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Standing for Sanity

This post was written by Donald Michael Kraig
on January 28, 2013 | Comments (23)

Last weekend (January 26–27, 2013), I attended the 9th Annual Conference on Current Pagan Studies. This was not your typical Pagan festival or convention. The conference took place in a large room at the Claremont Graduate University in Claremont, California. Although anyone could attend, the presenters from all over the country were primarily university professors and students. Some of them are popularly known. Some of them have academic books and a few had more popular books.

With only brief breaks, we listened to the papers being presented by their authors for two full days. There were a few major themes that ran through the conference ranging from who is a Pagan (there has been a lot about this in the blogosphere recently) to the fact that there are more Pagans in the U.S. than there are members of some important Christian denominations. Those Christian groups, however, have built and support schools and hospitals while we have not. We have the numbers. Certainly we should be able to do this. One organization, the Cherry Hill Seminary, is trying to achieve federal accreditation. They have fulfilled most of the actual requirements for this, but they have not yet obtained the money, $10,000, needed just to apply.

Why is this an issue? Because if Pagans want to have the respect and recognition of other scholars and official groups they need to have their education accredited. Working within the greater professional communities becomes far easier with accredited degrees. For example, most, if not all, Pagan ministers serving incarcerated Pagans do so as volunteers. With accreditation, they can ask for, and demand, the same respect, recognition, and salaries as ministers of other faiths.

Of course, this ignores the existential question of what sort of community should Pagans have, but that is another issue.

The professors and students will go back to their universities and colleges (accredited ones) and teach their classes or ask questions with what was presented at the conference in their minds. As a result, although the actual attendance was less than 100 people, the influence and impact of the conference will spread far beyond those people. Their 10th annual conference next year will be even bigger. Their web site is here and their FaceBook page is here.

My Concern

Literally the day before I went to the conference I was contacted by one of the people who is attending and giving workshops at PantheaCon. “P-Con,” which I’ll be attending and giving two workshops, is nowhere near as formal as the conference (there’s a lot of entertainment, music, performances, rituals, and parties), and is intended for a much wider audience. There should be 2,000 people or more. It will literally take over a hotel for the weekend. The presenter (since we communicated via email I don’t have authorization to use her name) is a Pagan of color. I wrote to her saying, “Although most Pagans claim to be progressive (at least in certain areas, albeit there seems to be a growth in reactionary Pagans in parts of Europe and among some U.S. groups), I remain amazed at the distinct lack of Pagans of color. I think there needs to be a self-analysis of why people of color tend to avoid being identified as Pagan or want no part of it when, IMNSHO, they should find a welcome home among Pagans.”

On the second day of the conference, Amber DeneĂ©n Gray, gave a workshop titled, “On Racism, Misogyny, and Homophobia in Pagan Reconstructionist Communities.” I think much of what she had to say shocked a lot of people. She, a woman of color, had been told by the Pagan community she had joined that they were authentic, she should beware of  Neo-Pagans and Wiccans because they would hate her, and finally, that people of color and gays were not welcome in the Pagan tradition she was following!

I think the shock was due to the title of her paper which applied to “Pagan Reconstructionist Communities” in general rather than just her particular group. Also, it was shocking to see her justifiable anger, compounded by the fear she felt at coming to a conference where, according to leaders on the path she was following, she expected to be treated poorly. When it was eventually realized that the community she had been part of was an extremist fringe aspect of Paganism, the shock quickly wore off and several people expressed sympathy and compassion for her, assuring her that this was not the way most of us felt. She said she had no way of knowing this because she could only go by what she had seen on the websites associated with her tradition, and there was extreme racism and homophobia there.

In my experience, most Pagan traditions have no trouble welcoming people of color or of other than “heteronormative” sexualities. I personally have participated with numerous groups that have GLBTQ members. Nobody seems to care about what your sexual interests are as long as you’re devoted to the Goddess and God. However, the number of people of color involved in Western Neo-Paganism is surprisingly small. Why are more people of color not choosing Paganism? I certainly don’t have the answer. People of color have always been welcomed to events I’ve attended. I wouldn’t attend if it were not so. And yet relatively few participate. This is something, I predict, that will become an issue in months to come.

