Discussion & Politics

The Politicisation of Paganism

*Note from admins* Our forum stands united together harshly against racism, exclusion, intolerence or extremism, nor would we align ourselves or sympathize with those that are. We support equal fairness under the law for all (a work in progress) and choose to live leading by example rather than shutting doors on anyone simply because of where they moderately land on the political spectrum. If we allow extremists to take hold of paganism, we lose it to infighting and division and paganism has been fought tooth and nail for as is, without the squabbling of the moderate political agenda amongst ourselves. Social media is saturated with politics with many outlets for discussion. We are not saying to be a silent or passive party or that we are. We are not saying some issues aren’t moral rather than political and we fully recognize Druids of old were involved in the law and politics. We are not saying we will not make statements against extremism or not oust or ban people who are extremists. We are saying, we’d like our space to be a place of mental rest and to focus on our spirituality and what unites us.

I’d like to preface this article by stating clearly that I am totally opposed to racism and any form of prejudice and oppression of any group or individual.

In the second half of the twentieth century, Paganism struggled to re-establish itself, with a small minority fighting for its right to exist against centuries of prejudice from a largely Christianised establishment. One could sense a certain unity in recent decades between the disparate groups, sharing a common goal of emancipation for a resurgent spirituality.

Now that those goals have largely been achieved, at least in North America and Europe, attention has diverted elsewhere. I choose to compartmentalise my life to some extent – my work life, my political life and my religious and social life are kept fairly separate, although there are obvious overlaps. I have in recent years noticed an increasing trend of politicisation within the Pagan movement of Ireland, UK and USA. This may have occurred elsewhere, but I am not familiar enough with occurences in other countries to express any opinion, beyond my immediate experiences.

For a very long time, in Europe, the Christian church had been directly involved in  national and international politics and it took centuries for stable secular government  to establish itself. Theocracies still exist, which from outside are often looked upon with some disapproval. The norm in these times has become secular government in much of the world, with religious institutions paying little or no role in political matters.

In Ireland, where I live, it has been a hard-fought battle to remove the Catholic Church from its position of influence in Irish politics and as a result secularism, is now regarded as a valuable commodity that should not be given up lightly.

However, there has been a creeping politicisation within religion, and most certainly Paganism within the last decade. This has probably been the case in other areas of social and personal life, but with religion/spirituality this, for me, has particularly worrying implications. During the run up to the abortion referrendum of May 2018, the politicisation within Paganism became increasingly clear. I was involved in the Yes! campaign myself to a small extent, but I chose to do this on a personal basis and not in my role as a Pagan celebrant and organisation member.

Over the last decade the infiltration of politics into Paganism has become increasingly apparent, with both ends of the spectrum becoming more vocal and more vehemently opposed to one another as time has progressed. Particularly worrying has been the resurgence of the far-right, especially in the United States of America, and the gradual emergence of its ideas within some elements of  Nordic and Celtic Paganism. This has also occurred in Europe too, but seemingly to a much lesser extent. To counter this, far-left ideology has also emerged.

As some-one who would describe themselves as a gnostic I find this trend extremely worrying. I have no time for entertaining violence, oppression or hateful behaviour, regardless of which extreme it comes from. We have laws and a legal system to deal with this, which should be availed of to deal with such matters. I like to think I know myself fairly well, I do not particularly like being told what to do, at the best of times, and I like being told what to say or think even less. To be honest, I find both of these factions extremely distasteful and it concerns me greatly that they are both attempting to make inroads into the mainstream and influence the rump of moderate Pagans, who may or may not have any interest in politics. Apart from the obvious vitriol that is exchanged between left and right factions, which itself creates a toxic atmosphere, people are increasingly being coerced (from my experience) to align themselves one way or the other.

I believe in equality, fairness and  justice, but I also believe in both the right to privacy and the right to freedom of speech. Increasingly intrusive and bullying practices are being employed and groupthink has become very much the order of the day. Instead of lively debate and empassioned, but civilised discussion, aggressive and abusive arguments are becoming common, especially on social media. It has become acceptable to denigrate those who do not share your opinion, or even those who fail to express an opinion. In the new era of political correctness, both sides regard silence as complicity and, like obsessive Evangelists, scurry to collect every last soul for their cause.

The Conquistadors, failed to see the irony of slaughtering masses of indigenous peoples in Central and South America, in the name of Jesus. I fear that the political zealots in the midst of the Pagan community are equally bereft of perspective and are incapable of realising how intolerant and hateful they can become, in the name of the moral and political values that they claim to subscribe to.

This situation has become deplorable. Paganism is not one of the ‘religions of the book’, it has a multitude of forms, of Gods and Goddess, practices and beliefs. Any moral code is somewhat nebulous as there are few universal values that can be applied to this particular set of paths. Clearly, certain standards of common decency should apply, but one must also remember that Paganism also includes a number of angry, destructive and morally ambiguous Gods and Goddesses, that have their devotees.

I wish to make no excuses for anyone. However, that does not mean that one cannot ever speak out against perceived injustices within the Pagan community or wider world; that to many is not just preferable, but a sacred duty. Morality is clearly part of our spirituality, but that does not mean that politics should be allowed to establish itself within Paganism. I say this because of the tyrannical history of theocracy and the terrible struggle to establish a truly secular government in many countries across the world. 

