Once again, Halstead is arguing with strawmen. No-one ever said that we should not seek respect, only that appealing to the “respectability” as defined by the status quo, excludes those who are most vulnerable.
Respectability politics is a tool of the right-wing. Its recorded history goes back to late 19th Century affluent and Conservative African-Americans seeking to appeal to White society by distributing pamphlets in poor Black communities, telling them how to talk, how to dress, how to fucking bathe – things that those people already considered perfectly fine ideals, but were, on some levels, out of reach to them: Enunciation isn’t going to put food on the table, when you’re trying to put food on the table, dressing Beau Brummel isn’t going to be too high on the priorities, either, and when you’re fucking dirt-poor without indoor plumbing, chances are, you’ll get your baths when you get them. Shit like this is mirrored in Halstad’s words.
In England during the 1970s, when Quentin Crisp’s memoir, The Naked Civil Servant, was made into a BBC television film, telling Crisp’s experiences as a high-feme homosexual man (if he were a twenty-something on Tumblr, he’d probably identify as genderqueer), The Gay Times issued a scathing review, suggesting that Crisp’s memoir was have been best published “posthumously” – implying all over the place that the world would be best off without queers who don’t just fuck queerly, but walk it, talk it, live it every second of every day. The Gay Times was endorsing a respectability politics that said to mainstream Britain, “we know you’ll only respect gays who look and act as much like heterosexual men as possible, so we’re going to act just like you in order to make you accept us. We don’t want the flaming fairies around any more than you do. They don’t have your respect, so they won’t have ours, either.” Thi, too, is mirrored in Halstead’s words.
When people like John Halstead (who, it’s been long established, is only “pagan” because he says he is, but this has been put far more eloquently by others) point at people like Phelan MoonSong and say “this does not help people take Paganism seriously,” he is aligning himself with the sentiments of bourgeois-aspiring 19th Century blacks patronising to the working class blacks, and the misogyny and femmephobia of The Gay Times in the ’70s. This is typical bourgeoisie respectability politics that Halstead is engaging in, and it is a tool of KKKapitalism and the Right Wing, designed to divide; Halstead has made it absolutely clear, in absolutely no uncertain terms, that he cares more about making paganism appeal to the status quo than he cares about challenging the status quo to accept differences.
At this point, I can no longer take Gods & Radicals seriously as an anti-Capitalism publication, for at least as long as they are giving platform to John Halstead. When they give platform to a proponent of respectability politics, they endorse it as perfectly normal, even acceptable within “anti-Capitalist paganism,” as they define it.
This also means that, for at least as long as G&R is giving platform to John Halstead, I cannot at all trust their editor-and-chief, Rhyd Wildermuth, either. I already have trust issues with butch gays, because they have a habit of just being far too comfortable with respectability politics, because the proponents of said almost never come for the butch gays – the butch gays are “safe,” in the politics of respectability, so to them, challenging respectability politics is just an abstract concept that they can agree to disagree on, it’s not something that actively threatens them and their existence or their right to space in activism. He may have appropriated the “faggot” identity, but sit any two-year-old down with a picture of Rhyd and a picture of Quentin Crisp, ask that child which one the “faggot” is, and which one’s the “butch”, we all know who that child will identify as each. (I could go on about how Rhyd has no right to appropriate the word “faggot”, when his careful cultivation of a burly, smelly, sweaty Manly image, to contrast with gay pagans and polytheists who are considerably less so, means that term does not apply to him, according to the homophobic masses, but that’s another story for another time.) I already have trust issues with butch gays, so now it’s up to Rhyd to prove that he’s trustworthy.
The status quo is just as threatened by femme FAGGOTS, like myself, as John Halstead is threatened by any pagan he deems too “weird” to be respectable to the status quo he desperately envisions pagans appealing to.
If he continues to keep John Halstead on the G&R staff of writers, Rhyd is an enemy to ALL who are vulnerable to respectability politics. The longer he keeps Halstead on, the more he proves he’s an enabler of all that comes with respectability politics, including racism, femmephobia, misogyny, cissexism, ableism, freakphobia, and so on. The longer he keeps Halstead on G&R staff, the more Rhyd proves he’s an enabler of the bourgeoisie, and a total sell-out.
Respectability politics has no place in paganism — and it has no place in radical Far Left politics.
