First published July 2021
It wasn’t always like this… I remember when paganism was concerned with gaining recognition, legal status for the right to have marriages and other rites. To some extent the disparate branches or factions within the pagan community were united in the common goal of reversing the effects of centuries of demonization by the mainstream religions – Christianity and Islam in particular.
Politics is something that has been unfortunatelty connected with religion throughout the past (until the last 200 years), with religion infiltrating and affecting the political world. This can be seen with the priests of Amun in Egypt, the seers of ancient Greece, the Druids of western Europe and of course in the theocracies of post-pagan Rome and Mecca.
In both Europe and the Islamic world there has been a terrible and violent struggle to achieve secular government. In Europe this has largely been achieved, as it has in much of North Africa, Arabia and Asia, although there are still theocratic governments to this day. As a general rule, separating religion from politics seems like a good idea to most people – generations have fought for the right to follow the religion of their choice and to be governed by a government that acts for all groups in society and not for the benefit of one particular religious group.
In the last two decades paganism has been particularly infiltrated by politics, a reverse of previous times, where it was religion that was influencing politics. Unfortunately, this seems to have started with right-wing ideology creeping into two particular forms of paganism – Asatru (Norse neo-paganism) and Druidism (Celtic neo-paganism). This seems to have happened primarily in America, with members of extemist right-wing and fascist groups aligning themselves with European pagan paths. One must stress that this is and always was a tiny minority, but certainly is sufficient to cause widespread alarm, disgust and discomfort. This is rather ironic, given that extremist groups such as the KKK in the USA are ostensibly Christian and would generally condemn any form of Paganism, Catholicism, Judaism in particular and any other non-Christian religion.
Attempts to stifle and eliminate this extremism within paganism must be applauded but unfortunately it has not entirely succeeded and what has happened, perhaps as a reaction, is a rapid rise in the polar opposite extreme within paganism. Far-left groups have now infiltrated paganism, to the extent that far-left idiology is becoming potrayed as the norm. Certainly many of the pagan media and many pagan organisations have embraced far-left idiology with great zeal, regardless of the actual politial leanings of the general pagan public.
From my personal experience, most pagans are not extremists of either the far-right or the far-left – they mosty fall somewhere in the middle. Many pagans also appear to have little or no interest in party politics, or social and political issues, at least as far as their pagan faith is concerned. However, many pagan organisations seem to ignore this and function as if political ideology were an innate part of pagan faith.
Paganism, being rather diverse and nebulous, has no obvious links to any political party, ideology or standpoint. Attempts to claim paganism by either the far-right or the far-left are rather disingenuous in my opinion. While there are precedents of pagan practitioners (such as Druids) being responsible for fairness and judgment in the past, this is a wide-reaching area of life, that is very much open to personal interpretation. Certainly modern pagans have no offical function within the judicial system, local or national government or within political parties, so this argument in realtion to the past becomes somewhat irrelevant on a practical level, in today’s largely secular world.
From a fairly neutral point of observation, the politicization of paganism serves only to create more conflict and emnity, disenfranchize people and demoralise those who are hovering around the centre or wish to keep their personal political views separate from their spiritual faith. Objectively, relative to other religious/spiritual paths, paganism must look totally ridiculous. Buddhists are not expected to become communists as part of their faith or Mormons expected to become fascists!
Looking at other faiths: Christianity contains a huge spectrum of people, from the far-right bible basher to the bleeding heart liberal, and generally speaking, it is accepted that people have the right to act politically, free of religious interference. The same can be said of Judaism, which varies enormously from the Hasidic and Haredi Judaism (orthodox) through to secular Judaism, again none of these are necessarily linked to any political movement or ideology.
To date, one can clearly see that the far-left has become much more successful in infiltrating paganism than the far-right. While this may be preferable to far-right dominance, it is not good for the pagan movement as a whole, which has only fairly recently acquired some official and legal acceptance in America, Europe and other parts of the world. Paganism has never previously been tied to a political movement, but it is in danger of becoming fused with far-left ideology, at least within the power structures of modern paganism. This is an extremely unhealthy situation, in my opinion, and can only lead to further polarization or possibly a mass exodus of those who do not wish to ‘kow-tow’ to this unelected and non-representaive new orthodoxy, which has little or nothing to do with actual neo-pagan practice.
So far I have seen people being ostracised and ‘cancelled’ because they do not subscribe to far-left ideology. One can understand such treatment for actual fascists and far-right supporters – but this negative and bullying treatment is being meted out on those who simply don’t wish to be political or those who have any objections to far-left ideology being propagated as the ‘new normal’. Smearing people as fascists is an easy way of dismissing people’s concerns about creeping politicization within paganism, but sadly this is now a common practice from some prominent pagans and indeed some pagan organisations.
For instance, people have been ejected from pagan organisations, often based on hearsay without explanation, without the right of appeal and with no evidence of immoral or unacceptable behaviour being provided. This amounts to a digital or virtual lynching, even if it does not include any actual physical violence. Obviously people who are violent or theoretical extremists (on either extreme) should not be tolerated as they are spreading discord. However, many people, who are quite sedate, not extreme are being caught in the crossfire, simply because they don’t agree with the current forced politicized direction of the pagan community.
If paganism is to survive as a viable and open-minded, tolerant path into the future, then it must not be allowed to be highjacked by politics, of any variety, be it far-right or far-left. People have fought too hard for the separation of religion and politics and a secular society for it to be allowed to sneak back in through ideological subtefuge.
We have the right to practice our pagan faith as we see fit, and if that includes the total absence of politics, then that should be not only permitted but encouraged. If individuals wish to tie their political colours to their pagan mast, that is their own affair as an individual person, but for the rest of us, we should not be coerced into complying. This coercion is exactly what is happening right now – people are being dictated to, bullied and coerced by political extremists from both directions into compliance or otherwise having to face being silenced or ostracized.
I dream of a time when people can just pursue their pagan faith without being dictated to by the ‘great and the good’ who think they have the right to make moral and political judgments on our behalf. We must stand up against this. I for one will not be silenced, no matter what it costs me. Freedom of religion and freedom of thought is something that humanity has fought hard for – this cannot be reversed, extremism is a cancer within paganism and must be resisted at all costs.