Posts filed under ‘History’

Thomas Morton Day

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.

The Pagan Pilgrim: Thomas Morton of Merrymount

Forget Salem, Let’s Hear it For Merrymount!

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)

Making Sense of the Merrymount Debacle

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November 26, 2014 at 11:56 pm 1 comment

A Montana Girl’s Thoughts on Animal Sacrifice

I was born in Montana, and only lived there til I was three, but still have relatives who live out there, as well as in Wyoming. In both Montana & Wyoming, there’s a lot more cattle than humans, and its dry and scrubby out there, so they are beef cattle. Some of these cattle are lucky and get better treatment in how they are raised and slaughtered, others aren’t so lucky and go through great suffering before they end up on your plate.

I also have several uncles who enjoy hunting- both birds, antelope and deer, and an aunt and uncle who were rangers in Yellowstone Park. Like many kids, I got the “oh no, hunting is bad, that mean hunter killed Bambi’s mom!” view, but that was soon corrected. Without hunters, the deer population would outgrow the available food and some of them would starve. Hunting (while following local hunting regulations) is a way to responsibly maintain the natural equilibrium.

I am putting all this personal back story in, because I understand many of my friends and colleagues having spent all their lives in the city or suburbs and their idea of “animals” is- my pet dog/cat/”fur-kid”, meat, milk and eggs that magically appear in the supermarket, and Romanticized Innocent Bambi in the woods threatened by Scary Rednecks. Well, to be fair most people I hang out with aren’t that clueless, but a few of them are. Like my vegetarian friend who refused to use wool, because shearing sheep “is cruel!”. Actually *not shearing sheep and making them suffer through summer heat* is cruel, and I also notice she has plenty of leather shoes and boots. Don’t get me wrong, there are many vegetarians, vegans and people who carefully choose meat that comes from humanely treated animals that think out their lifestyles a lot more carefully and consistently, and I greatly respect them for that. Not everyone is able to be that careful, due to their financial, time and sometimes geographic constraints, but I applaud the efforts of those who try.

Anyway, this is all a long lead-up to a controversy among some Pagans and polytheists over the issue of animal sacrifice. Some people have knee-jerk reactions to it, assuming that it must be cruel, is unnecessary because we can buy meat at the supermarket, and this isn’t the Bad Old Days, we’re modern, civilized people! There are even more messed-up ideas bound up with the assumptions of “civilized vs. savage” but I will set that aside for an additional post. OK so here we go:

1) If you’re vegetarian/vegan, for health, spiritual, bio-ethical and/or environmental reasons, that’s fine, I have no problem with that. What I do have a problem with is people claiming that veg*ism is automatically more ecologically and economically sustainable when this is not always the case, or claiming that it is always ethically or spiritually superior lifestyle, along with sometimes implying that other religions and cultures are inferior to your own. (Likewise, the same sorts of arguments that Everyone Must Be Meat-Eaters, are just as wrong)

2) If you’re concerned about animals being raised and slaughtered humanely, great! So am I! Most meat that you can buy in America or Canada today comes from animals who were treated quite poorly. People who practice slaughter in a religious context should be trained to treat the animal humanely and do so in a way that is sanitary and does not threaten human and other animals’ health. Some polytheist religious leaders (Afro-Caribbean, Heathen, Hellenic), do indeed get this sort of training and insist that others who want to practice animal sacrifice do so as well. Though their worldviews/theologies are different, our Jewish and Muslim neighbors do this in kosher and halal slaughter as well, and have been doing so for thousands of years.

3) If you just don’t believe in the whole concept of sacrifice, that’s also fine- there are plenty of other religions that do not involve sacrifice! Feel free to join them!

4) If you think modern Western societies are not ready to culturally deal with the idea of ritual animal sacrifice taking place in public, you’re probably right! Most polytheists and followers of indigenous religions do not kill cows and chickens in the public square for this reason. There are indeed, many laws and regulations governing slaughter that we need to be aware of. In ADF, blood sacrifice is forbidden in *public rituals*, however this does not preclude what we do in private rituals where everyone understands the reasons and cultural/spiritual context. Similarly, I doubt animal sacrifice will be likely to take place anytime soon in a CUUPs or Unitarian Universalist setting.