When first published in 1968, The UK’s Gay Times reviewed the first memoir of Quentin Crisp, The Naked Civil Servant, their reviewer scathingly citing Crisp as a “bad example”, stating the book “should have been published posthumously”.
He was a high femme gender-bender.
When the UK’s Stonewall group launched in the 1980s, Derek Jarman had some words about its organisers and supporters, folks like Ian McKellan, who kept their sexuality closeted until it couldn’t hurt their careers (I imagine he, like myself, would have made more than a few words about George Takei’s opportunistic reinvention of himself as THE Gay of B-list celebs at a time when it actually could, and did, give his career a boost). In fact, I’ll reprint some:
THE PEACE OF ANONYMITY – STONEWALL WAS A RIOT
The queers of the sixties, like those since, have connived with their repression under a veneer of respectability. Good mannered city queers in suits and pinstripes, so busy establishing themselves, were useless at changing anything.
To be Queer was never respectable – even though you wore a suit. The more conventional, the more desperate the hidden life. Pushed to the fringes, our world existed in the twilight of Heterosoc1reality. and if anyone raised their voice in protest they were accused of endangering the peace of anonymity. A demonstration was likely to frighten the closeted, their inactivity reproached.
Stonewall was a RIOT which occurred in the summer of 1969 in Christopher Street, New York, outside a bar of the same name. For the first time Queers fought back with bricks and bottles and empty beer glasses and burned cars. The best fighters were the trannies2 – a dress was a badge of courage. The riot sparked a revolution in our consciousness. A community of interest was established and a debate was entered. The harder it was fought the more our case was furthered.
Everything that made our world visible reproached the closeted. One day it might be as silly as moaning about Quentin Crisp’s blue rinse as a BAD ROLE MODEL, or, on another, complaining of a rowdy Gay Liberation Front meeting. For them, we were not them. They took everything and did nothing, sat in their interior decoration, attended the opera and did fuck all to help change; their minds as starched as their shirts.
Twenty years later, Stonewall – the self-elected and self-congratulating parliamentary lobbying group – have made more than enough compromise with convention. Did those who rioted at the Stonewall bar fightso that we could so easily be co-opted by a gay establishment? Do they represent our best interests in Heterosoc?
Do they represent us?
Why did one man go to Downing Street to put our case? Why were there no women? Weren’t the rest of us acceptable? It was as if no Queer had ever been in number 10 before, the fuss everyone made.
Part of the con was to steal the name Stonewall and turn our riot into their tea party. We are now integrated into the worst form of British hetero politic – the closed room, the gentlemen’s club – where decisions are made undemocratically for an ignorant population which enjoys emasculation.
So they 0 Stonewall – won’t acknowledge this criticism. They’ll pretend there isn’t a debate. The only way that they can succeed in their politics is through the myth of homogenity and the ‘gay community’. But our lives are plural. They always have been – sexuality is a diversity. Every orgasm brings its own liberty.
— Derek Jarman, At Your Own Rish: A Saint’s Testament, 1992
By forcing a homogenous narrative onto the trans community —by insisting that there’s no difference between us and cis people, by discouraging a plurality of thoughts and experiences and ideas of individual trans people— we are expecting anti-radicalism of the worst kind in our community. By telling us, explicitly or even implicitly, that those of us who are simultaneously a binary and non-binary gender that we’re somehow only really the latter is to throw us under the bus for the sake of respectability.
Furthermore, believe it or not, it is entirely possible to say “we have a fundamentally unique experience of our genders as trans women and trans men from that of cis people, but that does not automatically exclude us from deserving the same rights to space.
The fact that I have pretty much always stated that we trans people have a fundamentally different experience from cis people has never been a secret , , now has it perplexing me that I’ve been implicitly accused of making ideological bedfellows with some of the most despicable characters in the pagan and polytheist communities. Of course, I also really enjoy Raven Kaldera’s Hermaphrodeities, and it is not at all hard to find pseudo-radical assimilationist trans kids on Tumblr bitching about how the regular reminders throughout that, as trans and other gender-variant people, we have spiritual obligations, as least to ourselves, because of this, hurts pweshuss fee-fees because why can’t we all just be the same???
Sexuality is a plurality, and so is gender. Equal rights and equal access does not and should not erase differences for an assimilationist narrative of trans experience.
