The Elephants in the Room

Jason Pitzl-Waters —  March 3, 2009 — 114 Comments

Of the smaller Pagan presses Immanion/Megalithica have really stood out as a place that isn’t afraid to tackle  difficult and unusual topics or thorny issues. From serious-minded explorations of Otherkin, to in-depth meditations on Ogam, to updated reissues of out-of-print classics, the company has carved out a unique identity rather than trying to clone the industry leader. Their latest offering, “Talking About the Elephant: An Anthology of Neopagan Perspectives on Cultural Approporation”, is no exception. Edited by Lupa (“DIY Totemism”, “Fang and Fur, Blood and Bone”) , the book shines light on an often-contentious issue within the larger Pagan community.

“Talking About the Elephant is an attempt to shatter that stillness and to promote constructive communication about the issues surrounding cultural appropriation in neopaganism. The nineteen essays approach such practices and faiths as Celtic reconstructionism, neoshamanism, and ritual magic; and explore and critique topics ranging from academic appropriation of pagan and occult practices, to intra-community intimidation, and potential solutions to the problem of appropriation. The controversy surrounding cultural appropriation in neopaganism is nothing new; however, it’s time to stop pretending the elephant isn’t staring at us as we stand in silence. This powerful, diverse set of voices is poised to break open a new dialogue, one that must occur if our spiritual communities are to balance individual needs with concerned criticisms.”

It is safe to say that the issue of cultural appropriation is one that often generates more heat than light when brought up in  various forums. From Goddess worshippers trying to negotiate a manner in which to properly honor indigenous voices, to polytheistic reconstructionists balancing hisotrical and cultural fidelity with “UPG” (unverified personal gnosis) and syncretic urges, many of these discussions can end up as bitter flame-wars with both sides hurling brickbats at the other. “Talking About the Elephant” bravely steps into the midst of these simmering debates and attempts to both discuss the various forms of appropriation existing within modern Paganism (everything from Vedic Druids to Christo-Pagans), whether appropriations can or cannot be done respectfully, and the somewhat murky issue of authenticity. While there are a variety of perspectives on display in the collection, there is an overwhelming message here that modern Pagans do need to be more careful in spiritual seeking and how they present themselves. A message summed up rather well by Elizabeth Barrette in her essay “Braiding Pagans”.

“The responsible spiritual tourist, or pilgrim in search of a new religion, takes care to harm no one along the way. In order to survive and thrive in this increasingly multicultural world, we must learn to live together in harmony and respect each other’s traditions. That means sharing or trading our practices, not simply absconding with what we want and giving nothing in return. It means asking before taking, and sometimes, it means taking “no” for an answer.”

As for the contributors, the book features a veritable who’s who of rising stars in modern Paganism, including Erynn Rowan Laurie, Dr. Phillip Bernhardt-House, Lupa, and Kenaz Filan (among others). This is an excellent starting point in addressing this ongoing issue within our communities, and it would make and ideal centerpiece for a book discussion group. While I doubt we’ll ever completely settle the issues raised within this tome, I do hope that quality books like this will start to let more light in, and produce the constructive dialogue needed to move us collectively forward. The Wild Hunt recommended!

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Jason Pitzl-Waters

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  • http://blog.dianarajchel.com Diana

    I have to agree – I've been consistently impressed by everything Immanion/Megalithica has turned out, and I hope that their profile becomes much higher in the coming years.

    • Bjorn Odinsson

      I have no problem with people who seek to follow a New Age spirituality of a UU bent or otherwise without books. I can perfectly understand the "sick of the book" feeling. I feel that the problem arises when non-book sorts being appropriating dieties or practices (ie runes) that are culturally specific and do require some research before jumping in. Someone is not an "Egpytian witch" (imo) unless they have devoted a fair amount of time into researching and understanding Ancient Khem's beliefs, culture, their Gods and the myths that teach about those Gods. Yes, the people may be gone or have forgotten their original Gods, or even traded them for a foreign construct (such as Monotheism), but these Gods still exist, they still live, breath and have their being in the landscape of the Nile and their hearts still beat in tune with the hearts of their human descendants.

  • AmericanTrikstr

    This is perhaps the thorniest issue in existence among the pagan religions, especially when it comes to neopaganism and eclectics. Especially since it tends to become a bitter tug-of-war between cultural/historical relevence and personal expressin or belief. Like many of these issues I tend to find fault on both sides of the divide, which doesn't win me any friends from any of the hard-liners.

    …ugh, just found out that the word limit is back, and after I wrote a mini-essay on the subject. (booooooo) I don't feel like trying to condense it right now, but I'm sure this thread will be very much alive and kicking for a couple of days at least. I'll have more than enough time to comment more in smaller doses and will be able to apply them depending on how this discussion goes with the rest of ya'll. (Bringing flame-proof suite just in case.)

    • Baruch

      Alex, I use "fluffy-bunny" to refer to Pagans or New Agers who go through some motions — any motions — but never dig into the terrors and joys and mysteries and dreams inside themselves. Whether they do it shamanically or through a divination system or though initiation into firmly established tradition is neither here nor there, but I take more seriously the folks who have done that.

      Baruch Dreamstalker

      • AmericanTrikstr

        Swords do become blunt if you don't sharpen them on a whetstone from time to time, both the physical and mental kind.

    • http://avinriver.wordpress.com avin_river

      Hmmm,__This is all fascinating. I have been a practicing Wiccan for about sixteen years now and I don't know half of these terms and less about the argument. Odd, too, because I was really lucky to learn Wicca from an actual elder (to me = someone who has practiced for a long time) and her daughter and a group a friends in Durango, CO. From there we were spitting distance from the Navajo Res and our college is a Tribal College (members of Native Tribes attend for free), hence we had a higher percentage of Native Peoples than most colleges. The Tribal lands (Ute, Navajo and Hopi) in the "Four Corners" area of the southwest are special, I think, because they are very isolated. Navajo beliefs are very much alive, and I think most folks choose to stay because to leave sometimes means a loss of culture and religion.

      • Bjorn Odinsson

        "That's exactly how the Christians justify their censorship. "

        Just because Christians do something does not mean we should do the opposite. Don't throw the baby out with the bathwater as the saying goes.

        I understand I will probably not convince you on either of the topics we have bouncing back and forth, but hopefully we have both been sharpened by this exchange.

        I agree with the bumper-sticker wisdom that minds, like parachutes work best when open, but we must balance this with the opposite polarity bumper-sticker proverb "don't be so open minded your brain falls out". We must have the intellectual plasticity to consider other views, but we must also have the discernment and internal logic to determine if these new ideas have worth. You seem to me to be a very intellectual person, so I don't doubt that you spend a lot of time in reflection upon spiritual matters. Your reflection has simply led you in a different direction than mine.

        • http://snoozepossum.blogspot.com/ Snoozepossum

          "To feel your true identity is not based in your immediate family, your tribe, your country and its religious and social habits – but is something you sense and strive towards – is not easy. Sometimes an idea from another culture is exactly the thing you need to, forgive the term, become yourself. Sometimes who you’re born and raised as isn’t who you are." (from the linked blog post)

          (applause) Well said!

          • AmericanTrikstr

            (Cont.)

            There are several questions you should ask yourself before doing it. Are you taking the practice out of context to the point where it could be considered insulting to those who have a cultural connection to it? In what way does it help your spiritual growth? Why does it speak to your spirit to begin with?

            What I was trying to get at is that doing something because it "feels right" for the sake that it "feel right" is, well, lazy reasoning and might (emphasis on "might") be a sign that the person isn't really all that serious about strengthening their spiritual side. For how can one claim to be a serious practioner if they refuse to be self-critical and just go with whatever catches their fancy?

          • AmericanTrikstr

            Sorry, but I don't consider that research. More of an epiphany, which you're right you can't get out of books.

