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Thread: Americans, Paganism and Cultural Appropriation

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    Americans, Paganism and Cultural Appropriation

    Hello there! I have a question that might start a bit of a discussion, haha. I'm interested to see what others think about it.

    BEFORE YOU GET ANGRY: I am completely okay with anyone practicing whatever they want to practice, as long as they research it well and are respectful. I just wanted to start a conversation about a topic I am a little conflicted by.



    So, paganism as a literal definition would mean any religion that is not one of the main leading religions in the world(e.g. Christianity and Islam). Paganism as a cultural and historical definition, however, are the religions, traditions and practices predating Christianity. Neopaganism obviously, is the revival of these traditions.

    I have come across alot of people that have told me or others that the term 'Smudging' should not be used by any non-Native american, as it is one of their practices. Instead, you should just call it cleansing, or whatever you wish to call it. Calling it smudging, or doing anything that is inherently Native(like wearing a feathered headdress) is deemed cultural appropriation.

    I understand the problems with cultural appropriation, taking something from a culture that you do not belong to and that you know nothing about is problematic, especially if these people were opressed in any way at some point in time. They probably had to fight to prevent their beliefs from being eradicated and just taking it like that is disrespectful to their struggle. However, I feel that cultural appreciation should be considered too, as some people take the blaming of cultural appropriation too far. If a person extensively researches something and is respectful towards the culture, why would they not be allowed to do something from a different culture?

    Having said all of this, there are a lot of people that are still very agressive about cultural appropriation. Most of the ones I've come across were American. Within the Pagan and Witchcraft community, these agressive gatekeepers exist too. My conflict happens here: if we take the cultural and historical definition, Paganism originates from Europe. Wouldn't Americans taking things from old European religions be considered cultural appropriation?

    You could argue that the ancestors of the American people came from Europe. But the European people that took the land overseas from the Natives, the people who are the ancestors of the American people that are alive today, were very much Christian. Near none of the original settlers of the American population were pagan in the slightest.

    You could claim that there was witchcraft, with the Salem Witch Trials and all, but
    1. Usually, someone would accuse another of 'witchcraft' to blame them for something that was unexplainable then, like drought, a failed harvest or a sickness. In other cases, the accused were women in power, or women with a strong opinion that someone didn't like. Which means they usually weren't even witches.
    2. Most of these 'witches' and their descendents were killed by hanging or otherwise.
    3. Witchcraft =/= paganism.

    How is Americans worshipping Celtic/Norse/Egyptian gods, for example, NOT cultural appropriation? I can't help but find it a little hypocritical.

    On the other hand, I am all for everyone practicing whatever they want! I have no actual problem with an American worshipping a Celtic god or whatever... I am just a little conflicted over them being so incredibly agressive over a Native practice and then being totally okay with someone practicing something that is inherently not part of their culture or history.

    Curious about your thoughts on this!
    Please be respectful and kind to one another, I tried to be as respectful as I could. Also, correct me if I made any historical mistakes! I'm not a historian, haha.

    Also, with Americans I obviously mean the people that are autochthonous, not descendant from migrants of colonists of Pagan-European descent. If you are someone who has an actual pagan descendant that they know of, good for you!

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    Re: Americans, Paganism and Cultural Appropriation

    I already take personal issue with a lot of the ways the term "Cultural Appropriation" is thrown around, but I get even more confused when it's used in relation to religion.

    Is an American allowed to be Christian? Muslim? We don't bat an eye at people from places other than the Mid-East following these very eastern faiths, at least in origin. Also who can worship Egyptian gods then? The DNA testing shows that embalmed egyptian Mummies have more genetically in common with some European populations than with the modern day Egyptians, can those europeans then gatekeep that faith?

    My take is that matters of the spirit are kind of hard to put under the same rules as bits and bobs of clothing or jewelry. If somebody feels called to a certain divinity or faith, it goes beyond culture. History shows this, and I think peoples souls show this.

    (by the way, by "personal issue" I mean with the logic of it, no hard feelings at all intended )
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    Re: Americans, Paganism and Cultural Appropriation

    Quote Originally Posted by Doc_Holliday View Post
    I already take personal issue with a lot of the ways the term "Cultural Appropriation" is thrown around, but I get even more confused when it's used in relation to religion.
    Yeah, it's understandable when a person is actually stealing things from a culture and claiming it as their own or that they are an expert on the subject even though they are not. But when you tell someone they aren't allowed to worship something they know about extensively, I really stop understanding. I'll never understand people who are so agressive towards others when it comes to faith and religion.

