ETA (12 March 2014): I highly recommend reading the follow-ups to this post, first. This was a hasty post written poorly and making some sloppy analogies to support my points. The follow-ups are much clearer.
Amongst activists and sociology majors, “privilege” simply means “to be the assumed default and thus automatically catered to”; there is also an implication of “to be of a demographic most earnestly catered to”, and there are studies that show, for example, that people who are lower on the socio-economic ladder are more likely to believe things told to them from certain “authoritative” figures, like a doctor or lawyer, no matter how wrong it might seem, while those higher up will at the very least try and negotiate, and that this is because the systematic oppressions at play leads the financially comfortable to believe they deserve an active role in this because of a pre-conceived notion of having “earned it”, while those who are struggling have been conditioned to believe that they have to take orders, even if it feels wrong, even if they don’t trust it, because that is simply how the world works. For a tragic example of how this systematic oppression has been exploited in very recent history, take a minute to learn about the Tuskegee experiment, wherein US Public Health officials, between 1932 and 1972, knowingly and deceptively infected rural African-Americans in Alabama (one of the poorest such populations) with syphilis to examine the progress of the disease untreated, all the while telling these men (who likely infected many others who were outside the study) that they were “being treated for bad blood”; while these men were compensated with otherwise free medical care (just not the life-saving penicillin to treat their syphilis), food, and burial insurance; again, this is an extreme example of when the tower of socio-economic privilege is used to exploit people –more often than not, privilege is used to silence others, dismiss their concerns, and maintain the position of the privileged.
It’s easily argued that, in Anglophonic society, those who are “most privileged” tend to have the following traits in common: white / Caucasian in skin colour, male, heterosexual, cisgender, masculine-presenting, able-bodied, about 20-35 years old, middle-income and bourgeois-aspiring, Christian, taller than “average” in height (US-born men average about 5’8″, UK-born men tend to average about 5’9″ –sorry Jon Stewart, you ARE NOT “short”), speaks English as a first language, is fairly attractive, and is in physical condition comparable to that of a minor league baseball player. Sure, the flapping heads at Faux News and other ignorant conservatives with their heads up their collective arse often try to argue such people are the ones that are “REALLY persecuted”, but the facts tend to support that, no, it is the white, het, cis Christian male who is with privilege.
They are the target audience for the overwhelming majority of films and telly programmes, video games.
They tend to be overwhelmingly selected for professional positions, even if others are more qualified.
They are among those most-conditioned by society to believe they’ve “earned” a good life, even if they’ve done little, if anything, to secure one.
Well, that’s greater society, also known as the overculture, and isn’t entirely relevant to the idea of Wiccanate privilege –except on the handful of occasions it is (I’ll get to this).
In smaller communities or subcultures within the overculture (such as GBLTs and pagans and so on), the system of privilege is often mimicked in idiosyncratic ways relevant to that community, and to some extent, this can be an extension of the overculture, but on occasion, the overculture simply reinforced the idiosyncrasies of the subculture’s pyramid of privilege. The GBLT community has no shortage of people recognising that gay men (or cisgender gay men and lesbians) are highly privileged, and this is even represented in the overculture — “GBLT media” is more often “gay media” geared toward the interests (or presumed interests often based on stereotypes of) gay men. Bisexuals, in both the GBLT community and the overculture, are often “erased” from consciousness in favour of presenting both living and historical people as having a “less complicated” monosexual preference –who cares that Janis Joplin had at least as many affairs and relationships with men as she had with women, lesbians would rather portray her as straightforwardly “lesbian” at the expense of the woman’s actual complexities of character, and don’t try and explain to the fangirls on Yaoi Gallery that Alexander the Great can’t easily be regarded with modern terms for sexuality, as the assumed sexual default in ancient Hellas and Makedonia was essentially bisexual, and more importantly, male sexuality in Alexander’s day was more along the lines of “Top or Bottom” rather than “Het or Homo” (and it was far more privileging to be, or at least be assumed to be, a Top). And don’t get me started on all the crap the TS/TG community gets not only from outside the GBLT community, but from within it, as well –I’m still having a hard time getting my friend who runs the local drag night to introduce me as “Miss Lavender Jarman” rather than the “Mr”, which is reserved for drag kings, and now this has probably implicitly outed me as trans male faster than my messed-up surgically-reconstructed nipples ever could (not that I’m trying to “live stealth”, but ferchrissakes…, you don’t introduce the faux queen as “Mr”, don’t do it to me), and I know some trans women who’ve had it worse from lesbians (and I would rather let them speak for themselves than be so presumptuous as to assume I can relay their stories as well as they could).
