Category Archives: Ancestor Work

52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks: Week 4 (Close to Home)

I grew up amongst my maternal kin. Rather, I should say, I grew up amongst the Shoff and Heffner descendants. There wasn’t much awareness of continuity or genealogy in the immediate family – for instance I was in my forties before I realized my great grandfather and great-great grandmother were buried not 20 minutes from my childhood home—and with one exception, my maternal grandmother’s children seem to want to cut themselves off from their heritage. There’s something emotionally unsettled and rootless in them, a brittleness that I put down to that conscious abrogation of their ancestry. I could speculate on why they feel that way, but that’s not where I want to go in this post. Rather I’d like to focus on connection.

There is a cemetery, St. Luke’s Evangelical Lutheran in Chanceford Twnship, PA where I am related to 98% of the inhabitants and if I looked closely enough, I could probably find connections to the remaining 2% as well. So many of my direct descendants are there. Visiting was overwhelming. I’ve been to cemeteries before where I had one or two relatives buried but never six+ generations of my maternal line! It was one of the richest and yet most disorienting moments I’ve ever had in my genealogy work! I sank down in the grass in front of my great, great, great grandparents’ (Elizabeth Oberlander and Jesse Runkle) stones and it felt like a homecoming. I wanted to stay there for hours and hours.

My friend MAG was with me (she took the picture of the cemetery shown here) and helped me to stay focused. She’s a good handler lol! It was blistering hot and all I could think of was finding relatives but she made sure I stayed hydrated and kept an eye on me as I staggered from grave to grave. She was a trooper too. When we started out, we knew the cemetery was off route 425 but not the exact address. When we found it after about an hour of driving around, the sense of “this one is mine” was so strong it knocked the breath out of me. (I found this page, by a librarian and genealogist talking about the cemetery for those interested). 

My third great grandparents are there, second great grandparents, my second cousin twice removed who died in WWI, his parents, assorted Revolutionary and Civil War dead to whom I’m related. There’s a list of the burials MAG found as I was staggering through the cemetery and when I started reading through it, I think all I could say over and over was ‘Oh my Gods. Oh my Gods. Oh my Gods.” Shoffs, Runkles, Oberlanders, Heffners, Smeltzers oh my. (Even as I typed this up I went off on a genealogical expedition through cemetery records. I had to stop myself lol).

Not belonging to an Abrahamic religion, I often ponder the fact that we have no universal “holy land” comparable to what Jerusalem is for Jews, Christians, and Muslims. One could say that all land is holy to us but that, I think, is a cop out. This cemetery is the closest I’ve ever gotten to a place that felt holy on an inter-generational level, on a deeply sacred level and it was a joy.

Processed with Snapseed.

52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks: Week Three (long line)

One of the prompts for this particular week on the official facebook page for this project asks if there is an occupation that seems to recur in one’s family tree. Ironically, there is and it’s one that I myself am pursuing too: theologian/clergy.

On my maternal line (through her father), my 7thgreat grandfather is Alexander Underwood (1688-1767), a Quaker minister who settled in Pennsylvania. I’ve actually been in the Meeting House that he helped to build in Warrington Township. He was apparently very prominent in his community and travelled frequently to help build up Quaker communities in the colonies.Processed with Snapseed. (Warrington Meeting House — my photo).

I’m descended through his daughter Ann Underwood, who married Stephen Ailes. Their son Stephen Ailes (1750-1828) and his wife Elizabeth Swayne (1751-1820) had a son Stephen Ailes (1771-1816) – my family has never been overly creative with naming their children lol. It’s a pain in the ass as a genealogist—who married Sarah Byland (1773-1830) had a daughter Esther Ailes (1798-1887) who married James Andrew Hanna (1800-1874) and their son Stephen John Hanna (1832-1897) was my great great grandfather. I’ve been able to visit his grave and the graves of his wife Elizabeth Johnson, their son Perry Hanna, and his son, my grandfather Roland Hanna within the past couple of years. It looks like Stephen John Hanna was a farmer primarily (quite common on both sides of my family as well).