    Quote Originally Posted by Doc_Holliday View Post
    (by the way, by "personal issue" I mean with the logic of it, no hard feelings at all intended )
    Yeah, I get it, I get exceptionally pissed off when someone gatekeeps a culture they aren't even a part of...
    Thanks for responding!

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    Re: Americans, Paganism and Cultural Appropriation

    Quote Originally Posted by kairi View Post
    .. You could argue that the ancestors of the American people came from Europe. But the European people that took the land overseas from the Natives, the people who are the ancestors of the American people that are alive today, were very much Christian. Near none of the original settlers of the American population were pagan in the slightest.
    Bolded mine.

    I want to touch on this part. I have to disagree here. My ancestors were mostly Scots-Irish and moved into what would be called the Virginia frontier and the Blue Ridge Mountains. Many were Christian's but they did bring their own forms of what we would call "paganism" by today's standards. It was buried within their folk beliefs, it was buried within their practices they brought with them. It was buried within their stories, their songs, their dances, holidays and rituals.

    Yes, they had their "Witches" in the sense of dark evil beings. Yet they also had granny healers. They had water witches. They had what might pass for Family traditions and bible based practices that might be similar to "Pow Wow" type practices. That doesn't even touch upon root type magics that were brought with them but also learnt from Native American nations they traded with or interacted with on the border regions.

    I spent 23 years in the Navy and saw things in the Blue Ridge mountain's that were still the same as things I saw in the High Lands of Scotland when I was stationed there. Have seen things in fishing ports in New England as water magics that I encountered at fishing ports in Scotland & Japan that were similar and used for the same purpose.

    My personal opinion and where I personally get upset is when people go off on things is like when they say Native American Pantheon. If your going to complain then say where, there are something like 600+ nations (not sure how many tribes within those nations) and no such thing as a Native American Pantheon. Those nations tend to have a unique history, many a unique language, customs, origin story, etc. Yet the average person probably only knows of the Sioux (what their enemies called them by the way)(Sitting Bull, Crazy Horse, Young Man Afraid of His Horse, Red Horse), the Apache (Geronimo), the Navajo and the Cherokee (Trail of Tears). Each having a distinctive appearance and dress and region of the country they hail from. Those because they are the ones who most often appear in the movies.

    I think part of the issue with cultural appropriation is that many times those doing the accusing are not in a position to actually give permission or allow a person to be judged. They to me are more guilty of abuse than the person they are accusing for they are claiming the authority to speak for those they are claiming to defend. Yet never asked nor sought out if those others wanted them to defend them. yet usupered that power and right away from them just as they are claiming those who appropriated something from them have done. Often more disrespectfully than the person they are accusing of doing it.
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    Re: Americans, Paganism and Cultural Appropriation

    I don't as a rule believe in spiritual copyright. Unless you can draw a very clear and very short line between a person's private practices and injury done to another person then I really don't care what your practices are or where they come from and my feelings on individuals and institutions that choose to judge based on the origin of a private practice tend toward hostile. With that said, once you start interacting with the rest of the world, other rules tend to kick in. The short version of the rules for wider interaction amount to:

    1. Don't claim titles that you have no right to. Priest/Shaman/Medicine Person/etc are frequently titles specific to a context in either a society or an institution. To use a non-Pagan example, if you tell me that you're a Catholic priest then the Catholic Church better tell me the same thing because otherwise you're probably lying and that will offend me.

    2. Be aware of where you're drawing your practices from and honest about those origins if you bother to discuss them with people. This basically sums up all additions that I might make. Practice with integrity. If integrity is near the core of your practice then I'm probably not going to take issue with you.
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    Re: Americans, Paganism and Cultural Appropriation

    Someone always wants to tell other people how to live.

    Nobody has to listen to them unless they want to.

    I don't know why it is that the irrational idea that "pure is better" still afflicts humans in the 21st Century when common experience of each thinking entity clearly demonstrates that mix & match is the ways all living cultures grow, have always grown, and always will grow.
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    Re: Americans, Paganism and Cultural Appropriation

    I don't believe in cultural appropriation.

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    Re: Americans, Paganism and Cultural Appropriation

    How about religions that are specifically “closed off” from non-native people? Would you say that private practice of a closed-off religion is okay so long as you don’t speak of it or admit it in a public setting?

