Throughout the last few years (especially the last year to be specific) I’ve posted some of my struggles with the online Slavic pagan and Rodnovery community. I’ve also posted some troubles I’ve had with the broader pagan community. But that’s easier to fix. See, I’ve got a few good groups I’m part of online that are “pagan” and dedicated to ethical, smart, resourced and intellectual conversation, research and practice. So it’s easy to isolate myself from most of the more…less savory aspects of the broader community. I can choose to stay out of groups that are problematic, and still get resources and new knowledge from others.
That’s just not possible when it comes to Slavic paganism. There’s a few good reasons for this, but it’s also a huge ethical dilemma for me. Because I hate sanctioning or even being tangentially related to oppression, bigotry, xenophobia or discrimination. And so there comes my latest issue and a lot of thinking that I’ve been doing over the last few months.
What do you do when discrimination is at the core of spirituality?
I don’t have an answer, to be honest. Because I am not at all party to this. I work hard to be open, respectful and polite to anyone within the group at large. I work hard to not be part of the problem, to not appropriate, to ensure I am not discriminating against others, being a bigot or xenophobic or participating in oppression. I do not want to be part of such acts. And that has meant that I’ve slowly culled myself out of groups that would participate in such acts.
Sure, that does mean that my interactions are limited. But I would take quality, respectful small groups over large connections with people who go against my moral code. It’s just part of the way I am, and I am actually quite committed to remaining learning, growing and ensuring that I do not participate in actions or groups that could lead to any negative acts against others. And when it comes to the larger community–this is rather easy for me. Because, as I said, I can just seek out small, insular groups that are intelligent and have the same and similar values to me.
But, I am a Slavic polytheist. And that is the problem.
Not in terms of my beliefs. I’m comfortable and pleased with my own beliefs. But my community is a den of xenophobia, racism, homophobia, ableism and bigotry. I’ve written about it before. And I really hate to focus on what is bad; because as individuals many people within my community are wonderfully warm, friendly, and have been very kind to me over the years that I’ve been associating and learning (even back when I was a generic “pagan” and was just reading about Slavic myth because my family came from those lands and I was curious). So I feel bad that I tend to write about the troubles; but that’s generally how it goes, right? – only 1 happy person will tell you about it, but 7 angry people will tell you how you screwed up (or whatever it is).
I’m not opposed to being proud of heritage. Irish? Celebrate all the Irish culture and history. Italian descended? Same. Russian? Brazilian? Chilean? Moroccan? South African? Chinese? Cambodian? — all the same. I am proud of my ancestors and where they came from, how they all came together to end up with me as I am. I do think that understanding and respect, pride and interest in your cultural heritage is healthy and a good thing. Not to mention, people have an intrinsic interest in knowing where they came from.
I do however have a problem when interest and pride in one’s own personal history devolves into bigotry, racism and disrespect for other people. Which is why I’m such a vocal opponent of bigotry, discrimination or x-phobia in all its forms. Healthy interest in personal history is no justification for any form of awful behavior.
My community is rife with all sorts of problems. Not the smallest among these being rampant xenophobia, sexism and bigotry. I’ve written before about how you get people from one Slavic country spouting nasty things about people from other Slavic countries – i.e. a Polish man lambasting a Serbian man for being a “covert Muslim” or “Orthodox plant” in Slavic communities. Or I’ve seen a Russian person lambast a Polish person for not being “Slavic enough”; a Czech person insulting a Russian person for something that was never made clear…and that’s just within the larger Slavic community itself–not even branching out to the larger world.
Hell–I’ve been called a “German bitch” several times since I first started looking at Slavic paganism, way back in high school. Admittedly, my contact with Rodnovers immediately soured me on the whole community back in high school, so I retreated. Then when I started researching in bulk several years ago, I was very cautious at the start about revealing that my family is partially German; that I’m proud of my German heritage and my ancestors. I was even more cautious when I learned that my family was in part Sudetenland German; because I know historically how fraught that is.
Nowadays I flat don’t fucking care. I’m Czech, Polish, and German–as well as other cultural heritages. But I will not hide that I’m German as well as Slavic. And I’m proud of my German cultural knowledge; that I am fluent in German and speak a 2nd language is a huge accomplishment. I’m the only person in my family fully fluent in a 2nd language. So I quit hiding this part of myself about 3 years ago online.
It’s still a problem though. I mean, when the community discusses about how they’re open to all people–and especially those of diaspora–that’s not totally true. When I mention the vitriol I’ve been treated to, I get the lip service about how modern day Slavic pagans don’t care about if you’re German. And that is true in small numbers and groups. But the fact remains that I am not the only one, and nor will I be the last, who has German ancestry who has been called insulting names and demeaned just because of who my family were.
And lately I’ve been having ever more troubles. Usually talking with a huge, varied group of people creates a welcoming, open environment that would ensure people are all accepted for who they are. And I will admit that I do love having at least a few groups (mostly on Facebook) where I can discuss specifically Slavic paganism, polytheism, beliefs, magic and witchcraft. Because while I love my big communities, it’s hard when you’re sometimes the only one who believes what you do, and so you can’t discuss the specific facets of your belief system just like others can.
Normally this is great. I participate, or I lurk and learn from others. I get resources, ideas, discussion on UPG and intellectual debate on historical sources. It’s a great resource gathering location for all purposes. So I’ve been really glad to have found these groups over the last 3-4 years. And usually it’s pretty good from admins about stopping bigotry when it starts. So, it’s been a good resource.
