Cultural Appropriation

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

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Pagans: Please Stop Stealing Hoodoo

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A reoccurring them I seem to be realizing through many of the Pagan books I’m reading is the tendency to take traditional Hoodoo formulas and then relabel them as a generic “magickal” formula. Lets dig deep into this, for those of you who are confused.

Hoodoo, also called rootworking, is an African American spiritual practice that came into being via  slaves brought over from Africa into the Americas. By mixing not only each other’s beliefs, but also those of Native Americans and Europeans, the system of “Hoodoo” was created. Let me repeat: although Hoodoo is a spiritual practice that anyone can practice, it is an African American one. I have seen many books that seem to feel uncomfortable with this fact and will often drop the African American part and simply address it as a spiritual practice that anyone can do of apparently mysterious origins.  Recognize  the system as what it is- a system rooted in African American culture.

This is problematic because the common trend in modern, eclectic Paganism where said Pagans will decide that they enjoy/want a particular aspect of a culture and will take from it without doing further research, by attempting to sever this new system/practice from it’s traditional  structure  and repackage it as if it never belonged to a system to begin with (i.e.- chakras, yoga, the Elder Futhark) because it suits their need to incorporate an element into their personal practice without having to sacrifice the work, effort, and energy to study said system in it’s original context, feeling that their own interpretations are good enough to suffice for authenticity.

Hoodoo is a very specific system- it is not just general “magick” or magickal herbalism- it is unique in that not only herbs and stones are used, but also animal parts, soil, body fluids, and the like. The individual meanings and how each element is incorporated into a trick or working is specific to Hoodoo- when you redefine the meanings of formulas,candle colors, or herbs, it is no longer hoodoo.

Also there  is the tendency for some to look down at Hoodoo because unlike other modern magical systems, hexes and curses, called crossing, are also used as a part of the system. While many individual root workers may choose not to practice such things, favoring other practices instead, there is often a break in history where people forget why they were used in the first place.

It is because African Americans in the past faced (and yes, still do, although in a much different, non-institutionalized form) oppression and racism that was  constant threat to not only their well-being, but the well-being of their loved ones and communities as a whole.

When having an enemy can mean danger to your family, or when racist cops are quick to find offenses to get you in trouble over, you don’t give a shit as to whether or not your actions are harming someone else. Your concern is the safety of your own- your family, your community, and your people.

You’re not concerned over whether or not the white man at work whose sexually harassing you is harmed, or whether or not your  nosy, snitch neighbor develops a disease and moves away- as long as he’s gone and your shit is safe, that’s all that matters.

Hoodoo is a practice born out of desperation of a people with the desire to live and prosper under horrifying circumstances-not some gentle, herbal practice that those with no appreciation for the it can just go buy on Etsy without even understanding the circumstances of it’s creation.

This is not to say that no rootworker-then or now -has ever used it for unjustified malicious purposes- because yes, it was common at one point in time.

What I’m saying is that many Pagans today have no or little understanding of what it means to be truly desperate.

There is also a long standing history of whites appropriating from black culture while giving no credit to the culture they appropriated from. Keep this in mind when traditional (black) rootworkers become offensed over your taking of their shit.

If you want to work or practice Hoodoo- do some research. Until then, quit stealing our formulas because the idea of having tons of magical formulas entices you, or because you like the way the packaging looks, or because it’s so versatile, or whatever bullshit excuses you’ll try to give for being too lazy to learn shit about the culture you’re stealing from.

The versatile, Earth-based practices of Hoodoo- floor washes, Mojo hands, powders,incense, bath crystals, handwashes, candles, and perfumes make it an easy target for those who are interested in new ways to incorporate herbs into their practice, but who could care less about the oppressive history of African American culture and spiritual practices, it’s apparent “lack” of ethics, and it’s lexicon of new words.

That will be all.

Cultural Appropriation and the Pagan Community: AKA White Privilege

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shadow-m
AKA, how to take a shit on Native American traditions

In my attempts to hunt down and find information about how members of the Pagan community view the topic of cultural appropriation, I stumbled across this thread.

Here we go.

This is very important, because it shows how those who do the cultural appropriating are attempting to define what is and is not classified as appropriation, without even understanding the definition appropriating.

This goes hand in hand with white privilege-because, yes, it does exist- and the fact that even mentioning so will receive outrage and denial from people who refuse to understand and learn from the experiences from PoC.   This plays into the ideology that you somehow have the right to take from other cultures what you wish, without giving any care or concern for those whom you are appropriating from.

Also important to understand is the fact that those members of the cultures who you are appropriating from are telling you no, that you cannot take their practices from them, and yet you are doing it anyway. 

Here and here and here and here are all examples of people telling you that it is not okay to take their shit, and yet you still believe that you have the right to anyway?

And for those of you who do not understand, appropriation is not learning about someone else’s culture, or taking genuine interest in someone else’s religion or spirituality. It is not wanting to worship other deities or incorporating other’s beliefs into your own.

Cultural appropriation is when a person decides to take from another culture without understanding or throwing aside any cultural significance or meaning, instead choosing to re-define it, until it is nothing like it was in the traditional context.

This and this and this and this are all examples of cultural appropriation in the pagan community, as if, somehow, taking something with “good intentions”, even spiritual ones, excuses you from the fact that you are stealing from other cultures. 

Choosing to personalize your practice does not account for laziness and refusal to do your research. Many non-European religions have long-standing traditions and are still practiced, their traditions being upheld by members of spiritual clergy, unlike many European ones, to which are no longer practices by a large community and as such are open to modern interpretation.

I am tired of seeing the same old excuses and stuttering when it comes to topics such as these, and the sad fact is that many people will refuse to admit that they are doing something which oppresses another culture and group of people. It shows the unwillingness of people to give up their privilege-privilege which benefits them very well.

You want to appropriate another person’s culture? Fine. Just don’t get mad when we call you out on bullshit.

Stop cultural appropriation of Yoga: Yoga is all about Hinduism, albeit without the ism

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Here is the perfect example of how cultural appropriation effects the culture that is being appropriated from, as well as how the appropriator decides what counts as appropriation and what is not.

Sandhu Bhamra on Finding Self

By: Anupreet Sandhu Bhamra

Yoga is not teaching religion.

Or is it?

A California judge has ruled that Yoga in a public school’s fitness program does not amount to teaching children religion because it is rooted in American culture.

To me, the whole debate on whether Yoga teaches religion or not, is blatant cultural appropriation of Yoga. Don’t get me wrong. I am happy that kids will be allowed to practice this blissful routine, but equally unhappy that this debate has robbed Yoga of its true origin, and meaning.

So is Yoga teaching religion or not?

To understand this, you first have to understand what is religion.

Religion from a western perspective is a set of practices and beliefs in a Higher Being, which is referred to as God. To reach God, a person needs a medium, which is outside of him or her – a separate entity. In the…

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