5) Even in polytheistic religions that may include animal sacrifice, not everyone is going to feel called to practice it, or be in the right circumstances (city mouse vs. country mouse, issues of health/physical and mental) to practice it. That’s OK, there are plenty of other items we can offer to our Gods, Spirits and Ancestors! If some of our co-religionists are doing this practice with proper training, we can respect the skills and services that they offer to their Gods/Spirits and their community, even if we don’t want to attend their rituals or participate ourselves.

6) For polytheists, Pagans and others who practice hunting and or fishing, this can also take place within a spiritual context. Prayers for beginning the hunt, encountering the animal and killing it can be said, and thanks can be given to the spirit of the animal as well as the spirits and gods of the hunt.

References:

Thracian Exodus- Let us find a better way (or: “we are not the monsters under your bed, I promise”)

The Trouble with Bambi: Walt Disney’s Bambi and the American Vision of Nature

Review: American Dad: “Buck Wild”

October 22, 2014 at 10:26 pm 5 comments

Unitarian Universalist Ancestors

Honoring ancestors is a key part of many polytheist & animistic traditions, however “ancestors” are much more than our blood relations, though they are certainly important. There are many groups of ancestors, spiritual, cultural and socio-political, that I consider worthy of honor- one of them is Unitarian Universalist ancestors, heroes, founders and martyrs. This is complex because while the American Unitarian and the Universalist denominations only merged in 1961, our spiritual roots go back much further to the beginnings of Christianity. Why do these people who questioned orthodox Christian doctrine matter to a Pagan UU? Because we are still UUs, and many of these people were promoting freedom of thought and religion far before the Enlightenment or the Bill of Rights! So anyone in the Western world, in particular who is not Roman Catholic or Eastern Orthodox can be thankful to these folks. (Pagans- whether UU or not certainly should be!) Since this is such a long time span- enough that I took a series of 3 classes on UU history at Unity Unitarian- I will start with some early heretics.

Early Christianity was much more diverse before 325 C.E. when the Council of Nicea formed and hashed out the Nicene Creed. After that, sorry unitarians* and universalists, you’re heretics now!

Some early unitarians like Arius, interestingly had Neo-Platonic influences on their beliefs. Neoplatonism is a classical Greek philosophy which also had a great deal of influence later on the development of Jewish mystical traditions like Kabbalah and some modern polytheists like Edward Butler are now taking a new look at Neoplatonism.

Arius– denied the full divinity of Christ. This was one of the biggest scariest heresies for the early church.

Pelagius– a British monk whose ideas became influential in early Celtic Christianity. He was very ascetic but also had a strong emphasis on human free will and the potential for humans to improve themselves spiritually and morally.

The Ebionites were a Jewish-Christian sect that viewed Jesus as the Messiah, but rejected his divinity. After migrating to Arabia, they may have later influenced Islamic views of Jesus. They had an emphasis on voluntary poverty (the word ebionite is related to the Hebrew word for poor or needy) and may have been vegetarians (as they believed Jesus and the Apostles were)

*Lowercase for unitarian and universalist as theological positions, rather specific sects that called themselves that

October 18, 2014 at 12:18 am 2 comments

Nationalism: Playing with Fire

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….

July 12, 2014 at 5:28 am 1 comment

Independence Day Linkfest

Here’s a collection of links, both serious and silly, spiritual and political related to Independence Day, American culture, patriotism etc.

Who Won the American Revolution? Crash Course U.S. History-

Not quite like what they taught you in high school!

46 Facts about the First Ladies– Hannah Lane is my new favorite, along with Eleanor Roosevelt!

Self-Actualization, Spiritual Oneness & the Fourth of July by Crystal Blanton- in a similar spirit to my previous post, Ms. Blanton reflects on freedom and justice as ideals that we must keep striving towards.

