An interesting question, or some version of it, comes up for us time and time again. From ‘my great grandparent was Irish’ or ‘my [insert random DNA test brand here] says I’m ‘57% Irish’ to ‘I have no Irish ancestry so can I still learn Irish Paganism?’
Its a topic that we try and field content on whenever we can, but time and again there seems to be more confusion, or worse – entitlement or bias that comes up around this query.
So, let’s try to straighten things out a little.
What follows is the stance of the Irish Pagan School on this topic. It is by no means the only viewpoint, experience, or opinions. Nor is it fully representative of all Irish folk, Pagan folk, or Irish Pagan folk.
What it is, is a matter of perspectives as we define them. Hopefully we can get this clear, and help prevent further confusion or frustration.
Essentially that is what we are actually all about here, education, and as much real information about Irish Paganism or native Irish traditions as we can possibly get out there. We accept that it can never be complete, or totally cover every possible variation or nuance of spirituality, but we strive to combat as much of the misinformation, appropriation, or down right dangerous beliefs and practices that are out in the world.
So, let’s get to it shall we?
With the amazing developments in mapping the human genome and identifying the variety or locality of certain DNA markers, we now know more about the basic building blocks of the human species than we ever did before…but does that really define ancestry?
For us ancestry is not just about one’s blood relatives, DNA coding, or any other biological circumstance. Those aspects have their place of course, but the way we define ancestry for our teaching goes broader than that.
Ancestry can be a function of community, locality, social, found family, or even one’s energetic and spiritual ancestry, given that transmigration of spirit is a basic facet of Irish Paganism.
These things can help facilitate a connection to Irish Paganism, but to be clear they are not mandatory prerequisites to exploring one’s spiritual path, nor do they give a person any ‘special bonuses’. All they do is present a potential existing framework of context or comprehension with which to build connection.
Your Spiritual Path
When we talk about your spiritual path it’s pretty much exactly as it sounds. This is the journey that you yourself are on to explore your own spiritual existence.
In our opinion a person is more than just a physical being, an intellectual being, and an emotional being. We acknowledge the existence of a spiritual being in all of us and much like the journey of learning how to walk improves our physical being, learning how to speak improves our intellectual being, learning how to feel improves our emotional being, the experience of learning how to connect with ourselves, nature, or deities, improves our spiritual being.
For a person to be as wholly complete as they can, a balance needs to be found between all of those listed aspects of the self.
So what we do at the School isn’t defining your spiritual path for you, or endorsing some fictitious ‘one true way’ bullshit. We are sharing our knowledge and native Irish experiences, so that a person who chooses to walk a spiritual path of Irish Paganism can hopefully do it more easily – and indeed more safely – than we did when we took up the journey of spiritual growth.
We do not see ourselves as leaders, or heads of a religion or any such thing. We are guides.
We are the folk who have gone ahead of you, beaten back some of the worst or most dangerous misinformation so that you can find your path just a bit smoother, as well as putting up sign posts warning of dangers along the way; be it cults of personality, unsafe people, appropriated beliefs or practices, or even dangerous currents in the Otherworld oceans.
What we have always wanted is to simply give people the tools to safely explore your own spiritual path, in your own way and at your own speed.
Appropriation or Appreciation – Your Cultural Identity
Okay, so I said that appropriation word and no doubt some of you nodded in understanding, some may have experienced it themselves, but given the volume of queries that we get regarding concerns about appropriation it’s best we give as clear a definition as we can.
It is perfectly okay to experience appreciation of other cultures and their spiritual practices.
We all have a cultural identity in which we are born or raised, or acclimatise to, should our life move us from the place or culture in which we begin our existence. Appreciating the richness of our own culture or any other culture can be a very fulfilling experience, not just spiritually. We can show appreciation through every other aspect of the human condition, from the physical expression of a cultural dance, to the emotional expression of a culture’s art or music, to the intellectual expression of a culture’s language and writing.