I’m really tired of white cis people cissplaining my transgender politics to me. This is something I have been working on within myself, constantly evaluating and re-assessing, exploring, debating, and meditating on for going on twenty years!
The fact of the matter is, TERFs are the ones who’ve perverted our celebration of our differences for their own despicable purposes, as an act of terrorism against trans people, effectively forcing an anti-Queer assimilationist narrative onto the “Voices” of trans justice. I’m sorry-not-sorry, but I’m not going to sit on my hands and let those thumping an assimilationist party line at me, be they other trans people or (ostensibly well-meaning) cis people who want an ally badge, scare me into erasing my differences because Ruth Barrett and others can’t handle the existence of a paradox and the simple scientific fact that paradoxes are a part of nature.
1: Heterosexual society
2: At the time Derek Jarman wrote this, “tranny” was an acceptable term in the queer community as a term of camaraderie and empowerment amongst trans folk and gender-bending gays. This is not a slurred usage, this is historical.
I’m trying to figure out who actually coined the term “devotional polytheism” as it’s been used in polytheist and pagan circles this last five years. In response to Cora Post’s entry he-ah, I have the current comment awaiting moderation:
(such as the one who coined the phrase Devotional Polytheism and those that contributed to the comments on Sannion’s blog post in question).
You’ve found who coined that phrase? Cos it wasn’t who I thought it was, and at least one of the people you implied to have done so (or so I’ve gathered, since you did not actually name a person or people) has clearly stated that he did not do so.
I’m genuinely curious as to who coined the term “devotional polytheism” as it’s used in polytheist & pagan circles, cos I can’t find the culprit.
This is like when people allege that I invented the term “Wiccanate Neopaganism”, in spite of the numerous times that I myself, and others, icluding folks like John Halstead have said, “No, Johnny Rapture did, see?” I picked up the term from (guh) Star Foster, and clearly I had a hand in popularising that term, but I did not invent it.
Similarly, Cora Post implied (she implied all over the place) that Sannion or at least some-one else in these comments “coined the phrase Devotional Polytheism”, when I first remember seeing it from Dver years ago on the Neokoroi elist (and note her absence from that thread allegedly containing people who “coined the phrase”), and she has even said she got it from some-one else. As it’s unlikely that PSVL or Rhyd or TPWard are the person or persons she’s referring to (just based on the favt that people tend to get offended by those two chaps and that Bearer of the Fabulosa Fez considerably less), and I find it at least a tad improbable that the phrase originated with Ganila Krasskova (I think she’d’ve owned it, by now, if it had –she seems to do that sort of thing with frequency), it’s kind of bothering me that this misinformation is continuing, unchallenged and unretracted by those supporting it.
So does anyone actually know who first used it?
Hey, did you stumble upon this non-troversy somehow? Do you just want to stop seeing this thing in the footer? Please at least consider donating to my moving expenses, or my service animal and i will be out on the streets.
Title: Goth Craft: The magickal side of dark culture
Authorship: Raven Digitalis
Publisher: Llewellyn International
Year Published: 2007, First Edition
This book is pretty much a mixed bag and while I kinda get why some things are said the way they are in this book, my experiences won’t really let me sit on my hands about a few of its problems, which would likely seem relatively minor if I were some-one without my experiences.
First off, this book starts off with a chapter introducing people to the Goth subculture –for those who are very new, those who know some stuff but not a lot, and for nerds like me who fact-check everything like an annoying pedant (by the way –that line is foreshadowing the review: I will be an annoying pedant, for the most part, but I am an annoying pedant because I care). There’s a bit of a history which is mostly correct; I have a feeling that I could nit-pick Digitalis’ etymology lesson (he seems to just gloss over the rich literary “chapter” of the etymology, and subsequent cultural influence of the term “gothic”) and his stylistic choices in the differentiation between the Germanic tribes known as Goths and the current Gothic subculture here or there, but he goes into a fair amount of detail and frankly, he doesn’t just seem to make shit up in this chapter on a factor of “truthiness” or “feels”, like a pretty blatant etymological error in Kaldera & Schwartzstein’s Urban Primitive, which still annoys me that it even got a pass.
