Posts tagged ‘american holidays’

Culture-Based Religions

Culture-based religions are often otherwise called ethnic, tribal or indigenous religions- all those terms have more limited connotations, hence why I came up with a more general one.  The label of “folk religion” is also sometimes thrown in with these by anthropologists, though that is a little different, so I’ll treat that separately. Individuals or groups who practice culture-based religions may or may not identify with the word Pagan, especially if they belong to a (more or less) continuous living tradition.

A culture-based religion can be contrasted with a universalist religion– which typically has a prophet, or series of prophets and claims to have a moral code & message for all of humanity- such as  Buddhism, Christianity, Islam and Bahai’ism. Strictly speaking, we can’t really divide all religions perfectly into either category- for one, universalist religions are of course, influenced by the cultures from which they originate, though they tend to adapt themselves- and often syncretize (combine) with culture-based religions. For example, Shinto in Japan is quite seamlessly syncretized with Buddhism, so much so that Japanese people often don’t label themselves as being Buddhist or Shinto(ist). They just *do* Buddhist and Shinto-related practices.

That there is the clincher. The religion is an inseparable part of the culture- to the point where if there is a word for the religion, it’s often one invented in response to foreign missionaries- frequently with a meaning like “The Kami Way” (in the case of Shinto) or Old Custom (Forn Sidr- Danish) “traditions of our people” and so forth. Just as the word people call themselves in their own language simply means “People”, “People of the Mountain/River” etc.

To join a culture-based religion, one typically needs to be ritually adopted into the culture, if possible, or otherwise immerse themselves as they can into the culture. I have seen some people divide culture-based religions into “closed” and “open” traditions- and while that does help people understand that they can’t join anything they want to, I believe it’s an oversimplification. We’re not talking about joining or converting to any specific religion at this point, we are merely exploring and learning.

When newcomers enter the Pagan community, they often ask for suggestions on which tradition or pantheon they might start out with exploring. In the United States, Canada, Australia and other multicultural colonized countries, people are often told “Start with the traditions of your ancestors”. After a lot of observing of other folks journeys as well as my own, I actually recommend against that advice. Why? Because culture is more important than ancestry. Honoring ones’ ancestral roots is certainly an important part of many traditions, it’s not that I’m discouraging. But we are often very disconnected from the cultures of our ancestors. If it is our calling we can certainly make the effort to re-connect. But to begin with- I would look again at those questions I asked in my previous post- what aspects of culture were you raised with? What other cultures are you familiar with?

For myself- I was raised by college-educated liberal parents, multiple generations removed from my mixed British Isles ancestry- so fairly conventional mainline Protestant American culture, with its various holidays (Christmas, Easter, Halloween, Independence Day) I was always interested in learning the origins of holiday customs, and read up on all of them, as well as any fairy tales and mythology books I could get my paws on. I came to identify more with my Irish heritage, and have been studying the language, history and culture, Druidry and Celtic Reconstructionism. However, I have to admit that this has been a somewhat artificial process- all a choice on my part. I wasn’t raised with much in the way of Irish culture, other than with an awareness of being Irish, some knowledge of history of the Potato Famine, “No Irish Need Apply” signs and so forth. Lately, I’ve been pondering more about how to incorporate my mixed cultural influences- I don’t mean so much by ancestry, but more by environment. I talk with Druids from across the pond, in Britain and there are various things that strike me about our cultural differences- a lot them simply being- who the heck would I be, even as a “white” culturally Protestant American, without influences of Eastern European Jewish, African-American and many other cultures? I don’t belong to any those cultures, but I carry pieces of them with me.

What is culture? It’s all the stuff you take for granted. This is the way we do things of course! Any other way would be weird or rude or just “not feel right”! Most of it is less visible than all the things we point to when we’re trying to be multicultural (holidays, food, music).

