On Columbia

There have been several responses to the DC40 Prayer Initiative,(1) a spiritual assault intended to assert their "authority to take dominion [and] speak His will on Earth" in accordance with "the Biblical mandate to dominate the culture and transform all aspects of society."(2) One of the more popular has been rituals to Columbia (3) in Her role as protector of liberty and religious freedom.(4) As is not uncommon in the Pagan community, this has resulted in some controversy. Many have noted that Columbia's namesake didn't exactly bring liberty and religious freedom to the natives of the "New World." As one Wild Hunt commenter put it:

I am bothered by the invocation of America as being "founded" on freedom, without acknowledgment that America was also founded on genocide of indigenous peoples and the enslavement of Africans (to say nothing of ongoing exploitation and atrocities against these groups and the earth herself). Now, I am quite sure that no one in the Columbia project supports genocide or oppression! But it's hard for me to get on board with views of the US or the Founding Fathers, or pieces like the songs to Columbia, as simply being these shining beacons of freedom, without acknowledgement of the complicated history and present of the US. How does the Columbia movement acknowledge and incorporate the realities of colonialism into its views of the US? How can the symbol of a country that has meant oppression for many (as well as freedom to many, and often both at once) be reclaimed in a way that respects all these experiences?(5)

Even the most popular image of Columbia, the statue which stands atop the Capitol Dome, embodies many American contradictions.(6) The original design for "Lady Freedom" wore a Phrygian cap, otherwise known as a "liberty cap." By orders of then Secretary of War Jefferson Davis, this was changed to a helmet to symbolize "victory over tyranny."  Davis, a Mississippi plantation owner (and future president of the Confederacy) objected to the use of what was at the time a popular symbol within the Abolitionist movement.

Later Lincoln would point to Lady Freedom as a symbol of the reunification of the United States.  We should not gloss over the various sins of the Confederacy, or of the various historical and contemporary dictators overthrown through overt or covert American intervention.  But the inconvenient fact remains that the majority of Confederate citizens favored secession and were brought back into the American fold only after a brutal war.  Whatever Lincoln's intentions, he started a trend which continues to this day. The violent and bloody suppression of a popular movement against the wishes of the people was presented as a victory for "Freedom."

Acknowledging these problems, Literata Hurley writes on the "Hail Columbia" site:

This project invites Pagans to participate as citizens in helping the country progress towards greater freedom for all people, and especially the religious liberty that Pagans are working so hard to gain and defend. We go forward with our eyes open to the problems of our past, including those embodied in Columbia, and we take her as a symbol of how we are unwilling to return to that past; we work instead to create a better future for our country and ourselves. 

Columbia represents the goal to which we are dedicated; she encourages us to protect what has been won and beckons us onward to expand freedoms, including religious liberty in a peaceful and pluralistic society. As we take steps in that journey, let us demonstrate that all acts of truth and justice are her rituals.(7)

I recognize Literata's goals and honor her good intentions. But I wonder if we might not be well-served to honor Lady Freedom by taking a closer look at the meaning(s) of "Freedom."  Martin Heidegger has spoken of the ways in which words can "conceal being," how they can become empty symbols which lead us away from the truth rather than towards it. "Freedom" has certainly suffered this fate: politicians and pundits recite it like a Sacred Name and present it as a justification for everything from waterboarding to depriving health insurance to the poor. But what is "Freedom?"(8)

For much of American history "Freedom" has been defined as the right to possessions.  Freedom meant the right to till the verdant, unspoiled plains and claim them as farmland. Freedom meant the right to grow wealthy through hard work and inventive thinking. Freedom meant the right to have one's material needs met, to be as prosperous as your neighbors and more prosperous than those people living on the other side of the tracks.  And since we identified freedom with things, it only stood to reason that sooner or later we'd identify it with stock markets and corporations. 

