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PBP Week 7: Diaspora

D is for Diaspora

 

One of the problems that I seem to always come around to, no matter where my seeking takes me, is the plain and simple fact that I do not live in the places where the majority of religions that neopagan belief and practice is drawn from occurred. I have no great pull toward the pre-Christian faiths of Europe in order to reclaim my ancestry, or get in touch with my roots, or honor the gods of my ancestors.

I live in the Diaspora. And, like many American pagans and polytheists, I sometimes feel like I don’t have solid footing.

It’s a bit more than feeling unwelcome, it’s a feeling of…it not being quite genuine, to me. While I have great respect for those who take a Reconstructionist approach to religion, I can’t ever see myself as being comfortable enough with notions of place and heritage to focus on one culture to that extent.

If I were say, Irish-American, coming from a family with a distinct cultural tradition traceable to a Place We Came From, things would be different. I might feel a little more comfortable taking up the mantle of a Gaelic Polytheist, in this example. I might feel like it was something that I belonged to that could be reclaimed.

But I’m not, and I can’t.

I don’t think I’m alone in this mental struggle. And I don’t mean to imply that Reconstructionists simply go forth guns blazing and live the lifestyle of the culture they’re reconstructing without any further thought. Recons are more than just SCA reenactors. And every single Recon blog or essay I’ve come across has, somewhere or other, wrestled with the fact that (if the author is not European), their religion must be practiced in a place where their gods of old were not worshipped.

I keep saying European but to be fair, Kemetics have this problem too, and anyone working in a cultural framework that is not the same as the culture that they currently inhabit. And to be really fair, this issue isn’t limited to Reconstructionists, but those with culturally-centered paths and serious-minded eclectics as well.

How does one reconcile these things? It’s this struggle that, I believe, gives rise to the frustration felt by many new Pagans, the idea that, if they are American, they don’t really “have” a culture, that they need to find other cultures, more vibrant and enticing ones, to fill in the holes in their hearts that their lack of culture has contributed to. There is a prevalent belief that in regular everyday American life there is something missing, and due to the great American Migration Myth that we are taught in history classes, there is an idea that that something can be found if we look abroad.

And then there is the tricky, dangerous idea that this something was here all along, and it was lost somehow, and it needs to be reclaimed. And this, I think, is where issues of Native American and First Nations appropriation come into play. That somehow modern non-NA practitioners can live “more spiritually” and get in touch with the spirit of the land they live in by adopting the practices of those whose land it was originally.

This is not an acceptable solution. Indigenous peoples have had their lands and their taken away from them, I have no desire to take their faith as well, just to feel like I’m practicing a “real” spirituality.

I have heard lots of Americans describe themselves as “mutts,” and what they usually follow that up with is that they have ancestors that immigrated from all over Europe. I’m a bit of a mutt in a different way:

My ancestry on my mother’s side is British, generally, and as far as we can tell, mostly English at that. I think there was one fellow in there who moved from Ireland to Shropshire but we don’t know if he was actually Irish or (quite possible, given the time period) an Englishman whose family settled in Ireland as part of the colonization of that land and the oppression of the Irish people.

My father is African-American, and as you can imagine, that makes any search for cultural heritage quite a bit more complicated. Most of his relatives have lived in Illinois for a good long while, and that holds particular interest because my dad’s family has been REALLY Catholic for a REALLY long time, and the part of Illinois they come from was one of the places of earliest European settlement in the state. A lot of the surnames on the family tree are French. And indeed, I probably also have some Native American heritage there, from back in the early days of Fort de Chartres and Kaskaskia, but that is too long ago and too little to lay claim to. Moreover, I have no direct proof, no documentation thanks to the erasure of slavery and forced migration.

I’m not even going to begin to look at African cultures for religious inspiration. Again, that is not my right.

But the issue is more, even, than not having a right to certain cultures. It’s the persistent little feeling that, unlike the idea of non-cultural modern America, I DO have a culture, and the place I was born and raised, the areas that my family has lived in in this country have shaped who I am and how I see the world.

The diaspora IS my homeland, as far as I’m concerned. And I want to do my best to be a pagan in this land, and relate to it in a way that feels genuine and relevant to me, and is respectful of where I came from and the others who were here before me.

