December 2018

Evangelism or Colonization? Lingering Questions After Missionary John Allen Chau’s Death
The death of American missionary John Allen Chau at the hands of indigenous Sentinelese people has spurred quite a bit of debate.

The death of American missionary John Allen Chau at the hands of indigenous Sentinelese people has spurred quite a bit of debate.

The death of American missionary John Allen Chau at the hands of indigenous Sentinelese people has spurred quite a bit of debate. Some blame Chau for his own demise, pointing to the tribe’s desire to be left alone and his disregard of Indian laws restricting visitation to the island. Meanwhile, a few others regard him as a martyr for his faith. Alongside these comments, larger questions are being raised about the ethics of missionary work. To understand the reasons behind these critiques, it’s vital to learn about the history of missions and how they’ve influenced cultures around the world.

A Brief Overview of Christian Missions

The Encyclopedia Britannica places the beginnings of Christian missionary work during the first century C.E. Paul of Tarsus and his fellow believers managed to spread the fledgling faith outside of Judea into Asia Minor, southern Greece, and then ancient Rome. Eventually, Christian missionaries reached some areas of Europe such as the British Isles, Holland, and Germany. Meanwhile, rulers such as Charlemagne imposed the faith upon their conquered populations. Over the next few centuries, European expeditions backed by both monarchs and the Roman church attempted to expand the reach of their faiths and empires.

Missionary Work’s Dark History in Canada

Emory University’s ScholarBlogs reveals that the “white man’s burden” concept focused on colonialist advancement by “civilization, commerce, and Christianity.” Thus, religion became a tool by which European morals were forced upon native populations while promoting the exploitation of lands, resources, and peoples throughout Africa, Asia, and the Americas.

The Canadian Encyclopedia refers to early Christian missions among Canadian Indigenous peoples as an “ostensible motive for European occupation.” Facing History and Ourselves cites Indian residential schools as a salient example of how First Nations civilizations were impacted in horrific ways. History reveals that these government-funded church-run institutions sought to replace Indigenous children’s cultures with a “civilized” Western version. Children at the residential schools were forbidden to speak their original languages or engage in their native cultural and religious traditions.

Understanding Chau’s Motives

One telling detail about John Allen Chau’s motives may come from his own journal. A CNN article published on November 23 revealed that he questioned whether North Sentinel Island was “Satan’s last stronghold.” Chau may have believed that he should obey what many Christians call “the Great Commission,” or the act of spreading Jesus’s teachings and making disciples. Yet many sources, including ABC News and The Root, report that Chau’s explicit purpose was to convert the Sentinelese islanders.

Several Protestant evangelical sects consider the Great Commission as an imperative that every Christian must follow, but modern thinkers wrestle with deeper questions about the meaning of this directive. Patheos columnist Paul Louis Metzger opined that modern missionaries must avoid colonizing by educating individuals instead of moralizing and oppressing them. Saba Imtiaz also describes how some progressive Christian denominations emphasize humanitarian aid rather than proselyting in a March 2018 article for The Atlantic.

Still others argue that Christian missions and their colonialist histories cannot be separated from each other. Splinter NewsLuna Malbroux discusses why many black individuals are abandoning Christianity for traditional African religions, declaring that patriarchy, misogyny, and white supremacy are still evident in Christian cultures. Others point to modern-day societal impacts, such as American pastor Scott Lively’s influence on Ugandan laws prohibiting same-sex love.

Serious Questions and Important Lessons

In the past, the desire to Christianize native peoples led to staggering atrocities and abuses. Thanks to Christian missions’ linked history with colonial occupation, people are questioning whether missionary work has an appropriate place in our modern world. If nothing else, John Allen Chau’s death can impart important lessons about discretion, respect, and understanding the difference between sharing one’s faith and significantly transforming or obliterating other cultures.

 

What Do These Popular Wedding Flowers Symbolize?
The best way to find the right flowers is by taking a moment to explore the deeper symbolic meanings offered by some of these beautiful little plants.

The best way to find the right flowers is by taking a moment to explore the deeper symbolic meanings offered by some of these beautiful little plants.

There are few pieces of décor as important to a wedding as flowers. Selecting the best possible blossoms for your big day can be a lengthy endeavor, especially when you’re not exactly sure which buds will suit your needs best. For many couples, the best way to find the right flowers is by taking a moment to explore the deeper symbolic meanings offered by some of these beautiful little plants. Over the years, each individual flower has become entwined with various cultural beliefs and practices.

