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Pope Apologizes for Native Schools

Part of me sarcastically wants to say “a day late and a dollar short” but acknowledging that these schools were places of torture, abuse, and genocide, and taking public responsibility for that, tendering the apology is a good thing, potentially a healing thing. I probably shouldn’t be so sarcastic. Here’s the link

Now, let’s see him apologize for the destruction, erasure, and genocide his Church caused to Pagans and Polytheists and their families, cultures, and communities across Europe from oh, I don’t know, the fifth through the fourteenth centuries? I’m not holding my breath. You see, we aren’t visible enough, there aren’t enough of us yet. The Church can still think it won. 

I bring this up not to equate pain with pain or genocide with genocide but to point out that historically, Christian imperium did not start in the 15th century with Columbus. They practiced for a long time. (And I know there are many good and devout Christians out there who were horrified by this, and are horrified by it (1). Still, the union of Christianity and political power was not a good thing. Knowing where the abuses came from, when they started, can help ensure they don’t happen again because the Church still hasn’t cleared the beam from its own eye there, especially not where children are concerned. The foundations for what became Native “schools,” started in the Carolingian period, and the attitudes that led to the desecration of non-Christian holy places and forced conversion began far earlier than that.

There are court documents extant in the 9th century, in the Carolingian empire (specifically the German town of Mainz) that clearly show the abuses that happened after Frankish Christians finally, after numerous wars and resistance, slaughtered and/or forcibly converted the Saxons, Lombards, and others (2). After the Frankish victory, children were taken from their parents and placed in monastic schools, forced to remain, to abandon their religion, their culture, their language, abused, starved, and occasionally even forced into taking monastic vows. This stunned me when I learned about it (totally by accident in a class a couple years ago. I had known about forced conversion and slaughter, but had no idea that kids were forced into monastic schooling). In the 9th century, a particular monk, Gottschalk of Orbais, jumped the wall and fought secular and religious authorities for his freedom. During the course of the Synod in which his case was debated, the abbot of his monastery, a man named Hrabanus, acknowledged the accusations of abuse that Orbais publicly made, and said they were justified because the escapee’s family had been Saxon Heathens. Hrabanus justified every type of abuse being used on Saxon non-Christians until they become proper Frankish Christians. Think about that. Where have we heard this before?

Destruction of temples, shrines, groves, sacred images, etc. began happening as early as the third and fourth centuries. Enthusiastic Christians would even come onto private land to destroy shrines. With the rise of monasticism and severe ascetic communities (first in Egypt, and Syria and then they later spread West), this evolved into equally enthusiastic destruction of public temples. Groups like the parabalani terrorized their communities, Christian and Pagan alike, using physical violence and public abuse to force compliance to the edicts of the local Christian Patriarch (3). The impetus to force conversion by any means necessary goes back a very long time. 

A friend of mine is taking a class right now in Indigenous History taught by a Cree scholar. My friend was kind enough to share the syllabus with me and we’ve been discussing it (thank you, KF!!). She told me one of the things her teacher said, when talking about the native “schools” is that there are four groups of victims (4): first there are the children themselves, stolen from their families, terrorized, and subjected to horrific abuse. Then there are their families, their parents and grandparents, who had their children seized and stolen away, only to have them return -if they were still alive to return—having been forcibly converted, having lost their language, having forgotten their culture – the schools made it a priority to sever ties to families and communities. Next, there are the children and grandchildren of the residential school survivors (who didn’t always know how to parent, and who carried deep wounding and trauma from their time in the schools, who could be abusive, alcoholic, addicted to drugs, none of which is uncommon with severe PTSD). Finally – and this is a hard thing for me to sit with, though I think it is true—there are the officers and social workers who took the children away from their parents and put them in the schools. 

