American Folkloric Paganism: Embracing Your American Roots
American Pagans Yearn For Other Lands...
There's something I've noticed with the majority of American Pagans, including myself. They study and practice forms of paganism that encompass their ancestors' original homes, mostly across the ocean and on other continents than the one on which they live. I have always been a proponent for diving into our ancestors' beliefs and practices from ancient through modern times. I still study my ancestors' folklore, mythology, and history from their homes in Europe. However, I've had an epiphany as of late...American Pagans should also embrace their American roots. There's no shame in being American, and there's no shame in incorporating your home's folklore, history, and traditions into one's spiritual practice.
We yearn to be in other places, in the homes of our ancestors. We say "oh I'd love to go to Ireland", "take me home to Germany", "I want to be with my people in Italy", etc. But we forget many of our ancestors came here for a reason and lived here for some time. Some of them have been here for centuries, maybe back to the 1500s. Some are brand new. Some of our ancestors might have even been indigenous to this country. Not every American Pagan will be second, third, fourth, fifth, etc. generation American. Some might be first generation American. However long you or your ancestors have lived in the United States, there is a synergy and depth that you can add to your spirituality when you embrace your home's land, folklore, history, and culture. This is not to say you should give up your practice if its based on European or African roots, etc. By blending the two together, you may find yourself wondering why you forgot about your American roots! Read on to learn more.
1. Connecting with the Genius Loci (Land Spirits)
The first part to truly embracing your home, whatever part of the U.S. that might be, is getting to know the land spirits (a.k.a. genius loci) where you live. Sarah Anne Lawless speaks of the genius loci quite often in her prolific, detailed blog posts. She explains in this blog post how easy and effective it is to create a genius loci profile. This is a record of the types of land spirits in your area, including: local trees, herbs, flowers, rivers, bodies of water, animals, insects, landscape features, etc. To do this, don't just cheat and look it up online. First, you won't find everything you need to know about your specific local area online. Second, this prevents you from actually getting outside and starting a relationship with the nature spirits in your area.
Get outside and simply observe your surroundings. What the sky is doing, what trees are in your area, what wildlife, what insects, what is the soil like, etc. Write all of your observations down. You can even take pictures of trees, plants, animals, in order to look them up later. Once you've identified the species you came in contact with, record them on your genius loci profile or simply write them down in a specified place of your journal.
By developing an in-depth knowledge of the American land on which you live, you automatically put vibes out into the universe that you are looking to connect with nature and the land spirits near you. From here on out, you will notice more and more wildlife showing themselves to you in very random but amazing ways. You might notice a hawk sitting on the fence across the street that you've never seen before. Or a vine that's growing on your fence begins to bloom, and that bloom has medicinal qualities when you look it up. You might even get to a point when you think of a specific animal or plant you'd like to see, and then BAM! You manifest that sighting and the animal or plant shows itself to you.
We can study the animals and plants from our ancestors' native lands, which is amazing, but we should also study and work with the land on which we live. After all, we live here, right? Wouldn't it make sense to connect with our home-land's nature spirits, too?
2. Studying and Incorporating American Folklore
Many pagans take years to study and incorporate folklore and mythology of their ancestors' native lands: German, Norse, Celtic, Roman, Greek, Slavic, Baltic, African, Chinese, Egyptian, etc. But we often leave out and neglect our current home's flavor of folklore. We ignore the "Tall Tales" of Paul Bunyan and Johnny Appleseed. We never learn that mermaids and unicorns were myths of the Americas, not just of European lore. We never read or hear stories of the Appalachian witches, sin eaters of the Carolinas, or water witches and grannies of the Ozarks. We don't pay attention to the indigenous tribes' deep and profound myths of the White Buffalo Calf Woman or Spider Grandmother or the trickster Coyote. We miss out on stories of pirates like Sam Bellamy and Captain Kidd, skinwalkers, the chupacabra, the goatman, the bell witch, wild west stories of Annie Oakley and Billy the Kid, thunderbirds, the mysterious disappearance of Roanoke, the Legend of Sleepy Hollow, Pocahontas and John Smith, and more.