But what to do when the group leadership itself is being bigoted and xx-phobic (xenophobic, homophobic, or other -phobics)? – that’s what I’ve been struggling with the last few weeks.
Here’s a conversation that’s come up recently.
Original poster asks about what marriage is in Slavic recon. So, to set this up: I rather expect a lot of comments about all the heterosexual marriage records, the legends and mythology of male and female copulating + marrying. I expect commentary that is going to be somewhat rude to anyone who is not conforming to “traditional” binary gender norms. Whatever really, because I already am well aware of the cultural forces at play around the world right now that lead to these ideas.
A lot of replies ensue about how monogamy is the only religious, proper option in marriage for Slavs. Lots of comments about how it’s the only thing that won’t insult grandma, and therefore it’s the only appropriate road to love and the only proper marriage to be accepted by the Slavic peoples.
First person notes their opinion, that monogamy is not the only option. And points out, rather correctly, that we don’t have a lot of primary sources. And raises a valid question for the future of Slavic paganism and just what our future is in measuring faith. Then check out person 2 (blue)’s response.
Person 2’s response continues into my next screenshot I took. Now, it’s kind of a puritanical (pardon me for using the stereotypical usage and meaning; but the stereotypical understanding does fit here) response. But hey, that’s opinion. And discussion allows for opinions. My issue isn’t the opinion in the 1st paragraph in this next shot. It’s the blatantly disgusting remarks provided in the last 2 paragraphs.
Person 3 was outraged. Which about sums up my attitude.
Just like a church pastor has the right to refuse to marry a couple based on their religious beliefs, I understand if a Slavic priest or recon priest wants to refuse to marry a couple based on their personal understanding of their spiritual and religious beliefs. I absolutely may not agree (just like I don’t agree with Christianity’s many churches refusing to marry gay and lesbian couples), but I can at least accept their religious opinion to choose not to marry people within the tenets of their religion.
But what the actual hell? Person 2 compares a consensual, proper polyamorous relationship (done between consenting adults who are all well-established in the relationship) with bestiality…and then compares it further to the horror of child brides who absolutely cannot consent to a marriage. That’s a slap in the face. It’s the obvious “slippery slope” argument that has been used for decades to deny equal rights to gay and lesbian couples.
Quite frankly, I have never been so disgusted to be part of a community. And to make it worse — no one, I mean absolutely no one called this jackass on his horrific commentary, outside the 1 person. Everyone just ignored it, like what he said made total, perfect sense.
The Ethical Dilemma
Just what the hell does one do in a situation like this?
As I said at the beginning, I have a dilemma and have to make a choice. Because just what does one do when the “community” is so blatantly toxic and against your very personal morals? What do I do when I cannot in good faith nor conscience participate in a group that I know is bigoted, xenophobic, and racist? And then to top it off–the “management” is participating in such nasty commentary and actions. That absolutely no one spoke out against that horrific commentary is beyond disgusting to me.
And it’s painful. Because this pretty much means the end of my interest or faith in participating in an online community made of of Slavic pagans, polytheists and even Rodnovers. I cannot be part of a group that goes counter to my very person. It is not ethically possible. For my own sanity and moral fortitude, I cannot stay in something like this. It is counter to the way I was raised.
My choice is fairly simple, even if it is difficult. Cutting myself off from the online Slavic community is terrible. It’s not something I want to do. It means losing a good source of resources, a good option to try and learn more from others. It definitely makes it more difficult to tally my UPG against historical record, or against others who follow a similar path to myself. It also means that I’m going to lose a lot in interpersonal relations and the ability to discuss with others.
However, my morals and my peace of mind will not allow me to participate in a group where such nasty, bigoted commentary is going to pass without being called on.
To be clear, it is not just this issue and topic here. This is just the “straw that broke the camel’s back” so to say. I’ve been watching the last months as xenophobic and anti-Christian and anti-Muslim based on family background commentary has come up. It’s been racism against non-Slavs in groups. It’s been bigotry against people from other cultural backgrounds (i.e. Serbs not being Slavic “enough”, or Baltic pagans who identify as being part of the Slavic group being too “Muslim”…among a dozen other examples). It’s been homophobia cloaked as historical expertise. The last thing I can stomach or sanction is to be part of a group that is openly discriminatory and nasty.
Therefore, I have the decision to make. And it’s easily made. I am leaving the online Slavic forums I am a part of. To stay and watch such awful bigotry is not a cost I can stomach just to get easier access to some resources. I will still, even without these groups, be able to get resources. It will be more difficult, but that is something I can handle.
I will still interact on individual level with those people who I’ve met and talked with. I will still talk with and deal with those few online communities where I can engage 1-on-1 without the toxicity of the Facebook forums. So I’m not losing all my connections, but I am choosing to selectively close just who I am going to deal with.
Morally, I have to do what is right. My ancestors and my gods tell me that remaining is not on my path. It is not morally correct. And gods know that there is absolutely no point in sticking around to call out the bigotry; because it’s been getting worse for months (even with call outs) and no one is doing anything about it. So I am gone. It’s not at all worth my own honor to stick around for small benefit with a group that is clearly against my morals.
I’m admittedly a bit sad. There are good people in these groups and forums. I’ll miss them and their insight. But I have to do what is right; and the right thing to do is to leave and disassociate myself from these actions and people who insult what my gods and ancestors demand of me.∗