Category Archives: Identity

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

 

 

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Walking with the Ancestors Part 6-A

I just wanted to take this moment to acknowledge two things.

First, this blog is coming up on 900 subscribed followers. From the bottom of my heart, thank you to all my readers. You folks are amazing!

Second, I am creating a master index page for both this series and it’s companion, Walking with the Spirits. The reason is ease of navigation. If you want to read multiple chapters from these two series, I have now made it easier to do so.

Onward!

In the last chapter of this series, I mentioned that we would be moving east across the globe following in the foot steps of my ancestors. For this part of the journey, we have moved across the Beringia Land Bridge, and into North America. It is here we will meet up with the people from the Clovis Culture

clovismap2

Map of the Beringia Land Crossing (From Crystal Links)

So, for context of the Clovis Culture, we turned first to Wikipedia for a brief overview;

“The Clovis culture is a prehistoric Paleo-Indian culture, named after distinct stone tools found at sites near Clovis, New Mexico, in the 1920s and 1930s. The Clovis culture appears around 11,500–11,000 uncal RCYBP (uncalibrated radiocarbon years before present), at the end of the last glacial period, and is characterized by the manufacture of “Clovis points” and distinctive bone and ivory tools. Archaeologists’ most precise determinations at present suggest that this radiocarbon age is equal to roughly 13,200 to 12,900 calendar years ago. Clovis people are considered to be the ancestors of most of the indigenous cultures of the Americas.”

However, it must be said that this particular part of my story does not take place in New Mexico, but in Montana, with the bones of a infant boy. To get a little more context, here is a short excerpt from the BBC article;

“Scientists sequenced the genome of a one-year-old boy who died in what is now Montana about 12,500 years ago.

Some researchers have raised questions about the origins of early Americans, with one theory even proposing a link to Ice Age Europeans.

But the Nature study places the origins of these ancient people in Asia.

The infant was a member of the Clovis people, a widespread, sophisticated Ice Age culture in North America. They appeared in America about 13,000 years ago and hunted mammoth, mastodon and bison.”

anzick-2

(We are at the Lime Green dot in North America, ca 13 kya)

Some of the finds from the Clovis culture in North America are pretty fascinating. Go ahead and type Clovis Culture into Google and just look at some of the things that come up. The artifacts of particular note are the stone points associated with this culture.

I can picture it, this small boy sitting in his mother’s lap, while his father nearby is working away at a stone point for the next mammoth hunt. Which is something to keep in mind over the coarse of this series. We are just talking about artifacts here, but ancestors. Their way of life would have been very different, but they would have been as human as you or me.

Moving on, with a little more context from the BBC;

“The boy’s remains, uncovered at the Anzick Site in Montana in 1968, were associated with distinctive Clovis stone tools. In fact, it is the only known skeleton directly linked to artefacts from this culture…

Eske Willerslev, from the University of Copenhagen, and his colleagues were able to extract DNA from the bones of the Anzick boy and map his genome (the genetic information contained in the nucleus of his cells).

The researchers found that around 80% of today’s Native Americans are related to the “clan” from which the boy came.”

There is quite a bit in this tiny little little paragraph. First off, it tells us a little more about the site when the boy was found in 1968, the Anzick site. The baby boy was found alongside other Clovis-type artifacts, and this connects the boy to the Clovis people, which is a cultural complex that stretched at the time from the state of Washington to Florida.

I have to say that the most exciting part, is how this small boy was related to 80% of living Native American’s today. That would indicate that relatives of this child spread far and wide, in both space and time. His ancestors and relatives would go on to populate parts of both North America, as well as some in South America as well.

However, the Clovis Culture was short lived, though its people lived on. As NPR states;

“The artifacts from this culture (Clovis) are found from Washington state to Florida and many places in between. But the culture also disappeared suddenly, around 12,600 years ago. “

As the article goes on to point out, one of the possible reasons for this disappearance might have been climate change. Right around the time of the end of the Clovis Culture, the Younger Dryas period set in, a time when the climate turned much colder. The Clovis people would have to adapted to this change.

