12 Steps Toward Decolonizing Irish American Paganism

12 Steps Toward Decolonizing Irish American Paganism August 29, 2018

Edit: I coincidentally was writing this the day my mom asked me not to wear a kilt to my sister’s wedding.

 These are continued thoughts of a decolonized pagan worldview. I practice Irish American Paganism.

The Troubles or Na Trioblóidí(Pronounced Nuh Treebloidee) was the conflict between Ireland and Northern Ireland. The members of the Orange Order and the Williamites who represent Protestant Faith wear the color orange and march, though controversially, through Northern Ireland. The Famine in Ireland and the systematic repression of Gaelic culture by English speakers and the oppression of the Catholic Church both caused the diaspora to flee Ireland and other Celtic nations.

These conflicts are part of the history of Ireland from the Ó Neill standoffs with Viking invaders onward. Each of them ought to be important areas of study to anyone who wants to practice Irish paganism anywhere on the globe. It is as important to honor the living torchbearers of Celtic culture as it is to honor our Celtic ancestors; it is our duty to know what they’ve gone through and have reciprocity with the culture we take from. We can only do this by placing ourselves in their plights, in their shoes, and in their perspectives, and giving back.

To convey my attitude toward acculturation of a celtic culture, I’d like to echo the words of Alexei:

Many people who claim to be drawn Celtic heritage have in fact internalized the colonizing culture’s attitudes toward Celtic civilization. They feel “safe“ dealing with aspects of the Celtic world that a certain elite in the colonies and culture has judged acceptably interesting – Celtic mythology, Celtic art, traditional music – but exclude elements that are disapproved of by the state, like language and the separate identity of living Celtic communities. English and French symbolize material and social success: Celtic languages symbolize backwardness and powerlessness. To shift one’s primary allegiance from an imperial language to a Celtic one is to transfer oneself from the world of the colonizer to the world of the colonized, a move understandably fraught with anxiety. That this is in most cases a completely unconscious attitude makes it no less far reaching in its consequences. – Alexei Kondratiev, The Apple Branch

We should avoid bringing colonial attitudes into Celtic paganism. Please try to understand this. Educating yourself on what that means is up to you. Decolonizing ourselves not only better gives us access to the otherworld of our ancestors, it betters much of our lives.

Step #1: Admit the Problem

Realize we internalize colonialism to a degree. I may do it to a higher degree than you or vise versa.

We all need to do this work, but first up to bat are those who have ever continued an Irish stereotype. So I guess I’m also talking to you whom, have ever been Irish for a day, or hollered banging your palm on your mouth acting like an native American as a child. Or made fun of an asian person.

Toxic, poisonous, planet dooming attitudes come from colonizers. And we were handed that from our parents and grandparents.

But if you doubt there is a problem, specifically with Irish Paganism, please see the contrary:

The Troubles

Irish people rarely talk about The Troubles without severe feelings of loss, pain, and trauma at the mention of the Troubles. Though I support a unified Ireland, as an American with no stake in a unified Ireland, my opinion is worthless. But I base my opinion on equal civil rights and reparations of oppression.

I don’t want a unified Ireland at the cost of anyone’s suffering, however, I feel Northern Ireland is a continuation of colonialism which I cannot really support their past. One example of this is the inability to speak Irish in the parliament. This would be akin to allowing puerto-rico to be a state but not govern itself, nor speak spanish with congress in audience. America is as colonial as are the British. Please watch this example:

The Orange Order

The Orange order and the Williamites are proponents of Unionism in Northern Ireland. During the Troubles, the Orange Order used networks with the Ulster police and English military to execute their enemies in northern Ireland. The Protestants had created a segregated apartheid state and were oppressing the Catholics.

Women and children filled molotov cocktails, what they would call petrol bombs, for the use in fighting tyranny, fascism and oppression.

The Orange order performs a controversial parade through certain streets in Belfast, northern Ireland.

The Famine

English colonists manufactured the Irish famine. Firstly, the crop destruction was natural, but the deaths were not. It wasn’t just something that happened to crops. The political climate and rulership policy did this. Relations between tenants and landlords worsened their issues because they were getting squeezed out. There were many revolts and gangs that resemble antifa, in addition to the ‘white boys’ who would dress as ghosts and destroy property.

