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Author Topic: General/Non-Specific: American Paganism  (Read 721 times)

Donal2018

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American Paganism
« on: September 05, 2019, 01:34:47 pm »
I am an Irish American and part of the Celtic Diaspora. My Paganism is Eclectic, but partly a focus on Celtic/Irish/Welsh Deities, Ancestors, Nature Spirits. I have become more aware lately that I am not Irish, I am American. My Father's family left Ireland for the Americas in the 1700s. Most of the rest of my family and ancestors came from Ireland in the late 1800s as immigrants. I have never been to Ireland. I do have a pretty strong Irish Catholic identity (recovering Catholic), but this is a very American thing. I studied alongside Italian Americans, German Americans, Polish Americans, etc.

So I do feel a strong connection to the various Celtic Spiritual Paganisms, but I am becoming more aware that I was born and raised in America, on land which historically belonged to Native Americans, not Celtic peoples. I do not know much about Native American spiritual traditions. I have been praying to Celtic deities here in America, and I am aware of Nature and Spirit here, but I wonder if I should learn more about Native Spirituality to at least pay my respects to the local Spirits.

Anyway, I wonder if anyone has any ideas on this dichotomy of being an American of European descent living in a country that for thousands of years belonged to Native Peoples. How can we study and use a spirituality that originated in Europe while we live in America? I am maybe seeking ideas on how to develop an authentic and respectful kind of American Paganism, even though my main focus is Celtic in character. Any constructive ideas would be helpful.
« Last Edit: September 05, 2019, 01:36:43 pm by Donal2018 »

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Re: American Paganism
« Reply #1 on: September 05, 2019, 08:19:08 pm »
There's a lot here to unpack, so I'm going to focus a couple of things that jump out at me immediately.

I have been praying to Celtic deities here in America, and I am aware of Nature and Spirit here, but I wonder if I should learn more about Native Spirituality to at least pay my respects to the local Spirits.
(bolding mine)
Which "Native Spirituality" would that be?  The historic religious beliefs of the Apsáalooke?  Midewiwin? The legends of the Tsalagi? Or the Christian practices of the First Indian Baptist Church?

You might want to start by narrow your focus a bit, because you're talking about a wide spectrum of beliefs spread over large stretches of geography, history, and culture. It strikes me as ironic that you're concerned about transporting spiritual beliefs to a different geography, because you've got a good potential to do exactly that if you are living in, say, southern Florida, and trying to adopt/integrate a worship of Torngasak into your practice.  Or are living in the Pacific Northwest and espouse a belief in the Nunnehi.   

Anyway, I wonder if anyone has any ideas on this dichotomy of being an American of European descent living in a country that for thousands of years belonged to Native Peoples. How can we study and use a spirituality that originated in Europe while we live in America? I am maybe seeking ideas on how to develop an authentic and respectful kind of American Paganism, even though my main focus is Celtic in character. Any constructive ideas would be helpful.

I thought of America Gods as I read your question above, of how immigrants to any place, pack with them not just their worldly goods, but their beliefs and their gods.  Also of how those beliefs and gods change over time and geography.  As immigrants or the descendants of immigrants, our beliefs are going to diverge from their original form... and that's not necessarily a bad thing. How can we practice a belief system when not in the place where it originated?  The same way all humans have throughout history - we carry them in our heads, hearts, and souls. We adapt our practices to our new environment. And by sometimes adapting our environments to reflect our beliefs (for example, I have non-native plants growing around my home because I use them in my practice).

My eye twitched a little at the statement "a spirituality that originated in Europe" as I read this it a applying to so-called American Paganism as a whole.  Not sure if you misspoke in the "we" that's referenced there and meant to say "I" in reference to your own Celtic-based beliefs, since the collective "we" of American pagans don't exclusively source their beliefs from European spirituality. 