If you and your significant other are still trying to figure out which flowers will be best for your wedding, then you need to look at some of the facts. Check out these bits of info on what different flowers represent and see what the best choice is for your needs.

Commitment and Friendship

Cornflowers are very popular options when you’re looking for simple, elegant flowers to invigorate your reception venue. These blossoms usually come in a pale, calming shade of blue, though they can also be found in shades of pink, cream, and white. Many people view cornflowers as a symbol of friendship. By featuring these lovely florals on your big day, you are encouraging stronger bonds of friendship between you and your partner, as well as between you and the guests who are in attendance at your event.

Another flower that aims to improve the bonds of the couple tying the knot is the dahlia. For many years, dahlias have been one of the most widespread wedding flowers. While this is primarily due to how gorgeous the blossoms are, the symbolic meaning also carries weight. According to legend, couples who feature these blooms in their weddings are likely to experience many years of happy, unbroken commitment in married life.

Deeper Emotions

Daisies are another excellent choice when you’re searching for the perfect flowers for your wedding. Though most common during events that take place in the spring and summer, there is no bad time of year to feature these buds during your ceremony. Many people believe they encourage those nearby to speak honestly. For this reason, countless couples place vases of daisies around the altar during their ceremonies, hoping to bring forth the most honest responses from those present. Plus, their simple and beautiful look can make them an easy addition to most aesthetics.

Along the same lines are hydrangeas. Another flower perfect for warmer weather and outdoor events, hydrangeas are often inexpensive and easy to come by when they are in season. Like daisies, they are said to help those nearby experience truthful emotions. Specifically, they are rumored to help people get in touch with their emotional responses to a situation. Whether you want these buds for what they represent or for their breathtaking visuals, hydrangeas can be a great fit for most events.

Honor Thy Spouse

Finally, the lily is another classic flower you can consider for the décor on your big day. Lilies were often used during the weddings of royal families, making them a symbol of honor and prestige. Couples who married in the presence of these gorgeous flowers are said to experience married life in an honest way. Though they are suited for the summer, you can add lilies to your event no matter what time of year it falls.

Picking the right flowers can transform the way you feel about your big day. While you may think flowers are simply a way to enhance the décor around your event, you may be surprised to learn how much meaning is placed on each individual bud. Look more into the symbolic meaning of different blossoms, and see what you can do to enhance your wedding.

Canadian Pastor Sentenced to Hard Labor in North Korea Released
A Canadian pastor sentenced to hard labor for life in North Korea was released last year after a successful advocacy campaign on his behalf.

A Canadian pastor sentenced to hard labor for life in North Korea was released last year after a successful advocacy campaign on his behalf.

The Canadian government and a large church in Toronto were able to find a solution to the plight of a 60-year-old pastor who had been sentenced to life in prison with hard labor for crimes against the North Korean regime. Reverend Hyeon Soo Lim is a pastor of the Light Korean Presbyterian Church. Although he grew up in South Korea, he made Canada his home in January 1986, at the same time he formed the church. He since became a Canadian citizen. In the 1990s, he became involved in humanitarian aid. He has worked in many different countries, but his focus has been North Korea. He was released in August of 2017.

Why North Korea?

In the ‘90s, North Korea experienced a four-year famine, in which hundreds of thousands of people died. North Koreans were not unfamiliar with famine, having been in crisis since the time of the war in the 1950s. In the 1990s, the North Korean economy collapsed when the Soviet Union collapsed. The Soviets had been providing aid to the agricultural center of North Korea. The local government could not respond to the crisis, and food production decreased. China tried to fill in the gap, but when it faced grain shortfalls in 1993, it, too, had to reduce its aid to the country.

In the following years, Korea, both North and South, experienced massive floods. It wasn’t just the destruction of current crops that caused a famine, but the destruction of emergency reserves of grain. Every social class was affected, with child malnutrition reaching 14 percent in 1997. In perspective, it was 3.21 percent in 1987, and 7 percent in 2002.

Humanitarian Work

Hyeon Soo Lim has worked with children’s organizations in North Korea since 1997. He and the church have tried to improve the lives of many people in the country by starting businesses and importing food and other goods. He and the church have fed thousands of people. Lim’s efforts have been focused around the district of Rajin, which is in the Rason Special Economic Zone where North Korea is making an effort to improve foreign investments.

