Thursday, September 15, 2016

Vice likes Folkishness

There is a terrific article up on Vice, of all places, by one Yomi Adegoke, entitled 'Jesus Hasn't Saved Us': The Young Black Women Returning to Ancestral Religions, which describes a growing trend among young black women to embrace African Traditional Religions (ATRs). I think it's not only a great article (it is), but it's also a fascinating look into another aspect of folkish religion completely unrelated to Asatru.

The article describes a very real historical phenomenon; the outlawing of traditional African religious beliefs and practices, both among blacks brought to the Americas as slaves, and those in Africa under colonial administrations:
For hundreds of years, colonialism saw Africa—the planet's second largest and second most populous continent—robbed and ruled by a handful of European nations. The only countries considered not to have been colonized are Ethiopia and Liberia—and even they were briefly occupied by others. No African nation hasn't been shaped by the process in some way.
But it's important to realize that before the growth of political-economic colonialism, there was another, far more insidious form of colonialism at work in Africa; the religious colonialism borne of Christian missionaries and Muslim dawah. And they were, of course, far more injurious to African religion than any mere colonial power, but do not forget that Islam attacked traditional African religion in north Africa as thoroughly as Christianity did in southern Africa.

But the best part is the attitude of those throwing off the shackles of monotheism and embracing the faith of their forefathers:
"[Christianity is] a distraction," Benedicte Songye Kalombo says emphatically. She is the digital editor of New African Woman magazine; her religious practice fuses together traditional faiths hailing from Congo, where her family is from. Like the others, she is passionate about destigmatizing the religions she feels have enriched her so much. "We need to stop building churches and start building institutions—Jesus hasn't done it in over 400 years. He hasn't saved us."
I applaud this. Anyone who calls themselves folkish should applaud this. This is the instinctive hearkening back to an ancestral faith by someone with a blood tie to those roots. Indeed, the article is positively dripping with phrasing that would feel right at home here, or in an AFA article, with the slightest tweaking of "Africa" to "Europe" or "black" to "white":

...the practice of [black] ancestral worship...
...Comfa, a religion where contact with ancestors is commonplace...
...indigenous [African] spiritual practices...
...Traditional African religions...
...the black psyche...
...Indigenous [African] religions...
...African spirituality...
...African spiritual cultures...
...black identity...

This whole article (and the movement it describes) is about strengthening black racial identity through the re-adoption of African traditional religion. Can you imagine the outrage and outcry if some other article contained phrases like:

...the practice of [white] ancestral worship...
...Asatru, a religion where contact with ancestors is commonplace...
...indigenous [northern European] spiritual practices...
...Traditional European religions...
...the white psyche...
...Indigenous [northern European] religions...
...Northern European spirituality...
...Northern European spiritual cultures...
...white identity...

Think the first list is fine and the second list is wrong? Congratulations! You're a racist. You have different standards for different races.

And let us not forget that before black Africa was targeted by those religious colonialists, those missionaries for the god of Abraham, Europe was targeted by them as well. Nearly a millennium before the Kanem Empire converted to Islam, the Roman empire was subverted and ultimately conquered by Christianity. More than five hundred years before the Muslim call to prayer was heard throughout the Ouaddai Empire and the Kingdom of Kano, Christian churches were being built atop Heathen holy sites across England, Germany, and Scandinavia, the ancient groves and pillars were chopped down, and the stories and rituals honoring our gods systematically obliterated, until nothing was left but scraps scattered throughout a thousand sources.

And, it should be mentioned, that the Abrahamic religions aren't the only ones peddling a "universalist" view of religion. There's very little space between Christianity saying "our God is for everyone" and some Germanic neopagan saying "our gods are for everyone." Indeed, doing so is just contributing to the sort of cultural imperialism that the article decries, enticing people from the faith of their ancestors to the faith of someone else's white ancestors. How enlightened. It's whitesplaining on a spiritual level.

So I, for one, think it's a spiffy thing that people of African descent are getting in touch with their pre-monotheistic ancestral faiths. And just as I am very sure that they would resent white people trying to muscle in on their spiritual heritage, so too would I resent it. People of European descent have their own array of pre-monotheistic ancestral faiths, many of which fall under the Germanic religious-complex, today known as Asatru. I think this is a great thing, and want to see the trend of people throwing off the bonds of evangelical, colonial, monotheism, continue.


4 comments:

  1. I object to both sets of statements. :D

    Africa is a continent, not a culture just as Europe is a continent, not a culture. People shouldn't be getting in touch with their Black or White roots. They should be connecting with their Germanic, French, Spanish, Russian or English heritage - or their Dahomean, Ashanti, Dogon, Maasai heritage.

    That said, it's certainly a step in the right direction and I applaud anyone freeing themselves from the shackles of monotheism, especially when that involves honoring the ancestors.

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    1. I think you're nit-picking about terminology (because if you will note, I did say "People of European descent have their own array of pre-monotheistic ancestral faiths", and the article talks about various ATRs and ADRs, so it's not like the variety within the larger groupings is being ignored), but it's the larger point that matters. So we are in agreement about that.

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    2. Oh, absolutely. Not only is this how a lot of folks on both ends of the spectrum see things, but there's a reason they do because there are some broad commonalities between European and African traditions. I'm just passionate about super local expressions - hence why I refer to myself as a Magna Graecian polytheist, and not an adherent of Hellenismos. To me, universalism is a slippery slope to monotheism.

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    3. Well to be fair, it was the original article which used the terms "black" and "African."

      Some of us Americans (and a good portion of Europeans too, I imagine) don't just hail from England, Germanic, French, etc - but several. There are common threads to be found within them all which basically is what Asatru, tries to do. It's not a tribal religion, because few of us can trace our ancestors back to just -one - tribe.

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