Posts filed under ‘Ancestors/Heroes’
American Culture? by Camilla Laurentine “I cringe a little when I’m told Americans don’t have a culture or worse yet our culture is Consumerism. Yes, modern mainstream American culture holds plenty of consumerism and plasticity, but you guys… We have culture. Historically as a melting pot, we have lots of culture. We may not have quite as long a history as our European brothers and sisters as a nation, but those of us with European ancestry do, in fact, share parts of their culture with them. But as Americans, we do have a distinct identity, and you can either spend your time being apologetic about the not so great things about it or you can decide to embrace the good parts of it and actively work to help change the things that you don’t care for.”
Mariah’s thoughts: Whenever you are tempted to say “generic” i.e. white Americans don’t have a culture, remember all the things you have to explain when you go abroad, or have a foreign visitor. There is also no single “white American” culture, anymore than there is a single American culture. Potlucks are remix of potlatch, a gift-giving Northwest Indian ceremony. Barbecue comes from a Taino word (indigenous Caribbean people who were mostly killed by the Spanish) and entered into both Spanish & French languages. BBQ is the central ritual of most American holidays- at least during the warm months- (Memorial Day, Mother & Father’s Days, Independence Day, Labor Day) I see African-American, Latino and Asian-American families in parks having their own BBQ ritual feasts, with their own twists- eggrolls, tamales etc.
American music in all its diversity, cultural borrowing, outright stealing, blending, glory and tragedy. Complete with icons, fallen idols, pilgrimage sites like Graceland and so forth. Debates about the “true heir” of this or that musical tradition or genre swirl, theories about the tragic deaths of young rock stars abound. The Greeks had a goddess of fame- Pheme, or Klymene the Romans called her Fama. She was also the goddess of gossip. Boy, does she ever have a cult here or what!
Who Are Our American Gods? by Camilla Laurentine “What do I call the God of the railroads that were the lifeblood of the West, which rose in greatness and then fell into obscurity… And yet this Midwestern Spiritworker living in the heart of Katy Country can’t help but feel the chill run through her as she watches a train cross across the fields of corn in a river bottom. There’s a God there. What is Its name?”
A couple years ago I intended to write a series of posts on a different set of seven principles- not the UU ones, but the Nguzo Saba, the principles of Kwanzaa. Here’s a link to my earlier post. My struggles with Krampus…err depression have gotten in the way enjoying almost anything this year, holidays most of all! I went thru most of November and December in a haze, almost refusing to participate in Christmas Eve festivities with my partner & his family. Just Not In the Mood! Sometimes you just have to work thru your moods and force yourself to be there, because it’s not about you, it’s about family. Depression makes you self-centered by its very nature, and sucks the joy out of life.
I was reminded of Kwanzaa again by various things such as the prominence of Black Lives Matter campaign in current events, including discussions in the Pagan, polytheist and U.U. communities. In the communitarian values of Kwanzaa, I find pieces of what feels missing from the Nine Norse Virtues, which seems like more of a reflection of American libertarian individualism than the tribal values of pre-Christian Europe.
Upon further reading, I discovered that the Nguzo Saba are part of a broader philosophy known as Kawaida (meaning reason or tradition in Swahili) created by Dr. Maulana Karenga. All this is of course, centered on the experiences and cultures of African peoples and the African diaspora, but I feel that those of us outside of that can also learn a lot. We too are cut off from our roots, sometimes violently, even more so when we go back to the destruction of pre-Christian European spiritual traditions. Is it in part, due to that disconnect, that profound alienation, that many of the peoples of Europe sought to conquer the rest of the world, and later after at least partly realizing the errors of our ways, collect tidbits of music, clothing and spirituality to feed the spiritual hunger within us?
