White feminist Paganism and the colonization of Heaven and Earth
By “DJ Ferguson”
If you were to listen to “Immigrant Song” by Led Zeppelin—really listen to the words and let their meaning sink in—it becomes clear after a few verses that despite its name the song is not about immigration. It’s about colonialism.
We come from the land of the ice and snow
From the midnight sun where the hot springs flow
How soft your fields so green
Can whisper tales of gore
Of how we calmed the tides of war
We are your overlords
On we sweep with threshing oar
Our only goal will be the western shore
How appropriate for colonizers who colonized an entire genre to use said colonized genre to celebrate colonialism, not immigration. Then again, white/European history attests to the fact that violent acquisition of land may actually be their concept of immigration. This is probably why white Americans are terrified of immigrants unless they can welcome them as fellow settlers into their colonial narratives, like when they falsely call the U.S. a “Nation of Immigrants.”
What also becomes clear in listening to the song are its celebratory Neo-Pagan trappings. And this form of white Paganism doesn’t fall alongside a celebration of colonization on accident. They are interconnected.
In the hopes of re-capturing ties to pre-Christian ways of being, white Europeans across the world are increasingly embracing various traditions they had previously demonized as “pagan.” This movement is known as “Neo-Paganism,” and interestingly enough has attracted unsavory elements that the larger Neo-Pagan movement is trying to distance itself from, specifically to white supremacist Odinism (or Wotanism).
White supremacist Odinism provides a uniquely European mythic recontextualization of the global white western male supremacy over various Indigenous peoples. Because of this, it would be easy and intuitively sensible to localize all that’s wrong with white paganism onto white men and their white god. On the surface, it would seem all Indigenous peoples who honor the genius loci, tudishen, Mami Wata, nymphs, sacred groves, and other elements that make up our shared Earth would have to do is separate the wheat from the Nazis so that we can do the work of establishing a chain of global solidarity.
But putting all of the problem on white men would ignore how the book, The White Goddess became a seminal neopagan text. It explains how there also exists a white goddess (Druantia) who has been positioned to operate to the same ends as Wotan. She is proposed to be a single goddess worshipped under many names by different peoples throughout time and space.
White environmentalism’s colonial foundations have come to merge with the global White goddess movements across the United States, Canada, Australia, and South Africa, and tend to speak very highly of “Mother Earth” as a similar massive singular entity. But they never give as much attention to the local peoples and traditions who’ve developed longstanding relationships with the ground they walk on—except as trinkets to collect and empower themselves with. Unchallenged, these movements explicitly or implicitly operate under the assumption that white/Western people, civilization, and their continued “progress” is uniquely and best suited to steward and save the planet and destroy global patriarchy—with the assistance of token PoC, of course.
A mythic, white savior narrative starring white women completes what I call the “white gender studies monomyth” that homogenizes and collapses world history of gender into white women’s story of resistance to white/Western patriarchy. This is similar to how contemporary white environmentalism tends to condemn “human nature,” even as many of us colonized people have had our identities and Indigenous ways of being violently collapsed into a more “modern,” “developed,” or “progressed” version of “Humanity™” that is only an accurate description of them.
White feminist paganism shows us we don’t merely have to separate the wheat from the Nazis, we have to separate the wheat from the whiteness, in all of its forms.
Liberal white supremacy is the maintenance of white supremacy over non-white peoples through diplomacy and pacification instead of through overt violence and deprivation. By extension, liberal anti-Blackness is the maintenance of subjugation of Black/African peoples through diplomacy and pacification instead of through overt violence and deprivation.
None of us are entirely safe from the machinations of whiteness or anti-Blackness, not even in the Spiritual or Ancestral Realm. It’ll be our gods strapped to the Get Out operating table if we can’t avoid assigning inherent virtue to white femininity, the “divine white feminine” and the empowerment thereof.
Both the new Sabrina series and the seasons dealing with Voodoo and witchcraft in American Horror Story were spoken of on social media as being empowering for women, and yet both shows ultimately use Black people, Black spirituality, and Black divinities as props for white empowerment and uplift in a way that it doesn’t for Black people in real-life or in-universe. AHS recast our crossroad(s) deities into a chthonic entity and the male equivalent of a mammy to a young white character. Other deities are invoked by white witches in Sabrina, and both series are particularly cruel to Black witches.
Just as in everyday liberal discourse, we see the embrace of a shallow multiculturalism that champions the usefulness of non-white people to white society, touts how much Black people have served or sacrificed for the cultural vibrancy of what might otherwise been a Soulless genocidal project, or romanticizes how much Black dying, praying, bleeding and screaming have propelled the moral “progress” of the United States.
White pagans don’t tend to pay much attention to the lands and histories they occupy and appropriate except as property, or as a proxy for some universalistic “Mother Earth” that white Western civilization felt entitled to dominate. Too much prodding into the issues of colonialism and anti-Blackness will earn you a response that consists of “Spiritual Bypassing,” a process in which spirituality becomes a tool to avoid accountability, among other things.
What liberal white paganism has done is spiritually bypassed Black and other Indigenous peoples—our ongoing ethnic cleansing, exploitation and displacement—in favor of using us to help them develop their own “personal relationship with Mother Earth.” This version of “Mother Earth” is essentially an attempted fusion of the “divine white feminine” and the entire planet. The aforementioned “white goddess” (Druantia) is the “divine white feminine” that “Human Nature™” needs to submit to for our own collective good, while Nazi neopagans would simultaneously have us submit to Wotan.
Druantia and Wotan are two sides of the same white coin; their hegemony and dominance needs to be flipped.
We need a global chain of solidarity among Black African peoples in touch with their own Indigeneity to do this, but one of the most persistent barriers to establishing this is the alleged lack of potent, weaponizable “contributions” to the rest of the world to use against our oppressors. This becomes a barrier among non-Black PoC as well, particularly in Marxist-Leninist (Maoist) movements that have aspired to purge traditional cultural influence as “backwards” or holding their communities back, while positioning only European-centered movements as having something to show for their efforts.
But this doesn’t mean we have to try to list off all of our accomplishments and “contributions” compared to the rest of the world. Accomplishments aren’t something that should ever be weaponized against elders in the first place, and Africans are the oldest Indigenous people on the planet. How disrespectful and dysfunctional would it be for any younger person who has accomplished something great to use it as an excuse to disdain and abuse their grandparents who laid the foundation for everything they have and do?
This is the level of evil that white colonists have committed and exceeded. Now they are discovering how to weaponize both their accomplishments and our accomplishments in connecting with our Indigeneity against us to further maintain their own dominance and legitimacy. Whiteness weaponizes everything, and if we don’t stop them, they’ll use paganism to turn “Mother Earth” into their own warship (or “exploration ship”) that they can drive to even newer lands…
“DJ Ferguson” is a Black American (Akata), freelance writer who studied Philosophy at Ball State University.