The Swastika: There is Nothing to Reclaim

So if you’ve been around pagan circles long enough you’ve heard people talking about reclaiming symbols from racists. Inevitably you’ve probably heard someone bemoan that the racists made the swastika off limits and wish they could “take it back”. I’m here to inform you that there’s nothing to take back, that all the importance you think belongs to the swastika was a Nazi fabrication and that when you do try to take it back you’re just perpetuating the falsified narrative created by the Nazis. Don’t worry, I’ll explain.

Let’s go back to the early 1900’s, it was a very different world. “Scientific” racism and eugenics programs existed across every major world power. There was the concept of a national race, one in competition with the races of every other nation. There wasn’t a white race, there were as many races as there were countries. It was therefore the interest of those countries to do eugenics when and where they could because they were improving their national race. And once again, it wasn’t just the Germans who did that stuff; eugenics before WWII was alive and well in America and England. America’s own Charles Davenport basically invented, advocated for, and dessiminated the idea of government eugenics programs world wide. By WWII there wasn’t really a major nation around that had not either had previously or currently had eugenics programs: America, England, Germany, France, Australia, Canada, Japan, Brazil, etc.

So the Nazis come onto the scene, given their idea of a national race, given the prevailing concepts of eugenics, they decided to try and move their national race towards their idea of perfect through sterilizations and laws forbidding intermarriage and segregation and finally extermination. Their pursuit of improving their national race was so important to them they could rationalize killing people they saw as inferior just so they wouldn’t breed.

Let’s add to this the idea of nations and national race needing to compete against each other to see who was the strongest. Essentially all nations were not only in a biological struggle, they were in a struggle for dominance. Colonialism was fueled in part because economically being able to control and ensure markets abroad allowed powers to extract wealth from unindustrialized people abroad, but in doing so you were establishing you were racially superior because you could and did conquer them. Colonialism was an effort to exert racial superiority over others.

War itself, any war, was such a proving ground. For instance, when Russia was defeated by Japan in war it didn’t matter that Russia had seriously overstretched itself to try and start something, what mattered was the racial implications that the Russian race had fallen behind and the Japanese race was rising. Yes, they really truly though and believed these things

Enter Germany. They had just lost a war, crashed their economy trying to repay a terrible war debt, lost land to a foreign neighbor, lost the ability to have an army, and had no foreign colonies. They had tested their racial mettle and had been found wanting. In the mindset of the time, they turned to race for the answer. They didn’t have colonies? So they invaded and conquered their neighbors to make colonies. They couldn’t very well take colonies elsewhere as was traditional because every single other country in South America or Africa was spoken for and had been colonized previously, so they colonized within Europe. The lost a war to France and lost territory? So they took it back and extra and invaded and beat France down. They expanded outward in every direction. Their national race had been tested found wanting? Time to purify the race, they decided to exterminate those they deemed undesirables. In every case, the Nazis were trying to follow the same beliefs of these other great nations, they just took them to in their minds the next logical step.

Now this brings me to the real subject at hand. The Nazis had something to prove racially. But not just currently, they needed to prove it genetically, hereditarily. Other countries were crafting their own historical narratives of a grand past. The Germans had been doing it also for at least a hundred years prior, Jacob Grimm ring a bell? Grimm went out to prove a grand Germanic past that would in turn reflect it’s greatness onto the Germans of the present. Which is one reason he’s not the greatest source despite having some very interesting material, you have to wade through his nationalistic bias to get to anything worth knowing. The Nazis roll along though, and yeah they are totally looking for real history where they can but they take the next step here too – when history is found wanting they manufactured a false historical narrative for themselves.

