(The Wild Hunt posted an edited version of this as a letter to them due to the length of this version of the letter needing to be cut roughly in half. This is the full length version.)
This past month of March, I was able to be a part of Cherry Hill Seminary’s conference about Paganism & Its Discontents as part of a panel about Declaration 127 and what we can do now. Attending this panel made me think about inclusivity in the Pagan community as a whole as I mulled over how Heathenry struggles with it. While this might at first be about Heathenry, it does address inclusivity and can be applied within the greater pagan community.
There was a consensus between the panel members that Declaration 127 doesn’t go far enough in its calling out folkism and inclusivity. While the statement embraced by many inclusive Heathen groups does have extremely supportive words concerning inclusivity, I’ve heard many state that by focusing the statement primarily on the Asatru Folk Assembly (AFA), it weakens a statement that many Heathen groups want it to address: inclusivity and universalism over exclusion and folkism.
To clarify things for those unfamiliar with Declaration 127 and why it is considered an important statement concerning inclusive Heathenry:
Declaration 127 is taken from the Hávamál which is a poem of wise thoughts, supposedly created by Odin himself. The Hávamál usually found amongst other writings in the Poetic Edda.
Hávamál verse 127 as written on the Declaration 127 page: “When you see misdeeds, speak out against them, and give your enemies no frið” (frið/frith is an old English word meaning peace, safety, and security).
Declaration 127 was a reaction to the AFA’s folkish statement that Heathenry, in their eyes, is for straight married couples and their white, blond-haired, blue-eyed children. Many Heathen groups have signed the declaration in the years since its creation, but some don’t feel it goes far enough.
Let’s start with some definitions.
Folkism (the root of the AFA’s view on Heathenry) is the exclusionary belief that your ancestral connections (your DNA and heritage) makes your connection to a spiritual practice more special than someone without said connection. Folkism also tends to feel that only people of that heritage, in this case Heathenry, should be practiced by people with that genetic ancestry.
Exclusivity is all about restricting access to something. Folkism in this case is about restricting access to Heathenry to only those who have descended from Scandinavian, Icelandic, or Germanic people.
Inclusivity is about including all sorts of people. In this case, inclusive Heathenry is about including all sorts of people except those who are exclusive. That can be a confusing statement when you look at it.
Inclusivity is the solution to the exclusionary basis of folkism. And as such, I want to examine inclusivity in more detail so that, by better understanding what inclusivity entails, we as heathens and even we as pagans as a whole can work at being more inclusive.
White nationalists are all about excluding races that are different from their own. When most people think of inclusivity, they first think about making sure to include people of all different colors and nationalities. At its core, inclusivity starts with making sure that people of various races feel accepted and comfortable in your Pagan group.
Folkism takes that ancestral connection and states that you can’t fit in if you don’t have the blood connection. Inclusivity counters this by letting people from all races join into the spiritual practice. Folkism creates an exclusionary gateway in which to keep those people that don’t fit what they want out of their faith.
Who are we to speak for the gods as to whom they call to work with them and who is not acceptable to them?The Urban Druid (and other inclusive Pagans)
I don’t dare have the hubris to say I can speak for the gods. Do you?
I’ll take defining folkism and exclusivity a step further. By thinking that because of your blood connection to your ancestors, you have an edge over others or a special connection over others who also practice the same spiritual path and don’t have the same heritage.
There’s nothing wrong with finding out you have a strong Germanic connection through a DNA test and that makes you look into Heathenry or whatever your Pagan path is, but it is folkish to take it to the next level and approach it that it makes you somehow special that you have said ancestry in your past. Curiosity and exploring a pagan path due to your ancestors is natural and inspires many to follow the paths we do. Let your heritage inspire you to explore, just don’t use it to put yourself above others or keep others out from your spiritual practice.
NOTE: I’m not going to address cultural appropriation in this other than this statement, but it is a very legitimate concern. Taking a spirituality from a minority group by the dominant group is not what I’m recommending. Some minority cultures do need to protect their faith from cultural appropriation and misuse. Their thoughts and opinions about what is or isn’t cultural appropriation is up for them to decide.
If we make sure to allow people of other races and nationalities to share in our pagan practices, we can only be richer for it. Again, the gods pick who they pick. They call out to whomever they call out.
Another level of inclusivity that many view as the next step is to make sure to include LGBTQIA+ people. The AFA and their exclusionary folkish belief stated that Heathenry should be for straight couples. That is another obvious exclusionary practice that many already address in their current striving for inclusivity.
