Yeah, this is NOT a "real magick in RPGs" post, just so we're clear. This is an actual debate related to one section of the pagan community, that came up recently on G+ with another noted gaming blogger.
He posted this blog entry, which probably won't make sense to anyone who isn't fairly up-to-speed with the pagan community in North America and its larger issues. Not just the pagan community, but specifically the Norse Pagans (usually referred to as "Asatru"), who tend to keep themselves fairly distinct from the (often flakier) mainstream Wiccan and "eclectic" pagans. The Asatru could be said to in some ways predate Wicca, in the sense that there were germanic-pagan revival movements going on since the late 19th century whereas Wicca was only invented around 1950 (though in its modern form Asatru came along after, around 1970). And obviously, you had the problem that some of those earlier forms were tied into german-supremacist movements (out of which spawned many of the ideas of the Nazi party), and that to this day there's significant groups of people who claim to be Asatru or Norse/Germanic Pagans that are also neo-nazis.
Of course, the majority of Asatru are NOT neo-nazis, and have to constantly face those issues (even from other neo-pagans) and some go out of their way to condemn racism in all its forms specifically because of that troublesome association and unwanted connection to certain disgusting elements.
There were some details in the blog entry above that confused me a bit, so I asked the blogger in question to clarify a bit more on his stance in particular, since he seemed to be both against the magazine article he felt was defamatory AND the reaction from the "Heathens United Against Racism" organization. So he referred me to this article and this article to seek to clarify his stance.
You see, there are a couple of different major schools of thought in the (non neo-nazi) mainstream of Asatru: for the majority, the "universalists", worshiping the Norse Gods need not have anything at all to do with anything resembling your racial background. It is a religious faith, like most other religious faiths, where what really matters is that you feel a connection with Odin, Thor and company, regardless of whether you came from Scandinavia, Germany, or from Shanghai. But a non-insignificant minority are "folkish" Asatru, who espouse a belief that either genetics or "ancestry" (where you came from, who the 'gods of your ancestors' were) is a crucial part of the religion; whether or not this is utterly exclusive (i.e. no non-aryans allowed) or just seen as very important (i.e. it 'makes more sense' that you check out the old religions of your own ancestors) varies from group to group.
In the latter two articles above, the blogger in question goes to great lengths to state that his own position (as a "folkish" heathen) is that it is ancestry that matters and not genetics, that in his point of view this is radically different from racism (especially what he calls the "19th century pseudo-scientific notions of race"), and that he in no way feels that his own ancestry is superior to anyone else's, just that people should follow the folk religions of their own ancestors; and he also argues from the point of view that followers of other folk-religions like Yoruba or Native American religion are allowed to be concerned about cultural appropriation and to have groups/gatherings/churches that put ancestral conditions on participation, so it should likewise be allowed for Asatru.
So all that said, here's my response:
In the first place, I agree that racism should be defined by 'prejudice' not by 'power', but there is also more than one level of racism. There is the race-hatred kind of racism, that sees one race (almost always one's own, by sheer coincidence I'm sure) as "superior" and others as "inferior". But there is also the racism that is a 'fear of the other'; the mentality of not having any problem with people of other races, feeling like they are equal even, but just not thinking that one should mix with them (in the sense of mingling, and for that matter in the sense of inter-racial relationship); the whole "I have no problem with Swedes but I wouldn't want one to buy the house next to me, go to my church, or marry my son".
In my experience, most Asatru are very unfairly painted as racist, when they are not. But most "volkish" asatru (as opposed to the regular variety) I've met have expressed one of those levels: a tiny minority (I imagine it would be a larger amount if I knew a lot of people in prisons) who are that kind of overt KKK-style racist, a small minority who are the same once you scratch the surface of their 'volkish' ideas, a larger group who are not that race-hate based racist but who are the non-mixing kind of racist, and a vast majority who (if not any of the former to any extreme) are at the very least both aggressively anti-christian and often anti-semitic as well.