Within the pagan community, the “Generic Popular Wicca-based Neopaganism” (henceforth “Wiccanate paganism”; Traditional Wicca, such as BT/Gardnerian or Alexandrian, is “Wicca”) is the assumed default. During the “pagan identity crisis” that’s been cycling the pagan blogosphere every few months since 2010, I’ve seen several people comment not only as non-Wiccanates who lament this, but as Wiccanate pagans unaware of their own privilege and insisting that we’re all united because, as far as they’re concerned, “we all share a history with Wicca” (an exact quote I’ve seen from several people).
I don’t have a history involving Wiccanate paganism (at least no more than a basic intro reading out of curiosity), and I know an increasing number of Hellenists and others in recon-based paths who do not.
A staggeringly vast amount of the media output that is not only ostensibly about, but ostensibly for, including the media that is clearly by-and-for those in the pagan community is overwhelmingly focused on the Wiccanate —from books to cable television “documentaries” to blockbuster films, and even music popular in the pagan community. The language of the greater pagan community is the language of the Wiccante paganism they read about in all the same books, or at least books that have been influenced by those books. The most common depictions of the gods and goddesses on any pagan website, shop, or book pages are based on generally Wiccanate understandings: There is no martial aspect of Brighid ever represented in commercially available statuary or paintings and illustrations, Hekate is overwhelmingly the grey-haired dowager imagined by Robert Graves rather than the maiden of Hellenic myth, and Pan is not only emasculated (I’ve never seen a Wiccanate depiction of Pan with his ginormous cock, for fuck’s sake) he’s practically just Dionysos with goat’s legs and horns cos worshipping a truly physically ugly deity isn’t something that your average Ms Pseudonymous Notafluffy (Really, I’m Not!) can wrap her poor li’l head around, and not to mention “they’re all just aspects of The God”, except somehow Zeus, who is regarded as little more than a serial rapist villain from the draw pile for Law & Order: SVU writers due to the unfortunate connotations of linguistic drift and the lingering Victorian convention to translate the ancient Hellenic into “rape” (not only has the word “rape” an etymological root in common with “robbery”, but even as recently as the Victorian, any “good girl” who might have chosen to run off and elope with her boyfriend was “raped” by some cad, because women of fair breeding [by which Victorians tended to mean white and bourgeoisie (or at least aspiring to said)] would never choose that freely and a true gentleman would ask her father and only proceed with her father’s blessing).
In spite of having never been a “Wiccan”, I can wade through most books that purportedly claim to be written for broad appeal, not only can I still tell that most of these books are still at least 80% Wiccanate in their language and lessons, but I also have to sit and think about everything I read, and far more than I imagine most do, so that I can adjust the advice to my religion and its practices (after all, just because it’s clearly not for my religion doesn’t mean that the advice is completely useless); and about half of any given book is generally irrelevant to my religion.
Having never been a Wiccan myself, I honestly barely understand what a lot of the supposedly “general pagan community” means when they say “casting a circle” or “drawing down the moon”, I don’t even know what “drawing cross-quarters” or whatever it is actually means (or I’ve long forgotten it) —I know these are rituals important to Wiccanate paganism, maybe some traditional Wicca, but that’s about it; I know a few things here and there, but in most conversations with Wiccanates and former-Wiccanates, I’m genuinely lost when they start going on about certain things, because that’s just not a region on my spiritual map. I’m familiar with the Roots in Empedoclean understanding, but I really don’t know how well that corresponds with a Wiccanate understanding of Elements and judging from a few things I’ve read from others, and considering how lost I feel in maybe half those discussions, I’d say it’s not exactly the same thing.
