MerlinsDad and I began this discussion in Email and I brought it to my blog because I thought it was a good topic for my legacy to my Grandkid(s). See Ain’t I a Woman too and Kiss of the Blarney Stone for the build up to this post.
I had a big crisis of faith thing going on when I hit my teens. I had always had “inappropriate” questions, even as a child. I remember asking things and getting a very negative reaction from my Mother. My Father was much more open to discussions about whether there was or wasn’t a god. He’s also the one who told me there wasn’t a Santa Claus when I got upset because my brothers had ruined a doll and I was afraid Santa would think I didn’t appreciate my toys.
I was raised in a very fundamentalist bible banging christian church sort of like the southern baptists but so arroagant that they call themselves THE Christian church. (My friend MerlinsDad sent me this link to the History of The Christian Church extant.) Seriously. They are every bit as bad as the Catholics they preach against and condemn to Hell from the pulpit which happened to be more than a quarter of my family. Not to mention the boy I happened to be dating. That was kind of freaky but I really didn’t pay much attention until…
I was a junior in high school when Sunday school sunddenly turned into this crazy dump on the Catholics free for all. We took up the subject of Revelation and according to The Christian Church’s teachings, every bad thing mentioned in Revelation is connected to the Catholic Church. I got seriously pissed about it.
I’d already fought the battle of evolution vs science as a sophmore and in spite of my doubts, I’d refused to cave. I stood firmly with the christians and would not write one word that did not agree with biblical teachings. Were they proud of me for having the courage of my convictions? Hell no, they were not, the damn hypocrites. They told me I should have written what was required to pass the test. Even the pastor called me in and counseled me to do that.
Do you want to know who told me he was proud of me for having the courage of my convictions? My biology teacher, Mr Hefty, that’s who. He allowed me to write a paper to make up for flunking that test. He told me he believed that evolution and creationsism could be reconciled but he wasn’t my spiritual advisor so he wanted me to argue my side of the equation and how creationists countered the theory of evolution.
Fast forward about 15 years. I’m now living in Wisconsin and have explored every kind of sect and denomination of christianity within driving distance, including Mary Baker Eddy’s Christian Science not ot be confused with Ron L Hubbards Scientology. Every damn one of them have left me with a bad taste in my mouth and a headache. So I gave up trying to find a church I liked and just did my own thing.
I was going to college and was sort of a professional student. I loved the art of learning in a setting where you surrounded by so much intelligence and could choose to go as deeply into one or more subjects as you wanted. One of the things I was studying was Cultural Anthropology.
Cultural Anthropologists look at the culture they are studying as objectively as possible. Every aspect of human life is supposed to be observed and examined in minute detail to gather the facts without judgement or bias towards a thesis. That’s the ideal situation. Eventually when all of the facts have been gathered The Anthropologists can begin to make hypotheses about a culture.
One of the aspects of a culture that gets studied in minute detail is religion. All known cultures have had a belief a in a higher creative power and a creation myth of some sort. Studying the religions and anthropology fascinated me and I beban to see a pattern emerging.
I wanted to see what else the halls of higher learning could tell me objectively about religious belief so I took a Political Science course about religion. I don’t remember its name anymore but it was about how various religions impact and influence politics and a real eye opener for me about separation of church and state issues.
My favorite class of all in this religious quest were two Sociology of Religions classes that discussed various religious movements and finally we arrive at the Civil War.
I lost all of my reference books due to the ending of a relationship so I’m flying by the seat of my pants here. In the early 1800s the United States saw the beginning of a great upsurge in interest in religious movements and evangelical fervor amongst the mainstream churches as well as experimentations with new forms of religious expression and beliefs. There was a great deal of fragmentation amongst the protestants in the United States due to the fact that none of them can agree on what my friend Max reminded me are called ordinances rather than Sacraments as the Catholics call them in THE Christian Church.
There were so many preachers and Pastors out there stumping for the common man to convert to the denomination dujour that the northern New England area, particularly in the New York area became known as the “burned-over area” becasue it was believe that every man, woman, and child worth saving had heard the message of Christ’s “Good news plan for salvation.”
Traditional Christianity was the main force but it was not the only religious movemnt afoot. Of particular interest to me because it was bizaare and eventually because of my interest in re-enacting is Spiritualism.
The Fox Sisters are usually given credit for having started the Spiritualist craze here in the USA but in my opinion, they just capitalized on something that was already afoot and got their pictures in the New York newspapers first. It’s exceedingly hard to point a finger at one person and say Him or Her but Emmauel Swedenborg seems to have influenced most Spiritualists although I doubt he would have had much truck with any of them.
There were many famous Spiritualists in the USA and Abroad. The Fox sisters are considered the “first” but I don’t buy that designation at all. They were just the most popular in the beginning of the Great Spiritualist movement that began before the Cival War and reached its peak in the late 1800′s. So you see, all of this “New Age stuff, isn’t so new after all. It’s just been pulled out of the closet, dusted off and dressed up in today’s fashions. Check out Theosophy for an example of a New Age religion that was begun by Madame Blavatsky under the banner of the Spiritualist movement.
