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Cultural Appropriation and Paganism

post #1 of 29
Thread Starter 
ok so we have had the talk about cultural appropriation by UU's and by other groups. But what about cultural appropriation and eclecticism?? Do ya mix say Thor and Pele in the same ritual?? Why would it be ok and why wouldn't it be ok??


And where does reconstructionism come into cultural appropriation?? Especially in cases where there is no longer an unbroken line of practitioners. Like Roman Paganism for example. If it is what would be commonly called a dead religion (I hate that term but couldn't think of another way to put it at the moment) does cultural appropriation matter.

And where does Wicca come into this? They have their God and Goddess, but is it cultural appropriation when they start attaching names of specific dieties to them??

What are you feelings?
post #2 of 29
I'm not Pagan but would like to post. I'm sympathetic with the movement and relate to parts of it.

My personal feeling about appropriation is that we all appropriate things, consciously or unconsciously, and that there is a thin line between keeping things delineated out of respect and drawing a hard line that creates divisiveness. (i.e. "mine" and "yours")

At some point, surely there was one reasonably universal understanding of the Creator(s) from which all traditions arose. Then surely as peoples moved, grew and learned, their traditions arose from which circumstances they found themselves, so in a sense didn't they appropriate from their surroundings and own culture? And then further, start taking from other cultures they came in contact with? So nothing's really pure, and even the unbroken lines have been touched and changed through the centuries?

Obviously you can tell I'm biased as I think most religions are based in truth.
post #3 of 29
I guess part of it depends on your personal beliefs, too. If you see all dieties as "faces" of the One, then mixing wouldn't much matter. Whereas if you view dieties as separate entities unto themselves, then it is more of a question of is it appropriate to have them come together. I don't know how to determine that, but I woudl think that dieties of the same pantheon coudl work together, as well as dieties that compliment each other in nature.
post #4 of 29
Thread Starter 
I agree with Khris, that is a good point. I do think that if your belief is that all are one or all eminate from one then the idea of mixing and matching isn't necessarily offensive to you.

Being a distinct polytheist, that isn't my belief that all are one. And I tend to support the rights of cultural groups having a feeling of responsability to their Gods that outsiders rarely feel.

To me alot of it comes down to respect. Respect for the Gods themselves. If they aren't real to someone and just names to mix and match then yes I think that is cultural appropriation that is offensive.

I guess I don't see the line as thin at all. What is wrong with divisivness?? Do we have a right to appropriate anything we want?? See I don't think so. I think that kind of attitude is one of the missionary and conquerer. That, I own all. I have a right to use and have anything I want. And that is just arrogant and not respectful.
post #5 of 29
Quote:
I guess I don't see the line as thin at all. What is wrong with divisivness?? Do we have a right to appropriate anything we want?? See I don't think so. I think that kind of attitude is one of the missionary and conquerer. That, I own all. I have a right to use and have anything I want. And that is just arrogant and not respectful
Hmm. I just looked over my post again and I don't think I really expressed what I was trying to very well. I sure didn't mean to give the impression that I believe the above!

I WOULD agree that a lot of people with "missionary and conquer" attitudes do (and have done) quite consciously appropriate beliefs and rituals in order to infiltrate and ultimately suppress an indigenous belief system, and yes, that is wrong, arrogant, and disrespectful - to say the least. One would have to be completely ignorant of the history of the Christian church in particular not to realize that.

However, I think a lot of appropriation is unconscious, not necessarily thinking "gee, I like that, I think I'll start doing it" and combining it with something one already does or believes, but just seeing or hearing something, liking it, and buying it, doing it or displaying it. I think in another thread the preponderance of "dreamcatchers" was mentioned as a good example of how something sacred and meaningful has been cheapened. In my own opinion, it's a similar thing with crystals and incense - you see them everywhere, and know they're being used in ways that have nothing to do with their origins or even their intended use. I think most of the people doing that, though, are completely unconscious that they have stepped on somebody else's sacred beliefs and being disrespectful - in fact, they probably often feel the opposite, that they are honoring them in some way. Is that right to do? No, I don't think so, but I don't know the answer to how to keep it from happening, except possibly more conscious living in general - know what you're doing and why you're doing it (which would be a good idea all around for everybody).

