Thanking The Land- Pagans & Thanksgiving
Like many – if not most – of the Pagan community, I’m conflicted about Thanksgiving in the US. On the one hand, it ostensibly commemorates a time when Native Americans helped English settlers survive. On the other hand, English settlers and their descendants would soon betray their benefactors by killing them, taking their land, shunting them off to reservations and taking their children. One way that people in the mainstream who know their history have dealt with this conundrum has been to think of Thanksgiving as a holiday of gratitude instead. They gather together to celebrate what they’re thankful for by having a feast. This way of observing Thanksgiving certainly makes it easier to swallow, and puts it in the company of other harvest festivals throughout the world. However, I think Pagans can lead the way by taking a deeper approach.
Part of being Pagan is reverence for nature, and the land. Most Pagan religious practice revolves around some form of the Wheel of the Year. Most Pagans also worship, revere, or at least acknowledge some sort of Earth deity. What a lot of American Pagans seem to lack, however, is awareness of the deities and spirits of America itself. Part of this stems from the fact that, despite the fact that there were at least 38 Native tribes in the US as of 2000, there’s not much in the way of reliable, readily available information about their religious beliefs and practices. Another part of the equation is that Pagans tend to be a socially aware lot, and don’t want to be guilty of cultural appropriation. It’s one thing to study, understand, and appreciate something, but quite another to take something to which you’ve no right. The largest factor, though, is that most of us discovered Paganism and witchcraft at the bookstore or library, during a search for an alternative to a religion that originated in the Middle East, and found quite a few books about a religion that primarily originated in Great Britain. Thus, our Pagan practices revolve around deities and spirits whose origins are far away from where we live now. It is for this reason that we American Pagans should take the extra step of making a direct connection to the land on which we live.
How do we do that? Well, one way to start is for each of us to learn as much as we can about the Native American tribes in our area. If there are no longer any, then we should find out which tribes lived there historically, and where their descendants were forced to relocate. The next step would be to read whatever is publicly available about their mythology. Depending on where you live, there might be precious little material, or a decent amount. Armed with whatever knowledge we have gained, each of us should seek out the protective spirit of the place in which we live – not the indoor space, but the outdoor place. For those in apartments, it might be in a big, focal point park or other nearby green space. For those who live in houses with yards, it might be in your yard, or in a nearby park. The important thing is that it will be part of the landscape, but will feel subtly different from the rest of it. There will be a sense of watchful power; there might be other feelings as well, depending on how well the land has been treated. Once you’ve found the place then, on Thanksgiving, pour a libation of water and make an appropriate offering based on what you’ve learned about the mythology of area (obviously, if you’re in someplace like Central Park, use your discretion and follow the park rules). While you’re pouring the libation and making the offering, thank the land for sustaining you. Don’t ask for continued sustenance; just offer your sincere gratitude.
Many blessings to you and your family this Thanksgiving season!
Author credit: Pictishwitch (written for The Inked Grimoire) with additions by Morgan, Owner of Inked Goddess Creations