Growing up in Canada, with Dutch parents and being first generation Canadian, I’ve always felt a little bit of a mutt when it came to spirituality. I was confirmed at our church when I was in primary school, hating staying after class to do religious studies when I’d rather be running outside beneath the birch trees or biking down the road with my brother and sister. I never felt a very strong connection to the Christian God or to Jesus himself, though as I’ve grown older I have developed a deep respect for Jesus and his teaching, much as I have for Buddha. Christianity did not, for me, help to explain why nature did what it did – and so I looked further afield, finding inspiration in Aesop’s fables, which became a dog-eared book read and re-read time and again. I also found deep meaning in Native American mythology, which spoke of the natural world around me that I was familiar with – the Great Lakes, the mountains and deciduous forest, the animals that roamed within it.
It saddens me that the Lakota, Dakota and Nakota nations felt they had to pass their Declaration of War back in 1993 against the theft of their spiritual beliefs. (To see the full Declaration, please visit http://www.aics.org/war.html). I fully understand, and yet have always felt a little bereft – the native spirituality helped me to make sense of the natural world in which I lived in, in the forests of Quebec. The seasons were beautifully explained by ancient myths, as was the behaviour of animals and much, much more. They spoke of creatures and countryside that I was familiar with. For long I have worried that I would be seen to be “stealing” from a culture not my own. It was so at odds with some other religious and spiritual beliefs, such as Buddhism, which as far as I am aware has never been concerned with cultural theft, even though it too has been oppressed in many places. I understood the need for the Declaration, and yet I did not – it is a difficult thing to get my head around.
Eventually, when I came to Druidry, I realised that it was all about language – Druidry was the language that I could use to communicate with others and to commune with nature. It did not matter what religious tradition I followed; I could still use the same vocabulary to describe them in a way that made sense to me, and to others who followed this path. Through Druidry, my awareness of both myself and other religious traditions expanded, and I learned a lot more about theology. I came to know my ancestral gods of Anglo and Saxon culture. I even tried taking them back to Canada with me to honour and commune with them there – but I just couldn’t “feel” them there. It was much easier to honour the ravens and the bears, the Great Spirit – how much of that was out of habit, and how much of that dictated by the concept of place, I wonder?
Studying more and more, I realised that some ceremonies that would be considered Native American are shared throughout the world’s religious traditions. When I make a smudge stick from mugwort growing in my garden, am I imitating Native American culture, or Scots Gaelic saining? At Druid Camp, when I attend a sweat lodge, am I treading upon Native American ceremonies, or participating in millennia old traditions of our palaeolithic British ancestors? When I call upon the elements in ritual, using words such as the Great Eagle, exactly which tradition am I honouring? In my craft name of Autumn Song, I have taken two things that I love most and created a name for myself. Am I thieving, have I started a war?
I have no desire to “go native” – I am not Native American. But I honour their beliefs, as I honour those of my Christian family members. I honour my Buddhist friends, my Wiccan friends, my Druid friends. I honour my atheist husband. I can see and understand all points of view, and they are all a part of my life. Some of the Haudenosaunee myths and traditions made perfect sense to me as a child growing up in the Eastern Woodlands. The Abrahamic God eluded me, but his son was a bit of a dude whom I grew to respect. The Lord and Lady made themselves known to me as a young adult back in the early 90’s. The Celtic gods and goddesses and the Northern gods and goddesses then followed. I learned about Buddha and Zen, and found merit in all these teachings. I see so many similarities between Druidry and eastern traditions, such as Zen – as you know, I’ve written a book about combining the two. It’s nice to know I’m not the only one making these connections either – see OBOD’s page here for more information on Druidry and other paths http://www.druidry.org/druid-way/druidry-other-paths.
So where exactly do I fit in then?
I’ve previously coined my form of Druidry as Mutt Druidry, in an article written for The Druid Network. Growing up surrounded by so many spiritual beliefs, living in so many parts of the world, hungry for knowledge and desiring deep connection with the natural world around me, I have learned and still continue to learn from all traditions. Is there something fundamentally wrong with this, and if so, what is it?
Blessings on your journey. x
I think the question is whether or not the paths we walk actually belong to us. Belief is tied to the experiences we gain from walking our path; therefore if our paths belong to us, so do our beliefs. Religion is how we commune with the gods and spirits around and within us. Some gods and spirits seem to prefer, for example, an offering of tobacco; while others prefer mead. Do we then ignore what these beings prefer, for the sake of not wanting to dishonor a declaration of war? Another question, then, is whether or not an established means of communing with spirits or deities can actually be ‘owned.’
There is, of course, yet another question: is there a way to commune with local spirits and deities without offending, mocking, misrepresenting or ‘stealing’ from the people native to that region?
I hadn’t given this issue a lot of thought, until reading your post just now. You can bet I’ll be mulling this one over for a while, and I might even develop some of my further thoughts on this topic in my blog later, if you’ve nothing against it?
Please do! I would love to read it. x
Thank you, I hope you will enjoy what I came up with!
I know what you mean, I’ve always been interested in Native American traditions & their shamanic practices.Being a Scot I often feel drawn to the Celtic pantheon but I’m also interested in the traditions of many other civilisations.
I try to honour the deities of the place that I’m celebrating in so, for example, if for some reason I was celebrating in Crete I’d be very unlikely to call on deities from the Norse or Celtic pantheons.
In the way you refer to your practices as “Mutt Druidry” I always refer to myself as an “Eclectic Pagan” :).
Yes, the spirits of place, for me are first and foremost.
I like Electric Pagan – it’s zingy 😉 Good name for a band lol!
the Spirit of Place is what I have worked with for years, but only truly understood since 2005 , when I found myself working with a local Deity in the Grand Gulch region of Utah, before he found me I had never heard of ‘Red Lightning Wolf’ .
This Region of Utah as far as I know comes under Hopi/ Navajo/ Tribal Rights and was formerly Anasazi Land.
Does this mean I misappropriated First Nation Religion ?
Am I “exploiting, abusing and misrepresenting the sacred traditions and spiritual practices of our Lakota, Dakota and Nakota people” or another other First Nation Religious beliefs
My answer is “No” , and I hear what the Nation says and why, But my honouring and working with Red Lightning Wolf is my own connection and mine alone, that my practices have similarities with the use of purification, a drum and ‘Paint’ to Journey with, connects me also to the Mongolian Buryatt Shamans and the Amazonian Medicine Men in my methodology.
As Nicholas on the Southern Ute Reservation and Berik in Buryatt have both said to me, the Gods gift Medicine to those they chose and they chose for their own reasons to make themselves known.
Well said! x