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  • Ryan Smith

Inclusive Practice

Answering the question of what inclusivity in spirituality is has driven intense debate across all forms of Paganism, including and especially Norse Pagan and Heathen practices. There is little dispute among most that inclusivity is something to strive for. Many are now referring to themselves clearly, loudly and proudly as inclusive practitioners and their organizations are openly calling themselves inclusive in nature. Easily the biggest example of this sea change was Declaration 127, a joint statement by multiple Heathen and Norse Pagan groups around the world declaring their support for inclusive principles and refusal to give space or shelter to the Asatru Folk Assembly because of their promotion of openly bigoted ideology. The Way of Fire & Ice is definitely one such form of practice.


For the Way of Fire & Ice, also known as Radical Norse Paganism, the foundation of inclusivity rests on the much older concept of hospitality. For the ancient pre-Christian Norse peoples hospitality was one of the bedrock concepts of their societies. In Norse hospitality, which is described in detail in the Poetic Edda saga known as the Havamal and discussed in many other places, if a person came to your door in need of food and shelter you were obligated to provide it for them. Guests would provide some help around the house for the duration of their stay in a form of mutual aid. Hospitality was open to anyone in need so long as they behaved as a good guest should and didn’t abuse the generosity of their hosts.


How hospitality shapes inclusivity is very direct and simple. In Radical Norse Paganism anyone who wants to practice is free to do so regardless of race, gender, sexuality, age, national origin and physical or mental ability so long as they treat all others in shared space with dignity and respect. These factors are ones that are beyond any person’s control. They are inherent to their being and existence in many different ways. Just as the ancients expected hospitality be extended to any person in need so to does the Way keep its doors open to any person who feels called by what it teaches regardless of any inherent factors or traits that define them.


Some, however, might then argue this means anyone and everyone must be welcomed no matter what. If, as some argue, no one can be discriminated against by inherent traits then it wouldn’t make sense for this practice to exclude anyone at all. This, however, both misses the point of how inclusivity is understood in Radical practice and how hospitality worked. In the ancient world hospitality could be withdrawn or even denied to a guest if that guest either was abusing the generosity of their hosts, abusing other guests in the space or were notorious for such deeds.


This is what justifies excluding anyone who argues for bigoted ideologies. Whether they are Folkish Asatru, white nationalists, AltRight, some other variety of fascist, trans-exclusionary radical feminists, misogynists, homophobes or any other similar belief at the core all of these ideologies are based on actively denying other people the right to exist. Such active dehumanization isn’t just disrespectful and denigrating, it actively puts people in harm’s way. Denying others’ right to exist, as those who deny the validity of trans experiences or excuse racial discrimination just to name a few of many examples, becomes justification for doing physical harm to them.


This goes all the way down to the level of language. Words are as much deeds as any other action. Some might see this as excessive sensitivity but there is research supporting this position especially when it comes to inclusivity. For non-white peoples living in largely white-dominated societies racial slurs, profiling and harassment causes very real psychological harm. At the worst such language, and the ideas these words carry, are grist for the bloody mills of police brutality and hate crimes. In the case of gay, lesbian and trans people there is solid evidence that, along with inspiring violent deeds, such language causes direct harm up to and including suicide. Words, far from being harmless, carry great weight that causes real harm to people who already suffer too much in modern society.


Some would say this position is invalid and inherently hypocritical. If, as they would claim, inherent traits are grounds for including people then anyone practicing these ideologies must also be given space. Many of them lay claim to some sort of inherent trait like bloodline, gender essentialism or some other biological-sounding yet utterly pseudoscientific nonsense. Regardless of their justification their beliefs or ideas are the products of and all for specific beliefs and actions which can be changed. The same is not true of someone’s gender identity, race, sexuality or place of birth. No matter what someone does they cannot stop being Black or gay or born in Morocco while a white nationalist or transphobe can stop following and acting on such destructive, dehumanizing ideas.


Stating this space is open to all, except for anyone who cannot respect others or treat them with the basic dignity all people deserve, is only the beginning of what inclusivity means in the Way of Fire & Ice. For those involved in the practice it also means everyone’s voices matter in shaping the Way, what it means and how practice impacts them and their lives. Those who are from marginalized groups, whether they are trans, queer or from an oppressed minority group, are the first that anyone should listen to on any matters impact their experiences or communities. Newer practitioners have as much to offer, from their fresh perspectives, as experiences and trained people. True inclusivity means giving voice to those who, whether due to societal factors or group dynamics, are often denied say.


For the Way of Fire & Ice inclusivity is absolutely essential. It is directly tied with the other core ideas, practices and precepts of Radical practice. To truly honor ideas like hospitality, living by your deeds, following a living practice, inspired adaptation and making practice work for people you must welcome all regardless of any inherent traits. If their deeds show they cannot work with others then they should be removed from shared, community space. To be truly inclusive is not just to welcome in people from marginalized communities but to also give them a voice, space to express themselves and to heed the wisdom expressed by those who are less experiences or connected within a community as much as those with the weight of time and training behind them.