Category Archives: History

End of Nations? Part 3

Here, we diverge from the idea of the Nation-State, and into what a Post-Nation world might look like. The article points to the European Union as a potential model, a federation of smaller units.

Even so, the EU may point the way to what a post-nation-state world will look like.

Zielonka agrees that further integration of Europe’s governing systems is needed as economies become more interdependent. But he says Europe’s often-paralysed hierarchy cannot achieve this. Instead he sees the replacement of hierarchy by networks of cities, regions and even non-governmental organisations. Sound familiar? Proponents call it neo-medievalism.“

This brings up some interesting points, which I would like to explore more in later works. However, I did come across some thoughts recently that highlight a little more what this kind of world might look like. Here are a few excerpts from An Anarchist FAQ

“The social and political structure of anarchy is similar to that of the economic structure, i.e., it is based on a voluntary federation of decentralized, directly democratic policy-making bodies. These are the neighborhood and community assemblies and their confederations. In these grassroots political units, the concept of “self-management” becomes that of “self-government”, a form of municipal organisation in which people take back control of their living places from the bureaucratic state and the capitalist class whose interests it serves.

[…]

The key to that change, from the anarchist standpoint, is the creation of a network of participatory communities based on self-government through direct, face-to-face democracy in grassroots neighborhood and community assemblies [meetings for discussion, debate, and decision making].

[…]

Since not all issues are local, the neighborhood and community assemblies will also elect mandated and re-callable delegates to the larger-scale units of self-government in order to address issues affecting larger areas, such as urban districts, the city or town as a whole, the county, the bio-region, and ultimately the entire planet. Thus the assemblies will confederate at several levels in order to develop and co-ordinate common policies to deal with common problems. “

Now, I don’t consider myself an anarchist by any sense of the word, but that does not mean there are not interesting ideas to be found in the context of a post-Nation world. We are in fact talking about here the greater integration and networking of numerous scales of organization. Self-government is definitely one of the ideas I support with democracy, and it is curious that there are interesting parallels between this think and several democratic Nations throughout the world, notably the European Union and the United States.

I am not saying that these democratic structures are anarchic in any way, and I am sympathetic to many of the critiques of those systems. For example, especially in the United States I do feel the governmental structure has become quite self-serving and top heavy as hierarchical institutions. I for one would love to see it reworked to allow for not only greater direct democracy, such as has been outlined above, but also better representation. The idea of “mandated and re-callable” delegations has a certain appeal to it. My own representative government here in Michigan has flouted the will of the people in many important issues, and made no attempt to hide that. And yet, we the people have little recourse to deal with something like that.

I return here to the idea of better intergrated and interdependent networks; in the NewScientist article;

Ian Goldin, head of the Oxford Martin School at the University of Oxford, which analyses global problems, thinks such networks must emerge. He believes existing institutions such as UN agencies and the World Bank are structurally unable to deal with problems that emerge from global interrelatedness, such as economic instability, pandemics, climate change and cybersecurity – partly because they are hierarchies of member states which themselves cannot deal with these global problems. He quotes Slaughter: “Networked problems require a networked response.” “

I cannot stress that last part enough. Networked problems require a networked response. As we face more and more problems on a global scale top-down institutions lack the flexibility and adaptability to deal with really complex problems. As the article points out, hierarchy requires the person at the top to get their head around the whole of the complexity. That is nearly impossible as the world grows entirely more complex. Things such as climate change and habitat loss require a much more adaptable and integrated response.

I return to the article here to further expand on this point;

Moreover, says Dani Rodrik of Princeton’s Institute for Advanced Study, the very globalised economy that is allowing these networks to emerge needs something or somebody to write and enforce the rules. Nation states are currently the only entities powerful enough to do this.

Yet their limitations are clear, both in solving global problems and resolving local conflicts. One solution may be to pay more attention to the scale of government. Known as subsidiarity, this is a basic principle of the EU: the idea that government should act at the level where it is most effective, with local government for local problems and higher powers at higher scales. There is empirical evidence that it works: social and ecological systems can be better governed when their users self-organise than when they are run by outside leaders.”

A government should act at the level it is most effective. I think there is a fair bit of truth in that. Yet, it comes to the point that we have to admit that most of this is just future speculation. It is an idea for one possible way forward for our societies. I for one think it is a decent idea, as I want to see us become a more globalized and integrated people. I want us to continue to push ourselves to become a planetary society (Type I on the Kardashev Scale), and that will require more networking and integration. Yet, as the article points out; how we get there (if we get there) is anyone’s best guess;

However, it is hard to see how our political system can evolve coherently in that direction. Nation states could get in the way of both devolution to local control and networking to achieve global goals. With climate change, it is arguable that they already have.”

Now, this article was written in 2014, back before the Paris Climate Agreement. Still, Nation-States consistently create problems and obstacles to further integration. Here I give the article the last word;

Like it or not, our societies may already be undergoing this transition. We cannot yet imagine there are no countries. But recognising that they were temporary solutions to specific historical situations can only help us manage a transition to whatever we need next. Whether or not our nations endure, the structures through which we govern our affairs are due for a change. Time to start imagining.”

Yes, time to start imagining.

Sources/References:

NewScientist – “The End of Nations”

https://www.newscientist.com/article/mg22329850-600-end-of-nations-is-there-an-alternative-to-countries/

Futurism – “The Kardashev Scale”

https://futurism.com/the-kardashev-scale-of-civilization-types/

https://futurism.com/the-kardashev-scale-type-i-ii-iii-iv-v-civilization/

Anarchist FAQ

http://anarchism.pageabode.com/afaq/secI5.html

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End of Nations? Part 2

We begin today where we left off last time, the article from NewScientist has this to say about complexity;

Complexity was limited by the energy a society could harness. For most of history that essentially meant human and animal labour. In the late Middle Ages, Europe harnessed more, especially water power. This boosted social complexity – trade increased, for example– requiring more government. A decentralised feudal system gave way to centralised monarchies with more power.

