Jon Stewart once quipped that “…we have made enormous progress in teaching everyone that racism is bad. Where we seemed to have dropped the ball is in teaching people what racism is…”. While Stewart was making light of the news of the day (and a bunch of KKK members who were trying to say they weren’t racist with a strait face), it’s my opinion that he touched on something important; many in society seem to be unable to see what racism actually is, even as they’ll state that they want nothing to do with it.
Which doesn’t work because you can’t denounce that which you cannot identify. For all of our collective distaste for Klansmen, Neo-Nazis, and vocal bigotry, we seem to have missed the fact that racism is more than such idiocy. Oh, that idiocy is part of the problem…but they’re only the smallest part. Vocal, abrasive, and violent, but still relatively few in number. Today, I’m going to be talking about some of the subtler influences, and why some people object to them as loudly as they do.
If we are going to meaningfully talk about how this problem manifests with the Heathen religion, however, we first need to identify what it is, where it comes from, and how those beliefs are codified. For the most part, I see the majority of soft-racist ideology being born from a fusion of Folkish philosophy and the theories purposed by Metagenetics as written by Stephen McNallen.*
I am going to state this now so there is no confusion or misunderstanding; I am in no way saying or implying that everyone who identifies themselves as a “Folkish Heathen” is a racist. Certainly there are some who fit that description, but words like “Folkish”, “Universalist”, “Tribalist”, and “Lokean” have no firm definition. When it comes to “Folkish” there is a huge degree of variance; in one conversation it’s used to talk about White supremacy organizations…the next it’ll be used to talk about ancestor worship, regardless of culture. Now, I will say that the vast majority of people who utilize racist practices also describe themselves as Folkish, which definitely contributes to the confusion here. So we need to split those who are Folkish and reject a racist interpretation from those who are advocating one if we wish to talk about the issue with clarity.
Where I believe the racist side of Heathenry starts, and perhaps even ends, is with the aforementioned Metagenetics. The stances that the document contains often form up the back bone of many racialist and segregated stances. So, for all intents and purposes we have a combination of a fixation upon ancestry, such that it trumps many other spiritual considerations, and the philosophical/theological mandates put forth in Metagenetics. For simplicity’s sake, I have taken to calling this ideology “Meta-Folkism”. When I use this term, I am only describing those who both embrace the descriptor of “Folkish” and combine it with the segregated stances which Metagenetics advocates.
So now that we have explained what we are and are not talking about, lets address the potential and obvious elephants in the rooms. In the process, we’ll uncover a lot of the problems at hand.
How is Meta-Folkism/Metagenetics inherently racist? Metagenetics says that ethnic religions should only be practiced by people of that ethnicity…so isn’t that just religious equality and cultural awareness? Wouldn’t the opposite be cultural appropriation, which is bad?
Metagenetics states “that there are spiritual and metaphysical implications to heredity, and that we [Asatruar] are thus a religion not for all of humanity, but rather one that calls only its own.” and that “[Asatruar] are intimately tied up with the fate of our whole people, for Asatru is an expression of the soul of our race.” This is the engine of the philosophy, and the entire document is written with the aim of proving these central conceits. Metagenetics wants very desperately to present itself as a scientific document, and even calls itself out as a type of science. The problem is that what is expressed within that text doesn’t actually do anything of the sort.
It tries to use the work three psychologists (Carl Jung, Timothy Leary, and Daniel Freedman), a Danish scientist studying reincarnation (Dr. Ian Stevenson), a Botanist/Parapsychologist (Dr. Joseph Banks Rhine), and a brain specialist (Dr. Jule-Nielson) in order to give the reader proof of it’s validity. Putting to the side that some of the experts the author references are extremely questionable or represent the fringe of their accepted fields**, we also have a theory concerning genetics that doesn’t contain any reference to the findings of an actual geneticist. The lack of such a reference or resource is crippling to the legitimacy of a theory which expresses opinions on how genetics and religion interact.; tangentially connected concepts and ideas from disparate fields can not fill in that sort of gap. This weakness is compounded when you realize that the number of references that remain are few small in number. You can’t make am compelling case for something like this with five pages, six sources, and a reference to a single myth from one tribe of Aboriginal Americans.
As such, Metagenetics being labeled as a scientific theory is inaccurate. To be plain about it, it’s nothing more or less than a form of Unverified Personal Gnosis or UPG. It represents nothing but the writer’s personal theories on the way that genetics and spirituality interact. It is supported by sources that the writer agrees with, but is not contrasted against any research or studies that threatens its platform. The document was not subjected to peer review, and doesn’t use research from the realm of study within which it is based to help prove it’s suppositions. It’s just a spiritual informed philosophy, and nothing but.