    I find the subject of cultural appropriation very nuanced and interesting. There are a lot of strong feelings either way, and I am always afraid of upsetting people. I have no solid opinions either way, but I also have no native culture to speak of and therefor can’t ever understand that side.

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    Re: Americans, Paganism and Cultural Appropriation

    Quote Originally Posted by monsno_leedra View Post
    I want to touch on this part. I have to disagree here. My ancestors were mostly Scots-Irish and moved into what would be called the Virginia frontier and the Blue Ridge Mountains. Many were Christian's but they did bring their own forms of what we would call "paganism" by today's standards. It was buried within their folk beliefs, it was buried within their practices they brought with them. It was buried within their stories, their songs, their dances, holidays and rituals.
    Ah, I forgot about the Irish and Scottish that moved there (and all the other Europeans after WWII, for example). I mostly focused on those descendant from the first colonists, because that's the most prominent thing we learn about America in history class in Europe. Thank you for pointing that part out!
    I did mention at the bottom of my post that I did mean autochthonous people, but I probably should have also added the people that actually are descendant from pagan Europeans.
    Also, love hearing that your family was able to preserve the traditions!

    - - - Updated - - -

    Quote Originally Posted by MaskedOne View Post
    I don't as a rule believe in spiritual copyright.
    I was watching a video on eclecticism in witchcraft yesterday, and the person mentioned that the whole concept of 'cultural appropriation' is a political concept. She said it did not really have a place in the world of spirituality, where everyone should be free to believe what they wish to believe. I totally agree with this.

    - - - Updated - - -

    Quote Originally Posted by B. de Corbin View Post
    Someone always wants to tell other people how to live.

    Nobody has to listen to them unless they want to.

    I don't know why it is that the irrational idea that "pure is better" still afflicts humans in the 21st Century when common experience of each thinking entity clearly demonstrates that mix & match is the ways all living cultures grow, have always grown, and always will grow.
    Sadly, gatekeepers are still a very real thing. Wish we could all just embrace each other, or at least help each other understand our different cultures better. (Of course, as long as those cultures do not promote violation of our human rights!)

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    Re: Americans, Paganism and Cultural Appropriation

    Quote Originally Posted by GnomeLife View Post
    How about religions that are specifically “closed off” from non-native people? Would you say that private practice of a closed-off religion is okay so long as you don’t speak of it or admit it in a public setting?

    I find the subject of cultural appropriation very nuanced and interesting. There are a lot of strong feelings either way, and I am always afraid of upsetting people. I have no solid opinions either way, but I also have no native culture to speak of and therefor can’t ever understand that side.
    If the system is open enough that you actually know how it works to practice it then I'm going back to not believing in spiritual copyright. If you are managing to cause harm through private religious practice then one of two things is true.
    1) Your practice isn't private enough or
    2) Somebody has far too much time and energy on their hands.
    The largest issue I've got with private practice of a closed system is that you may not actually be practicing what you think you're practicing. There are a number authors floating around whose work should generally be considered pure fiction and if you can't trace a direct path back to the people whose religion you're borrowing then what you think is their tradition may not be.
    "It is not simply enough to know the light…a Jedi must feel the tension between the two sides of the Force…in himself and in the universe."
    ―Thon

    "When to the Force you truly give yourself, all you do expresses the truth of who you are,"

    Yoda

    Yoda told stories, and ate, and cried, and laughed: and the Padawans saw that life itself was a lightsaber in his hands; even in the face of treachery and death and hopes gone cold, he burned like a candle in the darkness. Like a star shining in the black eternity of space.

    Yoda: Dark Rendezvous

    "But those men who know anything at all about the Light also know that there is a fierceness to its power, like the bare sword of the law, or the white burning of the sun." Suddenly his voice sounded to Will very strong, and very Welsh. "At the very heart, that is. Other things, like humanity, and mercy, and charity, that most good men hold more precious than all else, they do not come first for the Light. Oh, sometimes they are there; often, indeed. But in the very long run the concern of you people is with the absolute good, ahead of all else..."

    John Rowlands, The Grey King by Susan Cooper

    "You come from the Lord Adam and the Lady Eve", said Aslan. "And that is both honour enough to erect the head of the poorest beggar, and shame enough to bow the shoulders of the greatest emperor on earth; be content."

    Aslan, Prince Caspian by CS Lewis



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