Bohme-woodcut-Hugo-BurknerAlso on my maternal line (this time through her mother), theologian and mystic Jakob Boehme (1575-1624) is my 11thgreat grandfather. This was really exciting when I discovered this. He was considered rather controversial in his time but had tremendous influence on German romanticism. He was trained as a shoemaker but read extensively, becoming effectively self-taught. He was a visionary and mystic and wrote extensively on various theological topics like angels, theodicy, and theological anthropology. He wrote several books including “Forty Questions on the soul,” “The Incarnation of Jesus Christ,” “The Six Mystical Points,” “The Signature of All Things,” and “On Election to Grace.” His work is still in print today. He engaged with leading clergy of his day and also leading religious controversies. There are strong Platonic elements in his work. His work also birthed a theosophical religious movement called Behmenism (an English corruption of his name) which influenced Romantic poets and artists including William Blake.

So, I am descended from Jakob Boehme through his son Jakob Boehm (1599-1670) –there was no regulated spelling of names until the early 20thcentury, so I tend to alternate spellings depending on the document with which I’m dealing. He had a son also Jacob Boehme (1643-1734) who married Barbara Karrer (1637-1737) and they had a son also named Jacob (1668-1692) who married Anna Marie Sherer (1671-1750) and they had a son of the same name (1693-1781) who married Barbara Kendig (1695-1780). They were my immigrant ancestors on this particular line, coming to Pennsylvania in the 18thcentury, and they had a daughter Magdalena (1738-1804). She married Frederick Shoff (1732-1800), himself an immigrant from the Palatine and they had a son Jacob Shoff (1765-1838). He married Nancy Hess (1775-1810) and by this time that particularly family line was already well ensconced in Chanceford township in PA (there’s a Lutheran graveyard there where I’m literally related to 98% of the inhabitants and If I looked hard enough, I’m pretty sure I am probably related to the other 2% by marriage!). It looks like by he and his father were too young and too old respectively to have fought in the American Revolution (I have other maternal relatives who did that). Anyway, their son David Shoff (1800-1881) married Barbara Smeltzer (1801-1844). Their son Christian Shoff (1815 – ?) married Catherine Markley (1793-1859). He fought in the Civil War on the side of the Union. His son Rudolph Reuben Shoff (1842-1886) married Mary Jane Adams (1846-1936) and their son Hugh Clay Shoff (1873-1957) married Lucinda Alice Heffner (1875-1952). They are my maternal great grandparents. Their daughter Linnie May Shoff (1909-1987) married Roland Isaac Hanna (1903-1991) though they later divorced. Their daughter Mary Ann (1947-2012) is my biological mother. Whew!mommom at 15(Linnie Hanna as a young woman, c. 16). 

Throughout the line, at least through my great-grandparents’ generation, there has always been a strong thread of interest in things spiritual. My great-grandfather’s sister, if my grandmother’s stories are correct (and given some of what I learned from her and later researched and checked, I think they are) was a spiritualist of some note in the family. My great-grandmother was apparently “very, very spiritual” (as far as her grandchildren’s accounts go). My grandmother herself was a mystic and visionary – I know that from my own time with her– and it’s from her that I learned the importance of devotion and prayer. I myself have been a priest within my religious tradition for almost 30 years (a terrifying thought lol) and I’m pursuing a PhD in theology.

Likewise, lest I forget to mention them, also on my maternal line, we’re descended from Huegenots who immigrated rather than betray their religious principles. We also had several Swiss immigrants who were Mennonites. I’ll admit to having little patience with Protestantism (I’d rather deal with converts from Catholicism any day in our tradition, since there are elements of prayer, devotion, and shrine work that seem to come easier to them and the Protestant focus on the written word has had problematic influence in my own polytheistic tradition) but I’m proud that my ancestors would not be swayed from what their conscience at the time dictated.

 Basically, I’m descended from a long line of people who had no problem stirring the religious pot and causing trouble and I’m happy to say I uphold that particular family tradition proudly. Lol.

Screenshot 2019-12-25 20.51.41

52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks: Week 2 (favorite photo)

I don’t know if this is a favorite photo per se, but it was certainly one that I was overjoyed to acquire.

edna baldwin perry hanna

This is my great grandmother (maternal father’s side) Edna Baldwin (with her then husband and my great grandfather Perry Barnes Hanna). She haunted my family for years (metaphorically speaking lol). There is tragedy and loss and bitterness and so much there in her life on which I wish I had clarity; she was really the lynch pin that set the tone for not just her children but theirs as well and by extension my generation too. Intergenerational pain and trauma but also courage and perseverance and the ability to survive with all the viciousness that sometimes entails. While parts of her story are bleak, I respect her and I honor her as one of my disir (protective female ancestors).

