Part 3 — Folk: Being Pagan on Stolen Indigenous Lands

Three-Part Series on Irish Paganism in America

Click here for Part 1: Land
Click here for Part 2: Gods

Who are our folk? The kyriarchy would have us believe that we should stay isolated and homogenous. When we white pagans look around in our spiritual communities and neighborhoods, we must ask ourselves how segregated we still are?


Racial segregation did not go away. Reservation creation, miscegenation, redlining, exclusionary rental and real estate practices, and second generation segregation in schools (tracking) all contribute to current racial segregation in the US. We also see the same in and at our religious gatherings and groups.

So, who are our folk? Who are we in relationship with? Who are we not? How many Black and Indigenous people feel welcomed to participate?

Who do we exclude, directly and indirectly? We can no longer simply say all are welcome and leave it at that. What are you actively doing to be more inclusive? To be more in right-relationship with pagans of differing pantheons THAT AREN’T PREDOMINANTLY WHITE?

What kinds of conversations are we having to ensure a level of safety in our environments so that Black and Indigenous people can trust our spaces and gatherings? Who among our group do not have right relationships with people of colour in the community? What are we doing structurally and proactively to minimise microaggressions and macroaggressions of violence?

Former pedestal statue of Christopher Columbus at Byrd Park in Richmond, Va. Tuesday, June 9, 2020. The statue was torn down by protesters, set on fire and then thrown into a lake.

As an Irish Pagan, I’ve shared countless antiracism trainings with spiritual groups to no avail.

As an Irish Pagan, I’ve been witness to white pagans too consumed with their own traumas and hardships to bother to work in solidarity with the very active antiracism organisations in the area.

As an Irish Pagan, I’ve experienced silencing and manipulation from people in leadership who have blocked progress out of white paternalisic and white maternalistic senses of white fragility.

It is clear that there are too many white men and women in charge of pagan groups in America.

It is clear that there are too many white exclusive pagan groups period in America.

Protesters and police face each other during a rally for George Floyd in Minneapolis on Tuesday, May 26, 2020.

Those who ignore conversations about cultural appropriation because they are too consumed with shame and white guilt keep stalling progress. So how do we break through?

It’s becoming clearer and clearer that change takes time in predominately white institutions because they don’t wish to change. Because their values have not changed. They have not radicalised themselves, grown themselves to accept and apply a queer Black womanist lens that is anticolonial, antiableist, antiracist, anticisheterosexist, anticapitalist, etc…

It’s a similar issue of who we see as our gods and lands? White pagan groups are grappling with the neoliberal cognitive dissonance that we are not living in a post-racial United States. And have been for the last four+ years.

One of the largest examples that has garnered international attention is what was exposed about the ADF in November 2019 just before COVID struck.

“Since November 1, four priests and one initiate have resigned from Ár nDraíocht Féin: A Druid Fellowship (ADF), citing spiritual abuse, cronyism, sexism, and racism.”

In the words of Lora O’Brien priests can do: “sacerdotal work — the ‘inner mysteries’ of devotion to a deity — and pastoral work — the community roles, functions, and responsibilities of supporting people both socially and spiritually.”

And it is becoming more and more obvious that white pagan priests are failing. They simply need real training in both these areas. Often, white pagans in America begin their pagan religious studies on their own, as solitaries, without curriculum or guidance. Without any idea how to find authentic source materials or the comprehension to understand the full context (which takes years if ever).

From there many fall into appropriation ground rather quickly as do they fall prey to opportunistic groups riddled with spiritual abuse. Whether it is abuse they perpetuate or fancy themselves capable of helping. Though many themselves do not have the toolkits to do pastoral care work — because it is rare that covens or groves will have formally trained clergy or counselors.

I think we need to stop being surprised that white supremacy would produce such groups riddled with spiritual bypassing, racism, sexism, and cronyism.

That neoliberal color-blindness and colonialism has caused so much harm and trauma.

And we cannot keep hiding from the conversation because we do not want to have the hard conversations. Breaking from patterns of abuse, whether personal or institutional takes EFFORT. Things will never change unless we care enough to actually do better. White supremacy persists because white people have been too afraid to talk about race since the Civil Rights Movements.

It’s been 53+ years and white supremacy is just as strong, if not stronger; partnering with nationalists and fascists of all ideology — looking for power and to push back against liberation.

To stand by and not get involved is a privilege and makes us both negligent and complicit in any harm that comes about due to our lack of care and involvement.

Indigenous women protesting in the Black Hills in the lead up to President Donald Trump’s visit. July 3, 2020.(Photo: Willi White, courtesy NDN Collective)

White supremacy and colonialism is relationship abuse. It is an important reframe that I think people need to think about. If we can learn from and apply our Title IX trainings to society and our groups as a whole, I feel we can all help in our own ways.

“From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs” (German: Jeder nach seinen Fähigkeiten, jedem nach seinen Bedürfnissen) is a slogan popularised by Karl Marx in his 1875 Critique of the Gotha Program.

Distracting, delegating and delaying are three alternative intervention techniques you can use when direct action isn’t an option. We need to remember these skills and tools, and if our leadership in our pagan communities is unwilling and negligent, it is time we vote in new leadership. While we invest in training and find those leaders other places their skills would be better suited for the collective.

We all need to broaden our concepts of folk: of community and family; and how we care for them.

Whom do we serve and protect and care for? Whom do you consider kin?

Protesters push a statue of 17th-century slave trader Edward Colston into Bristol’s harbour.

Our Indigenous and Black siblings have been seeking liberation from white supremacy on Turtle Island since 1492. It’s been 529 years… it’s past time to weave some magic to Dismantle, Defund, Return, and for Consent. Will you and your kin and gods help us?

*It has been a pleasure reflecting upon the vows I have taken, and will continue to write about my experiences here on Medium.*

Anthropologist. Abolitionist. Cultural Critic.