Certainly, there are some parallels to our own time, as we too face a changing climate. I wonder what adaptations we will have to make? What technologies we might have to leave behind? Perhaps that is a post for another time.

Before wrapping this post up, there is one more point I want to raise. In order to continue these studies, more data and research will have to be done. As NPR points out;

“That (the research) will require, among other things, cooperation with native peoples.

In the case of the Clovis child, the archaeologists worked closely with modern tribes to make sure the scientists were treating the remains appropriately. The Clovis infant is to be reburied later this year, on the property where he was unearthed.”

I think this is important to explore for a bit, since we are talking about dead ancestors here. I am thrilled that the archaeologists are working along Native American’s in this work, as I think it should be. As an animist, there is a lot more to working with the dead than just digging up bones. The remains should be treated with respect.

That being said, I do struggle with the idea of reburial. From an animistic perspective, the dead should be respected, and reburial would be the proper thing to do. However, I am also trained in archaeology, and I realize that the techniques and tool of tomorrow’s science may be different than those today. There might be more to learn from these remains, but that would require them being dug up again and again, or housed in a museum.

Honestly, the jury is still out on that one. Perhaps museum/reburial is something we should determine on a case by case basis. In this case, and in cooperation with the local Native Americans, I think they made the right call.

Besides, we are not just talking bones here, but a distant relative of mine as well.

Anzick Boy: 27.85% Match

Thanks for reading!

Sources/References;

NPR

BBC

Wikipedia (Clovis)

Clovis Culture


Tents, Cities and Villages

I have been reading my way through “The Matter of the Gods” by Jonathan Wooley over at Gods and Radicals. It has giving me a lot to think about, and I wanted to explore my thoughts about the article in a little more depth here.

I think is a wonderful and well written piece, chock full of good, insightful analysis as well as plenty of ideas, thinkers and concepts that are well worth a second and even a third look. But perhaps most importantly Wooley starts out with a most obvious, and at the same time a very profound statement.

“Paganism is diverging.”

This is a very self-evident and obvious statement on many fronts. My background in anthropology really hits this home with the basic understanding that any culture is an adaptive and dynamic thing. The pagan family tree is growing, and with it comes many new offshots, ideas and new branches as it grows and expands. As Wooley points out, one of the most notable examples is the more recent move to hard forms of polytheism, in which the gods are not manifestation of the All, or some aspect of The One, the Two or otherwise. But that the gods are distinct beings in their own right.

As an animist, this is also something that is foundational first. I have often referred to myself as a polytheist by proxy. I am an animist first and foremost, and one of my core philosophical building blocks is that the world is full of people and persons, only a small portion of which are human. Looking out my window right now, I can see an assortment of plant people (grasses, shrubery, ect) tree people (oak, cherry, popular) bird people (cranes, finches, ect) and so on. These are people in my mind, living beings with awareness, conciousness, will and intelligence, even if these don’t compare to human notions of the same. They are people of a different kind than I am.

Also, they all have alliances, relationships, and dead around them. All of them have ancestors, and spirits of the disembodied with which they cohabit.

And yes, some of these beings might be gods.

Later on Wooley says;

“In short, the first few generations of Pagan sages made a gateway through which forgotten beings, old souls, and the old ways could return to human society. And that is exactly what is happening”

So much is said in this one little section, that it is difficult to say exactly what resounds with me, because it is so many things at once. As a relatively young fellow, I have to acknowledge that some of the work has already been down, the foundations been laid. At the same time, as each year passes, I also have to acknowledge that I am the next agent in the work. It will eventually (if it has not already) fall to me to continue to build on the foundations that have been laid. And later on, it will be my place preserve and pass on what has been done. In addition, part of the work is opening these “gateways” to allow these old beings and ways to find fertile ground once more.

Further in the article Wooley says;

“The crucial thing to remember is that what defined old Paganism was explicitly not a single set of beliefs, nor a single set of customs. Europe, before the arrival of “the Nazarene” and his vision of the world, was a patchwork of different traditions, methods of enlightenment, esoteric systems, state cults, philosophies and initiatory systems – all flourishing and fighting with one another, all very different in range and content.”