            I still don't understand why some people have such an issue about reading or learning historical facts about the pantheons or rituals in which they wish to incorporate/worship. To be blunt, it just appears like willful ignorance to me.

          • Bjorn Odinsson

            Oracle cards, Alphabet of Desire style sigils, pendulums and other modern new age divination devices could be argued to be simply tools, as they were conceived of and constructed with that in mind. However the ancients believed that the Gods literally spoke through the Runes, Shells, sticks or whathaveyou. That would be like finding a real-live Oracle of Delphi, putting her in a shrink wrapped box (complete with cave-vapors!) and selling her at the local "Trinkets-R-Us" as a "psychic development tool"!

      • Bjorn Odinsson

        I can understand where you are coming from Snooze and I agree with you (*gasp* lol). I think Heathens (myself included) sometimes get a little fanatical and forget that we were newbs once too. I can get harsh sometimes with people who are obviously experienced, yet say stupid things, but I rarely take on an aggressive tone when the said experienced eclectic snaps first. !

      • Ursus

        That's a good point. But as a polytheist reconstructionist, I would argue that if you grew up in Europe or one of its former colonies, you're bound to have been influenced by a Western legacy that makes it fairly easy to connect to European pre-Christian roots, in a way that is easier to connect to than Native American or sub-Saharan African roots.

        I for instance connected with Greco-Roman polytheism because the histories, cultures and myths of Greece and Rome are still embedded in Western culture. I could theoretically learn everything about a Native American tribe's culture and rituals … but it would take a lot time, and wouldn't seem quite right to me. It wouldn't seem like who I am.

        Now perhaps Joe sixpack over there who is pure whitebred has studied some NA ritual and culture, knows it backwards and forwards, and feels synonymous with it. Fine. But generally you don't see that. You just see people who steal the most superficial aspects of a foreign culture and run with it. :-(

        In any event, this book seems most interesting.

  • Baruch

    Trickster, I already feel the angst of not reading your mini-essay. Maybe you could reconstruct it in a different medium and paste it into this board chunk by chunk. I've found that if I've exceeded the limit I can cut-&-paste into a new comment, but I don't know if everyone's system works this way.

    My take on the "elephant" is that all magickal tools are the common heritage of the whole human race and that very little was invented by an existing tradition but was mostly borrowed from predecessors. OTOH pretending to be something one is not is never justified. I may sponsor a sweat experience; I would never claim it was an authentic, indigenous sweat lodge.

    Baruch Dreamstalker

  • Alex

    As a relatively new Wiccan "appropriator", I am very satisfied with the elements of Wicca I have chosen to honor, and have not made it an issue to judge my practice of it or any others as being "authentic". It works for me, and it will not make me want to go on a killing rampage if it doesn't work for all pagans equally as well. I am an eclectic, open minded seeker who does not depend on popes, preachers, shamans, or high priests of the seventh order to tell me who or what God is. Gaia has shown me all my life all I need to know and in these later years I am content to simply listen. I hope eventually to learn something.

    • Jason Pitzl-Waters

      I can say that the perspectives provided in this collection are not a monolith. There is a nuanced variety of opinions on display, so it isn't a syncretic/eclectic bash-fest if that was your worry.

    • http://erynn999.livejournal.com Erynn

      Your post here is one of the arguments I've made in one of my essays in the book. Who owns a religion that a living culture threw away — the case in Celtic Reconstruction based on Gaelic practices. Do metaphorical "laws of salvage" apply? And how can one "appropriate" anything from the Sumerians, who don't exist anymore?

      • http://herbalwitchcraft.com/blog/ Harry Roth

        I have constructed a number of correspondence tables that I have on my site based on 777 and other info about the planets and elements I have collected over the years. I have never for a moment thought that the deities associated with individual planets in the chart were in any way equivalent, nor did it occur to me that anyone else would conflate them either. I consider these charts to be guideposts only. I don't think it is quite true that many are considering these deities interchangeable because they saw them on a chart somewhere. I think in fact that is rare.

        What is more common in my experience is people claiming to be priests or whatnot of a particular deity without having any knowledge whatsoever of the culture that brought the knowledge of that deity (in that form) to the world. That is just laziness and bullshit, and I don't think it is peculiar to paganism.

        • http://erynn999.livejournal.com Erynn

          The First Nations aren't the only ones who use smoke for purification. The practice exists in other cultures as well. In Scotland juniper is used in similar ways. It wasn't called smudging, obviously, but the idea is pretty much the same.

          • Bjorn Odinsson

            Like I said, I have no philosophical problem, necessarily with syncretism, while not choosing to practice it myself, I have studied a lot of post-modern grimoires especially in the Chaos Majik genre and I understand the intellectual reasonings behind it. I just think that eclectics who do not do their research are cheating themselves out of true understanding. My biggest problem are the "Tables of Correspondences" one finds in nearly every Wiccan handbook. These tables arrogantly pigeon-hole vastly different dieties together in the most generic of terms. This method may be acceptable for comparitive mythology courses in Academia, but I do not believe they serve the Practioner in their occult practices. I have seen such tables which link Zeus and Thorr together simply because they both wield lightning as their weapon. This is silly, and if one did the research they would know that Thorr is actually very *dissimilar* to Zeus in both his function and his rank in the hierarchy of the pantheon.

          • http://snoozepossum.blogspot.com/ Snoozepossum

            I feel sorry for anyone who only has a mental sword to work with, and no other tools.

            If you people want an example of how one non-Trad creates their own path thru UPGs and research, email the Grove's website and I'll send you the text of one of the classes I teach. It's not a workshop for training someone in my personal beliefs; it's a jumping off point for anyone of any Trad (or not) to work with a specific aspect of spirit that has correlations in most belief systems or folkways we have documented history for.

            http://www.carolinagrove.org

      • Baruch

        "I still don't understand why some people have such an issue about reading or learning historical facts about the pantheons or rituals in which they wish to incorporate/worship."

        I suspect because, with Judeo-Christian backgrounds, they've had their fill of "getting religion out of books." It looks to me like you have a scholarly bent (which I do, too, in other areas), but that's not applicable as a standard for all Paganism. It's part of your path, and your path is part of the Pagan rainbow. It's potentially a contribution, in that you've probably read enough books that you could write one.

        I agree with your criticism of "shiny penny" incorporation of Deities until they get boring. It trivializes the Deities.

        Baruch Dreamstalker

    • http://erynn999.livejournal.com Erynn

      Jason — thanks for the review. I'll link from my LJ. I'm very pleased and excited that you're so supportive of Immanion/Megalithica. I really do think it's an excellent small press, and at our PCon panel some of the other authors and I talked about the reasons why we think so and why we chose to publish with them. It's great to see a press tackling the big issues in Paganism rather than spewing a continuing stream of derivative Wicca 101 texts — as though the community really needs yet another one of those!

      I see small presses like this as one sign that the community itself is actually maturing. When there are only opening-level texts, it's hard for a movement to grow beyond that introductory level of thought and practice. By tackling other, more complex issues, a community or movement is given opportunities to examine itself and define itself and its practices more fully. Megalithica is obviously not the only press doing so, but I think it's taking on the widest variety of topics at present. I'd love to see more choices out there for everyone.

      • Bjorn Odinsson

        I can see how this could be misconstrued as some sort of enforcement measure of orthodoxy as it has been used in Christianity, however when one attends an Ifa ritual there is not that spirit about it. It is simply a matter of truth and non-truth. An Ifa priest dedicates themselves to the worship of the Orisha. . .as I am assuming many Pagans dedicate themselves to their particular Gods. . .and thus develops a deep and tangible relationship with these Gods that exceeds nominal "table of correspondence" understanding.
        Their religion has remained strong against the tide of missionaries sent to the Yoruba region of Africa and claims an unbroken lineage back to it's tribal origins. They have not fallen prey to the monotheists because they know how to recognize their Gods. This recognition would not be possible except for the discernment of the priests.

