You Can’t Appropriate Your Own Culture

Seems like common sense, right? Yet common sense, as the saying goes, isn’t quite so common.

At Pagan Spirit Gathering this year I attended the Redneck Ritual. Debby led the ritual, which involved Dale Earnhardt, RC Cola and Moon Pies. Being from the great state of Georgia herself, she didn’t appropriate Redneck culture, because it’s her culture. As a participant in the ritual, being from rural Georgia and eating boiled peanuts on occasion, I didn’t appropriate anything from rednecks, because I are one.

Courtesy monkey_bob99x via Flickr CC license

To appropriate, according to Merriam-Webster, is to 1.) take exclusive possession of, 2.) set aside for a particular purpose or use, and 3.) to make use of without authority or right. So when I saw my roommate, who is out of town, has bananas that are on their last leg, I appropriated them. When I chose to use my dresser as an altar, I appropriated it for that use. When I bought a toothbrush, I appropriated it for my own exclusive use and no other’s.

As an American citizen, when I choose to venerate Columbia, an early American personification of the country, I am not appropriating her. I’m not saying she’s mine and you can’t have her. I’m not saying she is only for Pagans to venerate. As an American, I surely have a right to American culture.

Pagans especially seem to jump on the “cultural appropriation” bandwagon far too quickly when it’s something they don’t like. Like assuming someone turned you down for a date because of your ethnicity, and finding after you played the “race card” that the truth is you have bad breath. Or assuming you didn’t get a job based on your gender or sexual orientation and finding you spelled your own name wrong on the job application. People are too quick to leap to outrage, indignation and victimhood, and it tends to leave them with egg on their face.

A friend of mine identifies as African-American. She has deep brown skin and beautiful African features. Her grandfather is a pale Irishman. She considers herself to have a right to explore Irish culture as her own, and I’m the last person to gainsay her.

I have Cherokee ancestry, and as I research my family history I’ve come to suspect that some of my Cherokee ancestry comes from slaves either adopted or owned by the Cherokee. I research this history, I respect it but I don’t consider I have any right to Cherokee culture. I wasn’t raised in it, or around it. Some well meaning people, including relatives, have suggested I do have a right to it, but I don’t believe I do. I work with Selu through my ancestors, but I never claim anything I do is Cherokee or call on her in any other sense.

I have a friend (I think his ancestry is Polish or Romanian) who has been adopted by a Cherokee family. He has immersed himself in the culture, learned traditional ways and is invited to attend private solstice rituals with them. He has no Cherokee ancestry, but he has been adopted by that culture and has become a part of it. Does he have a right to that culture? I certainly think he does.

One of the reasons I find Wicca ever more interesting is because I have found my ancestry is primarily English. By ancestry and participation in, and acceptance by, a Wiccan tradition, I have a right to Wiccan culture. Unless I were to behave really inappropriately by stating Wicca is mine and no one elses, I can’t appropriate it.

Straight up, though, I have totally appropriated Hellenism. I haven’t the faintest drop of Greek blood and I’m not a member of any Hellenic religious organization (though I used to be). I haven’t any right to Hephaistos at all, except that he’s ok with my appropriation. I’d apologize, but it would be kind of hollow considering I have no intention of giving up my patron.

Cultural appropriation is a serious accusation and should only be made with all of the facts on the table. Just because you don’t like something someone is doing doesn’t make it appropriation. Something having a history of genocide or oppression doesn’t make it cultural appropriation. (Cherry-picking ideas or products with an oppressive history to get outraged over is simply illogical and dishonest. Getting upset over Columbia and still using Kodak, Siemens, Bayer, VW, Ford, Coca-Cola, Chase and IBM products is kind of hypocritical.) You can’t just accuse people of cultural appropriation willy-nilly. It’s as ridiculous as my niece calling me a racist for preferring the yellow jellybeans.

Try dialing down the outrage and treating other people as human beings, who are so often more than what meets the eye. Too often we’re too busy rushing out to complain, criticize and demonize others, too busy wringing our hands, throwing flour on our face and claiming the sky is falling, when there is good work to be done, friends to support and accomplishments to cheer. The Pagan community is strong, and, despite our squabbling (or perhaps because of it), we’re not going anywhere soon.

Now I’m going to cook Lammas food and color in a Pagan coloring book while Greek Pagans, Hellenion and YSEE may rightfully complain about my cultural appropriation in the comments section.

About Star Foster

Polytheistic Wiccan initiated into the Ravenwood tradition, she has many opinions. Some of them are actually useful.

  • http://www.facebook.com/INTJadis Simon Delott

    I completely agree with you.  “I haven’t any right to Hephaistos at all, except that he’s okay with my
    appropriation. I’d apologize, but it would be kind of hollow considering
    I have no intention of giving up my patron.”

    There is a tremendous difference between sincerely revering a deity and, say, demanding admission to an exclusive group’s ritual, or ritual site. No individual or group owns a deity. They can protest at misrepresentations of that deity. I would support that, whether the protest is justified or not. But that’s it — the Gods belong to everyone . . . and to no one (if that obnoxious sentence makes any sense).

  • http://www.facebook.com/INTJadis Simon Delott

    I completely agree with you.  “I haven’t any right to Hephaistos at all, except that he’s okay with my
    appropriation. I’d apologize, but it would be kind of hollow considering
    I have no intention of giving up my patron.”