This is modern paganism(s) in a nutshell. As older traditions continue to grow, and newer ones take root, there has been a great deal of both flourishing as well as fighting. A part of this has to do with the internet, because our world is a lot smaller as a result. Alliances are much easier to make, as are disagreements. In addition, the internet and other modes of communication has allowed the wide reaching formation of groups across the world, as well as a ready flow and exchange of ideas. Never before has such a network been available, and so many ideas and information been so readily accessible. It has allowed new traditions and beliefs to take root, and the combination of “like” minds to preserve them. In the same breath, it has also allowed for discussion and debate to take place across philosophies and traditions, so that each can explore their own ideas, as well as compare notes with others. Wooley comments on this when he says;

“What united then – if anything – were cultural exchanges and political alliances that took place over time.”

The point I take away from this is that paganism is composed of a variety of different traditions, different cultures, each with their own beliefs, ideals and ways in which to view the world. And that is perfectly okay, and even desirable. That mosaic, that plurality is one of the most beautiful things about being a modern day pagan. The fact that I can walk into a room and sit with a dozen people, and a dozen different philosophies at the same time. Then we can talk, debate, and even argue about the differences. It helps me to better understand my own thoughts, and to really understand the fact that the world is really a complex and fascinating place. I will come back to more of this in a bit.

This all brings us to the “Big Tent” concept of paganism.

Wooly has this to say;

“We see this clearly in attempts to create a “Big Tent” of Paganism, based as they are around a desire to establish certain broadly worded statements of belief. Do you, like the Pagan Federation, believe in the role of the feminine in the godhead? Theological pluralism? Sacredness of Nature?…. Or do we describe Paganism with reference to Four Poles – Nature, Deity, Community and the Self? “

Wooley goes on to point out that such attempts are noble and interesting, but ultimately fail because they are trying to create a shared set of beliefs where perhaps there may not be one. Also, such attempts, in his opinion, fail to do justice to the wide diversity of pagan cultures and traditions.

I found myself having mixed feelings at this point. I happen to like Beckett’s four pillars model, but I can also see that Wooley’s critique is a fair one. With the wide diversity of traditions and believes, how can we come to a consensus? Is consensus even possible with so many differing views? I think that is where the “Big Tent” metaphor does fall down.

As Wooley points out;

“But such efforts are doomed to either shoe-horning the wild variety of Pagan lived experience into a conceptual prison, or being so broad as to be empty of usefulness or rigour. We are left with Hobson’s choice, of either leaving some Pagans out in the cold, or frogmarching those who would rather be outside the tent – often people of colour and indigenous communities – into its confines”

Wooley goes on to say that the problem with the tent is that it is a pre-defined space. With all of its pegs, ropes, poles and walls, it only serves to limit the space. The dimensions are firmly fixed in time and space, and as Wooley points out, if anyone tries to move it there is a very real risk that the whole thing will come crashing down.

Wooley says; “Paganism, as a movement encompassing a wide range of very distinct religions, is ever changing, ever moving, ever shifting. As such, it is about as profoundly un-like a tent as you can imagine. Instead, Paganism is much more like a spontaneous gathering of people, in a place open to the elements – a crowd, a throng, a rally a carnival. And as it has been going on for some time, it has become a permanent version of these: a city”

Wooley points out that a city does not have fixed borders like a tent. Cities are constantly changing in population and size. They shrink and grow, people leave, old buildings are taken down, new ones are put up. The whole process is organic, and the city changes with the people that live there. It is a shared history, and an ever evolving story that creates a city. One part past, one part present, and one part future.

I have to say I found myself nodding along as I read these words. Wooley I think makes some very strong critiques of the Big Tent Model of paganism, and even the Four Pole Model, which I have wrote about before. I find myself seriously questioning the whole concept of the Big Tent, and this is something I will have to chew on in my own time.

But this proposal of a City Metaphor is an interesting one. However, I have always found cities to be rushed, and chaotic places. Having spent quite a bit of time in places like Chicago, I find that I prefer my quiet country life to the bustle of the city. This is personal bias only. I understand the role cities play in civilization, and they are essential to the way things are now. Still, I find that I prefer forests over cities. Or, to put this another way, to quiet village life over the city.

