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How America’s universities embraced anti-American ‘blood and soil’
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How America’s universities embraced anti-American ‘blood and soil’

Magic returns to the academy under the rubric of “biomysticism” and the folly of “land acknowledgments.”

Many people have a nostalgic fascination with the idea of a mythic golden age.

Much has been written about this nostalgia for earlier, simpler times that likely did not exist. Conveniently forgotten are hunger, disease, short life expectancy, shared fear of spirits and devils, war, scarce clothing, insecurity, and squalor — all dependent on how far back and where one searches for the “golden time.”

But for some today, this golden age is quite specific and consists of affection for a barbarous time in a neolithic culture filled with spirits and magic. This is the substance of so-called indigeneity.

That’s a rough word. Unpleasant to the ear. But it’s a yearning to turn back the clock to restore the illiterate ignorance of Stone Age civilization wherever and whenever it happened to have existed, whether 200 years ago or 500 years ago or “time immemorial,” which is a favorite clichéd trope and sneaky legal term of art.

Indigeneity opens space for sorcery, soothsaying, shamans, and attempts to mainstream “biomystical” rituals, doctrines, and beliefs. It is a form of esotericism.

A highly visible public manifestation of this indigenous esotericism is the incanting of something called a “land acknowledgment,” often called a “blessing,” which is recited to open a conference or other such event.

What, exactly, is this land acknowledgment, and why has it become so ubiquitous so quickly?

The recitation is a tribal ritual, and we are told that “acknowledging the land is indigenous protocol.” This protocol affirms a spiritual link between certain peoples and certain lands. This notional link exists primarily by elysian proclamation, and it has powerful utility, especially for those persons easily seduced by superstition.

The land acknowledgment is a public manifestation of American Indian occultism. It integrates occult beliefs into the mainstream public sphere — magic confections such as the “spirit wheel,” the “talking stick,” the “skin-walker,” and the integral belief in the sacred quality of the land, which is invested with spirits:

One of the most pervasive concepts is the belief that land is alive. Every particular form of the land is the locus of qualitatively different spirit beings. Their presence gives life to and sanctifies the land in all its details and contours.

The resulting odd occult blessing transforms public events into theaters of the absurd by incorporating the biomystical land acknowledgment. This magic ritual has several purposes.

The cheap moral bling of the 'blessing'

First, it serves as self-aggrandizing performativity, cheap moral bling that displays an institution’s cost-free virtue.

Second, it cultivates mainstream comfort and familiarity with primitive magic and its vernacular, a topic pioneered by anthropologist and ethnologist Bronislaw Malinowski and expanded upon by Harvard anthropologist Stanley Tambiah.

Third, it paves the way for legitimizing American Indian magical beliefs, such as the aforementioned “sacred” attachment to particular lands by particular people. This belief is known as biomysticism,” sometimes called blood mysticism, and is not limited to American Indians.

Here are examples of this sacred attachment mythos:

The soil you see is not ordinary soil — it is the dust of the blood, the flesh, and the bones of our ancestors. We fought and bled and died to keep other Indians from taking it. ... You will have to dig down through the surface before you can find nature’s earth, as the upper portion is Crow. The land as it is, is my blood and my dead; it is consecrated; and I do not want to give up any portion of it.

And another:

Yes, the land has a mystical power! Today this mystique is revealed to our people! ... Not money, not any goods or values that can be shoved back and forth — only the “mystique of the land” speaks [to] the rooting of the nation in the soil through the labour of the individual and the whole on common ground.

These parallel statements express biomystical notions of a sacral link to the land. The first quote was uttered by a Crow Indian chief, one of many affirmations that appear in a classic compilation. The second citation also exemplifies the sacral link to the land and demonstrates the belief’s widespread influence.

That second quote, in fact, comes from an influential book by SS-Obergruppenführer Richard Walther Darré, who headed the Nazi Race and Settlement Office until 1938. It expresses Germanic “indigeneity.” This is the link to the land called “blood and soil,” which anchored the Nazi regime in what was called volkisch esotericism.

We see many examples of the parallels between the blood and soil of indigenous esotericism and the blood and soil of volkisch esotericism. Such biomysticism constitutes what philosopher Charles Taylor has called a “social imaginary” and what historian Eric Kurlander refined as a “supernatural imaginary.”

'Blood and soil' rightly understood

Indigeneity is less a coherent theory than an imaginary construct. The social imaginary is how people imagine their social existence. “This is often not expressed in theoretical terms, but is carried in images, stories and legends,” Taylor wrote.

This indigenous supernatural imaginary comprises rituals, animistic beliefs, and occult ceremonies practiced by various Indian tribes, as reported by an indigenous scholar, Margaret Kovach:

When Cree and Saulteaux Elders talk about the world as being alive, as of spirit, it makes sense because this is reinforced on a daily basis in the language. Animals, tobacco, trees, rocks are animate, and hence they merit respect …

Ancient knowledge is still alive in Cree communities. The most sacred form comes through dreams, fasts, sweats, vision quests, and during sacred ceremonies. … The drums, the whistles, the chanting, the sweet-grass incense, fasting, the Thunderbird’s nest, the ritual and ceremony are used to create the proper atmosphere … to help the person under vow who participates … to attain cosmic consciousness.

You get the idea, I hope.

This amalgam of magical beliefs undergirds blood-and-soil biomysticism, the mutual and long-term relationship between a people and the land that they occupy and cultivate. It is this tenuous relationship that land acknowledgments affirm.

Does any reasonable person want to introduce a domestic version of volkisch-esoteric practices of a Stone Age civilization into the university under the confected labels of “decolonization” and “indigeneity”?

Do parents pay $70,000 yearly tuition for their students to be regaled by the simple-minded ecstasy of “indigenous knowledges” — plural! — a perspective that exalts the spirit wheel, ghost shirt, and talking stick as somehow comparable to the electron microscope, particle accelerator, or Newton’s law of universal gravitation?

This type of primitive superstition was expunged from the university during the scientific revolution and the Enlightenment some three centuries ago. While blood-and-soil doctrine surely has an interest as a subject of study, certainly no one needs biomystical “blessings” introduced into the university as part of policies and procedures.

Unless the university’s corporate owners — its presidents and board of trustees — are ready to cede wealth, power, and property to a group of magic-driven tribal elders, who may or may not have any link to folks who may or may not have lived somewhere in the area in past centuries, higher education should immediately stop the performative travesty of its blood-and-soil acknowledgments.

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