Edna was born c. 1879 in Hardy, WV to Jane Newhouse Baldwin and Isaac Hamilton Baldwin. She was one of at least a dozen children. The 1900 census lists her father as a car repairer. All I know of Edna is that she got the hell out of WV as soon as she could. She married Perry Barnes Hanna, my great grandfather (though I haven’t found their wedding certificate yet), and had three children by him (I have my doubts that the first child was his. The boy looks significantly mixed race (most likely part Native– my husband is half Blackfoot so it jumped out at me immediately) and I really do wonder if that’s why she left Hardy County to begin with, attitudes being what they were then in small, 19th c. towns. I looked at the photo I finally got of the two brothers and immediately blurted out: “No way they have the same father!” In 1900 that would have been an issue, a serious one, but I digress. (I am a genealogist. Mysteries like this drive me absolutely crazy. I want to know. Everything my dead tried to hide, I want to ferret out lol. I’ve had intensive email correspondence with an archivist in Hardy county – amazingly wonderful woman – and we came to the conclusion that Edna lied on her second son’s birth certificate. There, she said she was born in Alabama. Census records place her at less than a year old in Hardy County and I have far more documentation for her parents than I do for her. We thought, all the evidence considered, that she was trying to hide her background and town/county/state of origin. Like me, did she just move as far away as she could at the first opportunity when she was of age or is there more to the story? I will probably never know but I also won’t stop looking).

My grandfather, apparently her second son was born in 1903. Her relationship with Perry was volatile. My aunt told me that her father (my grandfather Roland) told her that once the two of them were fighting and Edna threw a knife at Perry, the latter saved only because he held up a thick newspaper to block it. He himself was, according to his son, an alcoholic (family lore says Perry was a pediatrician but I’ve searched the census records and find zero evidence of that. The only place it’s mentioned is in his mother’s obit. My grandfather told his children that Perry had to give up medicine due to his drinking so maybe that is the case. Certainly Roland believed it was and remained a committed tea-totaler for his entire life). At any rate, their marriage did not last (haven’t found the divorce decree either but I will) and when Roland was six and her older son Van nine, she abandoned them in a local park in Baltimore. She told them to wait there, that she’d be right back but never, ever came back. That’s all I’ll say on that, because I cannot imagine the horror and terror and pain of those two little boys.

They were adopted by different families and Roland’s was less than kind to him, using him more as farm labor than anything else. He was brilliant, however, a polymath who started out as a surveyor and ended up a self-taught civil engineer (still possible in those days). He helped build dams, including the Conowingo dam near where I grew up. He taught himself to play the violin and could play anything he heard by ear. He was a math whiz. While he reconnected somewhat with his mother as an adult, the relationship was never warm and his older brother Van flat out refused to have anything to do with her (this is, at least, what I’ve been able to pry from Roland’s children, my aunts and uncles). Roland himself was physically brutal to his own wife and children. He and my grandmother eventually divorced at a time when that was simply not done. He, by family account, went off to live in the woods. She was scared of him even after he was out of the picture I think. Before he died he did try to make amends to the family, especially to my bio-mom who was, it seems his least favorite child, but I think for her it was a matter of too little too late. He died in 1991. It really shows how one generation can open the door to trauma that just travels down the line. There is no “away” for things like this unless they’re looked at hard in the face and dealt with. On a lighter note, let me just add that I did not get his math gene. LOL. Quite the opposite in fact as I have dyscalculia but he instilled in his oldest daughter a love of learning and she passed that onto me.

