No really. We all need it. Even if you are a practicing Voudoun Priestess who never thought twice about a Norse god, or a devout Christian walking the path of turning the other cheek and helping your fellow man you need Indigenous European Religion to exist.
I hear you all wondering why. Your vaguely voiced whispers travel along the lines of electricity and fate. Certainly it’s an option in the religious smorgasbord, right? One of many paths. There are other options. If it disappeared and the gods of the Europeans were never heard of again the world would keep turning. I can almost feel the knee jerk reaction of disagreement as I write these words. But I’ve been thinking about this a long time, and spurred by recent words over on Gods and Radicals about the vulnerability of my druidic tradition, ADF, to racist and right wing ideology, I returned to thoughts I had worked out for myself a long time ago.
Many years ago I was a college student and seeker. I felt a connection to the world around me and an inherent sacredness within the wild Other. Sometimes I saw inexplicable visions of the connection between all things and I sought to find others who saw things like I did, so that I might come to a deeper understanding of these thoughts and feelings. I found paganism and Wicca eventually, but it seemed very Eurocentric. That disturbed me. I had been a kid who idolized Harriet Tubman. I read and re-read The Diary of Anne Frank. The suffering of people because of color or culture at the hands of those of European descent was never that far from my thoughts. So I kept seeking ways to express my connection to the land and all the living beings upon it. I researched Native American Religions in particular, with the thought that I ought to practice like the people who had lived on this land far longer than my ancestors.
Certainly there were plenty of websites touting their authentic “Native Practices”: sweat lodges, totems, and medicine names available for my use and perusal. But it smacked of inauthenticity and I kept digging. Eventually I found tribal news outlets, and tribal websites of the Ojibwe and Chippewa tribes local to me. I read angry diatribes about the selling off and stealing of tribal religious practices. There were articles about how white people would visit tribal lands looking for a quick fix of spirituality and leave trash and poverty in their wake. This is an ongoing problem. I was shocked and dismayed to realize that I was desperately close to being that person.
I remember one day I was in a dull computer lab with no windows. Surrounded by the hum and whir of dozens of CPU fans and the smell of coffee and sweat, I was supposed to be accessing weather data from NOAA. I had done my work and was searching for more information about Native American Spirituality when I came across a plea written to white seekers. It asked those of European descent to stop trying to use Native American tribal religious techniques and instead go and discover the indigenous religion of their own culture. At first I thought they meant Christianity, but the faith of Jesus comes from the deserts of the Middle East. They were asking white people to recreate European traditions of spirituality.
It seemed wrong and backwards to delve into Eurocentric things in order to be less racist. But I was between a rock and a hard place. If it is wrong for people of European descent to try and shoehorn themselves into the cultures of oppressed peoples, and I believe that for the most part, this is true, then studying Native Religion is not the right path for me. If I believe that it is deeply important that we rediscover ways of being connected to the land and species of our world, and I also believe that this is true, then there are limited options, since I do not believe that modern Abrahamic faiths do this.
I suppose we could attempt to create a new spirituality entirely free of past cultural mistakes and assumptions. To that I say, “Good Luck!” History repeats itself. Without understanding the past it’s desperately difficult to understand the present. I find it extremely unlikely that I, or any one person, is wise enough to create a new religion out of thin air. If someone is, well I truly wish them the best in their endeavor.
In my studies I have found there is deep wisdom in indigenous traditions around the world. From the Dreamtime songs of the Australian Aborigines to the healing practices of the Korean Shamans I see the deep and hard won knowledge of centuries of experience and practice. There are lessons to be learned from the ancients, and I began to believe that I was honor bound to discover the lessons of the ancient European cultures.
In this way, I could walk a spiritual path as a partner with other indigenous cultures. Not stealing other’s sacred rituals, but rediscovering my own, and welcoming any who would wish to partake of them.
I strongly believe that anyone can be called by the Gods. I imagine there are white people who are truly called by Ojibwe or Yoruban Gods. People who learn the language and are part of those cultures in good faith. I do think that can happen. But that is not my calling, nor do I think that it should be the calling of most white people. Anyone who takes that path should be very careful that they are not just acting out of white privilege.
My culture, the culture of Europe, is the majority culture in the USA. It is the culture of colonialism and slavery. But I have discovered roots of compassion and reciprocity in my search for the sacred in European culture. I have come to know Gods of Tree and Sky, the dancing Goddess of the Dawn, the guidance of spirits of Bear and Swan. I have sat with the River Mother who flows through my downtown and given offerings to Mountain and Ocean Gods. I have done these things without cultural appropriation, my good faith effort to walk a path of integrity.
I work to recreate these traditions as best as I can, not just for myself, or just for white people. I am adamantly insistent that European Indigenous Religion must be open to all people, of all colors, creeds, and cultures. Whoever would chose to learn is more than welcome at the table. Is this difficult? Yep. I read articles on how to be a better ally to people of color. I do not let comments about the importance of ancestry in our religion pass, no matter how innocently spoken. I stand ready to address issues of prejudice and cultural assumptions with a listening ear, an open heart, and a calm mind. I will do my part to right the wrongs of our culture. I will surely make mistakes, and just as surely, I will keep trying.
In the end, it’s about honor and taking responsibility for my personal stake in white privilege. Because I’m white, and so were my parents, and their parents before them. No matter how I spin it to myself that I am not to blame for the horrors of the past and present, I do benefit from the institutionalized assistance my color gives me. I will not hide my head in the sand. I will not believe that one person cannot change the world. I will do my part, as I hope that all of you do your part to make this world a more equal and fair place. I believe that we all need European Indigenous Religion as part of the attempt to find balance in our unbalanced world. Is there a danger that European religious traditions could be used to support racist and right wing ideological positions? Yes. But we cannot let that happen, nor can we be afraid to do the work because of it. Instead we must maintain honesty, open dialog, and integrity in the face of hatred and fear.
As Chris Rock said in a recent interview:
“My children are encountering the nicest white people that America has ever produced. Let’s hope America keeps producing nicer white people.”
I’m glad you think so Mr. Rock. We’re working on it.
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