    There is a tremendous difference between sincerely revering a deity and, say, demanding admission to an exclusive group’s ritual, or ritual site. No individual or group owns a deity. They can protest at misrepresentations of that deity. I would support that, whether the protest is justified or not. But that’s it — the Gods belong to everyone . . . and to no one (if that obnoxious sentence makes any sense).

  • Hecate_Demetersdatter

    Great post, Star.  

    Appropriation is complicated.  

    The Goddesses and Gods move around a lot.  I’m devoted to Hecate, who likely started out in part of what is now Turkey, moved to Greece, got interpreted by European Romantics, and now presides over my Bit of Earth here in Northern Virginia.  I’ve got, AFAIK, no blood from Turkey or Greece.  Yet, She called me.  What was I going to say:  “Sorry, Goddess.  Me no know you?”  Yeah.  Not.  Not the appropriate answer to the Goddess of Liminal Space, Matron of both childbeds and cemeteries, Queen of Witches, She Who Makes Change Possible.  OTOH, I’m a big believer in the notion that the oppressors don’t get to tell the oppressed, “Oh, get over it.  I’m not appropriating; you’re too sensitive.”  If a Native American tells me that what I’m doing is offensive to them, I’m going to take that seriously.  I’d LOVE — as the kind of courtesy that I believe Anyone owes to the people, spirits, dryads, etc. of the place where Anyone moves (and people, whatever else they do, do move around) — to know, honor, pour blots to the deities of the First Peoples who lived on these Potomac shores.  I’ve looked; there’s not much out there.  The deities of the people who may have lived on my Bit of Earth before I moved here have been, sadly, lost to history. (if anyone can enlighten me otherwise, I’d be most grateful.)And, so, as an urban Pagan who lives in a city named for the Goddess Columbia, I work at fostering a relationship with her.  I live here.  She’s this city’s patron Goddess.  I need to be in relationship to her.  (I’m not saying that everyone who lives here needs to have a relationship with her.  I’m saying that I need to have that relationship.  Anyone who can’t figure out the difference between this and what the DC40 people are saying is too silly for me.  I’m sorry.  Get over your hubris and grow up.) Washington, D.C. is unique because it’s our nation’s capitol.  So Columbia is, for me, the patron Goddess of this city, with her sandaled feet in the now-too-warm Potomac, but also with her sandaled feet in the 7-11s of every inner city neighborhood, in the corridors of power, in the streets of row houses full of urban gardeners, government workers, artists that fill this City on a Hill.  And, she’s a representation of what’s good about America.  She’s related to Libertas, who presided over ceremonies that freed Roman slaves.  The reason that the statue of Columbia that pinnacles our nation’s capital has a pentacled helmet rather than a Phyrigian cap is because Sec’y of War Davis objected to the Phyrigian cap as a symbol of freedom from slavery.  She’s all wound up in our both glorious and hideous history. 

    And that’s why I worship her.  Am I appropriating the Roman Goddess Libertas?  Given Columbia’s Native American headress and blanket, am I appropriating Native American symbols?  I hope not.  But she’s the patron Goddess of my city and my country.  And I’d be beyond rude if I failed to know her, worship her, incorporate her into my daily practice.  Everyone else’s mileage may vary.

    • http://www.patheos.com/ Star Foster

      Right, that’s just one representation of her, and I always thought her headdress/helmet looked more Roman with a crest than First Nations.

      I prefer pictures of her wearing a liberty cap myself, although I’m tempted to purchase a copy of that sculpture on the Capitol next payday.

  • Anonymous

    Great post, Star.  

    Appropriation is complicated.  

    The Goddesses and Gods move around a lot.  I’m devoted to Hecate, who likely started out in part of what is now Turkey, moved to Greece, got interpreted by European Romantics, and now presides over my Bit of Earth here in Northern Virginia.  I’ve got, AFAIK, no blood from Turkey or Greece.  Yet, She called me.  What was I going to say:  “Sorry, Goddess.  Me no know you?”  Yeah.  Not.  Not the appropriate answer to the Goddess of Liminal Space, Matron of both childbeds and cemeteries, Queen of Witches, She Who Makes Change Possible.  OTOH, I’m a big believer in the notion that the oppressors don’t get to tell the oppressed, “Oh, get over it.  I’m not appropriating; you’re too sensitive.”  If a Native American tells me that what I’m doing is offensive to them, I’m going to take that seriously.  I’d LOVE — as the kind of courtesy that I believe Anyone owes to the people, spirits, dryads, etc. of the place where Anyone moves (and people, whatever else they do, do move around) — to know, honor, pour blots to the deities of the First Peoples who lived on these Potomac shores.  I’ve looked; there’s not much out there.  The deities of the people who may have lived on my Bit of Earth before I moved here have been, sadly, lost to history. (if anyone can enlighten me otherwise, I’d be most grateful.)And, so, as an urban Pagan who lives in a city named for the Goddess Columbia, I work at fostering a relationship with her.  I live here.  She’s this city’s patron Goddess.  I need to be in relationship to her.  (I’m not saying that everyone who lives here needs to have a relationship with her.  I’m saying that I need to have that relationship.  Anyone who can’t figure out the difference between this and what the DC40 people are saying is too silly for me.  I’m sorry.  Get over your hubris and grow up.) Washington, D.C. is unique because it’s our nation’s capitol.  So Columbia is, for me, the patron Goddess of this city, with her sandaled feet in the now-too-warm Potomac, but also with her sandaled feet in the 7-11s of every inner city neighborhood, in the corridors of power, in the streets of row houses full of urban gardeners, government workers, artists that fill this City on a Hill.  And, she’s a representation of what’s good about America.  She’s related to Libertas, who presided over ceremonies that freed Roman slaves.  The reason that the statue of Columbia that pinnacles our nation’s capital has a pentacled helmet rather than a Phyrigian cap is because Sec’y of War Davis objected to the Phyrigian cap as a symbol of freedom from slavery.  She’s all wound up in our both glorious and hideous history. 