Imprisonment in North Korea

In January 2015, Lim traveled back to North Korea and disappeared. It was later determined that he was arrested for crimes against the government. Specifically, the court determined that Lim attempted to “undermine its social system with religious activities.” However, Lim had confessed to assisting North Koreans in defecting. It is suspected that Lim only confessed because of coercion. The prosecution originally sought the death penalty, but Lim was sentenced to life imprisonment on December 16, 2015.

North Korea and China are both clamping down on Christian activities. Another North Korean missionary, Kenneth Bae, was sentenced to 15 years of hard labor, but after two years of being imprisoned, he was released. Three other Americans were released this past spring under an easing of tensions between Trump and Kim Jong-un.  Lim ended up being in custody for 2 years and 7 months, and had originally been sentenced to life in prison with hard labor.

Canadian diplomatic efforts were made through the Swedish embassy in Pyongyang, since Canada does not have an embassy there. Lim suspected he was released as a gesture of goodwill by Kim Jong-un after rising tensions with the West. He said both faith and propaganda had helped him through the ordeal.

An Overview of West African Religions in Canada
While African religions originating from West Africa don’t get a lot of press coverage, they’re critically important spiritual paths for many Canadians.

While African religions originating from West Africa don’t get a lot of press coverage, they’re critically important spiritual paths for many Canadians.

Around two-thirds of Canadians claim to be Christians, but our country’s religious landscape also contains many complexities and nuances. Our religious diversity in modern times has been forged from a fascinating and troubling history, a colonialist legacy with still lingering wounds, and new immigration changing our population’s makeup over the last several decades. While African religions originating from West Africa don’t get a lot of press coverage, they’re critically important spiritual paths in the lives of both newer arrivals and native-born black Canadians.

Roots in the Homeland

Before examining contemporary versions of the West African faiths practiced in Canada, one should understand the collection of civilizations from which these traditions sprang. Modern-day Nigeria, Benin, Togo, Ghana, and the Ivory Coast were home to several groups:

  • Akan cultures like the Ashanti, Chakose, and Fanti
  • Yorubaland peoples
  • The Fon people of the Dahomey kingdom
  • Gbe-speaking groups such as the Ewe
  • The Kaybe

As Encyclopedia Britannica explains, members of these civilizations all speak languages from several branches of the Niger-Congo linguistic family. Not only that, they evidence a wide range of beliefs that differ slightly within each culture but share some major similarities:

  • The universe’s creation as a product of divine action
  • The importance of revering and connecting spiritually with one’s ancestors
  • Pantheons of deities or spirits that each govern various aspects of existence
  • A chief deity respected and revered by other supernatural beings
  • The ability of mortals to supplicate and request divine intervention

Tragedy and Transformation in the Americas  

Sadly, the transatlantic slave trade is primarily responsible for bringing West African religions to Canada. While no exact statistics are available, UNESCO estimates that 17 million people were stolen from the region and sold as slaves in the Americas between the 16th and 19th centuries. These individuals were shipped to several colonized areas in the Caribbean, South America, and the territories that eventually became the United States. Many European governments issued decrees and laws such as Frances “Code Noir” that prevented slaves from practicing their original religions and customs in these colonies.

Nevertheless, black people found resourceful ways to continue the faiths of their homelands. As they were forced to convert to Catholicism and other sects of Christianity, they syncretized their original West African beliefs with the new religion, producing several variants:

  • Vodou in Haiti and Louisiana
  • Brazilian Candomblé
  • Las 21 Divisionesin the Dominican Republic
  • Cuban Santeria and Lukumí faiths
  • Akan-based Kumfu religion in Jamaica

West African Religions in Modern Times

The African diaspora in Canada is comprised of several populations that include a significant contingent of Caribbean origin, descendants of those who fled the United States, and immigrants directly from Africa. While many of these individuals are Christians, some observe the West African faiths they brought with them, deriving strength and pursuing deeper meanings through community support and private religious practice. At the same time, they also encounter harmful misconceptions about their belief systems. For instance, a 2014 Canadian Dimension article discussed the Canadian Museum of Civilization’s Vodou exhibit held that same year, revealing that the religion’s adherents fight racist stereotypes insisting that their cherished faith is “primitive devil worship.” 

