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Subscribe to this list via RSS Blog posts tagged in cultural appropriation
Cultural Appropriation or Creative Expession?

I opened up my Facebook account today and was greeted by a long discussion focusing on cultural appropriation, vis-a-vis belly dancing. It appeared to be based on a Salon article titled "Why I can't stand white belly dancers."

The first thing that struck me was the confrontational nature of the headline: It wasn't belly dancing performed by white people that the author couldn't stand, it was the belly dancers themselves. If this doesn't put people on the defensive, I don't know what will. Then again, it's part of the inflammatory nature of online "journalism" these days, which uses hot-button language to increase the number of hits. (Full disclosure: I'm white, but I'm no belly dancer, and belly dancing isn't something I go out of my way to watch.)

The author of the article describes an instance in which "a white woman came out in Arab drag — because that’s what that is, when a person who’s not Arab wears genie pants and a bra and heavy eye makeup and Arabic jewelry, or jewelry that is meant to read as 'Arabic' because it’s metallic and shiny and has squiggles of some kind — and began to belly-dance."

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Recent Comments - Show all comments
  • valkyr dragonborn
    valkyr dragonborn says #
    as an amateur American "bellydancer" this article both astounds and disgusts me- noted professional Middle Eastern artists, musici
  • Literata
    Literata says #
    I appreciate your points about the impossibility of achieving purity. Like Carol Christ, though, I can also see the author's persp
  • Stifyn Emrys
    Stifyn Emrys says #
    I was intentionally careful with my wording on the parody point: I wrote that it was "one" key question rather than "the" key ques

Email for inquiries and submissions: Crystal Blanton

Megalithica Books, an imprint of Immanion Press (Stafford, U.K./Portland, OR, U.S.A) is seeking submissions for the Bring Race to the Table: An Exploration of Racism in the Pagan Community.

This anthology explores the topic of Racism and how Racism shows up in the Pagan community, as well as what we can do to recognize it and proactively work to change it by being consciously aware of race and privilege and actively applying that awareness to the Pagan community. We also examine cultural appropriation and its role in racism, and how we can approach issues of culture with conscious awareness that leads to genuine cultural exchanges instead of appropriation.

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  • P. Sufenas Virius Lupus
    P. Sufenas Virius Lupus says #
    I will probably try to submit something for this! (I have to get a hold of a few resources in order to do so, thus it won't be fo
Cultural exchange vs cultural appropriation

Recently I attended a workshop run by R. J. Stewart and he related a story of a discussion he had with a Lakota Shaman. Something she said to him was that she didn't want white people trying to take the practices of her people and make them their own, but rather that she wanted them to find their own practices and then meet with people from other practices and share what each of them was doing. When I heard that story, it made me think that something which is really important for all of us is cultural exchange, where we appreciate what a given person (and his/her culture) brings to the table without feeling the need to steal from it. Instead that appreciation allows us to learn from the other person and reflect on our own practices in context to what we've learned. We engage in a cultural exchange, so that everyone can benefit from what is learned.

Cultural appropriation is the wholesale stealing of a given culture's practices. The reason people do it may be a result of feeling disconnected from the culture they are in or identifying spirituality as only residing in the cultural practices of the culture they are appropriating from. Regardless of what the reason is, such appropriation ultimately creates a mockery of the original practices, because while the person might steal away the practices, s/he can never truly know the culture. S/he is always interpreting the other culture through the lens of his/her own culture.

One of the grey areas in this kind of discussions involves the choice to study a given culture's practices. I likely fit into that gray area. I study Tibetan and Taoist meditation practices. I am not of the cultures where those practices originated and I don't try to be. I study those practices to learn from them and implement them in my life, without trying to identify with the culture. It's a grey area, because I'm not trying to appropriate the overall culture and pretend to be something I'm not, but I am learning and practicing from that culture's spiritual practices. However, I think that such learning can fit into cultural exchange if it is done respectfully and with an intention to respect the original culture without trying to become part of it.

