I do, actually.
(Though whether they are eloquent is, as ever, debatable. But sod it – you asked.)
Land first, then any indigenous knowledge second, and then the gods.
That’s the action plan for establishing cultus wherever you go.
The area you’re going to be working already has its own wights. Developing a relationship with them is vitally important before you ‘bring in’, as it were, another Power. If you’re not indigenous to the area, whether that be hailing from another continent ancestrally speaking, or the next town.
There are very few places on this planet that are ‘empty’ of beings – in those, it’s usually because something Major happened, The myth of ‘virgin’ territory is as ridiculous as the myth that ‘virginhood’ was solely linked to whether you’d had sex in all other cultures. Even in those places, it’s likely the very body of the land remembers and was affected by those events.
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: The world is alive and full of beings, interlinked Powers and Contexts. This means that, contextually, dedicating/performing local cultus to a European deity in an area where European colonizers systematically attacked indigenous structures of knowledge, lifeways and spiritualities, is going to be complicated.
It just is. There’s no getting around that. So it behooves us to work out what context we’re operating in. Which means putting in as much work as we can regarding local history, both pre-and-post colonization. It means saying “Hey, you were here first. So, introduction time: This is me. How about you tell me about yourself because I would like very much to co-exist with you in a way that benefits us all.”
You have to put yourself out there, and then there’s always the risk you’ll be given a Flat No. And I mean, you could still proceed, but that’d be a bit of an arsehole move, if you ask me.
And when I say ‘indigenous knowledge’ I do not mean attempt to ape the rites and cultures of indigenous folks, I mean looking to see what the stories say and accepting that as a valid form of knowledge, and then using that knowledge to deepen your interconnections.
Explorer (and ancient Imperial) cultures all probably had their own ‘spiritual diplomatic protocol’ for dealing with new places. Now, I’m not going to be woobie here, and not admit that some of them had a protocol which was Command and Conquer. But if we look at history, we find the Romans and their legions, as well as the Greeks, would adopt local deities into their pre-existing worldview – either syncretizing cults, or dealing with these deities in some fashion which represented a hybrid, and yet was distinct from original worship. (Occasionally, of course they would import cults wholesale).
Once you have a set of negotiations performed with the locals, then bring in the ‘foreigner’. (If you know actual indigenous people who are willing to talk with you over this talk to them first, because they also qualify as locals. duh).
In my view, everyone should develop a ‘spiritual diplomatic policy’ particularly if you are in any sense a polytheist and/or an animist. Understanding that humans are wights, that we are spirits too, and in no sense inherently superior to the ecosystem, spiritual and otherwise, but are inextricably linked to it and part of it is not just good practice, but helped our ancestors survive? That’s important.
But what if you, as a European-deity honourer, find a place where you can’t not feel the urge to honour your gods?
Where your god stirs your soul to irrevocable levels? If you can’t engage in long term diplomacy for reasons that don’t make you a dick? Then honour them, and then add a catch-all honouring for other wights of that place, and if you’re going to be returning to that place? Then bust out the diplomacy kit.
There’s a tendency I see on tumblr to refer to [Euro/other-god] of [place where they did not originally emerge], and to some extent that echoes ancient system. But you can bet your bottom dollar that at some point, a religious system of diplomacy was set up by priest and/or worshippers in those places for the pre-existing inhabitants. Hell, sometimes the foreign god was honoured in a place because the worshipper had encountered a being who the closest frame of reference they had for the experience was a non indigenous god. Does that mean that Nodens Mars (a Romano-British deity) was Mars? Possibly, or possibly not – the fact that Nodens was kept as a name suggests they were connected-but-distinct in some fashion.
But when I see Odin of Idaho as a made up example, I find myself wondering if perhaps it is not merely a case of Odin showing up in Idaho, but some local wight showing up and using The Old Man as an interface point. In this case? I find myself wondering if there is an indigenous piece of knowledge which is being overlooked in the favour of the more accessible data.
We live in a time where the amount of information available far outstrips that of our ancestors, but the living links to localised spirituality tend to be lost in may cases – due to colonialism, monoculture and other such things. If we’re serious about creating and living a life-way which benefits not just us but other beings, we’re going to have to research, and take risks.
We’re going to have to develop a practical theology which takes into account the liminal nature of spiritual, political and ecological interactions. Which means, much like our ancestors encountering a new environment, we should assume nothing, observe, test, and respect what was there before us – proceeding with kindness, generosity and respect, recognising that we may be either Stranger or Host, and knowing each role has its own sets of responsibilities.
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