Enter the Swastika. Chances are you’ve been sold the lie that the swastika was some all-important symbol to the ancient Germanic peoples. That it somehow despite it’s relative absence in the historical record that it was somehow fundamentally important to ancient Germanic peoples. Nazi lies. The Nazis needed a symbol, an ancient symbol, an active symbol, a German symbol, the swastika fit the bill. The one thing missing was the importance factor. Was it ancient? Yes. Did it have ancient examples in Germany? Yes. But was it an important symbol to those ancient peoples? There is no proof it was. In fact its relative rarity in comparison to other symbols says that it wasn’t all that important at all. There have been a few swastika finds, but none of them, NONE of them point to the swastika having any real overarching Germanic importance.

The Nazis lied, they fabricated a historical narrative that painted them as reviving ancient greatness. What they instead did is project their self-percieved greatness backwards onto their ancient ancestors. Any historian worth their salt avoids Nazi historians today and indeed all those nationalists of the time not because they were involved in atrocities but because their history is full of falsifications. They lie, they attribute greatness without context for there being a reason for it beyond their agenda.

But somehow the pagans of today have been ill informed. Perhaps it’s the fault of historians for not making it clear why we avoid those histories, to be fair we thought it was obvious so we didn’t think we had to spell it out. Perhaps the internet is to blame, with copyrights being what they are it is far easier to access nationalist histories from the 1800s and early 1900s than it is to access modern studies. Perhaps it is because the nationalist historians from the 1800s believed they had all the answers and portrayed their works in easy to follow narrative forms that painted complete pictures whereas modern historians are very fast to acknowledge the holes in and limitations of the available information. But let me tell it to you now, there is no complete picture, those guys from the 1800s and 1900s were lying to you.

This falsification never ended, there are elements in paganism today that continue to push the swastika agenda on shoddy evidence. They’ve collected the same few pictures of swastika finds and pass it off as overwhelming evidence. But were are their sources? Where were they found? What nation? What context? What dig? What century? When did the dig take place? Was it dug up by Nazis? Were they even ancient or were they manufactured? Every artifact has a provenance, I’ve seen folks try and pass artifacts that were clearly from the Rus off as Anglo-Saxon. Pagans at large are not as critical of these few pictures as they need to be.

We have to understand that there are thousands upon thousands of other artifacts and symbols to use, they fill museums and their back room storage, they fill private collections, they are multitudinous. And yet we only see a tiny fraction of these, why? For one, because if you looked at all of them it would get really repetitive. But on a deeper level you kind of have to go looking for them because no one is really pushing them despite their relative importance in finds. How many lunula pendants have I seen, gosh hundreds and that’s just scratching the surface. How many duck feet amulets, so many duck feet. You know why? Because I specifically look for them and seek them out. Even still there are thousands in museums and private collections I will never see. And yet we’re seemingly overwhelmed with maybe 20-30 swastikas… you ever thought to ask why? Because people seek them out and people push them. But in this case it’s the only handful that exist because it’s the same small handful you ever see. And even then they have to go cross cultural and bolster the evidence across time periods, across locality, across tribe to find the few they do. So when the neo-Nazis start pushing it they’re very much still trying to bolster the image of the Swastika, they have too much into it not to. But then ironically this deeply engrained old Nazi propaganda kicks in for the average pagan and has folks still thinking the swastika must be important.

You have been made to believe a lie, an old lie. The Nazis sowed themselves into the historical record and they did a convincing job of it, as long as you don’t probe too deep. Once you begin to ask questions you discover there isn’t enough to back it up at all, the facade falls away and you discover Nazis behind it all. It was them projecting backwards the whole time.

The swastika is not worth “reclaiming” not because it was tainted by the Nazis but because it simply was not that important. To think that it is important enough to reclaim, important enough to fight not just the nazis but society at large too on the meaning of the symbol, well that is just lapping up the Nazi propaganda that fed us the lie that it was that important in the first place.

Let’s talk Declaration 127

Declaration 127 has become kind of a shorthand for inclusive heathenry. Heathen folks are essentially using it as a catch all for anything that would not be considered racist or sexist or whatever. That is a problem. From the perspective of acting like a contract, Declaration 127 is really incredibly weak. What you sign on to with Declaration 127 is a statement that says “We will not promote, associate, or do business with the AFA as an organization so long as they maintain these discriminatory policies.” These discriminatory policies being that they are unwelcoming of anyone not straight or white. I love the sentiment, however there are a lot more racists out there than just those in the AFA and the declaration only prevents one from doing business with or associating with the organization of the AFA. Only the AFA, and only as an organization.

