Patreon Topic 39: Decolonizing Magical Practice vs Honoring Ancestral Traditions

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From Elfwort comes this question:

“Would you talk about decolonizing magickal practice vs honoring ancestral traditions?”

I am going to start with the point that I do not view this as an either/or. I look at this with the perspective that this is an ‘and’ approach. In my view honoring Ancestral traditions requires we decolonize them. We also need to be clear when borrowing has occured vs appropriation. If information, techniques, or inroads into relationships were shared that would be one thing, and quite another if these were gained by pressure, stolen, or obtained under false pretenses.

Decolonizing our practices may require us to do a lot of work, including digging, soul searching, and work with our Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir. Lots of websites feature discussions of decolonizing ecology, education, and so many more ways. I like to define terms before digging into how we are going to apply them. So, what is decolonizing? To briefly summarize, it is deconstructing white Western European methods of thought, reasoning, understanding, worldview, and perspectives as the dominant and privileged ones. It is bringing in other modes and methods of thought, reasoning, understanding, and perspectives as co-equals, and centering them.

Each Pagan community and person will have its own decolonizing to do. This work, in and of itself, can have many layers. At the least we Heathens have to separate out Christian, atheist, nationalist, and racist influences on our communities. Decolonizing our worldview and personal mindset requires us to reckon with the nationalist and racist history behind modern Heathen revivals. It also requires us to approach the stories and myths we have with a critical eye, as many of these were originally written down by Christians, and later interpreted through Christian or Christian-dominated frameworks. Doing this work gets us closer to our Ancestors’ worldview, and so, doing the decolonizing work and honoring Ancestral traditions goes hand-in-hand.

Taking off that many layers in front of our understanding of the Gods, Ancestors, vaettir, and the root culture we are reviving can seem like a lot at first. In practice we begin with the best information we have, make our cultus as good as we can, and that as new and useful information comes to light we integrate this new understanding. Not all information is useful to our endeavors, even if it is based in history. Likewise, we have to be critical with what information we take in and apply. A given author may be furthering outmoded or historically incorrect ideas, and this can be true of modern Heathen authors as it can scholars. A given author can also be speaking for or on behalf of the Ginnreginn and the information they are sharing does not apply to us, our situation, or is wrong for our relationships with the Ginnreginn.

Decolonization of our mindset also requires us to look at what spiritual tools, technologies, ideas, and work we employ, why, for what reason. If we have learned these from someone else we need to ask if they have the authority to teach it to us and we have the permission to use it and/or pass it on. For instance, I do not do smudging. It is a ritual unto itself. I have not been taught how to do it. What I do with mugwort, aka Ama Una, whether I work with Her as an offering, cleansing by reykr (smoke) as incense or by smoking Her, etc, are not a Native American teachings, rituals, or relationships. When we are firmly rooted in our own relationship with the Ginnreginn we have no need to appropriate others’ cultures, practices, relationship, ways, or spiritual technologies.

This is not to say that we should not look to Native Americans for how to live with the vaettir we share this world with. An example: I offer the landvaettir tobacco, something I picked up by observation and teaching from Native American friends of mine. However, I also offer alcohol to the landvaettir, and this is something that is generally acceptable in our relationship with Them as Heathens that would not be with the Native folks I know. So why would I offer tobacco and not engage in smudging?

Smudging is not merely the burning of herbs in a shell or other fire-safe holder. It is a ritual, one I have not been taught or cleared to do. Offering tobacco, so far as I know, is open to everyone, and a good gift to almost every vaettr I have encountered. One is a closed practice, the other is not. Smudging would be theft of a spiritual practice while offering tobacco is being a good neighbor with the vaettir. Decolonizing our ways excludes those practices that harm, diminish, or marginalize Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPoC) while also including those practices that center their voices, experiences, and practices as they are appropriate for us to engage in.

Honoring Ancestral traditions can be a powerful, lived experience. Since a good many of us Heathens are reviving our own, and some of us are starting to pass on our ways to a second or even third generation, this is a huge responsibility on our parts. Decolonizing our traditions as much as we can before passing them on, and being willing to correct ourselves and our descendents when we err is our responsibility. The creation of Ancestral traditions is also very much in our hands and that of our Ginnreginn. Perhaps the older ways no longer apply because we live in radically different climates, or our relationships with Them are so different that we have to develop new traditions.

