Bird, Book & Bone
animism, ecstasy, knowledge, chaos

23 September 2011 @ 2pm

landwights, politics

American gods

I am slightly sheepish to admit how long it took me to realize that Columbia is supposed to be the goddess of America in a traditional and long-standing way and not a fresh and new way.  Plenty has been written on Her in just the last week, so that I think the conventional understanding is that She’s supposed to be the genius loci, perhaps the literal vættr of the continent, and the patroness of liberty and democracy.

In the first wash of realization, I realized of course the United States had an egregore (or two).  Of course.  Even though I’d been having a friend have words with America during a trip to D.C., I hadn’t thought about what America looked like.  But it’s obvious: Columbia is the United States’s giving, generous, loving mommy figure to Uncle Sam’s stern, demanding daddy figure.

It’s not as though I hadn’t talked to genii loci before; I’d long been in communion with the genius of Edmonton when I was there, a slightly cool, middle-aged Slavic woman.  Ireland is thick with wights in graduated and overlaid layers, with big city wights competing with counties and archaic kingdoms and old royal sites and the very chatty dead, the sidhe, the saints, the wells…

The reasons I never really thought about talking to Columbia or Uncle Sam are several.  The smaller reasons are that, with a grounding in history, I thought of Columbia as much the goddess of Manifest Destiny and willful destruction as the goddess gathering Her huddled masses.  Columbia is definitely a wight of the populace with less regard for the homeland.  I thought of my and my family’s mistreatment at the hands of the American government, its failure to protect its people, its failure to truly embrace everyone, the interventionalist foreign policy, the unjust wars, the slowness to ban slavery and the slowness to embrace civil rights and I realized I couldn’t trust Her.  She’s quick to anger and slow to forgive, too young to be wise.  Columbia may have, to paraphrase Elizabeth I, the body of a generous and loving woman, but the heart and stomach of a brutal conqueror.  There’s something viral and hungry in Her.  Perhaps every freedom-loving American pagan should pray to their gods to help mold Columbia into something more welcoming, secure but forgiving and sensible; every American magician work to rework Her in a better shape and to lower Uncle Sam’s militaristic finger.


The bigger reason, though, was that I never thought of Columbia when I thought of the land I grew up in.  Perhaps Idaho’s too remote and too anti-government, especially that far from D.C., to have a strong sense of Columbia.  Certainly the old Pacific Northwestern wight is strong enough to compete with young Uncle Sam in its home territory, far from the capitol (little more than 200 years old).  Either way, when I thought of home I thought of Coyote.  I thought of sockeye salmon and huckleberries and wolves and white pine and Raven.

"Raven Bringing Light to the World" by Robert Davidson

I didn’t think of a grabby white woman in a star-spangled sheet, a goddess willing to send Her children to die abroad in combat or die of illness at home, arbitrarily elevating some of Her children above others, a goddess named for a man with a lust for gold and conquest and slavery.  Even if She is the most authentic goddess of these United States, is She what we want to shape us?  So when I think of going home, I don’t think of asking Her — She’s what drove me from home in the first place — I think of the gods and genii that were here long before Her.

As a North American with a grounding in history, Columbia seems like an interloper.  Columbus didn’t find America; it was always there, inhabited perhaps for 50,000 years, with cities millennia old by the time Columbus ‘found’ them; with democratic governments, agriculture, medicine, monuments, pyramids.  My family might have come from Europe generations ago, many of my gods too, and even my wife; but I am North American right down to my bones.  It’s never been more evident how not European I really am (despite being white) than since I actually moved to Europe.  So when I was younger and started talking to the land, it didn’t surprise me to find old gods already present.  I approached Them with respect and affection (especially because I hadn’t then yet come across the idea of cultural ownership of autonomous entities) and They responded well.  Perhaps it sounds appropriational, but a human’s lifespan is generally under a century and thus no one alive can claim to be part of North America’s European invasion or resistance; and I was born in North America like my father before me and his father before that; and I have worked to ensure that the land is safe and healthy, and the people — all the people — comfortable and free, their individual cultures vibrant; so I am a native son.  And I think the old gods have a better idea of what is good for North America than Columbia, and when Columbia helped drive me from my homeland, it’s Raven and Coyote, the desert and the mountains, I’ll petition to get me back.


Edit 24.09.2011: This is an excellent post with a similar focus — modern neopagans approaching New World wights — which ought to be read.

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