My culture is thoroughly Midwestern  and to be more specific, it is St. Louisan. Even without having French ancestry there is a whole hell of a lot of French culture in my hometown. I have grown up knowing (and fearing) the power of the Mississippi. I am very familiar with the probably not true but compelling superstition that the Gateway Arch protects the city by diverting violent storms. These an a thousand other little things I don’t even think about, things I learned about the world as a child and accept to be true, these are my culture. The gods that govern my homeland are the river, and the spirit of trade and the crossroads, and, with the immigration from Germany, the brewing of beer.

I’m not living there anymore, I’m upriver where the water isn’t muddy and the winters are much harsher and the European settlers were a bit different from the ones who settled St. Louis, but there is still enough of a similarity that I don’t feel like a foreigner here. And that’s good.

Funnily enough, the pre-Christian cultural areas that I got drawn into investigating actually map fairly well onto the landscape of my own American culture. Celtic animism and veneration of rivers meshes well, though I hesitate to offer prayer to Sequana when I’m standing at the Mississippi. I think I would like to keep them separate, out of respect. Whichever face of Gaulish Mercury it is that seems to keep pestering me has (UPG alert) an association with skill and trade and travel and crossroads, and again, that fits.

But this is not really a simple solution, and I think it’s going to require ongoing effort to balance and re-balance the Midwestern animism I’ve had all my life with the European deities who’ve only shown up in my life a couple years ago. It might be a lifelong task, and it will probably never be complete. But I’m not trying to create a legacy here, I’m not really building a religion for other people. I’m building it for me, based on my culture and my experiences, and that’s going to be different for every person depending on where they and their ancestors came from.

I hope I’m doing my disaporic faith right.

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It’s been a while since I actively made offerings or took care of our shrine or just sat and talked to the gods. I’ve been a bit confused and indecisive lately, about whether or not I should change the setup, who I should be honoring, whether everyone should be all in one place or have their own separate spots.

I’ve been wondering about the Kemetic flavor things have been taking on. Continue Reading »

Yes, yes, I’m already way behind on the BPB, and I’m working on my first B post but for some reason the words aren’t coming. hm.

In the meantime! Experimenting with a different kind of divination today, Bibliomancy! Dodger has put up some excellent posts about the subject and it piqued my interest, so this morning I’ve tried doing a reading from each of five books that I had picked from the bookshelf. These five hold particular meaning for me, and are as follows:

Jorge Luis Borges, Collected Fictions, translated by Andrew Hurley (hereafter BCF)

W.H. Auden, Maurice (M)

Neil Gaiman, American Gods (AG)

Steven Hall, The Raw Shark Texts (RST)

Philip Pullman, The Amber Spyglass (AS)

So here’s what I got! (bolded bits are where my finger landed/what caught my eye)

BCF p 145: Hundreds of actors collaborated with the protagonist; the role of some was complex, the role of others a matter of moments on the stage.

M p 241: “Hullo Maurice, come in. Why this thusness?” He asked, a little annoyed, and not troubling to smile since his face was in shadow. “Good to see you back, hope you’re better

AG p 259: “Ma’am, you aren’t making this any easier on yourself.”

RST p 158: a million tiny moment fragments were being blown free from the wet grass in a fast stripe of pressure moving down the lawn from the hospital towards us. A large conceptual thing just below the soil.

AS p 471: Cautiously they looked inside and saw only the sleeping woman; so they withdrew and moved through the moonlight again, toward the shelter tree.

I think I can tentatively say that American Gods is snarky as hell and possibly not going to be of any use to me, Amber Spyglass and Maurice are a bit ehh possibly not helpful, Raw Shark Texts is potentially TERRIFYING (like seriously it could very well be stupid and dangerous to divine with that thing) and Borges is probably going to end up being the most cooperative and also varied in responses. So! An interesting first run, I’d say!

PBP Week 2: Amber

Okay, I’ve had a rough week mostly involving The Cold That Would Not Die so this week’s post is both late and probably not as well-thought-out as I’d like.

Fair warning to start out, this is going to be a UPG-laden ramble with my sort of…cultural observations, thoughts on personal relevance, and maybe trying to draw some sort of conclusion about a little archaeological conundrum.

Today I’m talking about Amber. It’s a substance I’ve been casually fascinated by for, I think, much of my life. By which I mean I’d never really given it a great deal of thought other than “That stuff’s cool and pretty, I like it.”

