Eruditorum Press

Christmas and Easter nihilists

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L.I. Underhill is a media critic and historian specializing in pop culture, with a focus on science fiction (especially Star Trek) and video games. Their projects include a critical history of Star Trek told through the narrative of a war in time, a “heretical” history of The Legend of Zelda series and a literary postmodern reading of Jim Davis' Garfield.

5 Comments

  1. Daru
    March 6, 2016 @ 1:05 am

    "Since we don't really have traditions of our own (or the ones that we do are too odious and embarrassing to embrace), we try and adopt those of others in our joint ignorance and desperation."

    Interesting point. Myself, when I was exploring spirituality without have really investigated my own connection to my land of Scotland, I was drawn to teachings by visiting American First people teachers. I really, genuinely believed that we had no extant spiritual traditions here. And I found that following the teachings from another land just deepened my sense of disconnect. The one thing I always have felt though is a deep sense of connection and links with the Scottish land and mountains.

    A few years of research and time on the land here showed me that there was buried wealth of nature-connection traditions in Scotland, but they had become subsumed by, or had cannily been woven into early Celtic Christian practices. I'm not saying that there is any kind of unbroken line, there isn't – as we had our practices essentially destroyed by the Romans when they massacred the last Druid colleges on Anglesey in Wales – but there have been enough threads to lead some folk to create anew for the present. Apart from this we do have in Scotland a long lasting tradition of the , poets, storytellers, Bards all being respected which has a through line to Ceilidhs now.

    It is hard at times though, as there are many here who believe we have no traditions at all. So yes, I don't think I could connect at all to traditions, land or culture that I was not from as in my own past it has been hard enough to connect to my own.

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  2. Josh Marsfelder
    March 6, 2016 @ 12:21 pm

    I was thinking more about the legacy of imperialism and the impact that has on spirituality. In the United States, white people are descended from conquerors and slave owners who stole land from indigenous people and who never really adapted as a culture to the lands they conquered. They tried to bend nature to suit them instead of learning and working with it. While it may not be a totally unbroken line, since you're Scottish I would imagine you at least can claim things like the Celtic/Gaelic Reconstructionist traditions. But for me it's a little tougher.

    Although I was born and raised in North America, I'm not Native American and thus do not feel entitled to the native spiritual traditions of this land. And because I didn't grow up anywhere else, I'm not entitled to any other tradition either. I'm not the descendant of colonialists or landed gentry (both sides of my family are European immigrants, including a branch from Ireland), but because of my assumed privileges here I've definitely benefited from their society in some way. And, conversely, I've grown up to at least some extent detached from the land it occupies

    I'm only just now starting to find a path for myself, which is why issues of syncretism and cultural appropriation are very important to me. I'm generally of the opinion that if you take the time and effort to learn from a place and its energy, no matter who you are or where you come from, you can develop a kinship and relationship with it. This is, I think, part of the goal of travel and voyaging. But it's still an area I'm a bit cautious about exploring myself, personally.

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  3. Daru
    March 6, 2016 @ 8:34 pm

    "I was thinking more about the legacy of imperialism and the impact that has on spirituality."

    Oh absolutely. I think in a roundabout way that's what I was maybe getting at too. That even though here there I can see a link to the reconstuctionist traditions, imperialism had a different effect on us, as the Roman Empire transposed their own practices onto the country and also brought other traditions with them – all of which the populace then in time grew to believe were systems native to Britain. Perfect way to dominate a society, dilute their culture and belief systems.

    But you are right, being Scottish I do have a different experience – so I don't mean to have sounded like I was bigging myself up because I have existing traditions. And I really appreciate hearing the perspective of someone like yourself who lives in a country that was occupied – if I was in your position I would also not feel entitled to access the spiritual traditions there either. I do know that there are a huge number of Americans who are seeking to reconnect with the British, Irish and European traditions, and even going doing not a strictly Reconstructionist route, but more of historical re-creation route.

    I myself also feel a real kinship with what you say regarding the ability to connect to places and their energy wherever you are from. I certainly feel this too and have connected with many beautiful new places in the world in this way. I can understand cautiousness, which I would interpret as coming from respect for the Spirit of Place.