Once we take it from science to philosophy, we can dig deeper into Metagenetics (and the Meta-Folkism it inspires) and start really looking at it’s fundamental problems. It posits that meaningful religious practice is not only improved by genetic similarity, but that it is outright required. If we look in the World English Dictionary, we see that one of the definitions of racism is “the belief that races have distinctive cultural characteristics determined by hereditary factors and that this endows some races with an intrinsic superiority over others “. Intrinsic superiority can be situational, and such superiority is a core element within Meta-Folkish thought; those with certain genetic profiles have a right to Asatru, and those without them do not.
When some of us call Meta-Folkism and Metagenetics racist, the literal definition of racism is on our side. The moment you declare that you have the right to something and another person does not, and you claim that form of superiority based on your racial background, you’ve fallen into racism by definition. I know that many Meta-Folkists say that it goes both ways; that those of predominantly European backgrounds have no business practicing spiritual traditions that are not the domain of their ancestors. This would seem to level the playing field at first glance, but it fails on a very basic level.
It doesn’t matter if you bestow the same inequality to another ethnicity; separate but equal failed to be a good thing when it was applied to schools, bus seats, and restrooms in the segregated South. In the history of the world, I doubt that anyone can come up with an example of when a contentious and problematic social model was improved by bringing a religious mandate into the picture. Many try to defend this platform by bringing up the blood and heritage standards of the various Aboriginal American tribes…..forgetting that those standards were not established by the tribes themselves. Contrary to popular understanding, they were imposed upon them by the Bureau of Indian Affairs. These standards are, to the best of my knowledge, not something that was requested by the Aboriginal Americans themselves.
Well, isn’t a racialist stance harmless as long as it is utilized without hatred? Is it truly a problem as long as everyone has something for themselves? I’m not going out and burning crosses or lynching people; those are the actions of “real” hate!
On the surface, racialist stances like Meta-Folkism can seem relatively benign; no one is advocating violence against anyone else. People say that, while the definition of racism is met, the spirit of hatred and spite is not. Proclaiming a superior position within a given religion indicates no hate or antipathy when a similarly equal position is granted to another, and no one is trying to subjugate anyone to another person’s will. Advocates of Meta-Folkism will say that this is the reason that claims of racism are completely blown out of proportion.
This can seem quite sensible, until you realize something very basic: these apologists are not the ones being denied anything. It is very easy to rationalize and pretend that a policy of soft-racism is somehow morally superior to one crafted from more bitter and aggressive emotions. That blamelessness has a hard time standing tall, however, when you realize that you are passing judgement on people who are “different” and no one else. You’re establishing equality almost as an afterthought; declaring something you didn’t want in the first place as something reserved for someone else. Parallels to reservations for Aboriginal Americans should not go missed; it’s the same sort of thinking, simply keyed on a spiritual scale.
Equality means equal; it requires no counter balance to be achieved. Human beings are not math equations, and putting an equal modifier on both sides doesn’t necessarily mean things become fair. Religion, ethnicity, and ancestry are not zero sum games, and it’s somewhat insulting to see them displayed as such.
To bring the point home, I’ve seen people get irritated when European people suggest that American traditions are incorrect. When people from Norway, Sweden, or Germany criticize American Heathens and their methods of practice, many take offense. Well, with very little manipulation, we could use the standards of Metagenetics and Meta-Folkism to declare that they are not only right but they have the authority to supersede American Heathen ideals. After all, their connection to the native folkway and culture of their spiritual ancestors is closer and more defined, thus making their interpretations more meaningful by the standards that Metagenetics sets forth.
Imagine that the superiority of their European perspective was codified into the Meta-Folkist perspective in the same way that heritage is right now, That the options of American Heathens mattered less because they were not natively European. Our spirituality judged by a matter of where we were born. Now realize that this is what Meta-Folkism does to other people; it passes judgement on their spirituality of others based on the circumstances of a person’s birth. If our Heathen cousins over in Europe demanded that American Heathens follow their example based on a philosophy similar to Metagenetics, I seriously doubt the reaction would be very different from the reaction of American Heathens who have been hurt by the Meta-Folkish narrative.
The American Meta-Folkish position would be no different in scale or scope than a European version of the same. Again, we have a version of separate but equal and again it leaves us with a bad taste in our mouths.
If Metagenetics is UPG, and everyone has the right to their own UPG, isn’t it hypocritical to call Metagenetics bad? It feels like Metagenetics/Meta-Folkism is getting judged here more than other philosophies; there are people who won’t bat at an eye at Godspouses***, but will rip Meta-Folkists a new one at the drop of a hat! Why does this philosophy receive so much bile when all we are doing is worshiping in the way that feels right to us?
Everyone is entitled to their own spiritual viewpoint. This is where it gets sticky because Meta-Folkism, if followed, gives people a platform to deny people the spiritual paths of their choice. When used extremely harshly or conservatively, it can become the patriot missile of UPGs, one which exists more as a means to deny another than to achieve a goal for one’s own self. Again, we have to bring up the parallel of native Europeans being able to dictate the terms of our own religion to us; I wouldn’t feel comfortable with others trying to force an unwanted authority figure on my faith, and I feel not better about doing the same to others.
