Archive for November 14, 2014

FYI: Ancestor Elevation Rite Purportedly of Cuban origin

Some of my colleagues are participating in the Trans* Ancestor Elevation Rite that I (re)posted earlier. While I greatly support trans* rights, and honoring the dead, I decided not to participate mainly because I felt the need to learn more about the deceased individuals being honored (until I was putting together my Ancestor Calendar post, I did not even know the names of the person who started Trans Day of Remembrance (Gwendolyn Ann Smith) or the person who inspired her to start it (Rita Hester) and also figure out theologically & ethically where I stood with the practice of ancestor elevation. I certainly believe in & practice ancestor veneration but wanted to know more about the origins of this specific practice.

Well, it came to my attention on this forum thread that the Ancestor Elevation Rite is of Cuban origin. *Galina Krasskova has explained to us in the comments that she learned this technique from a friend/colleague/roommate and was given permission to adapt it for her own use.  Galina has since come out with her own book- Honoring Ancestors, a Basic Guide. Others have created the Trans Rite based on this material. Here is a post by GK acknowledging the Cuban origins of her ancestor ritual style. I am *not* accusing Ms. Krasskova of misleading anyone as she does state this on her blog. However, I was not sure other people involved in this ritual were aware of its cultural origins and wanted this to be clear.

I came to the decision some time ago that, aside from clearly blatant disrespect for other cultures, I would not be accusing people of cultural appropriation. While I do agree this is a major problem among Pagans and New Agers, and Unitarian Universalists, the exact definition of it, different limitations of different cultural knowledge sets and so forth are very complex, and I’ve seen too much in-fighting and division in the Celtic Reconstructionist community specifically over it. There are people who truly want social justice, and their are people with personal agendas, and it is tricky to tell them apart- especially on the Internet! Instead I will follow the policy of sharing information about where practices come from, and who is claiming to have what training and so forth, and their relationships (or lack thereof) with cultures of origin.Then the information is out there and people can make informed decisions, and people from these cultural traditions can respond.

I am not personally familiar with Cuban spiritual traditions, so I do not know the rules of transmission of their teachings, and how that relates to Galina Krasskova, and anyone participating in these rituals- both alive and dead. Anyone who follows Cuban spiritual traditions in encouraged to share their position if they feel comfortable doing so- others can respond to- but voices of Cuban people themselves will be need to be heard over others.

*Thanks to everyone for the feedback! Comments will remain open, civil discussion is good!

November 14, 2014 at 5:42 am 20 comments

Covenant Theology & UUism- Intro

Unity Unitarian has a worship theme for each month- November’s is Covenant. This is an important idea in UU history and theology that has its origins in Calvinism and the Old Testament (Hebrew Bible). Since I was raised Methodist and later attended a Lutheran college, before joining Unity my understanding of covenant was primarily that of the historical covenant between the Hebrew people and YHWH. The idea that in return for following only God (or placing him before other Gods), they would have his special protection as his chosen people. Throughout the Hebrew Bible, God makes several covenants with different patriarchs on behalf of their family or people- Adam, Noah, Moses and David. These covenants are repeatedly broken, and God punishes humanity as a whole, or the people of Israel specifically, but then forgives them and makes a new covenant.

Some Christians believe in a New Covenant between God and Christians as the new chosen people- some see this as replacing God’s covenant with the Jewish people (supersesessionism). This is not the type of covenant that Unitarians believe in, especially considering we don’t believe in the doctrine of substitutionary atonement- the idea that Jesus “stood in” for all of humanity to atone for our collective sin.

Basically to sum up relevant history- Unitarianism arose in Transylvania & Hungary, Poland (the Socinians) and spread to England. Meanwhile Congregationalist churches had been founded in the Plymouth Colony & the Massachusetts Bay Colony by both Puritans & Calvinist Presbyterians. Some of them became influenced by Unitarian theology from England. So how does this connect with covenant theology? The founders of the Plymouth Colony wrote the Mayflower Compact together as an agreement of self-governance. They made a commitment to each other as a community. Really this document is a cross between the secular social contract (a tradition going back to the Magna Carta) and the covenant, because it was seen as an agreement between the people themselves, as well as between the people and God.

However, since Unitarian Universalists as a whole are rather “sorta kinda maybe?” about the existence of God, is the idea of covenant still relevant to us? This question has been raised, particularly by humanist/atheist UUs (one person I’ve been conversing with online claims the use of covenant is reflective of a “fetish” for Christocentric language) I’m not sure I agree with that, but it does raise a valid question. I’m also interested in comparing the idea of covenant to similar concepts in polytheistic religions. Stay tuned for more!

November 14, 2014 at 1:20 am Leave a comment


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