May 16, 2015 at 8:36 am 6 comments

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

Wrestling with God(s)

I’m a thinker who often over-thinks things to the point of worrying and getting depressed and angsty over Big Questions- and even little questions. What Does It All Mean? What is My Purpose ™? Do God(s) exist, if so, who are they, do they give a @#$* about me, and what should I do? In Hebrew, wrestling with G-d means Israel. As I was discussing in an earlier post, both Christianity & Islam seem to have more a tendency towards “This is the Way it Is. Just Believe and Obey- or you will make Baby Jesus cry or Allah will be displeased” Not always how it is, but those are dominant messages they tend to give us. Judaism, on the other hand often seems to have more space for wrestling with G-d, debating what does this verse mean- there are centuries of texts of back and forth rabbinical debates! I just finished watching a both hilarious and insightful web series called Dude, Where’s My Chutzpah? by filmaker Jessie Kahnweiler. http://www.dudewheresmychutzpah.com  It’s about a woman (based on Jessie herself) in her 20’s who is wandering rather aimlessly thru life, but then after her devout Jewish grandmother dies, the rabbi gives her a challenge based on her Bubbe’s wishes- to spend a year finding her “chutzpah” and figure out what it means to live a Jewish life/be Jewish. I don’t think I’m spoiling much when I tell you that Jessie finds the answers lead to even more questions! But seriously, go watch, regardless of your belief/cultural background, it’s fun.

So what does this have to do with Paganism/polytheism/UUism/Spiritual Label of the week?

I guess we Pagans are typically more concerned with what we do, and how and why we do it, rather than what we believe. I think theology and what we believe does matter to some degree, but it’s ok to be uncertain. It’s part of being human. John Beckett had some good wisdom about this- advising “Practice Deeply, Hold Beliefs Loosely” and keep re-examining your beliefs. Don’t get so stuck on them that they become obstacles. Of the many discussions over What Does it Mean To Be Pagan?! (oh teh angst!) one that struck me the most was from Steven Posch, an elder Witch of Paganistan*, who is generally more into Actually Doing Stuff than just arguing about how to do it online. He thinks Pagans are a people…an emerging culture. There are many ways to be Pagan, and it’s an essence that transcends and defies all our attempts to define it! We are a diasporan people, by choice and chance rather than historical circumstance, having to figure out who we are as distinct from the dominant culture(s), and varying at how much we differentiate ourselves. Now maybe you identify as Pagan, but don’t see yourself as part of “a people” or a culture. Once again, it’s not a perfect comparison with being Jewish, but really nothing is. Something to ponder at least.

As I’ve been exploring the polytheist faction that is branching away from Greater Pagan-dom and the Heathens who in large part already see themselves outside of it, I’ve realized that my people and my culture can still be found among the Pagani, and moreover the overlapping geeky subcultures that surround it. I am still a hippie Romanticist tempered with some pragmatism, practicality and post-colonial critiques of Noble Savage & Orientalist mindsets that pervade. I am not a Genuine Heir to Traditional Gaelic Polytheism, Irish or Scottish culture, ancestry or no. This does not mean I am phony, I am quite honest about who I am.  I think we sometimes have this haunting feeling of insecurity because we are not Authentic Enough ™ According to who? Anthropologists? Scholars of ancient religions? Sneering evangelicals or secular atheists? If we were that worried about “What Will The Neighbors/Interfaith PR reps/mainstream media Think?” we wouldn’t be Pagans, would we?

But seriously, look at other cultures that we think of as More Truly Authentic- y’know the ones we often feel tempted to “borrow” from because we need to jazz up our shabby American-Euro-mutt stuff? Native Americans for example- many of them have lost much of their traditions and culture. Many of them combine their cultural practices with Christianity. They create new practices as the need arises, or creativity inspires them to do so. Even more so- look at your fellow descendents of immigrants from around the world. What have they brought with them? What have they left behind? How have they adapted what they brought to fit in with their new environment? What have they added in from American culture and made their own? How has this been passed on to other Americans to the point where forget its origin? There are many German, and specifically Deitsch (Pennsylvania Dutch) customs that have sunk into the American mainstream- Groundhog Day, Christmas trees and translated carols like Silent Night (Stille Nacht), the Easter bunny and dying Easter eggs.

More about “tradition” and authenticity- https://paganleft.wordpress.com/2014/01/10/authenticity-whats-traditional-anyway/

*Paganistan- his term, now widely adopted for the Twin Cities metro area Pagan communities.

