Folkism and Racism vs. Personal Pride [Part 1]

Although I’ve yet to meet any folkish Vanatruar, Vantru is a Heathen denomination – I am still part of the larger Heathen community. I do both interfaith outreach and jail ministry as a Heathen Gythia.

This comes up a LOT:

“You’re Asatru? Aren’t those guys white supremacists?”

And of course, I have to do a fair bit of explaining, because I can’t just say “No, we’re not.” when there’s such obvious evidence to the contrary in the form of people who say things like:

    “I’m not racist, I’m folkist! I believe that people should stick with the gods of their ancestors, that’s all.”

    “I’m not racist, I just take pride in my heritage!”

So I explain that, like any loose group of considerable size, the loudmouthed radicals are the least likable and most visible. The Liberal Christians to whom I am often speaking when that question is raised understand exactly what I mean, and move on to other concerns.

I admit, I’m gentler with the inmates about this, because the context makes it a trickier task to address, and it’s far more important that I keep them listening than that I change their minds instantly. Here on the ‘net, the majority of my audience is not in a place where they’re likely to get the crap kicked out of them if they can’t choose a team, where such teams are, by and large, divided by the appearance of race first, tattoos second, religion third, and actual ideology somewhere down below where it may never be seen.

One way or another, though, it has to be addressed.

Now look, I take pride in my heritage too. I honor my ancestors. Some of the gods I honor, I honor specifically because I felt called as a member of my family line. You’re right, that’s not the same thing as racism, but it’s an easy thing to try and hide racism behind. The question is, where are you actually drawing the line?

Here’s how this works:

IF you are proud of your heritage because it’s your own, if you honor the people you’re descended from because they’re your family, if you are proud of where you come from because it matters, then all that is just dandy – everyone should be able to do that. Ancestor Reverence is part of most indigenous and diasporic (and thus most reconstructionist) traditions, and knowing where you come from is a lot of knowing who you are, how you affect your environment, and where you belong in the world. “Know Thyself” is a very important spiritual goal, so I absolutely encourage anyone to develop an understanding of, and thus hopefully reasonable pride in, their own heritage both in terms of their bloodlines and in terms of the cultures associated with them.

The problem is when you stop there, when you ignore the cultures surrounding yourself right now, when you ignore the cultures surrounding your ancestors that you don’t attribute to their bloodline. That’s why I keep saying “bloodline AND culture”, because I believe tracing your ancestry and honoring the people you’re descended from is a worthy endeavor, but that it’s not the same endeavor as learning about the cultures that have influenced them and the cultures that now influence you.

IF you believe that you should be proud of your heritage because it’s better, check yourself. There is no heritage in the world that justifies treating other people with less respect than you believe you deserve. They’re alive and they’re in the world with you, they deserve your basic respect and compassion regardless of what you think they are, and especially regardless of what you think you are. Nobody has any business honoring trees, wheat, cows, boars, and non-corporeal entities while failing to honor their fellow human beings.

IF you believe that your skin color is, by itself, your heritage then you’ve got yet another problem – blatant ignorance. That’s fixable. Work on it now. Educate yourself. Find out who you are actually descended from, what the cultures were actually like where they lived, why they came to be where they were, and what that means for you, personally. And form an understanding as fast as you possibly can that each of those answers is a little bit unique, and not everyone who you think looks like you shares your background – and not everyone you think looks strange is actually all that different from you. Recognise that people move around, they trade with their neighbors, they influence each other, and they always have. I guarantee that you, whoever you are, are of mixed heritage by just about any standard you can come up with.

IF you believe that people should follow the gods of their ancestors, and therefore anyone with Germanic heritage should honor the Germanic gods? Okay, I disagree with that as a restriction, but I can accept it as a basis for self-exploration. There’s nothing wrong with encouraging people to actively seek their own roots, accepting every culture’s practices as valid, and discouraging appropriation.


IF you are arguing that people must ONLY honor the gods of their ancestors, and thus non-Germanic people must NOT honor Germanic gods? Check yourself. First of all, there’s no such thing as purity of culture even within the historical Germanic/Scandinavian (and Celtic and Roman and Slavic and Finno-urgic and… let’s face it, it’s called “Indo-European” for a reason) context, much less in our modern internet-melting-pot world. Second of all, Germanic culture has long since been forced on people the world over via colonialism, and it’s far, far too late for us to take it back. Even if we ARE concerned about cultural appropriation, it doesn’t apply to our culture – we already gave our culture to the world at gunpoint, and demanded they swallow it. It’s theirs now too, for better or worse.

IF you believe you can tell by looking who has a right to honor the Germanic gods, that everyone with Germanic heritage must be pale skinned? No. That’s both ignorant AND racist. Game over.

And all of this is just if I’m arguing the politics of it. Spiritually speaking, it’s not up to us who the Gods call. Do you really think you can tell Freyja who She can and can’t call? Do you really want to tell Odin to stop His wandering and recruiting? Do you really think Tyr cares about your petty lines in the sand? Because if that’s how much respect you have for the Aesir and Vanir, I seriously question whether you’re actually honoring the gods at all.


About EmberVoices

Ember Cooke has been a member of Hrafnar and Seidhjallr for more than a decade, where she trained to be a Seidhkona, Galdrakona, and Gythia. She founded the Vanic Conspiracy and made ordination vows to the Vanir and her congregation in the summer of 2013. She has contributed to several publications on Heathen and Northern Pagan subjects and regularly presents rituals and workshops at festivals. Her personal practice is more diverse, as the Vanir have lead her into cross-training and service for the wider Pagan community. This has including medium and servitor training in American Umbanda, clergy training with the Fellowship of the Spiral Path, and jail ministry for local counties. She holds a BA with honors in Religious Studies from Santa Clara University. Ember has lived all her life in the south San Francisco Bay Area, and is intimately bound to the valley of her birth.
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4 Responses to Folkism and Racism vs. Personal Pride [Part 1]

  1. caelesti says:

    Great explanation! Every now and then in the Celtic or Germanic groups I belong to someone says “Why can’t I be proud of being white?” and I (or someone else) explain the difference between ethnic heritage and the “white race” as a social construct. Usually they get mad & leave in a huff after that!


    • EmberVoices says:

      Yeaaaaahhhh. Well this essay did originally come out of just such encounters, so yeah.

      The thing is, I’m very proud of my *heritage*. I’m even quite proud of how lovely my soft, pale, freckled skin is. But I’m just as admiring of other heritages, and think darker skin looks fantastic on other people. So I just don’t see how being proud of any of these things implies that I’m qualitatively better than anyone else.

      But then, I don’t assume anything in the world is a zero-sum competition unless it’s overtly defined as such. I’m told that is weird of me.


      Liked by 1 person

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