52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks: Catching Up on 3 Months of Backlog!!!

Oh my Gods, I am so very far behind in this challenge. The end of term, especially moving to working from home in the wake of Covid really kicked my butt. This is going to be one of my quick and dirty catch-ups, really more of a brief pastiche for each week’s ancestor than a full blog post for each. I’m too far behind to be picky! So… * deep breath * here goes.

Week 14 (April 1-7): Water: my maternal grandfather Roland Isaac Hanna (1903-1991)

roland hanna year of his death or thereabouts

For all of his faults, and according to family lore they were many, my maternal grandfather was also an autodidact. He taught himself how to play the violin and could pick up any melody by ear. He was also a self-taught civil engineer in a day and age where that was still possible. Let’s just say that the math gene skipped both his children’s and my generation lol. Anyway, apparently, he was so good his employers wanted him to move to Brazil to work on high end projects there, but my grandmother refused to go. I placed him with water because he helped build the Conowingo dam and Hydroelectric station. Bridging Cecil and Harford counties in Maryland and crossing the Susquehanna, it was quite impressive when I was a small child and my childhood home (where my younger brother now lives with his family) was less than five minutes away.

conowingo-dam

(Conowingo Dam, Conowingo, MD)

Week 15 (April 8-14): Fire : my fifth great maternal grandfather James Hanna (1725-1798)

James Hanna fought in the Revolutionary War as a private in captain John Graham’s militia company, 1stbattalion from Chester County, PA. He was from Ulster, Ireland and died in Lancaster, PA having survived the war by at least fifteen years. I put him under ‘fire’ because he’s descended from the Scottish Hannay clan and they were, from what I could find historically, hellions. Lol. Apparently, they were kicked out of Scotland for feuding whereupon many of the clan went to Ireland. It seems to me like fighting and war are pretty fiery pursuits and I know this line had its temper (which I seem to have inherited in spades). The clan motto is ‘Per ardua ad alta’ (‘through difficulties to the heights’).

Week 16 (April 15-21): Air: Rev. John Bachman (1790-1874)

I’m still connecting the dots with this particular ancestor, but I believe I’m related to him (4thgreat uncle) through my mother’s paternal line. He was a Lutheran minister and naturalist. He worked with Audubon and had several animals named after him including a bird, Bachman’s Warbler. I thought that last was pretty cool. I’m still trying to fully confirm the genealogy – we have Bachmans all over that particular line but I’m 90% sure at this point.backman-s-warbler-everglades-tours2

Week 17 (April 22-28): Land: Johann Georg Haeffner (1698-1775)

My 7thgreat grandfather was born in Eberstaedt, Germany on October 17, 1698. He was one of my “immigrant” ancestors, meaning he was the first in a given line to immigrate to the US. He immigrated, I believe in 1749. His wife was named Maria Barbara Orstel (1698-1756) and they probably married in 1721 (I need to confirm this – I don’t trust it till I’ve seen the documents). I could have chosen any of my immigrant ancestors for this particular week’s posting, I suppose, but I settled on my Germans and Swiss because they were fairly well off. They were tradesmen or in the case of a couple threads of my German ancestry, gentry yet they chose to give that up to come to the US. I always found that surprising. I suppose it shouldn’t be. The more I research, the more I realize that for some, it was religious freedom (I have quite a few Mennonites, Quakers, and Hueguenots in my maternal line) and for others, they didn’t want to fight and die for someone else, and I’m sure I’ll discover still more reasons as I stumble across more genealogical records. I really wish I knew more about them as people (and this is doubly so for the women. Sometimes I don’t even have their full names!). All I have in many cases are dates, names and nothing more. As an interesting aside, Johann and my husband share the same birthdate.

