So here’s my proposed Pagan “spin” on Thanksgiving- honor Thomas Morton, the renegade Puritan got fed up with all the rules of Plymouth colony and started his own- Merrymount, who made buddies with the Indians and erected a Maypole, and recited poetry about (or to!) Roman and Greek gods. I’m sure none of ya learned about him in grade school! Now in high school you may have read Nathaniel Hawthorne’s short story about these events. Somehow I got thru high school without reading much in the way of “The Canon” be it American or European. Obviously May Day is an even better time!
As with the Romantic Pan-worshippers, it’s a little hard to tell if Thomas was truly a pagan revivalist, or simply engaging in pagan cultural references for shock value. He was a liberal Christian, though heretical by Puritan standards (not that took much!) Still I think he is a worthy spiritual ancestor for American Pagans, and perhaps English ones as well. He was an advocate for indentured servants’ rights (or rather their freedom!) and argued that the Indians were indeed human beings, not savages as the Puritans viewed them. Morton was sent back to London for his heresies. He wrote New English Canaan, a book about his experiences in the colonies. The name “Canaan” makes me wonder if he also saw America as a “promised land” like the Puritans, or perhaps was he identifying with the polytheistic people of Canaan who were conquered by the Hebrews?
Ways to Celebrate-
*Raise a toast to Thomas Morton, his followers and Indian friends (he mentions enjoying Irish whiskey & scotch!)
*Read the poem and song (just wish we had the tune)
*Honor Gods/Spirits mentioned in the poem- Amphitrite, Neptune/Poseidon, Triton, Cupid/Eros, Asclepius, Proteus (Dionysus- not directly mentioned, but these folks loved to drink!)
“A happy footnote to the history of Merry Mount/Merrymount (Morton spelled it both ways) is that the community at Mt. Wollaston (later renamed Braintree, then Quincy) continued to be associated with rebels and freethinkers for many years after Morton was forced out. In 1636, Anne Hutchinson and her husband William settled there upon arriving from England. (Anne was an “Antinomian” who asserted that God could speak directly to the individual through inspiration, and not through the Bible alone as the Puritans insisted.) Goody Cole, the Witch of Hampton, first settled there at the same time as the Hutchinsons. Later, John Hancock was born there, and the great-grandfather of John Quincy Adams owned the Mt. Wollaston farm in the early 1700s.”- from the Pagan Pilgrim article, below.
Sannion & the Thiasos of the Starry Bull honor Thomas Morton & co.- May Our Bacchic Martyrs Be Remembered (Sannion also makes a good case for Dionysus as the patron god of the U.S. of A)
I’ve been seeing various posts on Pagan blogs about Thanksgiving- there are some lovely reflections about gratitude, the harvest and so forth. John Beckett, and others have commented & confronted the increasing commercialization of Turkey Day. But I’ve been disappointed that people have not been confronting the disturbing history of Indian genocide and the false elementary school narrative of interracial harmony between Pilgrims & Indians. (I did see a post about this from one of my fellow ADF Druids) Not long ago, we had Columbus Day (or Indigenous People’s Day) and a decision taking away the copyright on the name of That Team in Washington- which they are still sticking with. Right now we are also dealing with the aftermath of the events and trial in Ferguson, Missouri, another sobering reminder that we are definitely not living up to our country’s ideals of equality and justice for all.
Columbus Day is celebrated in some places with a parade and sales at department stores, but not a family feast. It doesn’t help that many of us have relatives who are already rather racist, even if they’d be loathe to admit it, and outraged if we suggested it. “Racism” must always be conveniently defined narrowly by whites as some scary extremist in a pointy white hood. “I’m a good, fair-minded person, so I can’t possibly be racist” , is what we all rationalize. I don’t claim to be perfect myself- I too am a product of a racist, classist society. I have internalized all the same messages, but rather than unthinkingly swallow them, I try to question them.
I come from a liberal family, the members of which are all pretty aware of the historical facts and fiction of Thanksgiving. I remember my mother, while working at a daycare/preschool, made efforts (in vain) to convince the Powers That Be to change the Thanksgiving decor & curriculum, especially since there were Native children! Still, we don’t talk about it much, and we still celebrate it. I’m not sure how to march in there, and tell everyone we have to cancel this evil racist holiday, without looking like the bad guy. I’m having Thanksgiving with my in-laws, and I already know better than to discuss any ethnic group or non-Christian religion in front of my father-in-law in particular. My mother-in-law can be diplomatic and just “agree to disagree” but my father-in-law will get into diatribes if you let him. I’ve tried to educate and enlighten, but those efforts have been shown to be clearly unwelcome.