    • http://erynn999.livejournal.com Erynn

      Personally, I would sincerely doubt anyone who made claims to having some unbroken lineage of witchcraft practice going back to Salem. I would absolutely not declare that you had to have such a claim to be legitimate.

      My only real concerns are honesty, sincerity, and a reduction of harm. Then again, I'm not into the whole fluffy-hunting practice. I just want people not to lie about who and what they are.

  • AmericanTrikstr

    Yeah I can cut and paste, but then I'd have to flood the comments with reply after reply. Would rather comment on specific issues as they come up in discussion.

    You do bring up a good point, in that all religious traditions are essentially a combination of different beliefs as one tribe conquered/absorbed another and so forth. However at some point in history those religious beliefs became common place and unique among a specific group of people, lending themselves to become part of those people's cultural identity. It is in this regard that one must be careful of appropriation. The reason why some Recons get so thorny is because when someone just borrows a ritual or belief but takes it out of it's cultural relevence it's viewed as attempting to steal or pervert that identity in a sense.

    I'm cool with eclectics borrowing ideas, but I would like them to take those ideas and create something more unique rather than trying to "hang on" to the identiy from which they borrowed it from, so to speak.

  • AmericanTrikstr

    Well the issue isn't whether or not it's authentic, but whether the way in which these ideas are borrowed insult those who have a cultural connection to them.

  • Baruch

    "I'm cool with eclectics borrowing ideas, but I would like them to take those ideas and create something more unique rather than trying to "hang on" to the identiy from which they borrowed it from, so to speak. "

    I take Aidan Kelly's view that religion is the product of an evolutionary process. As in biological evolution, variants and new forms pop up all the time. Every culture has a religious backbone, and the mutants flourish when the backbone faith isn't spiritually satisfying significant numbers of people any more. Kelly views America as a beautiful example of this, because the old guard lacks the power to stamp out the mutants.

    As with Christian denominations, some new forms are mild variants (think Episcopal vs Catholic) and some are totally novel (think Mormon). The social version of natural selection will sort it all out. I try to stay relaxed.

    Baruch Dreamstalker.

  • Bjorn Odinsson

    Oooh this is going to be *gooooood* hehe. This is a flamable subject. Being a Heathen, I run into these sorts of issues all of the time. While I agree that syncretism can be done in a respectful way, it more than often (in my experience) is not. For instance, I know a coven whom I consider dear friends. We have our disagreements, but they are on a different path than I. They consider themselves syncretic, yet they truly attempt to be "non-fluffy" about it, which I appreciate. For instance, if they desire to explore a relationship with – say – a Hindu God such as Ganesha, they do a butt-load of research into the religion they are about to tap into to make contact. The ritual they then do is heavily influenced by the Hindu religion, with some extras (such as casting circle and what not) added in, however once sacred space is laid out, they then proceed in a very Hindu manner while addressing Ganesha and making offerings. This sort of syncretism I have no problem with – despite the fact that I would never do it.

    My problem is the eclectics who appropriate culturally specific practices without respect or acknowledgment of the thousands of years of history behind them. . . . .

  • Baruch

    "My problem is the eclectics who appropriate culturally specific practices without respect or acknowledgment of the thousands of years of history behind them. . . . . "

    The more compelling a practice is, the likelier it is to have a history of tens or hundreds of thousands of years behind it, being passed from tradition to tradition as mentioned earlier.

    That's about practices, not content. I do guided meditations for my UU congregation (and sometimes for my coven). I expect that the guided meditation, as a practice, is as old as speech. I do not, however, rifle anybody's tradition for the content of those meditations. Those are mine. Even my Tree Meditation is different from others'; it was inspired by hearing one written by someone with no idea what goes on inside a tree by way of energy flows — speaking pure botany here.

    Baruch Dreamstalker

  • Bjorn Odinsson

    <continuing>
    These same tables also group Odhinn together with Zeus and Thorr, and place Thorr together with Mars/Ares. Again another mistake. Odhinn is probably a more logical correlation to Zeus than Thorr, but he is more like Zeus, Hades, Ares and Hecate rolled into one gender-bending God. The association between Thorr and Ares is wrong as well since Thorr is not a God of War. He is a defender of the Folk and of Asgardr, but he fights out of a desire to protect his beloved kin against invaders. . .not out of a compulsion for slaughter and a love for warfare. These are merely two examples of the misnomers that can occur from eclecticism. These are easily corrected by a student of mythology, but many neopagans are not so scholarly and will often take what Silver Ravenwolf says at face value.

    I suppose the major crux we as a community are facing is the question of subjective versus objective. Is there a right way to "dial-into" the Gods, or are all ways right if one's intentions are correct? Not a question I would want to attempt to answer, I have my opinions, but they are simply that: opinions.

    • Bjorn Odinsson

      <continuing>
      This role of the priest as administrator is not a negative nor censoring role, I have attended several Ifa rituals, as the Ifalade (high priestess) is a good friend of mine and I have seen attendees from outside of their temple who are not initiated become "mounted" and speak messages. If they are "for real" then the priests do not intrude and listen to the words of the Gods attentively. The priests do not choose who the Gods are allowed to enter, but they do play a role in ensuring that it *is* their Gods who are speaking. Something we in the Pagan community should take note on in my opinion.

  • Bjorn Odinsson

    Oh just thought of something. . .

    I think we all, as Pagans, Heathens, whathaveyou, have to "fill in the gaps" sometimes. The concern I and my Heathen peers seem to have and share is how large are the gaps? Sure, most Heathens have UPGs that aren't supported by the lore, and we sometimes synergize other related cultures' practices when we have no answer from the lore on a specific subject. However when practices are being made piecemeal from a collage of various traditions then I think things can get real shady real quick. I think if someone is going to call themselves a Germanic hexen, or a Scandi vitki or a Celtic Witch then their practices should, for the most part, be based in their culture of appropriation and the practioners should be dedicated to maintaining that historical and cultural foundation, despite the patchwork of practices revealed. Cultural roots, eclectic branches if you will.

  • Alex

    I love you guys and your "fluffy bunny" put-downs. I do not claim to belong to any long line of anything. I was indoctrinated into the Catholic tradition by virtue of what my birth certificate declared, yet I am not held hostage to that tradition, at least since I started to ask questions and chose my own path. I am sorry if my not being able to claim an unbroken line of heritage to witches all the way back to the Salem Witch trials, but if If anyone claims I have to, then they can go have a hissy fit for all I care. Believe me, I doubt very seriously that any witch of any stripe is going to be impacted one way or another by how I practice my adopted faith, as I am not going to report to any of them or ask their opinion of it, especially those who coin such terms as "fluffy bunny" in order to make themselves somehow more relevant to pagan sensibilities. (I have a fondness for Native American culture as well, but I have not renamed myself White Owl).

  • http://www.thegreenwolf.com Lupa

    I saw that post, and haven't yet had time to properly respond to it–but what I saw gave me some good food for thought to chew on :)

  • http://snoozepossum.blogspot.com/ Snoozepossum

    "Is there a right way to "dial-into" the Gods, or are all ways right if one's intentions are correct?"

    The flip side of this is, what if the Gods are "dialing-into" you? I'm interested in reading the book, out of curiosity about this condition being addressed by someone else, or even allowed in the text. We had a workshop discussion on being God-ridden or God-tapped, and the various POVs ran the whole spectrum and even added a few colors. It amazed me to hear people who identified themselves with certain Gods say that those Gods don't ever actually have any direct dealings with individual people, or manifest any communicative presence, or that there were proscribed limits on said interaction.

