Monday, August 22, 2016

Pagan Entitlement, Pagan Hypocrisy

There's an interesting case over at Pathetic Pagan involving accusations of "entitlement" among the neopagan community. Bekah Evie Bel wrote an article entitled Pagans Really Are an Entitled Bunch, which itself was a reaction to an article over at Witches & Pagans by Steven Posch entitled Can a Pagan Woman, in Good Conscience, Go to Uluru?

The original article discussed the propriety of female neopagans going to an Aṉangu (one of several types of Aboriginal Australians) holy site where females are banned. It was purely an exercise in virtue signalling, though, and seemed to only have been written to express the "This is me respecting non-European religions" and "This is me not mansplaining." The conclusion was essentially "ask an Australian woman neopagan," making the reader wonder why it was written in the first place, except to put the aforementioned virtue signalling on display, because he fails to provide an answer to his own question.

But the article reacting to it was much more interesting, and is actually what I would like to respond to here. Rather than praising Posch's piece as being respectful of Aṉangu religion, she blasts it for the assumption that Aṉangu = Pagan:
This is an example of a Pagan who seems to think that just because they follow a religion that is not Abrahamic, then they of course are entitled to the sacred spaces of all peoples, everywhere, that are also not Abrahamic.  So, Native American sacred spaces are also Pagan spaces.  Uluru, a sacred space for Australian Aboriginals is also a sacred space for Pagans.
Because don’t you know, we are all one and the same, fighting off the evils and indoctrinations of Christianity and its ilk.

That's the "Pagan Entitlement" mentioned in the title of his piece. It's the automatic assumption that other cultures, religions, and traditions are fair game for inclusion in neopagan ritual, simply by virtue of the fact that they're not Christian, Jewish, or Muslim. 

That's a sentiment that I, as a folkish Heathen, can absolutely relate to, because it's an issue that lies at the heart of folkish Heathenry. The idea that every culture, every folk, is entitled to practice its own religious and other traditions without someone else barging in and claiming it for their own. That's a terrific point, and one I wish more neopagans (and Asatruar, for that matter) would adopt.

Now, Bel is writing specifically about sacred spaces, but the principle applies equally to sacred traditions in general. Just as Bel wouldn't think of climbing the sacred mountain that is forbidden to women by Aṉangu religious taboo, I'm sure neither would she impose herself on an Aṉangu ritual elsewhere without some sort of appropriate invitation. Which is a good thing.

So when it comes to Aboriginal, Native American, and other non-European cultures, respect and forbearance are the watchwords. As they should be.

But here's where the hypocrisy comes in. Although Bel is more than willing to extend that principle to Aboriginal and other non-European religions and cultures, when it comes to the pre-Christian cultures and religions of ancient Europe, the rule seems to go out the window. Behold what she had to say a couple of months ago in another article entitled Ancestors and Heritage in Paganism:
And yet I am mostly Hellenic, with perhaps no Greek lines at all.  Because the Gods call who They will and who are we to gainsay Them?  Well, obviously we can refuse Them.  But you cannot refuse Them to me.
But this can be a contentious stance as well.  For some religions, the idea of the Gods calling to people outside of the ancestral lines is, well, blasphemous I suppose.  This is apparently true within Heathenism*, where the people are, in some way, descendants of the Gods!  So, not being of that line, you cannot be called by Them.
*Try not to quote me on that though, I don’t have enough knowledge of Heathenry to say this is true, but it is said by some Heathens.
The above has some detractors, the idea is that it is not impossible for the Aesir to call on people who are not of the right ancestral lines – I guess for spreading the religion and growing numbers?  I only have my Hellenic perspective, which says, the Gods will take everything and everyone because they are greedy.  So, to me, the idea that Aesir and Vanir would have two different types of people they call on, one for purity purposes and one for growth purposes, is not something that seems wrong to me.  But, my view is distinctly Hellenic.
Setting aside the use of the prejudicial term "blasphemous," which isn't how I would describe it, she definitely comes down on the universalist side of the equation. So it's bad to do when it's an aboriginal or Amerindian religion, but it's okay to do when it's a European religion. Putting one race in a different status than all others? I'm pretty sure that's the definition of racism.

Digeridoo and handpan? That's cultural
. Because no kid outside of
Australia ever turned a metal pot upside
down and banged on it.
But what if the Aṉangu gods call to me? She just said that's possible. Of course, she does have a bit of a weaseling explanation to get out of that one, that is based entirely in a double-standard:
But I also caution respect for the original adherents of a religion, especially a current culture, such as with Native Americans and Aus Aboriginals.  It’s one thing to choose a “dead” religion with oft ignored Gods or entities, it’s another to try to take from a living religion and culture that may take exception to your choice.
So it's okay to respect aboriginal religion because it's a "living" religion, but it's not necessary to do with Germanic or Hellenic religion because those are "dead." Conveniently, all of the religions that would be fair game for neopagan appropriation are European.

But of course, once a religion has been revived, as Asatru has since the 1970's, is it really dead any more? Wouldn't the fact that there are tens of thousands of Asatruar alive in the world right now make her point about it being a "dead" religion moot?

And what about non-European "dead" religions? What about Central American religions? If a white guy wanted to start wearing a loincloth and worship Quetzalcoatl, wouldn't that be okay because it's a "dead" religion? Or would that be appropriation because it's a Native American religion, even though it's no longer practiced? What about Khemetic (Egyptian) religion? A lot of African-Americans like to claim ancient Egypt as their own; does the fact that Khemetic Orthodoxy here in the U.S. explicitly denies a racial component, and its current leader is whiter than an extra in a Cecil B. DeMille movie*, amount to appropriation?

I don't make these points so much to knock on Bel as to point out the vast tangle of inconsistencies and outright hypocrisy that can occur when one tries to make different standards for different races, even with the best of intentions. In the end, the best and most consistent way to handle these sorts of issues is the folkish position. Let everyone worship the gods and goddesses of their own ancestors. The only ones left out are the ones who want to appropriate the gods of someone else's ancestors. And I'm perfectly okay with leaving them out.

* Update: I am told she is half Amerindian. Which, fine, but it still doesn't bring her any closer to Africa. Or does it...?

1 comment:

  1. Response is up now :)