Edna was a pianist and opera singer in Baltimore. More than that, I haven’t been able to find out. Family records indicate that she trained a niece to sing but the girl gave it up to get married, pissing Edna off (something with which I quite concur…art is a grace and a blessing. If you have it, use it BUT it highlights the choices women were forced to make at the turn of the century. When I first found out about Edna leaving her children I had to wonder why. Was she turning into someone she felt might hurt them? Was she herself abused in her family? Certainly, it seems like she might have been by her husband even if it also sounds as though she gave as good as she got. Abuse travels down through family lines after all. Maybe she thought it safer for her children to give them up. Was she bitter about being held back in her aspirations as a singer? Was it something else? It hurts me to think of those children and for a long time I had hostility for her because of this but the more I study history the more I realize that in 1909, the year she would have abandoned her children, there were zero resources for a woman fleeing a drunk and probably abusive husband. Maybe it was the best she could do. There’s too much I don’t know and I’m hesitant to judge ancestors who may very well have been doing the absolute very best that they could with a lack of resources we cannot imagine. I do recall standing at my ancestor shrine once a couple of years ago thinking about her and I said out loud, “I don’t understand how you could make that choice” and ringing like a bell, clear and loud in my mind, heart, and soul I heard: “you assume I had one.” It brings home to me my privilege as a woman in 2020 with resources and in a city and country that has far, far more options – not just for women in danger but for a woman who wants to work, to be educated, to do things, to go places, to live, and maybe to not have children (reliable birth control is a wonderful thing). I’m lucky, but I’m lucky in part because of women like Edna and the other Mothers of my ancestral line who suffered and sometimes did brutal things to keep their souls from being broken; and yes, that may have meant breaking someone else, and that had consequences, sometimes painful ones for the next generations but maybe it would have been even worse if those choices hadn’t been made. It’s way too easy for us to judge. I’d rather learn and pray and elevate their wounded spirits because they are my strength and I’m here because of them, and sometimes I see more of myself than I would like in some of the choices Edna made and I wonder if I would have done better or worse in her place. (I was a ballet dancer through my early twenties professionally. I didn’t and don’t have children and never wanted to have children but I wonder what I would have done in 1909 in her place and sometimes I don’t like the answer).

Eventually she married again, Ernest O. Armiger and they had a daughter Dorothy. I have a copy of a letter that Edna wrote in the thirties. She was excited for the New Deal, supporting herself by working as a seamstress through the depression, and deeply invested in workers’ rights. She even wrote at least one article for a magazine, though I’ve not been able to get a copy (yet). She died of heart trouble in Maryland in 1944.

She was never close to my grandfather, for all he always craved her love. One of her letters to her brother Lynn mentions all of her children and updates Lynn on the goings-on…except she doesn’t mention Roland. She did visit him at least once. My oldest aunt was about two at the time. She came, met all the children and then left. My aunt remembers her as an elegant woman, describing exactly the woman in the photograph above. My aunt thought that she herself must have been about five but I don’t think that’s possible with the time line. This would have been when my aunt was between 2-4 though so my thought is that maybe she didn’t remember the visit but was told about it by her mom later, and shown the photo as a child, which imprinted on her memory. She told me that she was held on Edna’s lap and was impressed with how elegant she seemed. I remember things from when I was 2 ½-3 so it’s entirely possible my aunt does recall this. It’s just within the realm of what I would consider possible. For that visit, I don’t think my grandfather was there, but he was sent overseas in WWII so he may still have been on active duty. Edna was only 64 when she died. From her death certificate, she was cremated but I have no idea what happened to her ashes so for me, that is where her story stops.

My youngest aunt sent me photocopies of the photo (and others, including one of Van and Roland as children). The man pictured with her in this photo is my great grandfather Perry Barnes Hanna. So, while it’s not my favorite photograph, I had been searching for an image of her for at least a decade and by happenstance and ancestral blessing, it was there all along, just waiting for me to ask the right person for it to fall into my hands. I am grateful.

52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks – Week 1 (Fresh Start)

So, I joined this genealogy project consisting of year long, weekly prompts about my ancestors and it seems pretty cool and so today I receive the first prompt: Fresh Start and I thought: what does that mean?

I know that most people doing this are probably not polytheists and are probably going to choose to write about something new they discovered about a particular ancestor, or something relevant like that and I thought about doing the same thing, except the current state of my ancestor shrine really has me moving in a different direction. Namely, it’s a mess. One of my goals this year is to get back to where I was two years ago with my ancestor work, when my shrine was like a living extension of my heart, a vital, vibrant seat of communion between me and my dead. I’m not sure where things went awry (actually I am. We had a horrible, absolutely horrible contractor working on our home that we had to fire for sheer incompetence and during the course of his tenure here my ancestor room became cluttered. (1) He brought such disorder and pollution into the house I could not work there. I never actually recovered from that).