There is NOTHING wrong with developing new traditions when the old no longer can apply to us. Given how many of us are taking up broken threads across a good expanse of time in reviving our Heathen religions, there are a lot of traditions that are next to impossible to revive, and then there are traditions we cannot revive because we live in a wholly different society. We are going to have to develop new traditions in many cases, and this provides both us and the Ginnreginn with powerful opportunities to turn aside from the colonization that has marked a lot of modern Pagan religions.

One example that comes to mind is the establishment of vé, sacred space. We know our Ancestors had them outside, and given the role of hearth cultus, they likely had them inside as well. Each of us has the ability to develop family hearth cultus, and traditions that unfold from that. We have the ability to bring in old customs with respect to how to worship and treat the húsvaettir (house spirits), and together with Them, we can make new ways forward. After all, few of us live in a farm house so a lot of the ways you would build a relationship with, interact with, and/or ask for help from a tomte, nisse, etc may no longer apply. Those that we interact with might be totally different since They are likely not attached to a farmhouse, but apartments and single-family homes. Hearth cultus itself has had to change over the years since vanishingly few Heathens even have a literal hearth!

These subjects can range far and wide. Just the two websites I linked on decolonization go over education and ecology. Robin Wall Kimmerer’s books Gathering Moss and Braiding Sweetgrass are powerful explorations of her lived Native relationship with science and ecology. Erika Buenaflor covers Curanderismo centered in Mexica and Maya cultures in her book Curanderismo Soul Retrieval. Sade Musa does ongoing education and anti-colonialism work for African American diasporia, especially with regards to herbs and healing ways with her Roots of Resistance. We had both Erika Buenaflor and Sade Musa on Around the Grandfather Fire.

I cannot hope to cover all perpsectives with this post or to do them justice. Whatever our paths forward, we can decolonize our paths while honoring our Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir, and the traditions we build with Them.

Patreon Topic 7: Jotun Worship

If you want to submit a topic you would like me to write on for this blog or my Patreon, sign up for the Uruz or Thurisaz level or above here on my Patreon.

It looks like I missed this last month and for that I apologize. From my first Raiðo supporter comes this topic:

“Jotun worship and how it is reviled by the heathen community at large. Would be interesting to explore from your perspective about this contentious issue.”

To be blunt if I cared about the Heathen community at large there would be a great many things I would be doing -or not doing, sometimes week-by-week as the communities can rarely agree on anything across the board. When it comes right down to it, our own cultus is just that. No one’s cultus is going to look like another’s. Even for those of us in the Mímisbrunnr Kindred, our hearth cultus looks quite different from each other. This is a necessary and good thing. Each of us carry different relationships with our Gods, even Those Gods we each worship.

To some degree the revulsion expressed in many places in the Heathen communities towards the worship of Jötnar is Christian baggage. To another degree in some Heathen religions, namely here thinking of Anglo-Saxon Heathenry as I understand it, these Beings are not in any way understood as positive. However, these are not Jötnar, but Etins, and while They may be related Beings/concepts, the way each religion relates to Them is not. I am primarily a Norse/Icelandic-based Heathen, so my understanding of Jötnar is nuanced whereas I have only seen a rather black-and-white understanding of Etins from the Anglo-Saxon Heathen perspective. I am happy to be corrected on this.

I will not spill much digital ink to whether reactions to/against either Jötnar is Christian baggage. I have done that plenty enough in other posts. My perspective is that worship of the Jötnar is supported by the lore given the few instances of worship recounted in our sources includes at least a Jötun and Her Sister, even if we ignore that Jörð Herself is the Earth. Even if we did not have this evidence in the lore, given how little evidence we have of cultus for Gods aside from Óðinn, Þórr, and Freyr, I would worry very little about it. I am not living in ancient Norse times, and my course within my religion is largely driven from interaction with the Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir. The lore and archaeology serve as maps. They are not my relationships with the Holy Powers or the work I have done and answers I have gained from divination and direct experience with Them.