And then came Jurassic Park. (the movie, reading the book came later)

I’m not even joking, that movie was the first instance of me actually giving some thought to amber’s properties, the spark that caused me to think, “hey, this means something.” The second of these instances came while reading His Dark Materials for the first time, and the revelation that the two main characters have about linguistics and similarities and differences between their respective worlds. Amber here, again, related to science (this time the development of electricity as opposed to resurrecting dinosaurs, so, a little more realistic, good job Pullman). And what I think, looking at these two sort of formative experiences, is that in my view of modern culture, my culture that I grew up in, amber has a specific spirit, a specific magical significance. It means something, and that layer of meaning is in some ways more present in my mind and more real for me than historically-attested uses and meanings from cultures that are not my own.

This layer of “amber” means knowledge, the storage and transmission of it, and a sense of enrichment through cultural exchange.

There is another layer, a more mythological layer, that has a couple of distinct solar connections. In the Argonautica, Apollonius Rhodius describes both of these connections, outlining first the myth of Phaeton, son of Helios who, through some sun chariot and thunderbolt shenanigans, got his ass killed and fell into a river somewhere in the mythical territory of Hyperborea (way the hell to the north, which corellates to the Amber Road that spread the trade of this material from the Baltic sea through most of the rest of the ancient world). In this story amber is composed of the tears of Phaeton’s sisters, burning drops of sunlight that dry on the sand and are carried along by the river. Apollonius then describes a different perspective on amber, this attributed to the Keltoi, who apparently view the material instead as the tears of Apollo from that one time he was exiled to somewhere, possibly Hyperborea, after flipping tables and killing cyclopes when Zeus killed his son Asclepius.

I have some very un-solid musings and questions about why Apollonius would attribute this explanation to a belief of the Celts, what sources did he have for this information, which Celts was he even talking about anyway, if that story is even true which not-actually-Apollo deity might the Celts be attributing amber to and that got jumbled up in Interpretatio Graeca, but, okay, those questions I cannot really answer or articulate right now. That would be a bit more digging than I’m able to do at the moment. If anyone has thoughts or perhaps signposts on that crazy treasure hunt, send them my way!

Anyway. From these myths amber has a layer that means death, burning, and perhaps powerlessness. And this is how greiving sometimes feels, a burning frustration, the impotent rage at something that inevitably comes to everyone.

Add to this layer the fact that amber occasionally entombs insects and the like in inclusions, and it gets to feel very…otherworldly. And a bit intimidating.  It’s got a bit of Mystery to it, how it can be solar and cthonic at the same time. Things to ponder!

So: Here’s an interesting thing:

Sequana is the lady of the Seine, in Gaulish (and/or Gallo-Roman) worship. We know she had a temple at the source of the river, that she was given votive offerings (lots of eyes and organs and pictures of travelers in their pointy cloaks) associated with healing, and was represented in one nifty little sculpture as a woman of high status with a diadem, standing Galadriel-like in a boat shaped like a duck. The duck -head at the prow holds a ball in its mouth. There are various scholarly thoughts on what the heck that ball actually is, whether a berry or an egg, a cake, just a ball, who knows. But there are a lot of Gaulish figures of ducks hanging around with stuff in their mouths. Like ducks do.

My UPG thoughts are that Sequana’s duck has a piece of amber, and let me tell you why. Sequana, being the deity of the river, likely presided over trade and travelers as well as healing, and amber is an excellent thing to trade and people everywhere just generally have liked it a lot since time immemorial. Also, getting into symbolism and the whole tripartite division of realms that the Celts seemed to have, amber to me is one of those substances that bridges land, sea and sky. It comes from the land but it has also traditionally been associated with the sun and you can burn it as incense, and Baltic amber is harvested from the sea.

Sequana presides at the source of the Seine, where the water comes forth from the earth and, if the iconography is to be believed, has an association with ducks and therefore the realm of the sky as well.

And, this is possibly the most pertinent bit, amber supposedly has ridiculous healing properties.  You cannot shake a stick (or an etsy search for amber) without coming up with a million and a half hits for Sooper Special Baltic Amber teething necklaces for babies. Because apparently that helps alleviate some of the pains and has been traditionally used in the Baltic countries for ever and ever? I can’t say whether or not that’s true, as I have no babies and I was not given such a necklace when I was a baby. But there are certainly worse things to use for a placebo effect, in any case.