We need to make sure our definition and goal for inclusivity is based around the approach that no matter a person’s sexual identity and outlook, they are welcomed in our groups. Much like the stance on race and inclusivity, making sure to be welcoming to LGBTQIA+ people is a big priority.
Another goal of being inclusive is being aware of people with disabilities and making sure to include them and address their needs in your group practice. Disabilities can range from physical issues that limit how far someone can walk to go to ritual to having chairs for those who need to sit at times to keeping in mind that some with PTSD or CPTSD might need to have their eyes open during a group meditation (fire trancing is the safe option here) to other mental or emotional disabilities. I had someone with cerebral palsy tell me that the ADF grove I belong to was the only pagan group she had run into that made sure they accommodated her and her needs for ritual and made her feel welcome.
With mental and emotional disabilities, I’m including depression, anxiety, autism, and the other invisible disabilities that people can suffer from. To be truly inclusive, we need to be aware of the struggles people can experience and be sensitive to them. It’s easy to judge someone who is suffering from issues you can’t see, but by doing so, you only push people who might be amazing members of your group if you could better understand them and their issues.
An aspect of inclusivity that some think is another no-brainer but I’ve seen not given as much attention is being inclusive of people of all genders. I’m stating this separately from the LGBTQIA+ point because I’m talking about inclusivity around people’s gender that they identify with.
I’ve seen this issue in the various pagan groups I’ve been in, but I’ve really seen it be an issue in Heathenry—women are either not included or truly treated as equals. This includes those who identify as women as well. There’s a reason why more inclusive Heathens use the insult of “Brosatru” when talking about how some male Heathens act like heathenry is more for men than for women.
Brosatru (a play on “bro” culture and Ásatrú) tends to be a boisterous and chauvinistic approach to heathenry. It’s about being loud, aggressive, argumentative, bellicose, and viewing heathenry as being for strong warrior types. Brosatru looks down at those who don’t fit that mold. Women tend to be viewed by those with Brosatru thinking more as supportive types for those who view themselves as heathen warrior types.
With the Brosatru types, there are winners and losers as well as right and wrong in viewing things. Arguments and debates for them are less about logic and reason and more about being loud and brash and boastful so while the Brosatru culture is usually very argumentative and won’t back down from a debate or verbal conflict, it is hardly a proper debate and lacks substance. It is usually instead another tactic by them to try and overpower someone by talking over them or being the loudest voice.
On a more subtle level, most men don’t realize they are excluding women in their pagan groups. Much of what I’ve seen is unconscious in nature. It can be anything from ignoring women when they speak up or ask questions in a group setting to interrupting women when they are speaking to choosing to argue or debate when a woman wants to discuss a subject rather than exchange thoughts and opinions to deepen mutual understanding.
Inclusivity taken to the above stated levels is a noble goal, but there is more that can be done.
Many don’t think about being inclusive towards other Pagan faiths or other belief systems. Many pagans have a very harsh view of Christianity and will speak out about it in public settings, but that can even be alienating and exclusive for those members of your pagan group who still have one foot in pagan practice and one foot in Christianity, Judaism, or Muslim practices.
There might be a significant other who isn’t Heathen, Wiccan, or whatever your spiritual practice is attending a ritual who unfortunately overhears members insulting Christianity. It can make them feel unwelcome and excluded. That can impact the pagan member of your group because their SO feels like their beliefs are attacked when they are around. That puts a strain on your fellow member and the group instead of making their SO feel welcomed no matter their personal faith.
It even happens within the greater Pagan community. I’ve heard Heathens talk about Wiccans as if they aren’t real Pagans. We are all Pagans when it comes down to it. Strength through connection is important for us as a whole so we can help lift each other’s pagan faiths up. By making fun of or insulting other Pagan faiths, you creating a hostile environment which makes certain types of people better than others—thereby setting up an exclusive feeling to your group.
There’s one more level of inclusivity that many don’t take into consideration due to just how subtly exclusionary it can be—including all types of knowledge levels and interests within your own faith and practice.
I’ve seen newbies feel excluded due to their not knowing more about the faith they are curious about. More experienced and knowledgeable Pagans might respond to someone’s questions with derision or by not explain more when someone is confused. When questions about lore or magical practice comes up, treating the newbie as lesser for not knowing the basics about the faith or how things work can be truly alienating to someone who feels a pull to your group’s practice, but then make them feel excluded for not knowing more. It rarely inspires someone to want to learn more or encourages them to ask more questions.