French existentialist Jean-Paul Sartre wrote "L'homme est condamné à être libre." (Man is condemned to be free). (9) For Sartre freedom is not something which can be given or taken by governments: it is the human condition. We are forced to choose, to decide, to create ourselves by our actions and our inactions.  The only meaning to be found in this vale of suffering and joy is that which we create: as Batman says in Frank Miller's The Dark Knight Returns, "The world only makes sense when you force it to."  But yet Sartre also realizes that the very thing which most limits us - our fellow human beings and the society in which we live - also serves to define us.  It may be true that "L'enfer, c'est les autres" (Hell is other people).  But "Pour se connaître soi-même, on a besoin des autres" (to know oneself, one needs other people).  

We are a work in progress, constantly involved in the act of creation and self-creation. Inevitably we will make mistakes. Sartre fought passionately for the liberation of the disempowered, yet in his efforts to overthrow their oppressors he became an apologist for Stalinism. (10) We will argue, we will disagree, we will seek easy answers and find only difficult questions. And in the end we will leave a new generation to build on our triumphs and rectify our errors. 

If we are going to honor Columbia as the protector of Freedom, let us honor Her à la mode du Sartre rather than à la mode du Milton Friedman.  Let us recognize that she means something more than a chicken in every pot and a flat screen TV in every heavily mortgaged home. Let us understand that She, like all Gods, is an inescapable part of our being. We cannot trade Her away for safety or comfort, nor can we escape the terrible responsibility which She lays on us. We use our freedom when we stand up against oppression, and we use our freedom when we acquiesce to it. 


1. http://www.dc40.net/

2. http://www.rightwingwatch.org/content/dc-40-take-dominion-over-america

3. http://xroads.virginia.edu/~cap/liberty/origins.html

4. http://www.patheos.com/blogs/wildhunt/2011/10/guest-post-the-hail-columbia-movement.html

5. http://ux.brookdalecc.edu/fac/history/Tangents/ARTICLESFORTANGENTS/Columbus's%20Genocide.htm

6. http://xroads.virginia.edu/~cap/liberty/politics.html

7. http://hailcolumbia.us/about-us/about-columbia/

8. http://heideggerian.blogspot.com/2006/06/on-essence-of-truth-untruth-as.html

9. http://www.philo5.com/Les%20philosophes/Sartre.htm

10. http://www.slate.com/articles/arts/egghead/2003/09/exit_pursued_by_a_lobster.html


kenaz filan
kenazfilan @ gmail.com | 917 267 7469

kenazfilan.blogspot.com | www.kenazfilan.com


the haitian vodou handbook
vodou love magic
drawing down the spirits (w/raven kaldera)
vodou money magic
the power of the poppy
the new orleans voodoo handbook

While sitting with two sweet friends at Occupy Boston this past week, we talked about the necessity of grounding, of being in connection to our Earth Mother, to acknowledge and live the spiritual legacy of the indigenous soul, the spiritual imperative of oneness, the resonance of what and who we are as energetic humans with the energetics of the Earth and the universe - a very powerful and loving connection. 

While we sat there on the earth, what earth we could still find there in Dewey Square, the Occupiers guiding the General Assembly began to speak of indigeny, of statements of solidarity with indigenous peoples and with the original (and current) inhabitants of the place we now call Boston and Massachusetts.  They were speaking truth and acknowledging the need for reconciliation at a time when many misguided organizations and people in the world were busy engrandizing a criminal named Columbus who would usher in two of the world’s most tragic holocausts, one which included the enslavement of Africans and the dismemberment of their cultures.

This discourse on indigeny and the issues of colonization and settler-colonization are key to joining and creating change in, on and beyond Turtle Island.  One cannot suggest that they are searching for economic, political, social or environmental justice without engaging the dynamics of colonization, capitalist European exploitation and the systems and structures that have grown out of such dynamics.  To do any less would be to subvert the stated messages of “freedom from tyranny” and to reentrench the locus of liberation back to the privileged “49%”, the benefactors of white privilege (which includes that cursed 1% that everyone is talking about with such vehement and correct disdain) and the world of liberal/conservative politics (ultimately not so different since both have for so long actually been moderate and regressive protections of the dominant system of exploitation in the interest of the now-decreasing European settler majority).

