Sunday, January 7, 2018

A New Dawn for Ásatrú: New Clarity Against Racism

As someone who has for many years been sounding the alarm about the dangers of right-wing, white supremacist and racist elements in Paganism, particularly American versions of Norse Paganism, and who has continually called on Pagans to completely reject any and all expressions of racism and white supremacy, I am happy to devote this first blog post of the New Year to praising the major American Ásatrú (aka Heathen or Norse Pagan) organization, the Troth, for its increasingly brave stance in these matters. The Troth has always been the most open and tolerant, and to that extent, left-wing Norse Pagan organization  in America, but in its intention to serve as an umbrella for as broad a range of American Heathens as possible, it has not always taken the racism issue head-on, not wanting to alienate more right-wing and ethnically-oriented Norse Pagans. However, as the anti-immigrant and white supremacist views of prominent right-wing American Norse Pagans like Stephen McNallen have become increasingly evident, the Troth has been more firmly and directly rejecting and denouncing racist sentiment and white supremacist identity construction, and declaring that racism has no place in the Troth. If one goes to the main Troth web page to see its mission statement, this is what they will find:

"...We welcome all people, whatever their religious, cultural, or ancestral background, gender or sexual orientation, who have developed or wish to develop a relationship with our Gods and Goddesses, and would like to know more about Asatru or other forms of Heathenry." (updated as of February 1, 2016).

Note, too, that the Troth  also takes a firm stand of inclusiveness toward the LBGT population and gender diversity.

In many way, in many places, the Troth has taken steps to stamp out the lingering, smoldering embers of white supremacy and racism that are an unfortunate legacy of the past history of Norse Paganism, with  respect to the continuing efforts by Nazis, neo-Nazis and other white supremacists and racists to appropriate Norse Pagan heritage and symbols for their own use. Events like the "Unite the Right"  march Charlottesville in August of 2017 have demonstrated that there continue to be disturbing links between white supremacy and a certain segment of the American Heathen population. Therefore, while I salute the Troth for more and more openly and firmly denouncing racism and white supremacy, the battle is not yet won and perhaps can never be, considering how deeply rooted racism and white supremacy are in American society and history. Indeed, when the right-wingers at Charlottesville declared that they simply wanted to preserve American heritage by protecting statues of Confederate soldiers, they had a point: racism, racial segregation and white supremacy are indeed American traditions of very long standing. Of course, so was slavery, and just because something had a long duration, that does not mean it deserved to exist for the time that it did or that it should continue now. Applying this to Norse Paganism, we might also say that just because it existed in the past, that does not mean that it should exist or be revived now, unless it has something positive to contribute to the world today. If all it has to contribute is a Viking justification for racism, than it does not deserve any respect or support, and we should seeks its demise and disappearance as quickly as possible. The many very spiritual, profound and creative non-racist Norse Pagans I know in Iceland, Norway, Sweden and the USA have reassured me again and again that Norse Paganism can be a worthwhile experiment in blending ancient and modern cultural and religious elements, and I am happy to be in their company, while I reserve the right to walk away from racists and white supremacists.

The thorny issue around which all these discussions revolve is the complex status of modern Norse Paganism, whether we call it Heatheny, Ásatrú, Forn Sið/Sed or by some other term, as a religion rooted in the past history of one particular place and people, that is, the ancient Norse and Germanic peoples of Northern Europe and Iceland, that has now been revived in a world of constantly mixing identities and cultural diversity. It is rather like the English language: it developed among Anglo-Saxons in England but has not become a language spoken worldwide. If tomorrow, the queen of England were to declare that only those residing in England or possessing Angl-Saxon genes wlll henceforth be permitted to speak English, the world would laugh.  The gods, myths, texts and traditions of Norse Paganism are no longer exclusively Scandinavian (or Icelandic, or German, or Northern European, etc.) possessions.They have become the common property of mankind across the globe. There may always be those who will take the view that the whole point of Norse Paganism is to block out the diversity and complexity of modern life and take refuge in an imagined "pure" white, Northern European identity. For the rest of us, Norse Paganism is an interesting and inspiring religious and cultural tradition that was, yes, born in the North but now faces in all directions, much like Yggdrasil, the WORLD tree that is so central in Norse mythology.

