Posts tagged ‘Puritans’

“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?

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September 14, 2018 at 12:02 am 1 comment

Thomas Morton Day

So here’s my proposed Pagan “spin” on Thanksgiving- honor Thomas Morton, the renegade Puritan got fed up with all the rules of Plymouth colony and started his own- Merrymount, who made buddies with the Indians and erected a Maypole, and recited poetry about (or to!) Roman and Greek gods. I’m sure none of ya learned about him in grade school! Now in high school you may have read Nathaniel Hawthorne’s short story about these events. Somehow I got thru high school without reading much in the way of “The Canon” be it American or European. Obviously May Day is an even better time!

As with the Romantic Pan-worshippers, it’s a little hard to tell if Thomas was truly a pagan revivalist, or simply engaging in pagan cultural references for shock value. He was a liberal Christian, though heretical by Puritan standards (not that took much!) Still I think he is a worthy spiritual ancestor for American Pagans, and perhaps English ones as well. He was an advocate for indentured servants’ rights (or rather their freedom!) and argued that the Indians were indeed human beings, not savages as the Puritans viewed them. Morton was sent back to London for his heresies. He wrote New English Canaan, a book about his experiences in the colonies. The name “Canaan” makes me wonder if he also saw America as a “promised land” like the Puritans, or perhaps was he identifying with the polytheistic people of Canaan who were conquered by the Hebrews?

Ways to Celebrate-

*Raise a toast to Thomas Morton, his followers and Indian friends (he mentions enjoying Irish whiskey & scotch!)

*Read the poem and song (just wish we had the tune)

*Honor Gods/Spirits mentioned in the poem- Amphitrite, Neptune/Poseidon,  Triton, Cupid/Eros, Asclepius, Proteus (Dionysus- not directly mentioned, but these folks loved to drink!)

“A happy footnote to the history of Merry Mount/Merrymount (Morton spelled it both ways) is that the community at Mt. Wollaston (later renamed Braintree, then Quincy) continued to be associated with rebels and freethinkers for many years after Morton was forced out. In 1636, Anne Hutchinson and her husband William settled there upon arriving from England. (Anne was an “Antinomian” who asserted that God could speak directly to the individual through inspiration, and not through the Bible alone as the Puritans insisted.) Goody Cole, the Witch of Hampton, first settled there at the same time as the Hutchinsons. Later, John Hancock was born there, and the great-grandfather of John Quincy Adams owned the Mt. Wollaston farm in the early 1700s.”- from the Pagan Pilgrim article, below.

The Pagan Pilgrim: Thomas Morton of Merrymount

Making Sense of the Merrymount Debacle

November 26, 2014 at 11:56 pm 1 comment

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

Reconstructionism and American Culture

Sometimes I feel as if the Internet is more of a curse to our communit(ies) health and vitality than a blessing, but I do thing one huge benefit to it is being able make friends from other countries and learn from their points of view. I was reminded of this again reading Naomi’s blog today-

Sli na Firinne (The Way of Truth)

“Imbas is not the same as UPG. It is ‘inspiration’ – it’s closer in meaning to ‘awen’ in the Welsh. However, UPG is not a term that I recognise anymore. I didn’t come up with it, nor did my community. It’s not Gaelic or Brythonic. It’s also a very American phrase – I’ve never heard a British Pagan use it. And also, I’m starting to doubt that our ancestors would have needed a term like that. I suspect they went where the inspiration flowed, rather than forcing themselves to live by ‘lore’. They were not fundamentalists.”

UPG (Unverified or sometimes Unique Personal Gnosis) comes from the American Heathen/Asatru communit(ies)- some factions of which seem to have problem with the influence of Biblical literalism and fundamentalism. I hear a lot about Heathens who are “lore-thumpers” and argue about textual citations in a similar way to Christians. There are similar problems in other recon traditions. Some of us come from conservative Christian upbringings, and in general, our country was in part founded by religious dissidents who were very concerned with finding the One True Way of following God/Jesus- the Puritans were trying to “purify” the Church of England, but were persecuted as heretics so they came here. Then they persecuted other people but that’s another story…

I’ve noticed British and European Druids & Pagans tend to more relaxed about “going with the flow” (like awen/imbas) in following where their spirits lead them. Whereas I think reconstructionism has become a bigger thing in the U.S. because we feel lack a sense of legitimacy, because we don’t live in the lands of our traditions, and we feel disconnected. And then some of us think we know the “right” way and tell our fellows across the pond how to do things. We need to cut that out 🙂 Here is another post also by Leithin Cluan the gap in perspective of British and American style Druidry

Related Links (I don’t necessarily with everything said here, just more food for thought) 

A Caution Against Pagan Fundamentalism by Lupa

What Constitutes Pagan Fundamentalism? by Sarenth Odinsson

I’d like to highlight one of the commenters on the second piece (Myriad) was German and mentioned a difference in understanding of racism/sexism/homophobia etc. from a German vs. American view. 

July 10, 2014 at 1:25 am 7 comments


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