And a wonderful day after the 4th to everyone...I know, most of you are probably tired from your day of celebration. I am just tired; perhaps I may be bored. I've been off since Wednesday and, aside from late evenings in my backyard, I have not left my house...and the longer I stay without going out, the more comfortable I feel at home, but perhaps it is not as comfortable as I like to think. Otherwise, I wouldn't be bored, right?
Last night was kind of muggy outside, but there was just the slightest of a breeze that made it bearable. I was thinking about the 4th, and all the meaning behind it, and, of course, my ancestors came to mind. Independence comes in many forms. There is both the freedom that we Americans cherish, but also a freedom to worship as we please...a freedom of religion and spirituality...not to confuse one with the other. To me, there is a big difference between the two. Religious people are not necessarily spiritual people and vice versa. My early ancestors were actually very, very religious people, but were they spiritual?
The early 17th century was a time of great social upheaval in England as many new Protestant sects began to challenge the beliefs of the Church of England. As a result, many believers set out to the new world in search of religious freedom. And so it was that, in the early 1600's, my ancestors braved the dangerous waters to escape religious persecution and settle in the new world. Most of them settled in Massachusetts and finally were able to worship as they pleased. My early ancestors were Puritans, those who had grown disgruntled with the Church of England. They believed that the Bible was God's true law and that it provided a plan for living. They believed that the devil was behind every deed so they were under a constant watch to stay away from his clutches.
The doctrine of predestination kept them all constantly working to do good in this life so they would be chosen for the next eternal one, and their common unity strengthened their community. In a foreign land surrounded by hardship it was their spiritual bonds helped them through the tough times. Over time, Puritanism became less dogmatic...and also less prevalent, but in the early days before the Salem Witch trials, my ancestors dreamed of forming a pure Godly form of followers, and anyone who didn't comply was asked to leave the compound.
he late 1600's brought the Salem Witch Trials, an event in our country's history which will forever be regarded as one of our most tarnished moments. The trials brought about the hanging of nineteen innocent men and women. A strong belief in the devil, a recent smallpox outbreak, and the fear that warring tribes were about to attack created fertile ground for the fear and suspicion that led to the witch hunts. One of the victims was one of my oh so great uncles, John Proctor, of "The Crucible" fame. John was actually the first male to be named as a witch in Salem. To this day, the actual location of his body is unknown, but it is most likely he was tossed into a ditch...unfit for a Christian burial due to witchcraft. May his pride, courage, and honesty are an inspiration to us all.
It was about this time, also, that my Dutch ancestors were settling in New York City which, at the time, was called "New Amsterdam. They were your early Baptists. They, too, were struggling to break away from the Church of England. One of their first missions was the quest for complete religious liberty, and they made no secret of their determination to obtain religious freedom not only for themselves, but for all persons--Christian and non-Christians. They believed in free-will rather than the Puritan doctrine of predestination and placed strong emphasis on the individual's search for personal salvation.
Time never stands still, and neither did my ancestors who--both Baptist and Puritan--migrated to New Jersey in the 1700's and along with their migrations, many of their previous religious beliefs were forgotten. This was a new generation, a generation in search something new, and they found it in the newly emerging Methodism religion, but even that was to undergo changes. By the end of the century there was the Methodist Protestant and the Methodist Episcopal, and my ancestors were split between the two. In one family alone, my 5th great grandfather was a Baptist and one of his sons, a Baptist minister while my 4th great grandfather, his other son, attended the Episcopal Church.
And, in the 1800's when my ancestors from Ireland arrived, and it seems that my ancestors once again came together...as Episcopalians which appeared to carry through well into the 20th century. My grandparents, my mom, my dad, and myself were Episcopalians...not the strict churchgoers of ancestors past, but that was our religion. When I was a child, I attended church on Sundays after an hour of Sunday school, and also attended special functions, but nothing more. I can't remember my mom going to church except for my communion. And as I grew older, I was given the freedom to choose my own spiritual path...just as I have done for my sons.
And here I am, in the 21st century, a Interfaith minister, following the Druid path...not a religion per se, but a spirituality that encompasses a respect for life and a belief in the interconnectedness of all things. I believe not in one God, but in many Gods and Goddesses. I believe in the planets, in astrology, in the wonder of nature. I believe in fairies, in the Otherworld, in reincarnation and the cycle of life...much the same of my most ancient of ancestors. Yes, I have come full circle.
Yes, I am a Druid, and I am free to say that today. The day has passed that I would have feared burning at the stake. That is a part of our country's past, and although it is still happening in some parts of the world, here, in this country, we are blessed and free to believe. So, although we may not believe as our ancestors did and may find their tenets quite harsh, their quest for religious freedom, the courage it took to seek it out... this was their gift to us.