Looking to the Future  

Followers of West African religions gain positive psychological and spiritual benefits while retaining connections with ancestral cultures, customs, and beliefs. Headlines south of the border reveal that some black individuals originally raised as Christians are ditching these faiths in favor of traditional African spiritual paths. Although it’s difficult to derive conclusions about future trends in Canada based on events occurring in the United States, it will be interesting to see if traditions such as Vodou, Lukumí, Candomblé or their original African versions gain new Canadian believers in the coming years.

Pour Out Your Offerings: A Brief History of Libations
Pouring libations for spirits, divine entities, and forebears is a tradition that’s almost as old as written history itself.

Pouring libations for spirits, divine entities, and forebears is a tradition that’s almost as old as written history itself.

Listen to hip-hop music and you’ll probably hear mentions of libations being poured out to honor dead friends and family. Early 1990s genre pioneers such as Tupac Shakur all the way down to contemporary artists like Kayne West reference it frequently in their lyrics. However, you may be surprised to learn that “pouring one out” is a practice almost as old as written history itself.

Possible Roots in Africa?

The earliest known documentation for the practice of pouring out libations comes from ancient Egypt. For example, the divine mother goddess Isis was often depicted pouring out weekly drink offerings for her dead husband Osiris. Professor Jan Assmann also discusses libations as a sacrament in his 2011 book, Death and Salvation in Ancient Egypt, speculating that some offerings may have been in gratitude to Osiris for allowing the Nile to flood its banks and providing fertile land for farming. Some ancient Egyptian situlas, or libation vessels, have survived to modern times. One example is a situla from the 14th century B.C.E. crafted from faience, a type of brilliant blue ceramic common to the region. The vessel is currently on display at the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore, Maryland.

Meanwhile, Ghanaian writer Ayi Kwei Armah adds that the custom can be found all over the African continent in the 2006 book, The Eloquence of the Scribes: A Memoir on the Sources and Resources of African Literature. Kimani Nehusi, an African American studies professor at Temple University, cites Armah multiple times in an African Holocaust piece while discussing the Egyptian roots of the practice. Nehusi divulges Armah’s theory that it may have originated from myths about the goddess Hathor’s wrath against humankind being quelled when she was given large quantities of red beer. 

Libations in Ancient and Modern Times

Besides in ancient Egypt and the rest of Africa, the practice of pouring libations became commonplace throughout the Middle East, Asia, and North America. Both the Greeks and the Romans performed these rites during worship, sometimes as a component of animal sacrifices. References to the tradition can also be found in the Hebrew Tanakh, including stories of the patriarch Jacob pouring out both spirits and oil as part of his offerings.

Today, the custom is observed all over the world in several religions. There are too many instances to name, but a few examples include the following:

  • Offerings of water, milk, yogurt, ghee, or honey in Hindu temples
  • The Japanese Shinto custom of “miki,” or sake poured to venerate nature spirits or the deceased
  • Rice wine or tea spilled onto altars to honor deities or ancestors in China
  • The South American Quechua tradition of spilling drinks onto the ground to honor Mother Earth

Canadian Neopagans and practitioners of traditional African faiths also continue their own versions of this tradition. Patheos blogger John Beckett mentions it briefly as a sacred act within a larger context of sacrifices. In this case, some modern pagans see it as giving up the chance to consume a drink and offering it to deities or ancestors instead. In his African Holocaust article, Nehusi reveals that the practice is commonplace among followers of Vodou, Candomblé, and other African forms of spirituality, with each orisha or loa being given his or her favourite food or alcoholic drink as an offering.

Let the Gods and Ancestors Drink 

Pouring libations for spirits, divine entities, and forebears is a tradition that’s thousands of years old. Over the centuries, it’s been interpreted and applied within different contexts for each religion and culture. From its origins in Africa to modern religious practices all over the world, deliberately spilling out libations to honor deities and the dead is an innately human custom that shows no signs of fading away.

 

Zoroastrianism, Abrahamic Religions and the End of the World

Some evidence suggests that the “end times” ideas in the three Abrahamic religions may have been influenced by an older system of thought: Zoroastrianism.

Although most individuals tend to think of religious doomsday-style predictions within a Christian context, you might be surprised to know that “the end of the world as we know it” doesn’t just exist in Christianity. Islam also has an anti-Christ figure, and some Jewish writings reference a final “Day of the Lord” in which the wicked are punished. However, some evidence suggests that the “end times” ideas in these three Abrahamic religions may have been influenced by an older system of thought: Zoroastrianism.

