Maybe I’m just like my father, too bold


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.

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26 thoughts on “Maybe I’m just like my father, too bold

  1. I submitted a couple of things for that anthology, in fact. Though I am not a POC.


  2. Thanks for sharing my quote with your readers, but I’d like to share a couple quick notes of clarification:

    – My comment that you quote is not in response to the recent events in Ferguson, nor is it a response to what David said. It’s a comment on a post that was written four years ago, in July 2010. While I am uncomfortable about the idea of worshipping a known propaganda figure as a goddess, I absolutely support anyone who reaches out to their gods — by whatever name — for comfort, guidance and strength in helping them to recognize and dismantle systems of injustice, violence and oppression. As I note in that same comment (immediately after the part you quoted): “I appreciate the heartfelt call towards a goddess of liberty, justice, freedom and equality, and the desire to see the U.S. striving towards those goals, if somewhat imperfectly.” I also opened my comment (which was written back in February 2014 in response to a reader’s question, not in response to any particular current event) by saying that “I know that in the years since I wrote this post, the worship of Columbia seems to have both mellowed and deepened” — and I believe that gods can and do change and evolve alongside their worshippers. So while I stand by my honesty about my own qualms about the goddess Columbia, I wanted to make sure you and your readers know that I am not trying to pick any fights with people over something as silly as the name by which they invoke deities of justice and freedom. I stand in solidarity with everyone who is grieved by the continuing violence and inspired to work for peace and justice — whether they do so in the name of Columbia, Forseti, Wóȟpe, Bríg Ambue, Themis, or Christ.

    – Also, please be aware that I’m not actually a “naturist” (i.e. nudist) Pagan, nor a naturalist (i.e. non-theist). :) I’m an animistic polytheist.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Woops, I totally meant naturalist not naturist – that’s an embarrassing typo! I’ve fixed the post to reflect your preferred designation.


  3. menatandivy

    It’s sad there will be no such ritual for Dillon Taylor.


  4. I wonder if French pagans worship Marianne in a similar manner? And if they do, do they have similar moral issues at Americans?


  5. I know at least one other Hellenic polytheist who honors Apollon as the patron deity of the United States in place of Columbia. Her reasoning is this: Apollon is the God in charge of colonization (via His Delphic Oracle, which first gave the command to colonize outside the mainland of Hellas); Columbia is a recent invention/egregore (her description, not mine); and it is proper to honor a God of colonists if our ancestors were colonists themselves, as honoring an indigenous God without the proper respect for indigenous cultures would be exactly what we’re trying to avoid.

    It’s got it’s issues–Apollon as a colonial God runs into the same problems as Columbia, minus the referential name–but I can see their point.

    I’ve always considered Zeus the patron of what the United States, but honestly, that’s because of fairly shallow attribute-related thinking. (Eagles = Zeus 100% of the time, am I right? :P )


  6. Given Columbia’s association with Manifest Destiny and American Expansion, I don’t worship her, and I’d probably have too many differences of opinion to be friends with anyone that did.


    • I worship Columbina, but she’s a crazy clown girl who’s more often in a servile position than that of enslaver.


    • Of course, my own gods have historical associations with empire as well, so it really comes down to the specific historical events that Columbia is linked with, not necessarily the general concept.


      • Totally. Not all colonization and imperial conquest is the same. For that matter even slavery is vastly different in different cultures. That came up a while back at the Wild Hunt where someone was trying to defend the systematic annihilation of the indigenous cultures of the Americas because they had fought amongst themselves before the arrival of white settlers.


  7. I can see the potential problems with Columbia (first off who she’s named after) which is why I like to honor Lady Liberty as an alternative- and if one prefers ancient origins, you can trace her back to the Roman Libertas. Given that the statue was a gift from the French, and the relationship between our two countries’ revolutionary pasts, she could be seen as a “cousin” or sister to Marianne. Columbia however can also be a personification or spirit of the river and city but I would consider them 3 different entities. Personally I think sometimes gods and spirits reveal themselves in new guises, and sometimes new gods/spirits are born. I just prefer them to have been around for multi-generations and to have a real organic folklore or literature surrounding them, not just a few fan fiction stories on Tumblr.


    • I don’t actually have a problem with people venerating Columbia as long as they take these issues into consideration. I’m more in favor of Libertas, but then I would be. ;)


      • Same here. Ultimately I think Gods change just as people do.


        • I agree that gods change over time and/or possess more complexity than people recognize initially. As I wrote above, one of the gods I worship (Guan Di) had/has strong imperial associations. However, the historical record also shows that bandits and rebels seeking to overthrow the Qing Dynasty worshiped him as well. Similarly, he is worshiped by both policemen and criminals in Hong Kong, as well as by ordinary people just trying to live their lives. These paradoxes are part of who he is.

          Perhaps David Salisbury’s ritual invoking Columbia is an early part of a process of Columbia’s associations gaining more complexity. However, I phrased my response to Sannion’s question very deliberately: I’m not saying that no one should worship Columbia. To me, it’s a question of values: it may be possible for Columbia to gain associations with social justice (for example), but is this a process worth participating in?

          If someone’s answer is “yes,” then, as I said, I probably won’t trust that person. I would see that choice as placing higher value on the idea of American identity than on the experiences of those who were and are adversely affected by the U.S.’s policies and actions.


  8. In a discussion on Facebook, I brought up Columbia as an example of a problematic God, as a means of trying to explore the general Polytheist relationship to Divine Power (and in particular its intersections with and distinctions from State Power). Though the conversation kind of sputtered to a halt after some interesting initial forays, I do think that Columbia raises a lot of important issues for Contemporary Polytheists, even just as a thought experiment. After all, if we accept the proposition that the Gods are only virtuous, then that must alter the way that some of conceive of Columbia, or else it must impact the content of virtue, or else it would imply that a non-virtuous Columbia could not genuinely be a God. I am not fond of the idea that the Gods are only virtuous, personally…

    Liked by 1 person

    • Insisting of the virtue of the gods mitigates their benevolence and would leave large swaths of humanity, myself included, bereft of the divine. Thankfully that is not so.

      Liked by 1 person

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