The internet is usually full of people angry about something, and the online Pagan community is no exception. The pagan blogosphere is usually in a tizzy about something, especially Reconstructionists. I try to avoid drama. I don’t like unnecessary conflict, it tends to really stress me out and stress is something I am trying to avoid in my personal life. As far as blogging, I usually stay away from most political subjects because I don’t want anyone to be turned off to the Gods because their politics are not the “correct” ones. In my entire history of blogging here at the Temple of Athena, I believe I’ve only had one post, perhaps two, that could have been considered controversial or divisive. But I’m about to step onto that minefield again. This will be most likely be my only post on the subject, I have no wish to wallow in negativity.
I first heard about this debacle from Galina at Gangleri’s Grove, and soon articles referencing and refuting the same subject matter popped up everywhere. It seems that someone at Gods and Radicals wrote an article which basically called most kinds of Pagans and polytheists fascists, or at least vulnerable to infiltration by fascists. No name was on on the article but it is assumed to be attributed to the Gods and Radicals editor, Rhyd Wildermuth, whose name I only vaguely remember hearing a few times before this mess. As you may image, it has caused quite the hubbub. Galina has called on polytheists to respond.
” We need every voice in this. Even if you are scared or dread the backlash, that is all the more reason to speak up. I will fight for you and for our traditions till my dying breath but it takes more than a handful of voices to make a difference in the face of such perniciously foul rhetoric. Make your voices heard too. It’s your traditions under attack, after all.”
Eventually I had to go and read the offending article for myself. And, it really was quite offensive. Most of it was utter bull hockey. There were no notes or references either, no proof to back up any assertions that were made. It definitely would not past academic muster. Most of what he said was flat out made up. While he also accused Dianics and others of being Fascist-friendly, I’m going to focus to what he said about Reconstructionism and Devotional Polytheism
“Reconstructionism: One of the more significant places where the New Right intersects with Pagan beliefs. Emphasis on returning to ‘reconstructed’ traditions, older (and poorly understood) social forms and hierarchical structures, as well as an emphasis on recovering European heritage are often problematic. Further, nationalistic and racial exclusionist tendencies are often justified as being part of ‘the lore.’”
Reconstructionsim aims to reconstruct pre-Christian religion and worship of the Gods, not the wholesale culture it came from. No Pagan I know has ever argued that we should re-institute slavery or the inferiority of women. Notice how Rhyd doesn’t say that’s the goal, but its heavily implied.
Also, why is “recovering European heritage” problematic? Someone on another blog, I can’t remember who, made the excellent point that the fact that we even think of Christianity, a Middle-Eastern religion, as being white, is just evidence of how thoroughly Christians destroyed the indigenous European religion and cultures. (I think it was SonofHel, correct me if I’m wrong. I read too many blogs and now I can’t keep them all straight.) So why is trying to recover some of that heritage a bad thing? Because the person’s skin is the wrong color? Who’s being the “racial exclusionist” now, Gods and Radicals?
“Devotional Polytheism: Similar to the problems in Reconstructionism, but with an extra dimension. Because some Devotional Polytheists place final authority in ‘the gods’ and emphasize hierarchical relationships (between human and god, priest and devotee), ethical questions cannot be challenged by concerned people because ‘the gods will it.”
Well that’s a huge fucking strawman. I’m sorry, I’m actually trying to cuss less in my writing (its been pointed out to me that it can be seen as unprofessional), but I think this case calls for it. I’ve never seen anyone say ‘the Gods will it’ in response to ethical concerns in my communities, ever. And I’ve been at this for over a decade now. In fact there is usually a lot of debate about how to live a good life and the interpretation of ethics. There are no iron-clad ethical laws in Paganism, like in monotheism. Learning to discern right from wrong for ourselves is one of the most important lessons our Gods can teach us, and I think this is borne out in the lore. Greeks were known for having long arguments discussions about the nature of ethics, among other things. Ethics is one of the foundation subjects of Greek philosophy and is covered by Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, all the greats. In addition to this, Hellenic Pagans have the Delphic Maxims, which are not inviolate rules like the Ten Commandments but are still a good basis for how to live a good life (less what you’d call rules, and more like guidelines*).
