Cultural Appropriation in the Pagan Community.

An example of cultural appropriation and the Pagan community.
An example of cultural appropriation and the Pagan community.

Hello everyone!

I wanted to start off with a topic that is of interest to me and that would be the subject of Hoodoo. I was reading Stephanie Rose Bird’s A Healing Grove, and it bought to my mind the subject of African American spirituality, Hoodoo, and Paganism. Also cultural appropriation.

What I’ve witnessed over my short few years of studying Paganism is a disturbing trend of cultural appropriation. For those of you raising your hackles as your reading this, I define cultural appropriation as taking from one culture- a subject, deity, practice, ect.- of interest, and leaving the rest, most of the time without knowing very much else about the culture you are taking from.

Cultural appropriation is NOT learning from a culture and then incorporating it into your life- one of the biggest examples I can think of to date is chakras. Every book I pick up that mentions chakras or the chakra system makes me roll my eyes- why? Because the author’s definition of “chakras” is a new-age, watered down example of how Western society takes for it’s own profit and interest as leaves a big “fuck you” for the culture it stems from. Yoga, smudging, chakras, hoodoo, the iChing, runes- all to name a few of forms  of cultural appropriation I see daily when reading pagan blogs, books, or any other subject matter.

One of the biggest problems encountered when addressing cultural appropriation is when people refuse to acknowledge that they are doing it. Here are the common excuses:

“I’m just appreciating the culture!”
By doing everything wrong.

“I am called to this deity. My relationship to Him/Her is personal.”
Be that as it may, ignoring hundreds of years of cultural norms and practices simply because “it feels right” is like saying you don;t give a damn about traditionally how things are done, and you are going to do it your way.

“All deities are one.
This is a personal belief, however, simply ignoring personal cultural practices attached to a deity in favor of an archetype is not right.

People need to stand up and stop. Cultural appropriation usually effects marginalised cultures as it is, turning key spiritual elements and practices into exotic play things. People need to step up and do their research instead of feeling as they have the right to simply take spiritual practices as they desire and ignore key elements into that culture that they are trying to “appreciate”


3 thoughts on “Cultural Appropriation in the Pagan Community.

    Larissa Lee said:
    October 7, 2013 at 3:01 pm

    Where is the line that turns culture appropriation into a true act of appreciating and learning from a culture? That’s the main problem I have with the whole argument on both sides. Where is the line in the sand? Does a person have to do exactly what a dead culture did a few thousand years ago in order to honor its gods? Or does studying the culture and understanding the parts you’ve removed make it okay? I agree that too many things (especially chakras, runes, and the like) are completely removed from their context and presented as if they stand alone. However, is there really a line that can be crossed to make them acceptable outside of their cultures, or are we all just arguing in circles over people appreciating and using pieces of other cultures? In other words, is there EVER a “right way” to borrow practices?

    A final note, as an American. My country has a culture I can’t claim, because that’s cultural appropriation (I’m not even 1% Native American). My family’s racial heritage (various European with Filipino mixed in) doesn’t automatically connect me to ancient Nordic practices or island culture. And my family is a bunch of agnostics and atheists with the odd Catholic tossed in. What am I allowed to practice without being a bad borrower? My land and culture are a melting pot of goo from too many places to count, and I can’t claim any of them. Am I supposed to float around rootless and spiritually blank because I have no base culture? I will always be the cautious borrower of another’s culture, just as I will always be a genetic mutt.

      iistrawberrychanii responded:
      October 7, 2013 at 3:08 pm

      I love your comments- they really make me think!
      I believe that the difference between cultural appropriation and enjoying another’s culture is the attitude. When you express heartfelt understanding and desire to understand another persons culture, you are saying “I respect you and your beliefs, as I know they are an important part of your culture.” When you simply take an element of a culture and ignore the rest, it’s almost like your saying that you don;t care if it’s a sacred practice that you’ve held for hundreds of years.

      That’s not to say that we cannot eat Indian or Thai food, visit a Native American ceremony, or decide on becoming Hindu- it means that you should do things with respect, and not in a “Ooh, this looks exotic” type of way.

        Larissa Lee said:
        October 7, 2013 at 3:11 pm

        See, that’s the thing that’s often missing from the cultural appropriation debate. It’s part of what makes me think, especially with being a wanderer and having no real base to start from. I actually enjoyed your posts, especially the parts I disagreed with!

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