Here are a few thoughts generated by the uproar over Rhyd Wildermuth’s text at Gods and Radicals on Confronting the New Right… While I think that an unnecessary amount of confusion resulted from his lack of providing definitions for the type of Right he is discussing, specifically those who have roots in what is called the Traditionalist school of perennial philosophy, including the thought of René Guénon and Julius Evola in the early 20th century, and even if he painted very widely, there is much merit for us reconstructionist polytheists/pagans to seriously consider his points. And the fact is there is plenty of influence of this school of thought in contemporary polytheism and it is disingenuous to deny it. Just read some of the comments of the people who have crawled out of the woodwork spouting far right nonsense over this article.
As Reconstructionists, we, of course, are interested in traditions. The world is deeply wounded and many of us have found much that is healing in traditions that may or not be ancestral. So the slipperiness of language becomes a problem (tradition is like electricity, it can be used positively, negatively or otherwise); it should be clearly noted that “Radical Traditionalism” refers to the Evola/Guenon/de Benoist school and does intersect with fascism and similar far right politics. If some people, want to create universalist neopagan religion that is without roots, well fine. But I ask please be careful not to smear the work of reconstituting traditions, whether they are of nineteenth century fairy faith practices of Ireland, or of archaic Iron Age practices with “Radical Traditionalism”. If one does so, I think they should be aware they are also smearing traditional indigenous people from North American to Hawaii, from Ladakh to Nigeria. Helena Norberg-Hodge, producer and co-director of the film Economics of Happiness and author of the influential book Ancient Futures: Learning from Ladakh, is an example of a very different kind of traditionalist. I personally have long been of the mind that ancient traditions and practices are what is needed for human survival as the current unsustainable petroleum civilization breaks down and leaves everyone a ravaged landscape. And the traditions of the Irish, the Scandinavians, the Welsh and many other European cultures all have their place in that. I do have a problem with Rhyd’s damning of ‘tribalism’, but since he capitalized it, he may mean a particular iteration, but that, unfortunately, he didn’t define. The key thing to keep in mind with tribes is that they are not race-related—and that ancient Europeans didn’t even have the concept of race.
With that said, I think there is much of value to examine from the article. It claims that Reconstructionism is “one of the more significant places where the New Right intersects with Pagan beliefs. Emphasis on returning to ‘reconstructed’ traditions, older (and poorly understood) social forms and hierarchical structures, as well as an emphasis on recovering European heritage are often problematic. Further, nationalistic and racial exclusionist tendencies are often justified as being part of ‘the lore.’ Very strong language, but worth examining…
From a Celtic perspective, I think one of the most relevant questions here is how do we as reconstructionists of a Gaelic/Celtic emphasis deal with sacral kingship. I haven’t really seen any individuals or groups who really were monarchists and want to revive and live in an actual monarchy but there may be some hoping for such, for all I know. As I know I’ve discussed here and there in the past the Gaelic kingdoms and kings weren’t the monarchs of more recent European and other countries based on the ideology of divine Christian monarch invested by the Church and made by primogeniture (and often were a of a tuath, a tribe of about 2000 people and weren’t even states!), that people usually think of but nevertheless there was the whole very important symbolic concept of the sacred king (I prefer the Irish word rí) who received sovereignty, often as a liquor, from a goddess. And the filidh often played a role in not only inaugurating the king as representative of sovereignty—and even could share the king’s bed, a far cry from most rightist fantasies!
Some groups create a ceremonial king, others have the role in ritual invested in a chief druid, but there are many possibilities. I wonder if anyone would have a problem with these symbolic kings and their role in ritual? It’s likely kings arose as ritual leaders whose ritual roles eventually carried over into the mundane. There certainly are examples from places that had moved onto other forms of governance that maintained a sacred king for certain rituals, as did the city of Athens in the classical era.
I can see that some people would want religions that had no such ‘hierarchical’ roles, even of the symbolic nature, I supposed even not having one chosen for one ritual, and then another for the next. I would hope that they would be tolerant of those who do wish for such ritual reconstructions. And I would also hope that anyone wanting to literally socially recreate an Iron Age based social structure would be laughed out of the community. I know all sorts of crazy does appear in CR-oriented social media these days, but ones that I am familiar with rapidly throw up bars to those who would attempt to fly fascistic flags or assert racist notions of Celtic identity (sadly, not so much or at least not with such quick defense among some devotional polytheist-labeled groups in my experience). I do agree with Rhyd that we need strong immune systems against such intrusions or false claims. Critical thinking absolutely must be a part of reconstructionist approaches and has to be part of our immune-defenses. So this is a valid place, a vulnerable area in reconstructions to beware of people who are actually monarchists with fascist leanings.
And while I really haven’t seen much that would seem to be the “New Right” per se in a CR setting, an obsession with genetics and attempts at racial (and thereby racist) identities of Celtic identity do show up a lot. Celtic, as has been said so many times, is a linguistic term and the cultures that are based on said languages, and is not a genetic marker. People became Celtic by adopting the culture. Besides that fostering was a key custom, and thereby the continuous establishment of deep familial bonds between genetically unrelated people. Nonetheless, I think the racists who show up are dim enough to not realize that the black person or the Puerto Rican whom they consider an outsider to the traditions might well have more Irish ancestry than they do, those who would bang their chest in false Celtic pride—and have a deeper relationship to the gods.
A related area that is very unfortunate and unhistorical relating to all this is there are plenty of people in Gaelic traditionalist groups who believe in a cultural ‘purity’ and believe you can only worship Irish gods or Welsh gods, and the like, usually based on a false belief that cultures are isolated things stored timelessly in hermetically sealed vessels. I think analogous concepts can be found in some other reconstructionist religions, as among some Heathens or even some Hellenes.
So these are some points where I think we should set up strong defenses.
I’d be very interested in readers’ thought on these issues.