For the record: You have my full permission (not that you need it) to use any part of the watered down Anglo-Germanic, Midwestern, mainline Protestant middle-class liberal white sector of American culture that I was raised in. If you re-write the English nursery rhymes I learned as a child, or commercialize German fairy tales, feel free. By doing those things, you’re not mis-representing or distorting a culture that has been historically demeaned or romanticized in a condescending way. Does this make sense now?
I’m seeing more people on various fora, blogs etc. asking “Is it OK for me to explore cultural/spiritual tradition X? Will people from that culture be offended if I do?”
I think the fact that more people are asking that is a sign of progress. Pagans and New Agers frequently treat cultures and religions like an international buffet- a little curry here, some tacos, some kim chi. But some of us are starting to realize that the haphazard spiritual combo meals we’re creating are giving us indigestion and aren’t nutritionally balanced. That, and our neighbors don’t appreciate our table manners. You don’t sample things while you’re in the buffet line. And you take a new plate when you go back for seconds. And at some buffets, there are no second helpings.
I can’t speak for another culture. But you might not get the chance to meet say, a Navajo if you live in Maine. What I can do is give some general guidelines, based on my experiences engaging with other cultures and religions.
*Research the culture in general, not just about the religious/spiritual/magical aspects. Even if that is what you are focused on, you will better understand the spiritual components if you have a wholistic view of the culture.
*Don’t assume just because someone has particular ancestry, that necessarily means they identify with that culture, or are included by that community. Don’t assume that just because you have particular ancestry, a related ethnic community will welcome you without question.
*Attend public events Student groups at colleges and universities are often a good place to start- I’ve attended Kwanzaa, Yalda (Persian winter solstice) and pow-wows at various schools in my area. Find out what etiquette is expected and observe it. Dress appropriately. Do not wear ethnic/ceremonial regalia unless invited to do so. Show up on time. Yes, different cultures have different concepts of time, but it is not your place to determine that. Give a financial contribution (even a small one) or support vendors if possible. Help out (with clean-up etc) if asked or volunteer if it seems appropriate.
*You have two ears and one mouth- listen twice as much as you talk. Regard any information folks of a given culture tell you as a gift, and treat it accordingly.
*If an originally polytheistic/animistic/shamanistic culture has many people that have adopted another religion (such as Christianity/Islam/Buddhism)- or syncretized older practices and beliefs with it, respect that. It may be a bad idea to wear a pentacle or loudly proclaim your Pagan-ness. Observe and use your judgment.
*The culture may have particular ideas of gender roles and sexuality that you disagree with. Please remember the women (and sexual/gender minorities) of that culture are quite capable of speaking for themselves and support them. Do not get involved in internal conflicts. Respect cultural sovereignty.
*Try learning the language of the culture/religion- at least a little. If you’re studying from written sources or formal classes, you’ll likely be learning a more academic, artificially standardized form, so keep that in mind when interacting with native speakers. Don’t correct their grammar.
*How much and how deeply you can get involved in an indigenous religion or culture is up to the members to decide. You are not entitled to inclusion.
*Learn about your own cultural background and history, and how members of your cultural group interacted with this culture. Keep those things in mind.
Links for further reading- some are more spiritually related, others are more about appropriation in geeky subcultures or mainstream culture
On Reverse Cultural Appropriation (inspiration for my opening paragraph)
More to be added…please contribute if you have any suggestions
Ivy Vine at Polytheism Without Borders has graciously agreed to re-post some of my writing on their blog, starting with ‘Nuff Polytheist Street Cred. Check out their site for other interesting essays on polytheism, and their forum- which could use some more action!
I’m impressed with myself that I’ve managed stay on top of the Pagan Blog Project (it helps that my work schedule gives me a lot of free time!) I feel I’m not really connecting with the Cauldron Blog Project, but I’d like to try the 30 Days of Deity Devotion meme (original link here) for Fionn Mac Cumhaill- technically a hero, but hero-cults are a rather neglected aspect of modern paganism. I am typing up notes from a book about him I read back in college called “Wisdom of the Outlaw” and will be using that material a lot. This will not be a continuous 30 days, but as with PBP I’ll try to write at least once a week. I’m interested to see what others are writing for this project, so I have made a list here of participants. Please comment if you would like to be added, and I will add you after you actually post a couple times. You can also come back and write about another deity if you like.
I have also added links on the Blog Challenge page to a couple others, 30 Days of Druidry and a devotional polytheist meme that is for spiritual practitioners more advanced than myself.
