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.