You Can Act to Change Things

One of the keynote presenters, Peter Dybing, did mention one thing that I can see as a cause of the lack of integration in Pagan groups as well as what you and I can do to change this.

Peter is a real Pagan hero. His background includes experience as a firefighter, EMT, and mental health counselor. He has helped out with international humanitarian disasters including being hands-on in Haiti as well as the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. He is also a former National First Officer of Covenant of the Goddess. One of the points in his workshop was based on the concept of what happens if you choose to lead a Pagan group, especially if you have a presence on the internet. He summed it up by using an image designed by the late Isaac Bonewits (you can find more of his designs for sale HERE): That’s right, no matter how much good you’re doing, someone is going to attack you. Become a leader and you may as well paint a target on your shirt. Several of the more public Pagans in the audience agreed and shared their stories.

There is nothing wrong with having people disagree with you. People disagreeing with each other and presenting different opinions and approaches so that a consensus can be reached is a good thing. But too often, especially on the internet, that’s not what happens. Rather than disagree and present a coherent argument, a few people (commonly known as “internet trolls”) simply attack the person, often calling him or her names while presenting no position of their own. They hide behind a veil of anonymity and use frequent posts as a means of giving themselves legitimacy through frequency.

What Peter suggested, and I agree, is that it is up to each of us to stand up to such trolls. Tell them that such behavior is not acceptible. If they want to disagree with ideas, that’s fine. But let’s keep it to that level. He also pointed out that many people are only familiar with the internet practice of disagreeing through anonymous attack. It may be that part of what we need to do is educate a person out of their trollishness and become one of the voices presenting alternate views. But, we do need to stand up to the trolls.

This is Where You and I Come In

I realize that we cannot do everything everywhere. But if you are on a website or forum where people are commenting by spreading hatred, racism, homophobia, anti-semitism, etc., you can stand up to them. You can tell them that their hatred is not accepted. You can remove the hatred from their position and look at their arguments, then show whether the argument has any validity. You can stand up for all good people. We can stand up for all good people. Toleration of hatred gives the false impression of acceptance.

Hatred and intolerance won’t fade away from our actions on this. But it will show that the majority of Pagans will not accept it. And perhaps it will make potential brothers and sisters of color and different sexualities, along with all they can share, a bit more welcome under our Pagan umbrella.

Reader Comments

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#1 
Written By Bill Duvendack
on January 28th, 2013 @ 11:47 am

Excellent blog! Yet another event to put on my “To Attend” list! Thank you sir, and I’ll see you at Pantheacon!

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#2 
Written By Luis A. Valadez (Oracle)
on January 28th, 2013 @ 11:49 am

Loved your blog.

In my teens and early 20s I attended an African-American church, and eventually became a minister in another. The original church was in the Hallandale/Hollywood area of South Florida, a far cry from my suburban home in Boca Raton. In that time period, I became well acquainted with several other African-American and Caribbean pastors, as well as many members from their respective congregations.

I think the reason why some (not all) African-Americans shy away from the Greater Pagan Community is because of their cultural background to associate anything “pagan” as “demonic.” This isn’t just about religion. It’s about cultural identity and relating the unknown to a common basic denominator. Many black people (whether of African-American or Caribbean descent) grow up in strong Christian-identity households, their parlance and speech filled with Christian euphemisms and proverbs such as “Have a blessed day” as they thank you for giving them a light for their cigarette. In the middle of arguing with someone they’ll call out a fib by exclaiming, “the devil IS a liar!” Or even, “Tell the truth and shame the devil.” These phrases are used by black “believers” and “non-believers” alike.

For them, the black Church is their first introduction to a close-knit community of extended family members. Most black churches are small and everyone is related either by blood or marriage. Even in the more liberal churches that openly welcome GLBTQ blacks, the spiritual unknown of Witchcraft is commonly equated as being the same thing as Paganism in general. The word “Witchcraft” brings to mind the conjured image of Santeria and Voudon, with their cauldrons, skulls, sacrificed chickens and blood. Now, for me this isn’t a problem. But I even know many Pagans who are afraid of Santeria and Voudon, not understanding why sacrifices are necessary “if the Goddess is the Mother of All living.” (That’s a different subject altogether).

Back to the small number of African-Americans identifying as Pagan: I know of a group of Pan-African (black nationalist) Reconstructionists, but I know even Reconstructionists shy away from the “p” word…and that in and of itself is another topic to address.

In the end, I personally think that for many who view the black Church as Community, they are going to have a hard time breaking from that mold to embrace Paganism. As I said, Church is a generational, familial affair for African-Americans (and black Caribbeans as well). The Christian paradigm is very pervasive, and can make it difficult to break outside of those bonds. When they leave a Church, they aren’t just leaving an immediate household. They are leaving an entire clan…a village even. But again that’s just my theory based on my observations.

Blessings,
Rev. Luis A. Valadez
~Oracle~

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#3 
Written By Phaedra Bonewits
on January 28th, 2013 @ 12:37 pm

Thanks for the shout-out to Isaac. He originally had the “target” on the graphic much more color-saturated, but dimmed it down. He feared someone might take the target too seriously.

Although Internet trolls are certainly a factor, I think it’s important to remember that attacks on leaders go back a lot further than the Internet. Things got nasty in the ’70s and ’80s, too. The main difference is speed; a disagreement on the Internet can blow up (and blow over) in a matter of days, whereas in the olden days (when dinosaurs roamed the circles) you had to wait for the next issue of Green Egg to read the back-and-forth in letters column.

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#4 
Written By Phaedra Bonewits
on January 28th, 2013 @ 12:54 pm

As to color in the community, I wonder (I wish there was some real research on this) if the issue is that people of any color tend to explore first that which is closer to their cultural comfort zone. Euro-Americans look to Euro-cultural Paganism (which is the majority in our Pagan communities); if you’re Irish, you’re very likely to explore Celtic stuff, if you’re Native American, you’ll look to that path first, etc. What I see a lot of people of color being drawn to Afro-diaspora religions, the membership of which do not much participate in our Pagan events. Of course there are people of non-color (we palefaces) involved in Afro-diaspora religions, too, but they are the minority there.

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#5 
Written By Brandy Williams
on January 28th, 2013 @ 1:16 pm

Have you read Crystal Blanton’s anthology? _Shades of Faith_ includes the voices of many Pagans of color. One of the points made in the book is that it is our responsibility to educate ourselves on issues of color and to advocate for diversity as you have done here. Highly recommended.

http://www.immanion-press.com/info/book.asp?id=413

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#6 
Written By Isidore Gray
on January 28th, 2013 @ 4:20 pm

As a black former youth minister for a Pentecostal assembly, I can tell you firsthand that professing paganism is one of the fastest ways to become ostracized in the black community, perhaps even moreso than being LGBT. This is a shame because I can honestly say that I’ve gained more personal and lasting fulfillment while on this path than I’d ever had while involved in the church, and I would love to feel comfortable sharing my experiences with friends that I grew up with.

I find that in the black community, black people who may not even be actively practicing Christians will still cling to the whole Judeo-Christian paradigm because it’s familiar and socially accepted amongst their peers. In the black community, Christianity or Islam seem to be the only socially acceptable religions. I’ve practiced both in the past, but I’d never gotten the apprehensive response from people that I get if I express my current beliefs and practices, so now I rarely speak on it.

Paganism usually gets lumped into “Satanism” (whether it actually is or not) and most will reject it outright for fear of damnation and hellfire, etc. Even when discussing the various ATRs, they each get conflated with “Voodoo”, and then the media’s propaganda along with the “Hollywood Effect” takes over and so people shy away.

Rev. Valdez’s points made above greatly echo my own thoughts about this issue.

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#7 
Written By Donald Michael Kraig
on January 28th, 2013 @ 4:36 pm

I would like to thank the people who have added to this conversation so far! Your contributions are very important. It’s obviously not something we’re going to resolve here, but it certainly shows that this is an important issue that needs to be discussed and approached. I welcome any more input on this, ranging from including personal opinions and personal experiences.