This is not an alternate proposal, just a shift in metaphor. A village is similar to a cities in many ways. They are just as dynamic, adaptive, but only on a smaller scale. Villages can loose people, gain people, and change in size and shape just like any city. They can grown, live, and die in just the same way.

In addition, the Global Village metaphor has long been used for international politics. I have to wonder, why not a pagan city/village? Think of it this way, a village is full of different houses and shops. The Heathens are in one house (it is probably a longhouse), the Druids in another (I see it as a hobbit-style house) and the Wiccans in another, and so on and so forth. Each “house” could have different beliefs and ideals, to each their own. Perhaps each house has a “Sacred Fire”, which represents the ideology and cultural beliefs of that tradition.

Still, maybe the village also has a common fire, where people of all traditions and paths can get together if they choose, and discuss, debate and argue as they see fit. Sure, they don’t all have to be singing Kumbayah(sp?) around the same fire, but that doesn’t mean we can’t all be good neighbors. If some group or person doesn’t want to be part of the Pagan Village, then they can leave. It’s not a tent with a flapped door and gatekeeper, but an open space where people can freely associate.

Circling back to earlier, this whole idea reinforces the need for political alliances and cultural exchange. There is a great deal we can learn from each other. At the same time, with all the diverse and distinct traditions, there will be a great need for relations between the different pagan “houses”, “camps” whatever. We will need allies going forward, even if we don’t agree with their views.  Even though we all have different traditions and ideas, surely we can come together and sit around the common fire?

Surely something worth contemplating.

May you all have unique, diverse, and merry Holidays!

 

References;

http://godsandradicals.org/2015/12/18/the-matter-of-the-gods/


Mentors, Role Models, and the Future.

There has been quite a lot on my mind lately. This year does not seem to be off to a productive start. I guess I just thought I’d be a little farther along with writing and such this year. My current project has slowed to a near stop. It is frustrating. Other projects clamor to be started, but my ambition is lacking.

Normally, I don’t mind the cold or the snow. But this winter is starting to drag, and I am more than ready to get started on spring projects. There is a lot of crafting work I want to get done. Maybe that will be a little more productive.

Yet, I have also been thinking a lot about my future learning and my current path. I have often pondered going to graduate school, but now that seems farther away. In light of several discussions with others lately, maybe my path leads another way. A friend of mine told a story recently about meeting with her advisor about graduate school. I won’t recall all the details here, but suffice to say it resonated a lot with where I am right now.

Frankly, I don’t know where I am right now. What my goals are, my plans, my aspirations? I would have thought I’d be in different point in life at the moment. Getting married had a big part in it. Not saying that is a bad thing, and I have no regrets. I am quite fond of my wife, and welcome the companionship.

Just that, had I been single I would likely have never hesitated with grad school, and the additional debt that entails. Now, I have a wife and a house. Placing that kind of debt burden on my little family of two just seems selfish, and with questionable benefit. Honestly, most days I already feel like a debt slave. Pay for the car to get to work. Work to pay for the car and the house, which stands empty most days while I work. Work to pay off the education that may or may not have helped me get a job… Wheres does the cycle end?

In my college days, I pictured myself working at a university somewhere, research or teaching. Now, that future seems very unlikely. Not that I am complaining mind you, because the more I think about it the less I see myself in that kind of position. My writing suffices, and fills that intellectual and creative need.

Also, I would have never counted on being called by the spirits. Even though I have always been “spiritual”, I never really saw myself in any kind of role in that regard. I would have never figured I’d be called to serve. So now I wonder about what that entails.

I recently attended a metaphysics discussion group, and we talked about formal and informal training. Personally, I favor a balanced approach. Of formal, mentor-to-student structured learning and informal, self-taught experiential learning. The metaphor I like to use is Fire. You can be taught formally about Fire, how it is hot, how it burns, and so on. But until you touch Fire, experience Fire, aka get burned, you don’t really really understand Fire. They are two sides of the same learning process.

