Showing posts with label Europeans. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Europeans. Show all posts

Pagans, Europeans, And Indigenous Peoples

Another topic of contention is the choice to limit the consideration of Paganism to religious groupings that draw on pre-Christian European religious traditions as a source of inspiration. 

First and foremost, it should be emphasized that this Eurocentric definition is not shared by all researchers and practitioners of modern Pagan religious traditions. Gus DiZerega, a political scientist and Wiccan, wrote Pagans and Christians: 

  • The Personal Spiritual Experience (2001), and Michael York, a sociologist of religion, wrote Pagan Theology: Paganism as a World Religion (2003), both of which make a compelling case for using the term Pagan to refer to all religious traditions worldwide that are locally based, polytheistic, and nature-oriented. 
  • In this view, Pagan is synonymous with Indigenous, and the traditional, hereditary religions of Indigenous peoples such as Native Americans, Africans, and Australian Aborigines, which are often referred to as Indigenous religions, can all be grouped under Paganism as a very broad umbrella term that encompasses a large portion of humanity. 

As York puts it, "a name is necessary for contending perspectives embracing or characterized by animism, polytheism, pantheism, and Shamanism within the vast range of world religions." 

  • One argument against the word pagan is that it connotes Eurocentric imperialism, which denies indigenous peoples their own identities. Some argue that the term pagan should only be used to pre-Christian European customs... 
  • Subsuming primitive religions under a Eurocentric term [Paganism] is not "politically wrong," in my opinion... Although Christian missionaries used the word pagan in a derogatory way, they did notice the connections between the faiths they fought... 

It is time to liberate paganism from its historically negative implications as a beneficial and affirmative affirmation of a neglected practice and marginalized viewpoint in today's more cosmopolitan society.

I have chosen not to follow this line of thought because I believe that blending the religious traditions of these many different peoples, with their vastly different historical and contemporary circumstances, does a disservice to Indigenous peoples' struggles for postcolonial self-determination by conflating them with the very peoples they see as their oppressors and colonizers. 

In this work, the phrases Indigenous and Pagan shall be capitalized to show respect for the peoples, cultures, and spiritual traditions associated with these terms. 

Indigenous peoples have shared a universal experience of destruction and suffering as a result of colonialism and racism, a universe of misery perpetrated on them by Euro-American Caucasians, the same people that make up the bulk of current Pagan faith traditions such as Wicca and Asatru. 

There are similarities and differences between modern European-derived Paganism and Native American and other Indigenous religions of non-European origins, such as reverence for nature, polytheistic pantheons, and life-affirming worldviews, but there are also differences due to their different cultural, linguistic, and historical backgrounds. 

  • Regardless matter how sympathetic modern Euro-American Pagans are to Indigenous peoples and how keen they are to learn about parts of Indigenous cultural and religious traditions, Indigenous peoples' current circumstances are very different from those of most modern Pagans in North America and Europe. 
  • This harsh social reality, as well as the enormous historical, economic, and political realities that lay behind it, cannot be bridged or alleviated by a unilateral declaration of spiritual connection between modern Pagans and Indigenous peoples. 

Because of current Indigenous peoples' battles to demonstrate their rights to govern and perpetuate their ancestral spiritual traditions, the labeling problem is extremely complex. 

These conflicts stem from long-standing grievances against Europeans, Euro-Americans, and others of European/Caucasian ancestry who have taken and claimed different portions of Indigenous religious traditions as their own. 

European and American Pagans who have adapted Shamanic practices from the Saami of Northern Europe or native peoples of North America for use in Wiccan or other modern Pagan rituals without first obtaining the consent of the Indigenous peoples for whom the Shamanic practices are sacred, ancestral traditions are included in this group. 

  • Jenny Blain (2001), Susan Mumm (2002), and Robert Wallis (2003), in their recent works on Neo-Shamanism, address the difficult issue of the threat posed to Indigenous peoples' rights to control their Shamanic and other religious traditions by the appropriation of these traditions by Caucasian Europeans and Americans. 
  • In addition to the devastation inflicted by missionaries and other colonial agencies focused on destroying and replacing indigenous spiritual traditions, such insensitive and irresponsible uses of Indigenous traditions have left scars of wrath and distrust. 

Only by a long period of persistent, respectful discussion between members of the many groups involved can these historical wounds be healed. 

It is so arrogant at best and offensive at worst for mostly Euro-American Caucasian Pagans to imagine that they can simply make common cause with Indigenous peoples and their religious traditions without first creating true and time-tested mutual trust and respect ties. This conversation may turn out to be extremely significant, as one would hope, but it is still in its early phases. 

It's also important remembering the simple politeness of addressing individuals by their preferred names rather than those they despise or are uncomfortable with. Native Americans and other Indigenous peoples do not commonly use the labels Pagan or Paganism, let alone Neopagan or Neopaganism, to describe themselves or their religious traditions. 

These concepts, on the other hand, are widely accepted among those active in resurrecting and reconstructing pre-Christian European religions, as they have been debated in these circles for several generations. 

  • Members of such Pagan groups, on the other hand, employ a variety of names, and members of modern Pagan religious organizations, as well as their scholarly observers and critics, have evolved a variety of self-designation methods. 
  • The curious reader who goes beyond these pages to look into specific varieties of Paganism will find a larger range of terminology in religious groups around the globe, as well as much controversy about the actual definition and correct usage of terms like Pagan. 
  • As a result, the reader should never take these phrases for granted in any situation and should constantly enquire about how they are used and interpreted in different places and by different people and groups. 
  • Disagreements over nomenclature may appear minor, but when we consider what is at stake for modern Pagans, they are not. 

It's not only a case of Pagans picking names for themselves that they think are acceptable or appealing to communities of like-minded people. 

Because of the history of churches, governments, and other sectors of society condemning, suppressing, and even persecuting Pagans, many modern Pagans are very concerned about how they will be represented in popular discourse and judged by the general public, knowing that a negative public image could be used as a legal and political weapon against them by those who oppose them.

Contemporary Pagans are conscious of shaping public perception and media scrutiny of matters that are highly significant and indeed sacred to them, touching on the most precious, private, and sensitive points of personal identity, when debating which terms to use to describe themselves and their religious beliefs and activities. 

One of the most sensitive of such topics for many modern Pagans, though not all, is ethnic identification.

You may also want to read more about Paganism here.

Be sure to check out my writings on Religion here.