While the facts about the etymology and origins of the goth subculture are generally correct, he also falls victim to a LOT of sugar-coating on some of the “ideals” touted by goths for about three decades now (more-or-less) when juxtaposed alongside the reality of the situation. He says about as much as there being no such thing as goths who are sexist, racist, queerphobic, and so on, and let me tell you, Internet: I have been in and out of the goth subculture for nearly twenty years (granted, I could make the argument that I’ve been interested in Mod subculture aspects and tropes for longer, like one of my favourite bands as a small child was The Who, but it’s safe to say I’ve had an active role in both subcultures for literally decades), there are relatively few, still puttering around here and there, who are more “elder” than myself (most of whom, like myself, are no longer limiting themselves to the label of “goth”, except when it seems suiting), and while certain attitudes are prominently frowned upon by many, especially the artists who are often credited with building the subculture (or at least giving it its foundation), there is also no shortage of racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, classism, and so on within the Gothic subculture. Hell, most of the fashions necessitate either a bourgeoisie income if one lacks some hell of DIY skills. I’ve seen just as many goths (though, to be fair, usually young ‘uns) throw around “The Big N” in Los Angeles as I did in Virginia, a friend of mine who’s a Goth/Industrial DJ semi-recently cross-posted a blog entry from Coilhouse lamenting how the average Industrial music show, and specifically naming Combichrist and their fans as some of the biggest offenders, as little more than a bunch of dudebros in black clobber objectifying women and crying “No homo!” as they smear on marketed-as “guyliner” —after all, can’t use anything with the same debossing on the pencil as your girlfriend uses, lest someone think you’re queer! (as an aside, Digitalis, factually, points out that Industrial is a genre of dark alternative music that evolved alongside and often crossing-over with Gothic rock –something I see very few “purists” who favour deathrock or gothic rock ever acknowledging, though I think it’s more plain ignorance than revisionism — it was certainly a degree of ignorance when I was a dumb kid who insisted that “Industrial and Gothic/deathrock never had anything to do with each-other until some time in the 1990s”), there was once a YouTube account by some relatively popular Denver-area goth-industrial guy who –while his videos were pretty well-made little short films– were steeped in thinly-veiled homophobic commentary, especially his anti-Emokid series in three parts which seriously went so far as to “jokingly” advocate curb-stomping “those fags in Death Cab shirts riding Vespas”, (I don’t know if the account still exists or if the videos are still up anymore, and frankly, I found it so disgusting at the time that I have no interest in looking it up again). If you’ve been reading this shit I write here for forever, then you’re probably aware that when I came out as FTM, every friend I lost was from the Goth scene, and no, not all of them were in or from Michigan, when you have a relative “big name” NYC goth/deathrock DJ telling you “can it, Lady” after you explain in a LiveJournal comment to please use male pronouns, and an ex-friend from an LA band that’s existed in several forms since 1987 is sending you several MySpace nastygrams to tell you that you’re basically garbage over this, and you hear from the grapevine that yes, there’s a certain Midwesterner who decided to try and add that to their smear campaign against you (which few people ever took seriously, but still…), then you start to realise that the goth/industrial/deathrock scenes are NOT wholly anti- all these assorted “-isms” that it’s ideally supposed to be. Hell, I recently found a Tumblr dedicated to calling out shitty behaviour, it’s far from perfect (and arguably “ableist”, seeing as how much of that blog is in text-images that are impossible for someone with computer equipment for the blind and low-vision to read —cos we all know there are never goths with visual impairments, am I right? [coughs]), so clearly I’m not the only ass-hole who recognises this problem.
