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Archive for November, 2017

For the past half-decade, our family has been homesteading on an off-the-grid farm in Treaty 6 territory. For anyone who is unfamiliar with Canadian history, Treaty 6 refers to a particular regional relationship whereby land was shared (not ceded … a very important distinction) by the Indigenous Peoples with the Crown and its settlers. The treaty was made in the late 19th century, and still holds today, though it has been bent and broken numerous times by the colonial government. Today, our farm’s direct neighbours are the First Nations of Moosomin (Cree) and Saulteaux (Ojibwe), as well as many Metis folk in the near vicinity. For me, that means that when Samhain comes round on the Great Wheel, my mind turns to a very complicated ancestral inheritance.

As a Christian, and in particular as an Anglican priest, my genetic and spiritual ancestors were responsible for some pretty reprehensible mayhem in this part of the world. The residential schools were probably the worst of it, but racist colonialism has been an Anglican curse for several hundred years, and there’s still plenty of it to go around. In recent years, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission has delivered a mandate of 94 “Calls to Action” … concrete steps which can be taken by the Canadian government and other institutions (and individuals) to repent of the toxic legacy which has oppressed so many Indigenous people and torn our nation asunder. Several of these calls to action are directed specifically toward the churches which ran the residential schools. This one in particular has been haunting my conscience lately:

Call to Action #60: We call upon leaders of the church parties to the Settlement Agreement and all other faiths, in collaboration with Indigenous spiritual leaders, Survivors, schools of theology, seminaries, and other religious training centres, to develop and teach curriculum for all student clergy, and all clergy and staff who work in Aboriginal communities, on the need to respect Indigenous spirituality in its own right, the history and legacy of residential schools and the roles of the church parties in that system, the history and legacy of religious conflict in Aboriginal families and communities, and the responsibility that churches have to mitigate such conflicts and prevent spiritual violence.

For decades, I’ve been convinced of the need for the church to truly attempt to understand and respect Indigenous spirituality. One of the reasons why I wrote my book on Christian Animism was to help Christians find a common language with Indigenous spiritualities which might help build a bridge. Over the years, the more I have worked on this “issue”, the more I have realized that I need to go WAY back in my own cultural heritage, back to the conversion period of my own Celtic, Anglo-Saxon, and Germanic ancestors. When our people were becoming Christian, what was going on? What parts of our culture(s) were being honoured and kept, and what parts were being demonized and suppressed? What happened to our gods? Were they offered the gospel as well (and what would that have looked like?), or were they consigned by church authorities to the nether regions of the spirit world? What happened to our runes, and to our life-ways of relating to the land, to Mother Earth and her various land-wights? These are real questions for me, not rhetorical ones. Christian scholars tend to present a fairly triumphalist view of the European conversion period, and NeoPagan writers have a tendency to suggest that this period is nothing more than violent cultural genocide. As a ChristoPagan practitioner with a very historical mind, I’m pretty sure that the conversion period was much more complex than either of these polarized views. Deep things happened, historically and in the spirit world, which have had huge impacts in world events ever since. I think that for healing and justice to happen, we need a much better understanding of the roots of our past.

Finding my way back through the tangles of interpretation is an ongoing challenge. But reconciliation with Indigenous peoples, and perhaps reconciliation between Christians and NeoPagans as well, is a task … even a vocation … which is worth the time. Our ancestors are calling us to make things right, to make a new start. This is a path of Life which has marked me as its own. Any help along the way is appreciated!

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