Posts tagged ‘American culture’

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

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

Finding Common Ground

 

Seven Habits of Highly Depolarizing People

1 Criticize from within– criticize the other on the basis of something you have in common- the safety of your neighborhood, the education of your city or district’s children

2 Look for goods in conflict (Good Thing 1 vs. Good Thing 2 rather than Good vs. Evil)

3 Count higher than two

I remember a keynote at by John Michael Greer, the ArchDruid of the Ancient Order of Druids in America, in which he mentioned a great contribution of Druidic and Celtic thinking is seeing things in threes- triads. Both the medieval Welsh and Irish had many triads that poets and scholars used as mnemonic devices for proverbs, virtues and other associations. Greer suggested this as a sort of antidote to the destructive binary thinking in Western cultures.

4 Doubt– “the concern that my views may not be entirely correct—is the true friend of wisdom and (along with empathy, to which it’s related) the greatest enemy of polarization.”

5 Specify

6 Qualify

7 Keep the conversation going

 

April 7, 2016 at 5:48 am 1 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

Labels, Identities and Boundaries

Hey, y’all! I have moved this post to my Witches & Pagans blog, Way of the Sacred Fool. I realized something rather odd. It seems when I specifically set out to write a post for W & P I end up getting stuck, but then I’ll fluently write out something for this blog. I think I need to *just write* without worrying which blog whatever I’m writing fits into and then publish accordingly!

October 28, 2015 at 1:35 am Leave a comment

Pansexuals & Bisexuals- Suggested Communication Strategy

I came out around age 16, at that time, yes there was Internet, but there wasn’t a lot there yet- searching “bisexuality” would likely yield more porn than decent information, and I was fortunate enough to be living in large liberal metro area that had books about bisexuality and gay/lesbian/bisexual issues more generally in the library. I’ll admit that for myself at the time, my understanding of bisexuality was rather binary- an attraction to both men and women. However, this was more due to my understanding of gender at the time than definitions bisexual activists were promoting. Many bi folks did and still do, use definitions like “being attracted to one’s own gender and others”, but others did and still likely do use more gender binary definitions. Bi communities have frequently experienced overlap and allyship with trans communities and individual activists, but transphobia and cissexism has also occurred and still does in bi communities. I think we need to be honest about all this- warts and all, to both bi/pan and monosexual trans, genderqueer and cis folks. Let’s not pretend we have this magically more Enlightened Than HRC attitude.

With this honesty I believe we can sincerely and politely respond to various critiques of bisexual identity from folks who prefer pansexual identities. If we do this consistently, along with affirming the legitimacy and choice of other non-monosexual identities and labels (and desire to use none at all) and listen to younger people’s desires for distinctive identities, I think we can work toward a broader, more inclusive bi community, (or whatever we agree on calling it!). We need to stop publicly arguing with pansexuals over the bisexuality definition. I understand it’s frustrating, but instead let’s redirect the conversation. Say “We accept and include pansexuals and respect your identities, please respect ours. We’d like to dialog and learn about each other *in person* or perhaps over Video chat (Skype, Googletalk etc) or even just message one on one. Obviously we’ll want to limit that to folks who are 18, or have parental approval for everyone’s protection.

This section is for the pansexual folks- I admit I’m less familiar with y’all- but I’d like to address some things I’ve heard from and about *some* NOT ALL pansexuals.

I’d really appreciate it, if you have not already- please learn more about bisexual and transgender movement history- really it was B & T before G & L came along and acted like it was all their in the first place, and B & T were just tag-alongs. (I admit this statement is specific to United States, while I know bits and pieces about other countries, particularly Britain and Germany I’d need to do more research to learn how different identity groups played roles in other countries)

For those who believe in the bi means binary definition therefore I’m pan, I’d like you to consider that I know quite a few trans and non-binary people who identify as bisexual (or sometimes both bi & pan) and in fact, many of them are involved in the Bisexual Organizing Project, BECAUSE or other bisexual groups around the country. I’ve also seen definitions of pansexual that emphasize attraction to “men, women and trans people” which doesn’t seem to actually be respectful of trans people considered many of them *are* men and women. If you want to be an ally to trans people please actually learn about them- in person (if & when they want to talk about it!) books, documentaries, blogs etc. getting many different opinions- there is no Grand Trans High Council that decides which trans celebrities to anoint or whatever. I admit to be being in a continual learning process about gender diversity myself! Other trans people are non-binary, genderqueer, agender, bigender, neutrois etc. there may also be some such folks that don’t see themselves as under the trans umbrella- we all know how complex those “umbrella terms” are now, don’t we?

I have also heard concerns from some trans individuals that pansexual sometimes seems to be used by people who have a particular fetish-y interest in trans people- not always, but it’s something they at least see as a “red flag” while dating. Date people because they are attractive, cool and interesting people, not for social justice/diversity cookies, and same goes for making friends.

I’m also hearing a “I’m gender-blind, transcend gender, I care about people not parts” sorta thing, which sounds familiar, it’s the same twaddle I used to and sometimes still hear from bisexual folks. That may sound cool and enlightened, but it’s also comes off as really annoying and will not win you friends. Most straight and gay people I talk to who have described their experiences of attraction have more criteria than “this person has this gender”. People of every orientation are capable of being superficial, lookist, sizeist or whatever label of bad-ness that you can imagine. We’re human. Sometimes there are messed-up beauty standards we absorb, consciously or unconsciously. Sometimes we just have features that attract us and features that don’t.

Resources about Bi & Trans movements in the next post…stay tuned!

