Month: December 2013

PSA: Yes, “Spirit Animals” Are Cultural Appropriation- That Means You

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Another important topic has been bought up on my dash, and that is the use of “spirit animals”. Having an animal guide or an animal familiar or an animal you really like is not the same as a spirit animal: and for those of you who are confused, here are several Tumblr posts to help you understand:

 

poorlifechoicesblog:

[NB: if you (like me) are non-Native and you reblogged agentotter’s commentary PLEASE read sofriel’s refutation below. “Spirit Animal” as a non-Native phrase is SUPER FUCKED UP.]

sofriel:

fralusans-ana-marein:

thekal:

agentotter:

exploitationiscontagious:

Petition to start using “patronus” instead of “spirit animal” because not being appropriative is pretty rad.

Okay let’s go through this one more time. Deep breath.

If you think the concept of “spirit animals” comes from Native American religious practices, you are wrong. Also, you’re probably basing your ideas about Native American spiritualism on movies that are incredibly, extremely, offensively wrong. (Spoiler alert: You cannot actually paint with all the colors of the wind.) You’re also failing to understand that Native American and First Nations people are not a homogeneous group, that they do not now and have never existed as a single people with a single set of beliefs. In short, what I’m saying is that just this once, calling this appropriation is actually the thing that is offensive.

If you think the concept of “spirit animals” is specific to any one cultural or religious practice, you are wrong. This idea of animal guides and related ones — like shape-shifting, people possessed by the spirits of animals, particular interpretations of animal dreams, a certain attitude toward the hunting of animals, etc etc — have roots in all sorts of ancient religions, including eastern Shamanic religions, Celtic religions, really religions of of every description… I could go on. Essentially it’s animism, which is common to the whole of human experience, because there isn’t a culture on this planet that doesn’t have a complex, deep-rooted relationship of some kind with animals. But “spirit animals” as most of us understand the concept? Is a made-up thing. Just like Harry Potter’s patronus. Just like His Dark Materials’ daemons. Just like basically any other “inoffensive” alternative on offer.

Essentially, “spirit animal” is a trope. I happen to fucking love that trope. I think it’s fun and interesting. It’s not a real concept, except possibly for Wiccans and New Agers, both of whom appropriated the concept from — guess what! — their completely wrong ideas about Native spiritual practices. I’m willing to bet that everything you’ve ever learned about Native religions came from a white person. I’m willing to bet that it’s wrong.

For all these people who want to be sensitive to Native culture, you can do a lot better than defending their honor from a concept that isn’t theirs in the first place. (You can start by acknowledging that it’s New Age, not Native. AT ALL.) There are so many ways you can learn about Native culture and the problems that tribes face directly from the people themselves. You could start small. Read some Sherman Alexie. Watch Reel Injun orIncident at Oglala on Netflix. Read up on why exactly casting Johnny Depp as Tonto is fucking horrible. Try actually learning something about what they’re going through (basically a never-ending shitstorm of oppression and erasure) and you can help just by being more informed. Become a social justice crusader foractual social justice issues. Still not sure about the spirit animal thing? These Natives would be happy to tell you all about it. And these ones. And this one. (tl;dr: They’re sick of your bullshit.)

This information about “spirit animals” not being a thing makes sense, but I’m not really clear on how referencing a stereotypical, New-Age misinterpretation of Native American religion is that much less offensive/appropriative than improperly referencing an actual Native American religious concept? Doesn’t appropriation usually involve portraying the original culture(s)/religion(s) inaccurately?

that makes sense to me, and I’ve definitely also read things by Native folks here writing against using the term “spirit animal”, although I can’t find any of them just now. perhaps sofriel or moniquill (or others, I’m not sure who else follows me) might have more input.

No. Nooooooooooooooo. No. God, I would like to make a rule where non-Natives are not allowed to make any sort of statements on the appropriativeness or non-appropriativeness of “spirit animals” ever again. 

Fact 1: I am Native. So-called “spirit animals” are part of my spiritual tradition, which is Metis-Anishinaabe. They’re usually called by the Anishinaabe word, which I am not putting on the internet, or “spirit/dream helpers” in English. Natives in fact are not, gasp, homogeneous, and omg some of us have different spiritual traditions than others! (look, I can do the obnoxious patronizing voice too!) And so just because you point to three Native people from cultures that don’t have such a tradition doesn’t mean that it doesn’t exist! This tradition is a VERY sacred one, and thanks to colonization it is being forgotten in huge amounts, to the extent that most young Natives don’t even really know much about it—a situation exacerbated by the popular appropriation of “spirit animals.”