February 17, 2015 at 2:19 am 4 comments

Thanksgiving Reality Check

I’ve been seeing various posts on Pagan blogs about Thanksgiving- there are some lovely reflections about gratitude, the harvest and so forth. John Beckett, and others have commented & confronted the increasing commercialization of Turkey Day. But I’ve been disappointed that people have not been confronting the disturbing history of Indian genocide and the false elementary school narrative of interracial harmony between Pilgrims & Indians. (I did see a post about this from one of my fellow ADF Druids) Not long ago, we had Columbus Day (or Indigenous People’s Day) and a decision taking away the copyright on the name of That Team in Washington- which they are still sticking with. Right now we are also dealing with the aftermath of the events and trial in Ferguson, Missouri, another sobering reminder that we are definitely not living up to our country’s ideals of equality and justice for all.

Columbus Day is celebrated in some places with a parade and sales at department stores, but not a family feast. It doesn’t help that many of us have relatives who are already rather racist, even if they’d be loathe to admit it, and outraged if we suggested it. “Racism” must always be conveniently defined narrowly by whites as some scary extremist in a pointy white hood. “I’m a good, fair-minded person, so I can’t possibly be racist” , is what we all rationalize. I don’t claim to be perfect myself- I too am a product of a racist, classist society. I have internalized all the same messages, but rather than unthinkingly swallow them, I try to question them.

I come from a liberal family, the members of which are all pretty aware of the historical facts and fiction of Thanksgiving. I remember my mother, while working at a daycare/preschool, made efforts (in vain) to convince the Powers That Be to change the Thanksgiving decor & curriculum, especially since there were Native children! Still, we don’t talk about it much, and we still celebrate it. I’m not sure how to march in there, and tell everyone we have to cancel this evil racist holiday, without looking like the bad guy. I’m having Thanksgiving with my in-laws, and I already know better than to discuss any ethnic group or non-Christian religion in front of my father-in-law in particular. My mother-in-law can be diplomatic and just “agree to disagree” but my father-in-law will get into diatribes if you let him. I’ve tried to educate and enlighten, but those efforts have been shown to be clearly unwelcome.

So at the end of the day, I’m not really sure if we can turn Thanksgiving into a non-racist/anti-racist holiday, or if we should just observe a Day of Mourning instead, like many American Indians and their supporters do. I guess that larger question is rather irrelevant if I am observing the holiday with people who can’t admit their own racism.

History:

The Suppressed Speech of Wamsutta (Frank B.) James, Wampanoag, to have been delivered at Plymouth Rock, 1970

The Wampanoag Side of the First Thanksgiving Story

American Indians in Children’s Literature- Thoughts on Native American Month (November) & Thanksgiving

I can’t recommend enough this wonderful website by Debbie Reese, a member of the Nambe Pueblo, and children’s librarian. In addition to folks that are raising or teaching kids, it is also a nice resource for adults working on un-learning all the misinformation we grew up with about Indian cultures!

“Happy Thanksgiving!” An American Indian Perspective

The Silly Conservative Myth That Thanksgiving Marked the Day that Pilgrims Gave up on Socialism

I hadn’t heard of this trope before, then again I don’t exactly seek out conservative revisionist history (isn’t that already a redundancy- since they are usually the ones writing the history books?)

The Real Laura Ingalls Wilder story finally published OK, so this isn’t Thanksgiving related, exactly, but like the popular history of Thanksgiving, the not entirely historically accurate (and yes, racist!) Little House books are certainly a big part of American settler cultural identity- especially when you grow up in the Midwest with lots of “Laura Ingalls stopped here once to pee!” signs everywhere. I even jokingly refer to my Dad as “Pa Wilder” after moving us thru so many states- Montana, Idaho, Kansas, Iowa, Minnesota, and while I’ve stayed here in MN, my parents and brother have since moved back to Montana and now, Wyoming.