I reserve the right to keep my politcal beliefs separate from my life within the Pagan community, and totally private if I so wish. I also do not want to be recruited, lectured or denigrated because I refuse to play the game. If I chose not to comply with the political expectations of others, I should be free to do so. As a gnostic I follow my own path, I need no guru to tell me how to be Pagan. I also do not require a political guru to tell me what values I should have, who I should vote for and who I should or shouldn’t associate with.

If we truly believe in freedom of religion and tolerance of a plethora of beliefs, then surely the same rules should be applied to other areas of life (criminality and racism or other moral issues being an obvious exception). If we truly believe in tolerance then our tolerance should be universal and not reserved for our friends and colleagues – tolerance means tolerating opinions that we don’t approve of. Our freedom as Pagans has been hard won, we are diverse and entitled to remain so, please let us retain independent thought, diversity, free speech and not give our freedom away to appease political extremists and bullies.

Luke Eastwood was born in Aberdeen, Scotland but has also lived in England, USA and Ireland (currently living in Co. Wexford). He is a member of OBOD and of Druid Clan of Dana and is a founding member of The Irish Druid Network. He has published many books including the The Druid’s Primer and The Journey.

7 thoughts on “The Politicisation of Paganism”

  1. Druids are not exempt from political engagement, because every single structure in our lives – food, economy, housing, medical, the environment (that Druids ostensibly hold dear), and so on is tied to *political policy.* It is sheer solopsism, or spiritual bypassing, or just plain disassociation to somehow think that the “spiritual” is elevated, or that Druids are too privileged to engage in politics. And historically, Druids held a major role in the forming of public policy. Justifications or derailments aside, no religion is free from, or somehow elevated from [so-called] political influences!

    We need to be aware of neo-nazis, and call them out wherever they are found, but overall the Druidry community is still in dire need of a basic education on colonization in the Americas, as well as white supremacy, white privilege, and the exact definition of racism. No one who has European ancestors, and who now lives on Turtle Island, (no matter how “alternative” their lifestyle or spirituality) gets a passcard from these deeply embedded social structures and dynamics. https://godsandradicals.org/2016/12/05/the-myth-of-the-pagan-passcard/

    1. Agree about alt right and not referring to racism, lgbtq rights and those deeply personal and moral (not political) issues. More just run of the mill moderate politics. We have reached max saturation for politics in our online spaces with many places to discuss. I think honestly we’re all exhausted albeit inspired to make real change. But, we can’t function like this long term as a community or we turn into what we hate and left Christian communities over… infighting, judgement, hate, division etc. We know everything is inter-related morally and politically, yes, but we’re not as prepared to deal with it, go vote, be a voice, protest etc. if we have no spiritual community and solace away from it all to mentally ‘rest’.

    2. This article is not directed at America specifically. By your argument, the colonizers of the Islamic World, Japan, those of Aztec or Inca descent, Mongol descent etc should all bear the guilt of their ancestors who took over other countries and cultures. It’s pretty obvious that POC have been badly treated in America and racism still exists. Racism is not inherent it is learned, any culture can be racist – that is the fundamental flaw in your critique. Being racist is a personal choice and one that hopefully most people consciously choose to disparage. Politics and religion do not mix well, I feel it is better for society to keep a large degree of separation between them.

  2. A chairde, Friends: it is never my place to tell anyone how they should feel about anything and I agree with the overall sentiment about keeping opinions to oneself.
    Have your rights, civil or otherwise, ever been put up to a vote? Or worse, subject to be granted by a Court?
    If not, then I offer an alternative POV.
    If you tell of your support of a politician or political Party that is actively seeking to harm me or my family, LGBT in particular, then I will lose respect for you. That will, I am sorry to say, carry into any shared Pagan experiences that we may have.
    There is simply no way or philosophy or magic that can allow me to engage with those who wish me, worse, my family, harm.
    So I agree with the overall article that we should keep somethings to ourselves.
    I offer one good reason why one ought to.

    1. Agree! Addressed the part about moral and criminality issues. More referring to where it gets murky about personal opinions and not wanting to get to a point where we all feel like we have to live in an echo chamber or we can’t co-exist on moderate issues… ie the economy, capitalism vs. communism, gun rights, taxes etc. It all ties in somewhere into morality but not quite as much if that makes sense. Debating about these topics endlessly will only serve to divide the community. I will say, for example I have a neighbor who is religious enough that still wants prayer in school yet we still get together occasionally and have dinner. We just do not talk politics or religion and if we do, it’s lightly and we meet in the middle ground. I do respect their personal right to their beliefs based on their life experience and bible (even though I disagree) because I want to keep my own beliefs just as passionately without them telling me how to live. Then we go vote and cancel out one another’s vote. lol Again, not referring to moral issues here regarding personal rights of marriage, anti-racism etc. and equality under the law which we hold dear.

  3. My article does not say that we should tolerate racists and bigots and I do not think that should happen. However, Pagan websites, social media pages etc do not need to be a forum for politics, there are plenty of political websites and social media pages already. Politics used to be a personal preference – people of left and right were able to be friends even though they disagreed, now it has descended into extremism and hatred. We do not have to allow Paganism to be polluted by partisan politics – social justice and morality can be discussed in an impartial manner, without entering the political arena.

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