Week 18 (April 29 –May 5): Where there’s a Will: my maternal great grandmother (my mother’s paternal grandmother): Edna Baldwin (ab. 1879-1944).

edna-baldwin-perry-hanna

Edna Baldwin was willful as fuck. I don’t know her, but just from what has come down to me through family accounts, I think it’s safe to say she had a very strong will. She was self-made and ruthlessly so. She left her small town in Hardy, WV and moved to Baltimore (though apparently she and her first husband moved around. My grandfather as born in Alabama!). She was an opera singer for a time, and later in life, during the depression, worked as a seamstress. She lived by her own rules and took very little crap from anyone.

 

Week 19 (May 6-12): Service: 1stcousin twice removed private S. Wesley Heffner (30 April 1898-June 1918).

Processed with Snapseed.He was a young man who went to France with Pershing’s troops to fight in WWI and didn’t come back again. This may well be the only surviving photo of him. It’s odd looking at it because he bears a very strong resemblance to my brother. Wesley lived in York County, PA and is buried in a cemetery where he is related to nearly everyone there. His mother and father, grandmother and grandfather, great-grandmother and great-grandfather and a passel of other ancestors lie nearby. I do not know if his body lies in the grave or if it is just a headstone. He is very much remembered and honored.

Processed with Snapseed.

 Week 20 (may 13-19): Travel: my adopted mom Fuensanta Arismendi Plaza (1950-2010)

For someone who was born in Paris, grew up partly in Venezuela, partly in Italy, and travelled all over the world from the time she was small pretty much until she died, my adopted mom hated traveling. She always told me that she loathed it and always had, even though I think she counted herself very lucky to have had the opportunity and experience. She liked to be in her home, tending her shrines, working in her garden, in relative solitude the best. Still, it was through her that I was able to travel a bit and I am likewise grateful for that. She opened the world to me.

Week 21 (May 20 – 26): Tombstone: 3rdgreat grandmother Rachael J. Bobo (1824-1908)

RachelBoboBaldwin copy

This is my Appalachian 3rdgreat grandmother, directly descended from Gabriel Bobo, my Huguenot immigrant ancestor who came to VA in 1681 fleeing religious persecution. She is listed in the census as illiterate but she made damned sure her children got an education and her grandchildren entered the professions. She was born and died in West VA (Hardy County) and there is no indication she ever left it. I have no idea where her grave lies but oh, I wish I did so I could go, touch her stone, kneel on the soil and pay my respects.

Week 22 (May 27 – June 2): Uncertain: paternal grandfather Karalys (Karl) Dabravalskas (1882-1973)

I never met my grandfather as he died when I was less than a year old. For all that his last name seems unique to American eyes, I’ve not had much luck researching his line or that of his wife (Ursula Blazis). I have been told by a cousin that Karalys’s parents were named, no joke,  Adam (Adomas) and Eve (Eva). LOL. I would love to know if this is true.

lith fam

(Ursula Blazis Dabravalskas, Julia Dabravalskas (Standing), John Dabravalskas (small boy standing between his parents), Karalys Dabravalskas)

Week 23 (June 3-9): Wedding: Ursula Blazis and Karalys Dabravalskas

I heard this story about my paternal grandparents from both my mom and my dad. Apparently, Karalys had an arranged marriage with the eldest Blazis daughter. He came over to the US to get himself settled, started his dairy farm, etc. etc. and sent for his bride-to-be. She, however, decided she didn’t want to leave Lithuania and, without telling him first, the family sent the younger daughter Ursula. Well, she gets off the boat and what is the man to do? In those days, you didn’t send her back! So, he married her. They fought like cats and dogs apparently, according to my bio-mom but had three children, one of whom was my dad John Paul.

Week 24 (June 10-16): Handed Down: my maternal great grandmother Lucinda Alice Shoff nee Heffner

lucinda heffner and hugh shoff

One of the things that I am always fascinated with is the handing down of names. It’s such a deeply personal connection with one’s ancestor. My family apparently bickered over what to name me. May aunt wanted to call me Victoria (which I would have liked). I was nearly named Ursula after my paternal grandmother. I ended up with a name I disliked deeply and changed it at eighteen – good riddance. When my second niece was born, my brother asked me if there were any girl’s names really common in our maternal line and I told him: Catherine, Mary, Lucinda, Alice. There are other names too, of course, but those are probably the most common, followed closely by Elizabeth. No one can ever accuse any of my maternal lines of being particularly creative with their names (the Hanna line in particular is all James, John, and Stephen. Like, mix it up guys. Give me a George, a Robert, anything else! Y’all are a naming nightmare for your descendants who are genealogists lol). (image of Hugh Shoff and Lucinda Alice Heffner Shoff). 