Modern Reality:

Thanksgiving is Becoming Impossible for Low-Wage Working Women

Queer for the Holidays: When Birth Families Reject Us, We Create Our Own

November 26, 2014 at 2:43 pm 2 comments

Thinking Creatively about Ancestors

(Belated post) Happy Samhain, and Happy Halloween! Today I will mostly be celebrating Halloween, American-style, feeding the munchkins that come to the door, and playing board games with my partner & his brother. This weekend and next, I’ll be attending 2 different Samhain events. This is the time of year when we focus on honoring the dead, and I often hear from people of various paths, that find this to be a stumbling block. Often this is because they had (or still have) difficult, painful and abusive relationships with their family members, both living and dead (or the dead are “guilty” by association with the living relatives). This has often been a topic of discussion on the ADF lists, and people who were adopted often express awkwardness surround this. I am lucky in that I have a great relationship with my own family and a cordial one with my partner’s family.

Adoptive Family– if you were formally adopted, your adoptive family’s ancestors are yours. Adoption (especially by relatives) did happen in various ancient cultures, and all those stories about foundlings and orphans being adopted are not just stories 😉 Informal “adopted” parents, grandparents and aunts & uncles can also be honored. Search for your birth parents & ancestors if you so desire, but remember that it is not required to feel like a “Real Pagan”. If you were adopted from another country or ethnic background than that of your adopted family, adding symbols of that country or culture to a physical or online shrine and honoring cultural ancestors would be good ways to honor your heritage.

Ancestors by Marriage/Partnership– Your partner or spouse’s ancestors are also your own. Personally I find this can be a nice way to share one’s spirituality with a non-Pagan spouse and even their broader living family- you can gather pictures and mementos together to create an ancestor altar, without announcing to everyone that This is a Pagan Thing! It’s not just a Pagan Thing! Many cultures and religions honor their ancestors, and respectfully listen and learn if your partner’s family has its own ancestor-honoring traditions- Jewish, Mexican Catholic, Chinese Confucian, etc.

Spiritual Ancestors– in some traditions such as Feri, they are referred to as “the Mighty Dead” founders or influential practitioners of your tradition, or other thinkers that have been influential on your path. They can be part of a recent revival, or priests and shamans of long ago. This is a good category to focus on in ritual, since our groups are usually made up on unrelated people. Many people also see their coven, grove et al as being like a family.

Ancestors of Place– people who lived before you in your house, the land it sits on, the general area. This may blur with non-human spirits of place as well.  In the U.S. and other colonized lands we often find it easier to acknowledge and honor European founders of our cities and countries, while steering clear of discussing the many victims of genocide and forced relocation. Understandably, if some of these spirits are present they may be angry with us. I’ll expand on this another time, as we get closer to Thanksgiving, but in short, dwelling on guilt is pointless, but acknowledging the wrong-doing of the past is important. I think what would be best in honoring these spirits, is to pray for healing and reconciliation between Native and non-Native peoples. Do not say prayers that “thank” the Native peoples for the land, when it was not much of choice for them to sell it. I would also suggest avoiding doing rituals near or on Native American burial grounds.

Ancestors of Trade/Profession/Calling– if you have a trade or profession, be it mundane, spiritual or a combination, you can honor deceased accomplished members of that trade, along with patron gods or saints, or perhaps the founder(s) of the company or organization you work for, or your union/trade association. Honoring activists of the labor movement would also be cool- I think this category would be even more appropriate for Labor Day (in September in the U.S.) or May Day, or a special day associated with your profession. If you are a student, trainee, or job-seeker of a particular field, you can also honor people of related professions. You can also honor deceased alumni of your college or high school, if you feel a special attachment to the school, especially at homecoming.

Queer Ancestors– If you identify as queer, GLBTQA+, or otherwise have an interest in queer history, cultures and civil rights, there are all kinds of cool people throughout history you can honor. Something to keep in mind however, is that the concepts of sexual orientation and transgender/transsexual are modern constructs, however gender fluidity/nonconformity and same-sex love and sexual behavior have existed throughout human history throughout the world. This is another reason I like the word “queer”- it is inclusive of anyone who has a relationship or gender identity that does not fit with the norm. Pinterest shrine here. Nornoriel has an inspiring tribute to Harvey Milk (one of the first openly gay politicians in the U.S.)