    I'm a Native American/Irish/Scot/English mutt. There are people who insist that one must stay within the sphere of one's ancestry (or even that we must pick one line and stick with it only) or be guilty of cultural appropriation or even profane disrespect. Yet all but one of the entities that have always seemed to insert themselves into my life the most (or in Kali's case, kick me in the head and yell that I'm being an idiot) have no relation to my genetic heritage. A common answer to this is that the Gods will not initiate or condone a relationship with someone outside their domains, and my UPGs are a feeble attempt to rationalize a lack of proper education or respect for traditions and lore that belong to others.

    To me personally, this is like telling the Gods they can't clock in without their name tags and uniforms. I'd much rather give whoever it is directing my path honest appreciation and props in a way that seems pleasing to them per research and my gut feeling, and try to be worthy of their help by putting that help to good use.

  • AmericanTrikstr

    Oh Gods, Heathen flame wars are the worse. At best their a "lively" debate, at their worse you can probably see the flames from space.

    At one of the Heathen MeetUps I go this one guy said it best when it came to discussion boards for learning about Heathenism: "A lot of people talk a lot of sh*t and, honestly, most of them are self-righteous idiots. Don't bother with those boards. Ignore them, read the Eddas and other information yourself. Figure out your own interpretations."

    • Bjorn Odinsson

      Yes, many eclectics I have interacted with are the "flavor of the week" sort, always touting one tradition or another. . .often vastly conflicting with the previous fad they were wearing. I understand that this is often necessary in the beginning, as each individual seeks out his or her spiritual niche. My problem is with authors mostly, the sort who applaud this swap-meet spirituality sensibility.

      • Baruch

        I agree 100% here. That the mark of the Fluffy Bunny imho, pretending to be in the line of some tradtion just because one has borrowed a drum and two rattles from it.

        • Bjorn Odinsson

          Correspondence Tables are not a problem if in the hands of a qualified magician working within his or her psycho-spiritual construct. Where they can be dangerous and misleading is when they are substituted for real hard and fast research into a diety's specific mythos. Like Trikstr said somewhere else in this thread, often when one reads the mythology in depth from credible academic sources, one finds nuances that might not vibe right. If the practioner is approaching the Gods with respect and belief in their existence, then they may have a problem if they have already begun to work with said God or Goddess and decide to drop them. Some Gods are ok with this abrupt divorce, but many are not. I know Odhinn would probably wreck someone's life if it was done to him. . .depending on how useful He perceived that practitioner to his goals.

          I do agree with you RE the plastic priests. Laziness is the cause, I believe, but I also think it is far more dangerous to Paganism than to other pursuits of life because Neo-Paganism is still in it's infancy and what we write, encourage and support will soon be cemented into the doctrines of tomorrow's Pagan.

  • AmericanTrikstr

    I havn't seen very many put-downs here in this discussion. In fact, given the topic, this as so far been pretty civil. Haven't had to put on my flame suit yet.

    I only used the term once because it's a well-known one. I guess if you wanted a deeper description, I'd say that eclectic side of paganism has a problem with too many of them jumping in without research and who willfully ignore historical information and cultural relevence for the sake of this vague notion of "feels right". I'm not even saying that those who I am critical of should GTFO and stop calling themselves pagan, just to please do some research and perform some self-reflection.
    .

  • AmericanTrikstr

    (Cont.)

    What we have here is a lot of constructive criticism. We bring up a perceived issue, voice why we believe it's an issue, and then offer suggestions to help overcome said issue. This is necessary to help strengthen any spiritual path, eclectic, Recon or otherwise. Had this actually been full of put-downs you'd just have people saying "stupid fluffy bunnies, bunch of wanna-be Hot Topic Wiccans who read a website and think their…" etc. etc. I am not finding the comments here to be as such. Please don't confuse constructive criticism with put-downs next time

    • Baruch

      Fascinating! What you describe is eerily parallel to my construction: Being social animals, we deal best with phenomena of nature by assuming them to be the product of beings like ourselves, only enormously more powerful. Eg, trying to understand the sea gives rise to a consensus myth of Poseidon. These metaphors still work for modern Pagans when they want to deal with some aspect of nature in the form of conversation. We are not all that far apart!

      Baruch Dreamstalker

  • AmericanTrikstr

    We could certainly use more discussions like this one. Though seeing what happened with the Frost thread a little while ago, I'm keeping my flame suit near-by just in case. :)

    • Bjorn Odinsson

      <continued>
      I think ultimately if Pagans are going to be post-modern/eclectic/syncretic then they should approach the situation with the utmost care, respect and honor. Realizing that despite *their* personal beliefs (whatever they may be ie Archetypal, Pantheist etc), that many ancient cultures were polytheistic and that these cultures' gods may still view themselves as individuals devoted to their own particular tribe, and if one is not careful, they may view them as trespassers and curse their arrogance ;-)

      • Bjorn Odinsson

        I understand that they were being written from a specific tradition's point of view. However, even the association of Thor to a Kabbalistic sephirah is disrespectful to both paths. Kabbalah is a sacred science of the Semitic Faith, it has it's own cosmology, it's own God/s and demigods/angels and does not need Thor or any other diety to supplement it's system. Heathenism also has it's own beliefs regarding the cosmos, and it does not need supplementation from Kabbalah either. People often make the mistake of attempting to link these paths together because the "World Tree" plays such a powerful role in both trads, but this is merely incidental. There are Nine Worlds upon Yggdrasil, and twelve (i believe?) sephiroth on the Tree of Life. There are no correlations beyond interesting trivia. Almost every culture thought of trees in some mystical form or another, this does not a similarity make.

    • Serena

      "originated" is a wrong term I think for me to have used…..More like "How you worship the God/dess/s we have known for so long and that our destiny has intertwined with for centuries…."

      • http://avinriver.wordpress.com avin_river

        Don't get me wrong, I don't have a problem with such debate. I am a scientist nearing the end of my Masters degree and thrive on it, but it just seemed that all that was needed was some respect and the graciousness to ask. Interestingly the whole ceremony was conducted in the Navajo's language, with the exception of the name of Jesus Christ (the NAC is actually Christian) and the elder running the ceremony gave us a long speech about how we white people sat in churches too much (we sat and listened and were respectful rather than point out that we weren't all white and we weren't Christian and we spent little time in churches). Obviously I never took anything from that ceremony. It was very foreign to us (we dance and shout and laugh after a long tough ritual – they definitely do not – whoops!) and we do not have the legal right to use peyote.

        • seerkind

          I also have no hard feelings, and I know I get vehement sometimes but you must understand that the entire purpose of a recon path is to hold true to what has worked for thousands of years. Now there is room for the kinds of things you do (I love to chanel and perform magick) but my entire philosophy is that you must have a strong cultural foundation, so you can fall back on what the ancients did if the new age techniques don't work out. Which they don't sometimes. Once you have that, then you can start to incorportate new agey things in. But thats my philosophy and doesn't have to ring true with everyone. My path is not for everyone-it takes different types of dedication that others dont think is necessary.

          • Grey Wing

            Your review goes a long way toward overcoming some reservations I've had about this project ever since I first heard about it, and that have not been allayed by its promotion.

            To begin with, I don't think the issue is the "elephant in the room" at all. Rather than meeting with any silence, it seems to me that the topic is an almost constant subject in the pagan communities in general, and among various recons in particular.

            Further, it appears to me that a lot of the discussion is repetitive, and limited by an orthodoxy that basically amounts to "cultural appropriation is bad, m'kay?" I see little examination, let alone substantive defense, of a serious postmodern perspective.

            I really hope that this collection is more than just a chorus.

