Monday, August 02, 2004

Missing History: Why Pagans Borrow From Other Faiths

I am planning to write a piece on the sacred nature of circles, using a quite from Black Elk, a Holy Man of the Oglala Sioux tribe. Before I do I feel I must make some comments about history. I hate quoting Native Americans because I feel like we (by we I mean specifically white people) have either exterminated or appropriated everything of value from the Native American cultures. I am not crazy about seeing how much Paganism borrows from Native American spiritual practices; I get very uncomfortable with it. I have friends who are part Native American and I have much less problem with their involvement in this spirituality. For me personally, even though I am adopted and do not know my genetic or cultural background, I can look in a mirror and I will bet you anything that if I have a genetic test done, there will not be a single drop of Native American blood flowing through my system. Not one.

I am pale skinned with copper hair and hazel eyes. Freckles dot my arms. Obviously, my parents must have come from Nigeria. No, seriously, I would bet anything that I am either Scottish or Irish. Maybe I’m a mix of both. There is not much in my physiology that speaks of the Saxons or of the Scandinavians either. I do wonder wonder how Celtic I am, seeing as how the Romans described the Celts as being dark haired. However, the Celts were not one uniform people, they were a loosely affiliated tribal culture.

Maybe I am Tuatha de Danann, a child of the Goddess Danu, descended from the original inhabitants of Ireland. Whatever the case may be, I see myself as an American mutt with a Celtic background. So I try to practice a Celtic spirituality as best I can.

This presents something of a problem though. Long before white people committed themselves to the annihilation of Native Americans they had successfully almost annihilated the Celtic culture. As much as I admire the Romans and what they did to bring language, roads, writing and more to all of Europe, their armies swept aside centuries of Celtic culture and erased millennia of oral tradition. With axes, fire and spears they razed the groves on the Isle of Anglesey and slaughtered the Druids. After the Romans on the continent the Germanic tribes took the place of the Celtic tribes (my knowledge of history does not contain a good understanding of how this displacement happened—were the Franks a true Germanic tribe or a Celtic tribe subsumed by Germanic culture?). In England the Anglo-Saxons were followed by the Normans in conquering the island. During all of this, of course, the Christianization of the few remaining Celtic lands, Brittany, Ireland, Wales and Scotland, was taking place.

As if all of that was not enough, the Catholic Church essentially erased Celtic Christianity in 1172 when the Synod of Cashel ended the Celtic Christianity, putting them under the rule of Rome. But by that point there was little to erase, previous synods and councils had already eroded the Celtic influence significantly.

The upshot of all of this history is simply this: I have very little historical information upon which I can base my practice of Celtic spirituality. Even the information I have is not always helpful. I don’t plan on explaining to the Garland police that I have to stuff a giant wicker man full of convicted felons so I can burn them alive as an offering to the gods (although with the sickeningly gratuitous way Texas uses the death penalty it seems almost hypocritical that the state would object).

Even beyond this, the myth of there being a time of peace in which one great universal mother goddess was worshipped has been shown be at least partially a combination of wishful thinking and shoddy scholarship. There may have well been matriarchical societies, but it is likely that many of the males in those societies chipped rock tools with the intent of smashing other human skulls with those tools. Not exactly the peaceful society proposed by proponents of the universal mother goddess theory. Again there is little record of the worship of the more ancient of the female deities, Astarte, Inanna and the like. It is more than a little upsetting to read the Old Testament in the Bible and read about the Hebrews massacring those who practiced these faiths. Yahweh is a jealous god indeed.

I think this is why Pagans and Wiccans often have to borrow significant portions of their cosmology and philosophy from Native American and Eastern religions . . . we just don’t have much to go on and most of the little we have was written by the exterminators of these faiths.