Nationalism: Playing with Fire

July 12, 2014 at 5:28 am 1 comment

Many polytheistic and animistic religions have a focus on the sacred nature of fire- the hearth-fire is central in Gaelic, Hellenic and many other traditions. We use fire to cook our food and keep us warm, but also to bless our homes, give sacrifices and to celebrate. We guard closely our flames of freedom of religion, speech and other rights here in the United States, but we have to be careful not to smother them, or let one person or group’s freedom burn away another’s. We celebrate Independence Day with fireworks and sparklers, but playing with fire can be dangerous!

As we move away from the celebration of “America the Awesome” on July 4th, coming up are a couple of holidays celebrated in Europe which also illustrate the double-edged nature of nationalism. It’s like fire- it can be useful and necessary but it can get out of control easily. To a oppressed people, nationalism can be the “jet fuel” needed to kick a revolution into high gear. Revolutions can get out of control, however and sometimes after the revolution emotions continue to boil over. Also when nationalism is embraced by historically dominant groups, their triumphs are rubbed in the faces of oppressed groups, and old embers of conflict are re-kindled. How far should this freedom go? Leaders and regular citizens in Northern Ireland are asking themselves this- as members of the Orange Order prepare to march on July 12th in celebration of victory in battle of a Dutch king over a British king. Why would they celebrate the defeat of their own King?  ” The truth is, they are really celebrating the defeat of Catholicism. James II was a Catholic and when the Dutch king defeated him, Protestants were granted great wealth and positions of power. It opened the door for instant change – one that Protestants in the area have enjoyed for centuries.”- Roghnu Glas.

An Irish-American discusses this on her blog, with a little confession I can very much identify with:

Now I have no real right to talk about the Troubles. I have not lived through them. I know a whole lot about them and have studied Irish history for most of my life but I’m just too far away from the reality of them to have a truly valid opinion. I often wonder if that distance allows for the emotional detachment necessary to be logical, or if it just makes me more insensitive. I also know that I’m about to dip my toes into something that may label me that dumb American or “Plastic Paddy” again.

I know of American Pagans/polytheists who have traveled to Ireland, to be asked “Are you a Protestant or a Catholic?” Those who answered honestly were sometimes met with “Well, then are you a Protestant Pagan or a Catholic Pagan”. This just goes to show how this is as much of a political and tribal division as a religious one. It’s weird for me, because as a Unitarian, I’m technically a sort of Protestant heretic! (and Unitarianism is sooo culturally Gaelic- not!)

The other European holiday in July I was thinking of is Bastille Day on July 14th- just called National Celebration in France.  This commemorates the day the prison Bastille was stormed, and the prisoners were freed.  “Besides holding a large cache of ammunition and gunpowder, the Bastille had been known for holding political prisoners whose writings had displeased the royal government, and was thus a symbol of the absolutism of the monarchy. As it happened, at the time of the siege in July 1789 there were only seven inmates, none of great political significance.”- Wikipedia

The local Covenant of the Goddess typically has a Bastille Day BBQ every year (I suspect in part because people are either busy with family or Convergence around Independence Day) but maybe there is a French connection I’m unaware of.

It’s rather arbitrary, the days we choose to celebrate our countries. It seems they are more based on emotion and what’s popular than what might make actual historical sense.  In the U.S. we celebrate the day Thomas Jefferson & co. signed a letter that basically amounted to “F.U. King George” We don’t actually celebrate the day (whenever it was!) that we actually won the war of Independence. Similarly while we raise a glass of cerveza on Cinco de Mayo, it is not Mexican Independence Day! “Cinco de Mayo—or the fifth of May—commemorates the Mexican army’s 1862 victory over France at the Battle of Puebla during the Franco-Mexican War (1861-1867). A relatively minor holiday in Mexico, in the United States Cinco de Mayo has evolved into a celebration of Mexican culture and heritage, particularly in areas with large Mexican-American populations.” Kinda reminds me of St. Patrick’s Day….

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