04 July 2011

Independence Day

As German-Americans, we Irminen tend to talk a lot about our German-ness. That “thing” that we have inherited through our bloodlines and our family traditions means something to us although it cannot be described in mere words. This is made even more special by finding others through the Irminen-Gesellschaft who share similar thoughts and feelings, who have come to know similar traditions, and who see the world much as we do.
What we can often overlook in this, though, is that we are Americans as well; and that our American-ness is just as important to us. Perhaps this can be more easily overlooked because we tend to take the American side of our lives for granted. Today, though, is independence Day, arguably the most significant day of remembrance in American culture. On days like this we cannot forget the American side of our cultural heritage.

Of course we all know what is being celebrated on Independence Day. 4 July 1776 was the day that the Declaration of Independence was officially adopted by the Continental Congress which not only stated in no uncertain terms that the colonies intended to secede from England; but also described the rational behind our American conception of liberty. But it might also be healthy to consider some of the elements of American Independence Day from an Irminic perspective.

The American conception of inalienable rights (first described as the freedom to pursue life, liberty and property, these rights were later broken down and enumerated in the Constitution) was and still is unique in the world. These concepts are so deeply embedded in the American psyche that it would not be amiss to describe these values are “religious principles”. Having added these principles to our triuwa, Irminen may very well approach our Heathenry different from those in other countries-- including those in the Fatherland. The nation-state of Germany (formerly the loose confederation of Germania), despite its various political changes over the centuries, never experienced anything like the liberty movements that have always existed as a matter-of-course in America. Thus, these notions are simply not part of the native German Weltanschauung like they are here.

Similarly Americans have come to embrace the doctrine that “all men are created equal”. Every Heathen knows that not all men are equal. Some have more werd than others. The founding fathers of our country understood this as well. “All men are created equal” did not deny the fact that there are 25% men, 78% men, and maybe even a few heroes. What it did deny was the idea any legitimate form of government could be based on an individual's birthright. This is fully explained in pamphlets such as Common Sense by Thomas Paine. Few modern Heathens would disagree.

Just as Germans in different regions may know different customs, so the thau of German-American Heathens is unique to us. A federal holiday such as Independence Day includes its own customs such as family/community barbecues, flag-waving, drinking and fireworks, that know no parallel in other parts of worldwide Heathendom. This does not, however, mean that it is distinct from our Heathenry, as every aspect of our lives is (or ought to be) perceived through a Heathen lens. The origins of these traditions is generally well known, and a quick internet search will inform people who have forgotten the lessons of history class, so none of that will be repeated here. The significant thing to understand is that the fireworks and all the rest are part of our thau-- that is, it is our “custom” and, as such, is “right action”.

It is significant to note at this juncture, that before the coming of universalist, soteriological cults, that one's triuwa and one's nationality were one in the same. If someone were to ask an ancient Heathen what his religion was he would likely look confused and say something like, “I am a Burgundian” or “I am Saxon”. This, of course, was not unique to the Germans, but is echoed across all the Aryan cultures. A Roman citizen would see no difference between the words “pious” and “patriotic”.
Only the divisive nature of universalist cults caused notions such as 'freedom of religion' and 'the separation of Church and State' to bear the significance that they have in America. These assumptions are foreign to Heathenry. Yet we live in a culture that is predominantly christian--so how do we reconcile this? When we recognize that in our feast days, our ethics, and many of our traditions that Heathenry and christianism really are not all that different as they have come down to us (despite some dramatic differences in symbolism and theology) it does not take much to realize that we Irminen ought to be approaching our civic life exactly the same way as our christian neighbours. Perhaps we might be a little more zealous than they are, though, because we know that the world we make today will be the world we are born into tomorrow whereas they wait for a pie-in-the-sky afterlife. While the Irminen-Gesellschaft does not take any official stances on political issues or endorse any political candidates we do encourage our members to be politically active. Our civic duties go beyond politics, though. Activity in the PTA and other such organizations can prove to be just as significant.
When Hurricane Katrina ravaged much of the South the Irminen-Gesellschaft was there distributing bottled water to emergency workers. This was not in the least bit a political activity; it represented the civic-mindedness of Irminen who would take the time to help our fellow Americans when it could be done.

Getting back to our topic, we would encourage all our members and friends to embrace and celebrate the American part of our cultural heritage. Despite all the problems that we bicker about in this country we have much to be grateful for and much to be proud of. So tonight have a few drinks and shoot off some fireworks (being safe in both) and as the fireworks reach a crescendo raise a toast to the altmâgâ who brought the family line to this, our home.

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