    And that’s why I worship her.  Am I appropriating the Roman Goddess Libertas?  Given Columbia’s Native American headress and blanket, am I appropriating Native American symbols?  I hope not.  But she’s the patron Goddess of my city and my country.  And I’d be beyond rude if I failed to know her, worship her, incorporate her into my daily practice.  Everyone else’s mileage may vary.

    • http://www.patheos.com Star Foster

      Right, that’s just one representation of her, and I always thought her headdress/helmet looked more Roman with a crest than First Nations.

      I prefer pictures of her wearing a liberty cap myself, although I’m tempted to purchase a copy of that sculpture on the Capitol next payday.

  • Hecate_Demetersdatter

    Star,

    I’m a big fan of Not Acquiring Stuff, but I bought the one (with marble from the old Capitol crushed in resin) from the U.S. Capitol Historical Society.  It’s quite lovely.  She comes across as this very young, very pure, Roman & yet First Peoples Goddess.  I can see why a young America wanted to both harken back to Roman democracy and to root itself in this particular landbase.

    She has many other representations.  For me, as a citizen of This polis, it’s her representation on top of the Capitol that matters.

    The Columbia River is named for her, as is Columbia, South Carolina.  There’s a Columbia, Missouri.  Columbia Pictures uses her as their symbol.  She’s been the Goddess of North America for some time.  And North American Pagans need, IMHO, to get to know her.  She embodies freedom, liberty, and the need to hearken back to those values in both war and peace (the formal name of the statue on the U.S. Capitol is “Freedom Triumphant in War and Peace.”)

    If I’m appropriating, well, I’m appropriating from my own polis, city, landbase.

  • Anonymous

    Star,

    I’m a big fan of Not Acquiring Stuff, but I bought the one (with marble from the old Capitol crushed in resin) from the U.S. Capitol Historical Society.  It’s quite lovely.  She comes across as this very young, very pure, Roman & yet First Peoples Goddess.  I can see why a young America wanted to both harken back to Roman democracy and to root itself in this particular landbase.

    She has many other representations.  For me, as a citizen of This polis, it’s her representation on top of the Capitol that matters.

    The Columbia River is named for her, as is Columbia, South Carolina.  There’s a Columbia, Missouri.  Columbia Pictures uses her as their symbol.  She’s been the Goddess of North America for some time.  And North American Pagans need, IMHO, to get to know her.  She embodies freedom, liberty, and the need to hearken back to those values in both war and peace (the formal name of the statue on the U.S. Capitol is “Freedom Triumphant in War and Peace.)

    If I’m appropriating, well, I’m appropriating from my own polis, city, landbase.    

  • http://johnfranc.blogspot.com/ John Beckett

    Don’t pretend to be something you’re not.  Credit your sources.  Beyond that, learn and borrow from the best – it’s what we humans have been doing for thousands of years.

  • http://johnfranc.blogspot.com/ John Beckett

    Don’t pretend to be something you’re not.  Credit your sources.  Beyond that, learn and borrow from the best – it’s what we humans have been doing for thousands of years.

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

    Good one. As someone who appropriates left right and center and is not going to apologize for it, I think most of the problem with the idea of appropriation is not pretending to be something we aren’t, but other people being hyper-ready to tell us who were are or aren’t, even when they don’t actually know anything about us beyond a name, skin color, or current address.

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

    Good one. As someone who appropriates left right and center and is not going to apologize for it, I think most of the problem with the idea of appropriation is not pretending to be something we aren’t, but other people being hyper-ready to tell us who were are or aren’t, even when they don’t actually know anything about us beyond a name, skin color, or current address.

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

    Good one. As someone who appropriates left right and center and is not going to apologize for it, I think most of the problem with the idea of appropriation is not pretending to be something we aren’t, but other people being hyper-ready to tell us who were are or aren’t, even when they don’t actually know anything about us beyond a name, skin color, or current address.

  • P. Sufenas Virius Lupus

    I am rather tired of the “blood = culture” or “childhood environment = culture” arguments that are then deterministic about how one should live and act and what one should be interested for the rest of one’s life, religious or otherwise.  Every one of us who was not born into a Pagan family is, in some way, “appropriating” Paganism/polytheism, if one wants to think that way.