But these were still not nation states.“

Are you at all familiar with the Kardashev scale? This scale was developed back in the 1960’s, and ranks a civilization based on the energy at its disposal. Currently there are five classes on the scale, and currently our society doesn’t even register. A decent overview is at Futurism. We are still a type 0 civilization, and have a long way to go before we are even type I. For reference, a Type I civilization is able to harness all the energy of a neighboring star. Can you imagine solar power on that kind of scale? Here is just an excerpt from Futurism;

Essentially, to measure a civilization’s advancement (awesomeness), the Kardashev scale focuses on the amount of energy that a civilization is able to utilize. Notably, the amount of power available to a civilization is linked to how widespread the civilization is (whether it populates a planet, galaxy, or an entire universe)…

Type 0: Subglobal Culture—This civilization extracts its energy and raw-materials from crude organic-based sources such as wood, coal, and oil. Any rockets utilized by such a civilization would necessarily depend on chemical propulsion. Since such travel is so pitifully slow, a civilization at this level would be (for the most part) confined to its home planet. Unfortunately, this is about where we are. We haven’t quite made it to Type I yet.”

Moving back to the article, as was pointed out through most of history, there was a relatively low amount of energy available to us. That started to change as the world industrialized.

By then Europe had hit the tipping point of the industrial revolution. Harnessing vastly more energy from coal meant that complex behaviours performed by individuals, such as weaving, could be amplified, says Bar-Yam, producing much more complex collective behaviours.

This demanded a different kind of government. In 1776 and 1789, revolutions in the US and France created the first nation states, defined by the national identity of their citizens rather than the bloodlines of their rulers. According to one landmark history of the period, says Breuilly, “in 1800 almost nobody in France thought of themselves as French. By 1900 they all did.” For various reasons, people in England had an earlier sense of “Englishness”, he says, but it was not expressed as a nationalist ideology.”

As the industrial revolution took hold, it brought more energy into the equation, and this brought with it the need for more complex systems to regulate the new reality. There were a lot of different reasons for this.

Part of the reason was a pragmatic adaptation of the scale of political control required to run an industrial economy. Unlike farming, industry needs steel, coal and other resources which are not uniformly distributed, so many micro-states were no longer viable. Meanwhile, empires became unwieldy as they industrialised and needed more actual governing.

That meant hierarchical control structures ballooned, with more layers of middle management. Such bureaucracy was what really brought people together in nation-sized units, argues Maleševic. But not by design: it emerged out of the behaviour of complex hierarchical systems. As people do more kinds of activities, says Bar-Yam, the control structure of their society inevitably becomes denser.”

And as the article points out, this lead to a whole host of new processes that brought the nation-state to the forefront of modern politics. The number of beurocrats per capita expanded, and numerous processes of nation building, which bring the people to identify with their nation. the identity of the people went into play. In addition, through governmental forms such as democracy, the nation granted its citizens a stake in the nation, and they started to feel it was “theirs.”

Yet, even nationalism has it’s limits. Nationalism and Globalism and both two edged swords in many respects. As the world grows increasingly global, this brings with it a tribal tendency to dwell into isolation in one’s nation. Returning to the article helps expand this point.

According to Brian Slattery of York University in Toronto, Canada, nation states still thrive on a widely held belief that “the world is naturally made of distinct, homogeneous national or tribal groups which occupy separate portions of the globe, and claim most people’s primary allegiance”. But anthropological research does not bear that out, he says. Even in tribal societies, ethnic and cultural pluralism has always been widespread. Multilingualism is common, cultures shade into each other, and language and cultural groups are not congruent. “

I do not think I need to belabor this point too much, as I think the point has been pretty clearly stated. Nation-States create within themselves a “national identity”, which often ignores the reality of multiculturalism in pretty much every Nation in the world. As this article has clearly shown, the Nation-State is a fairly recent phenomenon.

This is where we are going to leave this part of the series, and next time we explore more of what a Post-Nation world might look like.

Thanks for reading!

Sources/References:

NewScientist – “The End of Nations”

https://www.newscientist.com/article/mg22329850-600-end-of-nations-is-there-an-alternative-to-countries/

Futurism – “The Kardashev Scale”

https://futurism.com/the-kardashev-scale-of-civilization-types/

https://futurism.com/the-kardashev-scale-type-i-ii-iii-iv-v-civilization/


Walking with the Ancestors Part 7-A

The next stop on our journey is a little bit west of the Anzick Boy, as discussed in Chapter 6 of this project. This time we are around 9000 years ago, in the state now known as Washington.

anzick-kennewick

We are at the teal dot on the west coast of the USA, circa 9,000 years ago

This find is known as the Kennewick Man, or The Ancient One, and has a long and controversial story behind it. I am going to use a few selections here to set the scene.

In the summer of 1996, two college students in Kennewick, Washington, stumbled on a human skull while wading in the shallows along the Columbia River. They called the police. The police brought in the Benton County coroner, Floyd Johnson, who was puzzled by the skull, and he in turn contacted James Chatters, a local archaeologist. Chatters and the coroner returned to the site and, in the dying light of evening, plucked almost an entire skeleton from the mud and sand. They carried the bones back to Chatters’ lab and spread them out on a table.” (Smithsonian/history)

What was evident right away was how complete the skeleton, which is often not the case with these kind of finds. To see a picture of the skeleton, be sure to check out the NPR link below. There is some great material there, which I am only going to be able to discuss a small segment here.

Okay, so a couple of college students stumble over this really complete skeleton, and almost immediately a controversy breaks out. One of the big reasons being, and something I have mentioned before; the conflict between respect for the dead and the need for future study and research. I will take a few more excerpts to really put this into perspective.

The fight has been raging for 20 years, ever since a couple of college kids stumbled — literally — across a human skull while wading in a river in Washington state. They thought they’d found a murder victim, and flagged down a nearby cop, who called in a local expert. Instead, they had discovered some of the oldest, most complete human remains ever dug up in North America.