          • Bjorn Odinsson

            <continued>
            For instance, I once ran into a fellow on an online forum who was asking for direction regarding Runes. He said he had not interest in the Norse/Germanic Practices and that he was wanting someone to point him in the right direction for "Runic Knowledge" sans mythos or pantheon. I about croaked, being a deeply devout Odinsman and Runester myself. His arrogance made me livid, the Runes are literally the "Mysteries" and I do not believe (and neither do many other published Runesters) that Runes can be used effectively or safely without knowledge of their mythos and pantheon. I directed him to the Alphabet of Desire and other Sigil-Construct systems if he desired a more agnostic source for sigil majik.

  • AmericanTrikstr

    If you're eclectic, you're going to have to experiment and you're going to make some mistakes or at least find that some beliefs you first had when you started are no longer compatiable with the way in which the path is taking you. I get that and don't even have a problem with that overall concept. The problem I have observed is that many of these situations could be avoided by simply buying a couple of books dedicated to the subject in hand. It just appears as an easy solution to me and I just wonder why some people think it's not important or are sometimes are even resistent to the idea.

  • Bjorn Odinsson

    I agree with you Trikstr RE the age demographic.

  • http://erynn999.livejournal.com Erynn

    If you want to use the laws of salvage analogy, feel free. But remember that even with those laws, there are some limits ;)

    • http://snoozepossum.blogspot.com/ Snoozepossum

      Hai, honto. Arigato gozaimashita, Pitch-sama. (bows with forehead to floor)

      • Serena

        Better still than being appropriated is being treated as an equal partner of a trading negotiation, so why not shoot for that instead of emphasizing how grateful for appropriation endangered cultures should be?

    • AmericanTrikstr

      Shouldn't look too deep into my sword metaphor. Just something I came up with at the time. :)

      • http://snoozepossum.blogspot.com/ Snoozepossum

        LOL – Uh, what's a metta for?

        I figured! Mine is a metaphor right along with it. I mentioned to someone awhile back that swords are nice for defending yourself, but kinda overkill if you're trying to butter toast.

        I'm tired of people who are very proud of their MO of aggressively cutting to shreds, as viciously as possible, anyone whose Trad credentials don't meet their standards. Especially newbies who have no real idea what path they're on and are exploring, or anyone who dares describe themselves as an eclectic. There's no agree to disagree allowed; compromise is a sign of an absence of personal integrity. We have a few local ones who you have to get fairly threatening with just to get them to shut up and leave you alone in your own space. They run off people who aren't far along enough in paganism to realize that these people aren't the last word, no do the Gods jump when they say so. It's been observed that anyone who lets themselves be chased off isn't worthy of being a pagan, but my answer to that in local situations is that we're in the middle of the Bible Belt, in an At-Will employment state, where hefty numbers of people still think it's admirable to take the mickey out of them dirty Satan worshippers, and anything goes. Making it that much harder to explore a pagan path is a poor excuse for training by ordeal.

    • Serena

      One of the issues with cultural "borrowing" from still-living cultures, as I understand it, is this:

      It's like taking a rabbit, many rabbits, for food without giving back to the ecosystem that grew and fed and created rabbits. So often there is nothing given back to the community that created the spiritual system, except a vague fuzzy feeling. And the vague fuzzy feeling can actually cause damage from its vagueness. Indigenous people objecting to cultural "borrowing" generally complain that people misrepresent processes as Indigenous when they're merely Indigenous-inspired, and that this leads to a fuzzing and distortion of Indigenous values that then adversely affects Indigenous communities. And the damage is not just spiritual. Native communities often have to spend tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars "verifying" a distorted truth about their culture (government structure – you had a "chief" and a "council", right? prove it..) before our government will even negotiate with them. Also, distorted traditions masquerading as sure 'nuff Indigenous (rather than the more honest "inspired by Indigenous….") make it harder for displaced people of Native descent to find their way back to their roots. I knew one Native man who took his Nativeness from Hallmark posters. He was a pretty lost soul. There are enough obstacles in place between Native folks and the full renewal/expression of their cultures – why should we create one more, especially when most of us are so disconnected from the culture that we may not recognize the impact of our actions?

      I have a friend who is a New Age shaman. Although I'm uncomfortable with some aspects of this, I would become more comfortable if she took the time to listen to Indigenous perspectives of her work….a diversity of Indigenous perspectives…and if she gave back in some personal, connected way to the Indigenous community.

  • http://herbalwitchcraft.com/blog/ Harry Roth

    I don't know about the age of people or whether they are in college or not. I have read comments by some people on discussion groups that make it clear that they are not at all educated about the cultures from which they have taken concepts of deities or even practices. I don't think it ever occurs to most people to consult elders about anything because, for the most part, they don't know any. They are shocked when someone recalls events that occurred long before they were born and suspect that we are lying when we speak of them. A great silence falls where you can almost hear them exchanging glances and rolling their eyes.

    Bjorn mentions reading academic books. Do you know how many arguments I have had with people about reading? I wish I had a nickel, etc. Many people seem to prefer pulling things out of their ass. Reading a book tars a person as an armchair practicioner.

    I better stop before I get any more riled up.:)

    • Bjorn Odinsson

      You are right, if the marks you made were of your own design and were not from the Futhark. If they were the Futhark (in any of it's 24, 18, or 33 row emanations) then you did appropriate a sacred oracle without knowledge of it's uses or mysteries.

      Here is the problem. Many in the New Age / UU branches of the Pagan Tree fail to realize that divination systems are not mere tools to be used. I-Ching, Runes, Ogham Sticks etc. are not the metaphysical hammers and nails of the occult. They are living, breathing systems, divine prophets – entities – that serve the dieties of their culture of origin. They are not "psychic-training-wheels" or mnemonic aids for the subconscious mind.

    • Seerkind

      Oh my gods, I cant believe you just said that! I have been a dedicant of Wodan for over a year now, and I still don't use the runes for any type of divinination or magick because if you actually read anything of value on the runes you would know that they are etremely dangerous.The runes have a whole cultural and historical backing that you must know before you can just ask the aesir to answer your questions. This is not tarot. You mess with the wrong runes and it can seriously mess your life up, not to mention that I am surprised Wodan hasn't smote you yet.

      • http://thegodsarestillhere.blogspot.com/ Hylomorphic

        Many of the "Tables of Correspondences" are cribbed from the writings of Ceremonical Magicians like Aleister Crowley. They were never intended to be perfectly straightforward equivalencies. Thor and Zeus are clearly different gods, but they display similarities that might cause them to be associated with the same Sephirah. (I wouldn't, but I'm hardly an Adept.) The tables as people like Crowley and Israel Regardie intended were to be guidebooks and objects of meditation, not simple identities.

        If your description of correspondence tables is accurate, then it's not disrespectful only to people who follow Hellenic or Asatru paths, but to the people who compiled the tables in the first place.

        • AmericanTrikstr

          "I don't think it is quite true that many are considering these deities interchangeable because they saw them on a chart somewhere. I think in fact that is rare."

          From my experience, you're half-right. When it comes to eclectics who are of post-college age it does become rare because most of the eclectics who have my practicing up to that point have stuck with it and usually done their "spiritual homework" by then due to their dedication.

          College age, I'm afraid to say you're probably wrong on that assumption. The amount of misinformation that is passed around is astounding, though in part because most of the people who get into paganism at college usually don't have elders to go to. Most of the info they get are from self-described pagans that have been doing it for only two years, based on a Cunningham book. A sort of "blind leading the blind" kind of scenario. Though to be honest I've also found that most of those who aren't serious about tend to drop it off like a fad afterwards, which is why post-college you run into so few.

  • Bjorn Odinsson

    lol Harry, I know how you feel, all we can do is continue to preach the reading issue and show that we are not "armchair sorcerers". I think that we need to take a page out of Immanion's book and begin, as responsible Pagans, to tackle the big issues. I am very happy to see it begin done, but I feel more is required!

