The discussion I had yesterday with Luke Loader at the Abbey has really set my wheels running. Not only, it turns out, is he a bright, young man, he has university degrees in archaeology and wrote a thesis on finding the Anglo-Saxon religious presence in archaeological sites. He has agreed to have a taped interview with me. That way, he can be quoted and cited. I feel like Luke has a great deal to add. Points that we discussed:
Glastonbury [as a market town] is a place with two appearances.
* The name conjures up different images in a visitor’s mind
1- as an English Heritage site replete with ruins, archaeology, and buildings that date back 1000 years
2- as an esoteric site where one can find anything in the way of religious and spiritual engagement
Because of this, Glastonbury has a split community. The locals he refers to as Glastonians, whose families date back centuries [his own has been here for 400 years]. And then the esoteric community, the Avalonians. Now, there is a book I have at home called The First Avalonians, so that is a name that is out there. So one of the first things I need to check is whether there is any scholarship about this split, this schism in the town. When I told Luke that I am really interested in the local side of the pilgrimage/tourism question, he indicated that it was about time and that he wanted someone to ask him and others, what do you believe is the spirit of Glastonbury.
I have found one reference to “Glastonians” in An Ecclesiastical History of Ireland, From the First Introduction of Christianity Among the Irish to the Beginning of the Thirteenth Century by one, John Lanigan, published in 1822. It was a brief reference to the Abbey “stealing” Irish saints as their own. Palden Jenkins, in his website page called the “Map of the Ancient Landscape around Glastonbury,” says:
Living in and visiting Glastonbury today involves interfacing two, or several, contiguous realities – Avalon and Glastonbury. There’s a busy modern reality and an archetypal, timeless, magical reality – both of which have their pleasures, inspirations, knocks and scrapes! The town is psycho-socially polarised too, to add to the excitement, between ‘Glastonians’ and ‘Avalonians’. Staying tuned to both realities is the challenge. If you don’t, you go bankrupt or mad (Jenkins 2013).
Clearly, this is not a new idea. Upon doing a search, most of the references to Glastonians are personal communications on Facebook, Twitter, and other social media sites and are of used as a personal referent by individual people. How do the so-called Avalonians and Glastonians feel about this apparent schism? That is an excellent question and I hope by December, I’ll have some answers.
As a feminist anthropologist, the idea of cultural appropriation is absolutely nothing new. When in grad school in the 90s at the University of Iowa, Department of Anthropology, I and my cohort, slogged through the copious reading offered by then professors on the subject. In 1990, Friedman summed it up thusly
Modern westerners appropriate what is outside of themselves in order to become what they are not. If we label the first strategy as holistic, the second as ethnic, and the third as individualist we might begin to gain an insight into the conditions of emergence of such strategies, but this lies beyond the scope of the present article (see Friedman 1991).
Because I worked with the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians for my fieldwork on identity and tourism in 1996-8, I saw these images working on the ground, in real time. The problem of appropriation of anything or anyone becomes a matter of who is doing the appropriating and how it is being presented. The use of image and of cultural artifacts in order to make oneself something else, is, in fact, the major way that this gets interpreted. For example, American Indian authors have long cited ‘whiteshamanism’ as vulgar cultural appropriation. I would call this “playing at being a Native American medicine-person.” Anthropologist, poet, and American Indian, Wendy Rose wrote on this in the 1980s. Here is a link to her superb article, “Just What’s All This Fuss About Whiteshamanism Anyway?” It is in this vein that I began my work in both spiritual matters and academia some 25+ years ago.
Even before the birth of my son, Matt, I had been thinking about the biggest question of my life, maybe anyone’s, life. Who Am I? I have many notebooks of writing from the 1980s asking myself this question over and over and over again. One of the main reasons that this question was so overwhelming was my growing distrust and dislike of institutional religion, specifically protestant Christianity. I’m in a job at the time wherein we were obliged to listen to whatever radio station the boss wanted on. That was usually Rush Limbaugh [yes, back in the day]. So, I spent days doing a job I was growing increasingly tired of listening to the right wing pundits smack-talking everything that I knew already was my own deepest convictions. They stood against everything that was in the very blood of my veins. Reaganomics was riding high. Every election just made it worse. My blood was boiling all of the time. In fact, I was so angry that I couldn’t hardly carry on a conversation about anything without blowing a fuse. The few of you who knew me back then will remember, I’m sure. When I became pregnant with Matt, I knew something had to give.
