Posts filed under ‘Identities’

Diasporan Song and Story

New post on Way of the Sacred Fool, my Witches & Pagans blog, is Diasporan Song & Story. This is about how we form identities as diasporan settler-colonial Americans, the stories we tell about who we are, sorting out our concept of mythic American-ness vs. the harsh realities of history.

A couple other interesting posts related to American paganism & spiritual practice- The Magical Battle for America– this is the latest in an ongoing series of meditations & workings by Hecate Demeter, for it to be truly effective it would probably be best to go back to her earlier posts, but annoyingly she doesn’t seem to categorize or tag them. I think I may have linked to some of her previous posts that were in this vein. Related to this is Terence Ward’s post about magically combating the miasma that clouds our understanding of the electoral system.

 

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September 21, 2018 at 11:18 pm Leave a comment

“Breaking Tradition” is Redundant

This is Part 2 of Modernity vs. Tradition in the Topics in Polytheism series. The previous part was about the concept of Modernity.

When I see historically informed Pagans & polytheists talking about breaking with tradition, or reclaiming/going back to tradition or being a traditionalist, they really need to clarify what they mean. Which tradition, how do you define what it is, or is it really just your projected idealized concept of Ye Olden Days? Which parts of Ye Olden Days, be they real or imagined are you trying to revive? An ecological matriarchy? Feudalism & monarchy? Gender roles & family structures? Food & clothing and other necessities that you & your village grew & made yourselves? Which parts of postmodern life & thought are you considering to be not authentically spiritual/culturally pure enough in the Decline/Decadent/Degenerate Formerly Great White West?

It’s OK if there’s some romanticism and nostalgia mixed in with other motivations, I admit that’s the case for myself. It’s just important that we admit it & examine our biases critically. I’ve long ago accepted that my religious-cultural reclamation and revival projects would always entail a long list of problematic faves. Every individual and group will need to decide what we are comfortable with, and where we draw the lines.

Even before we talk specifically about polytheistic religions, just with my cultural upbringing there are so many layers of tradition broken long before I was born, and my inherited culture is a patchwork quilt, as it is with most other Americans, and many of them inherit far more frayed and tattered quilts than I do, many with the trauma of colonialism, genocide, slavery and war.

Many people who started the country in the first place wanted to return to an idealized & likely non-existent original pure version of Christianity. Or they were radicals trying to break away from traditional social/economic/political structures. Or some combination of the two, like the Quakers.

There’s being from the Western United States specifically, having that conscious sense of being different from the East, a tendency towards informality, it’s an accelerated version of some general American tendencies of rugged individualism. It reminds me a lot of the assumptions certain American Heathens make about self-reliance, like they are project Thoreau back into the Eddas. Many of those notions are in fact, quite wrong, lots of collaboration was needed between pioneers and yes sometimes with American Indians- most of such interactions were negative, but some were positive or at least neutral. Likewise, an individual surviving on their own in Viking Era Scandinavia is highly unlikely, in fact abandoning criminals in wilderness was a standard punishment. I think what they really mean is a local community striving towards self-sufficiency and each person pulling their own weight. But I’m not Heathen so I won’t further try to decode their intent.

At any rate, as the child of liberal Baby Boomers from long assimilated families, most traditions are long gone and not passed down to me. Even in the case of both sets of my grandparents, several of them moved or had parents that had moved from another part of the country (or in my grandfather’s case, from Canada) so their roots in the area weren’t very deep. And all of them had the major disruption of World War II. Much as we Yanks might idealize how much easier it would’ve been to have been born or raised in the lands of our gods’ origins, for most Europeans of course both World Wars were huge disruptions that caused huge changes in what even Americans think of as “European-ness” and related ethnic nostalgia. Not that it’s really one big cultural blob, but just for simplicity’s sake. So we’ve all inherited different sets of mis-matched cultural & spiritual furniture and dishes.

Relevant older posts of mine for additional context/clarification:

Reconstructionism and American Culture

Authenticity: What’s Traditional Anyway?

September 14, 2018 at 12:02 am 1 comment

Topics in Polytheism: Race/Ethnicity

Topics in Polytheism #7 Race/Ethnicity

First view: Neither ethnicity nor “race” are important in polytheism, because religion is a matter of spirit and practice and toleration

Second view: “Race” is not so much a social construct as a reality, and therefore necessary in polytheism. Ethnicity is less important and reliable, because it can change or overlap.

Balanced view: “Race” is a rather useless word, but ethnicity is an indispensable concept in polytheism that needs to be redefined* in today’s troubled, modernized and global world.

To begin with not all forms of polytheism are based around a specific culture or ethnic group.  There are newer polytheist religions like the Otherfaith and the Fellowship of the Phoenix which have their own pantheons.

One can also be a polytheist within many different religions and philosophies that include different theologies such as: Wicca, Thelema, Discordianism, Unitarian Universalism, ADF Druidry, Revival Druidry, Core Shamanism, the women’s spirituality/Goddess movement and theistic Satanism/Luciferianism. In addition to of course, un-interrupted polytheisms-  indigenous Asian, African, North & South American religions/spiritual traditions. The so-called “polytheist movement” or “polytheist community” doesn’t always reflect this, making it seem as though all polytheists in the “Western” cultural sphere are reconstructionists, revivalists or traditionalists of some type. We need to be careful to say what we really mean when we say polytheist, who are we including or excluding? I find conversations with polytheists from other culturally focused traditions very illuminating, but I also enjoy conversations with polytheistic Wiccans, Druids, Thelemites etc. Of course many of us have multiple affiliations and spiritual/cultural identities. That’s one of the great things about polytheism, after all! 

For those of us drawn to culturally based religions I would tend between the first view and the third view. Rather 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 claim Heathenry or Asatru as pan-European and the label “Celtic” is often defined so loosely that anything vaguely resembling nature spirituality regardless of cultural or historic origin gets lumped in. I know many people who have made a serious effort to connect with traditions that they have ancestral connections to, or believe they have connections to with not much success, while instead stumbling across a connection to cultural tradition that they are not related to. Some of these people were later able to more easily connect with their roots after exploring another, non-ancestral tradition either temporarily or in addition to their ancestral tradition. Many people also honor their own ancestors within their adopted tradition- indeed it is often a requirement of their tradition!

The ancestry doesn’t matter at all stance goes too far. I’ve seen some polytheists become so concerned about racism and nationalism that they discouraged even mentioning or honoring ancestors as part of their practice. In particular I recall a Heathen group in Austria that had that policy– they didn’t honor ancestors in their rituals. That is going way too far. Veneration of ancestors and the dead is key component of any traditional cultural polytheism, and I also think it’s important in other forms of polytheism, simply because we’re all human, we don’t live a long time, and remembering our past and where we come from either by familial or adoptive descent or other kinds of lineage is key part in knowing who we are. In fact, I believe that instinct is the most basic ingredient of religious reverence, we can see it in our Neanderthal cousins, as well as intelligent species such as elephants. Another Pagan, NeoWayland has a unique take that some might find more approachable. Here’s another post I’ve written about different types of ancestors.

 

July 19, 2018 at 8:03 am 2 comments

American Cultural Blinders

Being native-born American is like being from this large, very wealthy and influential family that is well-known for doing many great deeds, but also has done many ethically questionable things that helped make them gain their wealth and power. The problem is, you don’t even know what many of those things are, but when you interact with people from other families (countries) they hold you accountable to some degree for those actions. Sometimes I find out what country someone is from either in person & online, and at the back of my mind I wonder what we’ve done to them? Any proxy wars, puppet governments or corporate colonialism? Or sometimes I run into people that are really great fans of U.S. policy towards their country in a way that makes me cringe. It’s great that we supported that wretched dictator, because at least he was anti-Communist!