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  • Jennifer Tindell
    Jennifer Tindell says #
    Thanks, this is very good.
  • Terence P Ward
    Terence P Ward says #
    The story I tell about cultural appropriation is that I once approached a Native American practitioner and inquired about learning
  • Taylor Ellwood
    Taylor Ellwood says #
    Hi Carl, Thank you for commenting. I wrote an essay for that anthology. It's a good anthology, and some of the other ones that we

Posted by on in Culture Blogs
Tithing: not just for Christians

Risking charges of cultural appropriation, I'm going to come right out and say that I thinking tithing is a wonderful idea that Pagans should borrow and embrace . . . with some modifications to fit our diverse paths and beliefs, of course.

Tithing is the Biblical tradition of skimming ten percent off the top of one's income and giving it to one's church.  This was an effective way to provide for priests and ensure that charity stays local, but there are a number of reasons why its literal application won't work for most modern Pagans.  A few that come to mind are:

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  • Jamie
    Jamie says #
    Mr. Ward, I wish we could do this. We do give to various charities, though. Thanks again for another great post.
  • Debbie Vozniak
    Debbie Vozniak says #
    This is a great idea. I personally tend to give my donations to animal or nature rescue causes and to victims of disasters worldwi
  • Terence P Ward
    Terence P Ward says #
    Great points, Emily! Produce was the originally tithe expected of Hebrews, with money moving in as a convenient way to measure th

Joseph Bloch has invited us to participate in a July Blogfest by writing about cultural appropriation.

I'm a Jungian and an eclectic Neopagan, which means that I am doubly vulnerable to charges of cultural appropriation.  Jungianism and eclectic Neopaganism are criticized for their borrowing of symbols from other cultures for a variety of reasons.  First, the removal of religious symbols and practices from their cultural context may be seen as trivializing.  Second, the adoption of the traditions and practices of another culture may be seen as a form of cultural theft, and another form of Western colonialism.  In many cases, these charges are well-founded, but I don't think it is fair or accurate to condemn eclecticism automatically as either trivializing or as cultural theft.

The trivialization of religious symbols

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  • Jamie
    Jamie says #
    I may not share your theological views, but as a Platonist I'm impressed with your rigorous logic and willingness to share your be
  • John Halstead
    John Halstead says #
    Wow! Hadn't heard about the Lesbos lawsuit! Those are exactly the right questions: where do we draw the line? and who gets to de
Academic Cultural Appropriation of Neopaganism and Occultism

Author's Note: This is a reprint of an article I originally published in the Anthology: Talking About the Elephant in 2008. Because the theme of the month is on cultural appropriation I thought I'd dig it out and reprint it here. I've added a commentary on the end to show where my thoughts on this topic are now (5 years after the original article was published).

While some of the articles of this anthology [Author's note: I'm referring to Talking About the Elephant] deal with cultural appropriation issues that Neopagans and Occultists may perpetuate, the goal of my article is to provide a look at a different form of cultural appropriation currently gaining popularity in both the academic and Neopagan/Occult cultures. This cultural appropriation comes in the form of academic articles and books focused on Neopaganism and the Occult. On the surface, it would seem that scholarship on these subjects is a good thing, certain to buoy the public relationship image that both Neopaganism and Occultism have with mainstream culture. However, as I will argue, there is a different, more subtle agenda occurring in these academic works, and in a manner that can be considered cultural appropriation. Unfortunately, there is a tendency to revere academic works without coming to them with an open, but critical, awareness of how those works really represent their beliefs. Nor is the question raised by Neopagans or Occultists, if the benefits of said academic works are really good for the community, or are only good for the academic who happens to be doing the research.

 

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  • Taylor Ellwood
    Taylor Ellwood says #
    The knife does cut both ways and I'm sorry you had that experience, but imagine if you'd gone in, recorded everything and publishe
  • Candi
    Candi says #
    I tried that myself, and I got burned badly. I can't use my research at all. I wasn't allowed to record, barely able to take not
  • Candi
    Candi says #
    I have a question on this subject: Has a researcher ever encountered a Pagan population they wanted to study that has said "No" t

Posted by on in Studies Blogs
Debussy: A Return

In response to Joseph Bloch's call for a July Blogfest on Cultural Appropriation, I once again present Claude Debussy.  

