On Persecution

I’m going to reuse a post I made before elsewhere on this, just FYI.

I’m quite fed up with pagans who fetishize oppression (due to identity politics in the sense of, the more oppressed you are the better, de-emphasizing actually oppressed groups like LGBT people, POC etc.). I’ve seen this all too often in the discourse surrounding asexuality, as well as mental illness. People are, in my opinion, all too eager to claim oppression to gain attention and sympathy. I know this rhetoric is used often in unsavory circles so let me elaborate using an example: there is a big difference between being a Black person in America right now and a pagan in America right now. New Agers like to claim these experiences equivalent, if not the same, which is quite reductive of the experience of Black folks and Black history at large. The problem is that people use any excuse to try to say “Oh, well I’m oppressed too, can I be a part of the in-crowd? Isn’t there something cool and edgy about being oppressed?” There isn’t. Trust me. 

So first, let’s cover the basics: what is a martyr complex? A victim complex? How the hell does this have to do with Hellenismos or paganism at all for that matter?

Martyr Complex:

In psychology, a person who desires the feeling of being a martyr for their own sake, seeking out suffering or persecution because it either feeds a psychological need, or a desire to avoid responsibility. (Source)

A lot of witches and pagans hold some sort of martyr complex; suffering/being persecuted being connected to inherent goodness and superiority. For a lot of people this sense of impending oppression by dominant society seems important and I would like those people to question why. Why would most people care beyond curiosity? Are you neglecting other parts of your life to an overblown fear?

Victim Complex (Persecutory Delusions)

Persecutory delusions are a set of delusional conditions in which the affected persons believe they are being persecuted. Specifically, they have been defined as containing two central elements: the individual thinks that harm is occurring, or is going to occur, and the individual thinks that the perceived persecutor has the intention to cause harm. (Definition)

A lot of non-Christian pagans and witches lament their persecution at the hands of Christians to an exaggerated extent. To be quite frank, I can sympathize but it’s perhaps of little importance compared to the evils wrought by transphobia, homophobia, racism, islamophobia, sexism, and so on which are statistically more violent and common. Few people are kicked out, harassed, beaten up or worse for their witchcraft or pagan ways. LGBT people however, are on a regular basis, and this violence is sometimes even encouraged (see: Chechnya)


I have seen a common rebuttal of this critique claiming that yes, pagans/witches are indeed oppressed. The examples cited for this are often on the rarer end and point to bigotry espoused by individuals as opposed to systematic violence, i.e. WWII internment camps for Japanese and Japanese-Americans. Yes, your aunt is being horrible to you, but that does not mean we are all oppressed.

One example of this behavior in Hellenismos is YSEE’s outlook on so-called genocide. In this video they go over in length the history of Christian suppression of ancient Hellenic paganism. Here are a few rebuttals to this common argument.

  1. Our religion is, no matter how much we try, different from that of the ancients. We must accept this and work with it, not ignore that fact.
  2. This is a breeding ground, rhetorically and emotionally, for violence. It grooms people into hating a specific sector of society which, as always, is not a monolith. What will throwing a pity party now do for us anyway?
  3. Romans persecuted Christians too. That doesn’t justify either side, but as Karen Armstrong writes in her brilliant St. Paul: The Apostle We Love to Hate, there was a real concern by the powers that be. Early Christianity was quite communistic, and the Roman elite didn’t like that.
  4. Early Christians were ostracized for refusing to worship any other gods, and arguably this is part of why they were persecuted. I don’t agree with this but I don’t see why that should justify being rude towards Christians or holding it against present-day Christians unless they are actively engaging in this behavior. I enjoy a phrase I read on twitter the other day, along the lines of ‘you have my respect until you do something to lose it’ as opposed to earning respect.
  5. Hating Christianity becomes a lot more complex when you are say, an American, and yet colonized peoples syncretized or adopted to survive. It’s foolish at best to speak for those experiences from the exterior. Newsflash: religion is complicated.

I see these manifest as a part of the common human desire to be special and important. The truth is, none of us is more special than the other. We are all different individuals and that is okay. Capitalism, especially the American kind, has led us to believe that we need to be special and unique in order to be better than others or get a job. The simple truth is there is no need for such superiority; that precise mindset brings about the evils I have been referring to throughout this article. I’ll keep my personal views on the universe to a minimum in this post, but I don’t think how unique or special each one of us is doesn’t matter much in the larger scheme of things considering how infinitesimal we are. I put more respect into how The Fates work my life, who I meet at what timings, how I grow as a person and so on.

Just because you’re a Hellenic Polytheist does not make you superior to your Christian comrades, nor does it make you a tragically oppressed minority. You may be unfortunate in a specific context, but compared to real religious persecution that people conveniently forget about in these instances I’d say it’s nothing (for example, islamophobia). And most importantly, it’s frustrating and disheartening to see pagan “persecution” used to justify further bigotry. People need to stop making false dichotomies and dividing inward and instead enact actual change.

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