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#8 
Written By Mambo Chita Tann
on January 28th, 2013 @ 11:53 pm

Thank you, Donald, for writing something about the conference you attended, and about the kinds of ongoing issues that drove me out of identifying myself (and the group I founded) out of the Pagan fold two decades ago. It’s refreshing to see this being confronted finally and brought into the light.

I’m hoping to meet with more people at PantheaCon this February (including yourself I hope!) so we can continue this discussion. It’s long overdue.

Mambo Chita Tann, La Sosyete Fos Fe Yo We
(Rev. Tamara Siuda, House of Netjer Kemetic Orthodox Temple)

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#9 
Written By Crystal Blanton
on January 29th, 2013 @ 2:08 am

Thank you for addressing this topic. It is a challenging topic and yet there is a large need for Pagans of Color to be involved in these community topics. This year at pantheacon there are several things on the calendar that specifically talk to Pagans of Color and wanting to support minority ethnicity in the community. If you have a chance to speak with that lady again, let her know we are there. There is a Shades of Faith ritual that we are doing Saturday morning (all inclusive celebration of diversity in ritual), there is a Pagans of Color Caucasus again this year and there is also a Pagans of Color suite.

The more we allow ourselves to be seen, the more we can support diversity within our community.

Thank you for bringing this to your blog. It is an important growing process we are all going through.

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#10 
Written By Donald Michael Kraig
on January 29th, 2013 @ 2:34 am

Thank you, Crystal. I assure you that she is aware of this and is participating.

I’ve heard people say that when they look at people they “don’t see color.” I think that’s kind of weird. All they see is colorless people. Personally, I prefer to see the magnificent rainbow that the Goddess has graciously placed all around.

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#11 
Written By Pat Rockwell
on January 30th, 2013 @ 4:55 am

There is something really fishy in all this.

Gentlemen, we CAN’T have diversity if we all “mix up together”.

And why is this “diversity” mishmash ONLY for White countries, anyway? Nobody says a 100% Black community/church/organization must embrace “diversity”.

Whatever happened to freedom of association?

And why are people talking about “ethnic minorities”? White people are the only minority in the world, and now they are forced to become a minority in all their countries through massive non-white immigration and forced assimilation. That’s a subtle form of genocide.

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#12 
Written By Donald Michael Kraig
on January 30th, 2013 @ 10:04 am

Thank you for your comments, Pat.

However, I find myself in disagreement.

My car is composed of a bunch of parts. All those parts are mixed together and each adds something important and unique. Remove one and my car will probably work okay. Remove two and it might have some issues. Remove ten and there could be severe problems preventing my car from functioning. So there is diversity, but working together there is greatness.

Following this metaphor, the car works best when each part is strong. If you take one part and put it in a situation where it is treated horribly, it’s quite likely that without assistance to help bring that part back up to its optimal quality, it could harm the entire car. One way to do this with people is for them to heal and strengthen within their extended family, including their community/church/organization. People who have been in positions of financial and social power and control generally have no need for this.

This has nothing to do with freedom of association. It’s about freedom to improve our associations, to empower ourselves through greater understandings of other cultures, other beliefs, other people.

We’re talking about ethnic minorities because in the U.S., and other “first world” countries—where most of the people reading this live—people of color compose most ethnic minorities. We’re not talking about world population, only about where we live. In the U.S., according to the most recent census, whites make up 72.4 % of the population, while the largest non-white ethnic group only makes up 16.4%. So any claim of a white person being an ethnic minority in the U.S simply because of his or her skin color is without any merit.

Immigration and emigration have been natural parts of human civilization since the beginning of time. Comparing normal human activity to genocide—such as the Holocaust of the 1940s that destroyed 1/3 of the Jews in the world, along with huge swaths of Gypsies, Poles, Gays, and Africans, and opened the gates to the destructions of the lives of Freemasons, occultists, and tens of millions of Russians (mostly civilians)—has no basis in fact and would seem to be nothing but over-the-top rhetoric trying to inflame people’s angers and prejudices.

In our world today, there are people who, for their own reasons, are trying to have power over others. Often that reason is because they have a pathological need for power (and feel a lack of power in their own lives) or a deep-seated fear of change. The result is unhappiness, death, war, abusive behavior, increased taxes, destroyed economies, and more. Instead, I propose that we look to enhancing individual strengths and uniting with those strengths to move everyone ahead.

