Monday, 15 August 2011

An outsider looking in

One of the recent posts over at the Wild Hunt blog got me thinking (dangerous, I know). It wasn't so much the posts that got me thinking - though I was glad to see it being covered - but the comments, really, many of which (at first) I found to be disappointing or just sad and apathetic.

Jason made a post on the recent protests and actions against the threat to the San Francisco Peaks; in short, there are plans to expand a ski resort in the San Francisco Peaks in Arizona, despite the fact that the mountains are considered to be sacred by the indigenous groups there. The resort want to use wastewater to make snow - something that the protesters are objecting to strongly.

This isn't the only point that's being protested against, but for some reason people seem to be getting hung up on it, rather than looking at the bigger picture. In order to get the snow up there, pipelines will have to be laid, which will involve bulldozing ceremonial sites and digging up part of the mountain in order to lay the pipe. The comments in response to Jason's article were almost overwhelmingly - at first, anyway: "So? We use wastewater for drinking as well, it's only a bit of snow."

I find this kind of response is disappointing on many levels. Judgements were being made with little attention to the actual facts, and instead only one aspect is being focused on that is being dismissed as irrelevant. Even if the type of water being used for the snow was the only issue at stake here, however, the fact remains that the proposals go against the religious beliefs of a people and a minority. Their religious beliefs are being ridden roughshod over for the sake of profit; once again, a sacred site is under threat because money is to be made from it, and those who are protesting against it are being dismissed as a vocal minority with no real point or purpose. Is it just me, or is there a big disconnect here?

One of the things that a lot of Gaelic Polytheists - reconstructionists - have to reconcile is the fact that while we honour the dé ocus an-dé, the "gods and ungods" within a specific cultural focus, most of us aren't living in the lands where those gods originated from. And yet a large part of our practice focuses on building a relationship with the land we live in, as well as the spirits who live there.

Tied in with that, one of the inevitable questions for some folk is how to respect local beliefs (and spirits) that aren't Gaelic (I'd say "Irish, Scottish, or Manx", but that's a bit of a mouthful), and carry out our practices without causing offence. In the US there are some practices that are taboo in indigenous practice that are common in a Gaelic context; in Ireland, for example, it's common to pour a drop of whatever your tipple is - a wee offering for the Good Folk - if you happen to enjoy a drink outside. For some indigenous people, alcohol is a taboo and considered a poison for the ground. As much as it's a simple matter of respect and common sense not to piss off local spirits by offering what they might consider poison, it could also be considered a matter of hospitality. Hospitality is considered to be a virtue in Gaelic Polytheism, and that should include taking into account the needs and wants of our honoured guests.

Sacred places are increasingly coming under threat at the expense of progress. Whether it's the hydro-electric proposals that are threatening the safety and integrity of Tigh nam Bodach and Gleann Cailliche, or the motorway that ploughed its way through the Tara-Skryne valley, or the Slane Bypass that protester's claimed threatened Newgrange's status as a World Heritage site (which has been given a reprieve - for now - thanks to the ongoing economic downturn)...or whether it's something like the San Francisco Peaks that's at stake. It's a slow and seemingly inevitable march.

Pitted against progress and profit, there is the question of conservation and cultural integrity. These two sides often seem at odds, and I think ultimately if we want our own beliefs and sacred places to be respected and protected, then it's an issue that goes both ways. It's a case of being stronger together, and supporting others in their struggles to preserve their own sites even if it's not on our own turf, or relating to our own religion. 

As a reconstructionist, I honour the gods from a specific culture. Part of my focus is looking to the lore, the history, the archaeology of that culture. I see that culture preserved within the landscape around me here, in the language on the signposts by the side of the road and in shops (always underneath the English, in smaller lettering as if a lesser language, however). Around me lie the memories, experiences and expressions of those beliefs and practices that I aim to incorporate into my life - such as that might be. This land I see around me is sacred, and I'm not the only one to share that view:

Cairns at Loch Loyne, 2008

Even today, people leave a mark, a sign of remembrance and perhaps thanks at having been present in such a landscape (and this isn't the only place I've seen).

Given my views it's only natural that I might err on the side of conservation, and I can understand why others do too. Why some people - pagans, reconstructionists, polytheists who also might see the land as sacred - don't care about these things, I don't understand. What's happening at the San Francisco Peaks, and probably many other places around the world, they're not happening in my back yard. There's probably not a lot I can do about it, being all the way across the Pond. But as a polytheist and an animist it saddens me that these places are being lost, and in the process freedoms are also being lost. Apathy reigns and big business wins, all because it's just a bit of snow.

But it's not. It's not just snow. It's not just a few pylons, or just a road. It's all wrapped up in belief and tradition, sacredness and ceremony, integrity and culture. None of that should be lost for a ski slope, or a road, or a hydro-electric scheme. At the least, none of it should be lost without a fight for it first.


Treasa said...

"Why some people - pagans, reconstructionists, polytheists who also might see the land as sacred - don't care about these things, I don't understand."

I don't either. It completely boggles my mind that they don't care and I would go as far as claiming those pagans, reconstructionists, and polytheists obviously don't have any ethics.

Kathryn Price NicDhàna said...

Moran Taing for speaking out, Annie. It matters. Actionists on the front lines are specifically asking for international attention on this, and every bit of new media as well as mainstream media helps.

I don't usually comment on The Wild Hunt, largely for the reasons you have both pointed out. I did on this one because my friends and I have been involved in the Peaks actions for a few years now, if nothing else on the new media and press front. I have the greatest respect for the youth (and some not so young anymore) who are picking up the torch and facing down the destruction on the front lines.