Time to brush up on your local American folklore. Get online and do some research on your local area, the immigrants and/or indigenous people that once lived where you live. Maybe some of them still live there. Maybe your ancestors populated the place where you live. Whatever the back-story, research and study. There are many American folklore books you can buy for cheap on Amazon and elsewhere. Some of my favorite titles are: Ozark Magic and Folklore by Vance Randolph, American Folklore and Legend by Reader's Digest, American Witch Stories by Hubert J. Davis, and American Tall Tales by Mary Pope Osborne.
Many pagans take years to study and incorporate folklore and mythology of their ancestors' native lands: German, Norse, Celtic, Roman, Greek, Slavic, Baltic, African, Chinese, Egyptian, etc. But we often leave out and neglect our current home's flavor of folklore.— Nicole Canfield
3. Studying Indigenous Tribes and History (& Cultural Appropriation)
We can't talk about embracing our American roots without showing honor to the indigenous people who came before us. Unfortunately, if your ancestors immigrated to the U.S. and were not indigenous, you are aware of the rough history between the European immigrants and the indigenous natives. I say "rough" history, and that's putting it mildly. By learning the history of the indigenous tribes, and learning what really happened to them after the "white man" showed up, you will gain a greater understanding of the land and the potential residual energy where you live.
Study the natives' from your area - their way of life, whether they have survived or have died out, whether they have a reservation near you or not, etc. Also research their myths and beliefs pre-Christian-conversion. Their legends will almost always speak of the land spirits in your area - the animals and the plants - and their importance to spirituality and daily life. Please be careful when using any native practices or beliefs in your own. You don't want to be someone who uses a sacred, ancient native practice just to please your whim of the day and ultimately pay it a disservice. This is cultural appropriation. Study. Don't do. Unless you are native, yourself or have expressed permission from an elder.
4. Embracing American Traditions and Holidays
Many American Pagans celebrate pagan holidays from their ancestors' home lands, such as: Yule (Scandinavian roots), Imbolc (Celtic), Samhain (Celtic), Lupercalia (Roman), etc. And often American Pagans feel the necessity to celebrate the holidays of their ancestors, sometimes to the negation of American holidays and traditions. We choose our ancestors' native lands over our own current native land. Why not celebrate both? Or choose the ones you like best and forget the rest?
For instance, in my house, we celebrate Samhain by giving offerings to our ancestors and setting a place for them at dinner, but we also celebrate American Halloween by trick-or-treating, costumes, handing out candy, carving jack-o-lanterns, and more! For our big harvest holiday, we do Thanksgiving - the American traditional turkey, stuffing, potatoes, cranberries, etc. While many pagans don't celebrate Thanksgiving or consider Mabon their Thanksgiving, this is what I grew up celebrating and I love to incorporate my American traditions into my spiritual path. The same thing goes with the winter holidays - a lot of pagans celebrate the Winter Solstice instead of Christmas. Christmas is an American tradition, whether you are Christian or not, and so I celebrate the solistice/yule on Christmas day. I celebrate Christmas but incorporate my pagan elements into it. I'm keeping my pagan ancestors' roots alive, but also acknowledging my own American roots and recent American ancestors' traditions.
In conclusion, your spiritual path and practice is your own...so make it your own! Tailor it to meet your needs and your family's needs. If you are American and practice mostly your ancestors' form of paganism from old world countries, why not embrace your modern American roots and incorporate American history, folklore, traditions into your practice as-is? Don't be ashamed to honor American holidays. Don't be ashamed to learn and use American folklore in your practice. Honor the indigenous peoples by learning their history and beliefs (without stealing/dishonoring their beliefs by using it to your own advantage).
Make your spiritual pagan path your own, and be proud to be an American pagan. Our ancestors fought hard for a place to call their own. For a place for religious freedom...honor them.
© 2017 Nicole Canfield