So at the end of the day, I’m not really sure if we can turn Thanksgiving into a non-racist/anti-racist holiday, or if we should just observe a Day of Mourning instead, like many American Indians and their supporters do. I guess that larger question is rather irrelevant if I am observing the holiday with people who can’t admit their own racism.
I can’t recommend enough this wonderful website by Debbie Reese, a member of the Nambe Pueblo, and children’s librarian. In addition to folks that are raising or teaching kids, it is also a nice resource for adults working on un-learning all the misinformation we grew up with about Indian cultures!
I hadn’t heard of this trope before, then again I don’t exactly seek out conservative revisionist history (isn’t that already a redundancy- since they are usually the ones writing the history books?)
The Real Laura Ingalls Wilder story finally published OK, so this isn’t Thanksgiving related, exactly, but like the popular history of Thanksgiving, the not entirely historically accurate (and yes, racist!) Little House books are certainly a big part of American settler cultural identity- especially when you grow up in the Midwest with lots of “Laura Ingalls stopped here once to pee!” signs everywhere. I even jokingly refer to my Dad as “Pa Wilder” after moving us thru so many states- Montana, Idaho, Kansas, Iowa, Minnesota, and while I’ve stayed here in MN, my parents and brother have since moved back to Montana and now, Wyoming.
Like John Beckett and many others I am pretty fed up with the holiday consumer frenzy that’s coming up. But many of us still will be purchasing gifts, I recommend that we try to support Pagan & polytheist artists & artisans, and people of other communities that could use support- businesses owned by people of color, women (of all colors/orientations) people with disabilities, GLBTQ folks, stay at home parents (or other caretakers) who are trying to earn some extra money and so forth. (Many of the folks I’m recommend fall into more than one of these categories)
Nornoriel Lokason has just created several beautiful labyrinth necklaces, rune pendants and other goodies can be found at Nornoriel’s House of Elf Swag on Etsy. His e-books can be found there, and he also does astrological charts! Post about Black Friday specials here.
Ruadhan J. McElroy has 2 Etsy shops- Nocturnal Spirits, selling his paintings, Hellenic alphabet divination tiles, a Boetian calendar and other items of pagan & polytheist interest and Odd Mod Out, selling buttons/pins- with musical, GLBTQ, political and Pagan/polytheist themes
Dver, a spirit-worker & devotional polytheist, has a Yule sale going on at her Goblinesquerie shop. She has also written several books, and offers other services such as divination and book design & formatting of self-published books.
P. Sufenas Virius Lupus- founder of Ekklesia Antinou- a modern revival of the cult of Antinous- the deified lover of Emperor Hadrian, is a talented prolific writer, scholar and teacher. I admit I have not yet read any of eir books, but have been reading eir posts and articles for years and learning a lot. Info about books and other ways you can support work can be found here.
Nimue Brown is a British Druid whose writing I also greatly enjoy. She has written several novels as well as non-fiction about Druidry and Paganism.
Beth Wodandis runs Fiberwytch, an Etsy shop selling ritual cords, jewelry and candles, often devoted to specific Norse or other deities.
Alley Valkyrie, sells hand-printed T-shirts, bags, and fabric wall decor at Practical Rabbit
Anyone else I’m forgetting? Please comment and I’ll be happy to add.
In trying to put together a Yule Advent Calendar (and mentally block out all the commercial BS!) , I’m looking around at other folks’ practices. Beth like me, enjoys adapting medieval holidays to her own purposes.
Being a god-wife of Odin, she has strong opinions about how Yule should be celebrated!
Beth starts her Yule season with Michaelmas (Sept 29) which she re-names Valfather’s Day, as St. Michael is identified with Woden. Michael is identified with Lugh in Gaelic tradition, and there are some Scottish traditions associated with it, so I will keep it as a Gaelic holiday. I also wouldn’t *think* of starting the Yule season til after Thanksgiving- heck, I insist on waiting til December. American capitalism would have the Christmas season start right after Labor Day!
Then of course there’s Winternights/Samhain,
then Martinmas & Einherjar (Veteran’s Day) on November 11th- Dver has a nice post about her celebration of Martinmas as well. Mariah the semi-pacifist who feels awkward on Vet’s Day likes this idea!
Part 4: December Madness- way more holidays! I’ve always wanted to do St. Lucia’s Day! Who cares if I’m not Swedish!
Old Norse Yule Celebration- Myth & Ritual- very interesting website was recommended by my rune teacher, Kari Tauring. Whoa! Lotta info there! Yule was actually the name of the time between the Winter Solstice and the Jolablot- Winter Sacrifice on Jan. 12th.
