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We Need To Talk

Dearest pagan community, we need to have a conversation about cultural appropriation. I know; I can already imagine the sighs and the eye-rolls. “This again?” you may grumble. However in the interest of intersectional witchcraft, it’s a very damn important conversation, and one that I do not think is had enough in our circles.

Recently I got into an argument with a friend of mine in the community who posted a link to this Upworthy article about cultural appropriation on her Facebook feed and asked for our opinions about it. The summation of the article and video is that cultural appropriation is okay if your intention is good.

Um, what?

I screenshot the responses, but I’m not going to include them because they were terrible. Most of the respondents jumped on what I like to call the “anti-PC brigade” in which the excuse for whatever behavior someone is calling out is that people (specifically minorities) are being too sensitive about issues of oppression. I wish I had a dollar for every time I’ve heard that one! See the 7 Myths video (listed at the end of this piece).

Someone shared that they thought goth culture was being appropriated, something which while I can see how they would believe that, is not the same as ethnic or religious minorities having their sacred symbols stolen, commodified and de-contextualized.

Another person started talking about how the Irish were enslaved (another popular response) and I’m still not sure what that had to do with the conversation, other than an attempt at trying to say that Saint Patrick’s Day is an example of how cultures blend. It was a mess.

Anyway, attempted to call out my friend and was met with dismissal, tone-policing and personal attacks. I wish I could say that was new for me. I’m disappointed but not surprised.

Here’s the thing: cultural appropriation is wrong. I’ve heard every argument from “isn’t everything appropriated from something else” to “but I’m just appreciating the culture”. They’re all wrong.

I’m not going get into the details and nuances of why it is wrong; there are TONS of articles, videos and personal accounts as to why this is an oppressive behavior. It’s not up to minorities to educate you, please look them up yourself.
I will try to explain this once as simply as I can, because I want to go into what cultural appropriation means for our communities and why cultural appropriation is something radical pagans should stand against and call out.

What is it?

I like this definition best:

“Cultural appropriation is the process by which a member of a dominant culture takes or uses (appropriates) aspects of another culture (often a colonised culture) without that culture’s permission and/or without any understanding of the deeper cultural meanings behind the appropriated item.” (source)

Cultural appropriation is, at its core, about power. When one group has structural power over another and takes aspects, symbols or objects of a marginalized group without permission and erases the meaning behind them, something is lost or destroyed in the process. In a capitalist framework, the appropriated items may also be commodified as they are de-contextualized and sold for profit. It’s perverted, oppressive and wrong. Cecil Joy Willowe calls cultural appropriation:

“the power to steal, misrepresent, and/or corrupt cultural items from an oppressed cultural group.” (Bringing Race to the Table, pp. 68)

Some of the most popular examples of cultural appropriation include the bindi and the Native American (Plains) headdress or war bonnet. From my own culture I would also include the hamsa or Hand of Miriam/Fatima as a currently popular appropriated item.

Why is this important to discuss in Pagan communities?

In many ways, we are microcosms of the larger majority culture. For the purposes of this discussion I’m only going to talk about the context I know which is that of pagan communities in the United States, so when I refer to the majority culture I’m talking about the White Supremacist Capitalist Hetero-patriarchy in the United States. Due to a lack of racial and ethnic diversity in pagan communities, cultural appropriation is especially problematic.

It seems like everybody wants to be a shaman! Does anyone even know where the word comes from? Janet Callahan (Oglala Sioux) elaborates:

“The word shaman is particular to the Evenk and Buryat peoples of Siberia. Their practices are decidedly different than the practices of the tribes of North America. And yet, the same word was used by anthropologists to describe the spiritual leaders of Native Americans. This does a disservice to both the native Siberians and the Native Americans, all because English didn’t have good words to talk about this sort of thing. In either case, these spiritual folks were part of their community, and the community recognize them for their skills and gifts. Now there are Pagans using that word to describe their own practices with no links to any of the original cultures is involved.” (Bringing Race to the Table, pp. 44)

Anecdotally at a variety of pagan events I’ve seen White folks with dreadlocs, wearing bindis, mistakenly blending the imagery of Día de Muertos and Halloween, appropriating the word “g*psy”, and generally using sacred imagery from cultures that they do not understand. Another common practice I witness is White folks taking names that sound Native American or claiming Native ancestry to give them some sort of spiritual street cred. Not cool!

As a person of color I find this makes me uncomfortable and at times I find it highly egregious. When culture is appropriated, it is disfigured and stolen. In a way, the people who it comes from are erased. When cultural erasure happens, we lose something valuable. In the interest of intersectionality, I say again that pagan communities should not be a party to this!

Fortunately the conversation is starting. Many pagans have begun to write about cultural appropriation. Luminaries of our circles including Sable Aradia, Lupa Greenwolf and Crystal Blanton, among others, have all written excellent responses to cultural appropriation in pagan communities (please see the resources section at the end of the essay).