Frankly, I know the gothic subculture to have some pretty widespread problems that while, ideally, would not go unchecked by anyone in the scene, and would certainly become a big black mark on someone who seemingly has gained such “cred” as to have a recognisable name within the scene, and when I worked my way through that chapter, I couldn’t help but think that Raven Digitalis, as well-meaning as I understand this was intended to be, was just sugar-coating it all for the sake of appearances (like I said, I’ve been into this since the early-mid 1990s, I remember the Columbine shooting [which yes, in reality had nothing to do with Goths, but we sure as hell felt the weight of the world in its aftermath], and Fairuza Balk’s character in The Craft, and I’m conscious enough of current media to acknowledge that the relatively “positive” or at least sympathetic media portrayals of the Gothic subculture from the last twenty years can be counted on one hand, and the negative portrayals still outnumber by several times as many) and thus giving the bad behaviours in the scene a pass to go on as usual, since only maybe a handful of overzealous SJW kids on Tumblr want to even address these problems, and I’ve never seen a single one of them address it in a manner that will actually make the more reasonable people reflect on not just their own potential for bad behaviour, but that which they might’ve let slide for fear of rocking the boat or hoping that some-one else would call it out (don’t confuse this with a “tone argument”; there are seriously ways to say things, even without clear anger, that will absolutely shut down any reasonable discourse with people –like, any “reductio ad Hitlerum” comparison that more often than not paints the speaker as histrionic and simply failing to understand the nuances of human experience). I mean, I guess it’s nice that, as a white, cisgender guy in the goth scene, especially as a relatively prominent DJ and photographer in one of the “flyover states”, he has been the ideal person he expects the scene to be, and presumably to the best of his knowledge, so have others in the scene that he knows, and it’s nice that he’s writing this in hopes of explaining this ideal to people who may be relative nubs, but I dunno, I’m just a little bothered by what I see as a failure to address the fact that there ARE these problems in the scene that need to be called out rather than given a “No true Scotsman” sort of pass that absolves people of the responsibility to calling it out: After all, if Jacob von Eldritch throws around “The Big N” and says that trans people aren’t the gender/s we say we are, then he’s not really a goth, so true goths have no responsibility to call out his bad behaviour —cos that’s how that fallacy is often applied, when you bring up the genocides and conversion by sword commited in the name of Christianity, there are always way more vocal Christians going “oh, well, see, no true Christian would do that sort of thing, so I don’t have to address it!”. We all know that’s BULLSHIT.
Words don’t exist for ourselves as individuals. They exist so that we can communicate things, events, and ideas to others. Like it or not, what you think a word should mean is less important than what your audience thinks it means. If your audience is unfamiliar with a word, then sure, you may owe it to them to define it for them, but don’t be surprised if, when you fail to do so, they seek a definition elsewhere and embrace one you dislike, or never intended.
Humans use plenty of words figuratively, metaphorically. When one says “Johnny Depp is a god”, incredibly few literally mean that Johnny Depp stepped down from Olympos to look sexy and act the hell out of whatever character Tim Burton suggests to him; what they mean is “Johnny Depp has qualities that most other people don’t, qualities that are almost or borderline god-like, and is worthy of being looked up to by others in his field”. What a “god” is, in the most literal sense, is an idea that is easily understood by most people –a “god” is a superhuman being that has power over humans and even nature itself and deserves to be worshipped by believers, and so to compare Johnny Depp to a god is generally assumed to be highly flattering. It’s also generally understood that, due to the overwhelming empirical evidence that Johnny Depp is a human being, that to refer to him as a “god” is a use of figurative language –you’re using a word to represent a feeling more than an empirical fact. Figurative language does not change the literal meaning of the words used figuratively; if anything, it reinforces the meanings by making the audience think of what is being figuratively represented in that description of Johnny Depp as a god.
(Of course, Johnny Depp may also be a literal god taking a completely human form and his hypothetical nature as a god may be completely undetectable to modern technology, but that’s irrelevant.)
Now let us take the word “god”. If one would rather un-define “god” not as a superhuman being independent of the human consciousness, but instead as a metaphor itself for an ineffable something within the collective of human experience, one has not eradicated the existence of the gods, nor has one eliminated the idea of what a god is from the human consciousness.
How many legs does a dog have if you call its tail a leg? Four. Calling the tail a leg does not make it so.
(Hypothetically) Un-defining “leg” as “any appendage that is not a head” so as to include the tail (you know, to be more-inclusive, and show the tail that it is welcome amongst the legs, I guess –in spite of the fact that it really was always welcome amongst the legs, the whole time) does not change the characteristics of the tail or any of the legs. The tail is still a tail, and serves the functions and purposes of the tail. It will never become a leg, no matter how little the word “leg” comes to mean. The structure and purpose of a leg and a tail are so different, that to list all the differences is not only an objective fact, it’s an empirical fact –if one lacks sight, one can even feel the differences between a dog’s tail and its legs, so broadening the definition of “leg” to include any appendage that is not a head is not only confusing, but potentially dangerous.