So my learning continues, and I contemplate what the future might hold and where I might go. I am still not comfortable calling myself a shaman. Be that as it may, I continue to ponder what I might have to offer to others. I also look to the role models around me, the mentors that have helped me, Jim and Sarenth loom large among them. They are an inspiration to me, and I look up to them. Their thoughts and teachings have really helped me a great deal, and helped me come to where I am.

I look at what the two of them offer to the community. Divination, teaching, counsel, and other things as well. They both co-create The Jaguar and the Owl podcast. Honestly, I don’t have a lot of experience in those things, and I wonder if I’d be any good at these things.

Can I shape my own forms of these things? Certainly I bring my own unique skills to the table. As a hunter, a crafter, and a writer I have my own things to contribute. I have my own learning and thoughts, my formal background as well as my life experience.

I am currently taking a leadership class, and we are currently in a section called “Mapping the Future.” It has really led me to really think about my goals for the future, my strengths at the moment, and parts of myself I would like and develop. Today was more of an introduction, and the next section I am under the impression we will be working up individual future maps. I will be taking the second section of that class in two weeks, so I will have more to say about it then.

Really, I have no intention for the learning to stop. At the same time, I wonder where I am heading?


Changing Narratives

“Man is an animal suspended in webs of significance he himself has spun.”
― Clifford Geertz

Ok, some of you may have noticed that there was not a blog post last week. Maybe some of you did. Either way, there was not a blog post last week because I powered my way through the end of another book. So that is another project off my list. Also, we don’t currently have internet at the new house, so that has made posting here a little more of a hassle. We are working to resolve that issue, hopefully this week.

So yeah, you could say this is another filler post. I will, ideally, be posting another piece later this week. I am working on a series about initiations and the bear cult. I just have to finish it up.

There are a lot of thoughts swimming around in my head. I have been thinking a lot about narratives. About the stories that surround our lives and give them meaning. I have been thinking about the narratives the create meaning in my own life. They have been shifted over the last year, and it has changed the way I view myself as well as the world.

I have commented a little in the past on how narratives are born out of experience, and at the same time they help to shape that experience. We tell stories about our lives. At the same time, those stories define our lives. Our experience shapes us at the same time we shape our experience through narrative.

We are constantly surrounded by narratives. Take modern media, such as Fox News, MSNBC, or NPR. Each can take the exact same story, and spin very different narratives. You could also use recent events as an example. Think of the recent events Ferguson. That is a great example of multiple (often competing/opposing) narratives.

Storytelling is an interactive process. From Wikipedia; “Narrative storytelling is used to guide children on proper behavior, cultural history, formation of a communal identity, and values. Narratives also act as living entities through cultural stories, as they are passed on from generation to generation. Because the narrative storytelling is often left without explicit meanings, children act as participants in the storytelling process by delving deeper into the open-ended story and making their own interpretations.”

Honestly, I wish I was a better oral storyteller.

Living entities. I really love that part. It gets me thinking about the narratives of my ancestors. I have a pretty good idea of the grand scope. However, adding Skadi to the mix shifts that narrative a bit. It shakes up my preconceived notions, and adds face and personality to the overall story. She could be considered among my Mesolithic ancestors. Between myth, genetics, and genealogy, I can shape a narrative that traces my ancestors from the Mesolithic in Scandinavia, through England, to America and down to the present. It shapes a narrative in such a way that adds meaning to my life. That is a curious thing.

It also makes me think about the narratives as they are passed down to us. As modern pagans, we inherited the narratives, the stories of previous generations. These are not fixed things, in unalterable form, by those like Snorri. We are participants in the narrative process now.

Now, there may be something else going on that shifts the narratives I tell myself around even more. More on that in the next post, where I hope to expand on these themes a little more.

 


Ancestors

Let’s start with updates. Yup, not really a whole lot to say. I’ve been ramping up the writing again, and will have about half a book done in the next week or so. I started learning how to knap arrowheads out of bottle glass. My hands are showing the abuse from this endeavor. Hunting season starts with small game in just over a month, with deer season being just under two months away. So the preparations for that are already in motion. Practice shooting, scouting, making sure my gear is all in order, fletching and so on and so forth. I’ve already got a bit of the hunting fever. I have also been working on a few knives for my own use, and want to try again with the bow making soon. So much work, and so little time.