And as an neurodivergent and autistic woman, who has often felt excluded from definitions of “humanity”, I have found many resources in the liberation movements of other oppressed peoples. There are such things as Disability Studies, disabled liberation theology and disability culture(s), but they are not very well developed yet or well-known or accessible to many people, particularly outside of certain countries. To that end, I have often looked to political and cultural theories about race, gender and sexual orientation to put together my own disability theory. There is an emerging sense of “peoplehood” among many disabled individuals, across many types of disabilities, bodies and minds, genders and cultures. And so I come to the Kwanzaa table as a humble guest, to learn, to show solidarity and to listen, grow and celebrate.
Articles on Kwanzaa:
The Blank Candle, a documentary about the holiday narrated by the late Maya Angelou
Christianity & Kwanzaa– Great article for better understanding Kwanzaa within its Kawaida context!
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)
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
Thanks to everyone for this discussion- Galina Krasskova has written a post clarifying the Cuban origins of the ancestor elevation ritual, (though she is not the one organizing it) I don’t feel there is any cultural disrespect going on here, in fact I think people are being very intentionally respectful in honoring people who otherwise might be forgotten. I’m making a list of links of Trans* Memorial Rituals- both for the Ancestor Elevation one as well as others. Blessings to everyone participating.
Alice Coltrane Memorial blog by Sylvan- “Alice Coltrane Memorial Colosseum & Wazoo is a live-in performance, ritual, and art space in Portland (Or), housed in an ex-Hare Krishna Temple once attended by a college-aged Steve Jobs. We maintain, under the blessings and protections of our spiritual headmistress SwamiTuriyasangitananda Alice Coltrane, a public altar space dedicated to our artistic ancestors and inspirations. In a tradition of experimental, improvisational, and conceptual transgressors particularly in sonic experimentation, many of our Honored Dead are also cisgendered males (as are all the current monks of the Colosseum). I have been trying to subvert this equation, and our alliance to the Transgendered Rite of Ancestor Elevation is an act in that direction.”
Paganarch/Rhyd Wildermuth- For the Trans Dead
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!
Reposted from here– Some people have been having trouble reading with the background, (not sure if there are any accessibility probs for people using screenreaders?) Not sure if I am participating (guess I better make up my mind quick though!) Regardless, I do plan on going to a Transgender Remembrance Day event on the 20th, I’m sure there are probably some at the area’s rainbow flag waving churches.
“This is a ritual to honor the transgender dead.
Ancestor elevation, in the words of polytheist scholar and ancestor worker Galina Krasskova, “is a sacred practice that is done to help the soul of a dead family member who was troubled or angry or depressed in life, perhaps doing harmful things to themselves or others, perhaps never able to live a happy life due to their own inner demons…. In doing an elevation for a particular ancestor, we are engaging in ancestral healing, in cleansing a tiny bit of mess, blockage, pain, strain, hurt from that particular line.” [1, p. 50] We have adapted her suggested ancestor elevation ritual format to elevate our transgender ancestors, those who came with us and before us, those who survived struggles and violence and hardships, as well as those who didn’t survive them. There is incredible pain and rage in the ranks of the transgender dead – we the living can understand it all too well. We seek to help relieve the suffering that persists after death, and to offer back to those who gave so much so that we could simply exist today. We elevate our ancestors out of the miasma that clings to them. We hope to bring them healing and peace.
The format of the ritual is as follows: for nine consecutive days, beginning on November 12 and concluding on the Trans Day of Remembrance, participants will set out a candle and a glass of clean drinking water on an ancestor altar, and then read a series of prayers offered to the dead. That, plus the physical raising of the altar itself to counterpoint the spiritual raising of our ancestors, is the basic framework within which we will be working.
In subsequent posts, we will discuss the altar itself, a more specific step-by-step ritual format, and the prayers that we will be using. Follow this blog for updates as the date of the rite approaches.
Thank you for joining us in honoring our beloved transgender dead. ”
 Krasskova, Galina. Honoring the Ancestors: A Basic Guide. Sanngetall Press, 2014.