Archaeologists dubbed the skeleton Kennewick Man, after the place he was found, and hoped his bones could help settle one of the greatest mysteries in the story of human migration: how did Homo sapiens, originating in Africa, end up in the Americas?” (NPR)

That sets up one side of this conflict. The archaeologists that excavated the skeleton had a lot of questions, and there was a great deal of testing and research to do before they could even begin to answer some of those questions. It is well known that research and testing is a time intensive process, and so they would need to hold onto the bones for future study. In addition, this says nothing about tests and research tools that have not been discovered yet. If a skeleton is reburied, scientists and future researchers won’t have access to it for future study.

However (and this is kind of a long excerpt;

But a group of Native American tribes considered The Ancient One, as they call him, a direct tribal ancestor — and they didn’t need science to explain how people ended up here. “From our oral histories, we know that our people have been part of this land since the beginning of time,” a leader of the Umatilla tribe wrote in a statement at the time. “We do not believe that our people migrated here from another continent, as the scientists do.”

Working together, five tribes demanded that The Ancient One’s remains not be poked or prodded in the name of science, and instead be promptly reburied in accordance with tribal custom — and under the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act. That federal law, passed in 1990, requires certain Native American artifacts and remains to be handed over to culturally affiliated tribes or provable descendants.

“The tribes had good reason to be sensitive,” writes Smithsonian Magazine’s Douglas Preston. “The early history of museum collecting of Native American remains is replete with horror stories. In the 19th century, anthropologists and collectors looted fresh Native American graves and burial platforms, dug up corpses and even decapitated dead Indians lying on the field of battle and shipped the heads to Washington for study. Until NAGPRA, museums were filled with American Indian remains acquired without regard for the feelings and religious beliefs of native people.” “ (NPR)

The Native American’s claim was wrapped in a deep history of colonialism and oppression on top of the rights of the dead. This is a big issue, and I certainly don’t have the space to detail it all here. I think the excerpt above gives a rough idea of what we were talking about. It is the intersection of a lot of issues that have had a strong (and often negative) effect on Native peoples across the county.

It is an ongoing struggle for sure; as it highlighted nicely by this excerpt from NPR,

“It’s the chafe between science and spirituality,” writes Kevin Taylor at Indian Country Today, “between people who say the remains have so much to tell us about the ancient human past that they should remain available for research, versus people who feel a kinship with the ancient bones and say they should be reburied to show proper reverence for the dead.” “

I have a lot of thoughts about this, as both a student of anthropology AND a spirit worker/shamanic practitioner. I will come back to this at the end of this piece, because there is more of this story to tell.

So we have these two “sides” in conflict about the ultimate fate the Kennewick Man (anthropologists et al)/ The Ancient One (Native Peoples et al), and is the case with many of these things, the conflict has played out of the last twenty years or so.

But for these bones to fall under the protection of NAGPRA, there had to be proof of a connection between the remains and the people fighting to reclaim them today. The scientists said no such connection existed. The tribal leaders insisted it did; they could feel it in their bones. “ (NPR)

That was the crux of many of the ethical as well as legal fights that took place over the last two decades.

That question ended up spawning an unprecedented legal and ethical battle in which prominent archaeologists and anthropologists would sue the U.S. government for the chance to study the bones. Femur bones would go missing under unexplained circumstances. Bitter arguments would be pitched over the migration patterns and feeding habits of sea lions, the curvature and racial implications of cheekbones, the validity of oral tradition as courtroom evidence. “ (NPR)

The skeleton was found on federal land, so it technically fell under U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ control.” (Smithsonian/history)

In 2004, a San Francisco federal appeals court sided with researchers, citing previous analyses that showed Kennewick Man was not Native American, writes Guarino.” (Smithsonian/history)

On and on it went, and for the most part to verdicts favored the scientists. Now, I am not trying to set up the scientists as bad guys, but they didn’t come out looking spotless either. That being said, it is hard to underestimate what we have learned from the Kennewick Man. I wouldn’t be here writing about my ancestral connection to him if we didn’t.

For perspective;

Eventually, the scientists did get a legally approved (though very brief and highly constricted) look at Kennewick Man, and what they learned is truly amazing. Based on the shape of his skull and other features, they theorized that he or his forebears may have been Asian coastal seafarers. They may have journeyed by boat along the south Alaskan shoreline and ultimately all the way down the Americas, hugging the coast and living off kelp, fish, sea lions and the like.”

This is the “coastal migration” theory of the peopling of the Americas, which suggests that a wave, or waves, of people traveled and lived along the Pacific coast long before other travelers chased herds of tasty mastodons and mammoths across a land bridge into Alaska.

They also learned a tremendous amount about what Kennewick Man’s life may have been like. Here’s more from Preston:

“Kennewick Man spent a lot of time holding something in front of him while forcibly raising and lowering it; the researchers theorize he was hurling a spear downward into the water, as seal hunters do. His leg bones suggest he often waded in shallow rapids, and he had bone growths consistent with ‘surfer’s ear,’ caused by frequent immersion in cold water. His knee joints suggest he often squatted on his heels. … Many years before Kennewick Man’s death, a heavy blow to his chest broke six ribs. Because he used his right hand to throw spears, five broken ribs on his right side never knitted together. This man was one tough dude.” “ (NPR)

It is hard to understate how much we have learned from finds such as this one. Like I said, without his DNA data, I would not know I was related to this man in any way. However, the case of the Kennewick Man is one I learned about in my college days; for exactly the reasons I have laid out here. This find is a great case study concerning how we practice science, as well as how we treat the dead.

I am not trying to mince words here. I do feel that the Native Peoples really got the shaft in this case, up until 2015 (I will get to that in a minute). The unethical practices of some of the scientists was really distasteful, and how both federal law (NAGPRA) as well as the legal system being used for a further tool of exploitation and oppression of Native People’s really leaves a foul taste in my mouth.

But the story doesn’t end there. In 2015 new research began to pour out that supported the claims of the Native Peoples.

