I had this argument a while back with this chick on twitter. She was posting “informative” lists of different pagan deities and practises. And then she started sharing the Enocian lists of Angels and Demons, and the structures of the Christian hell… as if these were Pagan. In fact, worse, she shared this information as if this was Wiccan mythology. So I pointed out the fact that Wicca, as in Gardinarian and Alexandrian Wicca, never EVER involved the Judeo-Christian concepts of angels and demons, and certainly not hell. Her response was something along the lines of “I’m just sharing information”, and I pointed out that her information is wrong, it’s not Wiccan. And she the responded with “well don’t follow me if you don’t like it”. She didn’t care at all that she was sharing inaccurate and actually, outright WRONG information with the world.
Now, it’s quite a common practise amongst modern pagans and witches to be ecclectic, which means we tend to pick and choose bits of lots of practises and mythologies and adopt them as our own. It’s not frowned upon or anything, it’s common practise. So I just figured that this common practise had just sort of magnified and mutated over the years that I haven’t been in the scene, so I dropped the issue with that lady (and unfollowed her), and tried to move on even though it bugged me.
But, I’ve just read a fairly long article about racism and cultural appropriation within pagan circles, and the alarming tendency for white supremacists to steal pagan and Norse pagan belief structures to justify their hate. (Article is here.) And it articulated exactly what was wrong with what she was doing:
“We are creating, in our communities, situations in which we are devaluing and erasing the work and cultures of POC folx and when this collides with whiteness, it creates a colonial mindset in which they can say, “We have a right to everything, here is our proof,” which feeds directly into the idea of whiteness as being superior. It’s really no wonder why racists are attracted to Paganism when viewed through this lens.”
The woman had the attitude that she had the right to do whatever she wanted, to take everything and label it as Wiccan. She had a colonial viewpoint, where she had the right to minimise and delete the true history and beliefs and mythology of Wiccan society. I don’t know whether the lady was white or not, I certainly wouldn’t be surprised if she is, because it’s a common mindset when someone has a lot of social privilege.
She didn’t care where the myths and beliefs came from, she just decided she had the right to call it Wiccan and spread that misinformation.
Back when I was active in the pagan scenes, people did indeed take whatever bits they wanted for their own faith and practises, my own beliefs are constructed in this way, but I always knew where those beliefs came from. I didn’t pretend that my definition of magick which come from Aliestar Crowely was anything other than a Ceremonial Magick perspective. I didn’t pretend that my tarot cards were traditional Wiccan instead the Quabbala source that they actually have.
If you do not acknowledge the source of something in an eclectic practise, you’re disrespecting the ancestors of that practise. If you say that Wicca has a belief in the Christian Devil, you’re disrespecting the whakapapa, the lineage, of that faith (of both faiths, actually). It’d be like walking into a Catholic church and building an effigy for Baphoment on the altar and then claiming that she’s always been a Christian deity. It’s gross and disrespectful to both faiths, and particularly to the one being changed. Most decent people know not to disrespect the history and structures of Christianity like that, so why is it that so many disrespect other faiths?
And the answer is bigotry, a sense of religious and/or racial superiority.
Those people think that they have the right to take whatever they want, and the superiority over others (particularly as a lot of paganism is actually also the faiths of native peoples around the world), that they can define what something is and is not. This woman had such a sense of religious superiority that she believed she had the right to claim that Judeo-Christian mythologies of hell and the hierarchies of demons, were Wiccan, and that people should just take her word for it.
Just like the white supremacists stealing our Norse traditions and symbols for their own ends, it’s all about superiority. About bigotry and different forms of cultural appropriation. “I’m better than all of you, so I can take what I want and add what I want to a religion, and you can’t do anything to stop me.”
The old eclecticism wasn’t about recreating Wicca or Ceremonial Magick or the Old Ways to suit yourself and dictating it to everyone else. It was about finding the path to the Great Divine that works for you, and you usually knew where the threads that you’ve chosen to use came from. And your practise was only your own. You had no mana, no… power/strength/ability to change the greater faith or affect other people’s faith. You also didn’t have the power to silence others, particularly those others who are either the ancestors of those faiths, or the current peoples of authority of the faith. You don’t tell the Wiccan council that you know more about Wicca than they do.
These kids believe that they can define what is and is not a witch at their whim. And while, a part of me agrees that everyone interacts with the Great Divine in their own way, this attitude of superiority, of having the right to take what you want and squash what you don’t want, and silence people who’ve had these practises for millennia is just wrong. It’s racism, cultural appropriation, religious superiority… it’s oppression.
And it’s the kind of oppression that happened to my ancestors. The Christian colonials came and killed my people. Took their land. Took their orphans and disconnected them from their own culture. They used Christianity as a weapon to strip my ancestors of their culture, religion and identity just so they could take the land. They believed that their faith and their race were superior and that as such they had the right to take what wanted, including the lives of the rightful owners of this land. That superiority nearly destroyed my culture and it’s the reason why I don’t speak Te Reo, why I don’t have a complete whakapapa, because they silenced my people, they destroyed them and rewrote the history so that they looked like barbarians and as if they deserved annihilation.
When people use their sense of superiority to rewrite the history and the beliefs of different pagan groups to suit their needs, they’re doing the same thing. It’s colonialism again. It’s racism and religious superiority. It’s bigotry and it’s oppression.
No, it’s not OK to pretend that demons and angels and hell exist in traditional Wiccan beliefs and myths. And No, it’s not OK for white supremacists to take the Norse faiths, mangle them to use as justification for their bigotry.