Repression of Gaeilge

The English has tried to suppress the Irish language since the ninth century. Early attempts failed due to low numbers of colonizers, the culture actually absorbed them. It was the Tudor family, that of King Henry the XIII, who threatened the language for the first time with any real power to do so. Moreover, the Church of England never really could set foot there among Irish speakers and the Reformation had less effect there. By the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, however, colonization had taken full root and anglicization was underway. Furthermore, it continued until the education system added Gaeilge back into the curriculum.

Step #2: Find Your Indigenousness, Mourn It

Find where your ancestors come from, draw from that. If you don’t know, you can draw from the Indo-European spectrum. No one is ever going to get upset that you’re researching your ancestors’ culture. Learn their history.

Morn most of all the plight that your ancestors(be they blood or ones you’re trying to adopt) lived through to give you their legacy… morn those plights. Weep for them. I don’t care if you have to rewatch braveheart(totally inaccurate bee tee dubs) to get into the mood, do it. Cry, weep, learn how to wail in harmony with others in a Sean Nós style but only in sharps and flat notes. That’s what the Caoineadh(Keening) for the dead was like.

If you don’t have it in you to mourn something you don’t understand. Go sit in the discomfort of native peoples near you. Listen to their stories, mourn yourself through mourning them. Intellectually know that the sadness you feel for them is the same as your wiser ‘sage’ self having sadness for your present self as well as all those who have suffered a fate at the hands of colonizers.

Step #3: Recover a connection to the Land

The number one thing wrong with the colonial worldview is that Land is resources. Mines, Rivers, Lakes, Farmland, and Prairie are seen as resources for progress.

You can battle this within yourself by developing a love for your state, or its natural features as beings. I personally worship Tesha(Tejas) the Caddo corn mother as the local Eriu, Fotla, or Banba. I do not use caddo myth, rites, lore, or ways… and so no appropriation has occurred. When I speak of this goddess, I leave my UPG at home and speak little so people can research the caddo understanding of her.

But when I worship her, I make offerings in the way of my ancestors as a guest upon the land, as a fellow land spirit inhabiting the acreage of my flesh, and as being made of this land goddess because I have a localized diet.

This step includes decoupling with nationalism and patriotism for its own sake and instead you must replace it with kinship and the development of meaning in a tribal context.

Step #4: Recover a connection to your food

Localize your diet. Eat from the land where you dwell. Become a locavore.

Google search farms that let you take a chicken slaughter class. I’ve said this before.

Look your food in the eye, say prayers over the slaughter, look for omens in the first blood spatter, and take the animal yourself, all the way from yard to table. Do this with a handful of things, understand that life is part of the gift cycle we celebrate with our offerings.

Step #5: Find Your Voice

The second greatest problem of the colonized worldview is it seeks total security and comfort. This is false security because the knowledge that one is not secure is just an invalid feeling. Insecurity stems from an ignorance to what is actually in people’s mind and a hidden high regard for one’s self. If your parents treated you like the Dalai Llama on a red carpet, your ego is going to hide itself by self deprecation, which is just as self centered as conceit.

If you get an alarm feeling when someone gives you disapproval, it’s because you think you deserve high praise.

If you were abused in your youth, your insecurity stems from physical trauma and not some outlook on yourself, though your abuse has instilled a poor self outlook nonetheless. Here you self question so you can stay in the lines to prevent a survival moment from occuring.

In any of these cases, few to none care, and you’ve got to deal with the understanding that your view of the world or self isn’t the truth. We ourselves can never see truth alone, we can barely see it together. It is pure arrogance amidst ignorance, whether we feel it or not, that causes an uncomfortable person to defend their celtic heritage when attacked after they used a stereotype and a slur.

Comfort isn’t something indigenous people have had the luxury of being given.

So if you get called on your bullshit, then let your voice rest from a position of discomfort. If you get asked not to wear a kilt to work, raise hell from a position of discomfort. If you let your mind exist perpetually challenged, and are able to stand up for yourself, then you can move onto the next step.

In anycase, not trying to control others in order to feel secure and safe is how this step is completed, even when others are attacking you. No one is a saint, but healthy people can do this to a point.

Step #6: Recover relations with your family

If your family is only annoying or hard to handle or don’t understand you, family is still sacred enough to nurture and hang onto. But if they are toxic, don’t try to recover a relationship.

But if you’re reclaiming your heritage and paganism, you’re going to have an interesting time being yourself.

You can’t decolonize while in the broom closet, it is simply mutually exclusive to take part in a revolution and withdraw from the activities of that revolution.