A group of scientists based in Denmark made a major breakthrough in 2015, after they recovered DNA from a fragment of hand bone and used it to map Kennewick Man’s genetic code. When they compared that code with DNA from different populations around the world, the geneticists found it was closest to that of modern Native Americans. Their findings, published in the journal Nature in July 2015, contradicted previous assertions by scientists linking Kennewick Man to Polynesians or to the Ainu people of Japan.

At the initiative of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, scientists at the University of Chicago were recently able to independently verify the results of that unprecedented DNA study.” (History)

That DNA is why I am able to talk about this at all. Not only did it confirm my relation to the Kennewick Man, it was also the reason that the bones will be given back to Native Peoples, and proved that their claim was a valid one.

Now, members of the Colville tribe and four others say they’ll work together to complete the repatriation — or reburial — process, and the government has shown zero interest in standing in their way. “ (NPR)

I do not know whether or not the Kennewick Man/Ancient One has been reburied as of this time. But this case does open up a lot of questions about the practice of archaeology, and the role of Native Peoples, as well as the general treatment of the dead.

One of the scientists involved in revealing a genetic connection between Kennewick Man and living Native Americans invited members of the five tribes into the lab, where they put on body suits and entered a “clean room” to pay their respects to The Ancient One. In the wake of Kennewick, scientists have been reflecting on ways to work with indigenous communities when these kinds of conflicts come up:

“Many other researchers are taking a similar approach. [Dennis O’Rourke, a biological anthropologist at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City] says that there is no one-size-fits-all strategy to working with native communities. He finds some of the North American Arctic groups he works with eager to contribute to his research, others are less so; and their opinions shift over time.

” ‘We really have to change the top-down approach, where we come to people and say “these are our research questions and you should participate, because — SCIENCE,” ‘ says Jennifer Raff, an anthropological geneticist at the University of Texas at Austin.” (NPR)

Yet, on the other hand;

Other scientists say there’s a real danger in altering scientific methods to accommodate religious belief. Elizabeth Weiss, an anthropologist at San Jose State, outlined impediments to her own work in a 2001 paper on the Kennewick controversy, and argued that regulations like NAGPRA require far too little evidence proving a cultural connection to modern-day native communities. She also suggested that such regulations — which increased around the world in the wake of NAGPRA — can have a chilling effect on scientific research:

“Consider having dedicated a large part of one’s life to unearthing the materials that are now being examined. Even casts and other important works — such as videotapes, photos, and excavation records — are in increasing danger of confiscation. Some scientists have expressed fear that their federal grants would be in jeopardy if they objected too openly to current policies. Under such circumstances, most scientists do not even begin ‘high-risk’ projects. Finds that could threaten Native American origin beliefs are especially likely to be targeted. Defendants could become embroiled for years in expensive lawsuits that neither they nor their institutions can afford …

“The politics of bone gathering in Africa are notorious … and one shudders to imagine what might happen if activists could convince modern Africans to claim early human skeletons as their ancestors, so that they too could be reburied.” (NPR)

I said I would circle back to this, and here it is. This whole case sets up a clear example of how science can conflict with oral histories, indigenous traditions, and the general respect for the dead. In my opinion, I think it is possible to have our cake and eat it to, it is a question of balance to me. I agree with Raff, in which there is no silver bullet for these issues. That being said, I think there is certainly a case to be made for collaboration instead of competition. When we are talking about skeletal remains, we are not just talking about objects without a context. We are talking about the remains of the dead, and their relationship to their possible still living descendants and traditions.

As both student of anthropology and a spirit worker, I can see this from both sides. I agree partially with Weiss, that there is a real possibility that science may suffer if that uneasy balance is disturbed. As I have already said, I wouldn’t be here talking about the Kennewick Man if it wasn’t for everything we have learned from studying the finds.

If this series has shown anything, is that I can claim “early skeletons” among my ancestors. However, I wouldn’t have been able to do that without science. I think we can find a balance between science, and respect for the dead.

Kennewick Man/The Ancient One: Sadly, I do not have an exact percentage match for this one. The data is not included in the calculation tool I use. However, I do know that I do match this one, but it is a low count. I would put our relationship in the “distant relative category.”

Thanks for reading!

Sources/References;

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kennewick_Man

http://www.npr.org/sections/codeswitch/2016/05/05/476631934/a-long-complicated-battle-over-9-000-year-old-bones-is-finally-over

http://www.history.com/news/army-corps-of-engineers-confirms-kennewick-man-is-native-american

http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/tech/meet-kennewick-man.html

http://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/kennewick-man-finally-freed-share-his-secrets-180952462/

http://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/over-9000-years-later-kennewick-man-will-be-given-native-american-burial-180958947/


Multiculturalism and Appropriation

Today, I want to talk about multiculturalism and appropriation. This is kind of a tough set of topics, so I am going to cover them as gently as I can. First and foremost I want to talk about multiculturalism.

I consider myself to be a multicultural pagan, and some of you might be wondering what I mean when I say that? Well, for starters a lot of my practice is informed by my ancestors, who by consequence come from pretty much every conceivable place on the globe at one point or another. All that means is that I am human, and the result of countless generations across space and time.

That is one of the reasons I struggle with nationalism. I was born in the US, so yes I am subject to the culture and laws of that. But ancestrally, and like many Americans, I am a mutt. So when I hear people talk about practicing the “religions of my ancestors”, that really gives me a lot of wiggle room. I hope that is something that comes across in my series “Walking with the Ancestors.”

Some people also might be wondering if “eclectic” is the same thing as “multicultural.” Honestly I struggle with this one a lot. I don’t consider myself to be eclectic, and I’ll try my best to explain why. But please don’t take this as me belittling eclecticism. If that works for you, fantastic! It has never really worked for me, so I had to look for something that did.

To me, eclecticism is like having a bunch of pieces from multiple puzzles in a box randomly, and be expected to make a complete (or at least working) picture. I would sit for hours and hours, and just get frustrated that the pieces don’t fit together. And even if they did, I would be frustrated that the picture just looks like gibberish.