Fact 2: Yes, people around the world have and had similar traditions of spirit helpers, who are frequently animals. HOWEVER, the concept of spirit animals in popular culture came from anthropologists’ descriptions of Native American religions (see Durkheim, The Elementary Forms of Religious Life). It doesn’t matter if the ancient Celts had similar practices, because spirit animals are associated in the popular imagination with Natives, not Celts. I and other Natives regularly get asked, “Can you tell me what my spirit animal is??” Irish people, for instance, do not. And “it’s not Native, it’s New Age” my ass.Where the hell do you think the New Agers got it from? They got it from anthropology textbooks and from the hippies who went to the reservations in the 60s seeking Noble Savage enlightenment.

Fact 3: The fact that spirit animals in popular culture are a bastardized form of Native traditions does not mean they are not appropriative or harmful. Why? Because the popular idea of it comes to supersede the original meaning, infantilizing our traditions.Non-Natives start to think that they understand our traditions, and that they are primitive, rather than actually consulting and trying to understand. This gets bad when those non-Natives are the ones with control over our legal ability to practice our religion. Non-Native appropriation of the sweatlodge incorrectly done and causing death, for example, has resulted in greater restrictions on Native sweatlodges, because the non-Native interpretation was assumed to be representative. 

Fact 4: Appropriation is a part of Native oppression, not a decoy issue, good lord. This attitude of popular ownership of Native traditions causes people to deny Natives the right to practice our religion, which is tied to the colonization and denial of access to our landbase since our practices are often linked to specific places, which is tied to the situation on reservations. It’s tied to the psychological state of our people, because you try growing up with having everyone making an utter mockery of your religion and see how your self-esteem comes out.

And yeah, I will also say, if calling out appropriation is the only thing you’re doing to help Native people, if you are just shouting “Don’t wear headdresses!” and don’t actually get why it’s a problem, then yes, you’re kinda failing as an ally. But appropriation is part of the violence being done to indigenous people. 

You did get one thing right though, we are sick of your bullshit. Very, very sick of it.

Important!!

I see a lot of ppl on my dash reblogging the post where someone else says that “spirit animal” is not a racist or culturally appropriative term because it’s “New Age” and not Native—but that doesn’t erase the v v smart and true response that sofriel explains above: where did the New Agers get that stereotype and how are you acting in concert with their racism???

 

Please stop with your weak attempts to justify your appropriation. PSA over

Books for the Pagan of Color

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Hello there lovelies!

I know I said I would get around to creating this list, but I’ve been busy with (insert excuse here)

So tonight I thought that I would at least start a list of my favorite non-Eurocentric pagan books. I feel as if this is highly important, because so so so so sooo many books on the modern Pagan market a) do not address-nor where they made with the consideration of-PoC and b) do not mention non-European spiritualites or deities, or if they do, they are often in some sort of appropriating way. So tonight I’m going to be compiling a list of non-Eurocentric books for the PoC interested in practices, beliefs, cultures, and deities of other non-European cultures.

For the record, I am only posting those books in which I am able to say are good and worth reading. All of these books I own in a digital format.  I am also in the process of reading them.

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The Lunar Tao: Meditations in Harmony with the Seasons by Deng Ming-Dao

This is one of my favorite books. I have not finished reading it, however it is so good and insightful, I recommend to anyone who is looking for a natural, earth based path.  This book is rich with Chinese culture, and is the perfect example of how other cultures revere the natural cycle- and the moon. This is Taoism at it’s finest- if you are interested in Taoism, please look no further than this book. 

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The Living I Ching: Using Ancient Chinese Wisdom to Shape Your Life by: Deng Ming Dao

Too many times have I seen the I Ching approprtiated by Pagans who want to learn a new form of divination without understanding Chinese culture. If you want to learn about this beautiful, poetic, and complex form of Chinese wisdom, I highly recommend this book.

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A Healing Grove: African Tree Remedies and Rituals for Body and Spirit by Stephanie Rose Bird

This is one of my favorite pagan books. As an African American pagan, this book has been such a learning experience. Not only does the author explain and differentiate between the different tribes and countries in Africa (Unlike most Pagan books), she also provides amazing information on the wide variety of trees and healing plants, as well as how you can live as an African-inspired herbalist.  A wonderful book for anyone who loves trees and tree-lore (herbalism as well) but cannot find pagan-oriented books that deviate away from European lore.