I used to be afraid to speak my pagan, liberal, Irish American pagan voice with my family. I did it for so long that my method of doing this step was to get tired of upholding appearances.

So just took the wall down. People were astonished at what would come out of me at first. But now I’m like the grandma that gets dismissed an a pat on the head. This only occured after many talks and reassurance that I was more like a Hindu or Vedic than a ‘Devil worshiper’.

If family isn’t an option for you, build one in for form of and ADF grove or some seed group. The tighter the vision and banner under which you gather, the smaller number of people and the closer they’ll become.

Step #7: Celebrate Indigenous Peoples’ Voice

Part of having your healing and your voice intact is no longer needing feel spurred to take part in the conversation of colonized people unless it is absolutely necessary.

Let local indigenous peoples lead the charge, and we can let the living torchbearers of Celtic culture lead its charges, giving them the support for which they ask.

We can talk about these things but when we are so free, that we have other people’s freedom for them, basically impacting them and oppressing their voice from yet another colonialist source, we do damage to the movements we are trying to appreciate and join.

Step #8: Claim Your Heritage

If you just like Irish paganism, then Irish culture is yours to acculturate to. The Irish people are more than willing to have you from a number of conversations I’ve had with them. Just learn the culture as is, and respect it as it is. Don’t go over to Ireland saying Bandia duit. Just take the culture as is from the living torch bearers. Keep the wanjia gwitch in reserve for pagan circles back home.

Once you’ve learned folk songs, history, customs, traditions, make them living.

You can make them living by adding and proliferating slight embellishments, but shouldn’t over do it because there are always unintentional mutations that go with telling tales and singing songs.

If you pass these down in groves, churches, families, or to fans on social media sites like youtube, you continue the Celtic tradition.

Step #9: Throw Off Your Culture

Culture is an operating system. Your culture is a set of beliefs, behaviors, impulses, self checks and reactions. These all come from media, school, travel and family. Our culture becomes what we are exposed to.

Because culture is an operating system, but also because people use it to bolster their sense of identity, the ego hides much of cultures operation away from our awareness.

We can’t even see culture, ego, or racism without looking at your own cultural assumptions. “You don’t even seem black!” might be a reaction a white American has to her black schoolmate. The white person who said it doesn’t think they are being racist, but because the ego doesn’t want you to know its true secret, which can be ascertained through the dissolution of one’s culture, them focus on their true intentions only and not the root assumptions upon which those intentions are placed.

However, the reason why this phrase is problematic is precisely because the white girl doesn’t see that by saying that she is saying “You don’t even seem like this lesser thing that you are.” or they might as well be saying “You fooled me that you’re not a first class citizen.” Its problematic because such a surprise is based on an assumption that they’ve exceeded their capability to get beyond the badness of their culture. But here is the thing, they do it to survive, not because they deem it bad. And that there is colonialism.

So colonial views, behaviors, impulses, self checks, and reactions exist within us, and we can’t change them by focusing on our good will and good intention. We must focus on our assumptions that our christian near-ancestors handed to us.

Step #10: Rebuild a Compassion Culture

In step 9, we revisit culture. An automatic side effect of which is the rebuilding of a new operating system, lest we not operate at all(psychosis).

In my experimentation with entheogens, I’ve glimpsed the runes, hung from the tree for 9 days, sipped from the well. I have had three drops of the mead of inspiration.

In my illumination experiences, I could see why compassion is the smart selfish choice, but I can hardly see it now that I’m back here.

The overall theme of decolonization is avoiding the patterns of our being which oppress others.

Where oppression meets decolonization exists the crossroads of compassion. You don’t act like a colonizer if you minimally impact other people’s ‘experience’.

If you upset people all the time and take pride in it, or are indifference to others doing so, you are the quintessence of colonialism.

Step #11: Commit

This can’t be like the time you watched Food Inc and went on a Juice Fast but now are eating animals again. You’ve got to really commit to these steps and do them until you notice that you are doing them unintentionally.

This shit atrophies, so hopefully your efforts carry on in your children, groves, pobals or covens. But for people like us it’s a lifelong process of acceptance and recognition.

Step #12: Do It

Do it as an identity, not as a hobby. Do it not as a Samhain / Bealtaine Pagan, do it as [Insert your name here].

Do it knowing it’s in the smallest thoughts and interactions that colonial assumptions turn into colonial culture.