The other side of this might be considered some form of fundamentalism, or traditionalism. The idea being that all the pieces in the box are from the same puzzle. Everything fits together nicely and is nicely bounded and kept together. You get a fantastic picture when you are all done, but it some ways it is really limited. All the edges are sharp, and the picture is clearly defined. It’s nice, but I find it kind of stifling. So I really don’t fit this ideology either.

The thing is, I try my best to stay intellectually flexible and adaptable. And that is where being “multicultural” comes into play for me. It’s like having most of the pieces from several different puzzles, generally kept apart. Most of the pieces that are missing would be the outer edge pieces. As such, from one puzzle I could clearly make the picture of, say a barn. But there wouldn’t be any edge pieces, or clear cut boundaries. On another part of the table, I might have a partially complete picture of a wheat field. If I push the two puzzles together, a-not-quite-complete, but a not-quite-random scene of a farm starts to develop. That is kind of how I think of multiculturalism. Sure there are gaps in my puzzle at the end of the day, but I also have a pretty diverse view of the world. Plenty of room for adaptation and experimentation.

Maybe I will add a tractor from another puzzle? Or I may decide I really hate wheat, and replace it with a bunch of deer instead.

I draw inspiration for my spiritual path from a lot of different sources, and plenty of comparing and contrasting. Am I trying to force together random pieces? Not really. But nor am I trying to make completely opposed concepts work together. Each different piece has its own place, but it adds to the context of the greater whole. It is useful to think of it Venn Diagram style. I move together frameworks that have some sort of overlap, or parallels that can inform my worldview.

I hope that makes sense. I am finding it is a little difficult to express these ideas in words.

All that aside, the more I explored the idea of multiculturalism, the more I have found that there are multiple ways to think about it. Here in America we immediately seem to default to the “Melting Pot” concept of treating multiple cultures. The basic idea being that if we mix all these cultures together something new will be created from the “melting”.

The problem I have with the Melting Pot metaphor is that it often goes hand in hand with assimilation ideas. The idea being that “other” cultures (being non-dominant/majority) need to “assimilate” to the dominant culture. Honestly, it’s kind of colonial. The idea being that “they” need to adapt to look more like “us.” Obviously, it also feeds more into the “us vs them” mentality, and I really have no taste for that kind of thinking. I really don’t think the Melting Pot metaphor is useful in this regard, as it seems to reinforce a kind of homogeneity. That kind of runs counter to my personal values of plurality and diversity. Plus it can lead to ideas of cultural “purity”; I.e some “other” may contaminate our pot of “us.”

On the other hand, there are other ways of to think about multiculturalism. Another idea is the Salad Bowl metaphor. The basic idea being, let’s take all of these diverse pieces (apples, oranges, chicken, nuts, whatever you like in your salad) and toss them together in a bowl. The pieces are not “melted” together to form one uniform whole, but each retain their individual apple-ness or orange-ness. What keeps them together is not uniformity, but the bowl itself. The bowl might be what we would call the “common”. The common law of the country, the language(s) we share to communicate with each other. Afterall, communication, community, these all hinge on the idea of the “common”.

I am not saying this metaphor is perfect. It still is subject to majority/minority politics. The “common” of the bowl might be defined by the over abundance of lettuce. The entire salad might have the “official” language of lettuce. Obviously this puts the apples a little bit at a disadvantage if they wish to interact with the “common”.

However, I think the big positive of this metaphor is that it doesn’t require the apples to be assimilated into lettuce. Even though the lettuce may define most of what the bowl stands for, the apples get to retain their apple-ness, though they will need to interact with the “common” of the salad bowl.

Anyone else getting hungry?

Alright, to move this conversation a bit into another direction, I want to share a modified version of a graphic I have shared before.

religiontreemod

Original from the Human Odyssey, by Simon Davies

Modifications (highlights) added my yours truly

Now, I want you to look at the above graphic. I have shared this before, but this time I have made a few changes to it. This is what I mean when I call myself “multicultural.” These are just the lines I have put a fair amount of study into, and most of these choices have been informed by my ancestors. There is still plenty of work to be done of course, and maybe some day I will even learn some non-English language. What can I say, research and study is a time investment, and I am still fairly young. Plenty more time to put in in the future.

But that is not what I wanted to talk about. I wanted to draw your attention to the circles that are not green. There are a few yellow ones on this chart. These are my “caution” flags when it comes to approaching certain culture complexes.

The reason is because of appropriation. There is plenty of writing on there on the nature of cultural appropriation. There was a recent article on Patheos by Yvonne Aburrow, which I think does a decent job at getting at the heart of the matter. There are plenty other articles by the same author, which are also linked below.

Cultural appropriation has plenty of “fuzziness” around it, and that can sometimes make it a difficult concept to pin down and define without nuance. That being said I think there are really two aspects to cultural appropriation.

1) Taking something (whether intangible, such as beliefs or rituals, or tangible, such as artifacts), that you do not own/have no claim to; without permission. (Especially in a exploitative manner, IE for profit)

2) When 1) is done in a context where there is a notable inequality in power dynamics

I want to have you look at the above image again. You see the yellow circles yes? You know what a lot of those cultural complexes have in common? They have a long and recent history of being colonized, exploited, and downright marginalized.

I have wrote a little bit about the Sami on this blog before. I have done my best to do it in a respectful manner, because if I am not careful I may be engaging in some form of appropriation. The point being that the Sami have had about anything you can imagine taking from them. Their cultural lands, their way of life, their cultural heritage. They have been exploited, and colonized, and many of those practices continue to this day.

And if I were to take something (ideas, artifacts) from the Sami, I would be further engaging in those very same practices. Many Native Americans suffer from the same kind of exploitation today, and I could point to countless examples. In fact, in my next post I hope to talk a little bit about the protests going on in Standing Rock.