However, is it disrespectful of me to read about how a Wiccan would take a ritual bath before doing spell work and think to myself, "I really like that emphasis on an outward cleansing before inner spiritual work" and create a ritual for myself before prayer and meditation? If so, how do I go through life without getting ideas in this way? How do I grow and change?

I guess the problem I personally have with divisiveness per se is that the concept of "yours" and "mine" often (IMO) seems to lead inevitably to "better" and "worse" and "right" and "wrong". That I guess is what I am trying to express by the "thin line." I can acknowledge that your belief is different from mine but to me, that is a step away from saying I am right and you are wrong. I guess that's probably a quirk of my own mind, but when I say I believe that most belief systems are right, that is my way of negating (I guess in my own head) any notions of superiority or rightness that might tend to grow in me about my own beliefs. (ETA: I also think a lot of grief and bloodshed in the world were and are caused by this very problem: "mine is better/more right than yours.")

I will grant that I am so rooted in my "many faces of the One" concept that I did not think about true polytheism and I apologize for that oversight. I can see that this very assumption would probably be irritatingly disrespectful. That does throw a monkey wrench into my little "mind game." (ETA: I'll have to find another way to reconcile things in my head....)
post #6 of 29
Here's a different facet of the issue to ponder: some practices were very common, though I won't say universal, even if the meanings attached to them differ from culture to culture.

Take that ritual bath mentioned by Tracymom. I missed a lecture given in conjunction with a art display of Mikvah photos at the Jewish Community Center in PGH a few weeks ago. One of the points in the description of the day's events was that ritual baths are nearly universal. So would it be appropriation to use something like that, which occurs in many cultures, probably including one's own ancestral ones?

Incense is another such universal IMO. Probably the use of stones would be too, though size and usage varies, they seem to be common to many cultural religions.

One of the things the women leading the Moon Lodge last Sunday said was that they opened this Lodge to all women because women in every culture honored their Moon time in some manner.

How do we recognize what's so universal that it cannot be appropriated?
post #7 of 29
Thread Starter 
Quote:
I sure didn't mean to give the impression that I believe the above!
I wasn't saying that you do believe what I posted. What I posted was my opinion of what can happen when anyone (not specifically you) believes that they can appropriate what they want without consideration of where it came from and what it was traditionally used for.

Quote:
I also think a lot of grief and bloodshed in the world were and are caused by this very problem: "mine is better/more right than yours.")
I agree with you to a point. Was it really mine is better that is the problem? Or is it mine is the only way that is?? Because one can think their way is better and not necessarily think it's the only way.

JMO, but I think that the real bloodshed came about because of the requirement of salvation and as a result missionary work. Not specifically because my way was better. Better implies that there are other valid beliefs, but I think mine are better. Not Mine are the only real true ones and you all are worshipping false gods.

Quote:
How do we recognize what's so universal that it cannot be appropriated?
I think you answered your own question.

IMO cultural appropriation isn't at all about the generics, it's about the specifics. It's about what is unique to that culture. Washing before ritual, lighting candles, burning things period aren't cultural appropriation. Because it is not the lighting of the candles that are unique to a culture as many cultures light candles. But the specific and unique prayers, blessings, methods and timings that reflect the cultural expression of a community in ritual are what should be respected.
post #8 of 29
Should be, Arduinna, but I think it is asking too much.

Most people, IMO, are simple believers. Most Christians, I have found, know less about the religion they believe in, than, say, I do.

They practice their Xtianity without understanding it fully. Without reading their Bible cover to cover, and then delving into the Jewish religion they (and the Xtian founders) have appropriated and cherry picked from.

I single the Xtians out not to pick on them, but b/c they are the majority, so I have the most examples to cite.

So, if a person can celebrate their own religion (and it is perhaps the religion of their family going back for generations as well) without fully understanding it, how can we expect more from those who are dissatisfied with, say, Xtianity and are now seeking fulfillment elsewhere? Do we have the right to say, hey study "my" religion for say, a year before you decide whether to practice it? If it is not right for you, you must study any other religion for X period of time before you may practice it? Who are we to set such rules?