Zoroastrian End Times Theology

The earliest manuscripts of Zoroastrianism’s chief apocalyptic text, the Zand-i Wahman Yasn, date to the early 15th century C.E. These writings describe several key events that the religion’s deity, Ahura Mazda, reveals to the prophet Zarathustra:

  • A battle between good and evil
  • The arrival of a savior figure known as the Saoshyant
  • A resurrection of the dead
  • The physical suffering of wicked people
  • The righteous transformed into a divine, immortal state
  • Humanity living as one under Ahura Mazda

Curiously, the state of the world prior to the Saoshyant’s arrival seems somewhat like what’s described in the Book of Revelation. Both writings describe worsening climate changes that lead to famine and nearly unlivable conditions on planet Earth. Also, each book insists that people’s deeds become increasingly wicked prior to good’s final showdown against evil. 

Influences During the Babylonian Exile 

If the Zand-i Wahman Yasn may have been written at least two millennia after Zarathustra’s lifetime, what are we to make of the possibility that “end times” concepts could have existed before the three main Abrahamic religions were even founded? To see the potential connections, it’s important to remember that Zarathustra himself lived and spread his teachings much earlier in human history. The Encyclopedia Britannica explains that most scholars place his existence before the 6th century B.C.E., and BBC Religions writer Joobin Bekhrad mentions that he was likely alive between 1500 and 1000 B.C.E.

Both the ancient Greeks and the Jewish people of the Babylonian exile would have been exposed to his philosophies during the 6th century B.C.E., thanks to the Persian conquests of ancient Israel, Judea and Greece. In fact, it was the Greeks who gave him the moniker “Zoroaster” and helped propagate his notion that good and evil coexist as opposing forces. Along with this key concept, many of his other ideologies were eventually adopted by the three Abrahamic religions:

  • Monotheism, or the existence of only one god
  • Humans being either righteous or wicked
  • Two spiritual destinations in the afterlife, Heaven and Hell
  • The existence of angels and demons
  • An adversarial figure who opposes God
  • A final judgment determining the fate of every human for all eternity

During their captivity in Babylon from 598 to 538 B.C.E., Jewish exiles would have read and heard Zarathustra’s teachings. These trickled into their theology and culture around the same time that they impacted Hellenistic philosophies. From there, they would have been passed down into Christianity through New Testament writers such as Saint Paul and John of Patmos, who themselves may have also been influenced by Hellenistic ideas. Eventually, Islam would have inherited these same ideas, drawing from a similar ideological pool.

Its Eschatological Legacy Continues Today

Statistics Canada estimates there are only around 5,000 Zoroastrians in our country, and one of its last famous adherents, Freddie Mercury, died in 1991. Yet when we talk about the “end of the world” or fear Revelation-like conditions developing around us, we are rehashing ideas promoted by its ancient Iranian prophet over three thousand years ago. Its influences on religion and culture in the West are still apparent today thanks to his concepts leaking into the three major Abrahamic religions as well as Greek philosophies.

 

Shopping Online for Your Wedding? Follow This Smart Advice
Wedding industry vendors jumped on the online commerce bandwagon long ago, but is it wise to buy everything for your wedding online?

Wedding industry vendors jumped on the online commerce bandwagon long ago, but is it wise to buy everything for your wedding online?

Thanks to the rapid advancement of technology and e-commerce, nearly anything can be bought online: groceries, movie tickets, medications, music, vehicles, and more. Wedding industry vendors jumped on the online commerce bandwagon long ago, making it possible to do everything from selecting and printing invitations to purchasing gowns and formal suits. E-commerce offers valuable perks such as convenience and saving money, but is it wise to buy everything for your wedding online? The answer to this question isn’t as straightforward as you might think.

Essential Privacy and Security Tips

More than 80 percent of Canadian brides bought at least one wedding-related item online, according to a Weddingbells survey published in 2015. Wedding décor and supplies, favors, invitations, and fashion accessories are some of the most common purchases. However, couples’ and attendants’ attire also end up on many nearlyweds’ online shopping lists. Many save time, gasoline, and money while discovering great finds that they can’t get from local retailers.

Sounds convenient and easy, right? Well, you still must carefully choose which vendors will get your hard-earned cash. LifeLock, an American identity theft protection company, offers several smart tips for safe online shopping:

  • Purchase only from trusted websites.
  • Do your homework about each vendor. Check for legitimate contact information, and be sure to read online customer reviews.
  • Verify that the website has privacy protection and SSL encryption enabled.
  • Don’t give out too much personal information.
  • Be wary of extremely low prices and “too good to be true” deals.