So what are our options? Let’s vision a little bit. How about true cultural exchange and cultural appreciation? I envision pagan communities alive with a plethora of people in all shapes, sizes, colors, of all sexualities, genders and abilities. I envision class lines dissolving. I envision respect for indigenous peoples of the lands we occupy. I envision a place for all people at the table and in the circle. Thank you for listening.

In solidarity and love, S.

Resources


Simcha Bensefis

DSCN3620Simcha is a rad non-binary QPOC brujx, community activist & voodoo devotee living on occupied Kalapuya & Chinook territory. By day they work in community mental health & by night they can be found spinning in circles & dreaming of faraway desert lands.

 

65 Comments »

  1. It seems to me that in latching on to the symbols of other cultures we show a lack of confidence in our ability to plug in directly to the spiritual world ourselves. We need to get busy building all the elements of pagan culture – prayers, poems, songs, spells, art, music – based on our own direct experiences of the gods and spirits.

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  2. Frankly, I am tired of hearing about cultural appropriation, mostly because it is inexpertly used as a concept. I see your point, I almost agree with you. The largest difference, I think, between my position and yours is that the problem is ignorance, not this grand idea of cultural appropriation. If the people who complained about it spent half as much time reaching out to the those they felt were in the wrong and explained something about the situation and the culture and its icons with out being some damn JUDGEY and saying “hey that’s wrong” or “you can’t do that”, then we would all be in a much better position.

    We need less judgement in this world. And that starts with us as well.

    My own beliefs and practices certainly border on what some might call “cultural appropriation” and I balk at the idea. I am a syncretist. The gods I venerate are not directly linked to my cultural heritage (in most cases), but I did not get to choose which gods spoke to me. The gods chose me, for whatever reason, and I do my best to honor them (without resorting to slavish reconstructionism — which does have its merits, but is not for me) in ways that I learn intellectually and ways that they show me.

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  3. If you are Pagan, you are practicing a syncretic religion. If you are Christian, you are practicing a syncretic religion. If you are Jewish… Get the picture?

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  4. Nowhere did I police the pantheons people are allowed to worship. I’m of the mind that the gods choose who they choose. Please stay on topic.

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      • I dunno, do you believe that what you are doing is respectful and not stealing?As far as I know, Kemetic worship is not a closed circle. You’re worshipping that pantheon, so I’m going to assume that you know what you’re doing and knowledgeable about the symbols and objects of that group of deities and the culture they emerged in. I think it’s best to go by this rubric: is it yours? if its not yours is it okay to use? if you’re not sure then you probably shouldn’t do it.

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      • I’ve noticed that you’ve posted under two different names on this thread now, which I find very interesting.

        Anyway I’m no longer going to be engaging with your commentary after this attempt to question my character and the validity of my spiritual practices.

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      • Actually, I straight out accused you of hypocrisy, I dunno how valid you spirituality is, all I know is you’re talking about stuff you know nothing about and every time someone takes you to task on it, you hide behind google. You haven’t engaged a single thing I’ve said so far, all you’ve done is flap and weep. I see through you.

        Oh, and yeah, two different names, I dunno, talk to wordpress or G&R, I’ve no idea why it posted under my facebook account. See, abdication of responsibility, so easy, huh?

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      • What happened to not engaging? You’re one of those, are you? Well, you can keep your blessing for someone who won’t feel sullied by it, all I want from you is silence.

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      • An interesting and important point. The author has taken it as questioning their character, but I must admit that after being browbeaten about cultural appropriation in your blog post, more than a little curiosity remains as to how the author found himself a devotee of voodoo.

        Whether or not you choose to “disengage,” Simcha, do you not see how this comes across as implying that this kind of thing is all right for YOU, but you won’t give the benefit of the doubt to anyone else? How is that acceptable?

        It’s like you’re bristling at having your work read by people who think critically. But you’re the one that brought up the topic, so the comment about your practice isn’t exactly out of left field. Disagreement is not derailing, and I think you might be falling back on that claim more than you probably should, given how seriously you want to be taken.

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      • You can read into however you want.

        I have never claimed to be a manbo or a santero, nor any sort of authority or teacher of voodoo/Voudoun (etc) nor to I claim to be of Yoruba, Kongo, Fon (etc) descent. I do not sell services nor or use imagery or objects (such as elekes) that only initiated practitioners are allowed. I use the word devotee to describe my practices rather than call myself something I am not allowed to call myself. There are many White and Non-West African initiates, priests/priestesses, manbos, santeros etc, and I have no issue with that because they have gone through a process to become initiated and are more or less experts in what they do. Also they do it in a respectful manner. So yes, I do think White people can worship pantheons they’re not ancestrally linked to without being problematic. Of course, there are others who disagree so that’s just my opinion. It’s not the same thing as donning a war bonnet at a music festival, however.

