Syrian Martyrs and Wake Up Calls

Today on The Wild Hunt I learned about Yana, a Syrian Pagan tortured and killed for her faith.

For so long now we modern Pagans and polytheists have been somewhat sheltered. The move to revitalize the faiths our Ancestors followed before Christianity systematically destroyed them started in the First World. The more-secular-than-ever First World. There has been harassment and prejudice, and isolated instances of violence, but nothing systemic in the way of faith-based violence aimed against us.

But modern practitioners are no longer isolated in the First World. People all over are hearing the call, and many “lost” traditions are being found.

It is a cause for rejoicing. It is a cause of sorrow. Because while the movement is necessary for so many reasons, those hearing the call in places like Syria are not in the First World, and they have no protections.

Yana was publicly tortured, raped, and killed for her faith. She is one of the first of a new – and likely growing – wave of Pagan and polytheistic martyrs.

I worry that the location of Yana’s death – the Middle East – will make people in the US briefly acknowledge her passing and move on. Will allow people to tell themselves that “it couldn’t possibly happen here” without thinking it through.

It could happen here. Fundamentalists Christians hold a lot of power in the US, often they equate the worship of pre-Christian gods with Satanism, and they are not adverse to discrimination or even violence in pursuit of their viewpoints.

I admit to some bias here. I’ve seen anti-Pagan violence first hand, escalating from dead animals left in the mailbox and ending with the utter destruction of my group’s Covenstead in Louisiana. That’s hard to get past.

However, this viewpoint has also manifested in other ways against Americans, leading to everything from retaliation against serving Pagan soldiers and the destruction of their temple (here and here) to forbidding Pagan students from wearing symbols of their faith to school.

I think we are incredibly conscious of how much of a minority we really are. We just keep our heads down, trying to not make waves, preferring to simply live our lives and consider these blatant acts of discrimination and violence isolated events. We feel that being American entitles us to a life without fear, and for the most part we as a group have actively avoided anything that could threaten that view.

I was recently introduced to a monograph written by a Sgt. Major in the US Army about the need to consider Christian extremism here in the United States a genuine domestic terrorist threat that continues to grow unchecked. These are the people who bombed the Olympics in an anti-abortion protest – do you think they would be shy about attacking individuals who hold spiritual/religious beliefs they consider demonic and anathema? Putting our heads in the sand is no longer a viable option.

As the faith-based discrimination and violence grows along with our numbers, our protections are shrinking every day. In Kentucky it is illegal to not believe in one almighty God, and while the 2006 law is aimed at atheists it could easily be aimed at those of us who follow many gods instead of none. The Christian ethical code is being placed in front of courthouses in Florida and Oklahoma. Alabama has once again re-elected a judge who openly uses his Christian faith to make legal decisions on the bench, up to and including granting custody to an abusive father because he felt that was a better situation for a child than trusting a lesbian mother to parent. Do you think the “justice” would have been any different if the mother had been a straight Pagan? Absolutely not.

Yana died for her faith. We cannot dismiss this as happening “over there”, and above all we cannot be complacent. This is something we in the First World have to prepare for, for as long as there is a push within our society to turn the US into a theocracy like the one that killed Yana.

Politics in the US seem to be teetering on a knife’s edge. No matter which way it goes we have to be prepared. Should the Christian-based political groups gain control we can expect to see more school boards forbidding the wearing of pentacles, more judges ruling as if the US were a theocracy, and more of a struggle even within the government itself for rights and recognitions for Pagan and polytheists. Should the Progressives begin exerting more control in government, extremist groups who already consider us demonic and begin to feel disenfranchised could easily decide to target those of us who live publicly.

Yana is one of the first of a new wave of Pagan martyrs. However, I cannot help but feel that she will not be the last. I sincerely hope that what happened to her is taken to heart by everyone, even here, because her fate could be ours if we don’t wake up, connect the dots, and make our voices heard.