America: Land of the Free, Home of the Magickal by Jason Mankey  Very interesting look at the development of uniquely American magical/occult traditions and customs.

Millennials Are Proud of #Murica Despite Its Flaws  says MTV study. ‘murica is slang for extreme patriotism, used both seriously and sarcastically.

America Sucks Less– this Youtube video is a hilarious send-up of our awesome mediocrity

Excerpt from French political philosopher Alexis de Tocqueville’s Democracy in America on patriotism “There is one sort of patriotic attachment which principally arises from that instinctive, disinterested, and undefinable feeling which connects the affections of man with his birthplace. This natural fondness is united with a taste for ancient customs and a reverence for traditions of the past; those who cherish it love their country as they love the mansion of their fathers. They love the tranquility that it affords them; they cling to the peaceful habits that they have contracted within its bosom; they are attached to the reminiscences that it awakens; and they are even pleased by living there in a state of obedience. ”

Independence from Politics, Flag Day & Patriotism– old posts of my own.

To end with some more silliness:

an Epic Rap Battles of History! between George Washington & William Wallace

July 8, 2014 at 1:31 am Leave a comment

America as Camelot

As I try to move past the MZB scandal, my thoughts turn to other disturbing news about two Supreme Court rulings- one has been a long time in coming about the Hobby Lobby case- for a little background, in the United States legally corporations are considered “persons” (according to a previous B.S. ruling) that have “free speech” that they can use their money to express. Hobby Lobby argues that private companies also have “religious freedom” which is being curtailed by the Affordable Care Act, in requiring employers to cover medical care (certain contraceptives) that violates their version of Christianity. 

The other case is that a “buffer zone” that protesters are not allowed to enter near clinics that offer abortions, is an unconstitutional violation of freedom of speech. Well, we all ready have the freedom, thanks to the late Fred Phelps to picket funerals. So, anytime some type of medical care is taking place that violates my religious beliefs (or secular ethical beliefs?) I can harass people who are trying to get it.  Totally what the Founding Fathers intended! 

Anyway, as I was thinking about how Marion fell far short of her publicly held feminist beliefs in her private life, it made me think of how the idealized vision of America is a lot like King Arthur’s utopian vision of Camelot. It was never real, it was always a fantasy. This country was founded on the backs of slaves and conquest. The movement towards independence began with a protest against taxation without representation. It was more about the interests of certain land-owners and merchants rather than most regular people. Have things really changed all that much? Are we are really being represented by our government? Who do they really serve? 

Now I’m not saying the American ideals of liberty, equality and justice for all are not worth holding and fighting for. I remember shaking my head in disbelief at a friend when she told me she wanted to move to be with her husband’s family in Saudi Arabia. She said she wanted to raise her children with the Arab culture and Muslim religion. I did not object to those things, but I felt like asking her- what about teaching your sons the value of democracy, gender equality, freedom of speech and religion? I know American culture has many flaws, and we fail many times to live up to those values. But what example will they get of a mother who leaves her country and culture behind? I had some other friends who decided to leave- for of all places, Russia after Bush II ascended the throne, and I got the impression that they would return after Obama was elected. I disgustedly considered them fairweather friends- the sort of people who give liberals a bad name by affirming the common accusation that we aren’t patriotic. They actually stayed there- apparently due to the low cost of living (including healthcare), and because they had an easier time finding decent jobs. Go figure. 