Also, LifeLock advises that it’s better to use a credit card for your online purchases, as you’ll steer clear of scammers siphoning funds from your primary bank account should your data become compromised. The Financial Consumer Agency reveals that your maximum liability for unauthorized charges cannot be more than $50. Also, you will be reimbursed in full if you took appropriate privacy precautions. To protect yourself, monitor your credit card accounts frequently and take immediate action if you notice unauthorized charges or don’t receive your merchandise.

Helpful Hints for Online Attire Purchases

A blog post by Young Hip and Married, a Vancouver-area wedding services provider, divulges that the average wedding dress costs $1,779 in Canada. The Better Business Bureau of Western Ontario adds that the average wedding tuxedo rental is $297, while Huffington Post contributor Andrea Traynor mentions that made-to-measure suits usually cost at least $500 and bespoke suit prices start at around $2,000.

Most of these figures aren’t as extravagant as the starting price of a Vera Wang gown or an Armani suit, but tighter budgets are one reason why many couples are turning to the internet to find their wedding apparel. Some of the same general tips for online shopping apply, but NerdWallet writer Laura McMullen shares more wise advice to help online buyers get the most for their money:

  • Review the retailer’s policies, especially on returns and expected delivery time frames.
  • Investigate your fabric options. Knowing each material’s basic properties can help you choose garments that are appropriate for your season and venue.
  • Shop for pieces that best flatter your body type.
  • Take your measurements, and follow each company’s sizing guidelines.

Careful Online Shopping Is Key

Online vendors can make your search for wedding supplies and attire easier, but it pays to take some precautions as you shop. Such safeguards include researching each company, purchasing only from trusted suppliers, and confirming that retailers are using the appropriate security protocols. Buying wedding attire can be especially tricky, but you can score good-quality finds if you know your measurements, choose garments that fit properly, and select fabrics that mesh with your event’s season and desired aesthetic. With these best practices, you’ll find the goods you need while avoiding fraud and misunderstandings.

The Legend of Turtle Island
Studying the Turtle Island story leads to some fascinating discoveries about both Indigenous peoples from the past as well as those in North America today.

Studying the Turtle Island story leads to some fascinating discoveries about both Indigenous peoples from the past as well as those in North America today.

Long before Canada became the country we know, Indigenous peoples flourished across the North American continent. From the Mi’kmaq groups near the shores of Cape Spear, to the Tlingit living around Mount Saint Elias, many distinct cultures descended from this land’s earliest inhabitants. As they developed into the Inuit and First Nations civilizations that were present when Europeans first arrived, some of these cultures told creation stories about a land known as Turtle Island. Studying the Turtle Island concept and story leads to some fascinating discoveries about both Indigenous peoples from the past, as well as those in North America today.

The Origins of Turtle Island 

Multiple Indigenous civilizations told stories in which the known world was called “Turtle Island.” The Turtle Island Native Network retells one common version from the Onondaga, one of the five original Iroquois nations. In many versions of the story, the ancient world is entirely comprised of oceans. Sky Woman falls through a hole in the heavens that was left behind from an uprooted tree. In their attempt to save her life, the creatures living in Earth’s waters dive deep beneath its surface to retrieve some dirt upon which she can stand. Turtle volunteers to carry the dirt on his back, completing Sky Woman’s rescue.

While the Iroquois versions are the most widely known, several other cultures’ mythos also contain Turtle Island stories:

  • The Lenape people of the Northeastern Woodlands region
  • Anishinaabe civilizations such as the Ojibwe and Potawatomi, and Algonquin
  • Cheyenne cultures in the Great Plains region of the United States

While the concept of a massive turtle carrying the world on its back can also be found in older Sanskrit and Chinese texts, it holds the most prominent place among Indigenous American groups. Furthermore, the Mayans developed a similar myth about Zipacna, a conceited and violent oversized crocodile thought to carry their land on his back and cause volcanic and seismic activity as he moved. In contrast, Turtle Island legends tend to portray the giant turtles as helpful, benevolent beings.