There were many famous people who consulted Spiritualists for messages and guidance from beyond just as we see today. Ronnie and Nancy Reagan caught a lot of flak for consulting astrologists during their stay in the Whitehouse. Abraham Lincoln supposedly brought a Spiritualist into his Cabinet’s “War Room” and discussed top secret battle plans with him. Those rumors have not been substantiated.
What has been substantiated is that Lincoln and Mary Todd invited several different Spiritualists to the White house after their second son died. They had soirees featuring the most famous Spiritualists of the day complete with seances and the events were duly reported in the paper. It caused a great stir of excitement amongs the more fundamentalist christian voters and is probably partially responsible for Lincoln’s approval ratings sinking so low just before his re-election. That and the fact that the war was going so horribly–rather like Iraq today.
I became an agnostic (meaning I don’t know absolutely that there is no higher power with god-like abilities such as omnipresence and omni-prescience) atheist (meaning I absolutely do not believe in any of the gods that I have been presented with so far) while I was pursuing these studies. I was an English major so I was also studying the anciet mygthology of traditional Rome, Greece and Egypt as well as The Europeans and British Isles. It became very clear to me that not only were religions manmade but so were the gods people worshipped. It was so patently obvious that gods were created in the image of the men and the cultures they lived in. I simply could not force myself to “have child-like faith” and believe what I had been raised to believe. I never had bought that story about Jonah and the whale. Stomach acid and poop. What about all that poop? I realized I had been a heretic my whole life and I gave up all pretense of being anything else.
So when I became a Civil War Re-enactress I decided to portray a middle-aged (in the mid 1800s middle-aged was about 30 years old) Irish widow with several young children to feed who took up Spiritualism as a way to earn money. She’s a sham of course but she puts on a good show.
She and her husband were Irish Tinkers or Travelors which is the Irish equivalent of European Gypsies and may very well have been descended from the same ancestral stock. They travel around Ireland to this day seeking itinerant work such as fixing pots and pans or sharpening knives in the 1800s which is why they were called tinkers and oftentimes the women told fortunes and begged with thier children to supplement their incomes.
My Persona and her husband came to America because of the Potato famines and he was hired to take the place of a wealthy New Yorker who had been conscripted into the Union Army. This was not only legal, it was encouraged because Lincon’s government needed cash more than they needed men to fight and they didn’t want to tax the people anymore than they absolutely had to so they came up with this system of allowing the wealthy to buy their way out of the draft. They could pay a poor man to take their place and they had to pay a substantial fine to the government for the privilege. And everyone was happy.
I came up with this persona because part of this is the true story of how some of my ancestors got their start in the United States. My however-many-greats Grandfather was a paid substitue for some rich New Yorker in the Civil War. He then re-enlisted so he and his wife and children could claim citizenship. After the war he re-enlisted for the the Indian Wars in the Nebraska Territories so he could have first choice at a homestead and finally they all settled down out in South Dakota.
Re-enacting is putting on a living history event in which people like me and the guy I was dating dress up in ridiculously hot clothes and pretend to be people who lived more than 145 years ago. We try to live exactly the way they would have lived without killing ourselves with food poisoning or heat stroke. That means sleeping on the ground with maybe a feather matress or a pad with cotton batting. But usually not. Generally you make do wiith some hay or straw thrown down on the ground, a couple of quilts and a rubberized tarp to keep the damp off. As the weekend goes by your bed gets shorter because your horse has to eat.
Everything you eat is cooked over a campfire in castiron or directly in the coals. The wind is always blowing in whichever direction the smoke will get in your eyes. Your dishes are tin and rusty or enamelware if your character is rich enough to be able to afford that on a camping trip. The soap is homemade and harsh. It invariably rains at least one night and floods the tent getting everything you own wet so you have to wear wet clothes the next day which will be hot and muggy.
All of this is done while other people who have paid to see this event are watching you. In effect you are an unpaid actor or actress who has to purchase hundreds of dollars worth of equipment for the privilege of being uncomfortable for 3 or 4 days at a time while people stare at you and wrinkle their noses at your body odor. Gosh it’s fun! Winter is known as “The Grumpy Season.”
Since I’m not all that into the clothes I mostly chose to wear black widow weeds except for the dances at night and then I became a widow on the make and seduced my Sergeant so he’d let me sleep in his tent or vice verse depending on where it was convenient to pitch the tent. <heh> Lots of the women got into re-enacting so they could dress up in the hoop skirts and beautiful dresses that women wore in the first half of the 1800s.
This is the Brigade or what-ever you call it I was attached to in their civillian unit. He was with the Artillery Unit. He’s the one that is dressed up in those funny clothes with the goofy “Oh boy, it’s my turn to shoot the cannon look in his eyes! ” standing in front of the wheel.
I’m having a bittersweet Kodak, Hallmark memory lane moment here. My illness has taken such a toll on my life. I absolutely loved re-enacting but I could not do it. I would get sick for days after an event as if I had food poisoning when in reality it was sun poisoning and sheer exhaustion. I would feel fine while I was there but damn the hangovers were a bitch and I wasn’t drinking the water or liquor… We drank bottled water in stainless steel canteens covered in canvas. <heh>