My PC battery is on its last leg and I'm not near the power cord, so I'm going to briefly mention something before it dies and I suspect that others will have much to add to this:  it's difficult, at best, to integrate any indigineous beliefs into an eclectic framework and remain respectful of those beliefs. There's a whole host of issues that need to be considered, including the fact that some beliefs and practices are not meant for anyone who is an outsider or uninitiated.  Darkhawk has some great words on eclecticism ]here  that touch on things like Magpie Syndrome and cultural appropriation.  Worth a read before you start trying to cobble together very different belief systems.

(Edited to add omitted word).
« Last Edit: September 05, 2019, 08:20:50 pm by Aisling »
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Donal2018

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Re: American Paganism
« Reply #2 on: September 05, 2019, 09:42:11 pm »
Which "Native Spirituality" would that be?  The historic religious beliefs of the Apsáalooke?  Midewiwin? The legends of the Tsalagi? Or the Christian practices of the First Indian Baptist Church?

You might want to start by narrow your focus a bit, because you're talking about a wide spectrum of beliefs spread over large stretches of geography, history, and culture. It strikes me as ironic that you're concerned about transporting spiritual beliefs to a different geography, because you've got a good potential to do exactly that if you are living in, say, southern Florida, and trying to adopt/integrate a worship of Torngasak into your practice.  Or are living in the Pacific Northwest and espouse a belief in the Nunnehi….

I was not trying to put all Native Spirituality into one bag. I personally have been looking into local Iroquois League/Mohawk beliefs, since that is where I am geographically. I have no intent to adopt or use those beliefs. I just want to know enough about them to respect them in an interfaith way, since my beliefs are different. I am just trying to find a respectful boundary.

I did make a general statement about all the varieties of Native Spiritualities, since this issue probably applies to many or most of them. The question is how do we bring in our own non-native practices in a way that is respectful of the people who were here before us? I was referring to the beliefs and practices of whichever group or tribe was local prior to the arrival of Europeans.

I think that this phenomena probably occurred across the board of all the native cultures as Europeans moved in and encroached on native lands. I recognize that Native Beliefs were and are very diverse geographically, historically, etc. Just that the point probably applies to most of these tribes, peoples, and their beliefs. So, a general statement may apply in this context, while remembering that Native Peoples are diverse. All of these cultures have had to deal with the encroachment of Europeans.

I realize it is a big topic, but I deliberately placed it in the Paganism for Beginners forum, since it is a topic that I do not know much about and that I am just beginning to look into. Since I am living in Mohawk country, I figured that I would start with that group. So I did a little reading on it, and
I hope to do a bit more in the interest of understanding another culture. With no interest or presumption of absorbing or adopting someone else's cultural beliefs or practices.

One interesting thing that I recently found out about the Iroquois Tribes is that they would commonly adopt people into their cultures, from other tribes and even from European folks, often to make up for numbers lost in warfare.     

Quote
My eye twitched a little at the statement "a spirituality that originated in Europe" as I read this it a applying to so-called American Paganism as a whole.  Not sure if you misspoke in the "we" that's referenced there and meant to say "I" in reference to your own Celtic-based beliefs, since the collective "we" of American pagans don't exclusively source their beliefs from European spirituality. 

My PC battery is on its last leg and I'm not near the power cord, so I'm going to briefly mention something before it dies and I suspect that others will have much to add to this:  it's difficult, at best, to integrate any indigineous beliefs into an eclectic framework and remain respectful of those beliefs. There's a whole host of issues that need to be considered, including the fact that some beliefs and practices are not meant for anyone who is an outsider or uninitiated.  Darkhawk has some great words on eclecticism ]here  that touch on things like Magpie Syndrome and cultural appropriation.  Worth a read before you start trying to cobble together very different belief systems.

(Edited to add omitted word).

I should have said "I', not "we". I am aware that there are many different types of pagan folks and many have beliefs from other places and cultures than Europe. I was, in fact referring to my own Celtic-based beliefs.

I am not really trying to integrate any Native Religion into my beliefs beyond just being respectful to native beliefs and local features and possible nature spirits. I want to retain my own religious views while being respectful to the local views of people whose ancestors were here for a long time before my people showed up here. I am not trying to absorb some part of someone else's culture magpie like. I am aware of those types of issues and I am deliberately careful about them.