Turtle Island in a Modern Context 

Within the last few decades, “Turtle Island” has grown beyond a concept from Indigenous mythology and morphed into one with deeper symbolic meaning. Citing the desire to reclaim older cultural roots and acknowledge the sovereignty of Native civilizations prior to European colonialism, some use the term Turtle Island instead of North America. The America name originally derived from Italian explorer Amerigo Vespucci, but there were Native civilizations living in these lands long before Vespucci started exploring. The Manataka American Indian Council explains that some Indigenous people also use the term “Niiji” to refer to themselves in place of the word “Indian,” the latter being a moniker mistakenly given to Natives by Europeans believing that they’d landed in India.

The term “Turtle Island” has fallen into more widespread use as it’s being increasingly linked to Indigenous civil rights and environmental activism. One example mentioned in a June 2017 CBC article cites a grassroots group of First Nations activists mentioning “a crisis situation…on Turtle Island.” The activists staged a protest, calling for Canadians to address deeper issues from assimilation, colonization, and colonialism as Canada Day approached. Additionally, Native organizations such as the Indigenous Environmental Network and initiatives like the Turtle Island Solidarity Journey continue to focus on solutions to climate change while drawing attention to their connections to colonialism and environmental racism.

An Old Legend With New Interpretations

Indigenous cultures across North American either developed their own cosmogonic mythos to explain the universe’s origins or borrowed these beliefs from their neighbors. Within many of these civilizations, Turtle Island began as a creation story. With the impacts of European colonialism leading to both modern environmental concerns and civil rights issues, Turtle Island now holds potent symbolic meaning for many Indigenous people today.

Removing Gendered Language From Your Wedding
For LGBT and forward-thinking couples, navigating gendered language at weddings can be difficult. Fortunately, there are many alternatives that couples should consider.

For LGBT and forward-thinking couples, navigating gendered language at weddings can be difficult. Fortunately, there are many alternatives that couples should consider.

Wedding-related language can be incredibly gender-specific, especially considering that most nuptial traditions developed with a bride and a groom in mind. For LGBTQ individuals as well as couples wishing to adopt forward-thinking approaches, navigating gendered language and finding more inclusive wording alternatives can seem challenging. Fortunately, useful and meaningful replacements do exist. Digging deeper into traditional words while learning about non-gendered alternatives can prove to be fascinating.

Non-Gendered Alternatives for “Bride” and “Groom”

Browse through most wedding websites and you’ll notice the gendered words “bride” and “groom” used heavily, although some now include gender-neutral terms in their planning advice and guides. The Online Etymology Dictionary’s entries for “bride” and “groom” are particularly revealing. While both are derived from Old English and Germanic words, “bride” comes from older words that explicitly referred to a soon-to-be-married woman, while earlier versions of “groom” denoted a young male regardless of his marital status.

Thankfully, The Knot’s Ivy Jacobson divulges that you have some potential replacements for these words at your disposal. When crafting language for your invitations, website, save-the-dates, and other materials, you can swap them out for several alternatives:

  • Partner
  • Life partner
  • Spouse-to-be
  • Combinations such as “gride” or “broom”
  • Nearlyweds
  • Marrier
  • Celebrant

“I Now Pronounce You…”

When pondering how to compose non-gendered language for your wedding, don’t forget to chat with your officiant about your preferred linguistic alternatives. As you collaborate in composing your ceremony script, pay attention to common phrases such as “I now pronounce you man and wife” and “You may kiss the bride.” In a December 2017 Martha Stewart Weddings piece, contributing writer Jenn Sinrich suggests “I now pronounce you married” and “You may kiss your partner” as potential substitutes.

Bon Mots for Your Wedding Party 

A traditional wedding party usually consisted of one maid of honor, one best man, several bridesmaids and groomsmen, junior attendants, and possibly both a ring bearer and a flower girl. Wedding Wire contributor Whitney Teal suggests several alternatives to these customary roles. “Honor attendant” can easily be used in place of “maid of honor” or “best man,” but Teal also proposes other titles such as “best woman,” “man of honor,” or “friend of honor.” Teal also suggests that you could collectively call your attendants a “wedding council” and designate that each person will help you pull off your special day.

How To Handle Honorific Titles 

Honorifics such as “Mr.” and “Ms.” may indicate gender, age, and possibly the marital status of the person in question. However, these titles typically don’t work for nonbinary or genderqueer individuals. The Oxford English Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, and Dictionary.com all added “Mx.” to their listings between 2015 and 2017. First coined in the late 1970s, “Mx.” is pronounced “mix” or “mux” and is a gender-neutral honorific that’s now in widespread use.