If we can inspire more people who are able to get to the site, or help with the bail funds, or bring international and media pressure to bear, it's something.

Tapadh Leibh to you both for seeing the obvious connections here.

We protect the sacred sites
so we'll have a place to pray
We pray to have the strength
to protect the sacred land
United in our prayer
we protect the sacred land
Our action is our prayer
Our action is our prayer

nefaeria said...

Thank you, thank you, thank you! Honestly what I think it comes down to is that a lot of Pagans here in North America forget about the First Peoples. We as colonizers have had a sense of entitlement for hundreds of years and this is just another example. Many Pagans are more than happy to try and mimic the spiritual ceremonies of our First Peoples {read: cultural misappropriation} but don't really give a shit about their cultures or sacred places. And I am willing to make the assumption that the reaction would have been a lot different if a place like Stonehenge were to be messed with.

Kathryn Price NicDhàna said...

This is odd... where'd my comment go?

Seren said...

Really odd, Kathryn - your second comment went through fine but the first one got stuck in the spam filter. Since I've changed the comments to post automatically (about a month or two now) that's the first time it's happened. I've 'not spammed' it and it's showing now, but for some reason it says there are five comments here when there are only four. I don't understand that at all.

Kathryn Price NicDhàna said...

So far we haven't seen any censorship by blogspot. It was probably just a glitch. But we have had Facebook censor links to blogspot blogs covering the Peaks actions. See the third section of the post here for more details:

Seren said...

@Nefaeria - Britain as a whole is very ignorant about First Nations/Indigenous groups in North America as a whole. Not just Britain, really, but I think here, where the realities are so much more distant than in the US it's not so much that they're ignored, they're just not thought about. It's somewhere else to most of us over here, a different world. I grew up playing 'cowboys and Indians' and my nan even made me and my sister a 'Big Chief' outfit to play dress up in (a sore point of my childhood for a long time, really, because my sister was the eldest so she always got to wear it, and by the time she grew out of it and I could fit into it, she didn't want to play those games anymore). The outfit wasn't exactly authentic looking, but the headdress with all the feathers in it - from seagulls, I think - was spectacular. We played 'bows and arrows' with bits of elastic tied onto garden canes for the bows. My mum still has it, 'so the grandkids can play in it' when they come to visit. We've yet to have that conversation...

The whole 'Native American Spirituality' stuff was big in the 90s (I got a dreamcatcher as a present before I went off to university, for one); even today, for Hallowe'en one of the nursery teachers always dresses as Pocahontas (I fail to see the relevance there, for a start...).

It's something I've become increasingly, and painfully aware of. I think one of the biggest eye openers for me was being at university while there was a huge controversy going on over a Ghost Dancing shirt that was on display at the Kelvingrove museum in Glasgow. It had basically been stolen from the battlefield and ended up in the museum through dubious means, and Glasgow City Council were reluctant to let it go. I remember seeing it before they eventually handed it back, and seeing the guy who was campaigning for it on the underground a fair few times. He stood out :)

It's funny you mention Stonehenge, because a while ago a lot of people were up in arms about proposals to redirect the main road (that goes right by the stones, causing pollution and all sorts of problems) underground via a tunnel. I'm sure the cost was a huge factor in stalling the plans but the idea of potentially disturbing any archaeology in the area as they bore the tunnel out, even though it wasn't going right under the stones, was appalling to so many. And yet where was the outcry when they put the motorway through the Tara-Skryne valley? There certainly was one, but nowhere near as loud as with Stonehenge.

Seren said...

@Kathryn - Google and Blogspot have been a bit buggy lately for me, so I think you're right there. It usually means there's an update in the works for my computer. Hopefully that will sort it.

I've read about the censorship on FB. It's especially interesting (to me) given the recent rioting in England last week and the subsequent proposals to limit access to social networking sites during civil unrest. And all the rest. It's situations like this where it's painfully obvious that those kinds of ideas and attempts at censorship are just thoroughly wrongheaded. For a start. But then again...Not entirely surprising.

ditzydruid said...

You are so right. I've been following this story (albeit, not as much this past month), but the apathy shown by many Pagans is really disconcerting. Kudos to you for this post.

Kathryn Price NicDhàna said...

I just got off the phone with a friend. We were talking about people who are headed out to AZ to join the resistance, and about our involvement in the fight to save Big Mountain, back in the 1980s. I was telling her about how, right after a demo in Boston, I went to a Pagan event. I brought with me a pile of postcards made up by the Big Mountain organizers - already printed up with text about a bill in Congress that could help stop the destruction. The postcards were even pre-addressed to our Congresspeople who would be voting on the matter. All one had to do was sign the card and drop it in the mail. Almost no one cared.

The Pagans tolerated me talking about it for a while, and made polite noises, but at the end of the meeting I think only two people had taken a card. Tragic. Maybe if it was the local nude beach that was threatened...

Actually, the local nude beach was later threatened, and I don't think they raised a finger to help with that, either.

Seren said...

Thanks Ditzydruid, I appreciate the support!

@Kathryn - that's so utterly depressing.

Kathryn Price NicDhàna said...

Pictures for those who think this is just about the water:

Old growth forest is being clearcut and bulldozed. Many of the trees are not even being used for lumber, but piled into twenty foot high slash piles and burned.

Another Week of Action is in progress, with street actions and direct action on the mountain continuing.

Seren said...

Thanks for keeping us updated, Kathryn. Some of those pictures were just so sad. Kind of distressing, actually.