Since I am a Universalist Tribalist Heathen, while I believe anyone can come to the Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir regardless of race, background, ethnicity, etc, I also care little for opinions of those outside of my hearth, Kindred, or tribe, aka my innangarð. Part and parcel of my worldview is that Jötnar are, broadly speaking, one of three sacred tribes, the other two being Æsir and Vanir.

Regional cultus has always been an active component of polytheist religions, and I have no interest in policing others’ religion or practice within it. If others do not worship Jötnar then I feel they could be casting aside or denying quite beautiful, powerful, and deep relationships, but that is their call to make. That being said, I find it hard to hear praise for Odin out of one side of a Heathen’s mouth and hate for His Blood-Brother out the other, but they can take that up with Odin. If I hear it in my presence that is one thing; I cannot abide it, and it is frið-breaking for me to be in a place where my Gods, Ancestors, and/or vaettir are unwelcome or reviled. Otherwise, I will generally have a live and let live attitude, as my ways are just that.

The Battlefields No One Talks About

When I hail the Warrior Dead, I do not hail just the Military Dead.  Certainly, there are Military Dead who are part of Them.  Certainly, all Military Dead should be honored for Their service.  However, there are a lot of Warrior Dead whose stories are glossed over, and lost to time.  These, and stories like these, should be well kept so we honor Their memory, and the causes They fought for.  I thank Bragi and Ansuz for helping me to write this.  Hail to You!  I hail the Warrior Dead who came and spoke to me while I was writing this.  Hail to You!  May the stories of the Warrior Dead never be forgotten.  In telling, may we live in Them.  In the telling, They live forever.

When anyone asks about what unions did to get the rights all workers possess, tell them about this.

You have come a long way from home to settle in a place in the Blair Mountain Ridge.  You went through hell just to get here.  This place is 50 miles out from the capital, Charleston, in West Virginia.  Trees are everywhere along the route to the mine you’ve come to work at, and what isn’t trees are rocks and boulders, and all of it is on slopes.  The mine is dark beyond dark, and the candles are the only source of light.  Every second or third miner might have one, if you’re lucky.  The hours are long, and you’re a long ways off from any non-company anything.  The little scraps you get so you can buy from the company store?  You buy your equipment with it.  You buy your food with it.  Your lodging.  What little there is.  You work 12 hours at a shot, maybe more.  You drop your candle somewhere, it goes out?  You pay for it.  If you died, you died, and if you were supporting a family, they better figure out quick how to support themselves without you.

What’s more is that even your soul isn’t safe from the company.  They have approved preachers and pastors.  They give them the messages to give to you and your fellow miners.  The very people who should be appealing to God on your behalf, on your family’s behalf, fill your ears with sermons of how good the company is, and how happy you should be to get blisters on your hands and feet, to risk your life each day or eventually get black-lung for a company that gives you scraps of paper to pay for the scraps of food they deign to give you from their heaping plates.  Yes, indeed, God bless America, and God bless the company.

You know that if you and your fellow miners, all of whom are in the same straits as you, organize, then the police will come with a signed martial law order in hand, and crack down.  Literally.  They do it whenever you and your folks get too rowdy, too angry from one more insult, one more death, one more trampling on your dignity.  So you strike.  The authorities and their posse of private enforcers come for you.  You get your skull split, you get arrested?  Goodbye, employment.  Your rights end where the nightsticks and guns begin.  After all, you’re working the specialty ore that nets your boss ungodly profits, and their pull is so thick they may as well have installed themselves as governor in Charleston.

Then, a day comes when you and your fellows won’t take it anymore.  It wasn’t enough that martial law was called.  Again.  It wasn’t enough that they tried to pin murder on Sheriff Hatfield and twenty-two other people.  No.  Those fuckers just executed one of the few pro-union folks in the neighborhood.  They killed Sheriff Sid Hatfield in cold blood.  They lured him the courthouse on bullshit perjury charges, and him and Ed Chambers were killed by deputized ‘detectives’ from Baldwin-Felts.  They put twelve fucking holes in each of them to make damn good and sure they and their ghosts weren’t coming back.

