Heathenry has a racism problem. But it’s deeper than that. We have a bad habit of trying to classify ourselves into three categories of heathens: Universalist, Tribalist, and Folkish. But by making these categories (themselves deeply flawed and a false trichotomy) we have allowed race to be conflated with Heathenry. By saying “I’m a Universalist”, you’re saying race is important enough to register as part of your religious beliefs and identify you on a spectrum that includes other people’s racism and it shouldn’t be. You should eschew these ridiculous categories, there aren’t three separate heathenries but there is instead one Heathenry and a social question separate but oh so important – “Are you a racist?”.
Why are racists attracted to heathenry?
Many racists are brought by the same feelings as many non-racists.
There are many of us in Heathenry that are here to not just connect with gods that we enjoy from stories but because of a tangible connection to them through the bonds of ancestry. Basically, in many cases our ancestors worshipped these gods, far back down the line our ancestors worshipped these gods before the arrival of Christianity. This is undoubtedly a major draw to the religion and many people get their first introduction to Heathenry due to some ancestral link. This religion of ancestry is intriguing to many ordinary people but also many racists are brought by these same feelings of connection to pre-Christian ancestors.
The difference is this, people can be drawn to explore their ancestry and that’s all amazing and good. The issue only arises when folks attempt to block others who might not have that ancestral connection from also exploring in a respectful way. The difference is in telling someone else they can’t do something because of their ancestry when you could based on yours – that’s exclusionary.
Ancestry doesn’t give a person any special leg up with the gods in Heathenry. There is no DNA, no metagenetic link, that makes a heathen special because of their ancestry. It’s not who you are but what you do, our offerings and prayers to the gods matter more than your makeup.
Beginning Heathenry by looking into your ancestry is great! But don’t stop there. You’re more than your DNA, your deeds matter far more than your DNA ever will. Beginning Heathenry without a scrap of Germanic ancestry is great! It’s not needed in the slightest and wouldn’t offer you any benefit anyway. You’re ancestors were Irish? Cool! Welcome to Heathenry! Your ancestors were Chinese? Wonderful! Welcome to Heathenry! Your ancestors were from Norway? Awesome! Welcome to Heathenry!
Does this mean it’s a free for all?
No. For those people who are freshly exploring religion, it’s a pretty universal thing that if you’re exploring in a respectful way and not cherry picking and appropriating incorrectly then there is likely no issues. Note I say a respectful way, nobody likes people to roll up and completely pervert their religion. After all, religion is not just yelling Skal or hail, it’s prayer and belief, it’s offering to the gods, it’s studying too. But if you’re here to learn respectfully who you are shouldn’t matter one iota.
This isn’t always the case in all religions but this is the most fair way to conduct religion.
What else brings racists?
Honestly, racism and anti-Semitism drive racists towards Heathenry. Some of these folks have swallowed up anti-Semitism so hard that the thought of a foreign, Jewish-based religion galls them and sticks in their racist craw. They can’t stomach things that relate to non-European anything, even worse if it’s rooted in something Jewish. So they think that they should turn to the native European religion as part of their racial identity. They turn away from Christianity because of its Jewish roots.
Religion is not the racist’s primary cultural identifier, race is. Race overrides all else and religion only exists in most cases to bolster that racial identity.
For some it’s hardly about religion at all. The Racists have a very strong culture building aspect to them, they base it on race, but it’s engineered to fill a cultural void in the folks they are engineering it all for. Not just a spiritual void but a cultural one. And it’s something that is hard to compete with because the racists are willing to make things up to tailor fit their audience where many of us are unwilling to do that. But much of it has less to do with spirituality and more to do with building culture, albeit typically shallowly on race.
This is how we get so many racists practicing “heathenry” on such a shallow level. For them, Heathenry exists as an aesthetic cover over some underlying beliefs that really have nothing to do with Heathenry. Some are practicing some kind of harsh racial monotheism completely at odds with heathen polytheism deep down. Some don’t actually worship anything and just wrap themselves in the aesthetic alone.
Our aesthetic attracts racists
As full of racists as Heathenry seems to be and often is, finding devout heathens who are actually practicing and studying the religion while being racist is fairly rare. Most of the racists are really only here for the aesthetic.
It’s problematic, but being a heathen and having a group is going to attract racists looking to join in on the aesthetic. The easiest way to get rid of these people is to draw a line in the sand regarding bigotry. Yes, this means excluding people, excluding those who are racists.
Most of the time if you’re an inclusive group the racists won’t really want to be a part of your group anyway. They want to be with other racists, they want to surround themselves in their aesthetic bubble.
Nazis, the real Nazis
The history of racism’s uses of Heathenry’s symbols predates Heathenry. Nazis were using the runes and using Germanic mythical imagery long before any real religious revival of Heathenry took place. No, there is no hidden history of underground Heathenry. Hundreds of years of historians scoured every little village and hamlet in Europe. Know what they found? Christians who had festivals and stories of pagan origins but no actual pagans. All heathenry is a recent innovation, a new revival of an old religion. The Nazis aren’t appropating our symbols and runes, they got there and used them before we even got around to reviving the faith. When we use the runes which were used peripherally by the Nazis in the 30s and 40s and definitely by racists today they’re going to be loaded imagery for some people, we cannot truly get upset when someone mistakes us for a racist because we cannot stop the racists from using the same symbols as us. We can be gentle and kind and explain ourselves and our beliefs. We can also have the grace to steer clear of symbols with overwhelming taint.
No, you can’t reclaim the swastika.
The Nazis straight up invented the black sun symbol, it’s not an ancient symbol at all. And the swastika? If you think it was some big, important symbol for ancient heathens in the version the Nazis adopted then you’ve already swallowed some of the Nazi’s kool-aid and propaganda. The Nazis may not have invented the symbol but they chose one with almost no real substantial use in ancient Heathenry, certainly nothing that looked anything like the swastika of the 1940s. It wasn’t important to heathens in ancient times, it’s not worth anything now. Some symbols are better left in the 1940s.
A message to racists and folkish people:
You probably haven’t gotten this far but your entire premise is flawed. You’re trying to close off Heathenry. Why? Maybe you’re afraid but honestly, people of color are not beating down the doors of Heathenry to get in. And even if they were, what would it matter? You’re worried about nothing real. We don’t have a cultural tradition any richer than any other, there is nothing worth appropriating that hasn’t already been appropriated for books, TV, movies, and everything else.
What can we do about all of this?
Don’t associate with racists. Don’t stand in circle with them, don’t raise horns with them, don’t buy their things, don’t associate with them in any capacity. We cannot control much beyond our own actions and associations. Beyond that, I’m still muddling through that myself as best I can.