Also, I am saying this as someone who may (as yet unconfirmed) have Sami ancestry, and recently I wrote a post about how there is some Native American in my genetic makeup. You won’t see me claiming to be “part” of either of these cultures. I don’t feel genetic ancestry gives me real claim to these cultures. Maybe my ancestors did at some point, but I am well removed from that time and context. And so, I do everything in my power to be careful, and respectful of these cultures, and others besides

There is a lot more nuance that could be teased out here, but for now I would like to move on to other writings that are pressing for my attention.

Thanks for reading!

Sources, references;

Misconceptions about Cultural Appropriation – Yvonne Aburrow

What is Cultural Appropriation? – Yvonne Aburrow

 

 


Angry Dead, Toxic Dead – Follow Up

When I wrote “Angry Dead, Toxic Dead”, I didn’t exactly expect it to become the topic of another discussion night at the local metaphysical store; The Wandering Owl. However, that is exactly what happened, and I found it it be an enlightening experience.

Several things came up that I feel deserve to be expanded upon.

I want to elaborate a little bit on my current understanding of the nature of the spirit, and about death. I have pretty complicated views on both these things, and I think both deserve a little more exposition.

As I understand it, the spirit is not one singular entity, but more of a unified whole composed of numerous parts. It is analogous in many way to the physical body, which is composed of countless numbers of discrete cells, organs and systems. Overall however, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. The level of organization in my body is something greater than any individual cell or organ. And, as is the nature of cells, they multiply, and are swapped out when the cease to function.

The spirit is similar in many ways, at least in the way I conceive it. “How many parts?” is a matter of some debate, because honestly I don’t know. That is one of the things that defines my view of the spirit, is that is dynamic and adaptable. The overall number of “parts” changes over time, based on a variety of factors. Sometimes parts drop away that are no longer needed. Sometimes new parts are added as a marker of some measure of spiritual growth. I suspect the number and kinds of parts of my spiritual “parts” is very different than ten years ago, and will be different ten years from now.

Obviously, there are all kinds of implications and nuances that go along with this. Certain parts can be isolated and healed. Others can rot, and have to be stripped away, for the health of the whole. As was a big thing in shamanic communities in the near-past, some spiritual parts can be “lost”, and might have to be retrieved. Just as a generality, I would argue that some measure of “soul loss” is natural, and might even be healthy. The fact is, I am not the person I was ten years ago, and my spirit reflects this. Sometimes “outgrowing” our proverbial skins could be a good thing.

In addition to this, spirits don’t exist in isolation. We leave spiritual “pieces” all over the place, as do other people. That is part of the process of how we shape meaning in our lives. Our homes and objects are dotted with little bits of ourselves. The things we create, the people we come to know, all of them are touched with pieces of spirits. It is also a two way street, and the people we know and the meaning in our lives does the same thing to our spirits. Connections are made, and bonds as well as spirits are shared.

It’s like countless little drops of water suspended in a spider’s web.

Death, in light of this model, is a “breaking down” of all the spiritual parts we have at the moment we pass away. Some parts live on as ancestors, or ghosts, or some other form. Some are lost forever, and some are recycled into whatever comes next. Some parts of us live on in our loved ones, and in the things that we leave behind. But just like the cells in our body once we die, the spirit starts to break down as well.

It is a completely natural process in this sense. I touched upon this kind of thing in the last post, so I am not going to detail it all here.

As such, I want to circle back to one of the points raised in discussion. In the last post, I talked about violent death, traumatic death, as leaving behind angry spirits (pieces). If left untreated (through rites, mourning, what have you), some spirits can go bad, and become the kind that only wish to inflect suffering on others. These are no longer the angry dead, but the toxic dead. They are polluted, and poisonous.

The question that came up in discussion was; what can we do about the angry dead and/or the toxic dead?

Caring for the Angry Dead

Several different people at the discussion group weighed in on this topic, and I thought their responses were nothing short of fantastic. I wanted to recap a few of the ideas here.

1) I briefly hinted at this in my last post, but I wanted to reiterate here. “Rest in peace” is not just a quint platitude, but is often the motivation behind burial ceremonies and mourning rites. The idea being, to help placate and “heal” the angry dead, and help them work through unresolved issues so they don’t become toxic.

Death ceremonies are also for the living. Like I mentioned in the last post, violent deaths hurt/wound the living too. The connections we share with the dead (especially loved ones), are torn away, and “tear out” pieces of our spirits too. In the case of violent death, healing is for both the living and the dead.

2) Offerings and placations. The idea being to help the angry dead come to terms with what has happened. To help “calm” them, and to help heal them. This can be a lot of work, and a lot of negotiation. They fact is, like many angry people, the angry dead might not listen, or might not accept what has happened to them. There are a lot of different forms this can take.

3) Holding space for them. The idea here being, creating a space or environment that gives the angry dead proper space and the time to work through their unresolved anger, so that it doesn’t become toxic. It might involve any or all of the things listed above. The way I understood it, the point is to make the angry dead “comfortable” and “sage”, so that they have the time to calm down and work through their death in a more constructive manner.

4) Banishing. Sometimes, the angry just don’t listen, and you can’t get them to calm down no matter what you do. Sometimes those feelings of anger might go unresolved, or the dead may openly refuse to face them. What do you do in that case? One of the points that was raised was to “take all their energy and get rid of them.” The point I think is if the angry dead refuse to be cooperative, sometimes the best thing to do is to protect yourself and those around you. To “diminish” the angry dead, and send them away, minimizing both the harm to yourself as well as others. This can apply to the toxic dead too.

Caring for (dealing with?) the Toxic Dead

One of the questions that was raised during the discussion is; what do you do about the toxic dead? Keep in mind we are talking about a whole other level of nasty here. While it is in some way normal for the dead to be confused, or even angry (in the case of violence), the toxic dead are what happens when that anger and hatred goes unacknowledged and untreated. To use a rough analogy, it is what happens when deep wounds go untreated, and become infected.