My great grandmother’s two names were passed down to her grandchildren and I think Alice is a lovely name, with a sweet, quaint charm. My relative hated it though, so much so that for her privacy I won’t say which relative it is. Fortunately for her, in those days, when confirmed as a Catholic, one could take one’s confirmation name in place of one’s middle name so she did that. Still, I the names carry the memory and as they pass down through the family accrue layers of memory. My aunt, also named after her grandmother  remembers Lucinda Heffner Shoff as a deeply religious woman, kind, loving, firm. My aunt absolutely adored her namesake and the feeling was mutual. She told me that she always felt warm and loved and safe when she was with her grandma and that when Lucinda Heffner died, it was devastating. Lucinda Alice had seventeen (17) children, including several sets of twins and triplets and most of them lived to adulthood. One of them was my grandmother Linnie May. 

I would love to hear the stories of the names that have passed down in each of your families, of your own name, and the names that you yourself have gifted to your children. The stories are important.

I’ll stop here for now. I still have a couple of weeks to catch up on but boy am I tapped out. This was like ancestor stories lightning round! This will teach me to procrastinate. Ha ha.  Feel free to share your own ancestral stories in the comments. It’s always a good day to remember our honored dead.  

ancestor close up

On Watching “Cinderella” – A Few Thoughts

Affiliate Advertising Disclosure

“Fairy tales do not tell children the dragons exist. Children already know that dragons exist. Fairy tales tell children the dragons can be killed.”

–G. K. Chesterton

cinderella

I don’t often write about movies but I watched this one recently with my housemate (my husband having fled to his office the moment we put it on, ha ha) and it led to a rather extensive discussion about how elements of pre-Christian religious belief, ancestor veneration, and proper protocol for engaging with all manner of spirits are often embedded in fairy tales. Cinderella is no exception to that. Now I’m not a Disney fan. I’m definitely not a live action Disney princess movie fan but my friend Tatyana talked me into watching this one against my better judgment and I actually found it quite lovely. Then Tat. read me a couple of the negative reviews and I thought, ‘God damn it. Now I have to write something.’ So, here you go.

Our stories are important. They tell us who we are. They distill the most essential qualities of our lived experience, the best of who we are as a people. Fairy tales are even more a condensation of certain eternal and essential truths, all wrapped up in magic, beauty, and sometimes terror. They inspire us to be and do better. A story like Cinderella is, under its many, many layers, the story of the power of our ancestors to see us through the most difficult and challenging of times, and a story about the importance of remembrance (1).  

I never liked the Disney cartoon of Cinderella (except for the cat, Lucifer. He was awesome. In fact, my only complaint about the live action movie with Lily James is that Lucifer the cat didn’t have a larger part). She always seemed like such a doormat. Having read several of the reviews of the recent movie, I know I’m not the only one to feel that way in general about this story. But, also having read several versions of the story (I like the most gruesome ones the best, no surprise there), and now having watched the live action movie, I’ve revised that opinion (2).

Please note, there will be spoilers below.