Having never been a Wiccan, I do not (as some of my ex-Wiccan Hellenic acquaintances do) struggle to remind myself that Hekate is a maiden goddess and She was never part of Robert Graves’ invention of the “Maiden-Mother-Crone Triple Goddess” to the ancient Greeks, but when I go to a pagan shop and see a “Hekate statue”, I struggle to see Hekate in those resin-crafted harridans, sometimes with torches and dogs to give her something recognisable in common with the Hekate I’ve worshipped —I’ve no doubt this is some goddess or another, and maybe a Goddess who responds to the name Hekate in a way like how I myself and the actor portraying Mr Bean respond to what’s phonetically the same forename, but it’s not Hekate as I’ve always known Her, it just isn’t.
Within the pagan community, at the very least, Wiccanate paganism and those who practise it clearly have immense privilege, and it’s noticed by everyone who does not practise it, and especially so to those who never have.
Unfortunately, most Wiccans are blind to this in the same way that most white people can be blind to their own privilege in the overculture because they’ve been taught to be “colourblind” since they were children and this notion of “racial colourblindness” is believed to be reinforced by the fact that Will Smith is an exception to the rule of all action heroes being white and there’s finally a Black man in the white house, and all the while, they’re still making subconscious racialised judgements —like unfairly judging, say, the Obamas as having “bad, haughty attitudes”, when they’re actually no more stuck-up than the Clintons or Caters and every bit as pleasant, and the reality is, anyone who says that sort of thing is just making a thinly-veiled euphemism for “uppity Negroes” —but again, I digress (apologies, with a memo to myself that I really gotta delete a certain person from FaceBook for drinking the Faux News Kool-Aid).
Every single “Paganism 101” book I’ve read to date is careful to dedicate a single chapter to how “diverse” the pagan community can be, and how many religions and occult or mystery traditions are encompassed under that “umbrella term”, and after that chapter is finished, the book resumes talking only about practises that are “Eclectic” and Wiccanate in nature. Wiccanate pagans are pretty much conditioned from their first book on the subject to see themselves as only a part of a community that is equally or almost-equally representative of over a dozen or so religions and equally accepting of potentially hundreds or thousands of religions practised by no more than a baker’s dozen of people all the while being completely oblivious to the fact that theirs is typically the only religion in the pagan community that the pagan shops with storefronts and the popular pagan writers ever really cater to –much like kids who grew up seeing all manner of whites AND various people of colour represented relatively equally on Sesame Street, but then as they get older, they seem oblivious to the fact that their schools, places of work, and preferred media is overwhelmingly white, but they always refer to The Black Guy in HR, or their collection of Rickey Martin CDs, as if it somehow proves real racial diversity in their lives.
So basically, to follow with the tacky allegory of race (I hate making comparisons to other systematic oppressions, but sometimes it’s the best way to get the point across), within the pagan community, Wiccanate pagans are like the white kids who don’t just find it hard to see why racial issues are important, but will get belligerent with various people of colour who do have had a hard time getting a leg up in white society because of what’s still too-often a colour barrier. Because Wiccanate pagans have been taught about the alleged diversity of pagan community, they naively believe that this diversity is fairly represented at big pagan gatherings, on the big pagan blogs, and in any bookstore that not only has a mere section for pagan books (like, say, Barnes & Noble’s “Metaphysical and Occult” shelf), but is completely dedicated to pagan media. They’ll point to a ritual for Athena at the current convention and say “look, Hellenism is represented!”, failing to acknowledge that the people running that ritual are Dianics who likely do not understand Athene the way that traditional Hellenists would.
The fact of the matter is, all other religions allegedly under the “pagan umbrella” are simply not fairly represented. If you’re not practising some form of Wiccanate Paganism that’s taught in popular books, you tend to consider yourself lucky if one of the hundreds of pagan “primer” tomes will at least have a paragraph giving a fairly accurate explanation of your religion. If you don’t have a panentheistic, pantheistic, or so soft a polytheistic view that it borderlines monotheist interpretation of the deities, or are at least “Divine feminine monotheistic”, then chances are good that you’re going to find yourself in a minority at any pagan gathering, even the biggest ones, like ConVocation, Pagan Spirit, or Pantheacon.