So no, I’m not talking about “forced assimilation.” I’m suggesting survival and advancement of the human race. Going back to the car metaphor, this will not be achieved by pushing right front wheels into a wheel ghetto and pistons into a piston ghetto. It will be achieved when all parts—strong, independent, and proud of their personal accomplishments—work together.
That’s not genocide.
It’s survival.

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#13 
Written By Elizabeth
on January 30th, 2013 @ 4:34 pm

I agree with you about openly dissenting with individuals who post with racism, homophobia, anti-semitism (and sexism and ableism). I’m on too many internet places where people let it stand, and it sends the message that people who are oppressed by these things aren’t valued there or welcome there. Also, too many where the moderators let it stand, which to my mind is a bigger issue– there will always be disagreeable people on the internet, they don’t need to be welcomed with open arms. That kind of hatred should be ban-worthy, period.

The problem is that most “trolls” on Pagan forums aren’t trolls, in the classical sense of the word (i.e. people who enjoy stirring up a flame war just for the sake of stirring it up, and will say whatever is most likely to cause reaction, but not actually espouse it themselves). Standing up to actual trolls is a terrible idea, it gives them exactly what they want. Most actual trolls, if not “fed”, will leave for somewhere that gives them the attention they crave. (Some boards have a catchphrase they’ll use in response to troll posts, like “okay!”, to let the other users know it’s a troll who should be disregarded.) What Pagan forums seem to attract are something different– people who act like trolls but who completely believe what they’re saying and are saying it because they mean it. When that sort gets persistent (like the constant posting you’re talking about), I’ve never seen anything solve the problem but a ban. Sure, people can try talking to them and educating them, but usually that just ends up with the belligerent poster sticking their head in the sand and the educating ones feeling too worn out to bother. So sure, I do think people should chime in with “that’s not okay”, but I think this is as much a moderating problem as it is a trolling problem. (I also think that’s true in face-to-face space, too. Entirely too many Pagan events are unwilling to blacklist people, even when they’ve committed gross and sometimes criminal abuses of the event’s hospitality. We’ve got too much of the Geek Social Fallacies operant in our system, particularly the one that says “ostracizers are evil”.)

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#14 
Written By Peter Dybing
on January 31st, 2013 @ 9:32 am

PAT ROCKWELL,

Your statements on this post reflect a clear racism and a lack of understanding of the subject matter. When you make statements like “White people are the only minority in the world”. you show your hand as a person with bigoted attitudes that Do Not Belong, as part of the Pagan discourse. I stand opposing such hate based speech and invite others to join me in this. Yes I support your freedom of speech, and at the same time call on the community to clearly state that such speech “is not Pagan and is not welcome under the Pagan umbrella”

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#15 
Written By Macha
on February 1st, 2013 @ 4:31 am

Thanks for the shout-out for Cherry Hill Seminary, Donald.

Here’s another blog about the conference: http://besom.blogspot.com/2013/02/claremont-pagan-studies-conference-i.html

Blessings,
Macha

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#16 
Written By krissy
on February 1st, 2013 @ 10:27 pm

White people spent a few hundred years trying to convert people of color. Now they are the gatekeepers of paganism. I’m glad this entitlement is being exposed for the ridiculousness that it is. Paganism is truly a global religion and it connects us all through our shared journey.

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#17 
Written By Michael Lloyd
on February 4th, 2013 @ 8:29 am

I haven’t heard of overt racism or homophobia in the vast majority of the Pagan community. That certainly was not the case in the past but, while it may still exist in some isolated groups, such is a rare occurrence today. Let’s be reasonable here. It is the responsibility of each individual to do their own homework to ferret out fact from fiction. If a group with whom one is in contact says one thing and you do not bother to check with any other source of information to see if that is the truth, then who is to blame? On the subject of trolls, it is the responsibility of forum managers to manage. Allowing bad behavior to run rampant on a forum because one is opposed to censorship misses the point. Anonymous ad hominem attacks do not contribute to discussions any more than does shouting down one’s one’s opponent. The community is never served when the only voice heard is that of the bully, but that is what happens when reasoned and mature voices withdraw from the floor in the face of vile behavior on the part of a few. I have spoken with quite a few elders who simply refuse to get involved any more in public discussions because of the unchecked behavior of a few people. So again, I say to forum managers -MANAGE. Set clear rules for discourse and remove those who refuse to abide by them.