For example, the spirit of the Hudson River is likely an entirely different spirit than that of the River Boyne. How do I approach the Hudson as someone of a type of Celtic faith? This is the sort of question that I am asking. I am just trying to reconcile the fact that I am focused on deities from another continent while having been born and living in another entirely different place.

One that occurred to me is that a river spirit in America and a river spirit in Ireland might have some things in common as well as differences. I mean to say that a river is a river, wherever you find one on Earth. They will probably have things in common as well as differences.

Also, I am not trying to cobble together different belief systems. By "American Paganism", I mean a perspective or an outlook that respects local, indigenous cultures and beliefs. This while retaining one's own original beliefs and practices, by which I mean my own generally Celtic beliefs that largely originate elsewhere. I am not proposing an entirely new religious idea by "American Paganism". Just a perspective of respect for local beliefs when one has beliefs and practices that may have originated elsewhere. This is a large topic, since many or most people in America came from somewhere else.

I also agree that Folks from one land often bring their beliefs and practices over to new lands in their heads and hearts, as you put it. That makes me wonder whether a Celtic Deity could be adopted somehow into the American landscape, or must we seek out the local native equivalent. The novel American Gods by Neil Gaiman addresses this in a fictional way somewhat, as you point out.

So these are some questions and ideas that I had, and this is the sort of conversation that was looking for- can European deities be effectively worshipped in America and other places not of their origin, and how can we respect local beliefs and cultures and yet retain out own views, beliefs, practices, etc? I realize that a lot more could be said, but I will leave off here for now. I look forward to more discussion on the topic.






Donal2018

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Re: American Paganism
« Reply #3 on: September 05, 2019, 10:02:17 pm »
…it's difficult, at best, to integrate any indigineous beliefs into an eclectic framework and remain respectful of those beliefs. There's a whole host of issues that need to be considered, including the fact that some beliefs and practices are not meant for anyone who is an outsider or uninitiated.  Darkhawk has some great words on eclecticism ]here  that touch on things like Magpie Syndrome and cultural appropriation.  Worth a read before you start trying to cobble together very different belief systems...

Thanks for the link. I perhaps did not make myself clear in my original post, so just a brief point of clarification- I have no intent to integrate any indigineous beliefs or practices into an eclectic framework (or any other framework). I am just proposing that as a pagan in America that I need to be more aware and respectful of all the varieties of native cultures, especially those local to me. I have no intent of adopting or using someone else's religion. Rather I just want to practice my own religion is a way that is respectful to all native cultures, especially those local to where I live and practice.

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Re: American Paganism
« Reply #4 on: September 06, 2019, 08:09:22 am »
Anyway, I wonder if anyone has any ideas on this dichotomy of being an American of European descent living in a country that for thousands of years belonged to Native Peoples. How can we study and use a spirituality that originated in Europe while we live in America? I am maybe seeking ideas on how to develop an authentic and respectful kind of American Paganism, even though my main focus is Celtic in character. Any constructive ideas would be helpful.

I've never tried to reconcile the religion of the indigenous people of my area (also New York) with my own; I'm not Lenape, never grew up in their culture, etc., and I'm very sensitive to the idea of expropriation. I'm very curious about who their gods and what their beliefs might be, but I feel that way about just about any people.

I guess, for me personally, I see it as a matter of their gods belonging to them, less than to the location.

In a similar vein to your dilemma, I had trouble reconciling the background Greco-Roman mythos of the Anglo-American culture I was raised in with my largely African ancestry and the modern, North American, Western culture context I live in. My solution was to forge my own mythos, but that's not a viable solution for most people, and it doesn't sound like that's what you're interested in.
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Re: American Paganism
« Reply #5 on: September 06, 2019, 02:40:46 pm »
How can we study and use a spirituality that originated in Europe while we live in America? I am maybe seeking ideas on how to develop an authentic and respectful kind of American Paganism.

My take is that there is a significant and important difference between 'this is stuff that comes from a particular cultural experience, community, or background' and 'this is something that is part of my life because I live in that specific place and current community'.