Debussy should be wildly important to modern Pagans, primarily as a French composer in Paris at the end of the 19th, turn of the 20th centuries who was admittedly Pagan, participated in some occult activities, (Societe de la Rose Croix that we know of) and is fully part of the Classical music paradigm.   (Paris and Vienna both were hotbeds of occult and new-age spiritual activity, especially due to the opening of new trade routes and better shipping and overseas travel.) 

Debussy attended the 1889 Paris Exposition, and was particularly moved by the display of the gamelan ensemble from Java. A gamelan is an ensemble of mostly metallophones (musical instruments made of metal), and drums.  The tuning used by the ensemble, slendro, is roughly equivalent to our Phrygian mode. Needless to say, Debussy, as a French wunderkind of music, became strangely obsessed with the sound of the gamelan and tried to incorporate its sound into his music.

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  • Ted Czukor
    Ted Czukor says #
    Gee, Candi, if Debussy is a copycat then so is Shakespeare! The Bard borrowed older storylines in practically everything he wrote.
  • Candi
    Candi says #
    Thanks, Tammye! Afternoon of a Faun was, to me, the greatest Pagan "outburst" of the musical art of the Gilded Age. Have you rea
  • Tammye McDuff
    Tammye McDuff says #
    I love Debussy, one of my favorite pieces is Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun. He captures the imagination and transforms his mu
Reflections on "The Union of Earth and Sky"

In the process of designing and teaching a course called Ritual Theory & Liturgical Design at Starr King School for the Ministry (UU), I was digging through some of my old materials and found this reflection from 1999.  I'd been thinking about some of the things I learned from this particular ritual, "The Union of Earth and Sky: A Ceremony for Thor and Freyr," created by Sparky T. Rabbit.  I was really glad to have found this because it's much fresher than anything I could write from this distance in time.

* * * * *

We five in red and gold proceeded through the encampment to a drumbeat.  Activity ceased and all became hushed at our approach.  Step by step, we walked up to the site of the sacred circle.  We turned deosil just inside of the Guardian of the North, and dropped out under a tree, facing inward, behind Cloud, our Eastern Guardian.  As we turned toward the center, we saw following us the Man in the Moon and the Night-Time Stars, who proceeded to the West to stand behind that Guardian.  Behind them mighty Thor and his petite, black-gowned rune-bearer, followed by beautiful Freyr, his rune-bearer sister to Thor’s.

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How to engage the reconstructionist / historical-based pagan and not get your feelings hurt:

Lesson 1: Learn to discern the differences between fact and opinion, history and UPG/experience.


You may not have realised that you were presenting a subjective statement as an objective one.  Especially in the United States, the stress on this aspect of language arts in schools is often failing, but so if pop culture, to be frank.

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  • Candi
    Candi says #
    Part 1 of How to Engage the Other Kinds of Mod/Recon Pagans: 1. Reference the all mighty shiny fact of power. 2. Be nice to tho
  • Candi
    Candi says #
    (I mean no insult, I'm just throwing in my two cents on the foucault bit. very frustrating to read, probably because i'm incredibl
  • Ruadhán J McElroy
    Ruadhán J McElroy says #
    He's not only incredibly abstract, he's Abstract For Your Own Good!™ I can make perfect sense out of nonsense like Zardoz, or Liq

Posted by on in Studies Blogs
Source Struggle

 

A number of years ago I was attending and presenting at a conference that was focused on physical and mental health concerns for queer people. I was in the audience listening to panel discussion on queer people, spirituality, and religion. At the beginning of the session they asked if there were any clergy present in the room. It turned out that I was the only person in the room that identified as clergy. They wanted someone to offer a prayer or a blessing of some sort to open session. I explained that I was pagan, and that I could do something that would be short and sweet and germane to topic at hand.

 

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