This story proves that we need to teach comparative religion classes because people don’t seem to understand how an ancestral cultic religion works. Not that I defend ancestral religions like this one but it’s not unique and this kind of controversy is not unique to a Eurocentric ancestral religion.
Perfect point of comparison is the Hebrew religions. I’ll circle back to Judaism but I’ll actually start with Samaritanism.
There is a middle eastern ancestral population of Semitic speaking peoples called Israelites (or a few other names depending on which historical perspective you’re using, but Israelites is the one I’ll use).
Today that ancestral group of has two recognized subgroups: the Samaritans and the Jews.
When someone is called Samaritan that simply means their ancestors were from that group of Israelites. Being a Samaritan Israelite has nothing to do with the modern state of Israel and has nothing to do with what the individual person’s religious beliefs are.
In this case however religion is related to ancestry. That’s because the religion of Samaritanism is a form of ancestral religion which has historically been quite common.
Ancestral religions take a number of forms but the basic outline is that the ancestral group has a ritualized belief system about an entity that is specific to people of their same tribal group.
Sometimes that religion was focused on worshipping a god or several gods that watched over, protected, or controlled the fate of that tribal group. Sometimes it was the actual spirits of their deceased ancestors themselves.
The point is, an ancestral religion is a religion of the tribe. In this example, Samaritanism is the religion of the historical group of peoples that the modern day Samaritans are descended.
So now the question comes up, like in that religious group in Minnesota, who is ALLOWED to practice an ancestral religion? And there is an incredible amount of variation on that subject.
The Samaritans for example are generally opposed to people without biological Samaritan ancestry from joining and practicing Samaritanism. However, the modern Samaritan ancestral population is quite small and as a result is prone to genetic bottlenecking and founder effect which can result in genetic disease. One way to combat that is to use genetic testing in marriage and reproductive planning which the Samaritans do. But their high priests have approved religious conversion from outside marriages as a way to create more genetic diversity. Basically meaning that a non-Samaritan women can marry a Samaritan man and then be fully accepted into the religion by conversion. However it’s also true that some within the Samaritan community do not agree with this decision by the priesthood and would prefer to rely on genetic testing rather than letting non-ancestral individuals into their biological, social, and religious community.
As a contrary I’ll move on to Judaism. Many of the same principles apply as with Samaritans. The Jews are a population descended from Israelite ancestors. The religion of that ancestral group is called Judaism. So again, being Jewish means you’re descended from that group but it does not mean you practice that religion.
However the Jewish ancestral population and Judaism have a very different history compared to the Samaritans. They have a deep connection to the Israelite tribal group but the two religious traditions, despite similarities, diverge greatly.
The most pertinent divergence here is that Judaism does have provisions allowing conversion from outside their ancestral group. Further complicating it is that Judaism has fractured into so many different branches that some have much more simplistic process for conversion. In a real way, if you want to convert to Judaism you’ll almost certainly be able to find a branch that will welcome you.
One thing you can come across still is a problem of acceptance between the different groups. And of course, regardless of your conversion to the religion that can’t change whether or not you have biological ancestry from the Israelite Jews. You’ll be Jewish religiously and culturally but not ancestrally.
Some other ancestral religious groups are extremely exclusive. In many forms of Zoroastrian communities you can only practice the religion if you are part of the ancestral group. Some even make the distinction of whether you have ancestry from both parents or only from one, potentially barring individuals who have any outside ancestry at all. The issue that makes Zoroastrianism tricky is that it does not have a centralized authority to determine the rules. You will find some Zoroastrian religious groups that are actively proselytizing, attempting to convert people regardless of ancestry. Which turns into a conflict because then some other Zoroastrians will refuse to acknowledge the converts as true Zoroastrians.
Now after all that we come back to this ancestral European religious group. Some things to ponder here.
How do they define European Ancestry? Does that include anyone with any amount of biological European Ancestry?
In the US many people have ancestry from all over the place. Obama has Kenyan ancestry on his fathers side but English and Irish and German and a bunch of other European ancestry on his mother’s. Does that half make him European enough? And how does this religious group determine that? Proof of genealogy and DNA results?
Or is it based on what someone LOOKS like? Would they let in Halsey because she has Euro-typically pale skin but deny Eric Andre?
Or are they focused on ancestral purity the way some of those Samaritans and Zoroastrians are?
According to their website they leave it a bit ambiguous in places…less so in others. It seems pretty obvious that they’re all about “purity”.
Honestly I support people’s right to practice ancestral religions. Of course I personally think they are dumb dummies who believe dumb things that contradict the evidence based reality of human biology. But this isn’t as simple as white supremacy because it’s an issue that pervades several ideologies.
As westerners we are incredibly biased by the history of universal religion. Christianity and Islam and Buddhism for example. Even though they don’t act like it sometimes (whole other topic) it is nonetheless a core tenet of those religions that any person of any ancestry can convert to their belief system. Their religion is founded solely upon belief which they claim to be universally true for all people. So if you adopt and affirm that belief system as universally true then you are admitted to the group no questions asked. Even the very African-centric religion Rastafarianism has shifted toward this universal model.
Westerners tend to make the assumption that all religions should follow this model of universal inclusiveness. But that is our own cultural bias to grapple with.
As a final note, this group is some variation of neo-pagan, Eurocentric revivalism. But if that is something that appeals to you then ignore this group. There are TONS of neo-pagan organizations that are not obsessed with ancestry and “purity” that would be happy to welcome anyone into the fold.
I recommend checking out the band Heilung who made an explicit statement that they’re pagan performance pieces are for everyone and they will not tolerate any form of racism. Someone should rent some church space to them.