Friday, March 16, 2007

Anciente Oirish Family Wisdomme

Having spent much of my formative years in Chicago and Boston, here is my old, "Traditional Irish," family wisdom: Stay off the streets on St. Paddy's Day.

As a kid I was embarrassed to be Irish-American. The sight of shamrocks, green fucking beer, the Gods-damned green RIVER and, for many years, the color green itself, all nauseated me. Let alone the roaming packs of drunken boys looking for a fight or worse.

I was a weird kid, and didn't fit neatly into the mold of what a traditional Irish-American girl should be. Even before I became explicitly polytheist, I didn't identify as either Catholic or Protestant (my family has a heritage of both, and my parents are mostly agnostic. I had to figure out the religion thing on my own). The packs of Irish-American disaffected male youth roaming the streets of Dorchester didn't give a damn about our shared ancestry - I was a dykey freak who dressed like a glam-rock boy and a punk rocker, and whom they'd never seen at mass. Therefore, I was a potential target.

Some of the other young white women in our collective household were scared to be living in what was in some ways a "Black" neighborhood. The thing is, Dorchester was mostly Irish Catholic then, with many of the Irish folks being right off the boat. The African-Americans and Haitians were more recent arrivals, and there was significant tension in the neighborhood between the old guard and the new folks. Our household was also mixed-race, and sometimes those tensions were internal, as well. So how ironic is it that Irish-American, white girl me, was never once hassled by Black folks, but was almost gay-bashed, multiple times, by those packs of boys who looked just like me (well, minus the punk haircut and weird clothes. And btw, you don't have to be gay to get gay-bashed. But a woman alone who isn't dressing femmey will often have "dyke" screamed at her by the assailants). I am lucky I got out of that rough neighborhood alive. But wouldn't you know, to this day, whenever I mention that I used to live in Dorchester, people always get it completely backwards as to exactly who it was who made it dangerous.

Now, I've come to terms with the violence in Irish culture. It is true many of us can be a quarrelsome lot, and the alcohol doesn't help. This is why I feel it's important to have spiritual/religious traditions that focus on peace, compassion, and mutual respect. When we have to use violence, we have to know where and how to direct it for positive change rather than community destruction. It also helps to be sober. Now I know why I come from a non-drinking family. Because genetically, it seems for many of my people the choice is either sobriety or alcoholic hell. After experimenting with the other, I choose sobriety.

When I first began exploring pre-Christian, polytheistic and earth-based religions, I actually avoided Irish traditions for the first few years because they just weren't exotic enough for teenage me. At that point in my life, I really didn't appreciate or understand the good parts of my heritage, and the bad points were enough to make me go be a Hindu for a few years.

I eventually came around, and now appreciate my heritage - largely because as I learned more about the older, less-popularized aspects of Irish culture I realized all the things in my family that I knew as "just how we do things," were because we are the product of Irish and Scottish culture (and Welsh, to a much lesser extent). I also discovered that some of the customs we kept, that I thought were just idiosyncratic to my family and some of the neighborhoods I'd lived in, were actually survivals of older spiritual practices.

But the parts of my heritage which I appreciate - the values, the stories, the spirituality, the love of nature, the value of poetry and music - are certainly not all that horrible Plastic Paddy drunkenness, aggression, stupidity and twee. I still can't stand that stuff, and once again feel nauseated (and furious) when people assume that shit has anything to do with Irish (or Celtic) culture. As another blogger put it, it's "greenface".

So, my Anciente Family tradition I'd like to share on this day? Stay home.

Or, if you're lucky to live somewhere (as I do now) where people only use the holiday as an excuse to schedule Gaelic music and arts performances, and there's no more drinking than usual, and no one dyes anything green (except maybe their hair), go out and support real Irish culture. Go to a language class or seisiún, support an Irish-language (Gaeilge) musician or arts group. Make offerings to the deities, spirits and ancestors who roamed the land before anyone ever heard of St. Patrick. Remember what lives below the surface, what sustained us long before anyone commercialized and exploited a few, distorted elements of the culture. These things can, and do, sustain us still. So, if you want to be "Irish for a day," find out what Irish really is, because, for the most part, it's not what you'll see in the streets this weekend.