Baldwin-Felts Detective Agency.  The same pricks that were hired guards and ‘investigators’ for your boss.  The same folks who are more than willing to crack skulls to get their employers’ way. Blood spatters the ground, it pools.  You know it’s a matter of time before someone’s finger gets itchy, or someone moves the wrong way.  So you march, because it is wrong.  You march, because that life, and the life of all of those at risk from that martial law, bearing down like boots on all your necks, are worth it.  Solidarity.

You are 10,000 strong.  Some of you are armed with guns.  Some of you carry whatever seemed handy as a weapon.  Some of you have your hands, so that’s enough.  You all march.  You march, on foot.  It is fifty long miles until you hit Logan.  And people join you.  It doesn’t matter the background, the creed, the color, everyone marches.  Miners march with bookkeepers, march with doctors, march with lawyers, march with railroaders, march with ministers and pastors and priests.  You march.  You might be as many as 15,000 strong, now.  Solidarity

Then you all run square into the Logan Defenders in Logan County.  These bastards are armed to the teeth, headed by the anti-union Sheriff Don Chafin.  There might be anywhere from 3,000 to 6,000 men, all from Baldwin-Felts, local cops, deputies, and volunteers.  You’re a ragtag bunch; maybe half of you have decent weapons if you’re lucky.  They?  They have pistols and rifles, Browning .50 machine guns, artillery, and planes.  Oh, and those planes?  They have chemical and explosive payloads.  That’s right.  They’ll drop bombs on you full of shrapnel and bleach for the profits your blood and sweat will make them.  So you do the only thing you can do.  You charge right at them.  Solidarity.

It’s bullets and chaos, it’s hands clenched into fists, teeth bared, and dirt kicked up as you and those fuckers who want you down in the dirt come to it.  Fists pound flesh, bullets meant for other armies tear into your friends and chew their bodies like some great monster come to feast.  Crows and ravens wheel and scream overhead as the days drag on.  Guns, smoke, and screams fill the air.  You don’t stop fighting.  Solidarity.

The reports will say only 20-100 people died in the week that followed.  You know better.  You helped load your dead friends into boxcars to carry them home.  Archaeologists will say over a million rounds were fired.  You’ve no idea how many were fired, only what they did to you.  What they did to the land around you, pockmarking it.  Like the Earth vomited up black bile soaked in blood.  You pick up the dead, you say your prayers, and you get back to the fight.  Solidarity.

The week ends, and the federal troops arrive.  You and your fellows put down your weapons in the woods, hide them, and get the rest of the dead on their journey home.  Too many of you are veterans; these were family of another kind.  Besides, the Army wasn’t the ones trying to make you bleed just because you and your union folks wanted to be able to organize and bargain together for a decent wage, time off, a pension, or basic human dignity.  You and your fellows give up, no one so much as fires a shot.  It is over.  You make the long journey home.  You pray, and you bury your dead.  Solidarity.

Nothing much changes.  The company still takes advantage, except now it starts blacklisting union members and breaking contracts with the unions.  It still makes you pay for your equipment, your food, your lodging.  It still works you till you drop of black-lung or exhaustion.  It still puts those Baldwin-Felts thugs around the place, still pays those pastors to keep the company prayers and sermons in your ears.  It still takes you, body, mind and soul, for everything you’ve got.  Those of you who remain do so as your union dies a horrible death, slow, like a twisted knife in the guts.  The union won’t recover until 1935, when it comes to life in the New Deal.  You and your fellows are there, and you triumph as the bosses finally start to pay up, finally start to bargain in good faith.  The unions roar back to life, stronger than ever.  You stand on the bones of the dead, and remember: Solidarity.