Broadly-defined “umbrella terms” serve no purpose outside of political goals, and even then, the empirical observations of many is that there will always be dissent amongst members of the same political groups –TS/TG people may support the Human Rights Council (HRC) in its current primary goals to forward the agenda of same-sex marriage1, but those TS/TG people may still be quick to point out that the HRC’s advocacy of TS/TG interests is incredibly lacking. “The GBLT community” doesn’t account for the vast differences between the subcultures of drag, Bears, butch/femme, twinks, gym bunnies, and so on, but all are accounted for under the umbrella, and maybe only a handful of individuals from each subculture have any intimate knowledge of any other subculture under the umbrella.
“Pagan” has been so loosely defined for so long that it’s an adequate “umbrella term”. On the other hand, “polytheism” means something because it’s a compound word and its components mean something rather specific, when put together.
1: No matter what you might have read on Tumblr or other such echo-chambers for utterly ridiculous people, same-sex marriage (SSM) rights ARE RELEVANT TO THE TS/TG COMMUNITY. Think about it: Not only are there GBL-identified TS/TG persons, including those who may become both legally recognised as the gender they live as and desirous of marrying a now legally same-sexed partner, but there are also literally hundreds, thousands of TS/TG people who are both heterosexually-identified (trans women who exclusively date men, trans men who exclusively date women), and are unable to have their birth certificates legally amended, or the letter on their driver’s license or state/government-issued-ID changed, in order to meet the requirements of the state in order to marry hetero partners –legally, their state recognises them as a same-sex couple. Maybe they were born in Ohio, or Idaho, or one of the other two States that still won’t let trans people amend our birth certificates, no matter how much surgery is had? Maybe they can’t have “the surgery” (for either financial or medical reasons, or, if you’re Anna-Verney Cantodea, you might have spiritual reasons to abstain from surgery) in order to meet state requirements that would allow for their birth certificates to be amended? Maybe some-one isn’t seeking any medical transition at all, not even hormones, but is still able to live full-time (or most of the time) as their preferred gender, but due to being “non-transitioning”, from a medical standpoint, are thus barred from getting their certificate amended or their ID letter altered? Furthermore, within the United States, marriage rights are determined by each State, individually, and there is seriously not a single married TS/TG person in the entire US who, if they were to move to a state that did not recognise SSM, would not have their marriage questioned, come tax season, cos some States won’t recognise a birth certificate that was amended in another State or other “technicalities” –it happens at an alarmingly regular basis, and is such a common occurrence, it rarely makes the news in even the local gaypers. The most pragmatic way to circumvent these laws is universal recognition of SSM. As a trans man, myself, obviously I think that making strides to loosen up on recognition of genders outside the cisgender binary is a good thing that should be striven for, but we’re a lot closer to achieving SSM rights across the Anglosphere than we are to making sure none of those hoops a trans person has to jump through for an ounce of government recognition have to be on fire. I’m also a bit of an outlier to the community in that I think that some hoops at all aren’t necessarily a bad thing.
As I said in my last post, I’m not the first one to define “pagan” as “European pre-Christian, non-Abrahamic religious traditions”, and I likely won’t be the last. I’ve always found this a bit odd, that the community seems to have ostensibly defined “Paganism” as coming predominantly from Europe and the Mediterranean (though few remember that Egypt isn’t in Europe, nor is Mesopotamia, where the goddess Astarte was first worshipped), even if only a handful have ever had the guts to admit it.
This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, though it understandably carries a lot of baggage. I remember a few years ago, when the Council of Ethnic Religions(?) dared to propose a European-based definition of “pagan” and “paganism”, as an umbrella term specifically for the pre-Christian indigenous religious of Europe (and maybe the Mediterranean?), and half of The Wild Hunt’s commenters practically had an aneurysm, screaming “Racist!” left and right —as if this isn’t something they’ve been doing, as a community, for decades. No, seriously, look at ANY “Paganism For Dummies” sort of primer, and very little —at best, a few deity names, maybe an incense or two, but almost never any rituals— is based outside practises of European or Mediterranean origin, and most of it comes from the British Isles or Germany. I’d understand the anger if that announcement was clearly against the current status quo of the pagan community, but the truth is, it’s only been fairly recently that pagans have been at all interested in African diaspora traditions, and before that, it was Far Eastern Asia, and before that, it was Indigenous American tribal traditions —and it’s usually been something that’s been a very trendy, flash-in-the-pan sort of interest. Like suddenly, High Priestess (self-appointed) Lillywhite Wykkanmoon rrealised that Black people had religions outside Baptistism and decided to act like she cared about forging a relationship with some Akan “face of Goddess” so she can feel good about “not being a racist”. To be perfectly blunt, after the novelty wears off for most people, and assuming they’re still identifying as somehow pagan after that, most people hopping on the Hip New “Ethnic”-Wiccan Fad™ are going to go right back to their Eurocentric way of doing things, maybe recon-influenced, maybe Wicca-influenced (which, as far as I’m concerned, is a new indigenous religion of England —but maybe that’s just me), but only a few of the white people hopping on any non-European/Mediterranean pantheon fad are going to stick with it and actually remain interested in it, even looking beyond the “exotic” façade and getting into cultural assimilation.