    For me, I’ve got a very small bit of Irish/English lineage, but the majority is German/Russian Jewish.  The Irish bit isn’t even native Irish, it’s Welsh, from the 12th century Cambro-Norman invasion.  But, like the Vikings, and the various others who came to Ireland as invaders, soon the Cambro-Normans became “more Irish than the Irish themselves,” as the phrase goes…So, what about that?  And, if I were to suddenly convert to conventional, non-polytheistic-friendly Judaism, would that be appropriation as well, since I didn’t grow up Jewish despite having Jewish ancestry sufficient enough on both sides to be considered Jewish by the Israeli Army?  (My older brother checked on the latter…he identifies fully as Jewish now.)

    There are clear and obvious cases of appropriation that occur, and particularly if there is fraud or material gain to be had in such occasions, it should be opposed.  Particularly if someone isn’t a part of an indigenous people and appropriates their practices or sets oneself up as an authority on them, that should most certainly be opposed.  But, a great deal else is not…

    I wonder, though it may be too provocative to say so for some, if the gods of various European cultures that may not be one’s own genetic heritage are showing up for modern Pagans and polytheists because they want “someone, ANYONE” to pay attention to them, and given that Greece as-a-whole these days is rather over-identified with particular forms of monotheism (except when it comes to tourism), the gods are casting their nets more widely, as it were.  If a whole culture rejects or ignores particular deities except when it is convenient as a source of income (and even then, they don’t honor them so much as show people around their ruined temples), perhaps the gods are “appropriating” various modern people for themselves.  Are we to argue with them, I wonder?  Hmm…

    In any case, though, thanks for this, Star!  I don’t know if I’d like boiled peanuts, but I have used Johnny Cash songs in ritual…so, you know what that makes me.  (And, my mom’s family were farmers in Eastern Washington, and were “true” rednecks…my grandfather’s neck was red until the day he died, even though he wasn’t a farmer for decades at that point!)

    Ave Columbia, Haec Terrae Dea Plena Gratia!

    • http://www.patheos.com/ Star Foster

      If you do what you do with love, sincerity and respect, then more power to you!

    • http://sarenth.wordpress.com/ Sarenth

      I tend to take this approach you wrote as well: “if the gods of various European cultures that may not be one’s own genetic heritage are showing up for modern Pagans and polytheists because they want “someone, ANYONE” to pay attention to them” because it seems to me that these Gods have gone hundreds, if not thousands of years, some of them, without humans to talk to Them instead of about Them.  Do They need us?  I’m not so sure.  I can say They definitely want to hear from us and know us, if my experiences are any indication.  I believe many want to cultivate relationships with us humans again, ranging from totally new kinds to the kinds They were used to back when Their Their worship was at least observed, if not quite active.

    • http://omo.peacockfairy.com/ Ruadhán J McElroy

      I am rather tired of the “blood = culture” or “childhood environment =
      culture” arguments that are then deterministic about how one should live
      and act and what one should be interested for the rest of one’s life,
      religious or otherwise.

      As am I, but I also get it a lot of time in the direction of “family name and childhood environment = culture” when I assert my maternal heritage of England and Cornwall or dare to self-identify as British.  And obviously, it doesn’t matter to most that my childhood environment was an English equivalent of “more Irish than the Irish”, raised mostly by a Cockney grandmother so full of regret for leaving that some might say she over-compensated — doesn’t matter than at the age of nine, I was able to articulate the reason that the UK was just in taxing her North Amerikan colonies and cast as a pariah for it — what matters was I was born in Ohio and lived every day there until I was twelve, so I’ve apparently no right to be British.  Hell, I speak more Cornish than I do Gaelic.

      I know it’s not a perfect parallel, but the almost slavishly nonsensical arguments people have been known to make to justify their accusations that another is “[mis-]appropriating” a culture are ridiculous.  Especially considering all the historical migrations that have made up the various cultures that we know of today:  There’s a running gag in To the Manor Born where Audrey fforbes-Hamilton will use a French expression and then identify it as “English” — clearly the writers acknowledging the largely French “genetic stock” in the upper classes of England and playfully mocking it.  I mean really, is that a case of people with French heritage badly appropriating Englishness, or the English badly appropriating Frenchness?  Are perfectly English words like “poultry” and “beef” –a remnant of the French aristocracy in the language– appropriated, or have they been “English” for so long that it doesn’t matter?

      It’s one thing when people of a disenfranchised culture are trying to explain to Appropriating Majority Guy that this Disenfranchised Cultural Thing is something he’s getting completely wrong and accuse him of appropriation.  That’s fair and just.  It’s another when an arbitrary definition of a culture is put up for the purposes of keeping others out, and the others are accused of appropriation; were the ancient Ionian Hellenes somehow non-Hellenes — does that answer change if we can find Hypothetical Athenian who’s offended that Ionian-born-and-raised people were calling themselves Hellenes?

      This reminds me of when I very briefly explored Liberal Judaism (on the grounds that I could tell from my Cornish maternal grandfather’s surname, that he had Russian Jew somewhere in there, in spite of his lifelong identity as Cornish), I was asked “Who is a Jew?” and informed that the right answer is between the Jews and their God.  There is a culture associated with Jewishness, to be sure, and even bloodlines, but consider that while the Jewish people has never actively sought converts, there has always been an acceptance of converts, and rituals to formalise conversion — matrilineal descent is integral to be born Jewish, but being, that seems to be another thing.

  • P. Sufenas Virius Lupus

    I am rather tired of the “blood = culture” or “childhood environment = culture” arguments that are then deterministic about how one should live and act and what one should be interested for the rest of one’s life, religious or otherwise.  Every one of us who was not born into a Pagan family is, in some way, “appropriating” Paganism/polytheism, if one wants to think that way.