I have absolutely no interest in incorporating indigenous practices into my religious life. (I am certainly interested in learning about them, but I am interested in learning about approximately everything in the right context, so that isn't particularly indicative of anything.)

I am also a first generation American - my parents immigrated in the 50s, and in a lot of ways, including my reading/watching/cultural background, I grew up vastly more British than American.

But beyond that, I am a human being who lives in a particular physical location, and that particular physical location has a lot of history (indigenous and otherwise - after all, I live nearly along the line of the battle march for the Battles of Lexington and Concord and I can't throw a T token (as it were) without hitting a historical monument once I get outside a 2 block radius of my apartment (which is in a corner of two low-traffic back streets.)) I think there are plenty of ways to know that's there, without being limited to it - because we live in the present moment.

My current regular practice includes making offerings on a broad basis to several classes of beings and powers. (I use a set based on some of Jason Miller's suggestions, though I've made adaptations over time.)

One of those pieces includes the phrase "and the overseeing powers of the land on which I dwell", and another covers beings on various planes of existence (above, below, and all the places in between, as well as some other categories.)

Beyond that, I've also developed (and continue to develop) my own relationships to entities associated with the local land. (Most strongly with the Charles River, and with some specific trees and places near where I live.)

But I do those in terms of my own background and practice, not anyone else's - the same way that I build friendships, partnerships, and acquaintanceships with humans in my own mode (which is, naturally, strongly influenced by my background, cultural upbringing and later choices, etc.)
« Last Edit: September 06, 2019, 02:43:50 pm by Jenett »
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Re: American Paganism
« Reply #6 on: September 06, 2019, 05:08:09 pm »
...I guess, for me personally, I see it as a matter of their gods belonging to them, less than to the location...

In a similar vein to your dilemma, I had trouble reconciling the background Greco-Roman mythos of the Anglo-American culture I was raised in with my largely African ancestry and the modern, North American, Western culture context I live in. My solution was to forge my own mythos, but that's not a viable solution for most people, and it doesn't sound like that's what you're interested in.

Yes, that is interesting to me. I am Anglo-American by culture also, and one of the great things about America is that it was founded upon ideas of Religious Freedom. So, there is sort of a secular framework (Constitution, American Tradition) that seems to approve the idea that the individual has the right to choose their own religious beliefs. I think that this is a newer political invention in the history of the Western world, and I am grateful for having been born in America at this time in history when such freedom exists.

As at as the Greco-Roman connection to Anglo-American culture- often when I see an impressive building, I am reminded that in a way such a thing is a descended from the building culture of Romans. There is also a sort of echoing of the Roman Empire in the modern world, with America being a modern superpower and a sort of "Empire of Democracy". Minerva is one of the symbols of my University, and to me you can sort of see the legacy of Greece and Rome in modern day civilization. I see evidence of Athena/Minerva in many places.

So with all that, I think that forging your own mythos, as you have said you have done, is a very American thing. To me, such a practice is possible thanks to the foundation of freedom that America was built upon. Because of this, Democracy and Constitutionalism is sort of my secular religion, and it allows for freedom of religion and the right of the individual to make their own path.


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Re: American Paganism
« Reply #7 on: September 06, 2019, 05:20:22 pm »

My take is that there is a significant and important difference between 'this is stuff that comes from a particular cultural experience, community, or background' and 'this is something that is part of my life because I live in that specific place and current community'.

I have absolutely no interest in incorporating indigenous practices into my religious life. (I am certainly interested in learning about them, but I am interested in learning about approximately everything in the right context, so that isn't particularly indicative of anything.)

I am also a first generation American - my parents immigrated in the 50s, and in a lot of ways, including my reading/watching/cultural background, I grew up vastly more British than American.

I am in accord with all of that. I am also pretty much interested in everything in the right context as well. I just want to pay my respects to the local powers and respect the area that I am in.

