The subtitle of this blog is “Druidry, Animism & Cultural Healing in America”, which seems like a very big range of subjects, and it is, but I guess it’s because what I believe doesn’t fit neatly into one small box, so I will be writing about multiple topics. Especially the “cultural healing” and “America” parts.
The cultural healing part is really twofold. There is so much that needs work in America around “culture healing” and our lack of culture, and how capitalism among other things has destroyed culture, but the other part of the healing that I think is so important is “ancestral healing”.
So when I say cultural healing I really mean healing our culture by healing ourselves and our ancestors. It’s a process: work on ourselves, work on old family patterns, intergenerational trauma (Epigenetics), and then work on healing the culture. I firmly believe that if we are living the effects of our own trauma we are NOT ready to go out and do cultural healing work in the world.
Ancestral healing is a fairly new thing in America. Many people of Northern European background don’t pay much attention to their ancestors. Since many people in America are Christian of some sort, even the thought of reincarnation, or working with people who are deceased is strange, and sometimes completely taboo. But we can at least work with the traumas that have been passed from one generation to the next-sometimes even without conscious knowledge, but they still effect us and can still be healed.
The Ancestral healing concepts that I am familiar with come mostly out of Africa. There are many teachers these days who have learned traditions from African elders, and who are sharing them with people of all races and cultures in America. This is not Cultural Appropriation (something else I will be writing about) when the teachings are freely shared and the knowledge is used with respect. Some might even say it’s just what the predominantly White, Christian, Northern European majority needs right now.
I do believe in reincarnation, and believe that when we pray our ancestors hear us. They are around us (some of them) and they help us out when we need it, and inform us. This does not only include”Good” ancestors but we can also find ourselves feeling the energies of ancestors who are still, even in there after life states, “unwell”. There can be “energies” that swirl around us and encourage toxic behavior and thinking, or create ill health…
The other portion of the future blog posts-the deeper reason the whole thing exists-is that on my journey to becoming a Druid (which is originally a Celtic/Welsh/UK/European tradition) I keep asking myself one question. Do I, as an American (granted, one with a predominately UK/Celtic background) belong in this tradition? After all, I am no more “Welsh” or “Druid” than I am “Cherokee”. I was not brought up in any of these traditions, or cultures, and so, am I appropriating something I shouldn’t?
Yes and no, and that will be a long answer and many blog posts. Yes in that I am not “of” that culture. Yes, I have no cultural set of spiritual allegory of my own. Someone from the UK (in an online Druid group) had to carefully explain to me that in the UK spiritual concepts and stories are connected to places, to stones and mountains and bodies of water. This was so different than how I think of spirituality. We don’t have that in “White” America. Or at least not in my family. My parents, in trying to be so “American” lost all of their stories.
To me, spiritual allegory comes out of books, or is shared by others. It is portable. But in the UK it’s place based. Here in America we just do not have that. Especially if we are not Native American. Yes we have stories of the war that took place here, or a mining town that once lived-that is part of my culture. Sadly those are based in war or the history of the “empire”-Colonialism. But there are no spiritual stories that go with the mountains, there are no spirits in the streams or the springs unless we are the Native peoples of this place. And most of us don’t stay in one place long enough to learn anything about the history of a place. We are too mobile in America.
I live in California. I was born here and raised here but I am not native to this place, really, so I am not privileged to know the stories that go with the creek that runs in front of my house, or the mountain I can see out my living room window. I may, if I’m lucky, have found out the native names for a few mountains, but I don’t know their stories and they are not part of my spirituality.
The people who are native to this place have their stories and Spirits of Place, and the people from the UK, where my ancestors came from have their stories and Spirits of Place, but I, as a child of multiple diasporas have no stories connected to my spiritual path. It is a weird place to be. It is a lonely place to be. It’s sad. And coupled with intergenerational traumas and personal experiences it is very easy to see why people so easily appropriate other cultures. They are hungry for something they know they have lost.
Am I appropriating other people’s cultures? Yes, but also NO. No, I shouldn’t go join a class on Japanese Shinto or Hawaiian spiritual traditions-I am not of those cultures. I have not even a smidgen of blood from those cultures. The guidance I have been given by many spiritual people who I’ve met along my path is to seek out the spiritual practices of the predominant portion of my blood. That is precisely why I find myself in Druidry. The largest majority of the people in my ancestral lines came from the West coast of the Island of Britain-are Welsh and Scottish. And it fits. It feels comfortable and welcoming. As if something in my being recognizes something I’d lost. It satisfies my hunger.
I have chosen to join a spiritual group (OBOD) that teaches a spiritual tradition from the culture that is where the predominant group of my ancestors came from. And I do not consider that to be cultural appropriation. But if I were to find myself in Wales, I would not call myself Welsh, and I likely would not call myself a Druid, in public. To me it is a personal spiritual path.
Looking at other cultures still doesn’t help me define what it means to be an American druid. Is there such a thing? I don’t know, but I do know that it is right for me to say I am an American, I am not Welsh or Scottish. The correct thing for me to say is I have Welsh and Scottish ancestors or ancestry, But I am not (currently) Welsh, I am American. (Many Americans are not conscious of this distinction.)
So being an American who is in a Druid course, I am by default an “American Druid”. But I think we must consider this a new species. This new species has different spiritual stories, or none, or some stories from a single Native American ancestor that they incorporate into their Druid practices.
This new species very likely has multiple different ancestries because today in America most people, even if they think of themselves as “White”, have ancestors from many parts of the world. Most of us in America have ancestors from multiple ethnic backgrounds including Sami, Finnish, Russian, middle Eastern, Jewish, Romani, Basque, North African or sub-Saharan African, Pacific Islanders, Chinese, etc. Many if not all of these ethnic groups got here by means of slavery or indentured servitude, and over time many people have chosen to forget or hide those ‘less white’ ancestors, so that most white people in America today are much more of the mixture then they realize. (Which is a discussion for a different blog.) And while many want to forget their non-European ancestors, many of us have a deep desire to know fully who we are, and to embrace all of our ancestors. We want to know “who we are” and “where we come from” because in America, most of us are “from” somewhere else.
Which is why in another group-this time an online genetic genealogy group, someone (again from the UK) had to explain to me that not as many people in Europe and the UK take DNA tests because (and I’m paraphrasing here), “We know who we are. We know where we came from and we know who our are people are and where they came from, so we have no need to take a DNA test like you Americans.”
Those words hit me very hard and at first made me incredibly sad. But I understand the point. We are, or have been for the last 400 years or so, here in America, “lost souls”; A vegetable soup of other peoples-the “melting pot” of the world. But strangely, working my way through the OBOD Bardic course has taught me an incredible amount about what it means to BE “American”…
So there are the biggest topics that I will be writing about in the future. Cultural Healing and this new species of Druid….Stay tuned…
PS: As a post script to this blogpost-I have to add, I am someone who sometimes purposefully does NOT read everything on a subject-Druidry being one of those subjects. Having written about what it is starting to mean to me to be an “American Druid” I realized there have been Druids in America for….some time, but I am not aware of how they operate, what they teach, nor have I met but one…The teachings come straight from OBOD to me. So with respect to other Druid lineages and practices, mine feels very different….Maybe, just maybe, I should not even be calling myself a Druid at all….