Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Cultural appropriation?

Many years ago, I realized that I'm as close to Family-Traditionalist witch, as one can get.

My mother was a bit of a witchy person. She was Catholic, but in that odd sort of saints-are-almost-gods sort of way. I couldn't tell the difference between the lives of the saints and the Greek myths when I was growing up.

And my mother was full of spells--I mean prayers--for every purpose.

For all that, she was quite devout, was very well versed in Doctrine and even taught Catechism.

My grandmother was born around 1900 and she was the right age for going to seances during the 1920's. In the blackout, they used to do the Ouija board of an evening, having nothing better to do. She was reputedly a pretty good medium. Although, she always said that Mrs Next Door moved the planchett.

My mother and I were fascinated by ghost stories.

Some time in my teens I learned to read Tarot cards. I used to read my mother's regularly.

Is it any wonder I ended up Pagan?

But, there was no secret-tradition-that-was-handed-down-since-the-burning-times. There's just stories, superstitions, and things that my mom always did that have long since lost their meaning.

Then, I have this name my father gave me, because he loved the Arthurian Legends, and they'd just come to Montreal. He was feeling homesick, so he gave me an ethnic name. Little realizing the effects it would have on my life.

Every time I meet someone at a festival who's taken it as a "Craft Name" I want to say, "Look, you didn't get beaten up on the playground over it, so you can't fucking use it."

I don't say that, of course, but the urge is there. Petty? Probably. But all I can remember is that I struggled (perversely at times) to keep some dignity and my name when I was constantly told that if I just let people call me by some diminutive, my life would be easier.

It would also be easier if I pretended not to be so smart, learned to not be a fashion disaster and learned how to tell people apart (I've got faceblindness).

I also get people who look down at their noses at me, convinced that I have taken on this "powerful" name to make myself feel important. I usually get along with those people, eventually.

So, this is my teeny tiny experience with cultural appropriation. It is certainly not on the same level as other's experiences. But it is the experience I draw upon when I'm trying to explain why cultural appropriation is wrong.

In every group, there's always the urge to prove one's cred. That's human nature I think. In some groups, it's easier to spot the posers. Like with military people; the guy in the corner of the party, talking about how many people he shot in Iraq? Yeah, he probably spent his tour of duty in Germany.

In Pagan and New Age circles, there's often someone who's made a name for themselves by talking about their journeys to the Astral, and thing like that. They often take money for "initiations".  They do the plastic sweat lodge thing, write a lot of books filled with repackaged "wisdom".

Stay away from those guys,they're just scary.

I was talking recently about cultural appropriation with friends and how much of a struggle it is to figure out what is appropriation vs what is already a part of American Culture.

The biggest enemy of American Animism is hipster-ism--that "Look at me! Look how cool and special I am." The craving to be a "unique and beautiful snowflake."

My daughter brought it up yesterday when we were having dinner. We were talking about dreadlocks and the politics of hair. Her position is that white people shouldn't do them because A) unless you have the right hair, they look terrible and B) it is serious cultural appropriation.

The person she was talking to had the position that one should be able to do whatever one wants with one's hair.

We talked about Celtic hair and how there is such a thing as Celtic locks, but they are different from African locks.

I love the look of locked hair. If I could get mine to do teeny tiny ones, I would love that. However, I can also imagine the African American woman looking at me and thinking, "I got/get beaten up on the playground for that. You can't have them."

As a Pagan and an American Animist, I have been examining my own beliefs for cultural appropriation. So much that is American is appropriated though. Every group that has come here, whether voluntarily, forced to flee here, or dragged here in chains brought their gods with them. Coming here, they met the gods of this land and everyone was changed.

It's all so complicated. The obnoxious and egregious appropriations like the Victoria's Secret ads are easy to spot, but what about the small things? When my children were little, they were each given a dream catcher. My daughter and I now ask the question about whether that is cultural appropriation. Hm.

The Gods are not static. Even the Abrahamic God with his tomes of literature, changes depending on who's looking.  For years, I played it safe doing the Celtic Recon thing, but it never quite worked. What kept happening was that these weird gods would show up in ritual and in my head.

The most extreme was Kali Ma. I was skeptical that She was really calling me, so I told Her, "Give me the means to make a pilgrimage to one of your temples."

Bang. The very next week I discover that there is a Temple to Kali in Laguna Beach California. The money for airfare appears from the aether, as does a place to stay. The entire trip, every obstacle was removed from my path. So much so, that the plane arrived 15 minutes early due to a tail wind. The bemused pilot informed us that a tail wind going from east to west is actually pretty rare. The Swami at the temple had time to sit and talk to me about how and why Kali Ma chooses people. He essentially said, "Yeah, she does this. Get used to it."

So, I am a devotee of Kali--but I have always had an affinity for Goddesses with bad reputations. I do not worship Her as she is worshiped in India, but she seems content enough with what I do offer.

So, are my little Kali figures cultural appropriation?

The latest goddess to call me is Santisima Muerte. She at least is an American goddess. Although I am not of  Mexican descent, I can claim her patronage as one who works on the roads at night.

An idea occurs to me; perhaps she is the Road God's consort?

I appealed to her for a homeless friend and again to her for a friend in the midst of divorce. She protects the powerless and impoverished.

But, she is the saint of a group of people who are deeply oppressed. Do I have any right to appeal to her? To display her symbols?

I suppose it's to do with respect. Understanding that I am a guest in her shrines.

Daughter and I have talked about it at length.  Thinking about pagans with their craft names, it wouldn't be obnoxious if they didn't show my name off as proof of their pagan cred. If I didn't get accused of being  one of those very hipsters every time I turn around.

So, I approach these deities very gingerly, with respect. Like one would if one were the guest in their house.

1 comment:

  1. Helpful and beautifully written article, thank you.