Indigeny and New Religious Movements

Hello! I’m back from my wedding and honeymoon! They were wonderful, and I plan to do a big, full post about each once my life settles down a bit again and I get my professional photos. But here’s a teaser for now, from our first dance as husband and wife.

I have so many pagan-related stories to share from both our wedding and honeymoon once I get around to it, I just can’t wait to share!

In other news, we made it through Frankenstorm unscathed, and spent Samhain eating a dumb supper in honor of my uncle and my favorite dance teacher, both of whom died in the last three weeks before my wedding. But I don’t like the term dumb supper. My husband, sister, and I decided that if we’re going to continue the tradition, we will probably rename it “Dinner with the Departed.” It makes it sound less dumb. (bah dum, ching!)

But for today, I wanted to respond to a blog post I read while going through catching up on my google reader after returning home. It’s P. Sufenas Virius Lupus‘ post on the Indigeny Debate within Paganism. The question he raises is whether it is correct to refer to Neopaganism as an indigenous religion, as some people do. To inadequately sum up a really good argument, he says that to call us that is to neglect the actual indigenous religions’ of the world their indigeny, to ignore the very real difficulties they face in terms of discrimination, and just a flat-out incorrect of the word.

I have to say, I’m with Lupus. Neopaganism is not indigenous. Indigenous beliefs have been the way they are since before anyone can remember. For indigenous groups, their religion is the religion of their forebears, including the immediate one.

Neopaganism doesn’t do that. It reacts against the religion of the immediate forebears and attempts to revive, recreation, or reconstruct some variety of pre-Christian, truly indigenous religion. But we don’t do it because that’s the way it’s always been done. We don’t do it to reclaim a land that has been taken from us by conquerors. We do it because, more or less, we think that hearkening back to that romanticized past will bring us a better future. Because we think that the modern world, with its belief that everything is better if it’s done by a machine that plugs into the wall, is profoundly broken. Modern paganism is a religion that says, at its core, “Screw Progress. Maybe it’s better if we leave it behind and become a part of the world that created us. If we remember that time is a circle and that what goes up must come down. Let us assert a radical humanity in this world that is increasingly built around machines.” This is not indigeny. Nor is it, as Lupus suggests toward the end of his article, a diasporic faith. We are not hearkening back to our homelands on any kind of massive scale. Yes, there are pagan groups who worship the gods of their ancestral line, but so many people today are mutts like me who can’t trace back to any particular group. We are not a group who were spread out over great distances outside of our ancestral homelands. We are people inhabiting a modern world that is smaller than any world in history, and where place is treated as if it’s simply a decoration.

We worship the land because it is a radical statement about what we hope the world could be. We don’t do it from a diasporic or indigenous place. We don’t believe this way or act this way because it was what our parents and grand parents and great grandparents did. We don’t do anything because somebody did, we do it because we, personally, want to. We want to make a statement about the meaning of land and locality and stability and cyclical time. It’s about a hope that someday our faiths could be indigenous, hundreds and hundreds of years from now. But today, we are a New Religious Movement, because the reaction against modernity that our religion represents is, at its core, a reaction against the status quo. A truly indigenous faith is not usually a reaction against, but a continuance of a tradition that spans as far back as memory.

What do you think? This is a particularly complicated subject, and there are few assertions I’ve made here that I can see counterarguments to. But I do think it’s an important question for us to be asking ourselves, because I think it’s easy to try to think of ourselves as indigenous because that’s what we want to be, instead of being honest with ourselves that it isn’t what we are.

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