    For me, I’ve got a very small bit of Irish/English lineage, but the majority is German/Russian Jewish.  The Irish bit isn’t even native Irish, it’s Welsh, from the 12th century Cambro-Norman invasion.  But, like the Vikings, and the various others who came to Ireland as invaders, soon the Cambro-Normans became “more Irish than the Irish themselves,” as the phrase goes…So, what about that?  And, if I were to suddenly convert to conventional, non-polytheistic-friendly Judaism, would that be appropriation as well, since I didn’t grow up Jewish despite having Jewish ancestry sufficient enough on both sides to be considered Jewish by the Israeli Army?  (My older brother checked on the latter…he identifies fully as Jewish now.)

    There are clear and obvious cases of appropriation that occur, and particularly if there is fraud or material gain to be had in such occasions, it should be opposed.  Particularly if someone isn’t a part of an indigenous people and appropriates their practices or sets oneself up as an authority on them, that should most certainly be opposed.  But, a great deal else is not…

    I wonder, though it may be too provocative to say so for some, if the gods of various European cultures that may not be one’s own genetic heritage are showing up for modern Pagans and polytheists because they want “someone, ANYONE” to pay attention to them, and given that Greece as-a-whole these days is rather over-identified with particular forms of monotheism (except when it comes to tourism), the gods are casting their nets more widely, as it were.  If a whole culture rejects or ignores particular deities except when it is convenient as a source of income (and even then, they don’t honor them so much as show people around their ruined temples), perhaps the gods are “appropriating” various modern people for themselves.  Are we to argue with them, I wonder?  Hmm…

    In any case, though, thanks for this, Star!  I don’t know if I’d like boiled peanuts, but I have used Johnny Cash songs in ritual…so, you know what that makes me.  (And, my mom’s family were farmers in Eastern Washington, and were “true” rednecks…my grandfather’s neck was red until the day he died, even though he wasn’t a farmer for decades at that point!)

    Ave Columbia, Haec Terrae Dea Plena Gratia!

    • http://www.patheos.com Star Foster

      If you do what you do with love, sincerity and respect, then more power to you!

    • http://sarenth.wordpress.com/ Sarenth

      I tend to take this approach you wrote as well: “if the gods of various European cultures that may not be one’s own genetic heritage are showing up for modern Pagans and polytheists because they want “someone, ANYONE” to pay attention to them” because it seems to me that these Gods have gone hundreds, if not thousands of years, some of them, without humans to talk to Them instead of about Them.  Do They need us?  I’m not so sure.  I can say They definitely want to hear from us and know us, if my experiences are any indication.  I believe many want to cultivate relationships with us humans again, ranging from totally new kinds to the kinds They were used to back when Their Their worship was at least observed, if not quite active.

    • http://www.peacockfairy.com Ruadhán J McElroy

      I am rather tired of the “blood = culture” or “childhood environment =
      culture” arguments that are then deterministic about how one should live
      and act and what one should be interested for the rest of one’s life,
      religious or otherwise.

      As am I, but I also get it a lot of time in the direction of “family name and childhood environment = culture” when I assert my maternal heritage of England and Cornwall or dare to self-identify as British.  And obviously, it doesn’t matter to most that my childhood environment was an English equivalent of “more Irish than the Irish”, raised mostly by a Cockney grandmother so full of regret for leaving that some might say she over-compensated — doesn’t matter than at the age of nine, I was able to articulate the reason that the UK was just in taxing her North Amerikan colonies and cast as a pariah for it — what matters was I was born in Ohio and lived every day there until I was twelve, so I’ve apparently no right to be British.  Hell, I speak more Cornish than I do Gaelic.

      I know it’s not a perfect parallel, but the almost slavishly nonsensical arguments people have been known to make to justify their accusations that another is “[mis-]appropriating” a culture are ridiculous.  Especially considering all the historical migrations that have made up the various cultures that we know of today:  There’s a running gag in To the Manor Born where Audrey fforbes-Hamilton will use a French expression and then identify it as “English” — clearly the writers acknowledging the largely French “genetic stock” in the upper classes of England and playfully mocking it.  I mean really, is that a case of people with French heritage badly appropriating Englishness, or the English badly appropriating Frenchness?  Are perfectly English words like “poultry” and “beef” –a remnant of the French aristocracy in the language– appropriated, or have they been “English” for so long that it doesn’t matter?

      It’s one thing when people of a disenfranchised culture are trying to explain to Appropriating Majority Guy that this Disenfranchised Cultural Thing is something he’s getting completely wrong and accuse him of appropriation.  That’s fair and just.  It’s another when an arbitrary definition of a culture is put up for the purposes of keeping others out, and the others are accused of appropriation; were the ancient Ionian Hellenes somehow non-Hellenes — does that answer change if we can find Hypothetical Athenian who’s offended that Ionian-born-and-raised people were calling themselves Hellenes?

