Archive for December 10, 2014

How Folkish Heathenry Differs from Judaism & Native American tribes

As I was looking thru my wordpress reader, I saw that Sarenth had written a great post-Why Racism Harms Heathenry (go read it!) responding to a comment to statement released by HUAR- Heathens United Against Racism about a folkish Heathen group. As a member of HUAR (though I do not claim to speak for them as a whole) I’d like to further respond to a comment made on Sarenth’s blog.

“As for the Irminfolk bylaws. They aren’t racists. Do they have a quota on genetics in order to be a member? Yes. But so does every Native American, or really any group that’s for a specific ethnic or racial group, out there. That in an of itself is not a racist act, or if it is, then the Huar dishonor themselves by not attacking all “Racist” blood quota. Instead HUAR attacks only heathens, their own people, rather than honorably call out all racists from every group. HUAR, in fact, are engaged in racist acts themselves because they only attack one group based on skin color, rather than hold all peoples accountable to the same standard.”- Lucius Svartalf Helsen

There are plenty of generic anti-racism groups, including ones that are not Heathen-friendly because they think we are all racist! HUAR is opposed to *actual systemic racism* (not “racism” as conveniently defined by whites as happening…against whites) There are a bunch of reasons why comparing membership policies of folkish Heathen groups with American Indians and Jewish communities is very misleading.

The system of blood quantum was put in place by the United States government. Policies for tribal enrollment vary by Indian nations, with the Cherokee being among the most inclusive. Some nations are working on changing those laws- here’s an article about the White Earth Band of Ojibwe in Minnesota considering doing so. Indians, being human beings, are also prone to the influence of anti-Black racism, and some tribes have excluded potential members with proven tribal ancestry due to their African ancestry. Personally I believe they should be consistent in enforcing blood quantum and I support reform in such systems. However as a non-Native person I think it’s best for those decisions to be made by the tribal governments themselves- especially considering they are in fact, sovereign nations. As for non-tribal members participating in traditional spirituality, once again it is up to the Indian or group of Indians in question if they want to share those practices. Considering that the practice of Native American religion was not allowed openly until 1978, with the passage of American Indian Religious Freedom Act, I think it’s pretty darn understandable that they are protective of their spiritual heritage! As I’ve discussed before with the example of my uncle, people of non-Native heritage are sometimes invited to partake in ceremonies, especially after demonstrating a sincere commitment to the group and its folkways.

On the other hand, while various Pagan & Heathen individuals and groups have experienced discrimination and exclusion in American society, our religions were never outlawed, unless you count laws against witchcraft which weren’t really about religious witchcraft. Though some Heathens do organize themselves into small tribes or family-like groups, they do not have legal sovereign or semi-sovereign status the way Indian nations do. They may have status as a registered non-profit- and religious organizations are allowed to discriminate according to the requirements of their religion.

Judaism is a cultural, tribal religion- one can be culturally and/or ethnically Jewish person and practice any other religion- or no religion (though converting to Christianity is often seen as a negation of Jewish identity) Traditionally, a person with a Jewish mother is considered Jewish, in Reform Judaism, any child raised with a Jewish upbringing is considered Jewish. Other Jewish movements- Conservative & Orthodox have their own requirements. Being considered Jewish for the purposes of getting Israeli citizenship is determined by the Chief Rabbinate of Israel, and undergoing a conversion by a rabbi they don’t approve of can make gaining citizenship difficult. Likewise, certain ethnic groups that claim Jewish descent have been denied Jewish identity. Once again, I’m not Jewish, so I feel making judgments about this really isn’t my business. Whoever tells me they’re Jewish gets the benefit of the doubt.

“But will we ever not be considered racists by the mainstream? I doubt it. We are worshiping “White” gods from “White” countries and taking pride in “white” things. This is the definition of racism as it exists by all those who call Heathens racist. We could silence every real racist out there and the larger pagan community and larger world community would still consider us to be racist because we honor and take pride in “white gods/white history” rather than shame those things as inherently racist. This is why I have pretty much stopped calling out those heathens people have declared “racists.” I do not wish to any longer hunt my religious kin so as to make myself appeasable to the masses. I may not agree with everything a “racist” heathen believes, but his faith is in my gods. Why should i figuratively kill a man of my faith in an attempt to appease a stranger who thinks all who worship as i do are racists and should be destroyed?”- Lucius again

If we tolerate racists in the name of frith and hospitality, while claiming this or that doesn’t “technically” count as racism, people will rightfully not trust us. Referring to pre-Christian European cultures and people as “white” is highly anachronistic. The concept of “whiteness” did not arise until African slavery. Funny thing, I’ve spent a lot of time in Irish cultural and musical events and organizations. I do sometimes encounter people with racist attitudes there, but no more so than any other predominantly white social milieu. I’m not going to claim that all people of color will feel 100% comfortable and not awkward at Irish cultural events, or that they will never be mistreated. I do see people of color at some Irish events. I’ve never had anyone tell me that being proud of my Irish heritage (rather than my “whiteness”) means that I’m racist. I’m happy to welcome anyone, regardless of ancestry who has an interest in Irish culture and wants to carry on those traditions. Now I understand that German & Scandinavian cultural groups attract racists more- but Celtic groups do as well. Would wearing a hammer or a valknot be looked at with suspicion in my community in a way Celtic jewelry wouldn’t? Maybe. But I’m not that worried. Because I’ve lived in an urban neighborhood for 20 years, ridden the buses, had people of all different cultures as my neighbors, my tenants, my co-workers, my fellow activists and students. Not everyone lives in a diverse area, I get that. But don’t just stay within your little Heathen or Pagan bubble. If we keep to ourselves, people won’t get to know us, and they will remain suspicious. But if you get out there in your community, even if you don’t explain your religion to all and sundry, people will know you as a good citizen and a good neighbor, and if and when they find out your religion, even if they think it’s kinda weird, they are more likely to not hold it against you, and maybe even think better of the religion because of your behavior.


December 10, 2014 at 3:17 am 8 comments


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