All I could see is the same thing I am seeing all over again. Attacks on womyn’s lives from domestic violence to rights over reproduction were on the rise [I swear I tried my best to stop all that. I voted, I wrote letters, I called in and even talked on Limbaugh’s show about the real meaning of ‘liberal;’ I was such a frequent caller to Al Gore’s office that they called me by name.] Beyond the women’s issues, my back was up over the fundamentalist knee-jerks to everything that wasn’t laid out in black and white in the King James Version. Everyone and their sister were on the slippery slope to hell. They’ve gained too much, so much ground, that we are nearly at square one again, but, I digress. At this point, I began to be sick of being “an American.” Because, what the hell does that mean anyway? Oh, I know, there are plenty of people who can give me a beautiful 2-3 sentence answer to that question. Freedom, equality, the right to . . . blah, blah, blah. Freedom? Equality? For whom? Remember that I from the south. Tennessee. Not deep south, mid-south, yet I grew up in Memphis and was a child there when Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated. We were racists. Out and out. I’ve taken many years of my life to think about that and to know, understand, and incorporate into my life the fact that all human beings are the same. [Thank-you Anthropology!] Did that cure institutional racism? Hell no. Not any more than any other single human figuring that out. What it did do is enable me to raise my son to appreciate and be just fine with all of the differences that the species Homo sapiens can come up with. Now, at the age I was when he was born, he too is madder than hell and won’t take it anymore. I still digress.
I knew I had to get out of the institutional Christian church. It was not working. But, then what? To be, what? To do, what? That’s where cultural appropriation comes in. I knew. I knew that I couldn’t become . . . Jewish or Muslim. Anyway, those are just the edges and the other side of the Christian coin. I really knew nothing of Buddhism or any other Asian religion. American Indian spirituality? No. Because, dang it, I’m not an American Indian. Now, we have the family myth of having an Indian grandmother somewhere back in our past. Cherokee, from the Trail of Tears, as my mother’s family comes from the Tennessee River in West Tennessee and saw the water passage of those on the path where they cried. But, I didn’t see that in my family at all. What I saw was Europe. Scotland/Ireland/England on mom’s side and Moravian [Central European] on dad’s. While I couldn’t attend sweat lodges and play Indian drums around a bonfire, I could revive for myself the ancient way of the Celts before the coming of Christians from the Mediterranean. So I began reading.
Am I, as a citizen of the USA, appropriating the culture of the Celts? Or the pre-Roman English, Welsh, Cornish? That’s where my discussion with Luke comes back into this mixture. When I described some of my feelings about not feeling American, we started down a very interesting course. He, as an English archaeologist whose family traces its roots back 400 years in Somerset, suggested to me that his archaeology is also my archaeology. I can trace my mom’s ancestors back to Scotland in 1750. They left these shores 265 years ago. Short time, in the English way of thinking. Although there is land that I love and crave and cling to in the US, especially in the Appalachian Mountains of Tennessee, Georgia, North Carolina, and Virginia, I cannot and do not feel like the archaeology of North America is mine. It doesn’t belong to my ancestors or lineages. There is no genetic memory there, save for the short period we’ve been here. I didn’t ask for this, either. While I am fascinated by the archaeology of the American Indians and Alaska Natives, the First Nations of Canada, the Aztec, the Maya, the Yucatec, the Inca, I can only ever look on it as “other.” It has great beauty and wonders of the knowledge of ancient peoples, but it is still “other” to me. As it should be because . . . I’m not from The Americas. Not at all. Where this leaves others that have been forced to come to the Americas from all over the world, I cannot say. Perhaps we can continue a long-standing discussion on that.