Quote

But beyond that, I am a human being who lives in a particular physical location, and that particular physical location has a lot of history (indigenous and otherwise - after all, I live nearly along the line of the battle march for the Battles of Lexington and Concord and I can't throw a T token (as it were) without hitting a historical monument once I get outside a 2 block radius of my apartment (which is in a corner of two low-traffic back streets.)) I think there are plenty of ways to know that's there, without being limited to it - because we live in the present moment.

My current regular practice includes making offerings on a broad basis to several classes of beings and powers. (I use a set based on some of Jason Miller's suggestions, though I've made adaptations over time.)

One of those pieces includes the phrase "and the overseeing powers of the land on which I dwell", and another covers beings on various planes of existence (above, below, and all the places in between, as well as some other categories.)

Beyond that, I've also developed (and continue to develop) my own relationships to entities associated with the local land. (Most strongly with the Charles River, and with some specific trees and places near where I live.)

But I do those in terms of my own background and practice, not anyone else's - the same way that I build friendships, partnerships, and acquaintanceships with humans in my own mode (which is, naturally, strongly influenced by my background, cultural upbringing and later choices, etc.)

Yes, "and the overseeing powers of the land on which I dwell" is a great phrase. I feel connected to the Hudson in a similar way to your connection to the Charles. Who is Jason Miller? Thanks for your comments. It makes me think that maybe I am worrying a bit too much about offending local powers, when I should just not overthink it and simply pay my respects to them.

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Re: American Paganism
« Reply #8 on: September 06, 2019, 05:29:04 pm »
I feel connected to the Hudson in a similar way to your connection to the Charles.

I suspect you are making assumptions in this statement that are not accurate, but that's not a relationship I'm inclined to discuss in public or in this context. 

Quote
Who is Jason Miller? Thanks for your comments.

Jason Miller is an author of works about magic (more on the sorcerer side than the witchcraft side) who I mention reasonably often (and also mentioned to you, I believe, in a recent post about books to start with.) Here's his site.
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Re: American Paganism
« Reply #9 on: September 06, 2019, 05:34:47 pm »
I suspect you are making assumptions in this statement that are not accurate, but that's not a relationship I'm inclined to discuss in public or in this context. 

Alright, sorry for the assumption. I mentioned the Hudson and then you mentioned the Charles. I thought that there might be a parallel. My mistake. I will not refer to it again.

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Re: American Paganism
« Reply #10 on: September 08, 2019, 04:44:11 pm »
Thanks for the link. I perhaps did not make myself clear in my original post, so just a brief point of clarification- I have no intent to integrate any indigineous beliefs or practices into an eclectic framework (or any other framework). I am just proposing that as a pagan in America that I need to be more aware and respectful of all the varieties of native cultures, especially those local to me. I have no intent of adopting or using someone else's religion. Rather I just want to practice my own religion is a way that is respectful to all native cultures, especially those local to where I live and practice.

Thanks for the clarification. 

If it's awareness and respect, then I'd say the starting point is getting a really good understanding of the beliefs from the perspective of the culture that holds those beliefs.  You may have already looked into it but IIRC, there's a Mohawk cultural center in Hogansburg that might serve as a good resource for information that isn't filtered through the perspective of European historians. I believe there's also a fairly extensive library there as well.

Rather I just want to practice my own religion is a way that is respectful to all native cultures, especially those local to where I live and practice.

Can you clarify how you conceptualize being respectful to all native cultures?

On the surface, it seems an impossible task, as it would necessitate not only having an understanding of every native cultural belief system but the ability to reconcile conflicting beliefs.  For example, if one culture believes the harvesting and use of a certain plant to be a sacrilege, while another limits use of the plant to only a small, initiated group within that culture, how do you reconcile this if the plant is important to your practice?
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Re: American Paganism
« Reply #11 on: September 08, 2019, 08:15:09 pm »
Can you clarify how you conceptualize being respectful to all native cultures?

On the surface, it seems an impossible task, as it would necessitate not only having an understanding of every native cultural belief system but the ability to reconcile conflicting beliefs.  For example, if one culture believes the harvesting and use of a certain plant to be a sacrilege, while another limits use of the plant to only a small, initiated group within that culture, how do you reconcile this if the plant is important to your practice?

