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This & That: Paganism — where progressivism meets the alt-right

This & That: Paganism — where progressivism meets the alt-right

This & That: Paganism — where progressivism meets the alt-right
March 30
11:00 2021

An interesting phenomenon within the last few years is the rise in different forms of spirituality that do not align with traditional expressions of religion. This has brought about the advent of different Neopagan movements, such as Wicca and revivals of older pagan religions like Hellenism and Heathenism. Perhaps the most interesting thing about this pagan revival is that this is one area where the progressive left meets the alt-right.

Within the rise of paganism, there are a number of progressives identifying themselves as practitioners of witchcraft, Wicca, and even Satanism. As noted by Tara Isabella Burton in The American Interest, many young progressives began to take up Neopagan magic and witchcraft as a response to conservative evangelicalism. There is, because of this, a link between activism and Neopagan spirituality, which has led to pseudo-religious protests that blend progressive politics with folk magic. We can see this at both the national and local level, from the mass-hexing of Brett Kavanaugh by a coven of Brooklyn witches to the social media spat revolving UNT’s YCT chapter last year, where many UNT students hexed and tweeted “Hail Satan” at the club’s leader.

Likewise, there is a movement among members of the alt-right towards other forms of paganism, with one of the most popular variants of it being revivals of the Old Norse religion, or Heathenism. While variants of Heathenism, such as Ásatrú and Odinism, have large non-identarian factions, they also have a strong alt-right presence as well. Heathens who belong to identarian factions often refer to themselves as “folkish,” meaning that their religion is an ethnic one and should be mainly or exclusively practiced by those of Northern European descent.

The draw that many alt-right members have to Heathenism is partially due to the idea that Norse paganism is solidly identarian, whereas other religions such as Christianity are universalist. This is the contention of Odinia International, an openly identitarian Odinist organization, which says on its website, “The leader of Odinia International has publically [sic] responded by stating that Odinism is a tribal religion… not [an ehtnically] universalist religion like Christianity or Islam, and that since universalism is Christian rather than Pagan, there can rationally be no such thing as a universalist Odinist.”

It’s fascinating to note that progressive paganism and identarian paganism both are influenced by politics and opposition to Christianity. Many progressive pagans practice their paganism not out of a firm belief in the superstitious and magical. As noted by Burton, much of progressive paganism, such as the Church of Satan, is openly atheistic, and much of their public practice is to mock religion and government attitudes toward religion. Meanwhile, alt-right practitioners of Heathenism seem less interested in practicing paganism because they believe that it is true they are practicing it because it’s the supposed “Aryan religion.”

Something worth pointing out is how central a disdain for Christianity is to these movements. The Church of Satan, for example, consists of no original beliefs or practices. As Brain Holdsworth points out, Satanism is parasitic to Catholicism: its use of Latin, Black Mass, upside-down crosses and so many other images are all derivative and mocking of the Catholic faith. Likewise, modern Norse paganism has a strong sense of anti-Semitism and anti-Christianity, which Odinia International calls “Jew worship.” The two movements are not religious or spiritual for the sake of being spiritual. The two movements are spiritual for the sake of their politics and hatred of Christendom.

The thing that makes Neopaganism so easy to practice is that it is basically a blank slate. Wicca and the Church of Satan are movements coming out of the 1950s and 60s, and Heathenism is a 20th-century movement that aims to revive a dead religion whose practices were mainly familial, tribal and personal rather than universal. Neopaganism is an extraordinarily flexible ‘make-it-up-as-you-go-along’ belief system, and when your primary goal is to affix your radical politics and hatred of all things Christian to some form of spirituality, your best bet is to “practice” a modern pagan movement.

Neopaganism is silly. It has no central belief structure and has the amazing ability to attract some of the most radical political actors in our current body politic. However, the draw to it shows that spirituality and religiosity are not dying out as many like to think, but are instead still latent within us and are looking for new expressions by which to make themselves known. People are still hungry for that which is beyond themselves, and it is downright unfortunate that many are turning to pagan idiocy rather than real religiosity. It would be much better for people to look into the traditions of their forebears, such as the one religion pagans seem to universally despise, rather than made up Neopagan nonsense.

Featured Illustration by Olivia Varnell

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Jackson Sweet

Jackson Sweet

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