Some days, I wish I could just leave the civilized world behind and go live in the woods like my ancestors did, but sadly the world is a different place now.

Which brings me to the topic for today, the topic of my ancestors. Really, the whole point of this post is a chance to organize my thoughts for my upcoming submission to the Walking the Worlds project. The upcoming topic is Ancestors and Hero Cultus, and I’ve decided to focus more on the ancestors side, since I don’t do a lot of “hero” work.

The ancestors have been a core element to my practice since I first started ancestor work. To be fair, I have been interested in things like genealogy and history for a long time, and my ancestor work almost is an extension of that. It is a lot of work, a fair amount of time and money, but I only think it has strengthened my practice.

I mean, because what is ancestor work, if not honoring the heritage, the ideas, stories, beliefs and rituals left to us by our fore bearers? I think genealogy is almost implied when it comes to honoring the ancestors. It goes beyond that as well too, I think. After all, family, and therefore ancestors, aren’t always blood related.

As I was saying, so much of my spiritual work has come from my ancestor work. It has shaped my practice into what it is today, and will continue to shape it into the future. As my understanding of my ancestors has evolved, so has the core of my practice. I know I have touched on these things before, but I would like to expound on them a little more here.

As my understanding of my ancestors has evolved, so has the narrative that connects me to that heritage. The stories that shape my practice have changed, and so, has the practice. I want to expand that narrative now, perhaps for myself as much as for others.

My ancestor journey began with the paperwork, the genealogy. My mother’s line has been in Michigan for several generations, but my father’s line, admittedly were most of my work has been focused, had a knack for moving around a lot. My father was born in West Virginia, and going back, I have male ancestors from Kentucky, a brief stint in Pennsylvania, and Virginia. Right back to the early 1700’s. One of my earliest ancestors fought in the Revolutionary War. William Haney, son of Michael/Mikkel Haney.

After that, the historical work dried up. I have no real idea why, a name change, illiteracy, the very act of crossing the Atlantic, I have no idea. However, I only had the slightest of leads. In those early days, Virginia was an English colony, so there is a good change that my ancestors came from England. Still, not much to go on. General guesswork, but not anything specific.

I had to turn to genetic testing once the paperwork failed. As it turned out, I was on the right track. Here is an excerpt from Ancestry, concerning my last name.

“English and Scottish: probably a variant of Hanney. Scottish or Irish: reduced form of McHaney. Americanized spelling of Norwegian Hanøy, a habitational name from any of four farmsteads so named, from Old Norse haðna ‘young nanny-goat’ or hani ‘cock’ (probably indicating a crag or mountain resembling a cock’s comb in shape) + øy ‘island’. ”

The genetic testing revealed me to be Y haplogroup I1, which by current research, probably originated in the area of Denmark somewhere between 6,000 and 4,000 years ago, with pre-I1 people going back to the last glacial period in the area. My genetic testing, also revealed a high number of matches in Norway, and England, as well as surrounding areas. Scotland, Ireland, Germany, and so on. Really, anywhere you could get to by boat from Norway.

Thus, the ancestors of my ancestors probably have been in Scandinavia since the ice retreated, though of course this is only guesswork. It also has the potential of things like Sami ancestry, though once again only speculation at this point. Somewhere along the line, they migrated to England/Scotland from Norway, perhaps with a change from the Norwegian version of my name to the more English version. Vikings could be a possible connection, as they had a knack of going to England from Norway. Though to be fair, it didn’t nessacarily have to be the Vikings that brought my ancestors to England. It’s just make a good story, at the least. From England, my ancestors came to America during the 16th century. That’s the rough outline, at least for my mortal ancestors, and I am still working to fill in the details. I am hoping to find a way to contact some of those matches overseas. A lot of work still to be done.