        (Perhaps that’s one of the key points of cultural appropriation, it’s not respectful or done in a knowledgeable way. It’s stealing.)

        Also, I’d appreciate it if you didn’t mis-gender me.

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      • From your piece, your own words:

        “Another common practice I witness is White folks taking names that sound Native American or claiming Native ancestry to give them some sort of spiritual street cred. Not cool!”

        So, are you Mexican, with the brujx identity? How does that connect with your voodoo practice? Is it just a little from one jar, a little from another, so that you’ve constructed a spiritual practice where you feel your heart or soul has led you?

        And how is that any different than your criticism of “spiritual street cred”-seeking people who appreciate Native American culture?

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      • The word brujx is a Spanish word that means witch. I’m half Latinx and I speak Spanish.

        Brujos, brujas, brujx are not necessarily Mexican. It’s not a Mexican “concept” specifically.

        Now if I was appropriating the word curandero/a/x, that would be a different story.

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      • Sorry about that. I did not mean to mis-gender you — I thought I’d caught myself with “their” but I see I missed another term. I apologize.

        My point is that everyone’s just trying to get by in this world and find the things that make them happy. And I think there’s a danger of judging someone too quickly if you don’t know their stories or their intentions. You may think you know, but you don’t know.

        Just like I don’t know, because I don’t know you, about your own voodoo devotion. That would have perhaps been an interesting thing to include here, much as Lupa Greenwolf talks about in the essay you linked. She talks about how SHE arrived at her obviously self-chosen moniker. Maybe give it another read?

        And of COURSE I’m not talking about the woman wearing the headdress. That’s the most obvious example of cultural appropriation there is. But do you honestly believe that in the pagan community, in a community of people who basically part of a frequently Othered religion, that they do not attempt to tread as lightly as they possibly can? Have you ever thought that it might just be trying to be in the world in the way they find most comforting, in a world full of pointy things and prohibitions?

        My criticism was originally not meant to offend but to be constructive. I did let my frustration with your inability to accept disagreement without dismissing it get the better of me. You seem to be a good writer with good things to say.

        But I also think that you can’t make assumptions about what people know. For someone who advocates community and people of all kinds joining together, you sure seem to not understand that there is a whole world out there beyond the end of your own nose. In fact, that’s so much the case that your last paragraph rings really hollow. If you’re going to call for a certain type of behavior, I find that actually behaving that way goes a long way in supporting your arguments.

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      • I think that makes sense, and I do want to address that since you brought it up. I learned about voodoo, specifically New Orleans Voodoo and Santería from two people who practice it and have a long history with it. They were my teachers, both from New Orleans and one whose family was from Puerto Rico.

        To address your other point: I have a young soul. I have a lot of attitude. I spent far too long in my adolescence being quiet about things that I was passionate about. I’m also a minority (in multiple ways) and used to being silenced. So sometimes I tend to respond in an uncoordinated way. I’m a hothead at heart. I balk at anything that feels like tone-policing which I will admit some of your comments did. I do appreciate your responses because they’ve given me a lot of food for thought. So thank you.

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  5. Interesting article. Cultural appropriation is an easy mistake to make [as a white person], especially when one is in the beginnings of the spiritual path and are being led mostly by trends. However, I do ask for an elaboration – why are dreadlocks considered cultural appropriation? Dreadlocks simply occur when you don’t brush your hair, and I know many people who have them simply because they want to feel closer in their connection to nature, and they consider dreadlocks more “natural,” since they aren’t being tamed by a man-made contraption. However, I haven’t done much research on the subject beyond just hearing other people’s opinions.

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    • One of the issues with dreadlocks is that Blacks were specifically denigrated for having them for decades; later, when white people started wearing them, they became more acceptable.
      A similar process happened with urban farming in the United States. Cities passed laws to prevent immigrant families from owning chickens and other animals on their property because they were nuisances, etc.. When white middle-class families started adopting the practice again, though, suddenly the laws were changed. That is, it was unacceptable when people of color or indigenous people did it; when whites do it, it becomes a mark of earth consciousness.

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    • Rhyd is right. I would also go to say that this continues and is not just historical. There are many news stories involving Black employees who are asked to change their hair or cut it off. For Black folks, locs and other similar styles of braids or twists are known as “protective” styles because they promote the growth of the hair while keeping it undamaged. Also, White folks do not have naturally-dreading hair, and in fact it tends to damage the hair when they attempt dreading. I would encourage you to watch the Kat Blaque video at the end of the article and do your own research as to why dreadlocs are cultural appropriation.

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  6. You know what I find offensive, self righteous children telling me the melanin levels in my skin aren’t high enough for me to wear my hair a certain way or that the symbolic meaning I attach to something isn’t the correct symbolic meaning.

    Let’s take the photo you’ve used in the header as a good example. If a feathered head-dress means “I’m having a party” to some stupid white girl and it means “I’m a great warrior” to a plains indian, what gives one the right to say the other is doing it wrong? They’re both using the symbol in the context of their own culture, the girl isn’t pretending to be a great warrior who’s about to go into battle, she’s having fun.

    Symbols are personal, culture is personal, you can’t appropriate either. It’s just plain pettiness, “that’s my symbol, you can’t use it”, infantile.

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      • Sorry if it came across as contemptuous but I was making a serious minded point.

        The culture to which any of us belong is the culture in which we have been immersed, it has nothing to do with ethnicity. It’s the family traditions, the religious and folk beliefs you’re surrounded with, the music, the food and drink, the clothing and the context in which the clothing is worn and the language, accents and symbolism that’s used. It’s specific baggage from your lived experience.

        There is a cultural symbolism attached to certain items by any individual, to say they don’t have a right to that cultural association because the symbolism belongs to a different ethnic group is presumptuous, to say the least. If one individual grows up with a symbol meaning something to them, in their culture, another individual demanding they abandon that cultural artifact because they feel they have more right to it…….. honestly, it’s like a two year old demanding the toy their sibling is playing with.

        Now, I do have sympathy for ethnic groups that have been forcibly stripped of their cultural accouterments and can see why they would want to establish the propriety of some of that symbolism but I am also aware, as anyone who is reading this probably should be, that the power of a symbol is all about context. It has no meaning beyond that which you attach to it. It’s importance to you cannot be diminished because somebody else misuses it, or in point of fact, uses it in a way you would prefer they didn’t. It’s a red herring.

        A war bonnet had a meaning to pre-extermination native americains, it has a different meaning to modern native americains and has yet another meaning to the blond girl in the photo. Who owns it? On one hand, I can see why it might piss you off to see something which is meaningful to you disrespected, in the case of the war bonnet I can see the point, but it’s the same principle as a flag burning. You might feel slighted by the act that person is preforming but that person has a right to treat the symbol in a way that’s meaningful to them and, if you’re not willing to respect their right to the symbol, why should they respect your authority over it?

        I have no contempt for peoples feelings but it is (as much as I can help it) an equitable lack of contempt. Unless someone is actively mocking you then I really can’t see any basis for this cultural appropriation nonsense. Live and let live.

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      • You seem to be treating this as an emotionally neutral issue that can be debated objectively – like an ethical dilemma in philosophy class. I don’t think that’s a useful angle from which to approach this.

        If I want to be on good terms with my neighbor, I won’t keep doing something I know my neighbor finds upsetting. If I know my neighbor finds my actions upsetting and I keep doing them anyway, I certainly can’t expect that we will ever be on good terms. (Except it isn’t really like that because the analogy doesn’t include all the terrible things that happened before we got to this point.)

        As a pagan, I want to be on good terms with all other religions as much as possible, but especially those I feel I have something in common with. That’s simply not going to ever happen if we treat them disrespectfully.

        When you add in the actual history of the world over the past few hundred years, it becomes even more obvious why this cannot be treated as an ethical dilemma to be resolved through logical debate. When you are trying to heal wounds, you don’t pour salt in them.

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      • “If I want to be on good terms with my neighbor, I won’t keep doing something I know my neighbor finds upsetting.”
        I agree with you personally, I’m not inclined to offend people either but that doesn’t mean I’m ready to say nobody should be offended ever. If somebodies behaviour offends you on principle, I believe that’s your problem and not theirs. They shouldn’t have to change their behavior because it upsets you. It doesn’t mean I think she should wear the damn thing, but if she wants to, then that’s between her and her conscience.

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  7. “If a feathered head-dress means “I’m having a party” to some stupid white girl and it means “I’m a great warrior” to a plains indian, what gives one the right to say the other is doing it wrong? ”

    Because one of them FUCKING STOLE IT from the other. Did you not even read the article? Because of POWER. Because one comes from a genocidal white settlers that have no actual culture because they abandoned it and assimilated to become ‘Americans’, and the other is a native, oppressed indigenous culture that was driven to the brink of extinction by the ancestors of those settlers.

    “They’re both using the symbol in the context of their own culture,”

    NO. The headdress is NOT a part of American culture. If party girl wants to discover her ‘own’ culture, she needs to take the fucking headdress off and start researching her own family lines and talking to her ancestors.

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    • Your last paragraph sounds an awful lot like something Stephen McNallen would write. I know from your writing that you have nothing to do with that guy and would object to everything he stands for, but that is what he would say initially in this conversation. I think what “white folks” in the Western Hemisphere (and Australia and So. Africa for that matter) need to do is use some discretion. Is wearing an ankh, or a Thor’s Hammer cultural appropriation, or honoring an old culture? Those cultures are gone and there is no one left to be offended I guess. Having empathy and understanding why an actually existing Native American, or an Aboriginal Australian would be hurt by wearing a headdress or doing dreamtime trance work is a start.

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      • Hmmm. Actually, studying McNallen and the tactics of the New Right leads me to believe their initial response would be different. Typically, they claim parallels between their own (constructed) racial/ethnic/cultural forms and those of First Nations and Indigenous peoples as a defense of their exclusionist and separatist agendas.

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    • Wow, you’re hostile, aren’t you? Is it an affectation or do you really get that angry at people you don’t know?

      Anyways, some free, unsolicited advice. Culture is a living thing. If look to the dead to find your culture, you will only ever find a dead culture. You can reuse the things the dead left behind but, if you do, you’d better make sure you run them under a tap first.

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      • Continuing to use the logical fallacy of a circular argument doesn’t make you any more right than the first time you said it. The tired idea that this is about people taking offense and not a cultural genocide or erasure is just offensive in itself. But I guess you are going to say that’s my problem. At this point, I’m not sure what you’re trying to say anymore other than minorities should stop being sensitive. Sorry, we already covered that topic!

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      • What? Just to begin with, I was supposed to be replying to Alley Valkyrie, who was very hostile when replying to me for no reason I could fathom. The comments section seems to have misplaced the comment.

        Otherwise, as far as cultural genocide goes, how exactly does using a Hamsa design on a t-shirt constitute “cultural genocide”? As far as I am aware, the culture to which it belongs is thriving, on it’s own terms, in it’s own region.

        On the other hand, I’m Irish, like actually from Ireland, and our culture was just as genocidally smashed as any aboriginal peoples anywhere in the world, with all the same fallout, such as an enforced diaspora, a destruction of language, dress and customs followed by the dissolution of communities and rampant alcohol abuse.

        Your piece claims the mockery which constitutes the US view of St Patrick’s day, a day that is only celebrated widely because of an actual genocide, and which has been turned from an expression of cultural pride into a racist mockery predicated on the over consumption of alcohol (fallout from the cultural genocide) and leprichaun costumes (a mockery of our gods and our national dress) isn’t cultural appropriation while wearing a bindi somehow is? Why? Has there been some sort of decimation of the hindu culture I was unaware of? Has it been misreprisented worldwide? What’s your basis for making that statement? Hang on, I’ll guess, my culture isn’t worth as much as yours because my skins the wrong colour.

        Personally, having someone who claims north African decent lecturing me is on what cultural genocide is or isn’t is a little….. upsetting.

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      • So now you’re just misrepresenting what I wrote in the article, nowhere did I make that assertion. Furthermore, Alley can respond to you in any way. You’re making some really offensive comments, why should anyone be nice to you about that? Don’t think I didn’t see your little personal attack on my character as well with that other comment, which is really just another logical fallacy argument tactic. To answer your question about cultural genocide, I suggest you re-read the article or look up why cultural appropriation is wrong in either the resources or do your own research.

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      • “So now you’re just misrepresenting what I wrote in the article, nowhere did I make that assertion. ”
        Which assertion are you referring to? I’ll quote you the passage.
        “Furthermore, Alley can respond to you in any way.”
        She has your permission, does she? Did she ask first or are you just granting it? She can reply to me as she wishes, and I’ll respond as I wish.
        “which is really just another logical fallacy argument tactic” Do you even know what the words mean?
        “To answer your question about cultural genocide, I suggest you re-read the article ”
        Here, let me fix that for you “to avoid answering any hard questions, I’ll refer you to other people’s thoughts. I said I wanted to talk, actually, I wanted applause/attention/to jump on someone else’s bandwagon.”
        See how much more honest that is?

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  8. A member of a dominant culture. Um. Am I one? I was born and raised and brainwashed in the belly of the Leviathan, but I don’t identify with it. In fact, I hope and aspire to be part of the disease that will eventually do the dumb beast in.

    So if you ask me what culture I am part of, I have no immediate answer handy. Western civilization? Seriously? Name one aspect of WC that exists to empower me. One. Some sixty guys own as much as the poorer half of us. WC is one great big Ponzi scheme and if you’re not a millionaire, you’re not even being played for a sucker anymore.

    I’m a descendent of slaves by whatever name you give them. Sheep of the Good Shepherd. Employees of the Month. The slavery has lasted over so many generations that we forgot all about it, but it’s still here. What good is being part of the dominant culture to you if your status in it is that of a ‘human resource’?

    I don’t know about everyone else here, but I’m not part of an unbroken Pagan lineage. I can go through the motions of the dominant culture well enough to pass for not crazy on not too close scrutiny. But really, I do not think of the culture I grew up in as my own. I start from scratch.

    I may have to borrow something sometime.

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  9. I appreciate that conversations like this are happening in paganism, but it seems to me that the polytheisms are, if the whole mess can be conceived of as a spectrum, on the milder end. Maybe it’s because of the stranglehold reconstructionism still has on most paths, or because we are by nature God-led, but the real perps always seem to be on the new age, or nuage, end of things. People whose practices do NOT include serious intercession with Gods, ancestors, and other spirits, and are therefore grounded thereby, or people who are outright atheist.

    Because at the end of the day, without Gods, spirits, or ancestors, cultures are just aesthetic trappings ripe for commodification and decontextualization. The driving, animated forces behind the thunderstorm (or the hearth, or the hunt, or…) are different depending on where you are and who you’re with – and the homogenizing forces of Progress, capitalism, and states all seek to undermine that. Cultures and cultural artifacts aren’t just things that are passed on or lost when disrupted by colonization, they’re stories – and what are skills, too, but stories told by the body? – that are given life by the spirits encountered by those people.

    Gods are culturally aware, though, and They know who Their people are. But They also know self-preservation as well as any of us, and yeah, sometimes they come a-knocking on foreign doorsteps.

    As a pale-skinned Chicanx, my family has been fully colonized, and I happen to be the whitest member in my entire family by sheer accident. We have have cultivated no communal memory, forgotten our ancestors, honor no spirits (many of them are atheist now), and don’t even know where we came from before crossing the border. I sought out a few Gods from down south that I sensed would give me the light of day, and it’s been a rocky 5 years with Them. Most of Them from the old pantheons ignore me, and I get that – and many are still asleep. I came to Them asking for an infinitesimal nugget of wisdom, something that inspired the stories told by who I’m pretty sure are my ancestors, something I could build something of my own with. Something not so far-removed from the way I and my family live now, of what’s become of most of Their people.

    It’s a hard road, and I’ve learned a lot. They’ve taught me that some things are possible to reclaim, but more importantly, the vast majority of it is not, and history will not repeat itself. They will not go back into the caves to be reborn again – moreover, who would even be there to receive Them now?

    Talking about appropriation always makes me anxious, because I’ve lost to both sides. It’s the same sort of existential anxiety I feel whenever I sit and really contemplate who I am in diaspora, because I am both colonizer and colonized, and the trail of bread crumbs leading the way back home has long since disappeared. Like surviving in a world of ecocide and sweatshop labor, to seek integration in any way is to step on toes. The only other option is obscurity.

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    • Thank you so much for responding! I understand where you are coming from in many ways, also being light-skinned POC and disconnected from my ancestors.

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  10. The defense of cultural appropriation, sort of reminds me of the, I am not racists defense, followed then by, “some of my best friends are those people”, or “it is just that those people are too sensitive”, or worse “why does no one get upset when those people attack us?”

    The point of being a caring human being is being aware when something that you do perhaps, innocently, is disturbing to a group who consider it a misuse of their custom.. I think you should at least question your action and perhaps consider making a change. To not consider mean suggesting that they are not important enough to you to worry about. Now that is a power trip happening and something common in our country when dealing with marginalized people. Whether you agree with them or not, listening helps stop marginalizing them by giving them a part in the conversation. It is often harder to get time from us than money.

    I have people walk into my shop that are not likely to be customers, and as an introvert I prefer a great deal of time to myself. However sometimes I sense how important it is just for them to have someone listen for a while. One of the advantages of getting older, is no longer forcing myself into a tight schedule and having some freedom of time to give to others, be that person, or my cat, or a wild animal in my yard or even a new pant that has shown up in my yard. That means stop making my life part of the famous rat race, purposely slowing down and notice what is around me. Sometimes the most important that I do in my work day has nothing to do with making a sale. Making people laugh and encouraging people of various ages is one way to give back. I know that I will never get rich this way, but so what?

    Liked by 1 person

  11. I think there’s a lot that gets lost when you tell someone that it’s not your job to educate the reader about the background. Then why are you writing about it at all? I think it’s safe to assume, especially in a place like this, where people’s voices and ideas are sought out and not just tolerated, that people know how use Google.

    At the risk of being told I’m policing your tone, I would propose that there’s a lot of conversation to be had in the whys and wherefores. I don’t want Google. I’m reading YOUR piece. I want YOUR thoughts.

    And because there is a whole range of information out there, there’s no guarantee that that which I find in any way supports your writing. So it takes away from the strength of your visions — or worse, makes you appear uncommitted to the work of writing.

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      • I’ve read that. But I guess my question is, are you writing an essay or a blog post? If it’s a blog post, then I get why establishing a background means just giving a bunch of links to other peoples’ writings on the subject. If it’s meant to be an essay, I think it IS your responsibility to educate, especially if you are assuming that your audience isn’t clued-in.

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      • “it’s still not up to minorities to provide education about structural oppression.”