UPGs become problematic when they attempt to extend, even in theory, beyond the boundaries of one’s own religious practice. Say what ever you like about Godspouses; none of them have come up to me and told me who should and shouldn’t be at a Heathen gathering. There has been no attempt to force me into a spiritual marriage of any kind. Their UPG is their own…and all of the ones I have encountered have given the same respect to mine that they wish for theirs. The reason I, personally, don’t have an issue with Godspouses is pretty much the same reason I do have one with Meta-Folkism; the Godspouses make no rules for other Heathens, whereas many Meta-Folkists try to establish a standard by which someone may or may not be barred from Heathen spiritual practices.
This judgmental, canonizing approach to the segregation of religion gets more troublesome when one realizes that Meta-Folkism doesn’t obey it’s own rules. Many of these Meta-Folkish judgements are not based on blood; in every case I’ve heard of or seen, they’ve been based on skin tone and/or apparent racial background. People are rejected based on what ethnicity they appear to be, and not by the ethnic background they are. If you are asking why this matters, consider the following example.
This woman is the famous actress, Vanessa Williams….who is 40% European. Meanwhile, this man is a hardcore white supremacist who recently found out he has a non-zero amount of Sub-Saharan African heritage. Craig Cobb, the man in question, doesn’t look like he has enough Africian heritage to suggest a non-Caucasian great-grandparent. Yet science says he does…and it helps us to illustrate a very important point.
While I don’t think Vanessa Williams will be beating a path down to a Meta-Folkish kindred’s door anytime soon, her heritage ensures her a place at any Sumble that is held with those conceits in mind. Craig Cobb shows us that a lack of apparent melanin doesn’t indicate a lack of non-Caucasian influence. How many great-Grandparents, grandparents, uncles, and aunts would it take until his skin tone changed? I don’t know…and neither does any one else.
And once you realize that, it makes it impossible to look at Metagenetics without suspicion; to meaningfully use it as a philosophy is impossible without a blood test. Period. Yet when someone is rejected as a “Legitimate Heathen” on the grounds of their heritage, there is no such test that explains that opinion. Any rejection is being done based on appearance, which we’ve just shown can have absolutely nothing to do with anything. If this is a spiritual mandate which calls to people so strongly, how can they denigrate that mandate by playing so fast and loose with the rules that would shape it?
Honestly, I don’t think there is a right answer to such a question.
The watch words of so many who believe in Meta-Folkism is that “I have the right to worship with whomever I choose.” That’s completely true, but when there is a visible pattern of who is and is not acceptable to worship with there is no amount of philosophy, spirituality, or gnosis that’s going to magically make it something other than what it is. It’s still bigotry. It’s still racism.
It’s really that simple.
*A discussion on racism in Heathenry is somewhat difficult (bordering on impossible) without talking about the AFA. I am not going to even imply that it’s entire membership is racist, or that it is a hate group in the pattern of the aforementioned Nazis and Klansmen. Regardless, the AFA has written and promoted a lot of the material that makes up the bulk of the “soft-racist” narrative. No document more so than Metagenetics, in my opinion. That document was written by Stephen McNallen and it’s posted on the AFA website. I do not make a habit of attacking people because I think it’s not constructive; those few times where I have has been because it’s been something I have been unable to ignore due to the actions in question. So let me make this clear: this is not an attack on the AFA in general or Stephen McNallen in particular. It is a dissent against the philosophies he has espoused, written, and defended, not a statement in condemnation of his humanity or his soul. I’ve never met nor spoken with the man, so I can’t say what I feel about him as a person. I know what I feel about some of his ideas, and that is what I’m addressing. Period. If anyone within the AFA leadership would like to sit down and have a chat, via phone, internet, or in person, I am more than willing to “talk across the isle” if you are. You can message me here or on my Facebook.
**It would be far beyond the scope of this article to weigh each of the individual sources Metagenetics utilizes, and to judge the applicability of their use. However, some of them are open to some very simple examination. Dr. Ian Stevenson’s reincarnation research is still highly contested, and had accusations of confirmation bias and similar mistakes in scholarly rigor; the accusations persist into the present day. Dr. Rhine’s PhD was not in any actual form of science which studied human anatomy or psychology, and his Botany degree could be considered completely separate from his theories and ideas…all of which fell outside the realm of peer reviewed science. Timothy Leary’s influence on various elements of counter culture was vast, but the scope of his theories were more metaphysical and philosophical than scientific. Perhaps in the future, should there be interest, we will look at them all in detail. For the moment, this quick analysis of sources should give the reader a sense of how ill suited some of the material is for a scientific theory.
***To be clear, I’m not passing judgement on Godspousery or on those who practice it; I’ve seen this parallel cited before in arguments, and I suspect many others have as well. I bring it up not to malign anyone, but rather just to inform the discussion; many seem to see ancestry as something they can touch, where as the Gods aren’t…and that disconnect leaves some baffled at how people will accept one idea but refuse the other.