Polemical topics for polytheists (part 7): Ethnicity and “Race”

First view: Neither ethnicity nor “race” are important in polytheism, because religion is a matter of spirit and practice and toleration

Second view: “Race” is not so much a social construct as a reality, and therefore necessary in polytheism. Ethnicity is less important and reliable, because it can change or overlap.

Balanced view: “Race” is a rather useless word, but ethnicity is an indispensable concept in polytheism that needs to be redefined* in today’s troubled, modernized and global world.

Scientists hold that people descend from a common stock that migrated from Africa many thousands of years ago. They also hold that all living things descend from a common beginning. There is a tendency to interpret these points, especially in our troubled world, as a means to attain peace and harmony throughout the earth, putting an end to ambition, greed, oppression, and injustice. Although this is a fair & honest field to tread, it requires examination to reach the correct and best path possible with the least obstacles. In my previous piece, I had already gone through the problem of colonialism and imperialism (call them the evil twins, if you will), explaining how they led to the destruction and decline of indigenous polytheisms in history. Since we are living nowadays in the many disturbing consequences of this catastrophe, it is natural that our emotions should be unsettled, in our hopes to put an end to all the misunderstanding and suffering. But if our views are already formed, and look like the first or second above, let us endeavor indeed to attain the very same peace and harmony we originally hoped to restore. A balanced view is thus necessary and I have offered my own sincere and well-meaning attempt at it. If monotheism is a global belief and polytheism a regional one, it is easy to see how badly “race”, a large ill-defined term, applies to the latter. It is also easy to guess why the term was in use from the late 18th century: European intellectuals thought they were superior to other peoples, and thus justified colonial expansion as a selfish means to profit, avoid wars in Europe, and hypocritically “improve” backward peoples. This naturally sounds like a monotheistic idea dressed in atheism and modernism. By the late 19th century, however, something changed: as with all universal ideas, divisions and factions arose to claim which part of the “white race” was the best—this was partly the reason for the extreme madness and horrors of the Second World War. But why replace one extreme with another? Monotheists do so with their endless dualisms of “good and evil”. Globalism and humanism are now held (by many) to be the solutions to the old troubles of the world—more universal terms to complicate the situation further, which we see the consequences of today. There is also a great degree of pitiable irony in it too: the ideas of globalism and humanism (because promoted, if not enforced, by a dominant European culture) are infused with the same old colonialism, only in a different manner. Intermarriage among people of distant ancestry is held to be the badge of toleration and love and harmony, and opposition to it a sign of hatred that needs to be challenged constantly. These dualisms never prosper and always fester. If there is no compromise and common understanding, the problem will persist and grow. Let me raise two simple questions: 1) What is the purpose of having distinct pantheons & cultures when a person of any ethnicity can join them? 2) What is the purpose of believing one “race” is naturally superior to another, when all peoples have Gods? By reflecting on these two simple questions, one arrives at a rather simple conclusion: Ethnicity is inherent in all traditions of polytheism because it is an ancestral mode of belief, but no ethnicity is better than another. We can thus harmonize the common with the distinct. For instance, if someone is a Celtic polytheist, it must be because of dominant Celtic ancestry, but that person should by no means look down on a Hindu polytheist. But should a Celt seek to become Hindu, or vice versa? No. Why? Because in doing so he disregards his ancestors and implicitly considers a foreign pantheon or culture superior to his own. Is it then possible to be Celtic and Hindu at the same time? I think not. Why? Because the pantheons are distinct, based on many generations of ancestors with distinct practices; besides, the Gods can be jealous and territorial, much like us. The next question is, what of the case of mixed ancestry? This is the complex business that requires most reflection, but simplicity is always possible. I can think of some convenient ways to apply mixed ancestry to polytheism, and I will distinguish these in two groups:

A) With mixed ancestry from very distant lands, one may consider one or more of the following:

1-Choose the side that resembles your features most. The human face tells a sacred and wonderful story about the ancestors that must always be embraced and accepted.

2-Men may choose the side with paternal ancestry and marry from someone within that culture. Women may side with maternal and marry accordingly.