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

#MeToo and #EarthToo: Stop Raping the Earth!

It has been a long time since I have come to put word to keyboard here, due to a busy fall semester and sheer exhaustion from trying to keep up with the endless barrage of dishonest statements, disheartening actions, and destructive policies coming out of the Trump White House. The new "tax reform" bill that will greatly enrich the already greatly rich and over time, bankrupt the government in order to destroy social programs that help the non-rich and the non-white  is only the last in a long list of insults and atrocities. I am losing hope that much can be done anytime soon to block the triumphal march of idiocy and hatefulness that Trump is leading, with the docile support of a supine Republican majority, many of whose members may also revile The Donald but are willing to go along with him for the sake of right-wing treats like tax cuts and the weakening of regulations on banks, telecom companies and other powerful corporate interests. I take heart that opposition is rising, and that the election of the Democrat Doug Jones over the disgusting Bible-thumper, child humper Roy Moore in Alabama, coming after the trouncing of pro-Trump candidates.

The defeat of the Roy Moore candidacy had much to do with a highly energized African-American electorate in Alabama, with black women turning out in astounding numbers bespeaking iron determination. There was a definite Civil Rights angle to this situation. Roy Moore had made a shocking statement during the campaign suggesting that he saw the slavery period as one that was better for American families than the current day. Doug Jones, in contrast, had, as U.S Attorney for the northern district of Alabama in the late 1990s, successfully prosecuted two KKK members who had been involved in the racially-motivated terrorist bombing of the Sixteenth Street Baptist church in Birmingham on September, 15, 1963 that caused the deaths of four young African-American girls. This was remembered and was one of the reasons Jones got such strong African-American support.  It is heartening that Jones had the courage to carry out these prosecutions, which resulted in the conviction of Thomas Edwin Blanton in 2001 and Bobby Frank Cherry in 2002 http://www.history.com/news/how-doug-jones-brought-kkk-church-bombers-to-justice. It is equally impressive and inspiring that African-Americans, especially black women, had not forgotten this important history and were eager to elevate a Civil Rights champion over a Civil War apologist in the election.

Of course, another major factor in Moore's defeat were the revelations of his past pursuit of teenaged girls when he was a district attorney in his thirties, in the early 1980s. The women who came forward to speak of their painful experiences being pressured by Moore to go on dates with them and to then, in some cases, endure various degrees of  molestation, were denounced by Moore and his most prominent supporter, President Trump, but a large enough segment of the Alabama electorate believed the women's stories, and this lessened white support for Moore, particularly among white women, enough so that the combination of lukewarm white support for Moore and red-hot black opposition made the difference. This came in the context of the flood of revelations of male sexual abuse of women in Hollywood, politics, and elsewhere that has ended the careers of powerful men from Bill O'Reilly to Harvey Weinstein to Matt Lauer to Al Franken. Social media played an important role, with many women using Twitter and the #MeToo hashtag to publicize their personal stories of abuse and pain.

Here, I want to suggest,from a more specifically Pagan angle, that the hashtag of #MeToo could be given an environmental equivalent, an #EarthToo campaign, that could be used to "out" egregious polluters and destroyers of the environment, past and present and to mobilize public sentiment against the devastation and desecration of our natural environment. When we think about the violation of women by men, we who are Pagans might take this a step further to confront the ugly practice of multinational corporations raping the earth for reasons of greed and lust for profit. I recall reading that in Lithuanian folklore, there was once a tradition of farmers asking the earth for forgiveness for causing it pain prior to forcibly opening the soil for tilling and sowing.

May this become a battle cry heard far and wide , so that corporate predators of Mother Earth will be treated to scorn and shame in 2018 as were sexual predators in 2017...#Earth Too!  Stop Raping the Earth!