    • Serena

      I see the question of truth and non-truth as being different than our idea that the wellbeing of a particular God or Goddess can be separated from the integrity and well-being of the culture that is a part of that God or Goddess. Cultures have a right to decide what is right for them and what isn't. Christianity tried to decide for everyone, and force Christian "truth" and culture down everyone else's throats. That's censorship. A culture saying, "How you worship the God/ess/s we originated is wrong," is merely asking you to do a better job of helping them maintain their integrity as a group, or to stop pretending that your God/ess/s = their God/ess/s. They are asking you to help nourish the root as well as enjoy the fruit.

      It gets complicated though because groups are not uniform and everyone has their own 2cents.

  • Baruch

    "UPGs are great and all [...] but they must be reflected upon and discerned to ensure that these "messages" are not merely wish-fulfillment or fantasy"

    Bjorn, this is all well and good when each of us is sorting out his or her own UPGs and testing their mettle, as I assume you do with yours. But you give an example of an "ethnocentric" Ifa priesthood acting as censors to the UPGs of the Yoruba people.

    This would be unacceptable in Paganism. Christianity has done this for too many centuries, determining which insights are orthodox and which are heresy. This has given rise to the spiritual structures from which so many Pagans have fled. We cannot accept any such external filtration. If we individually choose to affiliate with a tradition that tests UPGs, well and good; but if we choose to do this on our own, cleverly or incompetently, that must be accepted.

    Baruch Dreamstalker

  • Bjorn Odinsson

    The Runes were not just an alphabet used for transcribing spoken language, the very root of the word means "mystery" according to one translation, "secret" to another and "to shout or roar" in another. The Runes have their own mythos, do you know how they were won? Do you know how to cut them? Do you know how to stain them? Do you know how to cast them? Do you know how to ask of them? Do you know how to sacrifice? These are not mere confrontational statements, and I am not attempting to flame you, these are the words of the Runattal, the Rune Song. This piece is followed by a warning where it says that "it is better to ask for too little than to over pay". Runes demand sacrifices from their users in return for the information given, if these sacrifices are not made, then the debt builds and your life can quickly fall to pieces around your ears. The exhortations to "do the research" are not just fuddy-duddy elitist euphemisms, they are often for the seeker's own protection.

  • seerkind

    Furthermore, you are being disrespectful of the people that have made this their life work and study. You insult my years of hard work to be true to the way the runes and other forms of divination (I also study Ogham) were meant to be used. I dislike people who tell me that their way is just as good as mine, when I have worked so hard to be true to cultural context. Then someone tells they read some unsubstantianted book on the runes, and suddenly the are experts. It doesn't work like that and I just don't see how you even get the answers to the questions you seek.

    • http://catvincent.wordpress.com/2009/01/20/guttershaman-the-authentic-shaman/ Cat Vincent

      Damn, I wish I'd read this before embarking on my own flailing attempt (as a very post-modern, multi-model-praxis, European White Guy) to write about this…
      (My blog post on this is linked here, rather than my trying to compress my thoughts on the subject! http://catvincent.wordpress.com/2009/01/20/gutter… )

      Also, Immanion/Megalithica are a fine thing indeed.

    • Bjorn Odinsson

      I understand Baruch, and there are no hard feelings on my end. I have two very near and dear friends who are Evangelical Christians and our conversations go similarly to the posts you and I have exchanged. I still love them even though I hate their religion lol. So like I said, no harm no foul, just throwing up some intellectual opposition for you to sharpen your wit on ;-)

      • AmericanTrikstr

        But how much reflection do you do with these "ass-kicking"? That's what I'm interested in. From your comments it seems like you do quite a bit. The problem I find with some eclectics is that appear to treat rituals or beliefs as ice cream flavors. They pick something up with about as much thought as picking up a penny, hold it in their metaphysical pocket as it were for awhile, they discard it because it's not as cool as it seemed before. The same thing appears to happen with what deities they choose to invoke. As Bjorn pointed out, some eclectics just grab a compendium of gods and pick and choose who to worship without further investigating just who they are invoking. I know not all eclectics are this flaky but to deny that they exist is just as bad as to think all eclectics are "fluffy".

  • Baruch

    "It is simply a matter of truth and non-truth."

    That's exactly how the Christians justify their censorship. Some of them call it "natural law." It doesn't sound any better coming from a Pagan keyboard.

    "They have not fallen prey to the monotheists because they know how to recognize their Gods."

    There may be some truth to this. Cultures under attack from the outside can absorb outsiders' memes — such as that of warfare itself — out of a necessity to defend themselves. At this point North American Paganism has no need of such measures. We are finding out strength in exploring the opposites of what we have rejected, not in retreading them.

    Baruch Dreamstalker

  • seerkind

    I agree with you, I am not an expert on your path. But I also believe that when someone takes practices from my chosen path-they do their research. If an ecclectic Wiccan's path says that they don't need to know the history behind Runes or Ogham to practice them is comical. If I were to join your tradtion I would study my butt off to know your practices before I started using them. I guess its just a matter of standards.

  • Bjorn Odinsson

    I for one do not believe that discernment of spiritual matters is dangerous or tyrannical. I am speaking to trad-specific situations. It is harder to communicate the necessity to one such as yourself, as you are very non-trad/eclectic. I may not agree with your direction or your conclusions, but I honor your right to hold them.

    Frith,
    Bjorn

  • Baruch

    You can't study your butt off to "join my tradition." I'm working out my path as I go. Always have and probably always will.

    It's not a matter of standards. It's a matter of different approaches.

    • http://herbalwitchcraft.com/blog/ Harry Roth

      I once would have agreed with you about Kabbalah being treated with disrespect and co-opted, but now I feel that Kabbalah can do just fine regardless of how some people treat it in pop culture, which is essentially what the sort of baseless neopaganism we are talking about is. OTOH, I have found that sometimes references to deities of other faiths have enlightened my understanding of a particular sephirah. Is, for instance, Binah linked to Hekate? I don't think so, but I do think you can come to understand Binah better by thinking about Hekate. However, I would agree with you that the tree idea gets way too much play, and to my mind, particularly the Lurianic Tree of Life, which is seen as all the Kabbalah you ever need, etc. Re Thor I can say nothing.

      • seerkind

        Ok that's fine. Lets agree to disagree because we are both too stuborn to understand each other's reasoning. Which is fine, but do me a favor please. Next time you pick up the runes, heed my warning, they are not a play game. I know of stories that have horrified me, just because someone did not know how to use them. Just looking out for my bros and sisters.

        • Baruch

          On the contrary, Seerkind, my life started coming together at that point.

          "I dislike people who tell me that their way is just as good as mine, when I have worked so hard to be true to cultural context."

          You're entitled to your likes and dislikes, but they don't make you an expert on other people's paths.

          Baruch Dreamstalker

          • AmericanTrikstr

            Small summary of where I see fault on both sides:

            Recons need to stop having such a knee-jerk reaction over imagery (which I find is where many of the "appropriation" accusations come from), be more considerate of UPGs that conflict with their own, and come to terms that when it comes to the theological/philosophical ideas presented in our religion, not everyone is going to subscribe to our orthodoxy. Some are going to take only a few ideas to help their spiritual growth.____

            As for syncretic/eclectics, they need to do some research into the beliefs in which they are absorbing (I know, not all of them are "fluffy bunnies", but it is still a big issue within this path/s), stop affiliating themselves with the religions in which they are borrowing or taking from (if you find something useful within Asatru more power to you, but please make a distiction between your own beliefs and those that follow Asatru), and show some consideration with what you absorb, especially when it comes to ritual practice. Some rituals or beliefs are very sacred to Recons or "tribal" people (think Native American) and it can be disrespectful, dare I say selfish, to just take them because it "feels right".__

          • Baruch

            Trickster, here's the problem I have with your emphasis on "research" vs "feels right." When something feels right to me, it's not just like a preference in ice cream flavors. It's more of a demand. It's more the God speaking to me out of my marrow, out of my DNA, kicking my @$$ and telling me, "Pay attention!" What "research" I do is to see how a new practice or outlook or tool meshes (or doesn't!) with my established practice; to see where it leads me further.