Random example: Dwayne Johnson has mixed ancestry from Celts, West Africans and Polynesians, but he looks more Polynesian than Celtic or West African. He may thus take the side of the Polynesians, who are dominant in his features.

N.B. People of such mixed ancestry may still worship the ethnic Gods of both sides, but a gradual transition into a dominant culture and pantheon is always more convenient. It is no secret that the vast majority of people with mixed ancestry from distant lands suffer more or less from a confusion about their identity.

B) With mixed ancestry from lands not very distant, one may do the same as above, or additionally:

1-Choose a middle ground or culture to approximate your two sides.

Random example: Myself! I have ancestry from Hellenes, Southern Illyrians and Northern Egyptians. My dominant side is Hellenic and my face says so. I have chosen the side of the Hellenic pantheon and culture only, while maintaining a very considerable interest and great reverence for the Illyrian and Egyptian pantheons and cultures, which were historically quite approximate to the Hellenic.

Let me conclude this long post by saying that I know very well and by personal experience how a mixed ancestry can be problematic in many ways. Even though my ancestors are not too far apart, the cultures sometimes (for various historical reasons that one can’t change suddenly) can clash here and there. There can also be contradictions: The Greeks nowadays are known to admire Egyptians far more than their nearer kin, the Albanians. Once we understand and experience the ease and comfort of being at home, and indeed at one home, the current absolute view towards intermarriage will change. We need to regionalize and re-indigenize everything, including marriage. Intermarriage looks pretty and interesting in the beginning, but it usually leaves behind a trail of confusions and misunderstandings, sometimes with irreconcilable problems and regrets. My now separated parents could tell a fine story as to why this is indeed the case!

__________

*The word ethnicity is derived from the Greek εθνος (ethnos) which anciently meant people or nation, and by extension, also custom. It is easy to misunderstand “nation” here as alluding to a large number of people, whereas in ancient times the notion was synonymous with “large tribe”. It would be useful to steer away from huge concepts as much as possible and embrace regional identities, which would be consistent with polytheism. An idea of the “nation” will inevitably exist, but it should not prove at the expense of regionalism. In the case of Greece (for example), the Cretans have their ethnos, the Macedonians the same, the Peloponnesians likewise, etc. They may all be Greek, but they are Cretan, Macedonian and Peloponnesian first. These distinctions are necessary for indigenous polytheism, the revival of traditions, and indeed necessary for avoiding the nationalism and globalism (either material or ideological) that are plaguing the world’s cultures and stability today.

 

12 thoughts on “Polemical topics for polytheists (part 7): Ethnicity and “Race”

  1. Jean-Pierre

    Thank you for this post and giving me some personal clarity.

    I wonder, as an aside, about the option of the witch for those of mixed heritages. I say it is an aside, because I’ve appreciated that one of modern polytheism’s necessities now is building communit(-y/ies), and the path of the witch has traditionally been a solitary path, neopagan uses of the word notwithstanding. If one can speak of a cross-cultural idea of the witch, it would be someone who stands, with at best, only one foot in the community and traffics not just with the local spirits and gods, but also other peoples’ spirits and gods, which might explain some of the animus against against them.

    I bring it up, because I got to thinking about John Beckett’s talk about how polytheism doesn’t need everyone to be a cleric or mystic. It also needs it’s “regular” folk, too. In a same vein, people may try to force themselves to fit in with one pantheon and community or another, when they’re just doing harm to themselves and the communities they’re trying to fit in with.

    On another note, I think the intermarriage issue is… complicated. I now wonder if the differences between my parents’ cultures contributes to their marital problems. I don’t think marriages between different ethnic groups can’t work, but like with all marriages nowadays, I think people could benefit from having honest conversations about what the hell they’re about to get into. A lot of shocks couples get 10, 20, 30, 40, etc. years down the line could be avoided if people don’t take it as a given that they’re on the same wavelength. Rather than having the honest conversations about their backgrounds, people can definitely feel compelled to be blind about the differences. It’s not compassionate to be blind and then have everything explode on you years later, to yourself or anyone else involved.

