Do Paganism and fascism share any DNA? There are far-right people, alt-right people, racists, and fascists to be found among Pagans, Heathens, and occultists, but is there anything in Pagan thought that predisposes Pagans to fascism?
In a previous article, With our thoughts we make the world, I looked at the metapolitical goals of Paganisms, and some of the features of some Pagan groups that might be construed as leading to fascism (sacred kingship, claiming that you have a mandate from a deity, and folkish essentialism). I wrote:
If you are creating a new religious movement that is characterised by fear of difference, distrust of outsiders, the crushing of dissent, the insistence on only one right way to do things, then you will sow the seeds of perpetual conflict and division.
If you look at the two lists quoted in last week’s article, 14 characteristics of fascism, you will see that they are very similar to what I wrote in the quote above. If you examine openly white-supremacist Heathen groups, you can probably find more fascist characteristics than the ones I identify here: but that’s because those groups have embraced fascism, not because Heathenry is inherently fascist.
So, to what extent is Paganism at risk of being fascist, or of sharing DNA with fascist ideas?
The will to power
Pagan organisations often lack democratic accountability, with unelected leaders and a lack of transparency. Usually, this is more due to lack of organisation, but some groups have a “chosen chief” who appears to have chosen himself, rather than being elected. I find this to be a questionable practice, and would no longer be comfortable with joining such an organisation. If leaders become unaccountable, irresponsible, or abusive, there needs to be a mechanism to remove them. This is hardly mass fascism, but it’s concerning, and roughly corresponds to items 13 and 14 on Mayer’s list. It also corresponds to elitism and disdain for the “weak” (item 10 on Eco’s list).
A more disturbing manifestation of the will to power is the autocratic behaviour of some Pagan leaders: high priestesses and high priests who insist that their word is law and that they are special manifestations of the Divine; people who want to bring back divine kingship; and those who will not allow their diktats to be questioned (item 5 on Eco’s list). Some of them justify their autocracy on the grounds that a deity mandated it.
Appeals to tradition
The most deeply conservative thing I can find in Pagan discourse is people who appeal to “tradition” to dismiss calls for change. The idea that tradition is fixed and unchanging, and that anything old and traditional is inherently better than what is happening now, is borderline fascist. (This is item 1 on Eco’s list.)
Traditions exist because someone once found a good way of doing something, and passed it on to others. Traditions exist to serve people; people are not bound to serve traditions.
The people and the land
Another dangerous aspect of Pagan culture is the völkisch and essentialist idea that culture is transmitted genetically, and that specific nations are somehow inherently suited to their land. Granted, a particular culture develops to fit a particular place, and broadly speaking, people adapt to the climate of a particular area, but that doesn’t make them inherently or “racially” connected to that place. An earlier generation of Pagan writers was keen to romanticise a sense of British attachment to Britain, and some of this discourse is fascistic in tone, as well as also being spouted by actual fascists. But it is doubtful that most of these writers were consciously fascist. Doreen Valiente joined the National Front for 18 months, which is deeply disturbing if she did it for any other reason than infiltration. Therefore it behooves us to examine her writing carefully through the lens of this information, to check for bias; but it doesn’t invalidate absolutely everything she wrote, because she had a career spanning a couple of decades, and distanced herself from right-wing views more than once.
Lack of critical thinking
Holistic and tradition-focused movements often lack critical thinking skills, eschew modernism, and express disdain for intellectuals (all of which are red flags on both Eco’s and Mayer’s lists). It is hard to say how widespread this anti-intellectual streak is in Pagan discourse, but it certainly exists.
What can we do about it?
Keep on keeping on, and seeking to educate, raise awareness, make our movement more democratic, and root out fascist ideology wherever we encounter it.