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

The Wolf is Loose and Howling: Racism on Parade in Charlottesville

In Norse mythology, one of the first calamities that presages the total destruction of the world in the cataclysm of Ragnarok is the breaking free of the monstrous dog Garm, who is, I suspect, most likely an alternate form of the destructive wolf Fenrir. Well, I would not want to suggest that we are now on the edge of the total ruin of the world, but I think what we just saw in Charlottesville, represents the breaking loose of our own beast of destruction, namely, the racism, neo-Nazism and White Supremacy that were proudly on parade in an American city on August 11 and 12, marching in military formation, bearing semiautomatic rifles, and chanting Nazi slogans like "Blood and Soil!" We have seen insult added to injury with the spectacle of the American president being either unable or unwilling to issue a clear, consistent condemnation of racism and neo-Nazism, even when the Charlottesville situation turned tragically violent. Heather Heyer, a young woman who came to express opposition to racism and Fascism, was slain by a young white male Nazi enthusiast who ran her down with a car, putting 19 other people in the hospital as well.

We have seen Donald Trump making disconcerting expressions of equivocation, first condemning "hatred and bigotry," as per the prepared statement that he was reading from  on Saturday the 12th, rather robotically, but then veering off and adding, in a much more animated voice, "on many sides... on MANY sides." He made a second attempt at a condemnation on Monday, reading prepared remarks that were indeed fairly clear and straightforward in denouncing hatred and bigotry. However, in a press conference on Tuesday, he again either went off-track or let his mask drop to show his true feelings, saying that "there's blame on both sides." Trump appeared to be drawing a moral equivalency between the racists and neo-Nazis  and those who had turned out to protest against them,  the bulk of them peaceful, some of them willing to use force, the second group being members and supporters of the "Antifa," anti-Fascist movement.

The President was correct that there was violence on both sides, but he conveniently overlooks a number of important facts:  (a) most of the counter-protesters were peaceful, unarmed and unthreatening; (b)  many of the right-wing forces were dressed in military-style clothing and were bearing semi-automatic rifles and other military-style weapons, which were extremely threatening; (c) the Antifa were equipped with only the most simple of weapons, sticks and stones and cans of mace, some with bottles that they hurled; (d) a cursory examination of American history reveals that we went to war to oppose Nazism and Fascism in WW II, which means that the counter-protesters were on the side generally understood as standing for good, whereas those who came out supporting neo-Nazism and White Supremacy were on the side generally condemned as morally reprehensible by most people--but not Trump. He seemed to be suggesting that those who were marching to  promote Fascism, neo-Nazism, White Supremacy and racism, and those who came out to oppose them, were equally to blame for unhappy times in Charlottesville. If the racists and neo-Nazis had been allowed to march in peace, everything would have been fine.

Would it really? No problem to have hate-chanting, weapon-wielding, torch-bearing Nazis marching in our streets,intimidating and terrorizing other Americans?

The presence of the racists and Nazis in Charlottesville was bad enough, and the president's response a further assault on decency, but there is a specifically Pagan angle to this that I am very sorry to have to report. Some of the White Supremacists in Charlottesville were bearing Pagan symbols, associating themselves with Norse-Germanic Paganism. This is the very kind of thing that led me to create this blog in the first place, and here it is again, an ugly distortion of Paganism to serve far-right, fascist ends, twisted into the service of racism and White Supremacy. This is a call to battle for all of us who believe in a liberal, tolerant Paganism. We must stand up for diversity and tolerance and against those who wish to define  Paganism in racial and militaristic terms, the combination of which produces such toxic brews as Nazism and White Supremacy. This is deadly serious business. Stand up, speak out, as peacefully and firmly as you can, avoiding conflict when you can, but engaging when you must.