When the anger is left to fester, the hatred left to ferment, and the calls for vengeance and the sufferings for others becomes the only motivation, that is when you get the toxic dead. And speaking frankly at this point, there is little else anyone can really do for them at this point. In my own experience, they don’t tend to listen to reason, or even want to be placated. They want to stay angry, and they want to hurt people. I don’t much care for dichotomies, but the toxic dead may be a case of the truly evil.

I would say once the dead become toxic, there is little left in the area of diplomatic solutions. Only two real options are left for dealing with the toxic dead.

1) Banishing: As I raised this point previously, I am not going to harp on it all that much. The idea being, is diminishing the toxic dead so that they can cause little harm to others, and sending them away. This can be a lot more difficult with the toxic dead, for reasons I will detail in a minute

2) Pulverizing: This might strike you as an odd word choice, but hopefully you will see what I mean. As I said before, death is a kind of “breaking” of the spirit into various parts. Violent death is more of a “shattering.” However, it is some of these pieces that remain behind that become the toxic dead. They can be “broken/shattered” again. In other words, the dead can die again. They can be shattered to the point that they are practically nothing, or have been pulverized into something else. I imagine it as a kind of spiritual entropy.

Perhaps a good analogy is a clay pot. For most of its life, it could be considered whole. But then it falls off the table. Smash! In effect, the pot has ceased to be a whole pot, just as the dead have ceased to be living. But the parts still remain. If you had the reason to, you could keep smashing those shards until they are nothing but fine clay sand. That is a far cry, and quite distinct from being a whole pot.

All analogies aside, I feel a certain disclaimer is in order. I feel “don’t try this at home” doesn’t really convey what I am trying to say here. Inevitably, there is going to be that person that reads this and goes off to hunt for the toxic dead.

Don’t. For the love of whatever you cherish, Don’t. I do not have heaps of experience with the toxic dead, but the ones I have encountered are nasty. As in don’t ever try this by yourself kind of nasty. This was a point actually raised during the discussion. These sorts of spirits are really bad news. Like one person taking on an armada bad news. You would be the one, of course. Unless you brought an army, which is kind of the point. Don’t deal with these things alone, and specialists in nasty things should probably be among them. Allies are important. Also, so it a crapton of heavy caliber cleansing. In my experience, not only are they singularly nasty, they also have a habit of polluting other things, infecting other people. They like to spread that shit around.

Think of Nago the boar demon from Princess Mononoke. Think of the pollution monster voiced by Tim Curry in Fern Gulley. Seriously, don’t try this at home.

Military Dead

All of this could imply that there are very serious implications to not only being killed, but the taking of other lives as well. I speak as a hunter here, and as I mentioned in my last post, taking a life does something to your own spirit.

This is some thinking out loud, but something I also mentioned in the discussion. I wonder about soldiers, not just ours, but everyone’s. Regardless whether “enemy” or “friend”, most soldiers either have taken lives, or had their own taken from them.

I wonder about those military dead that still linger.

But I also wonder about those that came back, the ones that lived. Righteous or not, they still have the dead on their hands. Would they come back with broken spirits, carrying the weight of the dead? I would think so. I would also say there may well be a deep spiritual component to things like PTSD.

I do not think anyone can be that intimate with violence and death, and not be effected by it.

How many military dead still linger? How many broken spirits came back?

Native Americans

Which leads me to my next session of thinking out loud. Here in America, we built our country on the genocide of Native Americans. The bodies of those dead are under our feet. How many of those people have been left unattended, left to fester?

Hell, when you drive away and kill the people that care for them… Would it be a surprise if they were left untended?

You always see how bad things get in movies when a house or something is built on a Native American burial ground. What about a country?

Do those of us still live still bear the scars of the deeds of our ancestors?

In some way, I think we all carry the burdens of the dead.

 

Wow, that got heavy… Thanks for reading!


Finnish Folklore Atlas Part 4

For this post, I want to touch a little upon what Sarmela has to say about the ‘ancestor cult’. In the author’s own words.

” The religion of Iron Age hunter-cultivators and Savo-Karelian swidden culture consisted of the ancestral cult and sorcery. In the emerging agrarian communities of the Gulf of Finland coastal circle, the dead were buried in hiisi woods near dwellings or on stony islets in the middle of field clearings. The deceased guarded their living environment even after death, and their cult sites gave his surviving family the right to cultivated land; the land belonged to the ancestors. The oldest marks of cultivated land possession are perhaps cup stones; hiisi woods were probably followed by the village burial grounds of Karelia and the sacrificial trees of Lutheran eastern Finland.”

The amount of data presented in the FFA is immense. Maps show the locations of cup stones, stone altars, and sacred trees that in some way or another were all associated with ancestor worship. The finds of stone cups include both single cups, as well as clusters of cups. They have been found near houses, near field clearings, and near burial sites. Sarmela suggests the cups were built as needed for the ancestors.

Like the cups, finds also included stone altars, which were natural rocks and boulders. These sites were used as offering places for ancestors, but also for the supernatural guardian of the place, that may or not be an ancestor.

The sacred trees filled a similar function, and would serve as locations for offerings, either for the ancestors, or for the guardian of the place. Sarmela has this to say;

“Trees used in rites have been called in Finnish dialects e.g. aljo- (<Germanic origin), elätti-, lyylitys-, palvonta- and pitämys-trees. The terms indicate that the tree belonged to an individual kinship group or house and it was ‘kept’ like a kept snake, a guardian creature . Other known terms include hiisipuu which derives from the pre-Christian meaning of the word hiisi, ‘ancestors’ wood, ancestors’ tree’. Of the terms, lyylityspuu may be of Finno-Ugrian origin; lyylitä, ‘make an offering at a tree,
pray, appease’, occurs in old poetry and has been retained in the Karelian language; lyyli also means ‘fortune’ or man’s (ancestor’s/supernatural guardian’s) ‘share’ (of the catch). Guardian spirit trees may be older than the cultivating form of subsistence, possibly belonging to the early catch rites of hunting communities.” (pg 115)

Therefore, trees, similar to the stone cups and altars, may be associated with the ancestors as well as local spirit guardians. Concerning the offerings for the ancestors and the spirits, Sarmela says;

” A primogenic offering, the first share of everything yielded by cultivated land, forest and water, belonged to the ancestors. The
hiisi woods and sacred trees may have been visited on specific occasions by kinship groups to share a meal with their ancestors, as is still customary in Orthodox Karelia today, a couple of thousand years later. The ancestors influenced the life of the kinship group, new family members, babies born and spouses, were introduced to them, as they were to the supernatural guardians of the homestead, and possibly in Finland, too, the dead have been presumed to be reborn into their own kin.”