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#18 
Written By Donald Michael Kraig
on February 4th, 2013 @ 10:40 am

Thank you for your comments, Michael.

I agree, it should be the responsibility of an individual to do their homework. However, this goes beyond one individual. While I agree that there is not a lot of overt racism or homophobia in the vast majority of the Pagan community, there are what I would consider fringe elements where it does exist. If one person comes in contact and doesn’t do their homework, and then spreads the concept that we’re all racist homophobes, it will influence far more people than just that person who had direct contact. Therefore, the reality, in my opinion, is that it’s up to the community to stand in solidarity against hatred.

I also agree that it should be any forum’s moderator who prevents personal attacks and hatred from being disseminated. Unfortunately, the reality is that moderators are often “missing in action” for days and don’t care what is in the comments when they do check in. Therefore, I think it’s possible to stand in opposition to such hatred and personal attacks without doing the same in response.

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#19 
Written By Glenn Turner
on February 4th, 2013 @ 2:56 pm

PantheaCon has been around for almost 20 years now. One of my main criteria for presentations is diversity. We have always had a few people of color doing events. I’m glad to see more and more African diaspora groups sharing their traditions; this year I think we have one the most diverse programs. But we can only choose among the applications we get. I’ve been really pleased with our variety this year.

We’re always open to new ideas. Do you or your friends have an idea that you can bring to us, an area we have not seen, because no one has offered it? Sometimes we can even seek out areas of interest.

One thing I’ve noticed in the past when I’ve approached Santeria and other Afro-diaspora groups, is that they have been still very much in the closet and shy of public contact. The fact that we had so many different diaspora groups applying to present this year means that we may have reached a turning point in our numbers where there is more safety. A safe space to be who we are and to share our worship and playfulness is what I’ve always sought for PantheaCon.

Yes, there can be trolls, but it’s been great that people speak out against hate speech and can generally find safety in our numbers now.

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#20 
Written By Donald Michael Kraig
on February 4th, 2013 @ 4:06 pm

For those of you who don’t know it, Glenn Turner is the owner of Ancient Ways, an independent metaphysical store in Oakland California. She also runs PantheaCon, arguably the most important metaphysical convention on the west coast and one of the most important conventions/festivals for Pagans and magickal folk of all kinds. Although the schedule is set for this year, you can still attend (Feb. 15–18 in San Jose, CA). Indeed, PantheaCon does have one of the most diverse group of presenters and attendees of any similar convention or festival, and I’m very honored to be presenting this year. After you attend, start planning on what you can share and present at PantheaCon 2014.

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#21 
Written By Curt Steinmetz
on February 5th, 2013 @ 8:22 pm

On the issue of “Pagans of color,” I think it would help (a great deal, as a matter of fact) to dispense once and for all with the idea that there is anything particularly “European” about Paganism.

The first people to be called Pagan were as likely to be African or Asian as European (actually, they were probably less likely to be European!). And people who have seriously tried to trace back the religious and magical roots of modern Paganism very often end up in Egypt.

Unfortunately, modern Pagans not only tend to think of our religion as “European”, there is also a tendency to divide different flavors of Paganism up into hyphenated ethnic-Paganisms (Celtic, Germanic, Hellenic, etc.) But the Celts and Germans first came to Europe as Asiatic invaders (or at least heavily armed “migrators”). And “Hellenistic” civilization was centered in the Egyptian city of Alexandria. In fact the two largest Greek speaking cities in the ancient world were in Africa (Alexandria) and Asia (Antioch). These were probably the second and third largest cities in the whole world at the time, with the largest city of all being Rome, a truly Cosmopolitan city teaming with peoples from across the known world.

Anyway, my personal opinion is the Paganism is now and has always been cosmopolitan, and we should be emphasizing that fact while de-emphasizing European-ness, or Celtic-ness, etc.

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