*

*

*

*

*

*

*

I think there are qualities of nobility of character, loyalty, and goodness in Cinderella’s nature that are really highlighted in the Lily James movie (hereafter whenever I refer to “the movie,” I will be referring to this version alone). Cinderella’s mother dies when Cinderella is a child and her last words to the girl are “have courage and be kind.” Several reviews of the movie criticized this, but it’s excellent advice for developing character and personal virtue, especially because the two complement and balance each other. An excess of one or the other isn’t good, but if you balance them true strength can take root. Cinderella lives by this rubric as best she can and in the movie, articulates why she chooses to remain in the home later, after the death of her father, when her stepmother and stepsisters behave so foully to her. It is her home. She feels a connection to the land, a responsibility, and wants to honor that, and the memory of her parents in their home. She makes a conscious choice to stay – maybe not the choice I might make (definitely not) but it’s her choice, made from a position of strength and integrity. She could, after all, have left and found work anywhere given her kind nature and domestic skills, and this is evident throughout the movie. In fact, a friend urges her to do just that. She chooses to stay for her own reasons, and the dismal treatment doesn’t touch who she is inside. This is also an important lesson.

In one review that my friend read, the writer complained vociferously about what a poor example this was setting for her daughter but I do not think ‘have courage and be kind’ is a bad example, nor is the hospitality and courtesy that Cinderella maintains throughout the movie. It’s tested several times too: when she receives news of her father’s death and again when her step mother tears up her mother’s dress the night of the ball and the fairy godmother comes to help. Cinderella doesn’t take her pain out on those around her, but does her duty (hospitality and courtesy, kindness) as she perceives it to those outside the family first. There is nobility of demeanor, which has nothing to do with blood or wealth, but in the world of fairy tales like life, everything to do with character.

What we see is that no matter what one’s circumstances, even if those circumstances are terrible and outside of one’s control, one may still choose how to respond. It doesn’t have to make one cruel or bitter, or twist one out of true. That’s an important lesson, I think. We have a choice in how we respond to hardship. That means we have agency and control, maybe not over externals, but certainly over ourselves.

I think this is something fairy tales really bring home: personal agency and responsibility. Yes, Cinderella is couched in the story of a sappy romance, but the real story is what happens before and around all that. The romance is just part of the social trapping to make it palatable to children and childlike adults. Hospitality and courtesy recur repeatedly as important themes and life lessons and inevitably in these stories are rewarded in some way by non-human forces. There is duty and protocol, right action and right relationship external and immutable to anything happening in one’s life. Doing those things under duress is a sign of good character in the world of fairy tales and fairy godmothers.

We can learn from these stories if we’re willing to take them as they are. Too often when modern writers decide to twist them out of true to accommodate modern “values” and mores, they lose the essential wisdom embedded in these tales. Like so many of the stories we read, there are doorways to very sacred things contained in some of these children’s stories. They’re meant to imprint an awareness of what is right behavior in those listening or reading, to help us learn to choose wisely that which will shape us as adults. That’s not a bad thing. In fact, that’s a very, very good thing. We need those stories, now more than ever.

What are your favorite fairy tales and why?

 

Notes:

  1. In the original version of the story, Cinderella plants a tree on her mother’s grave and goes there, making offerings and praying every day to the spirit of her dead mother. It’s her mother that helps her, not a fairy godmother. It’s really interesting how often ancestors and the fair folk are elided, especially in Northern European lore, but that’s an article perhaps for another day.
  2. It’s been a while since I’ve read the original Grimm version of the story but I believe the stepsisters cut off toes and mutilate their heels to fit into the slipper and at the end, ravens peck out their eyes.

Same Shit, Different Day

So, once again a little cadre of leftists (or just haters – it’s not always easy to tell the true motivations behind some of these folks) on twitter and tumblr are going on and on and on about how I’m a racist, a nazi, a [go ahead and insert horrible term here — I’ve actually seen one post where the writer just changed their nasty word of choice for me to something else when it didn’t get the response the poster hoped]. Plus, I’m a woman who won’t shut the hell up, which I suspect is far more of the issue than anyone is admitting. 

Here’s a thought: Instead of allowing other people to tell you what to believe, why don’t you read my blog and decide for yourself. 

You don’t need people to predigest and then spit that information into your mouth like a baby bird. All of you are intelligent, creative, mature individuals capable of reading and making up your own mind. Don’t let anyone convince you otherwise, because when they do, they control you. 

Experiencing the Gods – a Reader Question

A reader asked me recently asking whether or not it was really possible to experience the Gods through our senses, to have some type of direct engagement, where we sense, hear, or see the Holy Powers, what is called theophany (from two Greek words: φαίνω “to see” and θεοί “Gods” and meaning essentially to see or perceive the Gods). It was a very good question and forms, I think, one of the most difficult chasms to cross from 20th century post-modernism into actual devotion, and certainly to the type of devotion that informed the world of our ancestors. For our ancestors, including our medieval Christian ones, it was acknowledged that one might experience the Gods via the senses (how else would one experience Them? Our sensorium is the way that we experience every aspect of our world, after all) (1). They set up temples where one could go to pray for dreams, developed mystery cultus to allow for cathartic experience of the Powers, and worked this awareness into their philosophies and literature (2).

I will preface this by saying that I think everyone who experiences the Gods directly does so a little differently and that’s because our brains are not wired to take in something that inhuman and immense. The experience, the Being, the Presence gets filtered through our consciousness, so if person x sees but person y feels or hears that’s a matter of their own inborn facilities/predilections (some people learn better visually, some by hearing, etc.) and how their brain is processing the stimuli. One modality isn’t better than the other. Now onto the actual question!

One thing that I realized with this question is that I didn’t come to Heathenry or even to polytheism unprepared. I had a very good devotional upbringing. I was encouraged to pray, to do novenas, the idea of “God” being able and willing to engage with devotees was not a foreign one so I never self-censored there. I didn’t close that off, the idea that engagement was possible, but I think like a muscle one might work at the gym, the facility to sense the Gods was actively developed through years of prayer and meditation and later shrine work, devotional work, study, etc. Also putting myself in space where it was more likely such contact might occur didn’t hurt, and a couple of years of ritual work further developed that awareness.

I think many times the Gods show Themselves not through the raw impact of visions or direct theophany but through small graces, gifts given through the natural world or one’s daily life and that is potent and powerful too. Learning to see all things as sharing in that connection, that capacity for engagement is important because if we are always looking for the big explosion of Presence that overwhelms, we may miss the small whisper of grace that opens. Both are important and maybe, just maybe it’s the latter that prepares one for the former.

I’ve argued with other spirit workers about whether or not the capacity to experience theophany is part of one’s inborn psychic or spiritual wiring or whether it is something that can be developed through consistent prayer, meditation, and devotional work. I default to the latter and perhaps that is because I was a priest long before I became a spirit worker. It’s also though that I have seen ecstatic ritual move people away from the tightly locked down headspace of their daily lives and into receptivity toward the Gods. I also think that saying one can only experience the Gods directly if one has the inborn talent for it negates the agency of the Gods in this equation, and without that agency no one is going to be experiencing anything!

As a spiritworker I have to say, don’t be upset or discouraged if you don’t immediately receive the feedback of direct experience. You are having experience just by engaging in devotional work and there is far, far more merit in doing that work without the bold and obvious interaction/theophany/etc. than in doing it solely to receive that. Pray without expectation without preconception and you will be opening all the doors of your heart and senses to the glory of our Gods. Besides, theophanies usually come with work. The Gods are there and will usually meet us more than half way if we but start in whatever fumbling capacity we can down the road of devotion. In the end, that’s all that matters.

Notes:

  1. Even in omens, prodigies and κληδόνες, the person receiving such a gift is experiencing that through their sensorium: sight, sound, smell, taste, touch.
  2. One of my favorite passages in the latter is found in the Virgil works in a powerful description of a priestess of Apollo being possessed by Her God:

“But the prophetess, not yet able to endure Apollo, raves in the cavern,

swollen in stature, striving to throw off the God from her breast;

he all the more exercises her frenzied mouth, quelling her wild heart,

and fashions her by pressure.”

At, Phoebi nondum patiens, immanis in antro
bacchatur vates, magnum si pectore possit
excussisse deum; tanto magis ille fatigat
rabidum, fera corda domans, fingitque premendo.

Virgil’s Aeneid, 6 77-83.

I love this description of possession because it so aptly depicts the partnership required and, while it’s been awhile since I’ve read the Aeneid in Latin, I believe in at least one other place, it’s actually described with vocabulary that conjures up the horse and rider paradigm that is used in modern Afro-Caribbean religions to describe the process of Deity possession, a metaphor that many polytheistic traditions use as well.

Note that the word that is here translated as ‘raves’ is ‘bacchatur’ and means to ‘behave in a bacchic manner,’ i.e. to be taken over completely in divinely inspired ecstasy, possibly violent ecstasy. It may also be translated accurately as ‘rave’ or ‘rant’.

I could have translated ‘fingit’ more as ‘tames’ rather than ‘fashions’ though either is an accurate translation. (this isn’t my translation — I’m not sure whose translation this is, but I liked it. I would probably translate it this way: “But, not yet fully opening to Apollo (or enduring Apollo, or allowing Him in, but the sense is that Apollo has not yet seated Himself fully on the prophetess because she is instinctively resisting), immense (vast) in the cave she raves, trying to drive out the great God from her breast; He exhausts her mad fury, taming her wild heart, instructing her by seating Himself fully (this is one of the possible poetic meanings of premendo).

So, just looking at this quickly before I hit ‘post’, I could make several choices in the translation and I’d probably have a half page of footnotes lol.

On July 4th – Musings on Independence Day

Today in the United States it is the fourth of July (though by the time I get around to posting this, it may actually be the 5th). This day commemorates the founding of our nation and its war for independence from Britain. For the longest time, while I enjoyed the fireworks and the trappings of celebration, I never thought much more about it. I know the history of our country good, bad, and in-between and I continue to read, learn, and study as time permits. It’s always been a topic of mild interest for me, particularly colonial history. This year, however, I’ve been thinking quite a bit more about the United States, the Declaration of Independence, and especially the Constitution, about what it means, the conditions under which it was written, and most of all about what a remarkable document it truly is.

This is an odd place for me to find myself. I’ve never, ever considered myself a patriot. I’ve never been proud of being American nor indeed does it form a significant part of my personal identity (as I know from talking to many of my friends that it often does for others). In fact, growing up in Maryland, I was often ashamed and irritated by the general Weltanschauung of this country. I hated what I perceived as a lack of culture and class, the stupidity and mediocrity that I saw everywhere around me (as it seemed to me as a child. As an adult, I’ve learned to appreciate the nuances of this country more, particularly the way that Americans are open-hearted and friendly from the outset as a general rule. No longer being one of only two people in my grade school class who liked to read books lol, and with the autonomy of an adult in choosing her own friends and pursuits, I realize everything is not as bad as it seemed when I was small). I always longed to be elsewhere.  This longing only increased when I began studying ballet with an eye toward making a career for myself. Nothing that I found in the States, especially the broad, brash ballet style so favored by Balanchine favorably compared with the elegant traditions of France, Denmark, or Russia (1). This feeling didn’t abate as I grew. Later on, having an adopted mother who was Swiss helped my political awareness to develop well outside of the American norm – I’m neither Democrat nor Republican and were I living in the 18th century, I’d probably have supported England– so it’s odd for me now to find myself more and more over the past few years in the position of not only having to explain the Constitution and in some cases basic American history to people, but also realizing what a truly remarkable project it was and remains.

Enacted in 1789, the Constitution contains a preamble (“We the people…”),  seven Articles (describing the three branches of government -legislative, executive, and judicial,- the responsibilities of the state and federal governments, and delineating how the government works at a national level), and 27 Amendments, the first ten of which form the Bill of Rights, which restrict the power of the government and grant us such rights as free speech, freedom of religion, and the right to bear arms (2). It is not perfect, but it is, nonetheless, an astonishing document.  In drafting the Constitution, our founding Fathers for all of their flaws, did something ground-breaking and unique, something extraordinary, and we as a nation are at our best when we are working together to live up to the ideals articulated in its laws.  I don’t think the writers of the Constitution thought their country was perfect. In fact, the very language of the preamble shows quite the opposite: “We the people, in order to form a more perfect union…” not a perfect union, but one that would be better, a more perfect union. This document was a starting point, not an end. It was the beginning of our country, not its terminus. It was a foundation upon which we might build, working toward that “more perfect” union.

Instead, today, we as a society are doing our damndest to burn that promise down, to destroy that union. Benjamin Franklin, one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence, once warned that, “only a virtuous people are capable of freedom. As nations become more corrupt and vicious, they have more need of masters.” As we sacrifice more of our freedom for a false sense of security, beg for more regulation on our personal lives and bodies, for restrictions on the very freedoms that our forefathers fought so hard to defend, I cannot help but think that we are slipping the yoke around our own necks. If I could go back in time to 1776, I would beg the founding Fathers to end slavery even if it cost them the support of the southern states. I would point to the divisions that are being used – not by those desiring equality for all, but by groups like antifa that would exploit that desire for their own deeply destructive ends—to destroy the country that our founders were trying against all odds to secure. I would beg them to acknowledge those men and women of color among them as equals and to fight hand in hand, shoulder to shoulder, side by side to build this nation proudly, equally. Because to do anything else would be to create a putrid division that would continue to fester beneath the surface of their nation, impeding the very liberties that the Constitution urges us to ensure.

We had an opportunity to begin this country clean in 1776 and we failed to do that. I believe, however, that slowly we have been working toward a ‘more perfect union’ ever since, even though we have more often than not fallen short. It is up to all of us to keep our eyes raised high to the expectations laid out in our Constitution, a document unlike any other in the world at the time it was composed, to keep our eyes upon that and to fix our minds and characters on attaining all that it promises. I do not believe the way toward that goal lies in deconstruction, in burning, looting, rioting, and tearing down and rejecting order. I think it lies in remembering that we can and should be better than we are, and in working toward that as individuals, as communities, and human beings with a shared stake in our nation. Those things that spread division, that offer no solution but dissolution, that spit on the very freedoms our ancestors of every color and every race fought to defend do nothing to further its promise. They are the things that will destroy us from within.

I’m still not a patriot. More often than not in my heart of hearts I want to ask, “what is “American” to me that I should care about any of this?” Yet I do because I have had ancestors who survived communist Russia, who were taken from Lithuania and sent to gulags for their patriotism (3). My family story has taught me how important a thing it is to fight for freedom and to cherish its promise and at its best, that is what America stands for in the minds of so many of our immigrant ancestors and so many immigrants today (4). That same story has taught me the need to acknowledge failure while at the same time working to build up our communities, to demand change, without also begging for destruction. The marches, riots, protests currently taking place across the USA sadden me to my core and they make me angry. The peaceful protests are fine but too often they’ve been coopted by groups that have zero interest in fighting racism, but instead wish to see the end of America…with no clear, workable vision of anything better with which to replace it. It is destruction for the sake of destruction and isn’t doing a god damned thing to make the lives of POC better.

I think we should treasure our history – the good, the bad, the ugly – because it is our litmus test, our line in the sand, our point of departure. It isn’t there to make us comfortable or uncomfortable. At times, it is right and proper that we be deeply ashamed. At times, proud. Acknowledging all those messy parts, framed against the remarkable hope embedded in our founding documents, and moving forward as a people is the challenge that we have always faced. I rarely write about overtly political things here (I save all that crap for facebook). I do think, however, that participating in the civic life of one’s community is something that a well-rounded adult does as a matter of course. It’s not devotional work, but it is an obligation that we maintain as part of remaining in right relationship with the vaettir of our nation, our state, our city, our town, our immediate community (5).

We have an incredibly robust government that is capable of allowing necessary change to occur even in the face of huge opposition. Its checks and balances are our strength and somehow this keeps our government from sliding into either dictatorship or chaos. It’s a remarkably dynamic and lively system. People have the freedom to question even the constitution itself, but before we decide to rid ourselves entirely of that document, we might want to consider living up to it.