When I was on WyrdWays with Galina Krasskova and Sannion in October, Galina mentioned something that I hadn’t really consciously noticed before, but certainly wondered every time I saw the evidence staring at me: The overwhelming majority of the times that even major pagan blogs, bring up even Heathenry, it’s either cos of Neonazi Heathens making the news, or as a tie-in to racism, or as barely more than a footnote on the subject of Pagan Prison Ministry. The overwhelming majority of times that African Diaspora religions are brought up by even the major pagan blogs is cos of animal sacrifice or simply alleged animal sacrifice in the news again (with maybe an exception made when white people into Hoodoo or Santeria write a book about it —which is certainly more racist baggage that I’m sure most Wiccanates and other pagans don’t even realise they do). Now with Greece’s Golden Dawn party making international news, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if that’s all that brings up Hellenismos in the major blogs over the next few years –it was nice having the saddle of academia while it lasted, but it had honestly been nearly two years since JP-W had brought up Hellenismos without Golden Dawn, at least until the advent of Elaion’s new charity endeavour; I know people who’ve said they forwarded information about the Hellenic Revival Fest to him, but I guess it just ain’t “pagan news of note” unless it’s about Wicca or those ding-danged recons and their wacky Nazis! :-/ (“Oh, but Ruadhán! The Wild Hunt mentions ADF a lot! Like, a lot of the time!” Yeah… That’s all well and good, but honestly? I read a lot of sources on ADF and Neo-Druidry in junior high and high school, and since then, and while the origins of Neo-Druidry go back further than any sort of Wicca or most polytheist reconstructionism [the 18th century as a cultural movement, as a spiritual movement, the mid-1800s —Vlassias Rassias of YSEE has been very staunch on his stance that YSEE is “not a reconstruction” but a descendent of the 18th Century “Stratioti tradition”, making its practises about as old as Neo-Druidry], the reliable sources for Celtic religions are not that great, even if there are clues here and there as to what pre-Christian Celtic religion, much less the Druid caste, may have practised. And ADF really seems to have more in common with Wiccanate paganism than it has with Celtic Reconstruction than some people want to really believe, even though it does seem to generally be a recon-friendly group.)
Now consider the fact that, even still today, reporting on the news is highly skewed toward the favour of privileged classes of people. When crime happens in poor urban areas, you barely ever hear of the poor urban white kids getting into trouble, the only news stations I’ve seen report missing Black children have been in historically Black metropolioi (Detroit and Philadelphia), and even then, most of the kids turned out to be from fairly affluent Black families. Even on the occasions when a poor black or Hispanic kid dies accidentally, everyone on the news is quick to portray the parents as somehow far more negligent than Eric Clapton apparently was —must be nice to get a Grammy for “Song of the Year” cos your kid died in a horrible accident while you were working and the world demonises Mrs Hypothetical Hernandez cos her kid died in a horrible accident while she was working!
(As an aside, as I had just mentioned him, did you know there’s far more damning evidence that Eric Clapton is a fascist / racist than there is of most Neofolk artists, no matter how much one wants to point the finger at Neofolk and then quip “trust me, I’m a Goth”, as if it actually means anything, while turning a blind eye to the racists that everyone knows the names, even if not the words and/or deeds of.)
Now, I’m not putting all the blame on Wiccanate paganism for why the mainstream overculture still can’t figure out that there are other religions under the pagan umbrella —the major proponents of Wicca have been pretty PR-savvy since about the 1950s; Gardner and Cabot and others have been far more wily than some people tend to realise, and unfortunately we live in a world where slick promotional work gets far more honour than us nerds in the library stacks who’d rather debate the finer points of Democritus, or at least which Judge Dread song really embodies a Dionysian sense of humour (Sannion? I say it’s “Up With the Cock”, now it’s your turn). But the pagan community, amongst itself, claims to be better than that. If you don’t believe me, go see for yourself that the pagan community consistently claims to care more for fairness in representation of minority religions than the mainstream. The reality of the thing, tough, is that pagan media falls into its own idiosyncratic version of the power structure that plagues the mainstream (and not to mention: it also retains a lot of the social issues, like sexism, racism, queerphobias, and so on, that continue to plague the mainstream), and before any progress can be made toward a better understanding in what’s supposed to be an interfaith community, this power structure has to be addressed and ultimately disassembled. No one religion can be favoured over another, and this has to be shown in actions as well as platitudes; lip-service toward “inclusion” can no longer be accepted or even tolerated.