Eloquence was held up as a great virtue by the Celts, whether it be for Druids leading ritual, princes inspiring their men before entering battle, a satirist publicly shaming a stingy king, or a poet reciting the king’s ancestry. Poetry is often seen as an effete “extra” in modern Western culture, but in oral cultures, poetry is used to remember history, myth and other types of knowledge. Even in this era of the pervasive written word we still do that – Khronos knows how often I mentally check “Thirty days Hath September” when I don’t have a calendar in front of me. (Actually I usually do recite it aloud- as those who know me well can attest my internal thought processes don’t stay very internal!)
There is a misconception that some people are just really good speakers, and the rest of us aren’t. While there may be some that have a natural talent for eloquence, like an “ear” for music, it is a talent that must be constantly honed and practiced. Most politicians, ministers, actors and comedians start out as nervous public speakers and improve with time, practice and usually coaching.
How is eloquence a virtue? Having a talent is a personal trait, but not one we typically think of us moral. Well, that’s how virtue ethics differs from conventional morality- it’s not just about being honest and kind. The stuff they taught you in kindergarten, those aren’t really virtues. Eloquence is a virtue both for its own sake- its intrinsic beauty, its reverence for the spoken word, and the powerful social role that it can play.
A leader who continually bungles speeches is seen as a bad leader by the public, even when he or she makes good decisions when off-camera. And a leader who makes bad decisions for his or her people can still be seen as a great leader if he/she is a fantastic orator. Playing your social role well helps maintain the social order, which is a part of the cosmic order. This is the underlying basis of virtue ethics in Indo-European cosmology- it can most clearly be seen in the concept of dharma in Hinduism.
Toastmasters- this is a secular service organization whose members dedicate themselves to the craft of public speaking
Ar nDraiocht Fein- in general and in the Bardic & Liturgists Guilds in particular, eloquence is greatly encouraged in ADF. There are great articles on speech and ritual performance in our magazine, Oak Leaves, workshops at our festivals and discussions about it on our lists.
As I’ve discussed before, I do celebrate St. Patrick’s Day, as a celebration of Irish culture. I’m curious what other Celtic Pagans/Polytheists are doing for alternatives to conventional St. Pat’s Day? This year I’ll be attending Paganicon, from the 14th-16th, and as the 17th will be on a Monday I’ll be going to Irish class as usual in the evening.
Years back I remember reading Dancing With the Sun, a book on Witchcraft by Yasmine Galenorn, in which she suggested celebrating Liberalia, a Roman holiday for Bacchus that happened to fall on March 17th. I thought, sure, that’s Pagan, but it’s not Irish. Well, Lupus came up with an interesting idea- e pointed out that like Bacchus/Dionysus, in Irish myth Cuchulainn was born twice, so it would make sense to honor him on that day. Lugaid & Caer are going to be doing that (as well as honoring him on other days)
I’ve long had the idea of simply honoring the personification of Ireland- Eriu- or Hibernia, Kathleen ni Houlihan- or a sovereignty goddess associated with a part of Ireland that you feel a spiritual connection with (travel, ancestry etc) So please, share your ideas!
This is the post I spent so much time fussing over, but didn’t end up using for Pagan Blog Project. I decided to post it after all before I spend any more time on it that I could on other things! Another very insightful post about a broader perspective on privilege can be found at the World of Dust & Bones Blog: Paganism & Privilege Part 1: How We Talk about it (which in turn was a response to this post by John Halstead)
Note: I’m going to discuss religion and privilege in the United States specifically because I can better understand & explain it, I would be greatly interested in hearing viewpoints and experiences specific to other countries.
Some “privileges” are really rights that everyone should have, while others are simply unfair advantages that no one should have. Everyone should have the right to practice their religion freely, (or not practice any religion) in a way that does not interfere with others’ rights. Christians in the United States and many other countries have this right, but it is more protected and unquestioned than it is for those of minority faiths. Christians in the U.S. also sometimes misuse their privileged status to get favorable treatment for their religion that other religions do not get. These are facts that most Pagans would agree, and most Christians that have any self-awareness at all. (I.e. not the ones who think this was founded as a “Christian nation”.)
On to Wiccan(ate) Privilege
Wicca, and pagan religions, that closely resemble it, are like it or lump it still the largest group of self-identified Pagans. Anytime a group has been around longer and is bigger, it is typically going to get social privilege along with that.
The status of Wicca and Wicca-like forms of paganism within broader interfaith pagan settings (8 sabbats, use of magic, Goddess or God/Goddess theology etc) is similar to the status of Protestant Christianity within monotheist religions. Talk about God and religion in the public square- “civil religion” historically reflected this, and excluded Catholics, Jews and Muslims. The Catholics and Jews are *kind of* more included, and the Muslims are slowly starting to be, though they face an uphill battle of xenophobia and anti-terrorist paranoia. Then there’s all kinds of wrestling over who’s “really” a Christian, as we saw in the 2012 election with a Mormon and a *suspected* Muslim running for President.
