First and foremost, I want to make something clear. As a person of Western and Northern European descent, I condemn and repudiate Neo-Nazism, Neo-Nazi ideology, and President Donald Trump’s support of them both. Neo-Nazis and other racists aren’t saving the world for me, and I never want to benefit from what they’re creating.
I’ve been Pagan for thirty-two years, so I’ve weathered my share of misunderstanding as a result of my faith. But I wore the symbols of that faith proudly even so; the pentacle when I was practicing Wicca in my twenties, the Celtic cross when I practiced Druidry in my thirties, and the Thor’s Hammer I wear now as a Heathen. I always believed, and still do, that it was important to be the Pagan in the room and to answer any questions my non-Pagan family, friends, and colleagues might have with clarity and kindness.
In the wake of the Neo-Nazi violence in Charlottesville, Virginia last weekend, I believe strongly that I need to be a Pagan in the room again. Fortunately, I’m one among many whose minds and hearts have been moved to speak out both against Neo-Nazis and on behalf of the sacred symbols they’ve desecrated with their hateful ideology. I’m writing now to add my voice to theirs.
If you’re not Pagan, you might recently have seen Neo-Nazis use symbols you don’t recognize. Here are a few I do recognize and a brief usage description of each. Please note that these descriptions are not intended to be comprehensive.
Elder Futhark: A runic alphabet once used among Germanic and Scandinavian people. Among contemporary Pagans, it is often used as a system of divination.
Othala Rune: This is a letter in the Elder Futhark. Among contemporary Pagans, it represents family, culture, and heritage.
Valknut: A symbol associated with Odin in the historical record, it continues to be associated with him among contemporary Pagans.
Thor’s Hammer: A symbol associated with the protection of Thor in the historical record, it continues to be associated with him among contemporary Pagans.
Celtic Cross: A symbol associated with both early Paganism and early Christianity, varieties of the Celtic cross are worn by both contemporary Pagans and contemporary Christians.
As a contemporary Pagan, all of these symbols are sacred to me. I make and use rune sets for divination, of which Othala is a part. I wear either a Valknut or a Thor’s Hammer (usually the hammer), and I have worn the Celtic cross. Indeed, many Gaelic Christians of my acquaintance wear the Celtic cross as well, and this blog entry also stands in defense of that symbol for them.
None of these symbols is inherently hateful, either in their historical or contemporary contexts. Rather, they have important cultural significance to the people whose ancestors created them, and they have both personal and sacred significance to contemporary Pagans. If you’re Christian, think about how horrified you are to see the cross burned as an act of racism. If you’re Muslim, think about how horrified you are to see your declaration of faith on an ISIS flag. That’s how it feels to have the above symbols used by Neo-Nazis. It breaks my heart and leaves me weeping as I write this. It is a desecration I cannot and will not stand for.
I am only one voice. But I forbid Neo-Nazis the use of my sacred symbols. If you are a Neo-Nazi who uses my symbols in this way, you are desecrating them and bringing shame upon my faith and upon the ancestors of people who hold these symbols as cultural artifacts. I demand that you stop right now, and I call upon all Pagans of good conscience to make the same full-throated, public statement. At the very least, we help non-Pagans understand that these symbols are not inherently hateful. At most, we reclaim them for use by ourselves and our descendants.
“Where you recognize evil, speak out against it, and give no truces to your enemies.” — Old Norse proverb, from the Hávamál, st. 127