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  4. Josh Marsfelder
    March 6, 2016 @ 10:52 pm

    "I do know that there are a huge number of Americans who are seeking to reconnect with the British, Irish and European traditions, and even going doing not a strictly Reconstructionist route, but more of historical re-creation route."

    This is something I'm starting to explore, though very tentatively. I've been fascinated by Irish history and mythology for a very long time, totally independent of whatever Irish heritage I have myself so I feel slightly less bad about it. It's certainly one of the traditions I've studied the most…Though at the same time I still feel guilty for being passionate about it.

    I read an article once that was written by an Irish person making fun of the way the United States celebrates St. Patrick's Day. He says he gets people coming up to him and saying "My great-grandmother was from Ireland!", to which he always responds "Great! If she shows up, I'll buy her a pint". I always think of that exchange whenever I start to get too deep into Irish spirituality.

    "I myself also feel a real kinship with what you say regarding the ability to connect to places and their energy wherever you are from. I certainly feel this too and have connected with many beautiful new places in the world in this way. I can understand cautiousness, which I would interpret as coming from respect for the Spirit of Place."

    I actually have an essay coming out here this week that builds upon this theme a bit. But in regards to your comment…The thing is I do feel this. I do love North America, or at least parts of it-Over the past five years I've been nursing a really strong compulsion that's drawing me to the Boreal Forests of Canada for whatever reason. And I obviously have the utmost respect for the cultural heritage of Polynesia and the Polynesian reconstructionists. I'm not Polynesian, but I learned an awful lot about them through my time in cultural anthropology. There's always more to learn, though.

    I'd like to think it's possible to learn to love a land through the people and the Spirit of Place. But that flipside of being this kind of wanderer is that this doesn't mean I can ever belong anywhere. I'm also really curious about the ramifications and potential of syncretism (part of my newfound interest in Japan is that I think the Japanese have had a really unique and intriguing history with this, being an island culture subject to repeated invasions and occupations that's paradoxically also a failed colonial power). But this is something I'm dreadfully nervous about, because the line between syncretism and cultural appropriation is razor thin.

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  5. Daru
    March 7, 2016 @ 10:53 pm

    That's really interesting that you are getting into exploring and researching Irish history and myths. I don't think myself that you should feel guilty at all about connecting with them as it doesn't sound like you are seeking to appropriate them. I do feel myself that we can be enriched by linking respectfully with our mythic and historical roots, as they can open us up in the present. Of course even Scottish traditions aren't purely Scottish – for example you likely know that the Scots hail originally from Ireland?

    Even within Britain I have seen some odd practices as various groups try to "accurately" and authentically recreate Druid practices (which is pretty impossible as it was a largely oral tradition), and ending up with creating dogma and something appearing quite sterile. So I think respect is they key – I am a practicing Druid myself, but I am really not interested in any kind of recreation of the past, but in more of a personal mystical, animistic connection to nature, the land, the Spirit of Place, or Genius Loci, and how these connections shape and affect me. Basically to discover myself through the land – primarily the Scottish and British land.

    "I'd like to think it's possible to learn to love a land through the people and the Spirit of Place…. But this is something I'm dreadfully nervous about, because the line between syncretism and cultural appropriation is razor thin."

    I have been drawn to many landscapes in the world (not that I have been to too many!), including areas for example in the Four Corners part of the United States, or the Maritime Alps on the French/ Italian border. I remember having many quiet and deep personal experiences with the land there. I always though, try to find a way to ask permission of the Genius Loci before connecting to a particular place. My partner has Gypsy and Romany heritage, and from what I have heard they also essentially practiced the same permission asking. That way wherever they went could feel like home, as it was the earth itself they connected to, but they were keeping with their own traditions whilst respecting the local ones and their peoples.

    I completely agree that the line between syncretism and cultural appropriation is so fine. I guess we need to be very aware then of where we are coming from and the manner with which we approach a culture, and our reasons why. I suppose if I look at Scotland again, it has a huge history also of invasions and other cultures dumping their culture onto us whilst taking the best of ours, and over history is has turned into a muddle in some way. So I do have a huge amount of respect for cultures – such as the Saami culture for me, with who I feel a similar connection as you do to the Polynesians – who have managed to not only preserve but have kept their practices very much alive. I am am so aware of hundreds and hundreds of years of damage to many cultures, and would never want to be party to such harm.

    Thanks for such a rich vein of conversation!

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