These are the sources I consulted for this post:

http://www.archaeology.org/news/2461-140825-west-virginia-blair-mountain-battlefield

http://archive.archaeology.org/1201/features/blair_mountain_coal_activism_west_virginia.html

https://coalcountrytours.com/West_Virginia_Mine_Wars.html

http://www.pawv.org/news/blairhist.htm

http://theroanoker.com/interests/history/coalmining-war

http://www.wvencyclopedia.org/articles/333

The Warrior Dead and Military Dead

I have used the two terms Warrior Dead and Military Dead on and off, both here on this blog, and elsewhere. I felt that I needed to give some explanation, as the way I use these terms are not automatically interchangeable. Not everyone, Ancestor workers, spirit workers, or otherwise will agree with me, and that is fine. There are many I count as Warrior Dead that are not Military Dead at all. Not all the Military Dead are Warrior Dead. This does not mean that all our Military Dead who I do not count as Warrior Dead are somehow less.

For me, what makes the Warrior Dead and Military Dead different is this: a Warrior Dead has stood up in defense of their people and/or their ways, whether that sacrifice or stand is made on behalf of their tribe, religion, nationality, ethnicity, etc. They may have done so in spite of overwhelming odds, to safeguard a piece of their people or heritage. They may have given their life in service of their people, or their ways. Among the Warrior Dead I honor are the 4,500 Saxons who gave up their lives rather than convert to Christianity, and those who kept the sacred ways alive. Countless people not part of an army have risen to defend their people from oppression, genocide, invasion, hate, and privation.

Not all Military Dead are called to make such sacrifices. One of my grandfathers, when he passes, will have been in the military, and so I will honor him as part of the Military Dead. Yet, he will not have seen combat. He signed up, and so, would have been willing to place himself in harm’s way. I do not believe the only Military Dead worth honoring are those who have seen combat. As with my grandfather, one of my grandmothers has served in the Army in a noncombat role, she, as a secretary. Anyone willing to put their life in harm’s way for another deserves honor. Anyone willing to give up some of, if not all, of the best years of their life so another person does not have to, deserves honor. Whether one is a mail carrier, a secretary, a drill sergeant, a combat officer, or a medic, support staff or direct combatants, all deserve honor. All who are part of the Military Dead deserve our honor and our thanks.

I honor the Warrior and Military Dead together on a single shrine. Because of space constraints this is on a filing cabinet. On this shrine is Wepwawet, who I associate with the Warrior Dead. He is on the rightmost front part of the shrine. Standing before Him is a small ceramic cup (I think it was used for crème brule) which holds the whiskey I have in offering for all on the shrine. Beside it is a small mound of mugwort, and sometimes tobacco. In the center of the shrine is a ceramic container which contains the dirt from several veterans’ graves, which They granted to me with Their permission after I left offerings for Them and cleaned the dirt from Their plaques. It is something I try to do about once a month. To Their left is a pin I received at The Warrior Remembrance Ritual at ConVocation 2012, given to me by the ritual leader. I wear it sometimes when I serve the Military Dead; otherwise it stays on Their shrine. To the left of this is a US Armed Forces pin and a mirror from WWII. I was told the mirror had seen combat when I picked these up from an antique shop. Behind this is a muslin-wrapped figure whom I have given a lot of work to: Ramses II. Given he was a renowned warrior and his tomb had been disturbed, I have taken time doing spells and giving offerings for him. He has a small glass star at his head. The very front of the shrine has scraps of paper with the names of people I am giving offerings to, and prayers for.

Some of these Dead have responded in kind, and asked for me not only to pray for Them, but those They left behind. After all, this is a two-way street. We do not just look after the Dead. As the Lithuanian proverb goes, “The Dead are the protection of the living.” In honoring our Warrior and Military Dead, we offer Them a way into our lives, to walk with us again, and to share in our lives as much as our offerings. Our Gebo to Their sacrifices is to remember Them, to honor Them, and to keep Their memories.

A Prayer for Children

This is a prayer I received from a dream in which there was a ritual, a lot of singing and dancing I do not remember.  This prayer came shining through and when I woke after about four hours of sleep I had to write it down, and now I am sharing it:

 

“Thank you for the children, each one that touches our lives, you who love us.  From first to last, we love you all.  You are beacons in the dark, charges for our soul, and carriers of all we know forward.  Thank you, children, for all you are, and all you will be.  Thank you.”