But it doesn’t stop there. I’ve been learning, albeit kind of the hard way, that spiritual ancestry is more complicated than mortal ancestry. They simply don’t play by the same rules as the flesh. As such, among spiritual ancestors, can be counted thing likes dwarves, giants, elves, fairies, gods, animals, plants and such ad nauseum. It adds a whole new layer, and quickly bridges the gap into things like shape-shifting and divine ancestry. I’m am going to leave those topics lie for the moment.

I touched upon how this information has influenced my path, and I wanted to talk a little more about that. With what I have outlined already, my path draws a lot from my hunter-fisher-gathering ancestors, the northern Mesolithic from about 12,000 years ago up until farming took hold. This is where my shamanic interests come in, and my general animistic tendencies. I also find I get to apply my archaeological and anthropological training as well. But it doesn’t stop there, because there is a wealth of historical material as well. Obviously, I bring the Eddas and Sagas into the fold, because I count them among my heritage as well. Vikings and all that comes into the fold as well. Also, folklore bridges the gap from Pre-Christian times down to nearly modern times. I draw a lot from that as well. In addition, there is the Celtic element of my ancestry, because I have a decent cross section of ancestors from Scotland and Ireland as well. I explored Celtic related things in the past, and I have been looking at those things again, with the understanding I carry now.

As such, my current path (subject to change) embraces Celtic, Norse, Forn Sed (old custom in Norwegian, draws a lot from folklore), shamanism, animism, and a lot of other things such as hunting and survivalism as well. That is the gift of the ancestors to me, down through the generations.

It is true that there is a strong disconnect from the ways of my ancestors, as the old ways have not been practiced for some time, millenia in some cases. I am literally disconnected from the land of my ancestors by nothing less than the Atlantic Ocean and countless years of time. I wasn’t born into these traditions, and the burden that comes along with that is immense. I work with ancestors that have not been heard for eons, and it is difficult to know even where to begin with a backlog of a few thousand years worth of work.

I mean, being an Norse-Celtic-Anglo-American isn’t much right?

References/Sources;

http://www.forn-sed.no/main/english/information.htm
http://walkingtheworlds.com/
http://www.ancestry.com/name-origin?surname=haney


I wish I had known… Part 2

I want to preface this one with the comment from Sarenth on the first part of this series;

”  I would like your thoughts on how your relationships with vaettir have changed over the years, what has helped make them successful, what has not, and where you see overlap in terms of spirits in general in regards to the paths you have walked.

I really like that you keep hitting on the idea that not everyone is good at everything. I also like that you noted you lack a god-phone, and that it is not as huge a part of your life as it is for others. I’m looking forward to your writing on your animism, and how that impacts/informs your relationships with the Gods. As a polytheist and an animist I do not feel I can separate the two; the former, to me, is informed by the latter. I’m curious if you have different feelings on this, and if so, what they are.”

I will start with the first part. One of my earliest spiritual experiences was with, for lack of a better word, a wisp. I was out walking as a young boy, I am not sure if I was with a friend or by myself, and I came across a marsh later in the day. It was kind of foggy over the marsh, because the day was a little colder. That is when I saw it, floating out over the marsh. I remember distinctly feeling as if I was being watched, and that “I am not alone” feeling. It made an impression.

An impression that was forgotten during the turmoil that was adolescence. Through hormones and high school, I generally went into book worm mode and acquired my love of reading. It was all about science in those days. I would honestly say I came real close to being an atheist. Yet, I remember the more I traveled (via books) out into the universe, the less meaning my life seemed to have. Through all the biology, astronomy, physics and everything else, I felt more and more disconnected from everything. Thus, I started looking for my spiritual self. I detailed this a little in my last post.

The long and short of this anecdote is, I ended up, figuratively as well as literally, remembering the wisp in my early days. I remembered the sensations, and the impression it left on me. I turned from science to spirituality, and in a way, remembered that there is more to life than all we see. Now, don’t get me wrong, I am not anti-science. Much the opposite in fact. It’s just I now think there is more to the cosmos than what we can sense. There is purpose around me, and will, and most of all, meaning. Science does not have a monopoly on all knowledge, it is just one path.