As Americans we often don’t even realize what many of our cultural assumptions are especially if we haven’t had the chance to travel much. Even when we do travel we may get the sanitized or oversimplified tourist version of a country. And since American culture is so spread throughout the world it’s tricky to know what is already familiar or unfamiliar to people in other countries. I often both over- and underestimate cultural similarities and familiarity with American cultural tidbits when interacting with Canadian and British friends and acquaintances for example. And that’s just with two other Anglosphere countries!  I pride myself in being more cosmopolitan and savvy about different countries compared to the average native born American, but that’s a really low bar! As the saying goes a little knowledge is a dangerous thing, and I’ve found that admitting that I don’t know much and just slowing down and listening to people and observing goes a long way in reducing misunderstandings. I’ve so far travelled to both Canada and Mexico, which is more than many people have but still, not very far afield culturally.

So I was going thru Melas the Hellene’s Polemical Topics in Polytheism and trying to respond to the questions but found that the way they were framed didn’t quite work for me. But I couldn’t quite articulate why. Then I figured it out, they just didn’t quite work in an American cultural context. This is an unexpected problem for me to have, I’m rather spoiled since so much of the Internet- especially the Pagan/polytheist blogosphere that I run into consists of Americans and heavily American influenced viewpoints. I’m glad to find more blogs from different cultural perspectives and written in various languages, though I really have to go out of my way to seek them out. I thought I might have to re-frame the topics to my cultural context.  I’m often not sure when it’s necessary or helpful to explain aspects of American culture since often times other people throughout the world understand us better than we do ourselves! Then later I read thru more of Melas’ posts and realized that he himself was raised in the United States then moved to Greece. Finding that out definitely adds some context to his various opinions on American culture, Greek culture and Hellenic polytheism. I’d be interested to see other Hellenic polytheists (whether of Greek ancestry or not) weigh in. I don’t know much about Greek or Greek-American culture, my experience is pretty much limited to a attending a Greek-American festival held by an Orthodox church in my city and visiting the Greek area of Chicago. Also there’s this movie I’ve seen that stars Nia Vardalos, but I’m not going to mention the title of it, I suspect the association is probably annoying enough!

 

But here’s another essay that I found by a Greek-American polytheist that seemed to me a helpful moderate perspective between totally divorcing Hellenic polytheism from modern Greek culture and people and being stuck on ancient Greece and believing the practice should only be restricted to people of Greek descent. As a person of Irish/Scottish/English/German heritage who has worshipped Greek gods but would like to better understand their cultural context, I found it very insightful and I also saw many parallels with my experiences connecting to people from or in Ireland. 

 

 

June 21, 2018 at 1:10 am 5 comments

GLBTQ Pride 101

It’s Pride season, and you know what that means. Lots of people excitedly attended their first GLBT pride event, or watching them from afar, and both groups frequently not really understanding why we have pride events. I can tell this by many of the comments and questions I hear from new Pride attendees, younger people, folks who have come out more recently, allies who have this one GLBT friend/family member but otherwise don’t know much about the movement or communities. GLBT folks who have moved from different countries, other parts of the country, rural communities, more conservative backgrounds and so forth also have different perspectives that they bring in. It’s a huge range of people that comes together to celebrate who we are now as well as remember our past, which is both fun and exciting, as well as the potential for many types of misunderstanding! So let’s clear some of that up!

Why/when/by whom was Pride started?

Gatherings of gay, lesbian and bisexual folks were often secretive because homosexuality (or as it was called “sodomy”) and cross-dressing were illegal, gay bars were frequently subjected to police raids and harassment. At the Stonewall Bar in New York City, patrons got fed up after numerous such raids & arrests, and resisted and rioted on June 28, 1969. Many of the participants of the Stonewall Riots were poor & working class Black and Latin@ drag queens and trans women, gay men, bisexuals and lesbians. The next year, a committee was formed to organize events to commemorate the riot, and the phrase gay pride was coined as a name for the events. (More about the founders of Gay Pride)

Why be proud of your sexual orientation? Why make a big deal out of it? Why isn’t there a Straight Pride?