I’ve got proof, by the way. I had my DNA tested through the Human Genome Project headed up by the National Geographic Society. It’s fascinating to have your own genetic map reaching into the deep past. I highly recommend this if any of you feel at “6s and 7s” about your roots. As it turns out, as I suspected, I have no bloodlines that hint at American Indian kinship. Now, I’ll hold open the possibility that one day the science of the genome will find a way to chart my dad’s DNA that is me as well. Until we have that capability, I’ll go with the mtDNA from my mom. As it turns out, I have not only Neanderthal signs – 2.8% – but, I have an unusually high percentage of the more recently identified Denisovan – 3.5% – identified first in a Siberian cave. Apparently, I have a lot of “living relics of ancient encounters.” Maybe that’s part of this malaise anyhow. I’m only 93.7% Homo sapiens! For the rest, it seems that my matriarchs were all over the place from the Caspian Sea to all sides of the Black Sea between 55k years ago to 7.5k years ago and then quietly on to Western Europe after that. According to the analysis, I am 46% Northern European and I belong to:
My First Reference Population: British (England); My Second Reference Population: German
This reference population is based on samples collected from populations in the United Kingdom. The dominant 49% Northern European component likely reflects the earliest settlers in Europe, hunter-gatherers who arrived there more than 35,000 years ago. The 33% Mediterranean and 17% Southwest Asian percentages arrived later, with the spread of agriculture from the Fertile Crescent in the Middle East, over the past 10,000 years. As these early farmers moved into Europe, they spread their genetic patterns as well. Today, northern European populations retain their links to both the earliest Europeans and these later migrants from the Middle East. (https://genographic.nationalgeographic.com/results/yourregionalancestry)
Hmm. Seems like I’ve been feeling my genetics for a long time.
So, am I using cultural appropriation when I call the quarters and draw down the moon? Am I when I teach and illustrate to other European-Americans that there are other traditions on which to draw? And, is Christianity a viable way of being in the world when you can demonstrate that your ancestors had their own spirituality and religious beliefs that were destroyed by invaders? If we’re speaking of American Indians, certainly not. The actions that forced the autochthonous peoples already 15-20K years established on the North and South American continents into slavery, death and assimilation are mostly thought of today as colonialism at its worst. It would appear that the roman invasion of Europe, the Mongol invasion of Anatolia et al, and the rise of the Ottoman Empire were all exactly the same. Unthinkable and unforgivable.
Do we have the right . . .
We all come from conquered societies, except the lucky few who live in places so remote, even in 2015, that the military-industrial complex cannot yet put its toes on the ground. Even those are pushed into capitalism by the insidious march of tourism into the wild places of the earth. There is nothing worse than a stupid tourist. That is, a tourist who is so enamored with their own way of life [ethnocentrism] that they must have the “comforts” of home even when those cause the local populations real hardship. Tourism has an upside, too. But, I’ll leave that for another time. We’re still thinking about cultural appropriation here.
I’m sitting in my one-bedroom apartment in Glastonbury. It’s cozy and warm. As best as I can tell, and for those few homes I have been to here, the population I am working with, befriending, depending upon, and feel kindred-ness with all live in this or better. If they don’t, they are living out in the country in tents or caravans, off the grid, by choice. When I participate, I am all in. I am not going to anything here in Glastonbury in regards to workshops, rituals, music events, carnivals, etc. that I don’t feel will aid my own personal growth as well as adding to my knowledge for this project. Nor do I attempt – unless specifically asked – to add or change or comment on any of these. Am I appropriating when I participate? I don’t think so. The spiritual doors are wide open here in Avalon.
Friedman, Jonathan. “Consuming Desires: Strategies of Selfhood and Appropriation.” Cultural Anthropology 6, no. 2 (1991): 154–163.
Jenkins, Palden. “Map of the Ancient Landscape around Glastonbury.” palden.co.uk. 2013. Accessed on October 18, 2015.
Lanigan, John. An Ecclesiastical History of Ireland, From the First Introduction of Christianity Among the Irish to the Beginning of the Thirteenth Century, 1822.
O’Rourke, Dennis. “Cannibal Tours.” Australian Film Commission/Direct Cinema Ltd., Australia, 1987, 70 min.