It really reminds me that honoring the dead was so much more difficult for me at the beginning, years and years ago than honoring the Gods. Gods are, well, Gods and as such the level of respect I have for Them is much, much greater than what I bear for any human being no matter how beloved and for me, that is how it should be. The problem, in those early years, was not actually that, but rather two-fold: I could sense/hear the Gods so much more strongly than my ancestors and Odin was and is overwhelming in so many ways that early on there wasn’t much room for anything else and also, I don’t much get along with my living family. That’s gotten a lot better over the years partly at the push of my adopted mom and partly at the push of my ancestors (they do tend to like to put the living house in order) but twenty years ago it was a far, far different thing and the thought of actually honoring people I’m related to was vastly unappealing for all I knew it had to be done. It took awhile to learn to love them, but I did and they’ve sustained me through more things than I can name. I don’t think I’d realized until quite recently how lax I’d become in my ancestor veneration. It’s not an insurmountable gulf, but it is something that I need to recommit myself to bettering over the next year.

So, I set myself some goals for the next couple of months around this issue. I want to completely scour and clean my ancestor room and shift some of the furniture around – I’m going to need help with that, I think, but I have a friend who has amazing spatial sense. He can look at furniture and tell me with 100% accuracy whether something will fit in a particular space. He’s agreed to help me sort it out physically. Then I want to totally take apart and redo my ancestor shrine. This takes at least four days usually longer. My ancestor space when it is in good working order takes up three of four walls floor to ceiling. When it’s in good condition it takes the better part of a week to totally redo and it’s in anything but good condition now so I’m estimating at least a couple of weeks’ work with that.  After that, it’s merely a matter of submitting myself to the discipline of regular offerings and prayers again – that at least I’ve been doing to some degree, though not as I ought to have over this past year.

It’s an opportunity to reconsider what this part of my practice means, why it is so fundamental, and the role each of my ancestors plays in helping me maintain right relationship with the Gods. This whole experience over the past year has really shown me how easy it is to take for granted those relationships which we assume to be solid. The moment I ceased concerning myself with tending my ancestral work is the moment it started falling apart, assuming it would be ok to let it go for “just a little bit.” There’s a reason that the word cultuscomes from the Latin colo, colere, colui, cultum – to till, tend, nurture. All devotional relationships have to be nurtured. Hell, all relationships have to be nurtured, devotional or simply the human ones we also cherish. There’s a lovely line from the Havamal that counsels friends to visit each other often and exchange gifts often too in order to strengthen the friendship (stanza 41). It holds for devotion too and that I think has been the lesson my ancestors have really driven home these last few months. Now, it’s time for me to pick myself up, dust my ancestor shrine off and get back to the work of ancestral devotion.  #52ancestors

Notes:

  1. To give an example, lest you think I’m exaggerating this man’s level of gross incompetence, he was creating a shrine nook in one of the rooms. All looked well from inside…that is until we went outside by chance and saw that he’d driven the nails through the siding of the house from the inside. The kicker was coming outside and seeing him sawing wood, not on a sawhorse like a normal, competent contractor, but on the hood of my fucking car. Fired immediately. If you’re in the dutchess county area, I have an awesome contractor now who is an angel and just an amazing human being. His work is pristine. If you ever need a referral I have one. If you want a warning in the Long Island area about whom to avoid, I got that one for you too. Just email me.

Project for the New Year

My friend December sent me a link to an awesome ancestor/genealogy site. The site is running a “52 ancestors in 52 weeks” project for 2020 and I think it’s a wonderful idea. I you’re interested, check out the site here. You can register for prompts for free and there is a facebook group too (I’m not associated with it in any way, fyi). I’m definitely going to do it. I’ve gotten lazy with my ancestor work this year. 

Remembering Pearl Harbor

Today is the anniversary of the bombing of Pearl harbor, a “day that will live in infamy” and the act that brought America into WWII. Today I remember those who fought and those who died. Hail them. 

Here is a good article about Pearl Harbor.

Explosion-USS-Shaw-magazine-attack-Pearl-Harbor-Dec-7-1941

A Few Thoughts on Modernity and Indigeneity,

This morning a friend and fellow theologian said to me, “It’s not fashionable to believe in God anymore but I certainly do” and I told him that I quite agree. My belief in, love of, and veneration of my Gods is the axis mundi around which my entire life revolves. I believe it is our reason for being as human beings, and a good and potent thing. My response to him was this: “I think we need to look at why it’s no longer fashionable”(1).