May the Gods give us strength.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

President Loki

Any rich religious tradition supplies us with many mirrors and windows through which to gaze at both our world and ourselves, the outer and the inner. Certainly the Norse Pagan tradition, which was already old before the Vikings ever set sail upon the ocean, is such a prism of imaginative possibilities. Today, as my outer eye was reading the New York Times and reflecting on the latest tweets and tantrums of President Trump, my other eye was looking into the mirror of Norse mythology and seeing the god Loki, and it occurred to me that there is a lot of Loki in our president. Both are born troublemakers who are good at stirring up strife and slinging insults and who seem to glory in creating chaos and discord. Trump clawed his way to the top of the Republican pack while slamming his competitors with pejorative nick-names like "Little Marco," "Lyin' Ted" and "Low-Energy Jeb." Then when he had the nomination in his pocket he turned his attention to the Democratic candidate on whom he bestowed the belittling title of "Crooked Hillary." How much this childish name-calling succeeded in damaging his opponents is unclear, but it may well have helped sour voters on these other possibilities as well as subconsciously charmed wavering voters to incline towards Trump as an entertaining rascal whose mockery and aggressiveness they found endearing. There are, after all, many people who do not follow politics closely, and may have voted for entirely superficial reasons or simply wanted to express displeasure with the status quo, for which purpose Trump, with his hateful, insulting rhetoric and disregard for any norms or decorum, was ideally suited.

This is much like how Loki unloads buckets of scorn and gossip on the other gods in the banquet described in the Eddic poem Lokasenna. Loki eventually gets so caught up in the joy of mockery that he cannot resist confessing that he was involved in the murder of Odin's son, Baldur. The gods' patience runs out when they hear this, and they seize Loki and bind and imprison him for the duration of history, until the apocalypse of Ragnarok when he breaks free to become the champion of the giants, the demons and the dead, who he commands in the final battle that destroys the world. One could imagine Trump's career taking a somewhat similar course. If the other Republicans in Congress get worn out by Trump's endless drama, bottomless vindictiveness and unceasing ad hominem attacks on anyone who displeases or opposes him, and if Trump's capacity for careless talk leads him to confess to serious crimes beyond the questionable actions he has already acknowledged in his diarrhea-like Twitter feed, the Republicans may decide to team up with their sworn enemies, the Democrats, in impeaching this reckless ogre and getting him out of office, and if not into prison, at least out of the political system. However, Trump's "forgotten man" supporters, who see him as their standard-bearer and messiah and seem impervious to any criticism of their savior, may well rally to him when he leaves office and give him new power to shape public opinion, promote conspiracy theories, and stir up angry trouble from a position as the head of a media outlet like Breitbart or FOX News.

Loki is also the father of some rather unpleasant and troublesome children, and the conflict-of-interest controversies swirling around Trump's daughter Ivanka and son Donald Jr., not to mention Ivanka's husband Jared Kushner provide interesting parallels. Trump's affection for authoritarian, dictatorial leaders like Putin of Russia, Duterte of the Phillpines, and El-Sisi of Egypt, not to mention his love of fossil fuel products and companies regardless of the damage they cause to the environment, also brings to mind Loki's warm relations with monsters who are bent on the destruction of the world as we know it. In my previous posting, I spoke of the Midgard Serpent as an analogy for fossil fuel structures like pipelines that encircle our planet and weave in and out of the earth. Well, in Norse tradition, the Serpent is the son of none other than Loki. If Trump is Loki or like Loki, it stands to reason he would have great affection for a monstrous entity that has the entire planet in its grip and no love for humanity.

So, readers, what do you think? Is Trump America's Loki? Is he a destructive force than can be restrained, but not eliminated from our world? Who will be our Thor to rid us of this menace?  Or will we never be rid of him, because many find his poisonous words and chaotic, maddening maneuvering clever and entertaining, and in sync with their own wishes for aggression, revenge  and destruction?

=======================//======================

Addendum:  Since writing this entry, I have discovered that I am not the only person to perceive a similarity between Loki and Trump. See https://thebaffler.com/latest/donald-trump-trickster-god   and http://screenrant.com/marvel-vote-loki-comic-trump-president/

Friday, July 14, 2017

The Black Snake, the Midgard Serpent--and Us

Where I live in the Hudson Valley, NY State area, my local community is facing a terrible environmental threat. This is the construction of a huge natural gas-fired power plant, the CPV Power Plant in Wawayanda NY, that will belch out massive pollution into the air and water, threatening health and well-being throughout our area, poisoning our water supply and  running the risk of massive explosions.