That touches a little on the first part. As to the second, that is no small fish. While I am not a big fan of the crushing debt, I do think it is fair to say that college, perhaps more than anything, where my animism got its start. Before that, I came into this like so many others. Through Wicca (ish) books and such. I started in some ways, without the spirits. I started with spells, charms and rituals involving elements like so many others. Most of these had little in terms of results.

As my anthropology degree progressed, so did my spiritual life. It went from energies, to the negotiation of spirits with will and conscious. Through my degree, I encounter thinkers like Tylor, where the term animism comes from (mostly), and Durkheim with his totems, Frazer and others besides. I studied all kinds of various cultures and beliefs, ancient as well as more modern. This impacted my worldview heavily. I went from treating with energies, to asking favors and building relationships. They were no longer just energies (except in the way all things are), but people, human and non-human alike. There were bird-people, and tree-people, and fire-people and so on and so forth.

This is the big difference between ‘old animism’ and ‘new animism.’ While a lot of Tylor and others work was colonial and imperial, treating animistic practices as primitive throwbacks to a day when man didn’t know any better. New animism gets away from that. From Harvey’s book, which I am rereading; “Animists are people who recognize that the world is full of persons, only some of which are human, and that life is always lived in relationship with others.”

That is the core of what I do these days. For me, as I said in my comment in the last post, gods are included in how I define animism. Polytheism and animism are so closely related to me, I find little use except as a communicative shortcut for the former term. To me, there are divine-persons along with all the others. As far as relations go, this is key as well. It is my opinion that some of divine power comes through relations. While we could debate intrinsic power, say a god/giant versus a mortal, yes one is intrinsically more powerful, I think that more power/influence is derived through networks, alliances and relationships. Think about Christians. Jehovah’s power, especially on Earth, is derived through his network of followers. Same with Odin, and others. Shamans are much the same way, much of their power coming from their networks of spirits.

As far as results go, when I went from energies to spirits, I found an immediate difference. I could communicate my wishes, and had spirits that would listen. Spirits that would run messages, spirits that would mediate. Spirits that argued and made mischief. They ran the spectrum, and it was by no means a one way street. They asked, and do ask things of me as well. I have run messages for them, accepted limits and taboos, returned offerings in exchange for help and blessings. It is quite political in my opinion. More than that, it is relational, and good relations with spirits helps my work, and my results. Something I never got in the early days.

As far as all that paths I have walked, animism is what was missing in the early days. Wicca(ish), Celtic, Druidic, all of them lacked that core foundation. Energy work never worked, at least not for me. Only once I learned (relearned) of that wisp, did things finally start fall together.

Book list;

All that being said, I wanted to touch on a book list for beginners. Many of the books I had in the early days were “A Complete Idiots Guide” to something or other. I had ones for Paganism, Wicca, Natural Magick and Celtic Wisdom. All of these were very Wicca-centric, setting up the philosophy and rituals much the same way, with various Celtic or ‘Natural’ glosses. I would say good for beginners, but you will likely outgrow them in a year or two.

I also had Celtic Magic by D.J. Conway, and A Wiccan Bible by A.J. Drew. The Conway book is also very Wiccan-esque, with a Celtic gloss thrown over it. “A Wiccan Bible” is a decent book information wise, but it never quite clicked with me.

To be frank, much of what I do is defined from scholarly literature as much as from myths and folklore. My thoughts on this are several. Read the myths and legends as close to the “original” form as possible.

Start with the books if you can acquire them by borrowing or used. Keep in mind they will only take you so far. Most you will outgrow in less than a decade. The costs add up, trust me.

I will highly recommend Graham’s Harvey’s “Animism”, which gives a great survey. Once again, it is pricey. Look for it at libraries, especially colleges or universities.

Most of the books I do have are non-fiction and more on the academic side. But as much as book learning is a good start, I am going to stress experience as well, as well as networks. Practice, practice, practice. In addition, build your networks and find mentors. You do not know everything, nor will you ever. If there is something that interests you, find someone who has experience in that matter. Learn as much as they are willing to teach.

I will probably touch more on that in the next blog. Let me know if any of my readers have questions. It is always good to learn from others (see above point), and I would love some outside insights.