The Politicization Of Paganism

First published by Discover Druidry Blog July 2020

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, in Islamic countries, arguably in India (Hindu) and some Buddhist countries, 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, like in Turkey (at least until recently), 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, from both the far-right and the far-left, with both factions 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, far beyond the usual distain for the far-right extremists, it has been pushing its own agenda within Pagan organisations.

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 get off the fence and 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 Goddesses, 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 either the far-right or the far-left, both have become a scurge on the face of Paganism. 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 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 by members of the far-right or far-left, or disrespected, insulted or mistreated 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 (discrimination & criminality 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 opinons 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.