“we can keep on using electricity and the internet for as long as it lasts but at the same time untying our satisfaction from transactions and possessions and our religion from teachers and prophets from far away and our ethics from facebook memes.”
Judith O’Grady’s book, Gods-Speaking, is now available.
See the info link at the end of this essay.
Not for the first time, Rhyd Wildermuth recently posted about finding a way out of the mess the world’s in by recreating the pre-industrial and Pagan cultures:
“I do suspect that will require much more focus on reconstructing pre-white forms of cultural and religious identity, and hopefully moving away from the hokey, role-playing New Age ridiculousness that passes for ‘Paganism’ in America.”
This rings for me, of course, but I also see it from a slightly different angle. I am more rooted in ‘normal’ society than Rhyd. I had an extremely conventional marriage before I blew it up and emigrated..... but even at the time I described it as ‘passing for white’; not really joking, quietly serious, but knowing that I still had privilege, even if I wore it as a mask.
Now I am still a householder and, except for the blue-and-purple hair (which is fast becoming more mainstream) still look fairly ‘normal’. I am visibly handicapped but that just means that (here in Canada) I am offered help a little more often than I actually need. It’s a different kind of privilege (one not connected to power) but still I get space and consideration. Even in my privileged situation I still need spiritual connection, and I have to try to find it without appropriating from cultures I am not a part of.
Householder is, for me, the tipping point of personal religion because I garden. In gardening I have gone from being a rabid de-grasser, wildlife supporter, and native plantings proselytizer further into the mystical zone, acknowledging my Paganism by entering into communication with the Spirits of my yard and the Spirit of the tiny watershed I live in. This leads to communication and obligations undertaken for the Larger Gods, the Goddess of the Wild Animals and the Sea God, Manannán mac Lir, Whom I see as also presiding over the StLaurence Seaway, the huge watershed that my little local creek drains into.
I communicate with my surroundings and the Spirits and Gods of my surroundings as a Druid, the other half of my spirituality. These are my roots, although I selected the Irish Grandmother from Inishskea (may she be singing with the angels) from among my several mongrel-Celtic ancestry choices. While I feel that Irish Descendants might have a greater affinity for things Irish and for Druidry, I don’t think there is any non-Irishness bar against other people being drawn that way. Many people are drawn that way.... all (I hope) with good intent but some seemingly with nothing but a love of intricate squiggly lines and Deities with few but provocative clothes on.
Because of the Great Hunger in Ireland and the enclosures in Scotland there are a seemingly infinite number of people who have what they call ‘Celtic’ roots. But, like ‘shaman’, they are using the word incorrectly. ‘Celtic’ is a group of languages; all of the nations or once-nations of Ireland, Scotland, Wales, Cornwall, The Isle of Man, and Brittany speak or once spoke a related language. Their cultures and world-view are a little similar but not at all interchangeable. So when I say that I am mongrel-Celtic I am saying that, as well as my grandmother (light shine on her) I also have, further back in time, Welsh and a little Scottish ancestry. I focus on the Irish, which means that I know more about Lugh than about Liew but I know that they are not the same, not conflatable.
So there it is: the languages are a group named Celtic by modern philologists but the nations are all distinct with different pantheons and cultures but similar bitter histories. All of the Gaelic-speaking nations suffered at the hands of invasive foreigners. They were made to be not citizens, or not really human (not compared to the people who had the foot on their neck), or not capable of culture and understanding. They were excluded from governing themselves and ruled over by people who, to the modern supremacist eye, were equally or almost as ‘white’ as the people they were subjugating. But that’s not the rule that was being applied; that rule didn’t exist. The ruling class were ‘French’ or ‘WASP’ or ‘Norman’ or ‘British’ or (going way back) ‘Roman’ and the losing people were savages or underclass.
Perhaps because of the near-whiteness of the Celtic peoples, cultural appropriation doesn’t seem to apply. People don’t feel the slightest inhibition in picking ‘Celtic’ as their religion-of-choice or in picking over the cultures for cool shit.....
for the love of all that’s holy!!, JUST PICK ONE!