All of this we consider cultural appreciation. So what then is cultural appropriation?
We define appropriation as a person who is not of a culture, creating a structure in which they profit from that culture, be it financially, socially or otherwise, without first establishing, maintaining and investing in a right relationship with that culture.
So, not profiting from a culture that’s not yours to ‘sell’, and making sure that there is give as well as take in your interactions with that culture.
This also extends to speaking over voices native to that culture, and taking up space that rightfully belongs to them, instead of directing people back to the native voices so that the culture can speak for itself.
This is by no means the only definition of cultural appropriation out there, but these are the guidelines that we adhere to and work from in our School and community spaces, both on and offline.
So if you have any concerns about being appropriative of anyone’s culture, you just have to simply and honestly ask yourself the following questions.
- “Am I profiting from this culture?”
- “Do I have an ongoing, respectful and reciprocal relationship with this culture… am I contributing?”
- “Is there anyone in this culture that I am speaking over, instead of listening and referring others to?”
What all of this boils down to is trying to live the most fulfilling yet ethical spiritual existence we can.
Living an Ethical Spiritual Existence
At this point we have covered the definitions and hopefully answered a lot of the questions that come up for folks.
Thing is, this is not a static carved in stone ideology we are talking about here. As much as we can, and really should, take time to discuss definitions, the purpose of such action is never to shut down or close off discussion.
Quite the contrary in fact. By taking time to express clear definitions to one another we open up a whole range of deeper and more fascinating conversations and explorations. Instead of getting stuck in circuitous thinking or arguments, we can short circuit confusion by the simple act of respectful definition and then get on with exploring the deeper expressions of our human existence.
We would much rather have a great conversation about the role of dance in cultural expression or spiritual practices instead of getting caught up in whether or not a non Irish person could or should perform Irish dancing. To be clear here, Irish dance in it’s present form is not part of any closed practice spiritual belief (that we currently know of), but there are other cultures where certain dances are reserved for people of that culture.
By taking time to define things clearly, we can move the narrative of our spiritual existence beyond many sticking points, and learn to go deeper into how each of us can grow as a spiritual being.
Maintaining a healthy respect for our own and other cultures is a basis for building a relationship, not just with the people of a culture, but also the living spirit of that culture as a whole. Giving at least as much as what you receive, be it intrinsically, energetically or otherwise builds a cycle of reciprocity that creates a basis for a very healthy and indeed powerful relationship.
This to our mind is how we can all benefit from other cultures, whilst not doing harm to the thing that we appreciate. This is what we mean by living an ethical spiritual existence.
The Irish Pagan School
As mentioned there has been a lot of definition but hopefully this has led to not just contextualization, but to understanding.
The Irish Pagan School exists to educate. To share and teach all of the amazing and awesome things that create the wonderful tapestry that is Irish cultural identity, native spirituality, and our living traditions.
This is why you will find classes not just on Pagan rituals, moon cycles, and Pagan festivals, but also lore on native plants and trees of the island, classes on our ancient mythology, full courses on Irish folklore and even the very history of Ireland down through the ages.
Irish Paganism is not just some alternative flavour of generic NeoPaganism. It is a living flourishing expression of cultural and spiritual identity, grown from the very land of our country.
The Irish Spirituality we teach and share is a living, organic, tradition.
Our School exists to promote and share a connection to Irish Paganism, but maybe now you can understand and appreciate not just our passion for the School, but also why we will fiercely defend our stance.
It’s not just some esoteric ephemera, this is the very beating heart of our spiritual existence rooted in generations of people who have existed in our land, be they born there or not. Our teachers are the voices of Irish Gods, Guardians, and Ancestors, and we hold their wisdom in the highest of regard.
So, all are welcome if they come in respect and appreciation of our culture and spirituality, and to be one hundred percent clear here – no, you do not have to be born in Ireland to study at the Irish Pagan School.
Where To Now?
If you think that Irish Paganism as we teach sounds interesting, and might even be something you’d like to explore further, you can always: