideas with destructive right-wing ideologies is important to discuss. As a devotee of Brighid, her legacy as Brig Ambue, the defender of the disenfranchised, does not allow me to stay out of this one.

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