    Again, a very good post. I grant that a couple of years ago, I would have been very reactive to the ideas presented.

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    1. Melas the Hellene Post author

      Thank you for your comment and question. I am an occasional reader of John Beckett and the point you mention is yet another good one he makes. When I advocate indigenism, I mean exactly what he does by “regular folk”. There is indeed a tendency, as you suggest, for serving many people through generic spirit work, shamanism, etc. This is a future topic on my list, but I will say that although such services can provide benefit, they need the direction of a distinct and original tradition to make them truly effective and genuine. We all (more or less) still have not made the full transition from monotheism to polytheism, and I see this as an example. Perhaps people of mixed ancestry could benefit from a solitary path, but they are in need of their ancestors as much as anyone else—and community provides that direct and distinct link to the dead through common experience and ritual. And there are ancient precedents for solitary practice: seers, roaming priests & priestesses existed sometimes, but they served people of their own communities, i.e. their own ethnic people. As for your other point about intermarriage, you are correct. It does not always go wrong, but we can’t disregard the truth of the child’s inconveniences about his or her own identity—we often think a mixed identity is an enriched one, but it far more often a confused state that one eventually needs to put an end to. I speak from experience, and I’m interested to hear more about you. Do you find it at all inconvenient to be born within two different cultures? Don’t you incline towards a dominant one?

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      1. Jean-Pierre

        I had to think on that question for a bit. I live in and grew up in the United States, assimilating to a suburban… non-culture, rather than feeling any particular connection to either of my parents’ lineages. It’s messier because they both immigrated from New World countries – on my dad’s side, it’s a mix of European ancestries and on my mom’s side, it’s a Caribbean mix of Hispanic, Indigenous American, and African lines.

        If I had to say I had an inclination towards one side or the other, it goes deeper through both of the immediate cultures towards Europe. I’ve always had a sort of ease with the pantheons of Rome and Greece, and I imagine that heritage is deep, all the way back there. At the same time, I’ve had one god approach me from a culture, that as far as I know, I have no biological connection to.

        I’ve already identified with that solitary path, but I hope I can one day be of service to a community – some community; I just don’t know what that community is at this point.

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      2. Melas the Hellene Post author

        Thank you for your frankness and I can understand your situation. I was brought up in America too, and that added even more to the confusion of my identity. It was particularly bad when I returned at 16 (after 10 years abroad with my parents) with an accent, which I still retain. I had a sort of inferiority complex, but (praise be to the Gods) this greatly contributed to my seeking & finding my present alternative path. It is reasonable for you to follow your father’s side, because as a man all your male descendants will carry his ancestral DNA, whereas your mother’s will not continue. This is why I mentioned that daughter’s may follow their mother’s side because they also transmit their female ancestral DNA. A mixture of European ancestry nowadays in America usually means Celtic (British Isles, Ireland, France, or Spain) and perhaps a little Germanic. Your name is also an additional hint. You might consider pursuing Celtic polytheism; it not only agrees with your indigenous paternal origins, but also allows you to find a community and maintain to some degree your individual practices—that is, if you choose to learn the noble and ancient art of druidry.

        Liked by 1 person

      3. Jean-Pierre

        Funnily enough, I’ve pondered the idea of pursuing druidry but I don’t know how well that lines up with the fact that I’ve also felt a nudge towards Odin, that god I mentioned before. Continental Germanic and Celtic cultures had overlaps in territory, as far as I know, so maybe there’s overlap there.

        Thank you for sharing your experience.

        Liked by 3 people

      4. Melas the Hellene Post author

        You are welcome. Yes, there were overlaps along the Rhine and in central Europe mainly, as well as later integration along eastern Britain & Ireland, otherwise I do believe there is a historical and cultural distinction between the German & Celtic traditions. Unfortunately though this is often dismissed merely because more is known of the Germans, and also because many Celts were Germanized (after having been Romanized) following the counter-invasions of late antiquity. Yet the Germans, in spite of successful resistance to Rome, are by no means superior to the Celts. Taranis is as great as Odin, even though we may know less of him thus far. You may consider looking into your regional ancestry further in the true ethnic sense in order to determine your choice, if you wish. I have done this too.