After Wiccans, Druids and Heathens/Asatru are the most commonly known pagan religions. If you’re a pagan of some sort, you probably know of all three, and likely specific traditions and organizations that fall within them. If you’re a monotheist or atheist in the broader U.S. culture, it’s likely you know of Wicca, think of Paganism in general as “Wicca-like” or the same, and may have vaguely, in passing heard of Druids and Heathens.
Druids are usually considered “close enough” to Wicca to benefit from some types of Wiccan privilege. As in, we typically celebrate the same 8 holidays, consider ourselves nature/earth-based. British-style revival Druidry such as OBOD is even closer to Wicca. (Ross Nichols, its founder was good friends with Gerald Gardner after all) And as with Wiccans and their close cousins, many Druids have interest in movements like feminism, environmentalism, peace, some kinds of New Age spirituality and magic.
Ruadan: “And ADF really seems to have more in common with Wiccanate paganism than it has with Celtic Reconstruction than some people want to really believe, even though it does seem to generally be a recon-friendly group.” Spot on. As someone who is part of both, I think that is very true. We celebrate the 8 “standard” holidays and have a ritual structure that be adapted for various pantheons.
Heathens worship some of the same Gods as Wiccans, and celebrate some of the same holidays (like Yule) But in general the Heathen community has less in common with secular aspects of Wiccan subculture. (link to the Hammer & the Pentagram article) The Heathen community has developed a very distinct identity from Wicca-centric Greater Pagandom, and the positive interactions they have had are much due to the efforts of people like Diana Paxson, who was Wiccan before becoming Heathen, intermarriage and friendship between the two and so forth. To the Heathen’s advantage, the United States has major English & German cultural influences- secular holiday customs, and various other customs and social mores that we are familiar with not to mention the English language itself.
Further afield, we have Roman, Greek, Egyptian reconstructionists/revivalists/polytheists. Other pagans may be familiar with Roman, Greek and some Egyptian God names and mythology, but the ritual practices, calendars, and cultural worldviews are likely to be very foreign to them. And the knowledge many pagans do have of these cultures is often superficial and distorted by outdated Victorian or feminist scholarship, and Western occultism. (Actually the knowledge people have of Celtic cultures is usually pretty superficial too, but that doesn’t stop them from thinking they know all about it.)
More posts on the subject:
Baring the Aegis: On Interfaith & Privilege- this is one of the most moderate polytheist responses that I feel closest too.
Unity & Diversity by Helio Pires, Golden Trail blog
Conor Warren- Division Conor hopes for an amicable division between pagans and polytheists.
When people get too serious and grouchy- online or off, I often find one of the best ways to respond is with humor. In the spirit of Druidic satire with a modern twist, Alison Leigh Lilly has lightened the mood with a Polytheist Rap Battle.
On the more serious side, there was a much-needed discussion about Wiccan(ate) privilege at Pantheacon, Finnchuill & Lupus both describe their experiences. Unfortunately it didn’t seem to go as well as it could have, but it’s a start that the different factions agreed to meet and talk about it in person. There was a lack of understanding about what Wiccan(ate) privilege really is among many of the people there and so it was not truly recognized as being a problem. Anyway read their accounts, I wasn’t there.
Recons & polytheists typically know more about Wicca and similar religions than those adherents know about ours. Even those of us who didn’t go through a eclectic Neo-Pagan or Wiccan phase before settling on our current tradition still get a lot of exposure to it from other Pagans and the media. Whereas, unless you make an effort to learn about our religions, it is easier for other Pagans to be blissfully unaware of them. Lupus mentions making many attempts to invite others to rituals, read books, blogs etc. about Lupus’ religion, Ekklesia Antinou and Celtic Reconstructionism without getting much response.
Earlier on Ruadhan made some suggestions for etiquette and hospitality at Pan-Pagan events to be more inclusive of polytheist and reconstructionists- I think they are quite reasonable. I observe all of the etiquette that I am aware of or that is explained to me at Wiccan rituals, it is perfectly fair to expect the same in return.
I think at this point we are going to need allies within Wicca and similar faiths- there are some recons/polytheists who also identify/belong to such traditions, they would be natural bridge-builders. Also, those of us in ADF- an organization with a unique place between Neo-Paganism and reconstructionism, can do a great to help as well. Diplomacy is a traditional role of Druids after all.