See http://www.blog.protectorangecounty.org/ to learn more. If you live in the Orange County area, the web site will tell you action that you can take. Time is of the essence! The final permit needed for the project will be decided by early August, so the more people call and write to Governor Cuomo, who will make the final decision, the better our chances to stop this nightmare. Tell Andrew Cuomo to not approve the permit, because we need to stop the Power Plant. Call the governor at 1-518-474-8390. Call every day if you can. You can also leave comments at https://www.governor.ny.gov/contact-iframe. Cuomo gives every indication of wanting to run for president in 2020. Let him know that if he stops this project, you will consider supporting him in any future presidential campaign, and that if he does not, you will take your business elsewhere!

I have decided to reflect on the situation through the lens of Norse Mythology.  Is the threat like the Frost Giants looking to snuff out the sun, or is it the Fire Demon Surt looking to burn up the earth? Well, both of those could be said to symbolize the current state of danger, but there is another mythological image that works even better: Thor fighting the Midgard Serpent. What made me think of this is something I heard today  at a protest today in front of The Threat. A Native American man, a descendant of the local Lenape Native Americans who ancient burial ground is threatened by the CPV plant, spoke about the Indian myth of a "black snake" that poses a danger to the earth. He argued that the massive push by oil and gas companies to build pipelines and drill for gas and oil everywhere as much and as fast as possible was the modern version of the Black Snake. A second speaker noted that just as the snake can burrow into the ground and grow multiple heads that reach into all directions, so does the Millennium Pipeline, the local structure providing distribution of fracked gas in this area, represent a hydra-headed menace growing day by day as construction of this and related pipelines proceeds. Pondering the snake image, I thought of the Midgard Serpent, Thor's ancient enemy, who he must fight again and again, never quite vanquishing but hopefully keeping in check.

This pipeline and this power plant, and all the other power plants and pipelines that similarly threaten other communities, are our Midgard Serpent. We must, like Thor, raise our hammers to fight it back. Victory will not come all at once, or it may only be partial, or it may never come, but we must fight.

Protect the Earth. Protect Midgard, the only world we humans have. Remember Thor.  Fight back the Serpent. This is our duty.

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Global Depression

Dear Readers,

I have never before let this blog fall silent for so long. It is a measure of how terribly dispirited I have been feeling, watching the Trump presidency unfold. Almost every day there is a new outrage, a new insult to intelligence, a new threat to either the fabric of American society, to our international relations, or to the health of the planet. It is simply overwhelming. Trump goes to Saudi Arabia and embraces the authoritarian dictator Abdel Fattah el-Sisi of Egypt, not to mention the unelected rulers of the Saudi royal family, a monarchy straight out of the Middle Ages that exports a highly fundamentalist form of Islam that feeds into the Islamic extremism of Al-Qaeda and ISIS, while hurling insults and threats at Iran, which despite its flaws, is a country where people actually get to vote for their leaders in relatively free elections, unlike Egypt or Saudi Arabia. Then he goes to Brussels, the headquarters of the European Union, and criticizes the leaders of Europe for not paying more for the NATO alliance, even while refusing to reaffirm America's commitment to the basic principle of the NATO alliance, the "one-for-all and all-for-one" idea that any attack on any NATO country will be viewed as an attack on all NATO countries and mobilize the entire alliance to repel the aggression.

It is hard to contemplate Trump's eagerness to berate America's NATO allies and his unwillingness to restate America's commitment without feeling deeply worried that he is signaling to Russia that America is unconcerned about Russia's invasion of Crimea and intervention in Eastern Ukraine, which could embolden Putin and his generals to think about further actions to destabilize, weaken and possibly reclaim parts of the former Soviet Union, most crucially, the Baltic States. And now this week, his announcement that the US will pull out of the Paris Climate Accord is the most sickening moment of all. Like Hitler and Mussolini proudly denouncing international cooperation in the 1930s as Germany and Italy quit the League of Nations, Trump has expressed contempt for the nearly 200 countries that worked together to craft that finely-balanced, far-sighted accord, and proclaimed once more that "America First" is his guiding star, oblivious to the fact that rejecting  this agreement will mean America becoming marginalized or even irrelevant in further discussions on the single greatest issue facing mankind today: the fate of our planet and the conditions for all life on earth.

