Last post we opened the question of decolonization. I was going to put a bunch of dichotomies on here but I decided to go with a different approach, I’m going to talk shortly about the symptoms of a colonial worldview in your pagan culture.
Identity tied to Profession or Titles
The first symptom of a colonized worldview is that identity comes from profession and titles. So many people in America today get devastated when they’re fired, because that is who they are, it is where they draw their value and significance. Indigenous worldviews draw their identity from who they are to friends and family and the land in which they dwell.
Self Centered Agency
A person’s healthy quest for the power to control their own experiences is a noble thing. Obsession with personal power beyond that, even for validation, is unhealthy. If you have a relatively risk and danger free life outside of what you consider fun and thrilling, then your quest for personal power and sovereignty should be a war that is won. People who are less privileged do not enjoy this. But one with a colonizer’s worldview, sitting from a position of privilege, drawing their identity from their own successes, must defend that myth that people get what they deserve in life according to their deeds.
This lack of privilege is why women and people of color end up having to fight for their self sovereign rights.
But the colonized worldview needs all the power it can get. Several bad priests fall under this spell. But the well that always flow confidence and validation cannot be sought after. You can collect power but you’ll never be comfortable.
Pagan groups that do decolonization work, don’t exhibit these symptoms, they build teams of people who can work together, sharing creded and praise with the most noble offering themselves as stepping stones for the next generations to best them.
Compartmentalization & the Standard of Freedom
The colonized think in terms of their chains of commands. The government, their employer, and their landlord, mortgage lender or county tax assessor/collector. Indigenous peoples, especially our pagan ancestors would have looked to their local tribal structure not as a chain but as connected net. You know everyone’s relations, backstory, and what to expect from them. Others see how someone treats you poorly, and it make a dent in their actual behavior because parts of this net get dishonored by how your higher ups treat you. Indigenous people operate like their ancestors are always watching and that brings an added element of honor to their day to day expressions.
When a colonized baby cries, everyone looks to the colonized mother to pick it up. In an indigenous society, the nearest nurturer picks the baby up, even if that is a man.
A colonized person’s society is so toxic due to the compartmentalization, that it continues to increase to the degree to which parts of society try to escape from other parts. This can be so much so that many people reading this article might regularly hurry to their car, desk or apartment to avoid interacting with others who dwell or work within the same place.
Indigenous people hang out and talk to those they dwell and work with. Having a group identity and higher social skills, if someone doesn’t want to talk, they have no issue just saying so, no need to hurry from place to place to generally avoid people.
The colonized are put into a confirmation bias situation that increases their desire for compartmentalization, everything out/over there is why you’re in/over here. Then when depression triggered by lack of social bonds and a support system controls your life, and no one understands their situation, the cavern only grows wider.
In this situation the societal standard for freedom feels like a prison, and something to escape.
No Free Tribal Spaces
How normal is it to you that loitering is illegal? Hanging out in public is frowned upon. If that seems normal to you, you are fully colonized. If the first thing you think of is homeless and people with no dignity dirtying up all the public spaces, your entire standard of judgment is of a colonized worldview. These are the same tactic that english people used against the irish and people of countries all over the world.
In a colonized nation, there are no places where you can freely express yourself on tribal lands. The people who have the power of a chief over these lands are entirely inaccessible by the normal people. Bureaucratic systems are design to stifle the will of the people, while in indigenous places, one can give their grandfather a sky burial by falcon without the state putting any requirements on your belief system.
Culture A La Carte
This is kind of obvious. Colonized people view culture in bits with which they can adorn themselves. But like cultural polytheists know, the understanding of one’s religion, self, and tribe comes directly from the exploration of an entire culture in depth, taking all of it at once with concepts like the relationship of the tribe to the cosmos.
In a recent conversation in a forum Brian Walsh made the analogy of caging ideas that would get into fights in your mental zoo. If you pick ideas that work well in an ecosystem, you can let the ideas roam free and see what they become. But if your ecosystem is out of balance because it has a series of ideas which conflict, like philanthropic socialist beliefs mixed with prosperity gospel, each of which are at conflict if you explore how the concepts interact with other ideas. Prosperity gospel by its very nature implies that your characters is responsible for the abuse and neglect and suffering you face. And so by believing in it, you are basically saying that all people who cannot achieve their goals are at fault. This is a far right view and cannot coexist with say a democratic socialist view, where all people, even the disabled and elderly have inherent value outside of what they have to offer. Simply because they are experiencing how we treat them and we have concern for that experience.