All of this was in response to a conference panel that I attended earlier this week, one that I found very rewarding. It was a panel dealing with sexual diversity in Orthodoxy. Several students asked me why I was there (not being Orthodox. They weren’t being mean, they were honestly surprised and/or curious). I told them that I found it interesting and above all else, there is not a single issue in early Christianity the results of which my communities aren’t wrestling with now, and in many cases the same issues are affecting all communities of faith, regardless of tradition, today. Plus, I wanted to support my colleagues for whom this continues to be a matter of grave importance within their tradition and who had put in a tremendous amount of work over the last year discussing and debating the topic.

I don’t think, theologically speaking, that sexual diversity and LGBTQ+ rights are an issue in polytheistic communities overall. There is no underlying theological position being used to condemn or bar LGBTQ+ people from becoming clergy or participating in rituals (2). Likewise, I don’t think we see men or women being barred from clergy roles on account of their gender (3). In polytheistic traditions, I think the topic of sexual diversity is a non-issue (at least when one compares how highly charged a matter it is in monotheistic circles). I was happy to see the issue being discussed and the panel raised really good and thoughtful points. It really made me reflect on what our traditions do well and where we have a bit farther to go still too. One thing, however, bothered me immensely and I think we see it in our communities quite a bit, so I’m going to mention it here.

It seemed that “modernity” (in any particular iteration) was being accepted unconditionally as an unmitigated good, and its values as progress by pretty much everyone (4). I really don’t think that it is. I’ve never viewed the values of modernity as particularly conducive to devotion, tradition, and faith; in fact, I think those values, which place humanity at the top of the ontological food chain in ways that do not help us cultivate humility, virtue, kindness, or piety, are actually quite destructive – to culture, to tradition, and most of all to developing anything resembling devotional consciousness. They encompass a way of looking at the world, of relating to each other in the world that positions us if not antagonistic to then at best outside of divine order. That same divine order fills the world with bounty, richness, and elevates us all as beloved creations of the Gods. It grants us dignity as created beings, venerative beings, homines fideles. It does not deconstruct into meaninglessness, but creates and restores and nourishes that which has been created.

I think the many iterations of modernity have, in some way, taught us to look at devotion – particularly when we are reconnecting to our respective indigenous traditions, reconnecting to our tribal realities, reconnecting across divisive lines and when we’re reaching instead into the wondrous sense of being and becoming within the hothouse of ancestral consciousness, within the seedbeds of our religious traditions, in ways that have terrifying and much-needed potential to transform the world—as primitive. We are ever and always oh so horrified that we might look primitive, to outsiders and most of all to ourselves. It’s time to get over this.

I will say again what I have said so many times in my writing. Those of us coming from European ancestries have two deep ancestral wounds that we must uncover, acknowledge, examine, and heal. The first is that Christianity came into Europe, spread across the lands that our pre-Christian ancestors and their tribes called home and eradicated our religions, co-opted our cultures, and subordinated those cultures to divisive political ends. The second, and we are much less willing to look at this one, is that our ancestors then drank that terrible poison, came across the ocean and did unto others precisely what had been done to them. We have a debt to our dead just as much as they have one to us and to our world and until we accept and acknowledge that, our traditions will continue to wither on the vine and our world will continue its descent into chaos, and we ourselves will continue to suffer and to inflict suffering on others.

We are our ancestral lines walking, for good or ill (for good and ill). Modernity may tell us this is primitive thinking. It may tell us to scoff at bowing down before our Gods, Gods Whose blessings have the potential to lift us up and plant out feet firmly on the ground of restoration, it may tell us that honoring the land, the mountains, the rivers, the trees is silly. I think, however, it’s time to take a good long look at “modernity” and ask the question: what have you given us that is better?  

I’ll stop with that question since I have a class starting in fifteen minutes. We carry our ancestors with us, yes, their mistakes, but we carry their  wisdom too and maybe, just maybe if we honor that, we can find a way out of the mess we’ve made.