I don't think you should be maligned for the likes of Varg Vikernes and his ilk any more than Christians should be maligned for the Christian Identity movement (or Thelema should be maligned for tons of really bad heavy metal music). But none of the above stops me from being critical of these.
You say that you're not talking about silly 19th century ideas about race, but about ancestry, and yet (from a historian's standpoint) the Volkish movements absolutely did start from those 19th century ideas. I'm not saying you aren't being honest about your position, but I am saying that if you remove the race-theory 19th century ideas that fed the early Volkish movement and try to base it on "ancestry" rather than some flawed genetic theory, you get into some very muddy waters.
My own ancestry is one-half Polish, one half Hispanic. On the Polish side of the family I come from an aristocratic family and can trace our genealogy back to the 13th century. I know that it's very likely that my family was Catholic for the last 1000 years at the very least. On my mother's side, based on what part of Spain they came from, it's quite possible that my family ancestry was Catholic (or at least some variety of Christian) for at least 1500 years (although of course, some of my ancestors from Spain might have been Muslims for a time; and its possible that I might have some ancestry somewhere in either line from the sizable Jewish populations that were present in Poland and Spain alike for quite some time, though I have nothing that directly points to that).
So you're arguing, however, that I should ignore that last 1000-1500 years of "ancestry", reject the last several dozen generations of my ancestors' faith, to adopt a recreation of a specific earlier period of ancestry? Why?
I mean, you might argue "well, before your ancestors were Christian they were pagans for like 20000 years!"... ok, but what kind of pagan? I mean, my mother's side would have worshiped the Roman gods for a while. Before that the Slavic gods or the old Iberian gods. So which to chose?
And this presumes that ancient religions are fairly static, and ignores migratory patterns, and all kinds of other things. Even if it made sense to ignore the last thousand years of 'ancestry', the rest of most our ancestry is a total jumble. You could claim your ancestors worshiped Thor for several hundred years, except he wouldn't even have been called that the whole time, and the way he was worshiped would have changed significantly even between 1a.d. and 1000a.d.
Thanks to historical and archaeological research, we now know that in fact ancient tribal religions, contrary to our assumptions, tend to change radically fairly frequently, in response to various factors. So to suggest that there was one single religion your ancestors practiced since time immemorial, before becoming christians for about 1000 years, is extremely dubious even if all your ancestry goes back to one single cultural group with little to no migration.
So I'm not sure what "ancestral" form of worship you are appealing to here. Or, of course, why that would be more valid than Christianity if the choice was a question of ancestral precedent rather than actual religious epiphany, except if we again get into that idea of some kind of "Foreign impurity", that Christianity is a "Jewish invention that weakens the virile European male" or something like that (which kind of ignores that those European males who adopted Christianity pretty much kicked the living fuck out of those European males who didn't, for most of recent history).
But most importantly, I don't get why I shouldn't be a Buddhist. Or why it would be better to study the Runes (which I have, for 20 years now) than the I Ching (which I also have, for 20 years now). And especially, why I shouldn't reject my "ancestral religion" of Catholicism, which I don't feel I belong in at all. And if it was OK for me to reject Catholicism in spite of it being the religion of my father, grand-fathers, great-grandfathers and great-great-great-great-great-grandfathers, it would follow that I should embrace a historical re-enactment of something vaguely resembling the faith some great-to-the-twentieth-power-grandfather might have maybe practiced two thousand years ago?
I'm not trying to condemn your faith here, but I am asking you to examine, and to feel free to respond with your argument for, what you consider the arguments for those certain principles of your faith. Do you NEED your worship of Odin to be because of 'ancestry'? If there was no such thing as "ancestry", if it turned out that tomorrow you find some old letters from your grandma in your attic that prove that your entire family is actually Jewish and your dad's side had been Thai Buddhist, would you still follow Odin?
Anyways, that's it for today. I put this here mostly because I needed some venue in which to put it.
Currently Smoking: Dunhill Amber Root Rhodesian + C&D's Crowley's Best