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Sticks, Stones, Roots & Bones: Hoodoo, Mojo & Conjuring with Herbs by: Stephanie Rose Bird

If you are looking for insight into African American herbalism, please, I implore you, choose this book over Denis Alvarado’s “Hoodoo Voodoo Spellbook”. While I will be giving a review on that book later, I will tell you here that it is a prime example of cultural appropriation and white washing of Hoodoo in the current Pagan community. Stephanie Rose Bird’s book, however, presents Hoodoo as not as some mass of formulas and recipes for Mojo hands, but instead, she presents it as it really is-a diverse system of African American spiritual herbalism that can be used to enrich your life, connect with the Earth, honor the ancestors, and empower yourself. Highly recommended.

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Almond Eyes, Lotus Feet: Indian Traditions in Beauty and Health by  Sharada Dwivedi and  Shalini Devi Holkar

While not necessarily a “pagan” book, I found this book to be a wonderful source of Indian lore in regards to beauty rituals. A good read for anyone looking for homemade and traditional beauty recipes.

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An Illustrated Chinese Materia Medica by: Jing-Nuan Wu

This is a fantastic resource for anyone looking to study Chinese medicine and herbalism. A very accurate source, it’s intricately detailed and meticulously drawn.

Understanding Problematic Beliefs: What About the Gaps?

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This blog post was inspired by something that came up on my dashboard on Tumblr. It reads like this:

“The Universe sends us exactly what we are ready for at the exact time we need it in our lives.”

Why is that problematic, you say? Well, the problem with beliefs like this is that people take them for absolute facts instead of personal beliefs. Many people who believe in various forms of Karma, the Threefold Law, the Law of Return, ect,  have them backed up by personal experiences, thus re-affriming said belief.

The problem is that there are many gaps in thinking this way, because there remains a lot of  unanswered questions. Here are some questions I propose to counter the Three Fold Law:

  • Does harm against anything result in the Threefold law? Does eating a chicken which has been killed- either through more human methods or through factory farming- mean that a person will recieve punishment?
  • Is the Threefold Law in referrence to just magical practices, or in everyday life?
  • How long does it take for justice to be distributed to the person after an act-either good or bad- has been committed?
  • Does the Law apply to those who don’t believe in it?
  • Isn’t saying that the Law exists and applies to even those who don’t believe in it the same as Christians who assure us that hell is real, even though we don’t believe in that?

Some of you may have even answered those questions as you go along. As you may have learned- through pagan books, blogs, and other sources- different people have different answers, different interpretations of the same laws.

For something to be considered a Universal law, it must apply to everyone and everything. Laws usually have set rules and meanings, and aren’t fluid and up for interpritation. Gravity, for example, is a rule, although the way that it applies outside of Earth is different. Gravity, as it applies on Earth, is not up for personal interpretation.

The thing that pissed me off so much in regards to this Tumblr post is the fact that some people treat every bad thing in life as if it was a lesson to be learned. This is not to say that there are no lessons, it’s just that you cannot say that everything negative thing that has happened is some sort of learning experience that we should take note of . Honestly, if you think about it, you can understand why this is problematic. You mean to tell me that slavery was a lesson to be learned? That the Universe waited until juuuussst the right time to free all those slaves?  That their lives were just a lesson to us all to treat  other better?

Riiigghht.

The point of this post is not to attack people who believe in particular beliefs, but to reinforce the fact that they are beliefs, and are not set in stone. We have to understand-as a community- that anyone who does not believe in the Threefold Law is some sort of negative Pagan bandit whose giving the community a bad rep. We have to understand that to foist our beliefs onto others is just as bad as a Christian foisting their beliefs on us. We have to understand the gaps in thinking and theology, and admit to ourselves that sometimes we just don’t have all the answers.

 

 

White Out: If You Can’t See it, it’s Not a Success!

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A prime example of whitewashing and how Euro-centric beliefs prevail within the Pagan community.

Black Witch

Storytime! So one day I was at my local metaphysical shop and I saw a goddess statue for sale among many on the wall behind the register and mentioned, “Hey, that’s a nice Brigid you have.” It had a white dress on, pale skin, flowing hair, I figured it was a Celtic goddess. Then the shop assistant, who I have known for years, snorted a laughter and said, “That’s Yemaya.”

What?

I immediately responded, “You lyin’, she’s White,” and as solid proof, she took down the figurine and there it was beneath the pale feet was “Yemaya” stamped on the name plate.

Lemme throw up a picture here so y’all can see what I saw, sans the nameplate:

The shop assistant was just as baffled as me, “I don’t know why we have it, Yemaya is not White, she looks like she was dropped in bleach.” I told her, “Yemaya…

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