 

Notes:

  1. You want to be an atheist, rock on with your bad self. I have no problem with that provided you’re not coming into our polytheistic communities and trying to take on leadership positions, or shape and change liturgical and/or theological structures. You do you: the atheist sandbox is not my circus and y’all are not my monkeys. I have my hands full with polytheists lol. Just stay in your own sandbox.
  2. An issue came up a couple of years ago with Dianic Wiccans at Pantheacon but my understanding of their theology is that they are not polytheists.
  3. There may be specific temples that are gender restricted for reasons relevant to that particular cultus, or a particular Deity may be served by only one gender – Pudicitia being served by married women for instance, but those are relatively rare exceptions within a broad and rich family of polytheistic traditions. Those exceptions likewise have to do specifically with the nature of the Deity and His or Her hypostasis being honored in a particular way or place, not the inherent rightness/wrongness or goodness/sinfulness of a particular gender.
  4. One person even flat out equated modernity with technology in a way that I found both reductionist and a-historical. The ancient people’s hand technology (Romans had heated floors, running water; Greeks had steam engines for instance). Modernity is not about technology. It’s about values, systems, and ways of being in the world.

Learning New Things: the Defense of Saraghari in 1897

I just watched an awesome movie “Kesari,” a retelling (with some embellishment) of the 1897 Battle of Saraghari where (and this is historical fact NOT embellishment) 21 (yes, twenty-one) Sikh soldiers defended the fort for over six hours against more than 10,000 (ten thousand, possibly as many as twelve thousand) Pashtun tribesmen. This past September 12 was the 122ndanniversary of the defense of Saraghari. All twenty-one defenders were awarded the equivalent of a Victoria Cross by the British Crown. May they always be remembered. Learn more here.

The twenty-one men are as follows:

Havildar Ishar Singh (regimental number 165)
Naik Lal Singh (332)
Lance Naik Chanda Singh (546)
Sepoy Sundar Singh (1321)
Sepoy Ram Singh (287)
Sepoy Uttar Singh (492)
Sepoy Sahib Singh (182)
Sepoy Hira Singh (359)
Sepoy Daya Singh (687)
Sepoy Jivan Singh (760)
Sepoy Bhola Singh (791)
Sepoy Narayan Singh (834)
Sepoy Gurmukh Singh (814)
Sepoy Jivan Singh (871)
Sepoy Gurmukh Singh (1733)
Sepoy Ram Singh (163)
Sepoy Bhagwan Singh (1257)
Sepoy Bhagwan Singh (1265)
Sepoy Buta Singh (1556)
Sepoy Jivan Singh (1651)
Sepoy Nand Singh (1221)
There’s another good link here.

So Many Things Wrong With This

So today I found out that this is happening.

At first I thought, I don’t want the Hudson River ritually linked to the Jordan (all respect to the spirit of the Jordan river). This is purposeless. This serves neither river. Not only is there no practical reason to do this, but it massively elides the individuality of each river spirit. Then of course I looked at the groups doing the ritual and realized that I can put my mind at rest. Competent ritual work has never been a hall mark of the interfaith agenda.

Still, w.t.f? The clear implication is that by linking the Hudson to the Jordan that the Hudson would participate in some derivative divinity. Setting aside the obvious Abrahamic religious underpinnings of wanting to specifically connect to the Jordan River this way, what about we start by recognizing the existential locality of the sacred? Why don’t we honor the individuality of each of these river spirits? The Hudson does not stand for all rivers. The Jordan sure as hell doesn’t stand for all rivers (again, let’s consider for a moment the Abrahamic religious underpinning of such an idea, keeping in mind that “interfaith” usually just means chatter amongst Jewish, Christian, and Muslim communities occasionally adding Westernized Buddhists if they’re feeling particularly tolerant and the occasional Native American). If someone is Jewish or Christian, I can see that person relating to the Hudson as a mirror of the Jordan quite well but what does that have to do with the rest of us? Moreover, what does that have to do with either the Hudson or Jordan rivers in and of themselves? It’s obscene. Has any divination been done to see if the rivers consent? And no, I’m not being facetious. We’re animists. The world is sacred and alive and sentient. There are even countries that have recognized the rights of the river as if it were a person. So what this interfaith group is doing with their aggressive and dare I say it colonialist guilt driven hate magic is essentially stripping that personhood away. It’s obscene. 

The Jordan river should have its due. It should be honored with regular songs, offerings, with care, with attendance. So should the Hudson. So should every river in the entire world. Pointless rituals like this, designed for nothing more than assuaging western guilt at the devastation we’ve wrought on the world (largely by abandoning our sacred traditions first in favor of Christianity and then of post-modern pabulum) do not make up for that lack and they never will.

