No, Not All Deities are the Same

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Did I catch your attention? I hope so.

I wanted to further talk about cultural appropriation in the pagan community, because I feel as if it is a topic that needs to be stressed and understood. If this were an issue that people recognized and said “Oh! Now I understand! I’ll stop doing it right away and tell all my friends!” I’d be quiet. However, it is ongoing, and so I, in turn, will be vigilant.

The problem I want to talk about is cultural appropriation in terms of lumping all deities together. Whether one believes that all deities are archetypes isn’t really what I’m talking about- what I am talking about is when a person decides to lump all deities together, slap an Archetype on them, and then proceed to honor them in anyway they feel like it, because it feels “natural”, “intuitive”, or the like.

There is nothing wrong with feeling intuitive and inspirational in your practice. However, when a person decides that they don’t care how a religion has been practiced for hundreds or thousands of  years, or decides that an individual deity can be worshiped in the same way as another, ignoring any cultural implications or traditional practices,  it becomes a matter of cultural appropriation.

This also ties into the “shiny, me want” culture. I cannot tell you how many times I have gone to a pagan website, and have them create a ritual for Kali-Ma under the Archetype of “Destroyer”, without even understanding how She is worshiped by actual followers of the Hindu faith. They do not take the time to learn, because they feel as if they can worship the deity  in anyway that they want to.

This is not okay.

This is especially not okay when we are talking about cultures that have been (and continue to be) marginalized, exotified, and trivialized. 

If you love a deity, and feel called to them, how about you actually take the time to learn about them, they’re history, and they’re development? 

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The same thing happens in regards for the iChing. How many people can actually tell you a bit about Chinese mythology, or even some history or spiritual practices? Not many. But they still love the iChing! The words are beautiful and poetic, and the symbols are pretty cool too. What could be wrong with that?

Everything, because you are taking something interesting from a culture, and saying fuck the rest. You believe that you have a right to something belonging to another culture, and will kick, scream, and whine when someone tries to tell you otherwise.

The problem with saying that all deities are the same is that when most people say this, they ignore the individual cultural implications any deity has, and then take it upon them selves to make shit up instead of, you know, reading, about something. So the next time you feel the need to trivialize someone else’s spirituality because you think you can, try stepping back and actually learning about it for once. That way, you won’t get offended when someone calls bullshit.

 

 

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5 thoughts on “No, Not All Deities are the Same

    Larissa Lee said:
    October 23, 2013 at 7:42 pm

    You know, this post reminds me of a spoken word poem called “The Whitest Thing” by Adam Falkner (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T1EZXmV5nWA). Anytime someone gets upset over cultural appropriation, I wonder if they can see how hard it is to be culture-less. To be American-but-not-native, white-but-not-Nordic, a child of The Melting Pot with no real base of your own. What am I *allowed* to claim, to touch and take for my own, when my family can trace back generations of agnosticism and mixed blood? What about when Catholicism and Christianity are the only religious backgrounds in my family’s stories?

    I get it. The whole point is to make the wrong-doers think over their actions and take some time to really understand the cultures they’re borrowing from (instead of bastardizing the practices and gods of those cultures). But for those of us without a cultural background to be spiritual about, it’s like someone grabbing us and bashing our heads against a wall for failing to be Native American, Nordic, Greek, Egyptian, Hindu, etc. by no fault of our own.

      iistrawberrychanii responded:
      October 24, 2013 at 2:35 am

      The thing is, I dont know my herotage either, so I also wouldnt know where to trace my ancestors back to, and simply because Im African American doesnt mean that I can pick any African religion and take it up.

      You want to talk about culture-less? Try having a culture stripped from you for the profit or gain of someone else, be it monetary or spiritual, simply because they wanted to have a little bit of spirituality for themselves. I dont care that there are people out there who want to have a culture and dont- I dont either. I dont know any direct line to my ancestors, and the only culture i can claim is African American, a result of Diaspora.

      So, yes, I think I do know something about not having a culture of my own.

        Larissa Lee said:
        October 24, 2013 at 3:52 pm

        Okay, I’m glad you understand how hard it is. My biggest grief with cultural appropriation arguments is that they offer all the things you aren’t supposed to do without explaining how to continue forward as a pagan. Everything’s drawn in black and white, either you’re a native of the culture you use or you don’t use it. That leaves no room for discussion on appropriate appropriations, respectful borrowing of traditions, and carefully studied copies of older paths.

        iistrawberrychanii responded:
        October 24, 2013 at 5:10 pm

        I think the first thing we can start by doing is recognizing that, unlike the West, where many pagan practices are not religiously followed by the majority, Eastern religions are still very much alive and vibrant.

        Unlike Western Paganism, where much modern interpretation has to be taken, Eastern religions, such as Shinto, Hindu, and Taoism, and others beliefs such as Hoodoo, Santeria, New Orleans and Hatian Voodoo, are still alive, and so it can and will be taken badly if a person decides to throw aside many, many years of tradition and understanding because they believed they could.

        Larissa Lee said:
        October 24, 2013 at 5:36 pm

        Okay… but when is it okay to try something new? Are you allowed to research Santeria, visit groups of traditional practitioners, and try adding their practices to your own? Or is it not okay for some West Coast girly to borrow that kind of spirituality, ever?

        Can a white person ever be allowed to practice Native American ritual? What if they study with a tribe (with permission), learn the history, etc.?

        Where is this imaginary line of right and wrong?

        That’s the problem. I can’t assume that you’ve never visited India and learned Hindu or Buddhist practices from gurus, and you can’t assume that I’ve never trained under a local Cherokee leader. Sure, there are twist out there mixing Kali with their Ostara rituals, but that’s not the norm; and yet, the arguments against cultural appropriation act as though all pagans practice it regularly.

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