Look To Your Past
One of the most controversial stances today in the Neo-Pagan Community surrounds the adoption of Amerindian and other aboriginal ceremonies as authentic paths for those who are not of Amerindian or aboriginal descent. When Europeans first landed on the shores of North and South America en masse, the exotic and “unnatural” ways of these people may have struck a chord that resonated with some Europeans. At this time, Europeans were only familiar with Christianity, and all else was “of the devil.” Naturally some people who were beneficent towards the tribes may have eventually found themselves adopted and taught the path of whatever tribe adopted them. It eventually became a crime in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries in the United States of America tantamount to treason to “go Indian.” The fate of many tribes followed one of four courses:
1. Many tribes were wiped out.
2. Many that survived found themselves and their subsequent generations adopting “American ways” and indoctrinated with Christianity, also taking up “Christian names.”
3. Many fought and were relocated from their homelands to western deserts.
4. Many merely surrendered and tried to reconcile their own beliefs, integrating Christian doctrines into their own while attempting to maintain some sort of independence.
With the merger of the Hippie and New Age movements in the 1960’s within the States, many books began to be released on the market that introduced Eastern and pseudo-aboriginal concepts into the American spiritual scene. Naturally a new type of imperialism began taking place. In this new form of conquering, Amerindian Tribes found their spiritual teachings bastardized by “white culture, ” ironically at the same time that the Neo-Pagan movement was also budding.
Sadly, what was meant to be a Spiritual Renaissance for those of European descent instead became a fast track where modern American cultural norms (e.g. instant results, eclectic spirituality, and a dogmatic “I have a right to this” attitude) rooted in centuries of Christian imperialism gained a new avenue to glamorize and steal from Amerindian tribes what was not theirs. Terms like “Shaman” became new catch words to describe those that attended weekend seminars, wore crystals and painted their bodies.
Cloaked within the White Light of the New Age is the insult of ancient ancestors which are linked inexorably to the Tribes whose Elders are fighting to preserve the remains of their people; their homes having been taken, their languages lost and their people massacred in the name of the white man’s “progress.” With the 1993 Lakota Declaration of War against Exploiters of Lakota Spirituality, the Tribal Elders of various Tribal cultures and Tribal religions have reinforced the closure of their doors. To force open the doors of another culture is a practice that is relegated to the inherent dominance of the Abrahamic faiths, not the Pagan.
Some of the justifications for cultural theft are:
Q: But what if I believe I was an Indian in my past life?
A: Sorry, but many Native American religions don’t incorporate reincarnation. Regardless if they did, that was a past life…it’s over and you have this one.
Q: But what if something speaks to me in that path?
A: You will find a parallel form in your own heritage. There are plenty of Reconstructionist paths available for those of European descent so that Wica is not the only option anymore (and, with a bit of research, never was) . There is Strix, Strega, Asatru, Druidry, Hermetic, Kemetic and more. These cultural religions and philosophies in the West are open for Europeans to journey and find meaning. It may be that what you are seeing may resonate with you because your ancestors performed something similar.
Q: But so-and-so said they were taught by Medicine people and, for a fee, will also teach me to help improve my life…is this wrong?
A: Unless they are a genuine Tribal Elder, I encourage you to do some research into your supposed “teacher.” Tribal Elders, if you are adopted and taught their ways (which take decades by the way) , never will charge a fee to teach. Many false shamans see the profits and none are ever shared with any Native American Communities.
Q: What if I feel “Indian” at heart?
A: By all means admire the beauty and culture of the Tribal people, but respect and courtesy should be given when it is not your heritage.
We Pagans should have different ethics in order to help build bridges. As an example, we as a Community have held the sins of the Church at its feet: murdering and killing many who were, rightly or falsely, accused of Witchcraft. We demanded the Church acknowledge its erroneous ways and beg pardon. This was done in 1999, and the late Pope John Paul II heard the cries of the wronged and declared a papal apology in 2000. As a reminder, the late Pope said:
“…Christians have often denied the Gospel; yielding to a mentality of power, they have violated the rights of ethnic groups and peoples, and shown contempt for their cultures and religious traditions…”
The Pagan Community cheered and clapped in the Pope’s response, and even more respect was garnered for the late Pope John Paul II.