This is why healthy eclectic paganism takes as much or more work than reconstructionism, you have to sort those ideas out and make them all work together, or have a series of caged ideas that never connect, the opposite of being a ‘wise one’.
Personal goals take precedence in colonial culture. When we are taught to dream big but not how to execute the achievement of those dreams, and when our personal goals aren’t reached, the level of our personal value which we ascribe to ourselves decreases.
Indigenous people generally have a sense of divinity that they are divine and that the communal potential ascribes a value to everyone beyond their production. Elders are more often than not, valued beyond their capabilities. The unable people in these societies watch and listen and collect stories and wisdom that is beyond value. Indigenous people suffer most when they see people with which they have relationships suffering. Not that colonizers don’t also, but it is often more true of our current colonized culture that people secretly say ‘I’m glad that’s not me.’ and avert their gaze when one of their acquaintances gets gravely ill. A colonizer doesn’t pay attention until his identity is threatened, and that means close friends and family are the only ones that impact them, because it impacts their mode of being.
But the indigenous reflex is compassion, the root word of which means ‘to sit’. Someone who has compassion sits with someone in their pain, not averting their gaze, but imagining the horror of it as not to let that person be alone in it. It is in this way, for indigenous people, togetherness is more important than the avoidance of pain and un-comfortability.
Evidence for this can be seen in the prevalence of Santa Muerte cults rising up everywhere. They ask the saint of death to bless their kin, and bring their dead spirits close to protect them. They put death up front, sit with it, until the mortality of everything we love in this realm is inevitable.
Compassion practices, regardless of Indo-European tradition(Buddhism/Hinduism/Heathenry/Gentlídecht/Hellenismos/etc), come with the recognition of the temporary nature of most things in the cosmos. The myths tell this tale, the traditions tell it, our rites and lives should tell it.
Wealth for Personal Gain vs Wealth for Community Experience
Wealth is attached to family in colonial America, but not in the ways it is associated with tribe in the rainforests of the Amazon. Grounds are apportioned for purpose, and there there are the villages. I don’t doubt human nature puts a few rogues in the forest, but in any society, without someone with medical knowledge being alone in the wilderness can be a death sentence on a long enough timeline. So even Rogues form their own strata of society outside of the normal, which is a society within itself. Examples of this are the Fianna, but I don’t doubt is what causes new independent warrior bands to form in the first place among any indigenous group worldwide.
Comfort Oriented instead of Capability Oriented
Instead of psychic equilibrium and equanimity being hitched to the tribe’s ability to deal with challenges, in colonizers it is tied to personal wishes and comfort. Not just bodily comfort but also how comfortable one is with issues like control and such. Colonizers must frequently escape discomfort to maintain psychological calmness. The worst of colonizer culture comes out when a colonizer is deprived of the things they rely on for psychic equanimity. This is totally separate from things that physically affect the mind like tobacco or caffeine.
Hurrying up to Wait
In colonizer culture, boredom is a result of the compartmentalization of society. Interesting things that I would witness in indigenous culture like digging a well or forging iron, I am not having to watch through television, which is designed to sell me something.
In a tribe there is no time to waste, there is always something to do, something to learn or some way to play. No time is wasted. But for the colonizer, their life is a series of hurry-up and wait. This is true for any society, but if you go further back to indigenous roots, tribes of 3000 made up of villages of 120-140, you see less of this, more cultural expressions.
Land is Property and Resources rather than the Land is a Being
At one level, it’s about the relationship to land and place. Colonial culture sees place and land as an object, and an interchangeable one at that, which can be extracted for resources. No place is special other than offering esthetic beauty. Because no place is unique, no place matters, and colonial people can go wherever they want without much sense of visceral disconnect. They move through and over, but are not part of a space.
To varying degrees a strong land connection as part of identity, both gave indigenous people their strength and early warrior band culture of claiming and defending territory as tribal populations changed. But it is an error to assume that the interconnectedness of the ecosystem, the land and the people, means that indigenous people were environmentalists. That word and concept is new, and there are cases of indigenous peoples who hunted to extinction, cannibalized people, and did other non-cooperative things.
Its important that we recognize these generalizations are widely but not wholly applied.
I’ve seen some festivals in my days and different places where people said the land was a being but didn’t ever treater her like one.