Disabled and Neurodiverse Ancestors– as with queer history, the history of people with disabilities is also quite hidden, there are many famous people who had disabilities that we don’t talk about, and people who are not remembered because they were shut out of society in institutions. (Sometimes even members of our own families!) “Neurodiversity is an approach to learning and disability that suggests that diverse neurological conditions appear as a result of normal variations in the human genome.”-Wikipedia I like to use the term neurodiverse, because there are many historical figures that people try to post-humously “diagnose” with various mental conditions such as Asperger’s Syndrome or bipolar disorder, and while we can make educated guesses we will never really know the truth. Thus we can include people with various diverse ways of thinking without giving them a specific label. Pinterest shrine here, Nornoriel has a lovely tribute to Helen Keller here.

Deities as Ancestors– Last but not least, in many traditions deities are our literal or metaphorical ancestors, and specific deities are said to be the ancestors of particular countries, tribes and clans. Illustrious ancestors are also often deified, or at least get a hero or saint-like status.

See Tutelary Goddesses post

Some people will of course fit into multiple categories! I will be writing more posts about these groups of ancestors, and individual ancestors as the Muses move me, and adding to the shrines, while trying (probably in vain) to not get too sucked into Pinterest!

October 31, 2014 at 10:40 pm 2 comments

Black Friday (the Service not the Sale)

Recalling a conversation from several years ago….

“They’re having a Black Friday service”, I told my Lutheran boyfriend about my church.

“Wha- but they’re Unitarians, I didn’t think they’d observe Good Friday, and besides, it’s the wrong time of year.” he said.

“No, honey not Good Friday- Black Friday. The day after Thanksgiving, when all the big sales start. It’s a special service to protest consumerism.” I explained

“As much as I hate holiday consumerism, it’s not really a spiritual occasion, is it?” He furrowed his brow, both puzzled and bemused by those goofy Unitarians.

No, it isn’t. Which is part of why I’m not going. Besides, I don’t need to be lectured about the evils of consumerism when I am actually working the Black Friday sale! After all, it’s the entire reason I had this job at Jo-Ann Fabric in the first place- excess consumerism during the holidays. The extra irony, was Unity encourages people to either make gifts or re-use stuff they have or buy used items, and here I am working in a craft and fabric store. I know they mean well, but this is one of those things they just don’t get.  Voluntary simplicity is nice idea, but I don’t need to go to a workshop to learn about it. Try mandatory simplicity that is my life, that is a lot of people’s lives, even more so than my own.

Last year while working at Macy’s I was thinking it might be nice to have some type of contemplative type service for people who have to work for the Capitalist Grinch Who Stole Christmas. Something to numb the pain- isn’t that what religion is supposed to, at least a little? I didn’t get things together enough to do it, but I think I will make the suggestion this year.

Last year, I got a call from an organization I work with, that was having a protest by Target (right in my neighborhood) for being open on Thanksgiving, and boycotts were called for against the stores that were doing it including, Macy’s where I was working, and had volunteered to work overnight for some extra pay. So, instead of protesting that people are being expected to work on Thanksgiving, just in general ask why are these people not paid more? Why do they not get good benefits- whether from their employers or the state? Why isn’t good quality affordable childcare available in this country? Why do people go to work sick? Why are so many disabled people who want to work unemployed? We love convenience- our 24 hour 365 days a week open stores, when one of them in closed for a day, oh no, how will we survive?

Well, how is it that America’s workers are surviving? So yeah. Live simply so that others can simply live- keep on with liberal do-gooding, I’m all for it, sure. But we can’t all work for non-profits, we can’t all be teachers and lawyers and all the Following Your Truly Meaningful Vocation type jobs that Unitarians and other liberals approve of. When you consider which charities to donate to this holiday season, and the whole year for that matter, consider also investing in businesses that are pay and treat their employees well, value life/work balance, that recruit and train people with disabilities, people with criminal histories that want to be a part of society, single parents, people who may have less education but still have plenty of skills and experience to offer, older workers, immigrants, young people who want a real start in their lives. Help build sustainable jobs and hold employers and investors accountable and we can build a community! Because without good jobs, we can’t donate to the church, or to save the rainforest or do any number of important things. We can only take care of ourselves and our families, and survival is not selfishness.

October 21, 2014 at 1:14 am 1 comment

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