John Bird, in his Indian Country Today Media Network article, sees light and possibilities in the deepening political root that is the Occupy movement.

“I feel like i have been waiting for this moment an entire lifetime.  More like a hundred lifetimes when I count the 500 years and lifetimes of all our indigenous ancestors who went to their graves wondering if justice would ever again prevail on Turtle Island.” (http://indiancountrytodaymedianetwork.com/ict_sbc/why-i-am-occupying-wall-street/?utm_source=facebook&utm_medium=social&utm_content=why-i-am-occupying-wall-street&utm_campaign=fb-posts)

Bird puts into perspective a socio-political and historical reality that many not directly involved in the Occupy movement are ignorant of or unwilling to engage due to capitalist/colonialist collusion and/or confusion.  Even many who are doing this neo-occupation are not aware of and/or willing to engage this larger, deeper conception of justice and liberation, one that illuminates the very underpinnings of the creation of the United States of America as a stable, though vicious settler-colony, sharing many similarities to the Republic of South Africa and it’s own creation.  Voortrekkers are not so different from the Laura Ingalls Wilders and Ben Cartwrights of the festering anti-spirit of manifest destiny that swept across Turtle Island like a disease of viral homo sapienity.  But there is and was always hope that that virus could be identified and healed like every other.  Bird goes on to say the following:

“”For me the OCcupy Wall Street movement is that new hope.  What I see in the Occupy Wall Street movement with its focus on economic justice which is entwined with social justice, growing and strengthening and merging with the environmental movement is the beginning of new hope.  not just for Native Americans, but for all Americans and all citizens of the world.  Our indigenous philosophies have always told us we are all related, we are all connected, we are all in this together.”

John Bird calls us to look at the ultimate unity of humanity through the clear lens of critique of the larger system of exploitation which has sent so many young and old, red and blue, union and non to the streets and parks across Turtle Island and beyond dissatisfied with the promises of a shallow and blind freedom that so many have accepted as truth for so, so long, in the face of all of our Ancestors who knew and know better and calls us to see and act upon the same.  Bird sees possibilities that resonate with the words of those General Assembly members who presented the resolution on solidarity with indigenous people here and outside of Turtle Island.

Recently, as posted on the Occupy Boston website, the United American Indians of New England put their support behind the Occupy Boston movements saying the following (in part):

“We are deeply moved and encouraged that Occupy/Decolonize Boston, as one of its very first actions, issued a memorandum in solidarity with Indigenous peoples. We have been the victims of corporate greed for centuries. If you seek to re-imagine a new society free of corporate greed, then we would ask that you learn all you can about the past that has carried us to this place.

We fully support the right of the Occupy/Decolonize Boston encampment to expand from Dewey Square to other parks and open spaces in the city, without the necessity of permits and without fear of police reprisals.“ (http://occupyboston.com/2011/10/14/united-american-indians-of-new-england-uaine-supports-occupy-boston/)

The UAINE, that regularly organizes the National Day of Mourning at Plymouth, MA each November, adds to the growing, but often tenuous support coming from Indian country and indigeny in general.  In Minneapolis, the Anishinabe, American Indian Movement and Meshikas of Mexico and central and south America came together to “reoccupy our sacred Mother Earth”, as voiced by Clyde Bellecourt, co-founder of AIM and Anishnabe chief. He went on to say the following:
“We will join together as one on this day of national mourning of the genocide of 120 million indigenous peoples of the Western Hemisphere, as American and the world celebrates the pirate Columbus.” (http://www.theuptake.org/2011/10/11/drums-dance-and-rain-occupy-peoples-plaza-in-minneapolis/)