 

Notes:

  1. Each of the national ballet schools in Russia, England, France, or Denmark has a unique style. The American style, in many ways defined and codified by George Balanchine and his NYCB and School of American Ballet has a style that is broad, open, and lacking in the tightly controlled elegance of the more traditional systems. It’s like dealing with multiple dialects of the same language. Each has its beauty and its flaws.
  2. That freedom, even when articulated in a Constitution, is never a given is perfectly demonstrated by the slow chipping away of our 2nd amendment rights in this country, a process that has been going on for decades but that has gained greater traction in the wake of Columbine and other school shootings. The degree to which contemporary Americans are willing to sacrifice freedom for the illusion of security is truly terrifying.
  3. When I was 15, I had the opportunity to do a nearly semester long exchange program in what was then the Soviet Union, and by chance, we were sent to Vilnius, Lithuania. Almost all of my dad’s family came from Vilnius (a few from Kaunas) and I actually met cousins while I was there. One of the most moving experiences was meeting my father’s uncle and having him grab my arms and say to me, “You tell your father I’m still here. I was sent to Siberia, but I survived and I’m still here.” I didn’t understand what he meant then or why it was so important a message, but I do now. I also understand why my Lithuanian ancestors were so deeply * angry * that I changed my last name from ‘Dabravalskas’ when I was 18 to one of the Russian names in my family line. I was a ballet dancer. At the time, every director I had made an issue of how long my Lithuanian last name was. Now, I’d tell them to kiss off but at 17 and 18 in the late eighties, trying for a ballet career, I wasn’t that bold! It was only when I married that my Lithuanian ancestors let go of the majority of their anger over that name change.
  4. My friend Tatyana was telling me earlier today that her parents, who immigrated here from the Ukraine when she was a pre-teen become extremely patriotic around thanksgiving and July 4 and it amused her. It made perfect sense to me though: they chose this country, coming from a repressive communist state where freedom of movement, education, job, and thought were curtailed. They know the opposite of what America represents. My dad, having been born – first generation American – in 1917 was the same way.
  5. ‘Vaettir’ is the old Norse word for (generic) ‘spirits.’ In this case, I’m referring to land spirits.

 

For further reading:

Full text of the Constitution may be found here.

Frederick Douglass’ “What to a Slave is the 4th of July” may be found here.

the political is spiritual — The House of Vines

Every word.

Apropos of my last post … [Edited to add: woops, I meant to link this post, though I suppose the other works too.] How does destroying statues of elk and mermaids get justice for George Floyd, Elijah McClain or Breonna Taylor, let alone all of the poor White, Latino, Indigenous, Queer, et alia lives that […]

via the political is spiritual — The House of Vines

To my American Readers

Happy-4th-of-July

Sneak Peek

Coming very, very soon….

anteros-front

a little novena book for a very special God…

anteros-back

stay tuned.

 

 

(cover art by Grace Palmer)

CFS Walking the Worlds

We are in the final weeks of putting issue 12 of Walking the Worlds together so if anyone has any articles or book reviews that you would like to submit, please contact me here at krasskova at gmail.com. We can take submissions till the end of next week.

wtw

New Shrines – Call for Material

Raven Kaldera contacted me yesterday to let me know that he’s going to be creating several new virtual shrines and to find out if I or anyone I know would like to participate.

The new shrines will be to Hades (in honor of all the new dead), the hero Cuchulain, and the Goddess Brigid. He said there is no deadline; they’ll put material up on the shrines as it comes in, once the shrines themselves are created.  They’re looking for poems, prayers rituals, personal essays, anything people would like to write. Folks should send it to this email – cauldronfarm@hotmail.com attn: Raven, virtual shrines. 

I (Galina) have submitted a prayer to Hades but am otherwise unaffiliated with these shrines. I love the idea of virtual shrines though. I was dubious about them at first, but we spend so much of our time online in modern society that they’re really the digital equivalent of little roadside shrine nooks where you can light a candle, offer a quick prayer, and be on your way. I think they serve a valuable purpose in granting even this, our digital world, the potential for holiness.