Yet, here we are in 2010 and the Pagan Community has committed the same sins for the past 50 years. We observe Tribal Elders and spiritual leaders offer tobacco, asperge with sage and chant with feathers. We watch their masked ceremonies and listen to their singing, all the while believing we can adopt and adapt something we see without any inclination as to the “why” behind the rituals.
We build Medicine Wheels on our front lawn believing that we have a right to that heritage. We take pseudo-Indian names such as “Running Buffalo Horns” and think nothing of it. Sadly, and naively, we talk about the “Native American path, ” “Native American religion, ” and “Native American culture.” We talk about the beauty and purity of the “Native American belief system, ” like we are describing some new pet breed.
There is no such thing as “Native American culture, ” “Native American religion, ” and a “Native America path.” There are Native American cultures, Native American religions, and Native America paths. Each tribe differs greatly from one to the next.
In Neo-Paganism in general, ancestral veneration is not given any preeminence. Carl Jung’s idea of “archetypes” has neatly found itself in our Community so that we talk about “THE God” and “THE Goddess.” I find Dion Fortune oft-quoted, “All the Gods are One God, and all the Goddesses are One Goddess, and there is but One Initiator.” A lovely quote, but misplaced. Dion also emphasized that people should look to their own roots to find true occult virtue.
You see, Tribal Spiritualities are all about the Community over the Individual (unlike many solitary Western Neo-Pagan paths) , and the Mighty Spirits and Powers that are reverenced in Native American religions are deified Ancestral spirits. Rites, rituals, chants and dances are done to live out the mythos and deeds of that Tribes’ ancestors. If you are not of that blood, why are you reverencing ancestors that are not your own? Can it not be said that someone who steals part of a heritage that one has not been privy to is actually disrespecting the heritage you come from? Basically, you’re telling your own ancestors, “You’re not good enough for me.”
The Jungian view of archetypes has no place in Native American religions. They evolved along a different occult current and are rooted in land and ancestors, blood and bone. What does your own blood call to you? What do your bones sing?
We Pagans constantly talk about the sins of the Church, and how we should “harm none” (regardless if we’re Wiccan or not) and respect all life. Yet here we are stealing what is not ours, and not looking to our own ancestors for what our own blood and bones holds dear. Our own power lies in our heritage. Many say, “Well, what if I am Welsh, Greek, Italian and Spanish? Which is my path?” My response is: all of it. They are all Indo-European. In our modern society there is no excuse with the plethora of Native European Spiritualities why we should steal someone else’s heritage, which is not ours.
I encourage our Community to not be hypocritical and disrespect the ethnic cultures of the land we live on. I encourage our Community to have open dialogue and build bridges with the Native American tribes (and others) so that we can change the tide of our Imperialist past. If we truly believe in peace and respect, then we will do so by cultivating Wisdom, Integrity, Truth, Courage and Honor in our own lives.
I encourage everyone to look to our own past, beyond the past 2, 000 years of Christianity, and remember that we were once tribal and had a culture to speak of. Unlike the Amerindian Tribes, the Western Pagan faiths have their doors open so we can seek our Gods and Ancestors to reverence again.
May the Blessing of the Lord and Lady guide you upon the Starry Path of Enlightenment.
http://www.newagefraud.org/. Retrieved April 19, 2010.
Brown, Michael F. “Who Owns Native Culture?” Retrieved from http://www.williams.edu/go/native/index.htm
Orrin. “Seeking Native American Spirituality: Read This First!” Retrieved from http://www.native-languages.org/religion.htm.
Fortune, Dion. (2000) . The Training and Work of an Initiate. York Beach, ME: Samuel Weiser.
Fortune, Dion. (2001) . What is Occultism? York Beach, ME: Samuel Weiser.