What if they just want to do a simple Ostara or Beltane or moonor candle ritual before having fully delved into the faith? What if it just speaks to them on a gut level? Do we deny them the peace and insight and spiritual growth doing a simple ritual might bring them? Because the experience of the ritual might give more insight into the religion than just reading or talking about it could do.

For another example, do we deny a Xtian mother the right to let her 3 yo, or 17 yo, take communion b/c the child understands it on a simpler level than an adult would?
post #9 of 29
Thread Starter 
Dar, first off I'm not making a case for anything. I'm simply exploring a conversation.

I really don't get what you're talking about. No one has said anything about requiring anything??
post #10 of 29
I'm confused, too. Is it cultural appropriation when I have a "christmas tree" or if my children hunt "easter eggs" even though I am neither christian or pagan?
When I go on my own version of a "vision quest" are my visions any less meaningful because I am only 1/16 Lakota and have never been formally taught any native american traditions?
Is it wrong for me to set a place for Elijah, when I am neither jewish nor do we eat kosher food in my house?
But if these practices somehow comfort me and bring me closer to my own spirituality, why wouldn't it be appropriate for me to celebrate them?
Since I associate with no one particular organized religion or belief system, am I to be denied the chance to pray and worship in my own unique mish-mash way?
post #11 of 29
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Since I associate with no one particular organized religion or belief system, am I to be denied the chance to pray and worship in my own unique mish-mash way?
I don't know are you being rhetorical or literal?

:
post #12 of 29
Ard, I don't know how to say this, but it seems you are insisiting pagans of any stripe worship the diety of their choice in exactly the right, specific, approved way, or they are somehow cheating or stealing (ie; appropriating). this is just how I interpret what you said above.

Quote:
Being a distinct polytheist, that isn't my belief that all are one. And I tend to support the rights of cultural groups having a feeling of responsability to their Gods that outsiders rarely feel.

To me alot of it comes down to respect. Respect for the Gods themselves. If they aren't real to someone and just names to mix and match then yes I think that is cultural appropriation that is offensive.

I guess I don't see the line as thin at all. What is wrong with divisivness?? Do we have a right to appropriate anything we want?? See I don't think so. I think that kind of attitude is one of the missionary and conquerer. That, I own all. I have a right to use and have anything I want. And that is just arrogant and not respectful.
Now I will quote from the Pagan Origins of the Christ Myth webpage.

http://www.medmalexperts.com/POCM/ge...r_dummies.html

Quote:
Ancient culture was incomprehensibly different from our own. Here are a couple surprising ways the ancient's basic ideas about religion were not what you'd expect.

Polytheism was one religion. There wasn't a Jupiter religion and a Mithras religion and a Serapis religion. You could -- and people did -- pray to Serapis or Mithras in the Temple of Jupiter.

Doctrine didn't matter. Ancient religions were not institutionalized. Even the big national religions didn't have governing authorities to standardize theologies or oversee priesthoods and practices. Doctrine didn't matter. You could ask two priests about a God, and get two contradictory versions of a God's myth and rites -- at the same temple, on the same visit!

What that meant was, fluidity. Across the culture, from Spain and Britain to Egypt and the Galilee and on to India, there were hundreds of local versions of each God's faith. One God 's myth and ritual flowed into and mixed with the next's. No one cared. They saw it as all one religion anyway.
post #13 of 29
Before it was a Christmas tree, it was Yule greenery.

Before they were Easter eggs? I don't know what the Prechristian Ukranians called them, besides Pysanky....Let's rephrase that: I don't know how exactly They interpreted the meaning of the Pysanky.

Before we knew about Vision Quests, there were any number of Rites of Passage Rituals, of which a time apart to ponder one's place in Life was part.

Why must the place set be for Elijah? One of my sisters sent us a small chair which Czechs set on the table as a place for either the Christ Child or missing/deceased loved ones. Thoroughly Christian in the first meaning given. I have no way of knowing if the second meaning is modern respect that not all who would want to have such a place set are also Christian, or if it means this custom predates Czech Christianity.