It does not:

  • Take a stand against associating with individual members of the AFA
  • Take a stand against associating with racist or sexist or bigoted individuals
  • Bar a person from dealing with or including bigots in their group
  • Do anything besides prevent working for or with the AFA organization

So for all those heathens or orgs out there touting their signatory status on Declaration 127, I do not think it does what you think it does. Furthermore, it is not likely to ever do anything more than what it is currently written to do.

It is a product of it’s time, an artifact from that moment in time that the AFA was posting extremely bigoted material publicly. So this is coming to light in 2016 and continuing in 2017; through this we get Declaration 127 as a reaction. It’s original intent was to face off against the AFA, that is how it was written. It was not written to be a catch all because the only real actionable statements apply only to the AFA. It was a singular purposed document; it does this one thing for this one moment in time. It further has not evolved into something bigger or wider no matter how much people tout it; it merely sits there on its site as an artifact.

So herein lies the problem – the simple fact is that most heathens are ignorant of Declaration 127. They are not aware of its limitations, they are not aware of it’s actual content and purpose, they are not aware of it’s history, and so it has been stretched thin trying to cover more than it really was intended to cover. You would think heathens would be oath-aware considering the importance of oaths in our religious culture, you would think we would all be contract savvy because of oath-awareness, but no. We are not. The problem of this is in a group’s ability to make this actionable. Under Declaration 127 this is not actionable for what folks think it is supposed to do.

Since this has become an obvious communal need such that we stretch Declaration 127 far beyond its capabilities, we obviously need something new, we need something that actually can and will do what heathens have been assuming Declaration 127 was already doing but wasn’t. We need some kind of philosophical statement like a Déclaration des droits de l’homme et du citoyen (Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen) but for heathenry. It needs not to be tied to being against any one organization and honestly considering how there is no enforcement organization to check up on things it needs to just be a statement of philosophy. So when groups sign on, they can be pledging that they hold with a set of philosophical minimums.

And yes, it needs to be set at a minimum bar – that those who signed on essentially would collectively pledge our groups and personal practices to be opposed to discrimination against others due to their race, gender, or sexuality. That is truly all that needs to be set at the moment too, a bare minimum against bigotry. So many times people set things at the highest level for idealistic reasons but for these purposes you want to include anyone who is not a sexist or racist or homophobe and not to exclude people who would otherwise support the non-racist non-sexist position. You essentially want to draw a line in the sand. Perfect is the enemy of good, we cannot allow perfection to prevent us from coming together to face off against these issues. But so too is specificity an enemy in this case; it was the specificity of Declaration 127 that effectively neuters it. We need something though, because we cannot keep just trusting that we’re covered by Declaration 127 when we’re really not.

We also need to collectively understand something about inclusion and inclusivity that many understand but some people still struggle to wrap their minds around – that just because we take a stand against bigotry in our religious groups it doesn’t mean we necessarily must throw wide the doors of our religious groups to anyone for any reason. Not everyone is well suited for every group, not every group is well suited for every person. Taking a stand against discrimination based on things people cannot control (race, gender, sexuality, etc.) does not mean you cannot close your group off from negative things people can control (racism, bad attitude, toxic personality, dangerous behaviors, etc.). You don’t want liars in your group, you don’t want unapologetic assholery in your group, you don’t want frithless folk. The choices we make, our deeds, and the people we choose to be are what we should be judged on, not who we are born as. You want religion to be enjoyable, you should not hate the people you’re standing in worship with.

(If you would like to check out the wording for yourself, pay close attention to the actionable parts underlined: Declaration 127.)

This is my attempt at a philosophical statement on these matters: Declaration of Deeds.

Why are Racists Attracted to Heathenry?

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.