Coming to Belong Here

Coming to Belong Here May 16, 2018
(c)2018 Samuel Wagar Elders marching at the head of March for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, Edmonton 2017.


Wicca is a settler religion, just like the Christians, Sikhs, Jews, and others, not native to this Land. But we are not an imperialist religion, and not a universalist religion – we don’t believe that we are right and everyone else is wrong, but we also don’t believe that our Goddesses and Gods are separate and apart from the land where we live. So, it is important that we connect ourselves to these places where we live – introduce ourselves to the spirits of the first peoples, to these mountains, that river, the nearby power places. We need to both introduce ourselves to them and to ask their permission to be here and help to come to belong. And a vitally important part of that spiritual journey must include justice and reconciliation with Indigenous peoples.

We do not need to be prisoners of the past, but we cannot deny the past and pretend that it is not here in the present. We can look to our shared and our separate histories, those which brought us here and now, as a storehouse of resources, stories, inspiration, to draw upon together in shaping the present and future. We can decide which resources to bring forward. There are many potential futures – we choose together which ones become actual and which we experience.

We cannot think only in universals without destroying the local and the specific experiences which give the universal ideas a home. At the end of European imperialism, however, the seeds of European, Asian and African thought and experience mingled here in this new land, alongside the Indigenous insights and relationships that could not be completely destroyed, and they are gifts to all of us, gifts and potentials for new relationships to the Land and to each other.

(c) 2018 Samuel Wagar Procession at start of Beltaine Faire Edmonton May 12th 2018.

What we must have is a hybridization, based in respectful learning and exploration, bringing the spiritual tools from our various Ancestors together with this Land where we are (each of us in our own places). Let me pause here to recommend post-colonial theoretician Homi Bhabha’s writing on hybridity. We should not pretend to have a pure culture-free, history-free, experience or attempt to recreate either the pre-contact religion of the local First Nation or to appropriate its insights for our use. Our understanding of the divine expressed in this land can be real if we open ourselves to be changed by the land, and with some understanding in our story of all the other stories that have explained this land and the people here. It is racist to steal First Nations tradition and claim that we have the right to it, but also a mistake to deny the possibility of belonging here to non-Indigenous people.

When I look back a hundred years to my occult ancestors in the Theosophical Society I see an openness that is inspiring: “Not only everything that human beings have done here, but every natural phenomenon and event is daily shaping our outlook and influencing us. We are continuing to shape and to make and remake our national consciousness – let us choose how we will remake it. This accomplishment is in both what we do and how we are as a people together.” (F. B. Housser, “Some Thoughts on National Consciousness,” Canadian Theosophist 8, no. 5 (1927)

The mountains reaching their hands in love toward the sky are like the mountains where our ancestors were. By bringing a new story to add to the stories that have been told about those mountains, and a new song to echo through their woods, we add ourselves as inhabitants of this landscape. By harvesting food here and treating it with respect, we gain permission to eat the food of this Land, to nourish ourselves and to belong here. Eating and drinking, we make an everlasting pact with the Land and its spirits.

Far away from the graves of our ancestors nonetheless the air we breathe is the same as the air that carried their voices. Let this air be the air of home. This fire in our hearth is the same fire as the hearth fires in all homes of our people. This sacred fire burning in the centre of our home is all fires and creates this as a home of our people. By calling to the spirits of this Land to know us as their children we bring in our bodies and blood and in our breath, the Ancestors from other lands. We bring the stories and the Gods and heroes of other places, here to the land, not as conquerors but as a necessary part of who we are. We add these stories to the stories that are already told here – the stories of our peoples’ great journeys to come here, the stories of our Gods to add richness to the stories already here, and to find places in this landscape for our sacred groves and our high places for meditation, our holy wells and sacred springs, not to replace but to add to the store of holy places.

(c) 2018 Samuel Wagar Personal Holy Place.

We bring ourselves and our various gifts of culture and religion, technique and genetics, language and song, our clothing and food. We bring them so that we can together create a new thing. We come to become inhabitants on the land, not conquerors but native.