…not really sure if this makes any sort of coherent sense, or if I can sum this up in any way that’s now “wow gosh folks I like amber a lot!” but there you have it. As far as my personal practice goes, I have a necklace of amber chips that I wear during some meditations and holidays, and I’ve had good luck burning amber-scented incense as offerings (not actually derived from amber but it has a scent profile that makes you think of amber, so).

uhhhhhhhh that’s it that’s all I’ve got. Next week will be better! And marginally related to this one I think so perhaps my thoughts will be more coherent by then. 🙂

I’m going to start out this year’s attempt at regular blogging with an exploration of, perhaps, why I am so bad at regular blogging. I have some reservations about choosing this A post as opposed to something like Altars or Ancestors or something more cut and dried “pangany” but, as Girlfriend helpfully said, my social anxiety is a BIG part of why my practice is the way it is, why I have a hard time feeling comfortable in any pagan community, even online. So. Here we go.

I am not a touchy-feely person. I do not like being hugged by people out of the blue, and in general I get uncomfortable if I have to make physical contact with people beyond a handshake (people being, generally, anyone other than my partner and my close family) It feels like an electric shock, and it takes my thoughts out of whatever else I might be focusing on and I become anxious and fixated on what other people might think of me, how they might be judging my appearance, my words, whether they can tell how incredibly awkward I feel.

Couple that with an inherent nervousness about espousing any faith (a product of my nonreligious upbringing and growing up in a town full of atheists) and you can start to see why I’ve been a solitary for the entirety of my tenure in paganism. I started out, like so many fourteen year olds, knowing only about Wicca. Or, “Wicca,” the watered-down Outer Court material from Trad Wicca turned generic neopaganism. And early on I ran into the “perfect love and trust” theme and I hit the wall. Because, well, I was a kid. I didn’t know a damn thing about love. And, here is the lynchpin, I just plain can’t trust people. I feel weird, I feel out of place, I feel like getting together in a group to sing and chant and cast a circle is weird and oh god what if someone sees me and I become deeply, deeply uncomfortable just at the thought.

For people who can do Wiccish-style group work, that is awesome. More power to them. I definitely can’t. And in my journey from the lonely inquisitive teenager to the person I am now, I didn’t start out knowing that there were any other options. I didn’t realize that people still worshipped the gods I read about in my well-worn books of mythology. I knew that I liked the idea of a religion where there was something else out there, but I didn’t know how to get that feeling of belonging, of a spiritual home, with the resources that were available to me at the time.

So I stayed alone, in the broom closet, and to some extent I still am because I don’t like sharing details of my personal life with people who aren’t…involved in my personal life.

The internet is, of course, a little bit different. I can communicate so much more easily and effectively online than I can in person, but at the same time when it comes to discussion of philosophies, of myth, of personal beliefs, I can easily freeze up. I lurk a lot, and every time there is a discussion where I think “hey, I have an opinion on this!” I immediately discourage myself from participating, with the certainty that there are others out there, others wiser and smarter and more traveled than myself, who can say the things I want to say better than I ever could. So I keep lurking. And it’s a problem! It’s probably kept me from making a lot of genuine connections to people, and I might have been able to grow as a person a lot more than I have, if I’d been able to engage more.

The other problem with Getting Into Religious Conversations On The Internet is that, well, the general pagan community Cannot Agree On Anything and the general internet community will tear itself apart over the tiniest provocation. It’s THE PERFECT STORM. And I have a problem, have always HAD a problem, taking sides. Or having concrete opinions. Or being able to argue a debate position. Because I find it near impossible to say, for example, “this is absolutely correct.” There are always caveats, always “well this is just how I see it, and…” And that sort of lily-livered refusal to have a stance is not what gets people’s attention on the internet. Or in real life, I suspect.

Anyway. So that’s a big confession right there, the fact that I have such a negative view of my abilities as a member of a very loosely-defined community. My path is by necessity a personal one, my practice centers on my home, maintaining balance and feeling secure in it. Because for whatever reason, I feel that I’m always going to fee afraid of the big bad Unknown out there. The upside of this is that I’ve had a lot of time to really examine my own beliefs independently of other pagans’ influence, but I could easily be missing out. And since I’m heading in a Gaulish direction, where you kind of have to rely on a lot of UPG to build relationships with Deity, I could be missing out on what other people are doing in that regard (even though I’m pretty sure there are REALLY not that many people with that concentration). But maybe sometime in the future I could have insights to share (or even just blunders) and if I don’t figure out how to open up more, to take the plunge and actually talk to people about my faith, I’m going to stagnate.

