Haplogroup Identities and Pagans

This month I’m taking a different track, especially in light of recent murders in Oregon and evidence of pagan/heathen gods referenced in hate groups, the AFA using actual Neo-Nazi imagery, and the rising of the alt-right in general (too often showing interest in pagan imagery)*.


First off a Haplogroup has nothing to do with spirituality. Again a haplogroup is not spirituality. Period. However, it’s not become uncommon these days for someone to enter a Celtic pagan social media site and proclaim they are now interested in Celtic gods because they are of a certain haplogroup. Unfortunately that doesn’t really make any sense, as genetics does not make spiritual path. There is a sticky trail, even if the poster is unconscious of it, to race in this attitude, this genetic fundamentalism. Don’t get me wrong it is a fascinating subject as haplogroups may show traces of ancient human migrations and the such.


But first of all just what is a haplogroup for us non-scientist types?

“A haplotype is a group of genes in an organism that are inherited together from a single parent,[1][2] and a haplogroup (haploid from the Greek: ἁπλούς, haploûs, “onefold, simple” and English: group) is a group of similar haplotypes that share a common ancestor with a single-nucleotide polymorphism mutation.[3][4] More specifically, a haplogroup is a combination of alleles at different chromosomes regions that are closely linked and that tend to be inherited together. As a haplogroup consists of similar haplotypes, it is usually possible to predict a haplogroup from haplotypes. Haplogroups pertain to a single line of descent, usually dating back thousands of years.[5]As such, membership of a haplogroup, by any individual, relies on a relatively small proportion of the genetic material possessed by that individual. –Wikipedia


Sometimes people reference the Haplogroup H2 (P96) lineage. This one occurred in Neolithic Iberia and a concentration is found in Western European counties like France, Switzerland, Germany, and the Netherlands, plus India, Armenia and Iran. It has been suggested as showing a link between early Europeans and Proto-Dravidian speakers of southern India. But most often people claiming a connection to Celtic identity state they are Haplogroup R1b (R-M343), the most frequent one in paternal lines in western Europe, parts of Russia, especially among the Bashkir; the African nations of Chad and Cameroon; and less so among populations in North Africa, Central Asia, Western Asia, and Eastern Europe.


A certain genetic fundamentalism has developed in the last few decades, one that replaced overt racisms—though, that has come back with the force of an abused dog lashing out. ‘We R genes’ pop science proclaims take a genetic test and discover who you are, what your identity should be. While Heathenry has borne the brunt of attempts to harness it to white nationalism the most publicly, with the ridiculous term of ‘racialism’ (wildly claimed to be different than racism) an infamous bit of evidence, Celtic polytheism and even Druidism are vulnerable too. It’s frequent on social media to find people coming in and introducing themselves as having had a DNA test recently and ‘discovered’ that they are Haplogroup R1b and therefore are interested in Celtic Paganism. Over and over, we explain that there is no such thing as a Celtic gene, and that Celtic is first and foremost a linguistic term—and secondarily the cultures, of people who speak a Celtic language or are descendants of such people. But we live in an era of genes are everything, and they just keep coming on in.


Historian of science Donna Haraway has some interesting things to say about genetic fundamentalism, theorizing a gene fetishism, like the commodity fetishism of Marx, an objectified reality that obscures the actual relationships of the object. Exchange value is added to simple use value, a surplus value that appears to be in the product but is the totality of social relationships, of all the humans involved in the consumption/production process, all of which are ensorcelled in a sense into the object. “Gene fetishism involves “forgetting” that bodies are webs in nodes in webs of integrations, forgetting the tropic {metaphoric, figurative} quality of all knowledge claims.”


“A gene is not a thing, much less a “master molecule” or a self-contained code” (Haraway).


A gene is an object constituted in a web of scientific narrative, capitalist practices, embodied in a vast network of metaphors, and discourses of technoscience. Which also become invisible in the object presented as the gene, an allegedly solitary object. Does the person engaging in ‘ownership’ of a certain haplogroup feel a special privilege in a cultural sphere, let’s say Celtic or Scandinavian? In reality the gulf between the practices of such cultural traditions and a genetic identity is immeasurable. But it claims a narrative that tries to anchor a racial story, testifying by the genetic markers. Interestingly, they never seem to try to lay claim to a Proto-Dravidian or Chadian practices.


The generator behind these stories is the Human Genome Project and its subset the Human Genome Diversity Project (HDGP), which are caught up in global capitalist forces—genes are big business woven in the web of technomedicine, and unethical attempts to patent the genes of indigenous people. Just as one example, here was the infamous case of the Guaymi (Ngäbe) woman with leukemia (in Panama) who had a rare virus and antibody believed to have potential in leukemia treatment and made into a so-called immortalized line cell that the US Secretary of Commerce tried to patent which ended up causing protests, legal challenges, withdrawal of the patent, and a scandal in UNESCO. This business of racializing or geneticizing Pagan practices never enters with innocence, no matter how unconscious the person walking in may be individually.


At least with Celtic practices, the ‘transnationalism’ of the ancient Celts and the spread of Celtic practices and culture through language which was a product of diffusion as much as movement of people is a bulwark, a talisman. We need to be increasingly vigilant and watch the gates, and ask the right questions. Song and poem, story and language, art and community practices bring one into the Celtic fold, not genes. Genealogies might be part of it (not genes)—but are by no means necessary. People of all ‘racial’ backgrounds are drawn to Druidism and Celtic polytheism and we need to make sure the gates open to and welcome those with genuine interest—and screen racists.


In my opinion, genetic fundamentalism is a back door for the polite entrance of race. The settlements that have let genetics in are infested with zombies.



*The June edition of The Atlantic has an article about Richard Spenser with a photo of his bookshelf, with a copy of Tyr, a ‘radical traditionalist’ pagan/heathen journal.

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