Sources

The Decline of the Irish Language in the Nineteenth Century

The Irish History Podcast

RTÉ News

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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • S. Camille Crawford

    Wow. I’m a Heathen with partial Irish ancestry, living in Canada. I’m always keeping an eye (well, the corner of my eye) on Irish/Celtic paganism, although I do not know much about it. Again wow. I’ve been working hard within Heathenry to do much of the ‘culture’ reclaiming you forcefully, yet eloquently project here. I’m not sure how you make a combination of eloquence and force, but you did it. Congratulations. I am not being sarcastic at all (I’ve recently been accused of sarcasm, where none existed). You’ve taken my Heathenry to a new level, but you’ve also sparked something in me that gives credence to ‘mine own’ Irish-ness, which I have not had a clue what to do with. I think I have a clue now. Thank you.

  • K Randall

    Very interesting article. I have Scottish ancestry and have recently completed a research project regarding the Scottish witch hunts and how they were an extension (in part) of the colonization of the Ghàidhealtachd, the Gaelic-speaking region of Scotland, through the demonization of fairy beliefs. These issues are very much on my mind. I really appreciate your article.

  • Úath

    Part of decolonization is recognizing that unless you are a part of the affected culture in question, you really don’t have any skin in the game. High minded as this article may be it’s written from a very first person perspective as if the author is himself a part of the colonized Irish culture, which is in and of itself and act of colonization. Swing and a miss! If you actually want to decolonize your practice, maybe start by listening to native Irish voices and not arrogant white men from Texas. Might I recommend literally anything by Lora O’Brien?

  • B.V Armstrong

    One 1) Don’t write articles on decolonizing your Irish Spiritual practise without heavily linking back and sharing native voices on the matter? That could have saved you alot of words. Common things Irish Pagans mention when talking about Problematic Americans is our obsession with “The Troubles” , our poor understanding of Ireland’s history, us speaking for them and us writing and presenting and profitting from articles, books, tours and workshops about Irish Spirituality without ever mentioning and linking back or referencing native Irish folks. Yet you do all of these things in your article. May I suggest this as a much better starting point to decolonizing an Irish Spiritual practise? https://loraobrien.ie/on-irish-ancestry-and-being-irish/

  • Morgan Kelly

    If a person of Navajo descent was living in another country (like say, France) because their ancestors had left THIS land so they wouldn’t die, and that person of Navajo descent wanted to “decolonize” their practice, ask yourself if you would truly feel the same way. You’d probably completely support them. And Navajos here would probably NOT make them feel bad about it (I live in a state with a lot of Navajo people; as much teasing that goes on between people born on the rez versus people that are not, they don’t talk down to other Navajos just because they were born in different neighborhoods).

    I’m an Irish person having an American experience because my people felt forced to move here. And I can damn well enjoy this article.

    By the way, Armstrong is a Scottish border name, lol. One of the big ones. No loyalty to England nor Scotland, and too much trouble for the land of Great Britain to keep them, lol. Moved to NI and screwed over the real Irish.

  • Morgan Kelly

    Um, having to move to the States because you are starving, while knowing that your descendants will not get to be born in Ireland, IS part of the colonization process. Swing and hit !

    If I were of African-American descent and I wanted to “decolonize” my practice, I’ll bet you’d be more supportive………..If only out of a sense of white guilt. American blacks didn’t become white just because they lived here for four hundred years.

    My genetics (and yes, genetics really does influence culture; I’ve dealt with plenty of kids who have been adopted, and they are much more like their biological parents than their adoptive ones)……….my genetics influence my temperament, as well as the way I default to reacting and thinking, etc.

    I am an Irish person having an American experience because my 3/4 of my people had no choice but to leave Ireland.

  • Úath

    You seem confused. I’m not arguing against decolonization. Im pointing out that this is a really disingenuous attempt at doing so from someone who is remarkably self aggrandizing and rather critical of actual native Irish voices. Note that I am pointing people to a native Irish Draoi who has a fair bit to say for American Irish pagans who want to so this work properly whom the author of this piece has been openly critical towards? This author needs to sit down and listen is all I’m saying. Dude is from Texas or some shit.

  • Úath

    You see the link in this comment about decolonization from a native Irish person? What are you even arguing here?

  • Searles O’Dubhain

    My friend the Donkey Pilgrim traveled around Ireland once to demonstrate the unity of the people, and to have fun – settle a bunch of bets – to honor his Irishness and his family. That thread and a million more like it resolved the differences that were introduced from the outside it seems. Irishness now covers the world. Perhaps we need billions of threads?