So if anyone has been in my shoes w/r/t social interactions and anxiety and has any helpful tips, I would really, really truly love to hear them. Thanks.

I definitely missed out on last year’s PBP, and to be honest I don’t think I would have had enough material to write about in 2012. There was a lot of stuff happening last year, both in mundane and religious life, and it’s only now that I’m getting clear of it and starting to make some sense of the jumble.

Anyway! I’ll be participating this year, in an attempt to clarify some of my experiences and views and also be a little more open about what I do and why I do it since I am notoriously solitary. (that is basically what the first post will be about, oh crap, gotta write that before tomorrow!)

Um hm. What else. Well I don’t expect to get a huge boost in readership or anything because of this project, I’m not really concerned with that sort of thing, but on the off chance someone reads this and likes it, here’s a bit more information about me:

~I am pretty terrible at blogging, and my posts are generally casual/stream of consciousness in tone and peppered with profanities.

~I live in snowy Paganistan with Girlfriend (or Looly) doing this whole grand living together adventure after four-plus years of being mostly long-distance.

~I am biracial and queer and these two things have informed much of my spiritual growth and outlook on life.

~I am obsessed with knitting (and now spinning!) and tea (of which I am a HUGE SNOB seriously it’s a problem)

~My “path” doesn’t fall into any concrete tradition, but the approach I take is somewhat Reconstructionist in that it involves a lot of research and looking critically at available materials pertaining to a particular area. In my case the area is generally that of the Continental Celts, so the material I have to work with is heavily colored by outsider perspectives and there comes a point where you just hit a wall or a cliff and have to accept that there is a lot that you just Can’t Know For Sure.

~Directly related to the above, I’ve used that research as a jumping off point for personal reflection and UPG, and somehow I’ve gotten dragged into more Mystical Woo Shit than I ever really wanted. It seems to work for me, as I try to cobble together a spiritual framework for my life, BUT (!!!) as my path is a personal one, I can make no claims that my views and practices are valid or correct for anyone other than myself.

 

And with that disclaimer, off I go to write my first “A” post! hooray!

Did a reading with Deviant Moon, two cards fell out of the shuffle: Ace of Cups and Five of Swords. I was asking LG whether it would be appropriate to dedicate my creative works today to him, since…thematically it is relevant, what with what’s going on in Berlin Confidential at the moment. The Five of Swords is one that I associate with LG being all trickstery, the Ace of Cups feels like…the source of creative inspiration, nurturing energy, it’s certainly a positive response but I can’t be sure if that was from LG or if it’s supposed to represent Sequana or Belenos, since they both have that sort of energy. Anyway.

Actual three card drawing was Ten of Cups, Death (reversed) and the Hierophant. After thinking on it in the shower I am operating for now under the assumption that this has to do with going home for Christmas. The ten of Cups being obvious, Death being…a lot of my anxiety and stresses and crying regarding travel right now and the potential for crazies doing violent disruptive shit on the fake supposed end of the world on the 21st. It scares the shit out of me. the Hierophant is reassuring though. I gotta trust in my instincts and guidance and do things properly and I will travel safely and get through it. I will get through this.

While sitting and looking at the cards I got some chills and tingles, meditating on the nature of the Trickster card, that influence on my life, LG’s nature, etc. the tingles centered very intensely on the back of my head, feeling like my head was full and things were growing out of my skull. (wings? branches? Horns? Antlers?) the idea of going out of one’s head, projecting out of the head into the world, either the earth or the sky, crossing boundaries, journeywork. A feeling while looking at the cairn of making offerings at a cairn, of stones falling and slipping against one another, a rockslide on stony hills? sitting perched atop a stone wall and jumping off of it. Something in the right hand.

All food for thoughts. Addressed LG as Deo Mercurius in prayer today but also put Gebrinius in there?  There was some sort of connection but again, it’s vague and fuzzy and dealing with really really old-feeling behavioral archetypes. Oh LG. you do not make it easy for me.