We still don’t know exactly how many of these schools there were – and they and the policies that promoted them existed into the 1980s. Just like the Vatican’s policy of moving sexually abusive priests from parish to parish, instead of dealing with them effectively, records for these schools and a clear accounting from authorities on what happened there are often absent. It’s only recently, as in the last decade, (and often as mass graves of children are discovered), that American and Canadian governments have even begun to make any attempts at reconciliation (5). My husband’s father survived one of the schools in Montana. He escaped, lied about his age, and joined the Marines going into the Korean war because WAR was a better alternative than the residential school in which he’d been confined or the poverty, alcoholism, and physical and spiritual abuse that is endemic on the reservation. What these men and women experienced in these schools doesn’t just go away. It shapes and colors the rest of their lives. So yes, it’s a good thing that the Pope finally apologized but, it’s not enough. 

I don’t actually support the push toward reparations here in the states (unless it’s done thoughtfully like we can see here) but in this case, I think the Vatican ought to make financial restitution to Indigenous nations, each and every one of them. It’s impossible to put a dollar sign on suffering, genocide, and pain, but let the Church pay wergild in a way that will elevate Native communities (and let it fucking hurt. I’d strip the Vatican bare if I could). Words alone are not enough. 

Notes:

  1. Iirc, one of the chaplains who traveled with Columbus was so appalled by the brutality of the Spanish toward the Natives that he sent a protest to his superiors in Rome and later became an advocate for Native people in as much as a man of his time could be. 
  2. See Heresy and Dissent in the Carolingian Empire: the Case of Gottschalk of Orbais” by Matthew Gillis and my own article“Ravens in the Meadhall: Pre-Christian Elements in the Heliand, Walking the Worlds, Vol.6, No. 1 (2019). 
  3. See Glenn Bowersock, “Parabalani: A Terrorist Charity in Late Antiquity” in Anabases 12 (2010), pp. 45-54. It was very likely the Parabalani who murdered Hypatia. 
  4. Attendance of native children was compulsory. Children would be forcibly ripped from their families. I recommend the documentary (available on amazon prime) “We Were Children.” My friend recommended the book and movie “Indian Horse” for those who want to learn more.
  5. While I’m focusing on America and Canada here, Australia did the same thing to its aboriginal communities. 

Affiliate Advertising Disclosure

Here is a Vice documentary about the thousands of missing and murdered indigenous women across the US and part of Canada (I think this doc focuses on Montana).

ABC Nightline just did a segment on Native schools and MMIW. Part one is here and part two is here. (I haven’t watched the vice doc, but I did watch this ABC Nightline and it was very informative).

Polish artist creates awe-inspiring Monstrances

Not polytheistic, but what a beautiful, beautiful devotion. Mary healed him and he dedicates his (stunning) art to Her service. As an artist and a devout person, I found this video inspiring.

Pope Significantly Restricts Latin Mass – A Polytheist’s Response

When I logged online yesterday, I discovered that Pope Francis (of whom, for many reasons, I am not a fan) had recently restricted the use of the Latin mass. You can read here, here, and here about that. I am so very sorry for my Catholic friends and family members who are already suffering under a watered-down liturgy and the results of Vatican II. I found myself disturbed enough by this move from the Vatican though, that this morning I was still thinking about it and it took me a bit of time to parse out why. 

Ritual and liturgy are part of a religion’s tradition. They don’t sustain themselves. These things are given to us within our own religious traditions to nourish, nurture, and protect. Traditions in general and ritual in particular are part of the alchemy that continually reifies the moment of creation, the most sacred mysteries of that tradition and thus keep our world clean of pollution and protected from evil. When one religion decides to shit on its rituals and pollute its own tradition, that affects the world’s balance as a whole – at least that’s how I and my House view the issue. 