Authority vs Authenticity
There’s also a sense of authority in colonial culture, and goodness and rightness being tied to adhering to that authority. I think a lot of activist/revolutionary movements even struggle with this, as they try to have their viewpoint and methods become the authoritative and right one. This sense of authority is where internal colonization happens. The movement among people of colonial culture to decolonize *insert institution/idea here* is largely about breaking down this sense of authority.
In western culture, you’re taught that you are a singular being. Scientifically this may not be the case. There are 12 epicenters of activity in your brain, plus the meta thinking the rest of your nervous system is capable of when making impulse decisions that are all combined to make you. It gets even more complex talking about muscle memory and impulsivity. These 12 epicenters in the mind make up you as well as your whole nervous system.
There are plenty of ted talks that discuss hallucinations and the study of them. One interesting one which I’ll share is the one about how we hallucinate our perception of reality further making that thing that projects our reality onto us another internal mechanism with a mind of its own. The contents of this video suggests a long held suspicion in my mind that hallucinations are objects or agents within the mind’s mental ecosystem. This could mean that real perceptions are also painted by forces in your mind which deduct based on survival and threat. These agents within your mind learn to paint reality differently depending on how they learn from your experience.
So when I attend the Lucumi celebration blowing smoke to Elegua, and sensations come over the priestess that a western colonizer would consider feelings which come from within, and she ascribes them to ancestral spirits, I know exactly what she is talking about.
As part of my mystic experiences I had every inner thing in my psyche taken from me but my intellect, awareness an observing self with a will, and my feelings. I had no memories, no idea who Chris Godwin was, no idea of any of it. I was painfully stripped of my identifications just like in the descent of Inanna. As such, I became aware of the otherworld within, and the objective otherworld that borders that realm of psyche.
One of my experiences, the one where I went to a resort in the canyons with and there was this multiple accounts experience of ectoplasm being strewn across the room, I was rapidly sailing through my many moods. I went through the full range of selves, and realize that simple things like impulses and inner drives were these separate wills that posses me. I now try to wrangle all these wills under one Will, that single observing-feeling-intelligent self that still exists when my identity is gone and stripped.
Instead now identifying with my tribe, and knowing I’m many spirited instead of single spirited, I’m closer to what I’ve observed from local Latin indigenous sacrificial and magical traditions, specifically afro-caribbean, and therefore closer to making a dent in the work of decolonization. And decolonization, while it speaks for itself, is part of the goal of the full paganization one’s life and worldviews.
Demonization or Dismissal of Plant Guides
One of the signs that colonialism is still affecting a person, is their conception of spiritual plant guides are ‘drugs ‘. Natives are having to get arrested, go to court, and get injunctions on the free practice of their thousands year old spiritual rites, here in the States, because colonizers carry a puritan, view of substances, which is turning into a neo puritan one. Indigenous people are having to go through this to continue and fight for their culture. It is being suppressed by outside opinions that do not matter to the natives.
This is not to mention the colonizers over concern for their neighbor’s doings, rather than their actual well being.
Plant guides are one of the only reliable ways to test the mystical experience and are what I used in my practice to achieve the inspiration that illuminates. I am more sure that what I saw under the influences of plant guides was more real that the psyches of the critics. Most of it also lined up with the lore I’ve studied, and that is not something I have seen much in other bringers of UPG. So I’m sold on plant guides as an initiator for the saint and the magician alike.
No Reverence for Animal Death
If I dismembered a bull in a village center in the united states, the cops would be called. In many indigenous cultures, in south east asia, as well as african voodoo, not only is public slaughter of animals acceptable as a normal example, but as an extreme one, sometimes even ceremonial self mutilation in public is acceptable.
Indigenous people live in a different reality. When they see blood, it is a different psychic response than the one you or I have. That might seem good to you but that disconnection from nature hasn’t been good. If you each chicken and have not killed at least one chicken, you ought to consider it as a means of decolonization. Pray over it, share the feast with your gods, take its bones in your magic to lend to the might of it. It is an artificial world which provides meat in packs.
More Reading on the Topic
Frantz Fanon’s “Wretched of the Earth”
Robin Wall Kimmerer’s “Braiding Sweetgrass”
Robert MacFarlane’s “Landmarks”
Paolo Freire’s “Pedagogy of the Oppressed”
Next We’ll discuss how we build healthy communities