Bellecourt’s words again give resonance to that larger challenge to the new Occupy movement, but call it into clarity about upon which and whose land they now Occupy and physically occupy in the name of democracy and freedom from economical, social and environmental injustice and exploitation.  Indigenous peoples here on Turtle Island and the Africans viciously transplanted here know all too well the largeness and nature of the challenge ahead.  It is particularly this awareness that gives many people of color and indigeny pause even as many see those rays of hope emanating from the current movement.  Vine Deloria, Jr., in his classic “Custer Died For Your Sins” laid out some of the differences in outlook and action on issues of civil and human rights, land and freedom as he explained what conditions existed that separated many Native Americans from the civil rights movement and European-dominated anti-war and burgeoning environmental movements.  His critique is important in facing some of the persistent barriers that exist between the multiplicitous cultural and political, let alone spiritual, interests that have come to coexist here on Turtle Island, however exploitatively and uncomfortably.  The Europeans that are dominating the discourse and presence in these Occupations must come to clarity and set a tone for inclusion that allows them to see that they are, in fact, joining a much older process, not simply creating something new that has no historical precedent.  But that is beginning to happen as workshops on race and white privilege are being organized and planned with multi-cultural groupings  forging ahead into the known/unknown of historical and future reconstruction and reconciliation.

In a Lenape response to the Occupy Wall Street effort, the call for deeper perspective and acknowledgement of indigeny comes through:
“As you ‘occupy Wall Street,’ I ask you to reflect: You are on the island upon which our Indigenous ancestors lived and thrived for thousands and thousands of years. Please take a moment to recognize that we, the Original Nations, still exist here on Turtle Island. We have the right to exist as free and distinct nations with full self-determination.” (http://unsettlingamerica.wordpress.com/)

As I sat on the sacred earth with those two wonderful, conscious people, a reactionary, though lone, voice of white privilege rang out through the crowd giving voice to some very widely held fears and confusions around even the idea of indigenous peoples’ rights being acknowledged and manifested where so many offspring of the original colonizers have stakes in seeing the status quo maintained.  The Occupy movement in Boston and beyond, on Turtle Island and beyond will have to come to serious grips with the issues being raised and heard in their General Assemblies and from the villages, cities, reservations, bantustans and ghettoes of the world.  The success of the Occupation is dependent upon how deeply the neo-Occupiers engage and reconcile the stories and realities of the original Columbian era occupation and holocaust/enslavement/colonization/settler-colonization.  To fall short in this area would be tragic to those who still see, like this writer, that there is hope in the possibilities of what the Occupy movement represents for not only this settler-colonist country, but the world as a whole - current global capitalism would clearly have been a recurrent wet dream of Criminal Columbus, if you get the multi-suggestive drift.

In addition, the engagement of Columbia as a goddess of this settler-colonial reality can not be just another reactionary spiritual dynamic relegating it to the coming dustbin of predatory christian missiological and spiritual exploitation.  The Occupy movement and the responses to the DC40 initiative must be principled and ideologically clear.  The DC40 initiative is a spiritual and political blight on the populace, particularly those of us who support religious and spiritual pluralism and a logical return to the indigenous basis of human relationship to the physical and energetic world in solidarity and unity with the indigenous peoples who are still here, still strong and getting stronger.

John Bird ended his article as such:
“The window of opportunity to bend the course of history back towards justice is once again opening.  It will not stay open long.  Let us, Native Americans and all others who have not given up hope for a world based on real economic, social and environmental justice, not squander this opportunity.  IT MAY VERY WELL...BE OUR LAST.” [emphasis mine, US]
Much is at stake with regard to the DC40 and TI42 Initiatives and the promise of what they and Occupy movement and decolonization movement(s) mean and represent for all of humanity at this important juncture in human and earth history.
May we hear and heed the voices of our indigenous Ancestors loudly and clearly...and may they hear and heed our clearest voices of true freedom, justice and liberation for ALL.

Additional INTMN article in review for Part 2: