A Bit of Clarification

A post this week from the Wild Hunt blog dealt with the topic of cultural appropriation. I’ve blogged about it here before, and I wanted to offer some follow-up thoughts.

There’s a rather lively discussion on the comments for the Wild Hunt post (and no, I couldn’t resist jumping into the fray ๐Ÿ˜‰ ). It was a good reminder to me that not everybody sees things my way. While rationally/intellectually I’m well aware of that fact, and I tend to be in favor of things like tolerance and free speech, if I get into a discussion on something I’m horribly opinionated passionate about, sometimes my awareness gets a bit blinded by my enthusiasm.

Cultural appropriation seems to largely be a matter of opinion, at least as far as what’s “right” and what’s “wrong”. As was pointed out in the comments, just as not all pagans agree on the issue, neither do all Native Americans (and, one would imagine, members of other cultures that are sometimes borrowed/stolen from). And, while like so many other people, I have an opinion on the matter based on my own perspective, it’s just one among many. While I can sometimes get caught up in the “I’m right, I’m right, dammit I’M RIGHT!” cycle, I do realize in the end that I could just as well be wrong.

However, as I said, “right” and “wrong” are largely subjective. One thing that I have learned (at the tender? ripe old? depends on your perspective? age of 29) is that no matter what choice anyone makes, there will always be someone who disagrees. So I create my own neoshamanic path. No doubt there are people who will A) consider me a plastic shaman as bad as any, B) think that I should have just stuck to neopaganism, or C) think that I, and anyone else who doesn’t do things their way, is going straight to Hell. And those are just three potential criticisms I can come up with off the top of my head. If, say, I converted back to Christianity after over a decade as a pagan, there would be people who A) thought I was “betraying” paganism, B) figured I wasn’t serious in the first place and was just a trendy fluffbunny, or C) chose the wrong denomination to convert back to.

Does this mean I should ignore everyone who criticizes me? Of course not. Part of the reason I have this blog open is so that I can get feedback from other people. I am a “career solitary”. While I like being a part of the pagan community-at-large on a social level, I have no real interest in participating in any existing group or forming one of my own. IF (and that’s a big IF) I someday end up taking on students in this path, then it’s going to be under very specific conditions, one of which will probably be that a large portion of the curriculum, particularly in the beginning, will be self-directed. However, as a solitary, I do understand the need to have “reality checks” with other practitioners. Fortunately for me a large portion of my friends and acquaintances have been pagans and occultists of some flavor or another, so I have had a wide variety of people to bounce ideas off of. This is particularly important since my path has increasingly UPG-based as I’ve developed my own methods of working with totems and other spirits. While they work for me, it’s also nice to see what other people think, and how my methods may compare with how other people do similar things.

And sometimes people I respect have brought up things that I need to pay attention to. (By “people I respect” I’m not talking about internet troll-dom; people I respect may or may not be people I know personally, but who have voiced perspectives that are balanced, intelligent, and otherwise worth listening to, whether I agree with them or not.) In those cases I chew on what they’ve said a while, see if I agree with it, go back for more details when necessary, and *gasp* sometimes even change my opinion on things. While I may be stubborn, I do reserve the right to change my mind at any point. Sometimes people have some really good perspectives that I may not have thought of.

However, there comes a time when I have to say “Okay, this is my decision, and I stand by it”. As I said, just on the issue of cultural appropriation I can think of three different legitimate reasons people can give (legitimate to them, anyway) that I’m doing it wrong. And these are things I’ve considered in the course of what I’m doing. Maybe I would be less offensive if I didn’t use the dreaded “s” word, or if I converted to a more socially acceptable religion. However, I also have to factor in my spiritual needs and wants as well, and what I have found to be true for me. Where would we all be if we all stopped what we were doing any time anyone complained?

This is the balance I have struck on the issue of cultural appropriation: with the nature of the path I am following, it is inevitable that I will be influenced by cultures other than mine, given that the modern non-Native United States lacks a shamanic role outside of neopaganism and New Agers. I am aware of the controversy, and I choose to minimize my impact by being honest about my sources and my personal and cultural context, as well as trying to stay within my own cultural context as much as possible. And while I do sometimes get pretty vehement in trying to get others to be aware of the issue of cultural appropriation, I do in the end realize that each person has to make hir own decision on where s/he stands on it. So I’ve made my decisions, and while I may disagree with the decisions of others, in the end the choices that are most important for me to mind are my own.

YMMV. (Maybe I should just stick that at the end of every post ๐Ÿ˜‰ )

3 thoughts on “A Bit of Clarification

  1. Are you sure we don’t share dreams? ๐Ÿ™‚

    This IS me. I’ve tried the other neo-pagan flavors, in so far as the ones that were of interest to me, a solitary. I didn’t like how they ‘fit’ within my dynamics, so I’m out here, not necessarily alone, creating something from the ground up.

    I work with crystals and animal totems. I utilize the work of authors/pagans before me, because I am not sure the things I feel/believe are right. So, I look for other experience to show me, that yes, believing in the wonders of the magic of quartz is a fine thing. It serves me as a backup to the things I already think and believe.

    Thanks for your blog. It’s always insightful.

  2. I know this is just a small part of your post, but I loved the bit you wrote about students and how much of the beginning work would be self directed. That is exactly how I am being taught tracking, and it’s the best teaching style I’ve encountered. It requires passion about the subject being learned, which is supposedly why people are learning it.

    And your comments on cultural appropriation were thought provoking as always.

  3. Miriel–I think you and I are kindred spirits in this respect. One of the things that I like about neopaganism is that there is some freedom to explore and innovate. And you’re welcome ๐Ÿ™‚

    Stormwolfen–The nice thing about self directed learning is that you *really* have to pay attention. It’s good to have a mentor around to make sure you’re not walking off any cliffs (literal or metaphorical) but it’s harder to not pay attention when the reins are in your hands. And thank you ๐Ÿ™‚

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