This also includes friends tagging along with their pagan friend or a significant other attending to support their loved one. If they feel excluded, that will get back to their pagan friend and it will sour opinions on your group.
A final point on exclusivity I’ve witnessed is by how active a member is. I’ve seen a group take notice of just how frequently a member helped out, how frequently they attended events, as well as their financial contributions to the group. They then gave preferential treatment to those who were more active which thereby set up a clique of those who were insiders and those who weren’t.
It can be a fine line though when someone who barely attends events or participates expects to be considered important versus someone who has been unable to come due to health, financial, or other constraints just wants to be respected as a member. It’s the special treatment that causes inclusivity issues, rather than respecting them as normal members who have legitimate thoughts, opinions, and are just as valuable as a normal member. You might count on the members who attend more frequently to help out with rituals while someone who doesn’t might not get an important role, but also aren’t excluded or lessened due to not attending as much as others do.
To summarize how to be more inclusive, we need to make sure to make people of all types feel welcome: different races, nationalities, sexual preferences and identities, genders, other faiths including non-pagan ones, and newbies or the curious as well.
Ideas on How to Be More Inclusive
What are some ideas to help take action and be more inclusive? Here’s some of my thoughts.
Education. We know what we know, and we know what we don’t know. What people frequently don’t take into consideration is what they don’t know that they don’t know. If you want to be more inclusive, learn more about people who are different from you. Without learning more about people of different races, cultures, nationalities, genders, sexual identities, faiths, and pagan practices, you won’t be able to be truly inclusive. The struggles the LGBTQIA+ people have is different from those of different faiths which are different from other races.
It’s an easy mistake to make to think you know about someone else’s struggles who is very different from you. There are struggles being a minority of any type have that definitely those of are of the majority will only understand by following the social media posting of said minorities.
When someone who is very different from you or who has been deeply involved in the struggles of a group that is usually excluded speaks up, listen. Put aside your ego. Put aside your thoughts of “I know better” because you honestly probably don’t know what their struggles are.
Listen more than you speak when dealing with others, especially on subjects that they are more knowledgeable about.
We all started out knowing very little when we started on our pagan paths. Some explored myths and that got them interested in learning more about Heathenry, Wicca, witchcraft, Vodoun, or whatever spiritual practice they ended up pursuing. By reaching out to the newbies who might be lost or trying to see if your practice works for them, you can help them feel included. Introduce them to other members who might be able to answer the questions you aren’t able to. Direct them to books and websites to check out when they get home from your event.
Be aware of how you and your group speak about, interact with, and respect others who are not directly part of your group. In Heathenry, the concept is called innengarð/innengarth/innengard which is those who are inside your group identity (members of your kindred, grove, coven, family, and friends to members of your faith in general to members of your race, gender, community, city, state, or country) versus those outside of it which is known as the outengarð/outengarth/outengard.
Innengarð and outengarð was historically about those within the law and the protection of it versus those who are outside of it. Folkism is all about weaponizing the innengarð/outengarð concept and turning it into us vs. them. It’s what drives white nationalism, racism, and other exclusionary viewpoints based around dislike and hatred towards the Other.
I want to take another look at the statement the core of Declaration 127 is based around: “When you see misdeeds, speak out against them, and give your enemies no frið.“
A flaw I’ve seen with inclusivity and Declaration 127 is that most feel that Declaration 127’s approach to inclusivity is a passive way of being. If you let in people of different races or members of the LGBTQIA+ community into your group, you are upholding those words from Odin.
Odin is a god of action, not passivity. Throughout the Hávamál, Odin gives sage advice to the listener/reader on how to interact with others as a traveler and as a heathen. Hávamál verse 127 is about speaking out when you see evil. When you see exclusivity in your pagan group or in the world, speaking out against it is action.
Turning a blind eye for the sake of peace is not action, but instead it enables the evil to thrive in the darkness. True inclusivity is an active way of being. Making sure you are including people and making them feel comfortable enough to ask questions, to observe knowing they can ask questions, as well as making them feel welcome no matter who they are, you can help grow your group and be truly inclusive.
It is hard to speak out. It is often easier to turn away, but doing so for the sake of peace is not action. It lets the problem fester. Inclusivity must become an active way of being.