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Streuth Mate!

In reading the somewhat poignant commentary on Jonathan Woolley’s latest & greatest, I saw something quite intriguing; a benefit to being the bastard offspring of the worst sorts of the British Empire and the midday soap opera that is the U.S.A’s influence on the 21st Century.

Something that was very strongly highlighted by Woolley in his article and even more strongly present in the commentary was this difference between European and North American (read: U.S.A) attitudes regarding the pursuit of

Pagan, Heathen, Polytheist, &c. practices. For not a few people, the difference seemed to come across as a surprising (to me) source of tension, rather like that moment in Buffy the Vampire Slayer when Willow has invitations to go to both the top American & European universities; le gasp, choices!? How does one choose between Harvard or Oxford, Princeton or Sorbonne? Ultimately Willow avoids the question by doing the best-friend thing and sticking by Buffy and the hometown, a sadly devoid option in the current scenario.

The differences between Europe and North America are so deeply entrenched in the latter’s psyche that jokes can be made about it in pop-culture (and the referencing thereof) – similarly so in the European perception of the United States as a haven of freedom et.al; again, there are many examples in popular culture of the European escaping to the pseudo-idyllic ‘America!!’.

There’s a number of very good and obvious reasons why there would exist these stark differences between this pair. The question that I have to ask however, is: why are these differences such a surprise to the Americans? and when will the Europeans stop getting thin lipped when America behaves uncouthly?  It is maybe easier to perceive, being an aforementioned bastard offspring, but let’s all be honest with each other:  after several centuries it shouldn’t take special circumstances of birth to see something like this.

Did you know? The source of the Australian accent (a.k.a The Drawl) stems from a bunch of prisoners, immigrants and local folks getting together and having no choice but to get along: Irish, English, Aboriginal, German, Chinese and countless more; alcohol may or may not have had a facilitating hand in this. Jury is still out on that one.

In the almost-year that Gods & Radicals has been running the sheer, raw provenance of the writers has been honestly awe inspiring; fearsome and wondrous. With so many people ‘in the stable’ as it were, one would think that eventually, inevitably, there would be someone having an off-day or simply too caught up in sudden happenstances to keep such a high standard going. Nevertheless the quality has remained the same, even increased over time.

At the same time however, the number of fractures in our wider cross-sections have also increased. The real tragedy is not so much the presence of those fractures, in an amalgam of people as diversely varied as we are there are always hairline fractures; rather it is the reasons these fractures are rapidly growing into adult fissures – You and I think We are ‘right’. Obviously, this personalization is a tad reductive… but it serves. Allegorically speaking:

I think that I’m right and that anytime you say something contradictory, everytime you so much as issue a single utterance without acknowledging all possibilities that ‘I’ represents, you are inherently disrespecting everything ‘I’ holds dear – the only two questions of import now are how badly have you ‘deliberately’ shown disrespect and how irate I shall be.

I sounds like more than a ‘bit’ of an asshole, don’t ‘I’ – let’s continue to be honest though, You is the same. ‘You’ does the same thing for much the same reason.

Speaking outside the example now, I find it hard to address this issue because of the irony which ultimately makes this a beautiful circumstance. Returning to Jonathan’s example of Europeans and Americans being the broad line along which he divided the biggest fissure-in-progress: this example highlights perhaps the most amazing, almost genuinely miraculous element in all of these events. We are, unintentionally perhaps, closer to that ever ill-defined ‘Paganism’ because of this difference–and that is a very good thing. It demonstrates that maybe the most precious aspect of our collective Pagan, Heathen, Polytheist etc. identity is finally developing into maturity.

Who we are and where we come from, what we speak and what is seen as appropriate are clearly starting to affect how we exist as Pagans, Heathens, Polytheists et.al. To wit: our culture, personal and national, has become a driving force behind our aforementioned sense of Identity. To show this, let’s look at the differences between Americans & Europeans once more vis a vis Woolley’s division of the two:

  • Americans. Famously known for their heart-on-the-sleeves patriotism and swaggering one-upmanship are desperately trying to collate and distill Pagan, Heathen, Polytheist etc. into a single word of equivalent weight, significance and use to ‘America’ and ‘American’;
  • Europeans. Long used to retaining individual identities privately as a coping mechanism for living while surrounded by people who are or have been friends, foes or both, are taking a more understated approach to living in a way, a lifestyle if you will, that allows for both developed practice and oft necessary European mores.

This is an incredibly beautiful thing in a world which has increasingly few beautiful things contained within it. There is however, a hitch, rather twisted in its cruel irony:

These two groups who, though different in execution, have strong foundations in diversity and incorporation of others without assimilation; in the pursuit of a shared developed and more mature Pagan, Heathen, Polytheist et.al practice – which itself is twice renowned for its inclusivity and variety – have combined together to create a resulting toxic atmosphere of biting accusations, vitriolic name calling, acerbic denunciations and absolutism towards what I’m fairly sure we all agreed had no so-called ‘right’ answer

If that’s not fucked up, someone please. Show me what is.

At this juncture though I must advise caution in jumping either too far or to conclusions. My subject is the differences in culture that are being translated via disparate practices and used as excuses to behave like spoiled children. I can best show this through a joking patronization of both groups, as most Australians are wont to do…

It’s an insecurity-based identity crisis thing. Don’t question it.

“Europe, honestly, I get it. I really do; America is loud, brash, occasionally unwashed and is the living embodiment of the adage ‘bull in a china shop’. Lets be fair though, you have a stick up your arse roughly the same size and shape of the offspring of a hedgehog and an agave cactus. Live. A. Little. Learn to relax once in a while – just because you’re getting older doesn’t make you less attractive. Plus a lot of us are into older people now.

America, we’re on the same page mate. Honestly. Europe is an old, stodgy, grumpy S.O.B who wouldn’t know fun if it slapped them in the face with a cold trout and there’s no denying that they tend to say ‘by Christmas’ and really mean ‘in a hundred years or so’. Let’s be real though, you still haven’t learned that its not polite to toss yourself off when there is someone in the room and your capacity with a broom and vacuum cleaner are not exactly up to scratch. You’re 240 next year, time to start acting your age.

Seriously though, its getting embarrassing. All my friends are acting weird around me now. Like, the other day Finland gave me this look and I swear! It was like they were saying ‘its ok, I’m here for you’. Fucking, JAPAN of all people actually said to me yesterday that it would be ok to stay with them till I can find a place of my own.

New Zealand came to my room this morning, balling their eyes out asking who they’d be living with after the divorce!

You two are the worst anthropomorphized continents-as-parents ever!”

There is a stupid, almost Biblical number of ways to say this: build a bridge, drink heavily, eat chocolate till you feel sick, spank your inner moppet, have a quickie with that cute guy or girl who’s almost certainly a drug runner, do a yoga retreat, take up glass blowing (again) or the ever popular “fucking get over it already” – literally anything else is more important for you associated Pagans, Heathens, Polytheists etc. to fight about than the differences between how and what an American and a European does it.

Don’t fight, you’re both pretty.

What really germinated all of this was a combination of genuine shock regarding what Woolley described and was subsequently exemplified in the commentary, the closing of the year, a Norse deity called Kvasir and the origins of my own country.

It struck me as practically obscene that the approaches, or rather the difference in approaches, to Paganism, Heathenry, Polytheism etc. between American and Europe had billowed out into such a big ticket debate when there are categorically more important things to be concerned with – much like Woolley himself mentions. Obviously, there will always be problems in any group and the history of Europe and America both individually and together throws a number of curve balls into the relationship.

Guess what, though? It is not and never will be required that the two of you get along perfectly – in fact no one expects that. The only expectation is that you not behave like children. In this respect, America and Europe are much like the Aesir and Vanir.

Two groups of similar but different ‘folks’ are fighting but unable to truly win out over the other. Eventually its decided everyone has better things to be doing, they exchange some token ‘hostage-prisoners’ and then everyone spits in a bucket. Odin waves his hand and Lo! We have the god Kvasir, made from the two halves of the Norse gods. Do they get along perfectly from then on? Fuck. No. They do not. They just don’t let the minutiae of their differences keep them from the important tasks at hand.

Australia is much the same: Great Britain’s most despicable bastards and hellions, mixed with a combination of brutalized Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander populations, migrants of opportunity and war, got drunk and made a country. Again, it’s not perfect. We definitely have our share of bad days and cold blooded lizard people for Prime Minister, but at the end of the day we band together and drop those contextually petty contrivances when the chips are down and the important shit that keeps us together is imperiled.

The ease with which modern telecommunications and transport allows us and information to move around means that the analogy isn’t exact; some Americans are more European in their mores while some Europeans are more American; add that to the reality that folks are moving where they feel most at ease or at home even more regularly than in the past.

All this creates a certain murkiness around the edges and often times (I myself included) the sort of people that are drawn to areas like Gods & Radicals forget that the way We experience our culture is very different to the way others within it experience it and dramatically different to how it presents to other cultures; liberal minded Americans forgetting that for most other people, American and non, the U.S.A regularly adopts US vs. THEM mentalities which becomes WITH or AGAINST modes of thought, for example. Yes, it is easier to pick on the Americans. I’m sure you’ll survive.

This is important to keep sight of because when you lose sight of this, when you lose sight of the fact that you are all going to have culturally-based approaches that are different, when you don’t see how beautiful that is and the victory it represents you consummately lose sight of the people who are living examples of how you can at the very least, reconcile your differences in a way that lets the important shit be the first priority.

No, you shouldn’t find someone and spit on them.

Instead, just get over it.

13 Comments »

  1. Thank you for this article.
    I feel that often the argument is not about what is said in an article (e.g. the mentioned one by Jonathan Wooley) but in trying to apply a label to yourself. I’m German. We have very bad experiences with patriotism and national pride, which is also problematic, because some people are drawn to new nationalist movements like Pegida or Die Identitäre Bewegung. We also do have a subculture of violent hardcore-nationalists who are also acting out their violence (just search for Beate Zschäppe or NSU).

    But even if I was able to say I’m proud to be German (I cannot make sense of being proud of something you had nothing to do with, like place of birth) I wouldn’t. Pride to me is something I can feel when I’ve achieved something. So most people I know find identification in other categories. But there is also this urge to put a label on yourself (nowadays mainly race, gender identity, sexual orientation or here if I’m wiccan, druid or whatever ). I see why it’s necessary to identify as a gay male sometimes (being one myself) but it don’t do it that often (unless I’m in a discussion about sexual orientation and demolish some stereotypes). But if putting a label on yourself is more important then trying to make sense of what the other person just said seems counter-productive to any argument, because then people tend to create bubbles and stay in them, because disagreement is seen as a personal affront. I can disagree with something someone said, no matter if I like them or not and if I don’t like them I find it even more important (and sometimes harder, yes) to get WHAT they’re saying, not where they are coming from. In conversations (online or offline) I often find consensus with my friends and family. But we also often disagree on a number of issues (Don’t get me started on Christmas traditions) and those are the most interesting conversations and the ones where I can learn the most. I do see that they’re are different cultural contexts and approaches and to me that is something delightful because if there is anything I believe in is that the cure for this fractured world of ours lies in our diversity.

    I hope that was coherent, I’ve just woken up.

    Liked by 2 people

    • You’re very welcome, and it was perfectly coherent!

      I’m glad that you got that out of what I wrote, as that was what I hoped people would get.

      We (by which mean, Pagans, Heathens, Polytheists et. al) have this semi-obsessive reaction to the word, idea and role of ‘label/s’ which more often than not generates unproductive situations that hinder the larger issues rather than helping. Labels, names, nouns, identities – whatever your word of choice is – are an auxilliary function of human interaction. They the facilitators of information not the determiners of information. There are different degrees to which one can use them, and this is true across all levels of human society. For a person who has never studied university level science, simply calling someone a ‘scientist’ or a ‘biologist’ is sufficient and appropriate; the someone in this situation might actually be a paleomycologist but that particular label is inappropriate thus it is insufficient. The information being conveyed is determined by the knowledge of both the people in the situation, which means the facilitation needs to be done by words appropriate for both.

      The above We tends to either want to throw those facilitators out in their entireity, which takes us to a post-structuralist position similar to Gertrude Stein where the words that we use cease to have linguistic agreement and any capacity to interact breaks down entirely. Or swings to what Woolley refers to in his article.

      Liked by 2 people

      • I completely agree, although I couldn’t apply fancy words like “facilitator” (but don’t worry, I had my fair share of a linguistic education) I do love the word paleomycologist – is that someone who studies ancient fungi? Language sometimes needs to be broken down, which sounds awful, like many linguistic metaphors. If you acknowledge the registers each person carries you need to be careful with what you’re saying without losing spontaneity. It’s a struggle sometimes, when I teach, but you can always switch between registers. Haven’t read much of Gertrude Stein, yet. This position you decribe sounds like a horrible dystopia, though. It reminds me of the biblical tale of the Babylonian confusion.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Grice’s Law of Conversational Implicature applies here.

        If a biologist says to another biologist (in a conversation in which each knows the other is a biologist), “What’s your field?” and the other one says “I’m a biologist” then that is a non-answer. They should reply “I’m a paleomycologist”. On the other hand, if the conversation is between a bioloigst and a non-biologist, then the reply should probably be “I’m a biologist”. It all depends on context.

        Like

  2. This coming from someone who has Gollum as their prime minister!

    A unified country because there is no difference at all between Western and Eastern Aussies – oh wait!

    And what about the Canadians? You know those English-speaking people that were so boring that the Brits just left? At least the Aussies were crazy enough to be deported and the Americans belligerent enough to throw German George out! Wait – that’s not it!

    This is: if you tea-toddlers would just switch to a real caffeinated drink, you’d understand our perspective a lot better – even agree with it! Yeah, our cultures are different – deal with it! We have to! There are more important issues to deal with.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Well… we aren’t exactly proud of the reptillian fool but then has anyone been proud of their less than stellar government representatives? I mean, who comes across as the most lizard like of the lot: Abbott, Bush, Harper or Cameron?

      Differences, yes. Decidedly – differences that run so deep the rail tracks are still a different gauge because Colonies At War was a possible thing some 150 years ago. Somehow we manage to make it work though. One theory is having at least one kind of football in common ~ if the Americans would drop the body armour and play rugby like real rough-and-tumble persons then seeing eye to eye might be lubricrated by a bleeding head wound, and good humour…

      While I appreicate your desire to see the Poms drink a proper caffinated drink, the Yanks are hardly any better – introducing hot water to a picture of coffee beans does not a good cuppa make, ok?

      If there is a glue to Australian society, it is coffee; strong and permeating practically every thing.

      http://www.buzzfeed.com/jemimaskelley/aus-coffee#.gug1NryWw – to drink before you die
      https://www.quora.com/What-is-unique-about-Australian-coffee-culture – Why Australian coffee is the best.

      If it’s true what they say about Australian spiders, that they ate god, then it is equally true that Coffee has ascended to the firmament in its/their place!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. No issues with your celebration of difference, but I also have no awareness of a “toxic atmosphere of biting accusations, vitriolic name calling, acerbic denunciations and absolutism” among contributors, and have been happily corresponding one to one with some of my American colleagues such as Heathen Chinese to great personal enrichment (hence our recent post). For all I know (as someone who eschews Facebook and Twitter) you are calling out a genuinely serious threat to the integrity of the G&R project, but I just wanted to share the ‘view from here’ as a counter-balance to a narrative of division that may risk being overstated.

    Liked by 1 person

    • While the reason I wrote the article was spawned from the comments section of Woolleys article, the atmosphere that I was refererring to was less in regards to Gods & Radicals and more broadly geared. Woolleys article made references to a growing sentiment within the Pagan, Heathen, Polytheist et al. community and the lines alongs which some pretty aggravated words are being traded. In his article it is primarily described as being along Pagan vs. Polytheist lines and more specifically the differences being presented in the behavior of the two, especially at the more international level where the differences are becoming more pronounced – at least in the eyes of the detractors Woolley refers to – along cultural differences between Europeans and North Americans. My intention here was to point out the silliness of those detractors in making a mountain out of a molehill, particularly when that molehill is a good sign rather than a bad one. The issue is more complicated and I would highly recommend reading the articles that have been written on the matter, predominently at Patheos Pagan, Polytheist(.com), occasionally at the Wild Hunt also. There are more specific places I could refer you to, but that would be something for a private message or email, at your request. Woolley also can likely direct you to relevant examples.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Over tie you drop the arguments for my side is right simply because over time that you discover that you never convince anyone with another view point.

    I don’t agree with all aspects of being radical as represented here, but yet some things fit me rather well, so I borrow those aspects. Someone else might find different things that work for them. Freedom is mostly a matter of allowing yourself to become whoever the real you is, rather than conforming and fitting in slavishly.

    In my case, any group would be too restrictive for me. I just don’t have much need to be around my fellow human beings. Yet being the perpetual outsider does not keep me from working with people of interests that we share. I am just not interested in becoming either a leader nor a follower, and I am ever going to be part of the herd.

    Liked by 1 person

    • You know what, you and how you describe yourself right there is a perfect example of what I was trying to arrive in my article! Being different but not turning that into a reason to pointlessly segment, divide and parse until each individual is totally sectioned off from anything that is principally different to it.

      Chemistry serves as a good example too!

      Like

      • Being the outsider helps form that idea because I can’t fit in. But it means that I also understand people that may not fit my ideas either, enough so to work together on things of common interest.

        When I talk to kids, I tell them the hardest thing to do is discover who you really are. We are not taught to look within, to trust our own gut feelings, determine our strengths and weaknesses,what turns on our passion and form a life that fits us. In stead we are taught to be the person we are supposed to be, based on what someone else says. This imaginary person may not fit us at all, and then at age fifty or so, we feel we have been a failure because we never became this for us impossible person.

        It seems to me that this argument about being Pagan, Heathen, Polytheists, or what have you is a variation of the same thing. We seem bent on creating an orthodoxy, the very thing that most of us fled from Christianity to get away from. We may have changed our religions, but not the way that we treat religion. Perhaps the second and third generation will be free from the old baggage we brought with us into our new religion.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. First sentence should be, “Over time you drop arguments of my side is right…….

    Last sentence ends, “and I am never going to be part of the herd.”

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I really enjoyed this article.

    You forgot to mention Canada sitting in the attic, listening to the argument between America and Europe, and occasionally interjecting with “You’re both wrong” or “You’re both right” but most of the time, “Can anyone actually hear me?”

    Like

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