Back in my college days I was introduced to magical realism, and post-colonial writing. The likes of Salman Rushdie, Toni Morrison, and Isabelle Allende, Louise Eldritch and others. White Western Colonialism did not restrict itself to taking land and resources from those it colonised. The process was also a cultural one with loss of language, heritage and understandings of the world.
White Western Colonialism is all about capitalism, rationalism, industry, ‘progress’. It has no time for folklore and superstition, and has sought to quash it. Frequently this has gone hand in hand with imposing Christianity on the colonised people. Post-Colonial writing and magical realism are very much about reclaiming the past, the heritage and memories as best we can.
When I encountered this, it touched me, profoundly, spoke to things inside me I barely had words for. But the problem for me is, I am English by birth and heritage. I’m white. I belong to the oppressor people, to the colonisers and destroyers.
Here’s the thing. We did it to ourselves first. There is no traditional culture in my country. Scotland, Wales, Ireland and Cornwall have managed to hang on to things. Then, they have a history of being oppressed by the English as well, and a Celtic identity to tap into. There are racists who like to blame immigration for the loss of English identity, but that’s nonsense. We did it to ourselves. We embraced the shiny new American culture far too much, keen to throw away who we had been for the sake of ‘progress’. We threw away the old stories, the traditional knowledge, the folklore because we were going to be enlightened and we didn’t need that old superstitious rubbish.
As Show of Hands say in their awesome song, Roots, ‘We’ve lost more than we’ll ever know from the rocky shores of England.’
What passes for ‘culture’ now is all about commercialism, and who can sell us what. Our ‘culture’ is what brands we identify ourselves with. The past is not everything of course. There have been changes that are good and needed, in terms of equality and freedom, better education, better standards of living. I have no argument with those. We need new stories as much as we need old ones. We also need stories that are rooted in this land, this history, this culture. We need to remember who we are, not just consumers, brand users, statistics, passive recipients of television and pre-packaged oven-ready lifestyles.
For me, that’s what it means to be a pagan writer, now, in the UK. “Without our stories and our songs, how will be know where we came from?” It’s about time the old colonials started figuring out how to be post-colonial, and to do something meaningful with that.