The Cultural Quandary

First, I want to extend a big thank you to everyone who commented on my last post about cultural appropriation. Consider this a general reply, since there seems to be a common theme among most of what people had to say.

I feel a bit like there was some misconception that I am not secure in my own path. The point I was trying to make in my last post was not “I feel unsure in my path”, but “I feel unsure about the best practices in addressing cultural appropriation and shamanism, because it seems every single possible solution that is brought up is invariably attacked by someone claiming it’s appropriation”. I am comfortable in my own balance and my practice, but I want to continue to be a constructive participant in the wider discussion of appropriation. My frustration comes down to wondering what there is beside the complaints that seem to dominate the dialogue. I’ve seen very little from critics on what’s going right; it seems no potential solution is without its attackers. It’s like being a ship in a storm with people yelling “WRONG WAY! WRONG WAY!” no matter which way we turn, and not single person saying “Here, here’s a safer path”.

Some of you brought up the idea that maybe there will always be people who are never satisfied, no matter what. On the one hand, it would seem lovely to just ignore the naysayers entirely. But I worry that if I do that, people who have felt shut out for generations will just continue to feel shut out. So the quandary is how to determine what’s signal and what’s noise, and how to navigate that without falling into old cultural patterns of oppression.

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6 thoughts on “The Cultural Quandary

  1. In this situation, I think that you have to take each statement as it comes. Does this person have a specific complaint or are they campainging on behalf of a group they’ve never interacted with? Being aware of the issues and being careful seem to be your best armour.

    ‘It’s like being a ship in a storm with people yelling “WRONG WAY! WRONG WAY!” no matter which way we turn, and not single person saying “Here, here’s a safer path”.’
    For what it’s worth, since I’ve started down the path of culturally-aware spiritwork, you’ve been the person I feel I can look to as an example of ‘doing it right’.

    • “In this situation, I think that you have to take each statement as it comes. Does this person have a specific complaint or are they campaigning on behalf of a group they’ve never interacted with? Being aware of the issues and being careful seem to be your best armour.”

      Scratch that. All of it. I just read the disaster zone that is the comment section of your tumbr post – http://thegreenwolf.tumblr.com/post/21284967841/did-you-know-i-write-too-my-writing-hasnt-been
      I’ve never SEEN so much vitriol in one place, let alone having any idea how to deal with it.

      I’d like to reiterate what I said above though: if a culturally-relevant form of contemporary American (neo-)shamanism is even possible (and I don’t see why it shouldn’t be), you’re doing it right.
      You’ve never claimed what you’re doing, spiritually or artistically, is indigenous, and no culture has a monopoly on animism, shamanism or spiritwork.

  2. Hecklers won’t have something constructive to say and will only insult, their concern won’t come from a place of compassion or hurt, but just general knowing better than everyone elseness.

    I think the most heckling of the critics you listed was about euro americans having no right to their Euroheritage, that is crap and incredibly offensive. I think your care in not impeding upon Native American heritage is wise. But you do have a birth rite to connect with the sacred and your totems and spirits are guiding you right.

    Our ancestors had something akin to shamanism, and we have that heritage. I really enjoyed Ecstacies Deciphering the witches sabbath because of the widespread European practices that were alike to yours and how clear it became to me that in the human psyche unlocked for some people is the drive to ecstatically commune with sacred animals methods vary.

  3. Way I see it… that’s always going to be the quandary.

    In many crucial respects you’re off the map here, and I think proceeding with awareness and sensitivity is the best way to ensure you stay on the path. Honestly, your perspective is very inspirational.

    No light but what we bring with us. :)

  4. Ahh, yeah, guilty as charged; I did interpret it as a personal thing, and a reassurance thing. I remember scratching my head a bit at the post thinking “how unlike [you]–did something happen?” Thank you for the clarification!

    I don’t think it’s possible to dictate a hard-and-fast rule for the signal-to-noise issue, but it’s probably possible to come up with some loose personal-level guidelines.

  5. In order for you to stop chasing your tail on this subject, you may need to prioritize just who it is you wish to please or whose voices you give most credit to: the spirits, the neopagan community, the Native American community, or yourself.

    If it is the spirits, then basically just listen to them. Of couse you’d *also* have to determine how
    solidly you believe it is spirits telling you these things or if it psychological, wishful thinking.

    If it is the neopagan community, no, you will not please them all. You’d pretty much have to listen to all the debate and deside which arguement holds the most weight for you.

    If it is the Native American community…well…I’ve yet to see a single tribal Native American give their sanction to any white shaman except perhaps the rare anthropologist. The large majority disapprove of white people doing anything that remotely resembles their traditons or romanticizations of them. Any white insistance that they’ve changed it up enough to avoid the connection in order to avoid anger is pretty much met with “we said no!”. The “best” a white person can expect to recieve is “fine you feel spiritually connected to nature. Find a white way of doing it, be a Druid or something”.

    If it is yourself, you know what to do for yourself better than anyone. As much as a sometimes despise the unthinking “just do what you feel in your heart is right” trend in paganism, there are times when it is appropriate to be true to thine own self, to paraphrase the Bard, no matter anyone’s objections.

    Certainly not an easy choice to make, but if you wish to stop going ’round and ’round it will probably have to be made.

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