The Equality Institute lists several additional non-gendered alternatives, including “Ser” and “Ind.” When in doubt, it’s wise to ask your guests about their proper titles before you ship off your save-the-date cards or invitations. As for you and your partner, you can simply omit honorifics for yourselves in your written materials.

Shaping Your Wedding To Fit Your Values

Traditions often morph or fade in the face of new social developments and individual priorities. While nearly every Western culture relied on gender-coded norms to dictate behavior, more people are questioning the need for these norms as well as the very existence of the gender binary. Such changes are also ushering in a deeper examination of the place of gendered language within weddings. With the desire to break free from tradition and choose alternatives, couples are developing new wording or using existing terms in different ways for each other as well as their guests and friends.

 

Asatru Weddings: Marrying the Heathen Way
Followers of Asatru draw inspiration from contemporary practices to create their own beautiful and meaningful nuptial celebrations.

Followers of Asatru draw inspiration from contemporary practices to create their own beautiful and meaningful nuptial celebrations.

While Statistics Canada doesn’t explicitly count our country’s Norse pagan population, Heathenry continues to gain popularity. As new followers join local kindreds and adopt in-home religious practices, they learn about and pass on the faith’s rituals and traditions. With more Asatru weddings occurring in Canada, Norse pagans delve into older source materials and draw inspiration from contemporary practices to create their own beautiful and meaningful nuptial celebrations.

Religious and Ceremonial Customs Can Be Diverse

Modern Asatru’s origins began more than four decades ago. Washington Post reporter Terrence McCoy explains that the revival of old Norse religious traditions started with the 1972 founding of the Asatru Association in Iceland. While many cultural customs were transmitted through word-of-mouth, present-day pagans have derived some worship and ceremonial practices from a few key source texts:

  • The Poetic Edda, a vast collection of epic poems sourced from a medieval Icelandic text known as the Codex Regius
  • The Prose Edda, a 13th-century volume of narratives about Norse mythology and religious beliefs compiled by Icelandic scholar Snorri Sturluson
  • Heimskringla and Landnámabók, two historical sagas also penned by Sturluson

Contemporary scholars mostly regard much of these works’ content as historical fiction rather than factually accurate accounts. BBC Religions points out that they were composed or compiled after Scandinavian Europe had converted to Christianity during the 11th and 12th centuries. However, they still provide cultural insights. Heathens today have developed diverse kinds of spiritual, ritual, and ceremonial practices from these writings and other folk traditions, with details shifting and changing as they’re transmitted from person to person. 

Common Ceremonial Elements 

Two organizations based in the United States, The Asatru Community and the Kindred of Ravenswood, have documented modern Heathen wedding customs. The Asatru Community published a detailed description of a typical Norse pagan wedding in a March 2018 blog post, while Kindred of Ravenswood member Chris Haviland offered a basic ceremonial outline along with some common traditions.

While there are a few differences between Haviland’s and the TAC’s versions, both follow a somewhat similar order of services. First, a Norse pagan wedding usually begins with the officiant hallowing the ceremonial space. The Asatru Community explains that this can be done by blowing a calling horn and smudging the area with sage, while Haviland mentions that the officiant may perform a blessing rite before the wedding party and guests arrive.

Once the couple has processed in, the ceremony itself begins. It generally includes readings, followed by the couple’s recitation of vows and either an exchange of rings or a handfasting ritual in which their wrists are tied together by the celebrant. Haviland’s account mentions a few additional elements:

  • The couple ritualistically eating a small cake and drinking mead
  • An exchange of keys or swords, which is based on an older Norse practice of the bride and groom trading each other’s ancestral swords
  • The clergy member blessing the bride with a Thor’s hammer

Modern documentation of Norse wedding customs usually mentions heterosexual couples tying the knot. Nevertheless, they have been adapted for same-sex unions. A May 2015 Reykjavik Grapevine article mentions that many same-gender couples marrying in Iceland have traditional pagan ceremonies performed by Asatru Fellowship officiants.

Revived Customs With Deeper Meanings

Like marriage rites from other cultures and faiths, Norse pagan weddings are packed with traditions, symbolism, and meaning. When each couple comes together, they bring their families’ histories and legacies with them. At the same time, their loved ones’ hope for their good fortune is conveyed through the officiant asking for blessings from the gods, spirits, and ancestors. Although different versions of Heathen nuptial rituals exist, the final intent is similar: witnessing a new union’s beginnings in front of their larger communities.