 

The USS Indianapolis

crew.jpg

I was reading up tonight on the USS Indianapolis. Then we watched a movie about it. In between I was swarmed by military dead. I’m still not fully recovered. The story is one of heroism and shame – heroism by the men who served on the ship and shame of the bureaucrats who refused to take responsibility for their own incompetence, incompetence that caused the death of nearly a thousand men. I will tell a little of their story here.

mcvayIn 1945 this ship, a heavy cruiser under the command of Charles Butler McVay III, was sent to deliver nuclear materials necessary for the bombs that were eventually dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The mission was top secret. As such, they were denied any type of escort, even though they were sailing through waters where Japanese submarines had sunk American ships only days earlier and even though the Indianapolis lacked any type of sonar by which they could detect these subs. Under normal circumstances, the ship would have been allotted at least one escort. That they were not amounts of malfeasance by the Navy brass. It gets worse.

They delivered their cargo successfully and on the way back home, while in the midst of the Philippine Sea, they were targeting by a Japanese sub, the I-58 commanded by Mochitsura Hashimoto. The resulting attack devastated the Indianapolis, immediately killing at least three hundred men. The ship went down leaving over a thousand men marooned in shark infested waters.

Three SOS calls were ignored by the American military. The men were slowly picked off by shark attacks, exposure, dehydration, saltwater poisoning, and injuries sustained during the initial attack. They were in the water for four days after the Indianapolis went down. (This was the single greatest loss of life in US naval history). Eventually they were rescued, in large part due to a routine air patrol having spotted them. Out of close to 1200 men of the original crew, only 317 survived.

Then, knowing that there would be an investigation into such great loss of life and wanting to cover its collective ass, the US Navy decided to use Captain McVay as a scapegoat and court-martialed him (against the wishes of Admiral Nimitz) for failing to “zigzag,” a common maneuver to avoid Japanese missiles. They also brought charges of dereliction of duty. It was utter bullshit. Commander Hashimoto testified that McVay acted properly and that there was nothing that he could have done differently to avoid his ship having been sunk. He was found guilty of not zigzagging anyway, though the dereliction of duty charge was a not-guilty. In fact, evidence shows that McVay did everything right.

Charles McVay shot himself on November 6, 1968. He received ongoing hateful phone calls and letters from the relatives of those of his crew who did not survive throughout his life. The men who did survive continued to push for his exoneration, insisting he was innocent of any wrong doing. Commander Hashimoto, who upon retiring from the hashimotomilitary became a Shinto priest, also pushed for his exoneration.

While reading up on this, I found out that a twelve -year old student named Hunter Scott while working on a school project for National History Day in 1998, researched the USS Indianapolis and this event after seeing it discussed in Jaws(which ironically is what made me read up on it again – I had known most of the story before – tonight. I saw Jawstoday at a local theatre). He interviewed survivors and waded through over 800 documents pertaining to the incident and McVay’s conviction. His hard work and that of the survivors who had formed the USS Indianapolis Survivors Organization, led to a Congressional Hearing where the conviction was overturned and McVay exonerated. In 2017, the remains of the ship were discovered in the Philippine Sea and in 2018 the entire crew of the Indianapolis was collectively awarded a Congressional Gold Medal – long overdue.

There is a National Memorial to the USS Indianapolis on Canal Walk in the city Indianapolis. Hunter Scott joined the Navy and as of 2017 was serving as a naval aviator.

Books of interest on the topic include:

“Fatal Voyage: the Sinking of the USS Indanapolis” by Dan Kurzman (who also helped push the cause of McVay’s exoneration forward)

“In Harm’s Way: The Singing of the USS Indianapolis” by Doug Stanton

“Indianapolis: the True Story” by Lynn Vincent and Sara Vladic

There is also a movie with Nicholas Cage that is quite good: “USS Indianapolis: Men of Courage”

They will be added to my shrine for the military dead and starting tomorrow, I will be doing an elevation for Captain McVay and his crew. (I felt Hashimoto’s presence as well very, very strongly as I was researching this but I don’t sense any elevation needed there. He wasn’t wronged and driven to suicide).

May these men be remembered.
May their story be told.
May they eat honey from the hands of their ancestors.
Always.