Secondly, like Tess Dawson points out in her post , Devotional Polytheism *IS* Polytheism. What’s the point of being a Polytheist, if you aren’t going to worship the Gods? Polytheism is a religion of practice more than belief, so it goes almost without saying that you are going to worship the Gods. But even if practice is foremost, it is not empty actions. The Gods are real. Why else worship Them? Of course you are going to devote yourself to Them.
Lastly, of course the Gods have final authority! THEY ARE GODS. I find it telling that he puts the Gods in quotation marks – he must not believe that the Gods are real beings with agency and power. He clearly thinks they are archetypes, or he would not be so confounded by the idea of “devotions” in polytheism. Ossia Slyva said it better than me:
“this is just a very subtle way to further drive in a particular nail that’s been hammered in for a long time: that people who believe in Powers outside of themselves are backwards, primitive, superstitious, crazy, imbalanced, and devoid of critical thinking skills or moral compasses. It also shows a desire or inability to understand the complexities, intricacies, and grappling-struggles of a life of faith when intimately engaged with the Powers, or at least to understand that these things are present in polytheism for many people. It shows a position that the gods don’t matter and shouldn’t matter – that maybe They should be present, but insofar as They can be controlled and manipulated by Us. And it shows a BIG problem with authority, even with the gods present or with people who have decided to give their lives into service for the gods.”
Gods, yes! This is just what I was trying to articulate but couldn’t quite get out. True polytheism is still seen as superstitious in Western culture, and it seems like the whoever authored this essay has bought into that belief, if only subconsciously.
The Gods and Radicals crew seem to place politics above the Gods – a recipe for disaster if ever I heard one. Religion can and does influence people’s beliefs about politics. If you believe in nymphs and spirits of the land, for example, that would clearly influence your support for environmental policies. But this is not a case of placing politics above the Gods – rather, it’s letting the Gods shape how you live in the world, not shaping the Gods to your preconceived beliefs or politics. As Tess Dawson stated, polytheism and politics can overlap – like a Venn diagram – but that doesn’t make them the same thing.
I’m actually a little disappointed. I never spent a lot of time on the Gods and Radicals site, since I’m much more interested in worship than politics. But still, I had read a few articles I found interesting and thought it might be worthwhile to check out some more of it, until now. I’m not completely apolitical. In fact I agree with a lot, but not all, of his politics. But this article has completely turned me off to the entire site, which is a shame.
Now, this has been going around the Pagan blogs, so strictly speaking I don’t HAVE to speak up. But, I don’t think that Athena would want me to remain silent. Fascism is a very serious accusation, and while at first I tried to avoid responding to it, now I really feel that I must add my voice to the chorus. This infiltration of Rhyd’s ultra-PC, ultra-Leftist us vs. them rhetoric worries me. I’ve seen his type infiltrate and blow up many, many groups from the inside, and I don’t want to see that happen to Paganism/Polytheism. Galina is right. We need to stand up for our religion and our movement, now, if we want to keep it. I’m going to end this post with another quote from Tess Dawson:
“It’s also not ok to claim that those who do not automatically share political ideology in common with those particular individual religions are somehow flirting with some form of light fascism—this is a silencing tactic. Given the current climate of anger and fear (both in the US and abroad), it’s a powerful silencing tactic. And it’s wrong, devastatingly wrong. It’s a wrong thing to do to associate others with different political or economic ideologies with vile things such as racism, sexism, and totalitarianism, and a destruction of diversity. There’s a certain terrible irony here that those who call others fascists (who are not fascists) are actually destroying diversity themselves–they are destroying the very diversity they thought they were preserving. In letting their fear take charge, in letting their fear of a perceived threat take charge, they’ve become the actual threat.”
*Yes, I may have made a Pirates of the Caribbean joke there. I’m a dork as well as a Pagan.