        Actually, if minorities are to have any hope of impacting structural oppression, the first thing they need to do is educate the people they’re actively tying to change as to what it is, why it bothers them and how it can be remedied. Maybe you’re unwilling to do so because you don’t really get it yourself.

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    • POC are not a monolithic entity who all agree on everything all the time – it is YOUR responsibility to pick a stance, educate yourself about it, and deal with the repercussions of having an opinion like the rest of us.

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      • Are you talking to me or to the author? Because how am I supposed to know what kind of POC the author is so I can approach their article in the correct frame of mind? Clearly that’s a minefield, because if one thing’s been shown here, it’s that getting a word wrong can mean the difference between being dismissed or being told to educate myself.

        I’m frankly tired of people saying “it’s not my job to educate you” when they just don’t feel like (or can’t) support their own arguments. And I am someone who agrees with that sentiment, to some degree.

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      • TR – pretend you’re in debate class. Would “educate me” be an acceptable response to your opponent? No. The onus is on you to research BOTH of your positions. No one is going to hand you an argument on a silver platter, no matter how many times you claim that we don’t understand what we’re talking about because -you- don’t. That’s personal incredulity.

        The only time I’ve seen anyone get so defensive and hostile as they do in discussions of cultural appropriation is literally when I see folks debating aspects of climate change. Now I wonder why that is…

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      • Actually, yes, in a debate class that would be exactly what I’d expect someone to do. Can you imagine someone in a debate saying, “Google it” to support their argument? That’s absolutely ridiculous. They might use resources to support their argument, but they would at least synthesize them.

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  12. It’s criticism, and it’s constructive at that. Your inability to receive it doesn’t mean that it’s automatically a BINGO square.

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      • I understand there is a difference, and what it is. How does one tell from looking at someone alone? Can you honestly say the judgement does not come before engagement with the person? Do people who judge such things bother with engagement? Should we trust without doubt the opinions of those so quick with judgement and condemnation, since virtue signaling is a thing that exists and includes an element of condescending protectionism towards minorities?

        The article you sited talks a lot about appearances on one hand, and then discusses intentions and internal psychological states on the other. The judgement is of appearances, the critique is of psychology. How does one come to a fair appraisal of psychology if the judgement comes before the engagement? How far should we take policing each other on behalf of those who have not and may not want us protecting them in their name, for the sake of possibly only making ourselves feel better and not actually offering any useful help to those we deign to defend.

        And don’t be confused, I am not for cultural appropriation. I’m also not for self appointed police.

        Liked by 1 person

  13. Quoting from above because the quotestack is too deep to reply directly:

    “But do you honestly believe that in the pagan community, in a community of people who basically part of a frequently Othered religion, that they do not attempt to tread as lightly as they possibly can?”

    I see absolutely no reason to believe that pagans “tread lightly” regarding issues of cultural appropriation; in many ways, my observation has been that pagans are significantly more likely to want to snag and misuse other people’s things than those parts of the mainstream that are happy with their original cultural religion or lack thereof. They’re “authentic”, don’t you know.

    One of the things I’ve wrestled with much of my life is that my demographic is brought up with a significant spiritual hole in the soul that goes along with the illusion that our culture – which is tremendously filled with power and influence and in many ways tremendously destructive – is not actually a culture. Other people have traditions, have heritage, have authenticity, have customs, and clearly those are more meaningful, more true – at least in some minds. And some of those people go off and try to take the “authentic” thing, remove it from its context and its people and its actual authenticity, and white-ify it until it fits them.

    Instead of changing themselves until they fit the authentic thing, instead of becoming authentic. Which requires going to the people whose heritage is being ogled and actually submitting to them: what do I need to do to earn your trust? What do I need to do to be allowed to learn?

    Not that going to one of those groups is required to be authentic, but that requires the much harder course of figuring out oneself while hampered by a culture that often hamstrings such efforts.

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  14. I came here after reading another post in this journal (understood that it was a different author) warning of the possible fascist implications for a cultivating a racialist pagan culture. (The author was referring to whites choosing to practice ancient rites of Germanic paganism among other whites.) Now on to this article, if I’m to understand the sentiment correctly, it is that it is important to NOT steal from other cultural religious and spiritual practices. The sentiment is intended for whites. Now, practically and logically speaking, as a white of European decent who wishes to practice rites and rituals of my in good faith with the inclusive morality, where am I left to turn? I’m not interested in a discussion of “dominant culture,” as that is an arbitrary definition to a white man living in a mostly black neighborhood (my personal world), not to mention a white race being a minority in the world at large. I’m interested in a logical solution to what the author considers to be a problem, which I do not think was adequately covered. The bulk of the article more or less mentions, don’t take it if it isn’t yours, but ends with a vision of true cultural exchange, as if the culture that is mention is preserved as closely as possible to some idea of what that culture represents, but then blurring the lines so that it creates anything but unique cultural identity. Am I incorrect in that interpretation? I most certainly agree that European culture needs to look to the strengths of the pantheon and not steal from elsewhere, and one could argue that the separation of the lack of European spiritual culture (as evident in many poignant memes) has manifested many problems in this world, but to even admitting that a white man should reconnect with European spirituality (aka white culture) and find the strengths and values that belong to that culture, and protect that from being appropriated would be of course…racist, by someone’s definition. So where the heck does that leave many spiritually deprived descendants of white Europe who long to cling to the same pride in their culture and heritage as is available for other minorities in the world?
    This is a great topic and I appreciate you giving it attention. Indeed, we need to talk.