No, some of us embrace a different kind of patriotism- as Mark Twain once said “Loyalty to country- always. Loyalty to the government- only when it deserves it.” Some of us look to the legacies of the abolitionists, the labor unionists, the pacifists, the American Indians and Mexicans who fought for their land and way of life. For the African-Americans, Asian-Americans, disabled Americans, gays, lesbians, bisexuals, and trans folk, and women of many cultures who challenged us to broaden our definition of American- of humanity. For the millions in our prisons and jails who don’t get true justice, while private companies profit from their suffering. For the young men and women who think joining our military is a ticket to an education, a way out of poverty, to nobly serve our country, when they fight for Halliburton and Big Oil, and end up being traumatized and injured and getting forgotten and lost on the streets when they return. Our songs are that of the protest singers, the slave spirituals, the Civil Rights anthems like “We Shall Overcome”, the peace march chants. We have our own heroes, our own stories. They might not be celebrated or told as part of a Hallmark/Disney or other corporate sponsored Fourth of July special. But they are far more true and powerful than the stories that are told in so many schools about people who really cared more about their own interests and property than they claimed. 

 

July 4, 2014 at 12:54 am Leave a comment

White Deviance, Pagan Angst

Earlier for one of the “D” posts for the Pagan Blog Project, I planned on writing about how the Neo-Pagan movement is, in part a manifestation of white deviance. I realized though that I did not want assume knowledge on the part of the readers about sociology or Critical Race Theory, the lens through which I’m approaching this.  Social deviance is a sociological concept- it means straying from social norms of what is considered social acceptable and expected behavior in a given culture.

Critical Race Theory, and its offshoot of whiteness studies, views race as a social construction and seeks to critique and deconstruct race as a social category. Blaargh- see I can’t define it very well, so go read the above link!

There really is no one concept of “whiteness” or “white culture”- it will become apparent from reading the blog Stuff White People Like that is reflective of a certain kind of white people- it’s a pretty spot-on description of Unitarians actually! Who society considers white and who gets white privilege has changed over time- at one time only English Protestants were considered white, but as various European ethnic groups assimilated and become upwardly mobile they became “whitened”.

Still there are typically standards in a given social context of what a “proper white person” looks, dresses, acts etc- middle or upper-class, educated, heterosexual (or “straight-acting” homosexual), cis-gendered (non-transgender) Christian (or atheist/agnostic/secular in some contexts)  White people who do not conform to these norms are stigmatized as white trash, rednecks or with various other labels, and people of color who do not fit into these norms are typically stigmatized even more.

Anyway, since most whites have at most a symbolic ethnicity– a watered down identity based on nostalgia for the Old Country, certain foods, holidays etc. if they feel unsatisfied or not included by dominant forms of white culture they create their own subcultures to identify with- some are more deviant, others more accepted. Skaters, goths, punks, hippies, geeks, GLBTQ+ subcultures and so forth.

When people of color pursue an interest in mostly white subculture- even one that prides itself on being progressive, they frequently encounter racism. Because whiteness is such an unexamined “norm”, Pagans, geeks et al. often do not realize that they are pursuing a different way of being white, thereby excluding non-whites with interests in those subcultures.

Being a hippie or being a “bohemian” both in the United States and Europe has frequently gone along with appropriating aspects of Black and indigenous cultures- particularly in music, dress and spirituality. While these white deviant subcultures tend be seen as threatening to the white dominated social structure at first they are often co-opted by the very institutions the white deviants are trying to reject.

Instead of truly critiquing, examining and challenging the dominant power structure, white deviant subcultures end up becoming the rebellious children of Big White Daddy- be it of the government, business, media, church. We give up the privileges that come with conformity but are shocked when we are mistreated by society. If the social cost comes too high we may go back home to Big White Daddy. And he might give us crap for not going to church, or having the right job, or sexual behavior or hobbies or what have you. But we still have that option- our brothers and sisters of color do not. (Nor do our trans* friends who can’t “pass” as cisgender, or our disabled friends that can’t
“pass” as able-bodied or neurotypical.) That is the profoundly alienating contradiction that they must face- can they really trust these rebels?

When we talk about getting Paganism to be accepted in the “mainstream”- are we really unconsciously saying “I want the cultural definition of acceptable whiteness to include Paganism”? How do we instead, make examining and challenging whiteness a part of our Paganisms?

April 18, 2014 at 1:05 am 2 comments

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