Diasporan Polytheism

January 13, 2016 at 2:29 am 6 comments

Diaspora is a Greek word meaning to scatter, usually referring to ethnic groups which have been scattered forcibly by expulsion, persecution, genocide and other not-fun thing humans do to each other. The most famous example which often gets the capital D is the Jewish Diaspora, the Irish and African diasporae are other well-known examples. A diasporan religion is one that is practiced around the world far from its origin- Judaism, once again, as well as African and Afro-Caribbean, Chinese folk religion, Shinto and Hinduism. How does the concept of diasporan religion work differently for broken traditions such as European polytheisms in the Americas, Australia et al.? It is tricky to call them “broken” per se, as there are folk customs of honoring land spirits, saint cults with possible pre-Christian roots and magical practices that have been carried across the oceans. Typically these have survived more strongly in rural areas, the Ozarks, Appalachia, Nova Scotia and Deitsch areas being good examples.

This is one of the difficulties of the Irish diaspora in the United States- a mostly rural people became one of the most urban. People even identify their origins by what city they are from- as I sometimes explain to folks that my father is “Philly Irish” (Philadelphia) rather than St. Paul Irish. Then of course we discuss what counties we know our ancestors came from. According to Wikipedia- in depth research I know- Philadelphia has the second largest Irish-American population, Boston being the first.

Like Sarenth discusses here (Broken Lines), there was very little in the way of ethnic cultural traditions that were passed down to me. Then again, I realize there was in way- this would make my father cringe but we are pretty culturally Anglo. It just tends to not be recognized as “ethnic” as its the Wonderbread of American culture (and German culture to some degree, just spell it Wunderbrod) And on the other side, various forms of resistance to dominant Anglo-American culture, including the assertion of Irish identity, trappings of hippie-dom and such. Perhaps it’s not surprising then, that I often find British Druids easier to get along with, while the few Irish-in Ireland people I encounter online seem a bit hostile to American Irish polytheists/pagans/New Agers  being concerned that we don’t care about the living culture, only the old stones of the past, think Ireland is stuck in an endless time loop of the Quiet Man, and we made their lives suck by funding the Irish Republican Army. And using their culture to promote white supremacy.  I understand and empathize with many of these concerns, except maybe the IRA one. WTF? Interesting essay about Irish assimilation here. I guess my dad’s take on Irish identity was the opposite of Sean Hannity & Bill O’Reilly- he saw supporting the Civil Rights movement as a moral duty- both as American citizens and in memory of the challenges our ancestors faced. It’s very interesting to compare the similarities and differences of these three diasporae, adding more in of course- I highly recommend Ronald Takaki’s book A Different Mirror: A History of Multicultural America, as well as PBS’ 3 documentaries- the Irish in America, Africans in America, and the Jews in America. There is also now one on Italians but I have not seen it yet, so I can’t vouch for its quality either way.

Polytheisms as Diasporic Religions

Vodou F*cks Everything Up



Entry filed under: Path-Forging, Race/Ethnicity, Uncategorized. Tags: , , , , , .

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6 Comments Add your own

  • 1. fitforpeople  |  January 13, 2016 at 4:10 am

    Excellent stuff, very thought provoking, and well since my grand father was 100% Irish whom I’ve never met makes me want to research more onto this topic

  • 2. Sarenth  |  January 13, 2016 at 11:35 am

    I get what you mean when you write
    ” Then again, I realize there was in way- this would make my father cringe but we are pretty culturally Anglo. It just tends to not be recognized as “ethnic” as its the Wonderbread of American culture (and German culture to some degree, just spell it Wunderbrod)”

    At least for me, Catholic was a culture identifier I clutched onto pretty early as a kid because of how very different it marked me from other students. They would talk about revivals or Charismatic utterances or the multi-hour sermon and songs. Contrast that with my Catholic religion that had a start and end time you could more or less set your watch by, dedicated songs that you probably wouldn’t need by the second year if you were a recent convert, and a church culture whose contents would be almost the same except for homilies, certain songs or phrases, so that no matter where you would go, you were home in the Church.

    Looking on what you wrote, I think it’s a pretty powerful thing to think about in regards to what becomes our ‘ethnic’ background. Namely, when our own background(s) from our families are not included, the overculture comes in to fill those.

    • 3. caelesti  |  January 13, 2016 at 11:01 pm

      Yes, the “triple melting pot” theory back in 60’s- Catholic, Protestant & Jewish. Though it’s more blended than that now. Was that pre or post-Vatican II? My Dad left the Church somewhat before. I’d find the Charismatic just as equally foreign- that would involve *getting emotional* about religion. That just wouldn’t be proper. Heck, I think I’m just as much, if not more influenced by secular Jewish culture between various forms of entertainment, social/political movements & such.

      • 4. Sarenth  |  February 5, 2016 at 5:34 am

        Sorry it’s been awhile since I got to this!

        I’m definitely post-Vatican II. I’m curious to see the lasting impacts polytheists make on the culture as we gain more folks and more ground.

  • […] is being done from a primarily religious and cultural viewpoint as an many generations removed Irish/Scottish diasporan American polytheist rather than a secular political viewpoint. If I get ambitious enough I’ll adapt them for a […]

  • […] than ethnic ancestry however, I would define it more by cultural upbringing since many of us are far removed from the cultures of our ethnic ancestors, if indeed we even know who they are. Certain people (typically some folkish Heathens) are prone to […]


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