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Let Us Sing of the Syncretic Gods of Outcasts and Wanderers

The story of human ritual and cultural tradition is one of depth and deep connection to land, to place, and to processes and protocols that remain steady across generations. But it’s also a story of constant mutation, assimilation, and re-expression.

There is a fluidity to culture and tradition that is not always acknowledged in modern discourse. Religious scholars will tell us that all traditions are — to one degree or another — syncretic, and when we lift the lid off of traditions and look deeper, we start to see that even those that seem the most anchored and fixed are deeply porous and adaptive, that traditions have always traveled and changed shape, just as the land itself changes constantly.

At a time when more and more people are looking to reconnect to ritual practice, to tradition, and to the land — and yet wanting to be respectful of cultural boundaries — it can be helpful to also understand the fluid, spontaneous, artistic and adaptive aspects of cultural tradition, to hear stories of traveling gods and cross-cultural mashups and innovations that arrive with the movement of travelers. Right at the heart of this exploration of adaptation lives the Divine Mother, who continually re-invents herself to meet the needs of the ecosystems she encounters. So the Polish Black Madonna becomes assimilated into Haitian Voodoo, the Indian mother goddess finds a way to re-express as Catholic St. Sarah, and the African sea goddess Yemoja re-arises to become the most popular vision of the Divine Mother in Brazil and possesses bodies from all socio-cultural and ethnic backgrounds regularly.

In many places, syncretism — the fusion and blending of traditions — is welcomed, even if the histories that led to that syncretism are painful. And in these syncretic cauldrons, new traditions are born all the time. Once we start to view the flow of culture and tradition beyond a human-centered sociocultural lens, we see a living animate process in which gods travel and the forces of ‘place’ are not static, in which outsider species are assimilated into new ecologies, and in which wanderers and outcasts play a key role in the adaptive movement of traditions.

These stories teach us that the world is not so neatly divided into those who belong to a place and a tradition and those who don’t. And that the story of ‘not feeling at home’ — of feeling rootless and separate from a homeland that is far away — is actually a key part of the human story and serves as a starting point to the process of reconnection.

Featuring conversations with Peia Luzzi, Scout Rainer Wiley, Tyson Yunkaporta, Skye Mandozay and Bayo Akomolafe and music by Egemen Sanli, Victor Sakshin, Beya, and more, this episode is an oceanic cross-cultural ride that asks us to leave our preconceptions of what is fixed and what is fluid behind.