Yule Series- Medieval traditions from Dec. 26-Jan 6th (1st 4 days).
Orkneyjar- Yule traditions from the Orkney Isles (Scottish-Norse blend) If I remember correctly, my friend Robert said he was interested in Orkney traditions.
Next I will paste these dates together and we all get to decide which ones we want to celebrate!
Earlier in my post on different categories of ancestors, I mentioned the idea of honoring tutelary spirits and gods of the countries, cities or tribes that one’s ancestors are from, especially if you don’t know much about them or don’t otherwise feel that connected to their culture. Tutelary means guardian- and national personifications in particular tend to be feminine, hence the title of the post.
Ruadhan, a Hellenic Polytheist of British & Irish descent, does this by honoring Britannia & Hibernia, the Roman national personifications of Britain and Ireland. Though they have been adopted by the natives and Hibernia is also various called Eriu, Kathleen ni Houlihan etc. He even wrote a myth explaining their origins.
In another post he notes: “One thing that I regret not posting about this year is my ritual and prayer for my re-envisioning of Shrove Tuesday as Pancake Feast of Britannia and St. Patrick’s Day as Bacon & Cabbage Feast of Hibernia.” I’m always interested in seeing creative polytheist alternatives to St. Patrick’s Day- or for that matter interesting spiritual takes on any secular holiday.
Here’s a list of national personifications from Wikipedia. Oftentimes in Europe, or European colonies they have a name of a Roman province (as above) and are inspired by Athena/Minerva. Some of them are more suitable for honoring than others- especially if they have more character and mythos surrounding them, and are not just symbols. Some of them are more identified with war, nationalism and imperialism. I pretty much just see Uncle Sam as a rather sinister symbol of the U.S. government. Lady Liberty, or Libertas to use her Roman name is honored by American Pagans of many traditions. Columbia, an older national personification has also seen a revival, but there is more controversy surrounding her due to her name and associations with Manifest Destiny. I shall write more of her another time.
There is also often a representation of the ordinary citizen, and one could choose to honor them symbolically for one’s unknown peasant ancestors. I think an even better option is to honor a prominent labor organizer, or other national hero. Cities often have statues of founders or more symbolic characters. I live not far from the Minnesota State Capitol, which is like many capitols adorned with various Greco-Roman style statues. Natural features, such as rivers and mountains have their own spirits. For my own ancestors, as I already mentioned there’s Hibernia & Britannia- there are some who claim that the goddess Brigantia is an earlier antecedent.
For Scotland, there’s Caledonia, Scotia (originally applied to Ireland!) and Jock Tamson (their equivalent of John Bull) I am part German, though I have not been able to trace that part of my ancestry. Germania is the national personification, she doesn’t seem to have much mythos surrounding her. There’s also Berolina (Berlin), Hammonia (Hamburg) and Bavaria (once a country, now a region)
Frau Holle is said to be the mother of the Deitsch people and that is who I’d be most inclined to honor for the Germans- though my ancestors were not Deitsch, they immigrated later on I believe, but I like the Deitsch-American folk traditions.
Cute pic of various national personifications (tried to post here but it was too wide!)
Slate article “Do other countries have their own Uncle Sams?”
Leslie Feinberg, transgender/butch lesbian, multi-issue activist, died a few days ago in Syracuse, NY with hir partner/spouse of 22 years, Minnie Bruce Pratt beside hir. (Leslie identified as non-binary and preferred the pronouns hir and ze) Ze was very much a pioneer, writing the novel Stone Butch Blues in 1993 about hir journey of gender identity exploration. This was back when gay and lesbian issues were barely on the map, politically, let alone trans/genderqueer/non-binary identities!
Leslie saw all oppressions as interconnected, and sincerely fought on many different fronts- a member of the Worker’s World Party- “remember me as a revolutionary communist” were hir last words. Disability rights, the peace movement, anti-racist action along with trans, lesbian, gay and bisexual rights. The gay and lesbian movement all too often has forgotten its radical roots and clung to a white middle-class capitalist agenda, while neglecting to include transgender and bisexual issues. Leslie always knew that the world was far more complex than that- let’s celebrate her legacy and as Mother Jones once said “Mourn the Dead and Fight Like Hell for the Living!”
Transgender Warrior- Leslie’s personal website
Atlantic- Why We Still Need Leslie Feinberg
Worker’s World- Leslie Feinberg- a communist who revolutionized transgender rights by Minnie Bruce Pratt