      This reminds me of when I very briefly explored Liberal Judaism (on the grounds that I could tell from my Cornish maternal grandfather’s surname, that he had Russian Jew somewhere in there, in spite of his lifelong identity as Cornish), I was asked “Who is a Jew?” and informed that the right answer is between the Jews and their God.  There is a culture associated with Jewishness, to be sure, and even bloodlines, but consider that while the Jewish people has never actively sought converts, there has always been an acceptance of converts, and rituals to formalise conversion — matrilineal descent is integral to be born Jewish, but being, that seems to be another thing.

  • Pitch313

    You’d think that it was obvious that nobody could commit acts of appropriation on their own culture. That makes good sense.

    Except that we probably do it all the time–or it’s equally valid to argue that we do–and never pay it no mind. That, too, makes good sense.

    My forebears immigrated to California from some European countries during and immediately after the Gold Rush. But I’m not European and couldn’t be if your moved me back.

    I’m now and for good or ill Californian, Coastal Northern Californian.

    I couldn’t be a Southerner, A New Englander, or a Midwesterner, either.

    But all of us are Americans, and not Canadians or Mexicans.

    What I’m getting at, I think, is that culture is a biggable and littleable sort of notion.

    Sometimes, it amounts to everything the human species knows or has ever known about the entire planet Earth. Other times, culture is what folks in your block know that hardly anybody else does. Other times than that, culture is folks like you and your family doing what they do. Still other times, culture is what other folks that you could not be doing what they do, and maybe them doing that strikes you as pretty damned odd, indeed.

    Now I will admit that when it comes to getting along with Deities, Guardians, Powers, and Spirits of Place–I go along with Them directly, and not with who else done put in a claim. Kali calls, I romp along.

    But this same sort of thing kinda works when I crave Carolina BBQ or fish for salmon in Lake Michigan.

    Culture doesn’t have fences and gates so much as membranes permeable to notions and doings and shared human wisdoms.

    Do we say, for instance, that Russian and Chinese aircraft technologists appropriated the cultural contributions of Ohio bicycle makers?

    Living wrapped up within and using culture is what human beings do. We use the culture that we find before us. That culture grows big and gets little at need. And it keeps on growing and shrinking and changing. In my lifetime, hardly anybody had a computer. These days, we carry computers casually in our pockets. When I was a kid, my hometown–Vallejo, CA–had no indigenous peoples to speak of. These days, surviving indigenous peoples got an active sacred site there.

    Culture–It suits us all!

  • Anonymous

    You’d think that it was obvious that nobody could commit acts of appropriation on their own culture. That makes good sense.

    Except that we probably do it all the time–or it’s equally valid to argue that we do–and never pay it no mind. That, too, makes good sense.

    My forebears immigrated to California from some European countries during and immediately after the Gold Rush. But I’m not European and couldn’t be if your moved me back.

    I’m now and for good or ill Californian, Coastal Northern Californian.

    I couldn’t be a Southerner, A New Englander, or a Midwesterner, either.

    But all of us are Americans, and not Canadians or Mexicans.

    What I’m getting at, I think, is that culture is a biggable and littleable sort of notion.

    Sometimes, it amounts to everything the human species knows or has ever known about the entire planet Earth. Other times, culture is what folks in your block know that hardly anybody else does. Other times than that, culture is folks like you and your family doing what they do. Still other times, culture is what other folks that you could not be doing what they do, and maybe them doing that strikes you as pretty damned odd, indeed.

    Now I will admit that when it comes to getting along with Deities, Guardians, Powers, and Spirits of Place–I go along with Them directly, and not with who else done put in a claim. Kali calls, I romp along.

    But this same sort of thing kinda works when I crave Carolina BBQ or fish for salmon in Lake Michigan.

    Culture doesn’t have fences and gates so much as membranes permeable to notions and doings and shared human wisdoms.

    Do we say, for instance, that Russian and Chinese aircraft technologists appropriated the cultural contributions of Ohio bicycle makers?

    Living wrapped up within and using culture is what human beings do. We use the culture that we find before us. That culture grows big and gets little at need. And it keeps on growing and shrinking and changing. In my lifetime, hardly anybody had a computer. These days, we carry computers casually in our pockets. When I was a kid, my hometown–Vallejo, CA–had no indigenous peoples to speak of. These days, surviving indigenous peoples got an active sacred site there.

    Culture–It suits us all!

  • Anonymous

    You’d think that it was obvious that nobody could commit acts of appropriation on their own culture. That makes good sense.

    Except that we probably do it all the time–or it’s equally valid to argue that we do–and never pay it no mind. That, too, makes good sense.

    My forebears immigrated to California from some European countries during and immediately after the Gold Rush. But I’m not European and couldn’t be if your moved me back.

    I’m now and for good or ill Californian, Coastal Northern Californian.

    I couldn’t be a Southerner, A New Englander, or a Midwesterner, either.

    But all of us are Americans, and not Canadians or Mexicans.

    What I’m getting at, I think, is that culture is a biggable and littleable sort of notion.

    Sometimes, it amounts to everything the human species knows or has ever known about the entire planet Earth. Other times, culture is what folks in your block know that hardly anybody else does. Other times than that, culture is folks like you and your family doing what they do. Still other times, culture is what other folks that you could not be doing what they do, and maybe them doing that strikes you as pretty damned odd, indeed.

    Now I will admit that when it comes to getting along with Deities, Guardians, Powers, and Spirits of Place–I go along with Them directly, and not with who else done put in a claim. Kali calls, I romp along.

