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Thursday, October 13, 2011

2011 Letters (the word "pagan") by CFT

I am the "ignorant white person" who spoke to you at the MCC fair last Saturday. I tried to speak briefly, because I know of course you were there as a craftperson, not to educate me. But I have lots more questions, and since you did invite me to email you, I am contacting you.

First, let me repeat that I am very ignorant, and completely of European descent, and would like to learn more. The last thing I would want would be to offend anyone. Please do not take offense at anything I say, but help me understand, if you can take the time.

The reason I am so interested in the relationship between paganism and Native spirituality is that I am a pagan journalist. I am employed to write articles for the pagan community in the Boston area for the website I write about Wicca, Heathenism, Druidism, etc., and various related topics such as new age stores and my own personal beliefs. Right now I am reporting on an exhibit at the MFA about Aphrodite. I cover a wide range of topics. But I am very ignorant of how all this does or doesn't relate to Native spirituality. This is professionally embarrassing. Also I am personally curious.

You said using the word "pagan" to describe a Native person would be offensive. You also gave some very good reasons. Thank you.

As a pagan, I get a lot of questions from well-meaning but ignorant people about what that means. I usually say: "I worship the Earth. I believe the Divine is all around us and in each one of us." That is what "pagan" means to me. That is what I try to write about. Can you tell me if making such a statement regarding Native spirituality would also be offensive? I don't mean to imply anything by this question; I honestly don't know the answer.

Perhaps you can suggest something I could read, or someone I could talk to, that would tell me more on this subject?



I remember you, and appreciate you honesty and forthrightness about ignorance - we've all grown up in a world where accurate information is often hidden and some are taught their way is the best way, which leaves little room for diverse practices and thinking. See my blogs which are listed below my signature for more of my writing on these topics.

While what you describe about paganism is very much like Native American spirituality (for lack of a better phrase), the use of the term "pagan" is not appropriate when applied to Native People because of our history of being oppressed by the dominant culture and the power/privilege associated with being able to use that term.

See Peggy McIntosh for more information about white privilege.

When someone is a member of the dominant group (that is validated in so many ways already) and wants to be called pagan, it feels very different than being from the oppressed group where "pagan" was traditionally used as a way to denigrate and put down their spiritual practice. In addition, it is imposing "your" term (pagan) on our practices which have their own names depending on Nation.

Other points to consider - the word "pagan" was used to describe folks in Europe, specifically non-Christians, it was brought to the Americas and was never a word we used to describe ourselves. Pagan also gets associated with some things that are NOT at all what Native People are doing, for example, "one who has little or no religion and who delights in sensual pleasures and material goods: an irreligious or hedonistic person"

Hope this helps!


I was born in the US, my mom, now 88 yrs old, is a native of PR, Baranquitas mountain region of PR, where her dad, my late grandfather, had a sugar cane farm, horses, cattle, chickens, etc.. She moved to New York City in the early 1930's at a young age, then moved to MA where she met my dad, married, and started a family here in the states.

I was researching the Indian tribes of PR and I suspected I was part Taino but how do I know?
My mom says her father or grandfather in PR was part Indian. Can you steer me in the right direction as to if I am of Indian decent. How do I know? I feel as though I am.


Starting with relatives is the quickest, maybe you could find an interpreter to help you? I'm not a genealogist, but finding one might be a way to go. They can help you search records by name and would know where to look for marriage, death, birth, baptismal, immigration, etc. records. You can also do it yourself, but it takes some figuring out. Also, you can overlay towns and cities of known ancestors to maps of tribes and reservations and start to see if there is overlap. Another idea is to rule out some areas, if generation after generation does not link to a place in Europe, then it is probably safe to say origins are on the islands! Some folks do genetic/DNA testing, though I am wary of this myself, at least until there is more mapping of indigenous populations.

Good luck