In many ways, the ancestors are still with us, and we would do well to honor them with offerings. My wife and I keep several altars up in our house, one of which is specifically dedicated to the ancestors. Regular offerings of food and drink are given at these altars. As Sarmela points out, the ancestors especially have a lot of influence on the living. Their blood runs in our veins, and our hearts beat just as theirs did. The dead are concerned with our welfare, perhaps more so than any other kind of spirit. They want to see us succeed, and that is the reason why ancestor work is fundamental to my own path.

When spring finally comes again, I think I will find some stones, maybe a few cup shaped ones, and make a place for offerings for my ancestors and the spirits around my home.

Sources,

The Finnish Folkore Atlas, by Matti Sarmela, Pgs 37 – 39, 115


Initiations, Bears and Rituals Part 4

The second source I wish to discuss from the article is the Viitasaari Text.  As Haggerty points out himself points out  the Viitasaari Text is a seventeenth century narrative in which a local bishop describes what he has witnessed of local cultic practices. From this text, and a few poems from other sources, we get the basic idea of how bears were hunted. Note the similarities between this basic narrative structure and that of the Kalevala.

” It (the hunt) was done by approaching the lair of the bear and preparing to kill it upon awakening it from its winter hibernation. Once the hunters are prepared the den is broken open and the bear is killed by a single thrust with a spear or later a single shot from a bow or gun.

It is thought that the bear is dazzled by the sudden bright light and shock, which awakens it making the kill relatively devoid of danger if preformed correctly.

The location of the bear is tracked by the hunters while it is near their village. If the bear then makes a winter den nearby, the hunters mark this so they can find the bear later.

It is thought that this practice helped associate the bear hunt, kill and subsequent ceremony with midwinter. The bear also acts as a living source of guaranteed food in the harsh northern winters.”(Haggerty, pgs 43 – 44)

This is a good lead into another piece I stumbled across recently, concerning the bear hunts. It also discusses the bear in context of the Sami.  The author of the article is Brandon Bledsoe. I love the quote he prefaces his article with.

“There is an ancient belief that the bear is in communication with the lord of the mountains and with the sky, and certainly he has from time immemorial been surrounded by an aura which enjoins caution and respect.
-Ivar Lissner, Man, God and Magic, (p.163)”

Bledsoe then goes into a discussion of how the bear rituals serves multiples functions in a society; ”

  1. Religious Level – The bear ceremony is a form of communication with the supernatural world…
  2. Economic Level – This belief-system is the result of a perceived need for reciprocity with nature. Success in hunting and fishing is dependent on the good will of the bear that rules over the reproduction of animals (Shnirelman, 9)
  3. Psychological Level – In hunter-gatherer societies there is a certain amount of guilt associated with killing animals. The level of guilt may be greater when it is necessary to kill an animal that is seen as being more anthropomorphic or rare. The bear ceremony is performed in order to pacify the bear’s vengeful spirit.”

Then the author sets out the hunt as performed by the Sami; ”

  1. Departure for the forest. Bear hunting usually takes place during the hibernatory season, late winter or early spring. Once a den has been located the hunters are assembled, the Noajdde and his drum are consulted, and they then depart for the forest. The one who has located the bear takes the lead. He holds a staff with a brass ring attached to it. A Noajdde usually follows him and precedes the hunter elected to strike first.
  2. The Hunt. The one who located the bear is sent into the den to awaken it. The Sami were known to have used firearms, bow and arrow, lances or spears, and even axes as a means of slaying the bear. The animal was not attacked directly if a spear was being used, the weapon was held in reverse until the beast began its attack and impaled itself.
  3. Birching the bear. After the bear has been killed they drag it out from the lair and begin to whip it with soft twigs or birch branches. “A switch is twisted into the form of a ring which is fastened to the lower jaw of the bear. It is tied to the belt of the principal bear-killer; the latter pulls at it three times singing (joiking) in a peculiar tone that he has become the bears master” (Karsten, 116)
  4. The Bear Master returns. When the hunters return to the sijdda their wives greet them by spitting elder bark juice in their faces. The principal bear-killer brings the ring to his goahte, knocking three times at the door. If the bear is female he calls out s–ive neit (holy virgin), if the animal is male he shouts s–ive olmai (holy man) The bear master’s wife keeps the ring in a linen cloth until after the ceremonial meal.
  5. The Feast. It was customary for the men to prepare and cook the bear meat in a specially erected goahte that no woman could enter. Women must cover their heads and during the next five days can only look at the bear killer through a brass ring. After this prescribed period of three days, the bear’s skin is stretched out in the center of the banquet area where various libations of tobacco and foodstuff are offered to its spirit. After an apologetic speech is given the feast of bear meat begins.
  6. Ringing Him in. After the feast the ring is removed and the women and children attach pieces of a brass chain to it, which is then tied to the bears tail. Next, the ring is given to the men who bury it with the bones. Great care is taken to ensure that the bones are arranged in their original form.
  7. Immunizing the women. Finally, the skin is laid out on a stump and the blindfolded wives of the bear slayers take turns shooting at it with arrows.

This last feature is the most outstanding of the Sami ritual. Special care must be taken to guard women and children against the bear’s vengeful spirit. By shooting the carcass they conquer this fear.”

Really, what can I add here? This article is already kind of long…

The next part of this series will be coming next week.

References;

http://www.utexas.edu/courses/sami/diehtu/siida/religion/bear.htm