The thing, though, is that the communities those religions come from almost never (not enough for any practical estimate) refer to their religions as “pagan”. “Pagan” is an English word, based on a Roman root. Amongst indigenous tribes of the Americas, “pagan” is a word of the oppressor, it’s not what they do. I imagine a lot of other “coloured” ethnicities see it that way, too. Might some of the more diplomatic try and forge bridges with pagans, on the grounds of religious minority status? Sure, but to conflate the two would be like calling a heteronormative transsexual woman “a gay man” because she may share some similar oppressions with effeminate gay men: It’s not only offensive, it’s inaccurate to the lived realities of both parties.
And don’t get me wrong, it can be a good thing to bond over similarities, and it’s always beneficial to use those similarities to band together in hopes of protecting the civil rights of all, but similarities don’t mean you’re doing the same thing.
There’s also some serious baggage with the realisation that “Pagan = European and Mediterranean traditions”. Hell, you can barely throw a stone in any direction in the Heathen community (at least according to my own research) without having a 50/50 chance of hitting some fucko into Nazi mysticism, or distorting certain passages in that community’s ancient sacred texts as justification for their own self-styled brand of “white separatism”. And the Heathen community isn’t alone with that baggage: During my brief interest in CR, I encountered some racist fucks repurposing Lugh for their despicable purposes, and considering the fact that Golden Dawn —a.k.a. the Greek “Nazi party”— once actively engaged the HR movement, I can’t help but roll my eyes at the few people I still see, occasionally, describing Hellenismos as “like Greek Asatru/Heathenism, but without Nazis”. So yeah, needless to say, there’s some… history than can make admitting the fact that “Paganism’ has been implicitly defined by having European and Mediterranean roots for decades a thing many people are rather reluctant to do.
I’ve always had kind of mixed feelings about this. On one hand, I have no problem with being incredibly blunt, when necessary, and it bothers me when people like to tiptoe around uncomfortable truths, as if they’re afraid of waking some slumbering dragon if they say anything too specific about the facts. On the other hand, like any other white person who tries to be decent, especially one who was raised in a predominantly poor and Black neighbourhood (and who honestly feels more comfortable living surrounded by lower working class Black people, or elderly mid-to-low prole English people than any other demographics —why? That’s what I grew up with, poor English grandparents and a neighbourhood filled mostly with poor Black people), it makes me feel like a complete failure at life when someone falsely accuses me of being some kind of racist.
Think about it, though: What religions do you put under the “Pagan” umbrella? Are you careful to point out that most African diaspora religionists, Hindus, Abroiginal religionists, etc…, very seldom call their religion “Pagan”? For extra points, how much first-hand knowledge of that do you have to back it up? (I admit, I don’t have much, most of it is second-hand knowledge, but it’s been from ostensibly well-informed people.) Be completely honest now, looking back to the first question, how many of those religions can be directly traced back to Europe, the British Isles, or the Mediterranean? Of those without a direct link to that area of the globe, is there a clear influence in those religions from that region?
I’m willing to bet $25 that a bare minimum of nineteen out of every twenty people who read this will answer the above questions and realise (or at least confirm) that they have a Euro/Med-focused definition of “Pagan” and “Paganism”. There’s nothing really wrong with that, and no, it’s not “erasing” to refer to other religious groups by their preferred terms. It’s also OK for words to mean things, even if asserting the meaning of that word might invite some baggage, at the current point in time. But a wise man once offered a seeker, when asked, a phrase that would be true at all times, and that phrase was “At some time, this, too, shall pass.” The baggage isn’t going to be around forever.