Renewing a Commitment in Light of Charlottesville

When we watched what happened in Charlottesville, VA, over the past weekend, there was a lot that stood out to us, not the least of which was the tragic loss of life and injuries suffered when a young man rammed individuals counter-protesting against white supremacy.

Our Grove put out a statement the following morning, and a couple of graphics for easy sharing. You can find them on our Facebook page:

We wanted to talk a bit today about the crafting of that statement: why we did it, how we discussed it, and how we hope to improve on it as we go.

As racism evolves and changes, it tries to hide behind new phrases and symbols. One of those symbols we saw in the footage from that horrible weekend is one that is both simple, and (for us) seems very out of place in white supremacy: the rune Oþala.

The Othala rune
The oþala rune, the final rune in the elder Futhark.

This rune has within it no racist notion, no idea of “whiteness.” It does not imply any supremacy, or any notion of “race.” It only implies an ancestral lineage, but anyone who has looked at basic genealogy will tell you that ancestry has nothing to do with “purity.”

If anything, it is a rune of the homestead, of ancestral land and property; and this in particular makes it a strange choice for people asserting their bond and heritage as connected to the land.

The land America is built on, after all, is not part of any European heritage, and its soil is not tied to European blood. We are all guests here, at best.

The runes are, at their most basic, an alphabet. We use them on occasion in ritual as a divination tool, and as a magical tool, and so you will sometimes see us write in or post runes, or we may chant a rune name as part of a working. Seeing a rune on a banner over a march of hate told us one thing for certain: in order to be welcoming, we need to address this.

It is not a new thing, that Norse and Germanic symbolism is co-opted by fascism: we’re all familiar with other symbols that have been taken and smeared with the stink of white supremacy (one hardly needs to mention the swastika). This isn’t even the first time runes have been taken; two suwilo runes decorated the necks of the SS in World War II.

But here, we are on the front end of something: people are being exposed to symbols for the first time, and it’s happening in a different context. It’s happening here, and it’s happening very publicly.

And so, it’s important to us to state, unequivocally, that our use of runes is not tied to race, skin color, or even ancestry: it is tied to the magic that unites us all in this cosmos. There is no room for racism in our runes.

There was no context for us to pull from: no statement from ADF, and no statement even from other groups like us at the time. We also didn’t feel like we could wait to post something: already, we could see people hurting, and grief and shock are not things you can put off until the next day. While we would have preferred to share an ADF statement, we did not know if one would come, and we could not wait to see. So we created this graphic:

Graphic with the ADF logo in the center, surrounded by runes and the words: "Runes have no room for Racism: No matter your background, skin color, or identity, all who come with a good and open heart are welcome at our good fire. Learn more about inclusive Druidry at"
ADF & our Grove makes use of some symbols we saw carried in Charlottesville; we need to talk about that.

Our Priests, Rev. Avende and Rev. Dangler, went back and forth over the text and the space. It wasn’t enough, Rev. Avende said, to simply decry the usage of a symbol: we have to be explicit about being welcoming as well. It was difficult to navigate these waters, and we created about five different versions before finally settling on the version we put out on Facebook.

Another ADF Priest, Rev. Melissa Hill, posted about the lack of response from ADF as well: on her DandelionLady blog on Patheos, she called on ADF to make a statement, and she was clear about the kinds of statement she wanted to see. She particularly decried the lack of response from our mother church, and the fact that her Groves and Solitary members were left to raise their own voices without ADF’s aid.

ADF members responded to both our post and to Rev. Hill’s on personal blogs and on Facebook, describing their anger, fear, and frustration, but also their hope. In many ways, these items gave a lot of people a way to talk about what was going on, and it helped them approach the situation from a place of spiritual comfort.

There was some backlash, as well: we’ve had people decry other groups instead of placing the blame on white supremacy, which suggests an anger both Rev. Avende and Rev. Dangler agree is misplaced. We’ve seen doctored/debunked images and accusations of “everyone being wrong in this situation” (which, again, we disagree with).

As a Grove, we serve people all across the political spectrum. At the root of our work here is simply that we wish to be clear that:

  • We care about how we are perceived, because we want to welcome anyone seeking a spiritual community that is open, diverse, and public in our love of the Earth Mother, and we want people to know we are that welcoming.
  • If there are questions or concerns about any symbol we use, we want to have a conversation and address them.
  • That there is no place in our Grove for racism. We are not a safe space for white supremacy or hate.

When a statement finally came from ADF’s leader, our Archdruid, it was disappointing to us in many ways; there’s no need to rehash them here, because Rev. William Ashton has already done that in a thoughtful, competent way that echos many of our own thoughts.

Edit to add: ADF has released a formal statement since this article was written.

At the end of the day, though, we can’t rely on others to speak for us, especially when there’s so much at stake. As Rev. Avende said during our discussion, and Rev. Hill echoed in her post, “Silence is not an option.” And so our work does not end with a single social media post.

We’ve already started planning additional steps: our Priests are working on a statement that is actively inclusive (not simply non-discriminatory, which we already have) for presentation to our membership. We’re looking for ways to showcase the diversity we have, and to invite additional diversity into our Grove. We’re looking for welcoming work to all with that open heart who want a place by our fire.

There is so much more work to be done, but as I end this post, I want to say, clearly and honestly: we are working to be better, and we want you to be a part of that.

Come to our fire, friends.

-Rev. Jan Avende &
Rev. Michael J Dangler
3CG Grove Priests