Your ‘spirituality’ can’t be ‘Celtic’— it can be Irish, Scottish, Welsh, Manx, or Breton.
BUT DON’T MIND ME, people don’t feel the slightest inhibition either in wearing plastic bowler hats and twinkling shamrock necklaces on the day and making jokes about the drunkenness or, gods bless us, the fucking potatoes.......
!!!STOP IT! STOP IT! NO ONE WANTS TO HEAR THE IRISH RANT!!!
Since I communicate with my surroundings as a Diaspora Irish Druid, the Beings who answer back come to me through the glass of Irishness. I don’t think that Manannán mac Lir and only He is in charge of the Seaway nor that no other than Flidais can be in charge of the urban wildings*; that is just how They appear to me. They will appear differently to other people. I also don’t wonder much about ‘is there one Seaway God who looks different to different people or do all the different Gods share? How do They decide Who gets to represent what lake or mountain? If many, are They good at getting along? If not, Who adjudicates?’ because my head is already full enough, thankyouverymuch.
Maintaining and tending a large perennial garden and organizing, planting, and weeding annual vegetables and flowers is, on the one hand, time-consuming and labour intensive (a shout-out and thanks here to the people who actually do the labour for me, I merely supervise and have ideas and plans). On the other hand, it is grounding in more than the physical sense. I have watched people move through ‘doing the work for Judith’ to the perception of the actual Work, to hearing the World Song singing in the trees. The satisfaction of growing something yourself (great as it is) is as nothing compared to laying your hand on the sun-warmed living dirt and hearing Her say, “Yes?”.
On the gripping hand, not everybody has to take up gardening. All of this is just one facet of what Rhyd describes as turning away from capitalism-as-meaning. Although there are monetary transactions between me and the seed and plant producers and I pay the labourers as much as I can the majority of interactions are non-transactional— things grow; we watch them and are glad, we tend them and they are glad. Finding personal and spiritual meaning in things that are non-monetary is the turning point by which we can face a different direction, one that might not end in the destruction of humankind.
As a different example, I own a lot of clothes. Although I assuage my conscience by telling myself that they are made from natural renewable fibres and I wear them until worn out (another side benefit of gardening is wearing shabby clothes) and I mend and re-make things as well as use household rags. But it was a long struggle for me to wean myself off the fleeting but real pleasure of buying things, something just as addictive as the proffered free drink was to my alcoholic ex-husband.
Sure, buying from the artists and crafters in person is better than buying from China via facebook ads but making and trading or having my extended family and friends asking and me giving is better still. But better as a complete system only if everyone had guaranteed living subsidies, universal health care, comfortable living spaces, safe communities....
Until that happens, we can carry on buying things (some of them from artists and crafters) as well as produce and goods from not-here at the grocery and other stores while also sharing as much as we can and helping out with what’s possible for us to do. While we carry on with far-flung connections we can also start finding a friends group that is local. And we can keep on using electricity and the internet for as long as it lasts but at the same time untying our satisfaction from transactions and possessions and our religion from teachers and prophets from far away and our ethics from facebook memes.
Lore tells me that the Ancient Irish identified five (or 7 or 9 but let’s not get carried away) directions, the four cardinal ones and ‘where you are’ (aka here). My take-away message from that is to begin where you find yourself. ‘I am myself, this is my home-place, these are my family, friends, and associates......’. Also to identify the not-human Beings with whom you interact, and if you don’t already then find a way to start. Finally to identify yourself with Mother Earth and humanity, and to find your place, to be really grounded. At ground level is where we should begin to build our spiritual towers. In lore and cultural immersion is where we perceive our personal identification. From communication and prolonged interaction is how we decide what Gods or Spirits we are dedicated to or connected with.
Start small, just do one thing. Then see where it goes.
*I'm aware of the question of Her ancient/modern conflation as such but in my book any Goddess who can give Her son the ability to milk deer ‘as if they were cows’ qualifies.
is an elderly Druid (Elders are trees, neh?) living on a tiny urban farm in Ottawa, Canada. She speaks respectfully to the Spirits, shares her home and environs with insects and animals, and fervently preaches un-grassing yards and repurposing trash (aka ‘found-object art’).