September 25, 2015 at 2:07 am 9 comments

The Online People’s Front of Judea

I’ve been attempting to learn more about various social justice issues by reading about them both with books and online communities. Over the years, since Livejournal, on thru Facebook and Tumblr, I’ve seen an ongoing downward spiral of discourse. While certainly there have long been problems, there’s an increasing amount of nasty games I’ve come to question some of the basic theories and ideologies that I’ve long believed in, such as Critical Race Theory and intersectionality- while still supporting certain aspects such as- yes oppression is bad, human rights are good, oppressions and identities are inter-related and so forth. Reading Will Shetterly’s blog has been very eye-opening. (He’s a science fiction author, a socialist & a Unitarian who’s also wondering what the heck happened to fandom…) I haven’t been following the various sagas with Hugos, Sad Puppies, Gamergate, avoiding them as much as I’ve been able to avoid the Ferguson/Black Lives Matter saga. Maybe I’ll just read an actual Icelandic saga…

Fortunately I have Monty Python to help me make “sense” of human absurdity…

The People’s Front of Judea

What Have the Romans Ever Done for Us? (also a good one to post in Pagan groups when someone is complaining about teh Eevil Romans)

The Social Consequences of Everything

These are commented on by someone who *actually does think sexism, racism, homophobia etc are Real Things, but points out the problems with some of these checklists. But people still don’t understand irony and sarcasm. It’s also hard to tell, because some people are kind of walking parodies. I came across “bathing privilege” I thought at first this meant to point out that some people have access to running water and baths/showers and some don’t- fair enough, but it was just someone who *chooses to not bathe* whining about how oppressed he was by Western culture. I couldn’t tell it was for real or not. He also mentioned being on the autism spectrum, and I know sensory issues and executive functioning (i.e. Getting Stuff Done/Organized) can often be barriers for many of us when it comes to personal hygiene, but we can learn to work around those problems (sometimes with help) I’m also well aware that American and Japanese culture in particular, have higher standards of personal hygiene than much of the rest of the world (in part due to wealth) and I think a broader range of cleanliness can be reasonable, depending on your social environment.

Someone else has claimed “non-incest privilege” is a thing (you can’t help who you’re attracted to!) for what the .01% of cases in which it’s not abusive? Also the person that informed us all that homophobia and transphobia are ableist terms because clinical phobias are a Real Thing! Now there’s always going to be someone in every movement doing or saying ridiculous things, it’s just way more visible now. Yay internets!

September 16, 2015 at 2:38 am 1 comment

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

Untangling Heathen Holidays: July/August, Northern Hemisphere

As I commented before, when looking up information about Heathen holidays, especially with American-based books and websites, it tends to be a big Pan-Germanic mix- some Icelandic, some Anglo-Saxon and some modern American inventions like Einherjar and Vali’s Day. Then there are holidays based on Christian-era folk traditions, which may or may not have pre-Christian roots, but as my readers know, I’m more of a fan of continuing comparatively recent folk traditions that we can share with non-Pagan/Heathen members of various cultures. In the end, I’ll likely end up blending things together from more than one tradition, but I want to know where things come from to begin with! My suggestion is celebrate whatever is being harvested- in my area, it tends to be cucumbers and tomatoes and in July the blackberries in my front yard ripen.

Observance- Cultural Origin- Customs

Lokabrenna- July as month to honor Loki- American Heathen + Global Online Lokean community, with inspiration from later Scandinavian folk beliefs If you are into astronomy (or astrology for that matter) the folk beliefs connect Loki to the rising of Sirius and the hot “dog days” of summer, check when Sirius is actually rising- this could fall in July or August.

1st or 2nd of August- Lammas, Loafmass, Hlaefmaesse– English, Anglo-Saxon revivalist

Based on English Christian customs of baking loaves of bread made from the first wheat harvested and offering them to the Church- a festival of first fruits. More info- Wyrt Wizard, Lammas Eve.  The English folk song “John Barleycorn” is a popular one to sing, and may be associated with Frey himself or his servant, Byggvir (meaning barley). Some Heathens, particular Vanatru see Lammas as the time when Frey sacrifices himself for the land and people, probably a Wiccan or Neo-Pagan influence.

“Come Hláftíd (Loaf-Tide) Béowa, the god of barley, and his bride, Béole “the little bee”, are given worship.  The “first fruits of the harvest”, bread and beer, brewed of barley and honey, are offered to them, that they might beward the speedsome harvest.”- Ealdrice Haedengyld 

1st or 2nd of August Freyfaxi– Icelandic name- American Heathen usage

It’s unclear to me whether this festival was celebrated in pre-Christian Scandinavia or Iceland. The name for this holiday seems to come from the Icelandic Hrafnknel’s saga and Vatnesdaela saga, both feature a man who was a Freysgodhi (priest of Frey) who named his horse Freyfaxi. There are also horse associations (horse racing in particular) with Lunasa, the Gaelic festival around the same time. So to me this one “clicks” with the intermixing of the Norse with the Scots and Irish.

Chapter on Loaf-fest/Freyfaxi in Our Troth

Many connect the harvest with the story of Loki cutting off Sif’s hair. A ritual drama can be acted out, or the story can be told, sung or recited in poetic form. Making corn dollies as part of a “first sheaf” rite is also an option- the Last sheaf tends to be observed in October/November.

Hoietfescht– Urglaawe- Festival of the Hay-time, Hoiet is the Deitsch name for July, and this festival falls either the last week of July or the first week of August. Other names include Sommermit or Corn Boils. At this time, the Wanes (Vanir) are honored for the gifts of the harvest- Frey, Freyja and Njord

General References:

The Holy Tides- Hlaefmaesse- Freyfaxi

Hoietfeshct by Rob Lusch  p. 10, Hollerbier Haven: A Journal of Traditional Deitsch Wisdom Vol. 3, Issue 2

July 8, 2015 at 9:21 pm Leave a comment

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