Tribal Religions

One of the fundamental difficulties faced by neo-pagans is that one cannot reconstruct the homogeneous cultural experience in a diverse modern world. Where most of our pagan ancestors lived in communities so uniform they did not need words for race and religion, nor were their communities large enough to created notions of nationalism. They simply belonged to a particular culture.

Efforts to create a new, pagan identity in the modern world–even if founded on ethnicity–cannot overcome actual cultural experience created by a shared national identity inculcated by a uniform educational system.

Further, the chance thread of an ethnic identity nested within a national identity (or even regional identity), is not often available in the ethnically mixed culture of North American.

I might occasionally call myself Swedish-American, but that is only one identity available to me, and the immediate problem I would encounter is that the Swedish gods belong more clearly and strongly to my cousins in Sweden. I participate much more weakly when they are only ancestral gods, and only one possible set of ancestral gods, at that.

The tribal religions had one great benefit other religions did not have and could not have. They had no religious controversy within their communities because everyone shared a common historical experience and cultural identity was not separated into religions, economic, sociological, political, and military spheres. It was never a case, therefore of having to believe in certain things to sustain a tribal religion. One simply believed the stories of the elders and these stories had significance as defining the people’s identity. Today we can say the have specific themes, but that is our interpretation and not the way the people understood them. No tribe, however, asserted its history as having primacy over the accounts of any other tribe. As we have seen, the recitation of stories by different people was regarded as a social event embodying civility. Differing tribal accounts were given credence because it was not a matter of trying to establish power over others to claim absolute truth.

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