It seems to me that a specific custom removed from the rest of the cultural context from which it originates loses most of its meaning.
post #14 of 29
Thread Starter 
Expressing my personal opinion about the way I see it isn't the same is saying everyone must see it my way. I started this thread to discuss the different ways that people define cultural appropriation. Just like there was a lovely little thread about cultural appropriation and UUs and the term blessingway.

I guess I see the problem in that I like to discuss concepts and things in a wider view and only use my personal opinion as an example. For some reason, the discussions always seem to get focused on the examples and not the concepts.
post #15 of 29
Thread Starter 
Quote:
It seems to me that a specific custom removed from the rest of the cultural context from which it originates loses most of its meaning.
Exactly! Thanks for saying what I've been trying to say and failing at.

It seems that by taking rituals out of context we are devaluing the important place that they have in their curture of origin. Because the actions themselves are the drama of playing out the story and meaning behind the action. So, without the meaning the action becomes just a fancy show, IMO.
post #16 of 29
Hm, OK then.

For me, doing a ritual in the appropriate context, ie: singing and praying and worshiping the Xtian God in a Lutheran church, can be empty and non-meaningful anyway.

Doing Xmas around the tree, even being unaware of the pagan origin per se, was more meaningful and fulfilling, for me, as a kid and teen.

When I found out the reason why people put trees and wreaths and mistletoe around their house finally, it became that much more meaningful tho!

Even if my Yule celebration is not "correctly" or specifically Celtic or Norse.

How does modern Wicca, then, fit into the history of Celtic paganism?
post #17 of 29
Thread Starter 
Quote:
How does modern Wicca, then, fit into the history of Celtic paganism?
I think that Huttons Truimph of the Moon answers that quite well.

But this will do in the meantime http://rimcountrypagans.dreamscrying.net/whywicca.html
post #18 of 29
Quote:
I don't know are you being rhetorical or literal?
I am being literal. I do not prescribe to any one particular organized religion or faith system, yet I find profound personal meaning in parts of many beliefs.

Quote:
It seems to me that a specific custom removed from the rest of the cultural context from which it originates loses most of its meaning.
I disagree. The things I have borrowed from others have much more meaning to me than to many of the people from whom I have borrowed them.

Who is to say that they own their god(s)? If someone truly believes that your god speaks to them, who are you to say she doesn't?
post #19 of 29
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally posted by stafl
The things I have borrowed from others have much more meaning to me than to many of the people from whom I have borrowed them.
wow.



Don't you think that if something is a cultural practice must have meaning to that culture? And as such, how do you know that it means more to you than them?
post #20 of 29
...because I have discussed these things with people I know well enough to bring up the subject. I know many many "Christians" who know very little in regards to Christianity and the teachings of the Bible (not all of them, to be sure, but many).
I know a native american who thinks any talk of spirits is complete nonsense except figuratively.
I know many people who have no idea why they do certain rituals and practices, and who only do them because their parents do and their religious leaders have told them this is what they should do. For these people, those things are void and without meaning, when I may recognize a very deep personal message in them.
I've spoken with others as well, who do understand and for whom their religions are very meaningful. And, to these people, I mean no disrespect, and for the most part none is taken. To the contrary, actually, they are usually flattered that I would take the time to think of these things and seek answers within their traditions. And they almost always take the time to intellectually discuss these things with me.

Can anyone answer the questions I posted earlier?
Quote:
But if these practices somehow comfort me and bring me closer to my own spirituality, why wouldn't it be appropriate for me to celebrate them?

Since I associate with no one particular organized religion or belief system, am I to be denied the chance to pray and worship in my own unique mish-mash way?
Do the adherents of any one faith own their beliefs and practices?
Isn't that the same as saying that one particular religion is the only source of "Truth" and that their path is the only correct one with which to reach that Truth?
I say that the search for Truth is subjective and as individual as we people are, and that we each must travel our own path to find it. My path doesn't seem to be defined by any one faith, but rather bits and pieces of many different ones. Does that make me wrong or my beliefs any less meaningful than anyone else's?
How could anyone presume to answer that question?
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