Ethnocentrism, isn’t that – like. . .racism?!

Ethnocentrism seems to be somewhat of a hot-button word in certain scholarly Pagan circles I run in. I merely let it drop from my lips and I see people squirm as if the mention made them pucker a bit.


Therefore I want to discuss what ethnocentrism means within Reconstructionist Polytheism. Ethnocentrism merely means “focused on one’s ethnicity”. Many beliefs and practices are ethnocentric.


For instance, the African Diasporic religion of Ifa is ethnocentric. Attend one of their rituals and you will not see Catholic saints venerated, nor will you see feasts of hot-dogs and french-fries offered to their Gods (Orishas). You won’t sing a Psalm, nor will you cast a circle thrice about. Their practices, beliefs, and memes are African, and this makes sense because they are, after all, an African religion.


When a Reconstructionist Polytheist says they are “ethnocentric” they are merely saying that they are focused and centered in the praxis and beliefs of their faith’s ethnic origin. An Asatruar follows only Teutonic philosophies and practices, a Celtic Reconstructionist follows only Celtic beliefs. This does not mean these groups are racist or wish to exlude others from practicing with them. It only means that if you are an Asatruar, then your philosophy and beliefs must revolve around the Teutonic ethos, there is no room for grab-bag specials or magpie eclecticism. The very word “Asatru” means “Faithful to the Aesir”, so, be faithful.


However, those practicing such ethnocentric faiths in the “Great Melting Pot” of America have a dillemma to face sooner or later: they don’t live in Iceland, Germany, Sweden or any other such country of origin. They live in America, where the land-spirits are different, the spiritual onlays are unique and the cultures differ vastly. Some in the Reconstructionist communities have reacted with seperatist notions, suggesting building an intentional community where the “folkway” can be kept pure.


I think this is fantastical reactionism. We needn’t cloister ourselves away, high atop a mountain to understand our ethnic Gods. We needn’t exclude wisdom from other cultures or ethnicities. I count among my dear friends and elders a Santeria practitioner, a South American medicine woman and other voices of cultural diversity. I have found that, while discussing things with them, learning from them, I discover new facets of my own folkway heretofore hidden in the fog of genetic memory.


Examine the practices of Palo, Santeria, New Orleans Voodoo, Southern Hoodoo, Appalachian Granny Magic, and Braucherie, and you will see how peoples before us have met the challenge of the “Melting Pot”. Each and every folk practice mentioned has a startling amount of eclectic hodgepodge contained within, however, these folk traditions have maintained their ethnocentrism. Santeria is very Hispanic, New Orleans Voodoo is very African, Braucherie is very German. The secret these folk traditions hold is that it is possible to be American, to thrill in and love the melting pot and all it’s wonderful resources, while still remaining true to your Gods and your beliefs.


One can still be Asatru and drink Tequila at Sumbel, one can still be Celtic Recon and curse an enemy with chili peppers. It is how the extant cultural influences are channelled and put to use that divides the magpies from the ethnocentrics. It is about mindset and internal philosophy. One must always ask, how would my ancestors interpret and utilize this new thing into their practices?


The only way to truly and correctly answer this question is to first make oneself wise and well-versed in ancestral thought. Read all the myths, stories and folktales, read all the historical and anthropological data one can find. Immerse yourself in the culture of choice, only then can you navigate the cultural labyrinth of America without stumbling.


3 Responses to “Ethnocentrism, isn’t that – like. . .racism?!”

  1. You make a lot of good points here. However I looked up “ethnocentrism” and here is the definition: 1. Sociology. the belief in the inherent superiority of one’s own ethnic group or culture. 2. a tendency to view alien groups or cultures from the perspective of one’s own. ( I tend to use the second definition more, and “racism” for the first. Your use of the word is different than most people’s. It might be better to use a different term to avoid miscommunication. Perhaps culturally/ethnically focused or based.

    I think white pagans & New Agers often dabble in different cultures because they/we feel alienated from their own, but also there’s a liberal mentality that doing everything European is Eurocentric, and to show that you’re down with diversity you need to include something from multiple cultures. Funny thing is, most other cultures don’t do that.

    • nakedwoadwarrior Says:

      Hey there Caelesti, lol usually I look up the definition of a word, but was feeling sort of lazy when I wrote this post. Judging from the two definitions you have listed, perhaps another word could be more descriptive. However, I believe that the meaning of words can change, for instance, “witch” has long been a pejorative, but the Wiccans have taken it back and a burgeoning population is now viewing this word with respect rather than hate. I think that the roots of the word “ethnocentric” are useful, ethnicity and centered upon. The second definition does describe what I attempt to do in my practice, re-interpret the manifold cultural streams of Americana into a Nordic ethos.

      You bring up an amazing point in the closing paragraph, it is true that white pagans often feel compelled to mix things up and dabble in other cultures’ beliefs and practices, however, other cultures don’t seem to feel this compulsion. I believe it stems from the “white-guilt” that is forced onto many in our society (America). I don’t believe anyone who is caucasian should feel ashamed to be Eurocentric if that is the pathway of their soul. I believe that your asessment of the situation we white pagans find ourselves in regarding this matter to be truly insightful. Many of us do feel alienated and estranged from our cultural roots, which strikes me as tragic. I felt this way once as well, which is one of the driving impulses that led me to become a Heathen. My great-grandfather immigrated from Sweden, my great-grandmother from Switzerland, yet they did nothing to preserve their root culture in our family traditions. The only thing left are the recipies, and only my grandmother still cooks these traditional foods, when she passes beyond the veil, these remnants too shall pass with her. So, Heathenism for me is an attempt to reorient myself culturally, a grasping at a long family line that perhaps stretches even to the viking age and beyond into the forgotten chambers of the past.

      Great points, very thought provoking, thank you so much 🙂

  2. I think its funny that_your_ society (America) has so many wannabe (unLineaged) Wiccans “reclaiming” the word “witch”.
    Do they have auctions?
    Is that the only thing they’ve got up for sale?

    So many real society members live in the moment.
    My childrens ancestors seldom have time for such games as “Reconstructionism”. You are who yuo are, you are what you are, and a person only as good as the measure that their actions measure to their word. The rest was silliness which tended to get (a) beaten out or (b) worked out of one.

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