I’m not going to post about St Patrick’s Day again this year. My thoughts on that subject are much the same as they were last year (well, maybe a little more pro-Patrick – apparently ignorant Pagans villanising an Irish hero make me like him more!) And if you want to read something thoughtful on that subject, try this year’s Patheos Pagan post on St Paddy’s Day – I don’t agree with every word there, but it’s a good attempt at dispelling myths. Just don’t talk about this ‘All Snakes’ Day’ nonsense in my presence, OK? I’m celebrating my ancestors today, not a fiction that’s been created to make people feel better because they don’t like Christians and are in denial about the strong Catholic presence in the actual real Ireland (not the fairytale one you made up)…
But this post is not about thoughtless people around the world – but mostly not in Ireland – talking rubbish about an Irish saint. This is a post about privilege. (And also just about cultural differences – I will try to draw a line between the two.)
There’s been a lot of talk of privilege in the Pagan blogosphere recently. No one’s talking about what, in my humble opinion, is one of the biggest forms of privilege in online Paganism – North American privilege. Forgive me if I rant about privilege for a little bit. I’m not trying to be mean to anyone, or to put anyone’s back up. I’m trying to say what it feels like to be non-American in internet-based greater Pagandom.
It is entirely possible to be a ‘Celtic Pagan’ and engage in cultural misappropriation. I’ve seen people basically saying things along the lines of “Oh, I wouldn’t worship [name of deity] because they’re from a culture I don’t know much about, but Brighid is Irish, and my sixteenth great-grandfather was Irish, so that could never be cultural misappropriation.” Bollocks.
Firstly, lumping Welsh, Scottish, Irish, Manx and Cornish together and calling it ‘Celtic’ could be seen as cultural misappropriation. I certainly see it as racism. Scotland is not Ireland. Their cultures are not similar. In the past they may have shared cultural similarities based on movement of tribes. Today they are really very different. If you don’t know that Cerridwen is from an entirely different culture from Lugh, you need to do some reading and talk to some modern Welsh and Irish people.
Secondly, pretending Irish history ends with the arrival of Christianity could be seen as cultural misappropriation, and I see that as racism, too. (This also goes for assuming that the only important thing to come out of Wales was the medieval Mabinogi, or that Cornish culture is nothing more than romantic notions of country witchcraft.) People who pretend that Ireland is a magical fairyland that has disappeared into the sidhe and is now forever lost in the mists are being really, really offensive. It’s a living culture. It still exists. It is not your medieval fairyland depiction. Yes, if you go to Ireland you will see statues of Mary everywhere, and you may find that uncomfortable. Go anyway, and sit with your discomfort. This is Irish culture – not the stuff you’ve made up. Learn the difference.
There are things I could add for a thirdly and a fourthly and a fifthly, but I shall stop ranting and get to my point.
Here’s the point I was initially planning to make…
Most Gaelic/Celtic recon is, if we’re really honest, very North American. (I suspect that most recon in general is very American. It’s certainly not something that I’ve encountered in Britain, at least offline.) It’s not even just Irish-in-diaspora — it’s Irish-in-American-diaspora. This makes a lot of it seem very odd to me as Anglo-Irish, and no doubt it seems even more alien to people who are home-grown Irish. Here are just a few things that I find culturally alien in American Gaelic polytheism:
- A non-land-focused approach. My CR/GP is about the land. Well, lands, plural, in my case. For me personally, mythology comes second, as it’s mainly medieval. Talking of which:
- A highly literalist approach that elevates myth to the position of a bible. (Medieval myth. That was written by Christians.) That feels very alien to me. I’m not sure if that’s because I’m European, or a personal thing.
- An approach that tries to unify pre-Christian Ireland into one country, and (even more confusing to me) tries to unify pre-Christian Irish belief into one set of beliefs. Which leads to “What do we [GPs] believe about this?” questions that are impossible for me to try to answer, because the premise behind them is culturally alien to me.
- A majority of believers who have never been to Ireland or Britain, but who don’t acknowledge that there are therefore some things they will see VERY differently to people in Ireland and Britain. (No group is ‘better’ here. But things are very different.)
- An approach that privileges academia over mysticism in a way that doesn’t work for me at all. I’m very academic. I want my religion to be rooted in good scholarship. But there are other things besides academia. Other things that I’m called to. Not least because of my own cultural background.
The Pagan path of today that feels most Brythonic to me (although definitely not Gaelic) is modern British druidry. The ‘British’ qualifier is necessary because British druidry is TOTALLY different from US druidry – something that is rarely acknowledged over on the other side of the pond. (I’m always being told what druidry is like. The assertions usually come from a place where the speaker is familiar with exactly one kind of druidry – ADF druidry. That is by no means the only kind of druidry out there. OBOD is *much* bigger than ADF, if we’re just playing a numbers game. But still the assertions are made, using terminology that comes from Americans and based in situations that I don’t recognise.) British druidry is incredibly flexible and fluid. It is NOT ‘mesopagan’ or whatever Isaac Bonewits called it (presumably without having met many British druids), but it’s nothing like American neopagan druidry. It is very Pagan, but it’s very uniquely *British Pagan*. Modern British druidry is becoming its own thing, its own tradition almost – a new generation that has followed *after* revival druidry, rooted in it, but going in entirely different, entirely new directions. It is often very Brythonic, with a peculiarly British kind of polytheism that defies theistic definitions, but which ultimately doesn’t have to be about the gods (and often isn’t), because these are gods who emerge from the land, and you can believe in the land (and have relationship with it) without worrying about your theology. A lot of this is what I sort of imagine the Brythonic tribespeople were like – especially the non-priests among them. Ironic that a very real-life hearth-and-land spirituality has emerged from something called ‘druidry’, but it strikes me that that’s what it is for most practitioners. A few are on more of a priestly path, but only with the constant consent of their community. It is very non-hierarchical, very modern Pagan, very British.
And, yes, I get tired of having it complained about – mostly by North Americans – as not scholarly enough. From a perspective that really doesn’t understand where modern British druidry is coming from.
Druidry is my larger community. But I’m not sure if I can call myself a modern druid. Not yet, anyway. Partly that’s because of the misconceptions the term engenders, but that’s not the only reason. But that would be another journal entry entirely. The point is that I’m looking for a Gaelic path that works with this modern Brythonic one. And I’m not sure the answer is American-style Gaelic reconstructionism. So what is it?
Could there ever be a more European flavour of Gaelic reconstructionism? What would it look like?
I was going to do some more rambling, about self-sufficiency and the idea that everyone has to do everything (including learning all the myths and having a good understanding of the archeology and knowing the language fluently), but this post is already mega-long. Stick around for part 2, on extreme self-sufficiency and (dis)ableism and intellectual privilege, when I get round to finishing that part…