Posts filed under ‘American’

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.

 

Advertisements

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

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

Regional/Cultural Divisions in North America

There are various ways people have tried to divide North America based on cultural settlement, economic activity, etc. Though really, the biggest division tends to be between the urban and rural areas! But if you’re curious here are some books, they are in reverse chronological order. I have only read the 9 Nations one. I think what is a lot more useful, would be to research the history and culture of the particular area you live in. (Above link compares these various books)

American Nations: A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North America by Colin Woodard (2011) This sounds like it oversimplifies and leaves out a lot about later immigration.

American Colonies: the Settling of North America by Alan Taylor (2001) This one covers all the European colonial powers, so- Dutch, British, French, Spanish. Might be of interest.

Albion’s Seed: Four British Folkways in America by David Hackett Fischer (1989) This one really goes into cultural differences between early British settlements, and is definitely on my to-read list!

The Nine Nations of North America by Joel Garreau (1981) I think this has similar problems to the Eleven Nations book

Immigration & Assimilation from European Ethnic to “Whiteness”

How the Irish Became White by Noel Ignatiev (this one I have actually read- very good, though depressing!)

Roots Too: White Ethnic Revival in Post-Civil Rights America by Matthew Frye Jacobson

Special Sorrows: the Diasporic Imaginations of Irish, Polish & Jewish Immigrants in the United States by Matthew Frye Jacobson

Whiteness of a Different Color: European Immigrants & the Alchemy of Race by Matthew Frye Jacobson

Working Toward Whiteness: How America’s Immigrants Became White by David Roediger

**Good White People: the Problem with Middle Class White Anti-Racism by Shannon Sullivan (this sounds very good!)

After reading  reviews I would NOT recommend these-

Are Italians White? How Race is Made in America- the reviewer notes that the authors only compare Italian-Americans with African-Americans, not with Puerto Ricans, Mexicans, Latinos or other groups that might have more similarities. It does not take into consideration discrimination that did take place against Italians, and especially Sicilians.

How Jews Became White Folks by Karen Brodkin- apparently the problem with this one is that it does not discuss the background of anti-Semitism in Europe much, and is better at discussing gender issues than racial issues. There are plenty of other books about Jewish American identity & assimilation, so I would look elsewhere.

Note

Please share if you have any opinions on these books or additional ones that may be of interest. There is most certainly *much more* out there to read about various cultural influences in the U.S. and Canada- I am sorting through stuff about European immigration due to my own interests and focus, so this is not to exclude anyone else!

I have started reading “A Different Mirror- A History of Multicultural America” by Ronald Takaki which is quite good so far.

Warning- For anyone who reads this, and decides I am “anti-white people”, “racist against white people”, “anti-American” etc. and feels the need to trumpet this, your comments will be deleted.

August 11, 2015 at 10:34 pm Leave a comment

Why Local/Regional Spirituality Works Better Than National

So the topic arose on the ADF Facebook group about American culture as a hearth culture. Hearth culture is an ADF term for one’s main cultural focus, since we are pan-Indo-European in scope. There were many different visions & interpretations of what “American” means that came up. People agreed that we wanted to avoid appropriation of Native traditions, while acknowledging we could respectfully learn from them in other ways. We do have an American SIG (Special Interest Group) There is also a Religio Americana group on Yahoo, though like most Yahoo groups it’s probably dormant. I’ve seen in particular a lot of interest from Hellenic & Roman polytheists since there is a lot of Greco-Roman influence on our national architecture, statuary, etc. This post is more general to Pagans/polytheists as a whole, though I will address some ADF-specific stuff. It also applies more globally than to just people in the United States.

I’m going to suggest that we focus on our local areas rather than national themes for several reasons

1) Better for ecological and cultural relevance- we can focus on our local landscapes- geology, flora and fauna- bioregional animism is an interesting idea that can be looked into, and easily adapted to many traditions or simply practiced as its own thing. Consuming locally & sustainably made produce and other items, and advocating protection and preservation of local ecosystem can be part of this as well. Supporting and participating in local arts & culture, and historic preservation.

2) Religion with a national focus has more danger of becoming nationalistic in flavor and uncritically glossing over imperialistic aspects of the culture. Recommended reading- Engendering Difference: the Post-colonial Politics of Goddess Spirituality by Kavita Maya– this about the Goddess spirituality movement in Britain, including discussion of wanting to find a pre-imperial British spirituality, and honoring Britannia as the goddess of Britain (and problems this might entail- very similar to discussions of the figure or goddess Columbia in the U.S.)

3) We need to be honest and take responsibility for our history, even the parts that make us feel uncomfortable. I think highlighting the contributions of people who were ignored by dominant narratives of history (women, sexual/gender minorities, immigrants, indigenous people, enslaved or conquered people, religious minorities, disabled people etc.) rather than just focusing on the conquerors and the ruling classes would be a really cool way of doing this. In addition to personal or group spiritual practice, you can also advocate for teaching history and social studies in a more inclusive manner, depicting history in a more respectful and inclusive ways in museums and historical sites, taking classes or doing your own research, boosting marginalized voices within Pagan communities and movements and within your broader community.

Dver, Galina Krasskova, Erynn Laurie, HeathenChinese, Lupa & many other folks have written about polytheism/animism based in their own localities.

April 9, 2015 at 12:24 am Leave a comment

Yes, Virginia Americans Do Have Our Own Culture(s)

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?”

April 8, 2015 at 9:44 pm Leave a comment


Calendar

October 2018
M T W T F S S
« Sep    
1234567
891011121314
15161718192021
22232425262728
293031  

Posts by Month

Posts by Category