May we go forward as the conscious voice, eyes and hands of the spirits of this place. May we build together in harmony and may what we bring from our Ancestors and from their homelands enrich this new homeland. May we return to the Earth what we receive from Her, may this earth feed us and receive our bodies on death. May we make love often and may we love even more often. May the waters of the ocean receive the sunset, may we see the beauty of this place, and may we always add to its beauty. May we achieve what we desire. May we desire the right things. May our passion for justice awaken, and may we make a good and a just peace with the descendants of the original peoples of this land, our sisters and brothers.

About Samuel Wagar
I've been doing this Witch thing for a long time (since 1982) but I'm still having fun. Now that I'm an old fart, my focus has switched from doing a lot of things to mentoring, teaching, and writing. I'm a chaplain at University of Alberta, in charge of the Congregationalist Wiccan Assembly of Alberta's clergy training program, and the dean of the baby Edmonton Wiccan Seminary. You can read more about the author here.
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  • Allanah Walker

    This post talks a lot about bringing ourselves and our stories (as settlers) to this land and adding to the existing spirits and stories. The latter part reads very much like a benediction or blessing (which is not a bad thing, don’t get me wrong!). But I’d like to see more discussion around how to work with and alongside the practices and the spirits that are indigenous to this space. What does a respectful and non-appropriative approach look like? How do we come in as settlers and have conversations with indigenous people to work in harmony with local practices and in alignment with traditional knowledge?

    These are questions I’ve pondered for some time now as a newer pagan. I have not felt comfortable working with deities that were native to the lands of my ancestors across the ocean because they did not reflect my experience of this land and this place – so how to build a relationship with the spirits that are native to the lands under my feet? What do we do to get to the hybridization that you speak of above? I brought these questions to a recent Truth and Reconciliation workshop for Indigenous and non-Indigenous people and would like to share what I learned, if you would indulge me 🙂

    1) Acknowledge the past (as you say above). Learn the history of the people who lived on this land before Europeans arrived and what happened to them. In Canada, this means bearing witness to the truth of generations of systemic racism, oppression, and the legacy of inter-generational trauma and cultural genocide inflicted by government policy and the residential school system.

    2) Learn what you can from local Indigenous people, but take on the responsibility of educating yourself. Find local authors, read books (Which books? Always a good question 🙂 ), go to museums and cultural centres. Attend ceremony if invited. And always approach with a humble and open heart. (this was one of my biggest take-aways from this workshop. Be open, listen much, and be prepared to see your practices as the “strange” ones).

    3) Understand that not everyone is going to be open to you, and that is okay. Be prepared to sit with other people’s anger and hurt. There’s a lot of bad things that have gone down in our collective history. Unfortunately the reality is that pagans and other new-age affiliated folks have a habit of cultural appropriation and taking spiritual practices out of context and using them to turn a profit, when in recent history indigenous folks often were punished with fines or jail for doing the same things (i.e. the potlach laws on the west coast). If you are willing to sit, listen, and yes, take anger and hurt, and still act from a place of respect and love – these are the steps that will bring us into better relationship with each other and in turn with the land it’s spirits.

    I learned a lot of other things from that workshops, and still have a million more questions, but I think I’ll end it here as this is starting to turn into a blog post of it’s own 😉

  • Samuel Wagar

    Good stuff, Allanah. I think of my post as the start of the conversation, not an end. I have some ideas and some things I’ve been doing over the years. We should chat, perhaps collaborate on a blog post or two around this. I began with the discomfort that you expressed of how to connect with the gods and my ancestors here in this new place and to be spiritually in tune with this Land, and how to not just rip off Indigenous people in order to connect. Every culture and tradition, if you dig back, has ways of honouring the spirits of the land. There are also ways of hospitality to the stranger, the visitor, and of adopting them into the people. The walls around cultures are permeable, people learn from each other and adapt and that’s a very good thing. But gifts must be given freely and accepted freely, and that’s a mark of appreciation rather than appropriation.