Saw the following on The Wild Hunt this morning:
Yesterday was the funeral for slain teenager Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. Throughout the country, vigils were held in solidarity with Brown’s family. Among them was #HandsUpDC in Washington DC. Quote: “Join us for a candlelight vigil as Michael Brown’s family lays him to peaceful rest. We’d like to stand in solidarity with #Ferguson and demand the de-escalation of the police and military.” A group of local Pagans took part in the event, carrying signs that said “Justice for the beloved dead.” Pagan author and activist David Salisbury, who lives and works in Washington DC, also organized an informal ritual at the vigil which “will invoke the justice goddesses: Libertas, Justica, Columbia, and Themis.”
Anyone want to take bets on what the next hot topic is going to be? Yeah, me either.
Especially since many, like animistic polytheist blogger Alison Leigh Lilly, find certain aspects of this goddess’ history and character to be rather problematic:
For me, though, the primary obstacle to seeing her as a goddess is that — unlike the gods of ancient cultures who developed organically over hundreds, sometimes thousands of years — we know for a fact that Columbia was invented quite recently in U.S. history, specifically for the purposes of propaganda and nationalistic fervor. We also know that she was “revived/revealed” by Pagans several years ago as a reactionary response against fundamentalist Christians, an attempt to beat those Christians at their own game of degrading the separation between church and state, insisting Columbia (rather than Christ) was the “patron deity of the government.” To me, worshipping a figure who has such a history, and who is named after a man who committed genocide, torture, and rape — well, it’s just unethical. It requires a certain amount of willful ignorance or cognitive dissonance that, to me, undermines the purpose of the spiritual life as a journey towards integrity and integration. The worship of a propaganda figure used to justify slavery and genocide is especially offensive to Native American Indians against whom so much violence was directed, a community that still suffers from marginalization and exploitation today. In fact, I’ve never met a non-U.S. Pagan who didn’t think the whole concept was deeply offensive and in very bad taste. This to me says that there’s still a certain amount of American exceptionalism and isolationism going on, that Columbia is not helping her followers to think of themselves as global citizens or to think about how their actions affect (and sometimes harm) others. Your own comment reflects this — you seem to think that these problems (these noble intentions gone awry) are in the past, not realizing that naming a goddess after Columbus is, despite your own noble intentions, an on-going insult to the peoples who lived in this land before colonialism arrived.
With race, politics, religion and current events all intersecting like this I’m sure we have a lot of thoughtful, constructive, civil and even-handed discourse to look forward to in the coming weeks.
Perhaps this will even generate lots of neat content for the upcoming anthology from Greco-Egyptian publishing phenom Bibliotheca Alexandrina spear-headed by Literata called Columbia: A Devotional for the Spirits of America:
She is the American spirit, both a personification of the country and the goddess of the land itself. She has myriad aspects and has been represented in varying ways over the years; each of us may see her differently depending on how we experience America, from the details of the dirt beneath our feet to the high-flying ideals we hold dear.
I am particularly interested in how pagans and polytheists of color view her, considering how much the American Spirit has done to, sorry I mean for them over the years. Like Galina said, this portion of our community is all too often overlooked, ignored and marginalized in discussions of this nature. Hopefully that will change.