It’s been accepted and tolerated for so long because of the sort of learned helplessness that the disenfranchised become conditioned to: When a hungry dog is thrown a bone, the last thing on its mind is “is this going to be what I need?”, its thoughts are going to be more along the lines of “hey, at least I got something!” In a similar fashion, when you’re a Hellenist, or CR, or Heathen, Kemetic, or so on, and the local Pagan Pride day happens, amongst those non-Wiccanates who attend, one of two things happens: A handful of people might go one or two times, if only to see if there are other Hellenists or so on in the area who showed up, or at least make suggestions on how to really include non-Wiccanate pagans and polytheists, but others might go every year, regardless of whether or not they meet anyone of their religion, or whether or not the organisers are willing to take advice, because they were thrown a bone. It’s not what they need, but it’s something that claims to be welcoming, and well, “at least it’s pagan of some variety”? Many simply learn that their local community will NEVER cater to their needs, and wants no suggestions on how to accommodate them, so they drop out of the broader pagan community and keep to their own practises and whatever semblance of their own religion’s community they can get, even if it’s only on the Internet.
To be fair, this power structure exists in its own ways in just about every subculture. GBLTs are becoming well-aware of the fact that in spite of the fact that the best rioters at Stonewall in ’69 tended to be trans women and bisexuals (in fact, Bisexual activist, Brenda Howard was THE person to organise a march on Christopher Street on the first anniversary of the Stonewall Riots she was in, thus inventing the “pride parade”, most of which are lucky to have a Bisexual float, these days), the community’s major events are largely centred on the culture of gay men with the more mainstreamed lesbians following very close behind.
Well… Hrmm… The music-and-fashion subcultures tend to be less idiosyncratic, but issues like classism, sizeism, and in some such subcultures more than others, racism are still major elephants in the room that no-one wants to really address, in spite of any and all claims made by some major figures in those scenes to be better than the mainstream.
While it’s impossible for even one such as myself, with a toe in various subcultures, to fix everything in all the communities I’m a part of, I do think that by saying this here, I can hopefully illuminate the inherent privilege that the pagan community as a whole affords to that the Wiccanate paths. As the community grows not only in numbers, but in diversity, this privilege becomes less and less relevant. At one time in the early 1980s, I’m sure it seemed lucky for people to have a big pagan gathering at all, and maybe it seemed reasonable to have a dominant focus on Wicca, cos that’s what most people who were likely to attend practised (even though, in spite of “Allergic Pagan” John Halstead’s claim that reconstructionist pagans have only really been a thing since the 1990s, er, NO, the Heathen community has existed since the 1970s, at the very least, and as I mentioned above, there is ample evidence that attempts at Celtic and Hellenic polytheistic revivals have been made since the mid-1800s) —but thirty years later, and after a major pagan publishing boom in the 1990s, there is really no excuse for the overwhelming Wiccanate privilege any-more. What there’s even less of an excuse for is the casual privileging that still goes on amongst people who claim to be all for diversity, yet saying things like “one thing that unites the pagan community is that we all have a background in Wicca!” While I’m sure most still do, and am equally sure the sentiment is well-intended, that’s simply not true of everyone, and even amongst those to whom it is a true statement, well, all of those former-Wiccans apparently do not practise it anymore, so by suggesting they can, or even should still do Wiccan things at pan-pagan gatherings is to ask them to erase their current religious identity because it’s just somehow easier for other people to only book Wiccanate events than it is to make an effort to truly be inclusive of all paths!
Unfortunately, i don’t have all the answers on how to fix this –this is one of those highly uneasy answers I mentioned earlier in the blog project. I do, though, believe that it can only begin to be fixed when those who have privilege within the pagan community recognise and address it and then become truly willing to engage those of different paths and work toward better representation of all paths under this alleged umbrella.