How to conceptualize being respectful to native cultures? I think just being genuinely respectful of natural locations and their associated spirits. The truth is that I am not entirely sure how to go about it. That is sort of why I brought it up in the first place. I am at best at a beginner's stage with this. I think that you are right- it probably is too big a task to try and survey all varieties of native cultures and beliefs. I am sure there are Professors out there that spend their entire careers studying just a few aspects of this topic. So I will try to focus on the native cultures that are local to where I am at, which would be the lands of the Mohawk Tribe. Thanks for that reference to the Mohawk Cultural Center in Hogansburg.

I appreciate your comments because they are helping me to clarify and sharpen my focus on this topic. I am not a scholar or a priest, so I am approaching this as an interested layperson. As such, I have limited resources, time, and energy. So narrowing my focus to one native culture makes sense to at least keep this manageable. The only thing that I know about Mohawk religious beliefs is that they were animists. I am going to see if I kind find a basic or introductory book on the Mohawks.

Part of what brought this up for me was thinking that I wanted to respect the spirit of an Oak tree locally. I realized I was thinking about it from a Druidic perspective, but maybe that would not necessarily be the best approach for a tree or nature spirit native to Upstate New York. So, I wondered to myself if a Celtic spiritual view was most effective in this context. That said, it occurs to me that an Oak tree is an Oak tree, whether it is in America or Britain.

I am not entirely sure where I am going with this topic, but I was just wondering how to be reverent to nature in America as someone who identifies as a Celt and a Pagan. I appreciate your comments and perspectives.


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Re: American Paganism
« Reply #12 on: September 11, 2019, 10:58:04 pm »
I appreciate your comments because they are helping me to clarify and sharpen my focus on this topic. I am not a scholar or a priest, so I am approaching this as an interested layperson. As such, I have limited resources, time, and energy. So narrowing my focus to one native culture makes sense to at least keep this manageable. The only thing that I know about Mohawk religious beliefs is that they were animists. I am going to see if I kind find a basic or introductory book on the Mohawks.

Glad to help.  Narrowing your focus should help keep you from going into information overload as you do your research. You can always broaden out your search as you have time.

Part of what brought this up for me was thinking that I wanted to respect the spirit of an Oak tree locally. I realized I was thinking about it from a Druidic perspective, but maybe that would not necessarily be the best approach for a tree or nature spirit native to Upstate New York. So, I wondered to myself if a Celtic spiritual view was most effective in this context. That said, it occurs to me that an Oak tree is an Oak tree, whether it is in America or Britain.

Focusing on the oak tree might be a good way to begin.  FWIW, I'm of the school of thought that an oak tree is an oak tree and that the spirits of those trees are going to have more commonality than differences across the world.  What is more variable is how local people use and view those trees so it might be worth looking into how oaks were used and perceived within indigenous cultures. There are a fair number of books on ethnobotany out there (not my area of specialty at all, so Google Fu may be helpful here).

I did a quick search to see if I had any related bookmarks and found a couple of items that may be of interest: Sacred Tree Profile: Oak’s Medicine, Magic, Mythology, and Meanings (a Druid writing about sacred trees in North America) and Indigenous Uses, Management, and Restoration of Oaks of the Far Western United States (focuses on the Western US but may give you a basis for more research).
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Donal2018

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Re: American Paganism
« Reply #13 on: September 12, 2019, 01:36:53 pm »
I did a quick search to see if I had any related bookmarks and found a couple of items that may be of interest: Sacred Tree Profile: Oak’s Medicine, Magic, Mythology, and Meanings (a Druid writing about sacred trees in North America) and Indigenous Uses, Management, and Restoration of Oaks of the Far Western United States (focuses on the Western US but may give you a basis for more research).

Thanks Aisling for the comments and the good links.

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Re: American Paganism
« Reply #14 on: September 14, 2019, 07:35:18 pm »
Thanks Aisling for the comments and the good links.

You're welcome! 
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