The RCC has been shitting on the very traditions that were given to it to guard since at least Trent (and that’s not taking into account the use of those traditions to encourage forced conversion and genocide, not to mention the sexual abuse occurring within the Church hierarchy and noted from at least the 4th century). Vatican II, an attempt to reconcile with protestants, feminists, and modernity by performing a hatchet job on one’s tradition in the dubious name of “progress” (someone explain to me how a fucking guitar mass is progress?) was the start of what I personally think, was an all-out, internal attack on their tradition. I may not care overmuch about modern Catholicism in particular (academically, I study its origins, which are fascinating), but I do care about religious traditions in general, because I think to some degree, what happens in one tradition has the potential to affect us all (1). Also, there’s a general rule of liturgy that I was taught ages ago (ironically by a Catholic priest): if you don’t know what something is for, don’t change it. Or, to put it another way: if it ain’t broke, don’t “fix” it. Someone should have informed the pope. 

There are a few key differences that I’d like to talk about between the Latin mass (TLM) and the vernacular one. Now, I’ll preface this by saying that liturgical studies are not my cup of tea. Still, one picks up a few things here and there in the course of one’s studies. Firstly, in TLM, the priest does not face the congregation. He faces the eucharist. This may seem like a throw away, but I think it’s actually very, very important. When you face the congregation, you are, for better or worse, performing. When you face away, you are leading your congregation in veneration of your God. Psychologically, there is a huge difference here (2).

Secondly, with the use of Latin, not only are the congregants connected to a key See with all its history, but they key into a groove of the sacred by dropping into something used for two thousand years sacrally. I’ve seen Latin-English mass books and they are just as easy to follow as mass books in the vernacular. You have the Latin on one side and then matching vernacular on the other. Better yet, many religious schools would naturally teach Latin, which as far as I’m concerned only betters a person’s intellectual potential. Plus, my understanding is that there are certain prayers to ward off evil (like the prayer to St. Michael, and also at least one prayer to Mary) that were offered during TLM that were expunged from the vernacular mass (one of the things that Vatican II tried very hard to do was quash saints cultus and Marian devotion…unsuccessfully I guess, but the council did dampen it down quite a bit). I think the use of Latin and its formality increases the sense of solemnity, which is not a bad thing when (according to a Catholic relative of mine) today you have congregants on their cell phones and/or chatting as the priest is walking down the aisle to begin Mass!

Thirdly, Gregorian chant. Why, in the name of all that is holy, would anyone with any sense (not to mention an ear) replace centuries old tradition of Gregorian chant with hippy guitar masses or congregations singing off key to poorly trained organists doing abominable things to their instrument? Ritual should transport one into an altered state, creating a certain liminality of mindset wherein one has the capacity to properly and relatively safely (as much as it ever can be) encounter the Holy. It should create a sense of awe that shakes us out of our quotidian headspace. Music does this better than any other sense save perhaps smell. Now of course, I’m focusing on aesthetics because as Lo said in Art and Numen, aesthetics is cosmology writ large. I’ll take that one step farther: remove bits of the aesthetic willy-nilly and you risk shattering the architecture of the cosmology, closing any door or window by which your people can connect through liturgy, to the Divine. 

I’ll leave the theological issues inherent in the newer translation of the Mass to others to discuss. The way a religion treats the aesthetics of its ritual (and its sacred spaces) is enough for me to know whether they truly value their Gods or not. 

And this is one of the biggest issues I have with Francis. He doesn’t seem to care about preserving his church. He certainly doesn’t care about liturgical integrity. My wish for my Catholic friends is that he is removed from the papacy quickly and replaced with a hardline traditionalist who not only restores the Latin mass in toto but rolls back Vatican II completely. Hell, I’d roll it back to Trent.

Finally, and this is my key point: there is a huge lesson here for those of us engaged in restoring our own traditions. It doesn’t just happen and restoration once “done” will necessarily give way to preservation and protection. It is the grace and burden of each succeeding generation. If we forget that, even once, we’re likely to find ourselves facing the same challenges the Catholic Church is today: dissolution, degeneracy, and destruction. We’ll deserve it too, just like the Catholics (3).

