Let me start with an admission. With all the back-and-forth that Heathens have been having about racism, tribalism, folkishness, etc. I am so glad that I have never been called to a path in Heathenry/Asatru/Northern Traditions. It’s not my intention to offend those who are called to these paths, but I’m sure many will be offended, at least in part because outrage seems to be the default mode of online discourse in many of these communities.
I feel like Heathens have a certain stigma to accommodate, even if they aren’t white supremacist, even if they adhere to the more “universalist” interpretations of Heathenism. The fact there are so many white supremacist voices within the community is horrifying. To feel the need to put your time and energy figuring out what place, if any, these people have in your tradition – well, it has to be a drag on the whole tradition. Not only that, since people outside the Pagan and Polytheist community don’t know the difference between the various factions, it’s an embarrassment to everyone who calls themselves a Pagan and/or a Polytheist.
But let me move on to my main point here. There has been a loud and ongoing series of discussions, arguments, angry exchanges, accusations, defensive responses, (etc.) around the topic of Heathens and Racism. It has been a dominant topic within the Pagan/Polytheist online community for a while. I have already made my thoughts about this clear.
I have to make an observation for those Heathens who are striving to assert themselves as anti-racist.
Many of those who argue for an anti-racist Heathenism point to the ethic of Hospitality (which is one of the Nine Noble Virtues taught by some Heathen traditions). They argue that anti-immigrant, xenophobic rhetoric, policies, and violence are the opposite of hospitality. They argue that welcoming those who are different is a lauded virtue in the lore. That’s great. I am a believer in hospitality. I think there is much to be admired in using that spirit of generosity and hospitality as guiding principles. Another often repeated addition to this is that we should treat strangers as if they may be Gods in disguise, for there is a long tradition of just such stories.
But hospitality is dependent on a certain defined relationship. Someone is a host and someone is a guest. The host is the owner. The host belongs there. The guest is an outsider. No matter how gracious the host, the guest is always a guest, i.e. the outsider.
As Americans, we live in a land that is multi-racial and multi-cultural, as well as being open to people of different religions and immigrants from different parts of the world. All of these people are part of our country. Hospitality works fine when we are talking about welcoming people into our place of residence, and sometimes when we are talking about our small local organizations. But it breaks down when we try to apply a Heathen hospitality to a larger societal scope.
Heathens don’t “own” towns, much less states or the country. People of northern European descent don’t “own” these, either. They may own property and participate in the political process and economic life, but American values and laws guarantee that entry into these activities is not determined by race, ethnicity, or religion.
Further, everyone in this country of northern European descent is descended from an immigrant. Thinking of those Americans of northern European descent as our society’s “hosts” and people of darker skin or other religions as our society’s “guests” is a thought trap.
It’s a manifestation of the same racist thinking that assumes that a default American is a person of white race. This country obviously had people of Native American background long before the Europeans showed up. People of African descent have been on these lands for nearly as long as Europeans. Chinese people and other east Asian populations have been in this country for hundreds of years. We should not think of ourselves as a white European population with non-European guests. That never was a true way of thinking about it, and as time goes on, it is less and less representative of the reality of the American population.
So, to be honest, I don’t see how hospitality on its own can really encompass true inclusion in a multi-cultural and diverse society. Those of us who look like what our culture has told us is a default American identity – i.e. cis-gendered, able-bodied white people – need to realize that this doesn’t automatically mean the country is “ours”. The inclusion and participation of others who don’t fit that definition should not be defined by whether we are feeling generous that day. African Americans, Asian Americans, Jewish Americans, Muslim Americans – these are not our guests. They are fellow Americans, who have an equal share in our society.
Since I am not a Heathen, there will be those within those traditions who won’t even consider my voice in this conversation. But since the conversations happening within these communities reflect on the larger Pagan and Polytheist communities, I am impacted by those conversations. I hope that they can embrace a way of thinking that is more in line with full rejection of xenophobia and racism. I think that will require moving beyond an ethic based on simple hospitality.
If you are curious about the Heathen anti-racist movement, one of the most prominent groups is Heathens United Against Racism (HUAR).