Being Pagan on Stolen Indigenous Lands
Part 1 — Land: Being Pagan on Stolen Indigenous Lands
Three-Part Series on Irish Paganism in America
On Samhain 2019 I took vows to serve the land, folk, and gods as a dedicant pagan priest. Over the last year I’ve had constant questions whispering in my ear: what land? what people? what god(s)?
The gods of what land?
The gods of what people?
The land of what people?
The land of what gods?
The people of what land?
The people of which gods?
Which ones do I choose to serve, aid, and help? And whom/what will be excluded due to the nature of this choice? Which ones will choose me? What relationships will emerge?
Thankfully, I found Lora O’Brien at the Irish Pagan School while I was searching for a deeper kind of education not entrenched in American individualism. As of March it will be a year of studying with a Túath, a community of people all over the globe, and will have completed about 30 courses (about 3 a month) …with a few still in the process of finishing.
The overarching theme at the school is an emphasis on relationship, what is called right-relationship: the importance of organic symbiotic relationship, i.e. respect and solidarity. So what does right-relationship mean in the context of being white and pagan in the Americas? What does it mean to honestly honour and respect the Land from a earth-based religious perspective? How does a pagan priest-to-be even begin this process? How does well anyone, from the fledgling acolyte to the well-seasoned Archdruid?
We could talk about the mechanisms and methodologies. The practical skills I have learned and have applied. The technical to-do list that can appeal to our American transactional norms.
But today what i really want to write about is the many layers of fuckery we American-pagans have to come to terms with.
Honestly. Radically. Truthfully. Things many neopagans do not like to do.
Because let’s face it, for all our talk of shadow work, many white pagans specifically have not invested at all in the last four+ years on the fundamental shadow work of antiracism. We are all too easy to give into spiritual bypassing, so traumatised perhaps by monotheistic upbringings (Christonormativity at its finest) that any discussion, any call for critical thinking about our practices and by extension where those practices come from is shot down without prejudice.
Pagans do not like to be told what to do or how to do it. Though we are perfectly fine with just that: roaming countless bookstore shelves filled with bastardised works of white cishet men and women telling us just where to begin. Always for solitary practitioners who live without a safety net, without a spiritual community to ask questions and advice. Gullible people with plenty of money to spend at the chance to gain a bit of power and magic, but very little for reparations. Every New Age book is rife with appropriated half-truths pulled out of context, and outright lies designed to glamour legitimacy and social power within the multi-billion-dollar industry, and too many lap it up like greedy kittens to a saucer of milk.
Being solitary does have the added exciting benefit to hide from accountability. So people are happy to be by themselves. Whether it is due to internalised shame or fear of being written out of a conservative aunt Ruth’s will, white pagans fear true visibility and responsibility, but are all too quick to use the ancient white proverb: “I’m spiritual but not religious.” Yes, i will say it again, white pagans fear visibility because with visibility comes responsibility.
And the hardest of hard responsibilities is to grapple with the fact that as earth-worshipping practitioners, devotees, and clergy; our gods are not indigenous to these lands. Our white gods and saints are colonisers. Cultural hegemony in America is brutally innovative and persistent and occultism is not untouched by the kyriarchy. Whether we like to admit it or not, white paganisms are more accepted than the feared Black paganisms and whitewashed Indigenous worldviews because white paganisms are connected to white dominant ethnicities and are celebrated with nationalist pride nostalgia. They may not be as powerfully accepted as monotheistic gods, but white paganisms (with our folklore and stories ingrained into dominant culture) still function as symbolic extensions of white supremacy. By and through us on stolen Indigenous Lands, our Gods and spirits are of unequal relationship to Indigenous ones. These Lands are diametrically opposed because this is Native Land and always will be.
Because it is Land with history. Land with history being made as we speak. Land that is currently still colonised and exploited. Land whose peoples were forcefully moved and still rendered invisible via cultural imperialism, marginalisation, and state-sponsored violence. Land that continues to suffer genocide. Land that deserves going beyond Land Acknowledgements. Land that deserves right-relationship. Land worthy of the offering of our time and thought and love. A radical queer love based in solidarity.
The more I think about it the Irish Gods are land specific. In Irish paganism, the Gods are intrinsically connected to Irish rivers, mountains, streams, springs, ponds, lakes, and lands. Many are even thought to be anthropomorphic representations of the sovereign land and water spirits themselves. Others are very humanesque though they transmigrate and change form to various animals, not only the human kind. They might not always be limited by that land either; but I do think that they recognise other God’s and spirit’s homes of equal sovereignty as they share spaces and times in their own realms within the Otherworld. But what of those they see as lesser? There does seem to be a hierarchy of their own, though I find it hard to comprehend and bring words to describe, and I shant think their hierarchies are anything like those of our human making.
So what do they do here on stolen land? What purpose do they hold here as part of the diaspora traditions and New Age fakelore? Besides our own selfish and self-centered needs and wants (if they answer) what might be their agendas on stolen Indigenous lands?
I like to believe they’d do what an honest Irish person would do: help them gain their sovereignty back. With white paganisms being once again weaponised for cultural imperialism and fascist nationalist “pure” folk traditions that have been proven to be racist and sexist cults of the white cisheteropatriarchy, I like to believe they’d want us to fight alongside the oppressed. The Irish know colonisation all too well, it’s been 852 years to be exact, and is in fact very much still in effect. This is but one of many reasons I believe that our Irish ancestors and siblings across the Atlantic have helped and continue to help the American Indian Movement as well as other global liberation movements, and also why so many of us continue to stand up for what is right.
This is why I believe our Irish gods and ancestors have shunned those Irish-American and Irish-Canadian immigrant families who have assimilated and become union busters, become police, who have betrayed and turned their backs on our Black and Indigenous siblings. Who have dishonoured the spirit of Éire by becoming the coloniser instead of comrades for sovereignty and liberation.
So, I ask you, what are your white Gods’ relationships to stolen Indigenous Land? Have you asked? Who are the people you will choose to serve and help? Have you bothered to reconcile that these stolen Indigenous Lands were forced to support a white empire on the backs of enslaved Black labour? And still is? Might you see now that alcohol was a weapon of Indigenous genocide? Perhaps now you might know why offering whiskey to these Lands in the name of our white gods who are whole continents away would be problematic at least and disrespectful at worst.
I ask as a reminder to myself as someone who did not have any of the above considerations in junior high school when I was introduced to Silver Ravenwolf in the early 2000s. *Deep inhale* But now I know better because I have listened with empathy and have a firmer understanding of Irish gods and Lands. And I’m still learning.
This means realising that Indigenous Lands are not for us to keep colonising, and Indigenous Cultures are not commodities to be shaped into businesses. They are not for us to create elite social clubs or abuse as white pagan opportune hobbyists. This means unpacking our entitled colonial thinking that just because we suffer/ed and have been/are being exploited does not give us the right to exploit the Land and others and appropriate and take practices out of context to serve our own purposes. Trauma does not excuse the trauma we commit to others.
Being pagan on stolen Indigenous Land means breaking generational curses that have been 500+ years in the making. All it takes is the courage to stand arms linked together until we are all free. By putting an end to the fuckery wherever we encounter it, layer by layer; and by finally accepting that there are paths forward together.
Afterall, water is wet and water is life. So let’s help put #LandBack into Indigenous hands, and empower Indigenous people across Turtle Island with the tools and strategies to do LANDBACK work in their own communities.
The LANDBACK Campaign officially launched on Indigenous Peoples’ Day, October 12, 2020; but has a much older history.
It’s time to weave some magic to Dismantle, Defund, Return, and for Consent. Will you and your gods help us?