            Baruch Dreamstalker

  • Baruch

    I want to make it clear that, especially in my exchanges with Trickster, Bjorn and Seerkind, I am not denigrating the hard work anyone has put into finding their path. I am trying to explain the hard work I have put into finding my path.

    Baruch Dreamstalker

    • http://www.thegreenwolf.com Lupa

      I only just made it to the computer for more than cursory peeks at email–and WOW! Thank you for the excellent review! I'm really glad you found some good things in the anthology, and very much appreciate you passing your feelings on to your readership. Heh–I also enjoyed reading the comments; definitely one of those hot-button topics, but folks have been civil overall. Good stuff!

    • AmericanTrikstr

      Ok, perhaps I should clarify a bit, even though it's pretty early in the morning here. Talking about theological issues while you're still waiting for the sweet, sweet coffee to kick in can be dangerous. :)

      We all obviously have been drawn to our particular path or whatever term you prefer because it "feels right". That's perfectly fine. However if you're going to blend practices from different religions one should probably take some time for reflection and consideration before applying them.

    • Baruch

      My main need for "research" came when I was initially on a Goddess-only path, feeling that the only way I could purge myself of patriarchy was to ignore male Gods. Then I got involved in crafting a response to a particular nasty bit of male-bashing "feminism" that had come across the pulpit of the UU society I was a member of at that time. In the middle my preparations for this, I heard a woman's voice calling to me from an empty room (this sort of thing happened to me a lot in those days) asking me, "Is this part of your new spirituality or just your old politics?" I heard myself reply, "No, the male is sacred, too!" That led to an expansion of my pantheon and a developing view that Men's Movement work is sacred work.

      This kind of research one cannot get out of books.

      Baruch Dreamstalker

    • Baruch

      "They are not "psychic-training-wheels" or mnemonic aids for the subconscious mind."

      I disagree. If stripped down into a generalized form, they serve exactly that function.

      If I really wanted to absorb myself in Rune-lore, I could have expanded my Rune studies. It didn't call that hard to me, so I didn't.

  • AmericanTrikstr

    Yeah, to this day I'm still bewildered with the sometimes down-right hardened resolve some eclectics have to reading books. For a religious umbrella that tries to appear as a more intelligent, wise path than a fundie monthestic one this reluctance to just pick up a damn book only serves to counter this.

    I've had some tell me that "practice is more important" and there is some truth in that sentiment, but it's a half-ass excuse for not wanting to read.

  • AmericanTrikstr

    Alright, I'll give you that it's not a standard. Personally I wouldn't mind it become something of a standard or at the very least a little bit more common but I don't presume that my personal wish is going, or should be, accepted by all. Opinions are like a$$holes and all that.

    My scholarly bent is because I'm guilty of the very things I criticize when I first found out about the pagan community. Eventually I took a step back and thought to myself "Maybe I should read a little bit before I go any farther." When I did I became appalled with the amount of misinformation I was lead to believe. That's where my adamant stance on reading comes from as I still see that misinformation flourishing in various circles, especially in the eclectic paths to be honest. Not that it's a problem inherent within the path itself, just a problem with some who claim the path.

  • AmericanTrikstr

    Actually my discussion with you has been pretty pleasent, even if we disagree at certain points. Much better than some similar discussions I've had where an eclectic throw a tantrum and scream "Don't tell me what to do!" Likewise I hope we've been better than some Recons who yell "Prove it's an ancient tradition or GTFO".

    • http://snoozepossum.blogspot.com/ Snoozepossum

      I got it! We make up a selection of buttons, bumper stickers and t-shirts to choose from that say "Trad", "No-Trad", or "Trad Soup" on them! Call Nancy Lebowitz! ;0)

      Your point about reviving elements from groups whose modern day ancestors (if there are any) have no interest in the past uses an excellent metaphor I hadn't even thought of . (bows)
      Permission to use the "laws of salvage" bit in other discussions?

  • http://pitch313.blogspot.com/ Pitch313

    If there is cultural contact–and there usually is–then there's a chance that there will be some sort of cultural appropriation.

    All in all, I think that it's better, in some fashion, for a culture to survive to be appropriated–or, let's be clear, possibly appreciated!–than for that culture to be extinguished without much of a lasting trace.

    • http://dubhlainn.livejournal.com Jamie

      I suppose I will have to read the book but I cannot understand how there is any cultural appropriation what-so-ever in Polytheistic Reconstructionism. Those cultures do not exist any more, which is why they had to be reconstructed right?

      One person saying "I reconstruct it better than you!" and then claiming the other person is appropriating their culture just sounds childish bickering to me.

  • Bjorn Odinsson

    We believe that at some point these unformed Gods became attached to specific tribes permanently, gaining power and thus respect from the tribesfolk. These Gods guided and taught them many things, as as their people evolved, so did they. We are in a symbiotic relationship with our ethnic Gods, they made us and need us to survive. They are our original ancestors – that is the teaching of Heathenism. That the Northern European Folk are truly descended from the Aesir or Vanir, which is made obvious from the many pseudo-mythological accounts of literal kings of the same names as the Gods living and reigning in specific parts of the Northern Lands. Swedes, such as myself, trace their lineage back to Freyr via King Ingvi. Germans trace their lineage mythologically back to Wotan and so on and so forth. Even Holland is named after Frau Holle, a Dutch version of Hella, Goddess of the Dead.

  • Bjorn Odinsson

    My first experience with an Asatruar was horrible. It was on a chat room and he flamed me up one side and down the other. Albeit I was a complete fluffer at the time, my "majikal library" consisted of Ravenwolf, Penczak Conway and the like. I had never cracked open a history book at that point and that Asatruar ripped me a new butthole. I was hurt, offended and angry and avoided Odhinn's calls for about a year because I wanted nothing to do with a God whose worshippers were such "meanies" (lol insert explitive, don't want to get moderated). For that year I referred to Asatru as "A$$atru". However I finally couldn't ignore the Valfadhr anymore and found that not all Heathens are buttheads. This could have gone much differently if the Heathen in question had simply asked me some questions and pointed me in the right direction when he had divined that I was a n00b. Thank you for this post, Snooze, it is good to be reminded of these things

    • Baruch

      Trickster, you're using "feels right" as a put-down term. I think that disrespects the spirit of someone who finds that a given practice or artifact speaks to his or her spirit. I sometimes smudge, because it speaks to me. I know smudging is a First Nations practice, and I'm not putting down the First Nations by using it, nor am I pretending to be First Nation nor to practice their religion.

      I agree with the point about owning your own stuff. I'm a UU Pagan with an initiation in Wicca, but I don't pretend that everything I do is Wicca.

      Baruch Dreamstalker

    • Baruch

      I'm trying to squeeze in a comment that the system didn't accept yesterday.

      I'm not refusing to understand your reasoning. I may understand it better than you think. You come from a position that your religion was invented by the Gods. Naturally any casual borrowing seems fraught with peril. Aidan Kelly called this the Golden Age model.

      My position is that religion is a human invention, driven by inspiration — Kelly's evolutionary model. Borrowings are not dangerous exceptions; they are how the invention process works.

      Baruch Dreamstalker

  • http://avinriver.wordpress.com avin_river

    That doesn't mean the the Res is an easy life. Poverty can be crushing and opportunities for employment can be hard to find, but there is a strong measure of freedom when you know that your land is yours to have and to govern. Our coven was very open on campus and one of our members invited a friend who was Navajo to one of our drawing down ceremonies, as he was curious about what we did. As a thank-you for our invitation he invited us to one of his ceremonies (he is a member of the Native American Church) and we were lucky enough to attend a Peyote Ceremony on the Res. I relate this because it seems like we were at the epicenter of this debate and managed to navigate our separate cultures (with a few faux pas here and there) without the need for hours of cultural, spiritual and intellectual debate.

    • http://dubhlainn.livejournal.com Jamie

      I am glad to hear that, in truth I have heard nothing but good things about this book but it is still a subject that is likely to cause me a bit of frustration. Or, at least, conversations I have had in the past regarding this issue certainly have.

      • Serena

        "Feels right" doesn't have to be a put-down, but it is an inward-focused and not community-focused statement. I think (Trickster, am I accurate?) that Trickster is not objecting to a high level of individual awareness of what "feels right" but the lionizing of one's own individual "rightness" at the expense of even considering what is "right" to others. "Do as you will, an it harm none". How do you know whether or not you're doing harm if you don't ask, don't connect, don't inquire? Peanut butter cookies are harmless…unless you're allergic to peanuts!

        How does this distinction seem to you?

    • Bjorn Odinsson

      Well it is a *bit* more complicated than that. Seerkind and I are lovers and thus we share similar views, I wouldn't be talking out of turn by saying this in her stead. She and I believe that both models are true at the same time. In a way, humans and Gods cocreated each other. We believe that the Gods were unformed, chaotic energies without direction or purpose, spiritual emanations of the chaos that caused and followed the "Big Bang". As humans developed, their primal minds began to associate various natural phenomenon with Divine sources. A hypothetical scenario: A neanderthal hunter sees the thunderstorm raging above, he shakes in fear and thinks of the mammoths he hunts. Surely a mammoth bigger than he has ever seen makes the sky shout so. Thus a primal Thunder God/dess is given name and function. She/He didn't know what she was before, or why she shook the skies with her fury, but the neanderthal's observation and ensuing myth-making gave her a name and epiphany as to her purpose. This tale is told by the neanderthal hunter, and he becomes the shaman of the tribe because he can see Big Things.

      • Baruch

        Bjorn, my first experiemce with runes was as a "baby pagan" told by my high priestess to show up at the next session of our eclectic circle with a divination device. She passed out copies of a thick compendium of divination tools. Most of them didn't speak to me but the "runes" did. I use quotes because they were a reduced set with simple explanatory notes. I went out and made myself a set with construction gravel and nail polish. I still have them.

        I was in no way appropriating Runic culture. Making marks on small hard objects and casting them after discernment of an inquiry is a generic practice. I don't pretend to be a Runic adept; I simply use mine. No harm, no foul.

        Baruch Dreamstalker

  • http://avinriver.wordpress.com avin_river

    Instead, I kept the spirit of the experience with me. My request from the ceremony was granted by different spirits than those I usually talk to but that really didn't matter (I wanted the man I loved to have clarity so he could see if he loved me back, which he did, we got together that night and have been married for fifteen years). However, on the opposite side of the argument, I did learn to use sage cleansing properly from a Navajo who rather brusquely pointed out that you should only use white sage to cleanse a sacred space because it only calls good spirits. The idea of burning smelly plants has been around for millenia, but I would rather go into my backyard and collect the stuff living there than order plants from across the ocean.

    • Bjorn Odinsson

      And so it continued. We believe that the Gods have been around since the beginning of time, but not always in the forms we know them as. Yes humans are co-creators and shape and mould their Gods to their desires, but I believe that the amount of shaping and moulding possible on an existing diety is minimal, as they were honored in specific ways for thousands of years prior to our little pagan revival. To attempt to rewrite thousands of years of tradition and history in two or three decades is arrogance imo, according to my paradigm construct.

      Heathenism is a culturally and geographically relevant tribal folkway, and cannot truly be understood in simple "black" and "white" definitions, it is far more subtle, which is why it takes years of research to truly get a deep kenning of the traditions it holds dear.

  • http://avinriver.wordpress.com avin_river

    The other thing was that we were exposed to the negative forces that the elders told us about (we don't mention their name). Some say that white people aren't attacked by these spirits. I would say (to appropriate a term from Harry Potter) that Muggles don't feel them, but when you're pagan and drawing from the same well source of power they definitely do. And that would be my ending argument. In my belief and many others (either by parallel or series cultural evolution) we draw our energy from the world around us. If I live in the land of the Navajo, even if I am sticking to my culturally appropriate ceremonies, I am still drawing from the same energies that they are, and that the Hopi and the Ute are, and that the Catholic Priest is when he said Mass in our beautiful chapel perched on the edge of the Mesa (yeah, we went to Mass too, he was a great Priest :) ). My message? Stop thinking so much, get back to nature when you can, learn from those around you and have respect. If you don't know? Ask! The worst you can get is a no.

    • AmericanTrikstr

      As for the research part, my main emphasis on this is that if you're going to worship a deity or incorporate a ritual into your practice, learn as much as you can about it. Most likely you first learned about it through reading or research but absorb as much as you can. Knowledge is a good thing and deciding that you want to worship, say, Horus based on a two sentence description in a compendium is hardly what I would consider "knowledge". There are many nuances about the gods within their respected mythology and you may find that a god that you first thought you would like to devote yourself to has certain traits that rub you the wrong way.

      I mean say you go ahead and start to worship Sekhmet based on one of those descriptions, then you read some of the stories about her and realize the whole "I'm going to kill EVERYONE!" thing doesn't exactly fit with your previous notions and makes you uncomfortable. What do you do? Stop worshipping her? Or do you ignore and try to reinvent who she is? Problem is you're kind of left in a no-win situation.

    • Bjorn Odinsson

      Yes, Snooze, I agree, the Gods do ride us at times, but I believe it is and should be a two way street. For instance, in the Yoruban faith of Ifa which practices spirit-possession as sacrament, the Priests of the tradition are taught secret "tells" that the Orisha give. This discernment is very important to the religion, as it helps them determine if someone is just going through the motions, is possessed by a bad spirit or is truly being ridden by the Orisha. If it is just a case of "overexuberance" or not the correct spirit, then the priests will calm the person in question with chants and florida water so illegitimate messages are not spoken. Ifa is also very ethnocentric. Practitioners of this faith spend much of their time learning the Yoruban ideologies and the teachings of the Afro-Centric faith. This allows them to open up a channel through which the correct Gods and Spirits can descend.

      UPGs are great and all, and Gods know I have more than I can count, but they must be reflected upon and discerned to ensure that these "messages" are not merely wish-fulfillment or fantasy.

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  • http://dubhlainn.livejournal.com Jamie

    Excellent post Cat, thank you for posting a link!

  • trumoonbear

    "Trad Soup!" LMAO

  • AmericanTrikstr

    We could expand into hats, coffee mugs…the possibilites are endless! :)

  • Baruch

    I do the most reflection that I do on any topic in my life.

  • chuck_cosimano

    Ok, Sekhmet is getting into the Pantheon.

  • AmericanTrikstr

    The story of Sekhmet is a pretty good one.

    It takes place when Egypt was broken up into two kingdoms, the North and the South, who were at war with one another, so of course the gods of each respected kingdom were fighting one another as well.

    Sekhmet was on the side of the…North I believe, though truth be told it's been a little while since I last read the myth. Anyway she was sent to go and kill the armies of the South. Problem is she was having too much fun and thought "Hey, you know what would be cool? If I kill everyone! Humanity sucks anyway."

    So the gods in the North were watching Sekhmet try to destroy all of humanity, probably thinking to themselves "Oh this is not going to end well. We need to stop her." Their solution? Spiked pomegranate juice. They got her so drunk that she became gentle and turned into the goddess Hathor.

    That's the abridged version, anyway.

  • Bjorn Odinsson

    Aye, only our specific methods and semantics seperate, we are one Tribe, one Spirit, just with different methodologies! Frith!

    Bjorn