In explaining his decision to abandon the Paris treaty the other day, Trump said that he is tired of other countries laughing at America, and that they won't be laughing any more. I think this statement give us insight into a central paranoia within Trump World, the nagging suspicion that he is not properly respected by other people--"they're laughing at me''--which now, in his thinking, applies to America as well. While Trump is not America, it is true that for the next several years, he is the face America shows to the world, and to that extent, how other countries see Trump is how they will see America. However, I strongly doubt that people in other countries will now be laughing less at America with Trump as head of state. It may even be the opposite. The reactions, however, are not limited to laughter. I sense that people in Europe and elsewhere are shaking their heads in disgust, feeling sad about America's declining status as a leading country, and some may even be crying instead of laughing.

I also wonder what this does to Paganism.  Trump's continuing use of anti-Muslim and anti-foreigner rhetoric, his continuing push for a nonsensical ban on travel to America from a number of Muslim-majority countries,  and the stepped up raids and arrests of undocumented workers from Mexico and Latin America,  are all sure to be received well by right-wing Americans who love to see non-white, non-Christian people harassed and demeaned, even if such actions do nothing to improve their lot in today's dysfunctional, winner-take-all economy, in which automation and corporate greed do as much to displace jobs as any foreign trade agreements. At least they can feel that they are "better" than "those people," those non-white, non-Christian Others who they enjoy scorning and/or hating and/or fearing. I assume that some right-wing Pagans will also enjoy this kind of elevation of white, European-descended Americans over non-white, non-European descended others. But what about the Christian element? Do right-wing Pagans ignore this aspect of Trumpism? Perhaps some ex-Christian, right wing Pagans will actually be persuaded to return to Christianity, seeing this as their best option for upholding their racialized sense of identity and their attachment to European heritage in this age of Trump. Others may take a more "a la carte" approach, embracing Trump's scorn for non-white, non-European people, especially Muslims, Mexicans and Latin Americans which is also expressed, more subtly, in his disinterest in any government action to aid African-Americans, while choosing to overlook Trump's appeals to Christian identity.

For Pagans who feel a strong connection to European culture and heritage, Trump's pro-Russian, anti-NATO, anti-EU leanings pose an interesting challenge. Most  European Pagans in formerly Soviet-controlled lands are pleased to be out of the Soviet Union--or in the case of Central European countries like Hungary, Poland, Czech Republic and Slovakia,out of the Soviet Bloc--and are are not eager to return to some Putinized mafia-state recreation of the Soviet Empire. Will they and their counterparts in America feel gratified by President Trump weakening European defenses against Russian aggression, whether this be outright invasion as in Crimea, borderland conflict as in Eastern Ukraine, cyber attacks against former Soviet states as happened in Estonia in 2007, or interference in election campaigns as was attempted in France and Germany this year, and seem to have played a role in the Brexit vote in the UK and the denigration of Hillary Clinton in the US presidential campaign last year? It could be that many American Pagans do not care or know enough about contemporary politics in Europe to take any stand at all. They may prefer to just stick to their European-derived traditions without thinking much about the current state of the Europe from which their traditions derive. My wish would be that Pagans would open their eyes to what is happening in the world and take a stand with European leaders, and European Pagan groups, in opposing Russian interference or domination of their countries, and in also opposing Trump's friendliness toward Russia until Russia ceases its interference in countries across Europe.

I would also hope that Pagans in America, all of whom claim to love nature and the gods of nature, would see Trump's cruel, ignorant and dangerous decision to pull out of the Paris Climate Accord as an affront to one of their primary religious values. Even if they are right-wing leaning, as I know some American Pagans are, I urge them to realize that Mother Earth--or whatever name the totality of our beautiful natural world has in any particular Pagan tradition or any particular Pagan's thinking--is calling out to us. I do believe that as Pagans, we have a duty to resist Trump to protect the Earth. This will be a test of whether Paganism in America is really a nature-based form of spirituality, as its followers have often asserted, or whether white tribalism is really the core value.

Right now, I find it hard to be optimistic.
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...