Notes: 

  1. This is all the more so when we are still primarily a religion of converts. My whole point of this article should emphasize the need to raise children in their faith, educate them wisely, and instill in them a respect and reverence for the traditions they will inherit. 
  2. I can’t help but remember one of the liturgies I co-officiated at when I taught at an interfaith seminary. We were just about to begin and I was officiating with a Catholic priest (he had long since left the Catholic Church and belonged now to a break away sect). I had set up the altar table in a way that allowed me to stand in front of it facing away from the group. When my back was turned, his man, thinking I hadn’t gotten around to moving the table to the correct place yet, moved it so we were facing the congregation. I turned around to begin (we were that close to the opening of the rite) and was stuck doing the ritual facing not the Gods as is proper, but the people. It was disconcerting and we had words later. Now, I’d have stopped and insisted we not begin until things were arranged to my specifications but it so took me by surprise, I didn’t respond quickly enough, and the man’s actions had been well-meaning, not intending to cause impiety. 
  3. This is why one of the most important things a polytheistic couple can do is have children and *raise them as polytheists*. Families are sacred. Raise children in your tradition. This is the ONLY way our religions will survive, sustainably, into the next generation. Those of you who, like me, do not want children, find other ways to contribute to the long-term survival of the tradition: support your specialists, teach, pray, pray, pray, pray, do whatever is within your warrant to create sustainable communities. These are the two things we need desperately. The hostility amongst Pagans for raising their children in their traditions boggles. It is the most self-defeating thing we can do. Each child should be raised with an awareness that he or she is inheriting a great gift, grace, but also a burden, an obligation: a tradition to nourish, sustain, and protect. This is what we are here for, our birthright, but also our duty to our Gods. It’s what being an adult is all about and if that’s too difficult for some people, well, too fucking bad. Get out of the way. 

This is Proof We’re Living in Bizarro-World

jesusI woke up this morning to find this article on my facebook feed. It’s something I never, ever, ever, ever, ever imagined I would see the fucking pope saying. First, go here and read the article. Watch the video there too, so you can make up your own mind.

Apparently Catholics no longer believe that Jesus is the unique redeemer – you know, like the New Testament says (it’s somewhere in John)  not to mention the entirety of their tradition. Now, all roads lead to the same goal. Now, I don’t believe squat about Jesus. I’m a sensible, educated, devout polytheist. I’m not deluded. They are and have been for two thousand years. That’s been the single defining characteristic of their tradition. Well, their Marxist pope just tossed that all to hell now, possibly by their theology, literally. I think this is the guy who abolished limbo after all. Not too many places for them left to go. 

Now, he has pretty much declared that there is no difference between any religion (except of course, for indigenous or polytheistic religions. We’re still fair game for evangelization). I was suspicious of this guy for a long time, especially when he kept making these social justice statements, that all of my Pagan and Polytheist friends were applauding. I wasn’t, because I saw this is just incipient Marxism and that inevitably leads to the subjugation of traditions. When it comes down to it, they’re always going to have to make a choice: which is more important, the religion or the politics and politics inevitably wins (when you’re a Marxist). That may be ok for a freshman in college, but maybe not the head of a world religion. The uniqueness or exclusivity of a tradition is part of the tradition (a lesson we as polytheists really need reminding of on occasion).

If this Pope decides to further water down Catholicism – you know, the tradition he is tasked with protecting and defending—into further nothingness, we are going to be left with the Protestant crackpots. Catholics, once they got over the whole inquisition thing, have pretty much been preservers of Western tradition, art, and values – all of which they stole from polytheism granted. Anglicans likewise have held this position. That’s not the case with the crazy Protestantisms: dominionists, end times fatalists, bible thumpers, etc. They want to bring down the world and remake it in the image of their repressive, life-hating pseudo-theology. Just like Muslims and SJWS. Oh hey, look: a new alliance is formed. Always mistrust the radical.

But on the plus side maybe all the SJWs in Paganism and Polytheism will flee into the Catholic Church and we won’t have to deal with them damaging our traditions anymore. Or, maybe we should start evangelizing these displaced Catholics. They already have the basics of piety and cultus down and their own Church has abandoned them. We just have to teach them to count beyond three.