Question from a Reader: Joining Organizations like the DAR?

Ms. Krasskova,

Because of your past writing on ancestor work, I have a question if you are willing to share your thoughts. Generally, I’m wondering if you have any opinions about organizations like Daughters/Sons of the American Revolution, Daughters/Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War, etc., and the role they play in mediating our relationship with our Ancestors on a broad, national scale. And because my initial experiences with DAR in particular have shown the organization to have strong monotheist underpinnings, I am wondering if you have any general advice about how to navigate being a polytheist in those kind of organizations.

For context, in my personal ancestor work and my genealogical research, I came across documentation of several ancestors who participated in the American Revolution, which qualifies me for DAR membership. One would hope that an organization like DAR would provide access to a local community of people who value honoring their ancestors and preserving their local history. Unfortunately, although these sorts of organizations have done a lot of good for our Dead, they have been (in the past) outright racist and (in the present day) monotheist at best, aggressively Protestant at worst–to name just a few problems. Suffice it to say that I can’t, in good conscience, participate in the opening prayers of every DAR meeting because of their monotheist language.

In an ideal world, I think that such organizations could do some of the heavy lifting for the ancestral healing that American culture needs, as part of their service work. But in the world as it exists, do you think it’s worth trying to participate in these organizations as a polytheist? Is the desire to honor ancestors and preserve local history enough common ground to put up with monotheistic assumptions?

Thanks,

P. Anon.

 

HI P. Anon,

This is a very, very good question, especially since genealogy work is one of the most concrete practices within the umbrella of ancestor work and also where many of us begin. I’ve also found myself in the same situation, having a direct maternal ancestor who fought in the Revolutionary War and thus being eligible for membership in the DAR. For me, I’ve never been able to make myself do the paperwork and really, what they represent is just not part of my personal identity, and having learned about this particular ancestor’s military work has been enough for me. Still, there are benefits to joining such organizations including scholarships and access to research archives. That being said, the concerns you bring up are absolutely valid and one of the reasons that I’ve always dragged my feet when it came to filling out that paperwork.

Here’s the thing though: you can challenge those monotheistic assumptions. You can do it gently, persistently, and by your very presence. You don’t have to ‘put up with’ them necessarily. Just pick your battles. You will most likely be the first polytheist that any of these women have met. It is likely to be completely outside of their idea of what is possible in the world. Your patience may be tested.

The fact remains that while organizations like this can and quite probably should be doing the heavy lifting when it comes to ancestral healing in this country, they are not, and in some instances, re-instantiate the very patterns that need to be challenged if healing is to occur. That isn’t going to change unless and until ancestor workers and those who are deeply committed to understanding the truth of their ancestors’ lives and experiences step into these spaces and do what it is their ancestors call for them to do and that can be uncomfortable (on both sides) and difficult (also on both sides).

As to the monotheistic prayers, I would address that in two ways. Ancestor work is a two-way street: it’s those of us living and those who are dead. Some of those dead were Christians, probably the majority (or Jewish, or Muslim). It’s ok to allow prayers to be said that they will recognize. You may not be able to participate in them licitly (I know that for the most part, I could not since many praise that particular Deity as the only one or the highest one, or make claims of allegiance that conflict with my loyalty to my own Gods). At the same time, it does not hurt these organizations to realize that there are those among them (likely among the specific groups of dead too) for whom that may  not be the case. When opportunity arises, gently but persistently suggest other prayers. Point out that when the only prayers are constantly monotheistic in tone, it excludes you and possibly others from participating. There are delicate ways to push the issue. Each group is different so get to know the people in charge and once they understand who you are and their intentions, gently introduce the idea of using more inclusive, or different prayers. Many don’t want to be exclusionary, it’s just they’ve never encountered someone who isn’t them.

But in the end, you don’t need to join these organizations to honor those particular groups of dead. Depending on your ancestry, it might be contra-indicated – the goals of one group may show disrespect to the other group. It really depends. There’s no one pat answer to any of this, like so much in ancestor veneration. What do they want (easily discovered via divination), what do you want? (For instance, if I had a child I might be more intent on joining the DAR because they do have scholarships that would help that child go to college. Things like this can be negotiated. Things like this, like life, like engaging with the ancestors, like so many other things are complicated. Always). One thing you may take on if you choose to join organizations like the DAR is helping them to realize the healing and service work that they can be doing. It’s likely to be an uphill battle but it is a worthy one.

Then of course, there are genealogical organizations that are non-partisan, but exist solely to help and encourage its members in good, solid genealogical research. Those are uncomplicated and actually really helpful (I particularly recommend the National Genealogical Society and their online classes). Also, be kind to your living history people. Those who are engaging in living history work, public history are giving voice to the dead. They’re doing sacred work. Be kind to them and find ways to support what they’re doing.

Thank you for a very though-provoking question.

 

About ganglerisgrove

Galina Krasskova has been a Heathen priest since 1995. She holds a Masters in Religious Studies (2009), a Masters in Medieval Studies (2019), has done extensive graduate work in Classics including teaching Latin, Roman History, and Greek and Roman Literature for the better part of a decade, and is currently pursuing a PhD in Theology. She is the managing editor of Walking the Worlds journal and has written over thirty books on Heathenry and Polytheism including "A Modern Guide to Heathenry" and "He is Frenzy: Collected Writings about Odin." In addition to her religious work, she is an accomplished artist who has shown all over the world and she currently runs a prayer card project available at wyrdcuriosities.etsy.com.

Posted on March 13, 2020, in Ancestor Work, Ancestors, Uncategorized and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. I’m glad you appreciated my question, and I do appreciate your response! As you say, there are benefits to joining these kinds of organizations (for me: networking, education, scholarships…), and it’s always a complicated thing to weigh those benefits against the difficulties.

    I’ve realized lately how detrimental it has become to compartmentalize my spiritual work from my mundane quotidian life, and have been thinking a lot lately about how to be more open and honest about my religion and spirituality (and how to balance that openness with privacy for me personally). So, I appreciate your advice on approaching the divide between monotheism and polytheism in this context.

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