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  15. I came here after reading another post in this journal (understood that it was a different author) warning of the possible fascist implications for a cultivating a racialist pagan culture. (The author was referring to whites choosing to practice ancient rites of Germanic paganism among other whites.) Now on to this article, if I’m to understand the sentiment correctly, it is that it is important to NOT steal from other cultural religious and spiritual practices. The sentiment is intended for whites. Now, practically and logically speaking, as a white of European decent who wishes to practice rites and rituals of my in good faith with the inclusive morality, where am I left to turn? I’m not interested in a discussion of “dominant culture,” as that is an arbitrary definition to a white man living in a mostly black neighborhood (my personal world), not to mention a white race being a minority in the world at large. I’m interested in a logical solution to what the author considers to be a problem, which I do not think was adequately covered. The bulk of the article more or less mentions, don’t take it if it isn’t yours, but ends with a vision of true cultural exchange, as if the culture that is mention is preserved as closely as possible to some idea of what that culture represents, but then blurring the lines so that it creates anything but unique cultural identity. Am I incorrect in that interpretation? I most certainly agree that European culture needs to look to the strengths of the pantheon and not steal from elsewhere, and one could argue that the separation of the lack of European spiritual culture (as evident in many poignant memes) has manifested many problems in this world, but to even admitting that a white man should reconnect with European spirituality (aka white culture) and find the strengths and values that belong to that culture, and protect that from being appropriated would be of course…racist, by someone’s definition. So where the heck does that leave many spiritually deprived descendants of white Europe who long to cling to the same pride in their culture and heritage as is available for other minorities in the world?
    This is a great topic and I appreciate you giving it attention. Indeed, we need to talk.

    Like

    • I assume the other article you’re referring to is my “Shapeshifters” article. If you read that article, you must know that it doesn’t say anything against worshiping gods of European origin. In fact, I mention in the article that I worship Celtic gods myself. The article also doesn’t say anything against ancestor veneration, which I practice myself. What the article does say is that forms of paganism based on ethnic identity have a strong potential to be infiltrated by fascist ideas. I disagree strongly that “European spirituality” equals “white culture.” Whiteness as a concept was invented specifically to facilitate slavery and colonialism; it has no reality outside of that paradigm. Europe, on the other hand, is a place where real people live, many of whom are not white.

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  16. White culture is something I don’t identify with despite being born and raised in it. Now I did work with Alexandrian Wicca, because it is English, but more or less newly invented compared to ancient religions of the area, but I don’t necessarily have ties to any particular set of Gods, from any culture. Due to the nature of my family, I have no close ties to family beyond some connections with my remaining sisters, but no attachment at all with any of my ancestors. So I find myself on the outside of a lot of these discussions. They interest me, but don’t reflect my experience or feelings. But then being the outsider is my normal condition through out life now for seventy years.

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  17. This article is brilliant. Thank you so much for educating me. I am a white woman and try and educate myself as much as I can to be a good ally to POC. This is a really brilliant article and so greatly written. I appreciate culture so much and try and be open to learn about as much as I can. Thankyou so much for passing your knowledge and I’ll be sure to share this with my friends. Sending love and light xxxx

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    • Lauren, I keep learning myself at age of nearly 72. I think that Fascism , and racism are a matter of how you treat others. I think that I will be corrected if I have it wrong. If you treat others, whoever they might be, such as you treat your people, whoever that they are, I think you avoid getting into the mess. I have paid my part time workers better than average and then got out of their way to let them get their work done. Now they are co-owners of the business, because they are the only people who know how to do what is needed, and they now make most of the decisions in those areas where they know more than I do. Nor do they need to ask permission, not as co-owners.

      As to people walking through the door, I try to treat everyone well regardless of likelihood of them buying anything. I usually give as much time as they need. We seem to enjoy each other,most seem to leave somewhat happier. But then this is much the same, as I treat people on my trips to town, regardless of who are or what they are, or what their generation. I enjoy both their similarities to me, and their unique differences from me. I think fairness is much of what we are trying to create. Ihopethat I have not wandered too far off topic.

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