Nowadays, while GLB* folks are increasingly accepted in many places, we still face various forms of discrimination- both legal and illegal, health disparities, rejection from friends, family and community. There isn’t a “Straight Pride” because there doesn’t need to be one, heterosexual people don’t even need to think about their orientation. People assume that their children will grow up to be heterosexual.  Briefly mentioning one’s orientation, partner’s gender or other telling things is still seen as “making a big deal” out of being gay/lesbian/bi, while someone can directly or indirectly mention things that indicate romantic or sexual interest in a different gender constantly without that being seen as strange or “flaunting” heterosexuality. Having a relatively few characters that are gay/lesbian/bi or out celebrities may be seen as “shoving this gay stuff” down “regular” people’s throats.

There are also many festivals and parades throughout the summer in most communities in which GLBT people are often unsure (at best) whether we can be openly ourselves. We are sometimes expected to go partly or fully back into the closet, or at least “shut up” about who we are in order to participate in other community events so we don’t make someone who can’t deal with us uncomfortable.

*Note: I’m going to discuss the T some more in a later post, transgender people & transgender issues are definitely part of our movement, communities (though not always as much as they should be)

Rev. Melissa Hill of ADF has written a more detailed summary of the Stonewall Riots here, as well as discussing honoring leaders of the movement as heroic ancestors.

Article from Bustle about the history of Pride Month

June 13, 2018 at 9:25 pm Leave a comment

Things Other White People Tell Me

They tell me, if I work in solidarity with people of color, and try to educate myself to unlearn the racism I have been taught, that I must be motivated by white guilt.

They tell me if I criticize what other white people say, that I must hate myself- my skin, my “culture”, “heritage”, “people”. They don’t specify what they mean by those things. Apparently I share their culture, am one of their people, just based on my skin color…

They tell me that immigrants are coming to destroy “our” way of life, religion, culture, take “our” jobs. They forget all the same things were said about their ancestors.

They tell me Black, brown, Asian people are more homophobic and sexist- it’s just “their culture” what do you expect. While most of the laws made to oppress queer people and women are made by white (purportedly straight) men. Clearly we need to invade those other countries so we can civilize them and bring them feminism, or atheism, or capitalism or Christianity. Because that would be progress.

They ask why study other languages, because English is clearly the best one, immigrants all need to learn English. They forget how long their German or other ancestors kept speaking their languages. They forget some of my ancestors stopped speaking their native language, being force-taught “superior English” before even coming to this country.

They tell me that “white genocide” is apparently a problem I should be worried about, forgetting that some of my ancestors survived genocide- whether they were considered “white” or not at the time.

They worry about me riding the bus and walking in certain neighborhoods, in spite of the fact that a white cis (non-trans) woman is less likely to be attacked than a woman or man of color.

They want to keep out Syrian and other Muslim refugees to protect white women like me. That’s why the Klan was formed, why countless Black men were hung. To protect white women. I am more likely to be abused or attacked by white men- simply due to who is in my social circle, and who I tend to date. If that happens, though I suppose their concern for me will disappear, how was I dressed, did I have a proper escort.

I am also told that I need protection from the trans women who need to use the bathroom. In spite of the fact that I’ve experienced far more bullying from other white cis girls, because I wasn’t feminine enough, my teenage autistic awkwardness sticking out. I learned that there were many ways to be a woman from trans women, from women of color, from non-binary and genderqueer folks. The same people making these bathroom laws also oppose anti-bullying laws. Who are they actually protecting?

February 29, 2016 at 2:27 am Leave a comment

Diasporan Polytheism

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

 

January 13, 2016 at 2:29 am 6 comments

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