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The importance of the social context

Posted by on in Paths Blogs

In a recent comment, someone asked me to expand on the social context of the province of Quebec where I was born and raised. When I thought about it, I realized what a great impact it had on my journey into Paganism so I would like to share a bit of the history that has helped shape me.

Quebec has a particular history. It started out as a French colony, with first european contact by Jacques Cartier in 1534. It was used by France as mainly a trading colony, with fur trade being its primary market. Focus was not on populating the new colony, contrary to the British colonies of New England who grew rapidly. A huge part of the immigration was of Catholic missionaries come to convert ‘the Savages’. They were some of the first to really settle here. The Catholic faith played a huge part  in the development of Quebec. The British defeated the French in 1763, but French language, culture and religion continues to permeate everything we do. Catholic missions were the first to set up public hospitals and public schools. The British ensured a certain peace by leaving the Church untouched. The Church continued to be involved in politics to quite a large extent. It also had a huge impact on people’s daily lives, often not in a good way. It was not that long ago (my grand-mother’s times), when families were ‘strongly encouraged’ to have families of upwards of 10 children. Many women died in childbirth to satisfy their 'divine' duties. The Church dictated how one should vote, had impact on labour laws and unions and kept good folk ‘in their place’. It was another form of aristocracy. Rebellion against the Church came about in the 50’s with what we call the ‘Quiet Revolution’. People stopped going to Church and started to walk away from its manipulating hand. They started asking why the Church should dictate their private affairs. The Government took over the institutions that were run by Catholic missions, namely the health care and education systems and started to secularize them. Secularization is one big topic in Quebec even today, with the government wanting to remove all symbols of religion from public office. This would include the crucifix in the National Assembly and some are even discussing removing the cross on the top of Mount Royal, symbol that Jacques Cartier planted there when he landed here. 

 

Why does all this matter and why am I writing about this in a blog about Paganism? Well, I think everything we believe comes from the social context in which we live. Unless you’ve left for a while, it is difficult to even see the values and beliefs that make up your little part of the world. I’ve had the chance to live with the James Bay Cree for 5 years. Although this is still in Quebec, it is a different world in and of itself. The little history lesson I shared above matters because it is the social fabric that defined my way of thinking. A large number of the people who have read my book and who read this blog come from different contexts. While we assume a common understanding of certain principles, we can never really have the same interpretation of terms and concepts. I don’t know the American context (I know, as if there was just one context, right?) I have ideas and impressions of what common beliefs may be. The point here is that I grew up in a place where religion (in general) and Christianity (in particular), was lived on very loose terms. It was simply no longer acceptable in our context to live by very strict precepts. Statements like ‘Gospel Truth’ or ‘This is Evil’ do not happen in my context. Quoting scripture as Truth does not happen here as widely anymore. It is the exception rather than the norm. When I come into contact with people whose mainstream Christianity still works like that, it is difficult to share a common understanding. I have come into contact with people who say: 'Scriptures say this. How can you say anything else and call yourself Christian?' I have also come into contact with Pagans who are offended that I would even consider putting Christian together with Pagan. I understand that the type of Christian they might know is a very different one from the one that is lived here. Quebec has what I would call a ‘cultural’ Christianity rather than a ‘dogmatic’ one. It is malleable and flexible and open to interpretation. That is what my social context gave me. I know that this had a strong influence on my wandering into Paganism and looking for the Goddess and being able to see how She could be part of my beliefs. Many people write to me, thanking me for ‘having the courage’ to put my journey in writing. The truth is that it was probably much easier to embark on this journey here than anywhere else. 

 

Come and visit us in Montreal or Quebec City whenever you have a chance. You might see your world through different eyes when you return home! À bientôt!

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Adelina St. Clair is the author of ‘The Path of a Christian Witch’ (Llewellyn Press) and is the founder of the Christian Pagan Fellowship on Facebook. She has been involved in the Pagan community for over 13 years and has studied fields as varied as Wicca, shamanism, microbiology, bioethics, reiki, theology, and herbalism. She works as an occupational therapist with the Cree communities of northern James Bay, Canada. She lives in Montreal with her husband and two children.

Comments

  • Jamie
    Jamie Wednesday, 21 August 2013

    This is fantastic. It's so true, as well.

    Where I come from, I grew up surrounded by the dying embers of a Francophone community which had existed for about a century. The disappearance of the textile mills, the World Wars, and other events in the world beyond my town gradually led to assimilation. The schoolteachers of my childhood in the 1970s and 1980s spoke Canadian French to each other, a 'secret language of the teachers' the children couldn't understand.

    While I am not of French descent, and was raised as a Protestant, the ever-present Catholic influence had (in hindsight) a lot of influence on me. The power of ritual, of sacred objects and sacred places, of rich and colorful holy images refracting holy power from the divine, even the Platonism. These were things absent from my own religious education, but all around me nonetheless.

    Ultimately I was called to honor other Gods, but there are a number of things I respect and admire about the modern Catholic Church.

    Thanks for writing this article. It explains the path of Christo-Paganism better than I've seen elsewhere, and gave valuable insights into the nature of Paganism within the Quebecois context.

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