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  2. Jessica Triepel

    Makes sense. One thing, the experts don’t like to draw attention to, is that the out of Africa theory doesn’t really hold water and other theories or evidence have come about, but saying all of humanity began in Africa is more desirable to the politically correct world view.
    I think for mixed races, it’s possible to honour one’s multiple ancestral roots, but it is also natural to lean towards one side or another. To have a preference.

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    1. Melas the Hellene Post author

      Thanks for passing by, Jessica. You are right about the theory of human origins–it is still unfolding and somewhat uncertain. The reason I mentioned it was to hint that universal explanations of that kind don’t bear much significance on the ground–people are inevitably drawn to distinct groups, which is a wholesome and beautiful thing. That is also why I believe it is better to have a preference for one side, in the case of people of mixed ancestry–in doing so, they can enjoy the distinction better and reap its benefits. It may be possible to venerate several ancestral Gods, but to have a dominant one is very important for personal stability and identity. If the monotheists can be extremely powerful because they align themselves altogether behind one god and tradition, we should on the other hand be careful not to weaken ourselves with too many Gods and traditions.

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      1. Jessica Triepel

        Ya, I totally get that. It never felt right to me to have a sort of collection of gods, like being decked out in a bunch of charms— it loses meaning. I’ve always preferred having a smaller group of close friends rather than a lot of casual acquaintances, and I feel the same way with my gods. Know what I mean?

        Liked by 3 people

      2. Melas the Hellene Post author

        Well said. Nor are the Gods ready to help anyone who leaps from one of them to another. There’s a kind of pride in pretending to serve or wishing to assemble many Gods at the same time. This is also why I dislike the methods of modern shamanism and divination, but that’s a topic for the future.

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  3. Paul

    Melas, thank you for opening up a little bit of your experiences and personal life to your readers. Yes, you do indeed look thoroughly Greek! I wouldn’t have thought that you possessed anything besides Greek origins. How very interesting. Where abroad did you spend those years of your youth?

    I don’t think that people who are of mixed origins should be left out in the cold, so to speak, most certainly not if they love all of their Ancestors. No one has any control over how they are conceived nor how they arrive into this world. My own personal thoughts on the matter were either to go by one’s physical features, pick whichever Ancestral tradition that resonated most strongly within oneself, or that so long as one had the ancestry, they should be permitted and not criticized for celebrating their Ancestor’s traditions – although my thoughts on the matter never went far beyond that. Your views on the different possibilities and paths that mixed origin persons could pursue are very well thought out and sensible. One can never go wrong following in the noble footsteps of one’s bloodline, whatever it may be.

    If I may be allowed to add an extra word to your mention of modern Druidry, I would urge caution when one is exploring Celtic religion(s) and to ground oneself solidly in authentic and careful scholarship and research, and to then cautiously proceed forward from there. Misinformation and falsehoods are sadly all too commonplace, in particular with the ancient Celtic world. I’ve come across all manner of ridiculous and infuriating inventions and innovations being presented as genuine ancient belief.

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    1. Melas the Hellene Post author

      Thanks, my friend. My features fit the Eastern Mediterranean region quite well, which although forms a long distance (in a semi-circle from Greece to Northern Egypt), it shares a great deal of ancestral similarity, in a comparable way to the Celts from the British Isles to Spain. I may be writing about my biography at a future date, including the places I had lived abroad. Yes, your thoughts about ancestry and polytheism are also mine. We must never be ashamed or averse of those from whom we came to be. And I am moreover in great agreement with your point of caution regarding druidry. Oh, how I would wish for true learned druids to convene and reconstruct (or even reinvent within proper method) a framework to base a revived Celtic tradition & polytheism on! It is something desperately needed, especially at this time of careless innovation. May the eloquent power of the great Ogmios fulfil it when the will arrives!

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