Ancestral and indigenous traditions was one of the focal points of my Parliament experience. I wrote in my last post about Turtle Island Indigenous traditions, so now let’s look at the Indigenous traditions of Europe.
I was excited to see Inija Trinkuniene speak as part of the Priestesses panel, to attend her Sutartines workshop, and to see her speak also with Vlassis Rassias at the panel “Reclaiming the Indigenous Ethnic Religions of Europe.” Both Inija and Vlassis, along with Andras Corban-Arthen are part of the European Congress of Ethnic Religions, whose goal is to assist ethnic religions with formal establishment in their countries. They define ethnic religion as “religion, spirituality, and cosmology that is firmly grounded in a particular people’s traditions.” It’s important to note that ECER is opposed to discrimination in all forms.
Their second declaration reads:
“Historically those of other ethnic backgrounds have been adopted into new ones if they took on the beliefs and mores that are a larger part of the identity of that people. Although we are convinced that every human being has the best possibilities within his/her own culture to re-establish the harmony with the divine aspect, it does not, however, exclude anyone from participation in their activities.”
This was brought up at the above-mentioned workshop, when Andras Corban-Arthen mentioned that an ECER member from Denmark said that someone could, in theory, join another ethnic religion, but it would be a lot of work.
There is no way to prove what pagan gods my distant ancestors honoured. I can only trace my family back a few generations. I honour the Tuatha Dé Danann, but did my ancestors? I do not know for sure; I could be descended from Vikings. I’m also half Ukrainian, but I’ve never been there and don’t speak the language. Where does that leave me? For people who encourage others to follow the traditions of their Ancestors, what do I do?
Other speakers at the Parliament shared different views. Ajisebo Abimbola, who was representing the Yoruban religion at the Parliament, said that while it would be unusual, “Who am I, in my small humanity, to question who the gods have called?” And of course, Heathens Against Hate eloquently says, “We are open to all who are open to all.”
Lora O’Brien recently shared two videos where she talks about cultural appropriation and what it means to be Irish. She briefly discusses whether it’s okay to make money from teaching a spiritual tradition without any connection or without giving back to that culture.
So what responsibilities do we, as modern practitioners, have to the living cultures descended from our pagan faiths? In our modern North American paganism, how important is it that we “[take] on the beliefs and mores” of the cultures whose deities we honour? How important is it that we learn the language, participate in the living culture, amplify native voices, and promote native sources? And how important is it that we connect with our “own” ancestors?