    But this same sort of thing kinda works when I crave Carolina BBQ or fish for salmon in Lake Michigan.

    Culture doesn’t have fences and gates so much as membranes permeable to notions and doings and shared human wisdoms.

    Do we say, for instance, that Russian and Chinese aircraft technologists appropriated the cultural contributions of Ohio bicycle makers?

    Living wrapped up within and using culture is what human beings do. We use the culture that we find before us. That culture grows big and gets little at need. And it keeps on growing and shrinking and changing. In my lifetime, hardly anybody had a computer. These days, we carry computers casually in our pockets. When I was a kid, my hometown–Vallejo, CA–had no indigenous peoples to speak of. These days, surviving indigenous peoples got an active sacred site there.

    Culture–It suits us all!

  • Illiezeulette

    Ah, appropriation.  Complicated because there’s a difference in what some cultures find acceptable appropriation; open culture versus closed.  There are a few Irish Pagans I know that cite passages in the Annals of Tacitus as proof that non-Irish or non-Gael (both of ancestry and of geographic location) cannot actually engage in a real relationship with gods of the Gael (Brigid, for example).  They consider the appropriation of Irish holiday names by Wiccans to be unethical cultural appropriation, or flat-out racist.  

    There is also a great number of British Traditional Wiccans who are appalled at the appropriation of the word “Wicca” for non-BTW religion.  Of course, there are also non-BTWs who don’t think it’s unethical.

    I think it’s important to focus on the reaction of the culture that you are trying to appropriate.  Do the natives of that culture embrace outsiders and encourage them to participate in their rituals, or do they not? 

    • http://www.patheos.com/ Star Foster

      There are Greek Pagans who think American Hellenics are trying to “seduce their Gods away” in a sense.

      When I’m initiated I will be part of a spiritual lineage that is both “of the Wica” and of other forms of English and American Witchcraft. I like that. It feels both very authentic, if you look at Craft lineage like a form of genealogy, and very American.

      I’m actually not fond of the Irish names for the Sabbats. The word mæsse-dæg is Anglo-Saxon for festival. Candlemas, Lammas, and Hallowmas all work fine for me.

      • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1226891346 Cara Schulz

        Ha!  That’s why many of the statues have/had chains around the feet.  So other city-states couldn’t woo their Patron/ess away from them.

      • http://omo.peacockfairy.com/ Ruadhán J McElroy

        There are Greek Pagans who think American Hellenics are trying to “seduce their Gods away” in a sense.

        Odd, I’d say, considering that the mythos usually portray the Theoi seducing people outside Hellas and now her descendants are Hellenes.

    • Nicole Youngman

      At this point I’m quite convinced that the god/desses themselves have permeable boundaries. Brigit became St. Brigit and then Maman Brigitte when she came over to the New World, and Maman Brigitte overlaps significantly with Oya, who has very little in common with the Celtic Brigid (and oops, I’ve gone and changed spellings in mid-thought!). Deities (or our perception of them, as you prefer) morph and shift across time and cultures. Anyone who says X isn’t being venerated the “right” way needs to specify what time and place they think DID have it right.

  • Illiezeulette

    Ah, appropriation.  Complicated because there’s a difference in what some cultures find acceptable appropriation; open culture versus closed.  There are a few Irish Pagans I know that cite passages in the Annals of Tacitus as proof that non-Irish or non-Gael (both of ancestry and of geographic location) cannot actually engage in a real relationship with gods of the Gael (Brigid, for example).  They consider the appropriation of Irish holiday names by Wiccans to be unethical cultural appropriation, or flat-out racist.  

    There is also a great number of British Traditional Wiccans who are appalled at the appropriation of the word “Wicca” for non-BTW religion.  Of course, there are also non-BTWs who don’t think it’s unethical.

    I think it’s important to focus on the reaction of the culture that you are trying to appropriate.  Do the natives of that culture embrace outsiders and encourage them to participate in their rituals, or do they not? 

    • http://www.patheos.com Star Foster

      There are Greek Pagans who think American Hellenics are trying to “seduce their Gods away” in a sense.

      When I’m initiated I will be part of a spiritual lineage that is both “of the Wica” and of other forms of English and American Witchcraft. I like that. It feels both very authentic, if you look at Craft lineage like a form of genealogy, and very American.

      I’m actually not fond of the Irish names for the Sabbats. The word mæsse-dæg is Anglo-Saxon for festival. Candlemas, Lammas, and Hallowmas all work fine for me.

      • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1226891346 Cara Schulz

        Ha!  That’s why many of the statues have/had chains around the feet.  So other city-states couldn’t woo their Patron/ess away from them.

      • http://www.peacockfairy.com Ruadhán J McElroy

        There are Greek Pagans who think American Hellenics are trying to “seduce their Gods away” in a sense.

        Odd, I’d say, considering that the mythos usually portray the Theoi seducing people outside Hellas and now her descendants are Hellenes.

    • Nicole Youngman

      At this point I’m quite convinced that the god/desses themselves have permeable boundaries. Brigit became St. Brigit and then Maman Brigitte when she came over to the New World, and Maman Brigitte overlaps significantly with Oya, who has very little in common with the Celtic Brigid (and oops, I’ve gone and changed spellings in mid-thought!). Deities (or our perception of them, as you prefer) morph and shift across time and cultures. Anyone who says X isn’t being venerated the “right” way needs to specify what time and place they think DID have it right.

  • http://blog.chasclifton.com Chas Clifton

    Good post. I keep saying that if you are going to be a real polytheist, you have to grant the gods some agency—and that means that if the “wrong” god/dess picks you, so it goes!

    As for the Cherokees, among native tribes they were known for their openness to people who wanted to join them—as long the newcomers accepted Cherokee ways. Not that it was all harmony—look up the history between the pure-bloods and mixed bloods, particularly as it manifested during the Civil War–you couldn’t let the “Cherokee Mounted Rifles” and the “Cherokee Mounted Volunteers” near each other. But I digress!

  • http://blog.chasclifton.com Chas Clifton

    Good post. I keep saying that if you are going to be a real polytheist, you have to grant the gods some agency—and that means that if the “wrong” god/dess picks you, so it goes!

    As for the Cherokees, among native tribes they were known for their openness to people who wanted to join them—as long the newcomers accepted Cherokee ways. Not that it was all harmony—look up the history between the pure-bloods and mixed bloods, particularly as it manifested during the Civil War–you couldn’t let the “Cherokee Mounted Rifles” and the “Cherokee Mounted Volunteers” near each other. But I digress!

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Mystere-de-la-Nuit/100001512144536 Mystere de la Nuit

    For me as an artist, learning how to steal and borrow productively and respectfully is part of my craft, and is kind of part of my Craft, as well. Personally, I was claimed by Nyx, the Greek primordial Goddess of Night. Like Star, I have no Greek blood that I know of at all. But She claimed me nonetheless, as Her Daughter, and it felt truly right. I also belong to Bastet, but I have no Egyptian blood, either. I have little Cherokee blood, though more than we thought, but some of the Cherokee traditions and stories resonate with me more than the Irish, English, Ukranian, or Scottish stories and beliefs that I have easily visible blood ties to. But I was raised with Ukranian Catholic traditions, pysanky, tartans, and all the rest for most of my life, so shouldn’t I find some connection to those traditions? Maybe, but I don’t. 

    What I do, however, is to try to bring in some of the traditions that are associated with my Goddesses to honor Them and Their original cultures. Bastet gets Egyptian musk incense, Nyx is my guide into divination and I use a black feather for smudging my space with the White Sage from my Cherokee ancenstors. And from there, I just do what feels right. Maybe it’s appropriated, but for my purposes in honoring the Goddesses that chose me, not for my enjoyment.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Mystere-de-la-Nuit/100001512144536 Mystere de la Nuit

    For me as an artist, learning how to steal and borrow productively and respectfully is part of my craft, and is kind of part of my Craft, as well. Personally, I was claimed by Nyx, the Greek primordial Goddess of Night. Like Star, I have no Greek blood that I know of at all. But She claimed me nonetheless, as Her Daughter, and it felt truly right. I also belong to Bastet, but I have no Egyptian blood, either. I have little Cherokee blood, though more than we thought, but some of the Cherokee traditions and stories resonate with me more than the Irish, English, Ukranian, or Scottish stories and beliefs that I have easily visible blood ties to. But I was raised with Ukranian Catholic traditions, pysanky, tartans, and all the rest for most of my life, so shouldn’t I find some connection to those traditions? Maybe, but I don’t. 

    What I do, however, is to try to bring in some of the traditions that are associated with my Goddesses to honor Them and Their original cultures. Bastet gets Egyptian musk incense, Nyx is my guide into divination and I use a black feather for smudging my space with the White Sage from my Cherokee ancenstors. And from there, I just do what feels right. Maybe it’s appropriated, but for my purposes in honoring the Goddesses that chose me, not for my enjoyment.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Lamyka-L/649965363 Lamyka L.

    When confronted with this issue, everyone seems to assume the bobble head position to frequently agree but another point that needs to be addressed is the Respect factor.

    Not just the Respect factor towards the culture from which you ‘appropriate’ things/information/aspects/etc. but also that those from whence it came have the right to say “No, you don’t. Give back whatever you took and get off my lawn before I call the police.”

    It’s also the Pagan Community taking a stand against those who feel they can walk into someone else’s house and eat from their fridge. Now what says everyone on that subject?

    (and since I’ve had more than a few brushes with people thinking the worst of others let me be as clear as possible, I’m not talking about telling good honest and respectful people they can’t do this or that. I’m talking about jag-offs that make all of us look bad. I always say the more the merrier but I sympathize with Greek Pagans in that I just sometimes want to throttle the idiots who run around talking about how they’re “Pele worshippers” and “she’s all about like fire and stuff! Cool!” >__> )

    • http://sarenth.wordpress.com/ Sarenth

      I think you hit that nail right on the head.  As someone who has an admittedly eclectic practice, it frustrates me to no end when I have taken a good amount of time, sometimes a long time, to know my Gods, and someone comes along, claims they are a worshiper of so-and-so, and proceeds to spout flippant stuff that has nothing to do with Them.  Perhaps I do not have the kind of relationship with X, Y, or Z God/dess that they do.  I will freely admit I am in a place where people may not have the same relationship as I with my Gods.  While still having empathy and compassion for this, I still find more often than not it is a disrespect to the God/dess that the person did not work to get to know Them, either from their existing lore, or from personal interaction.

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

      LOL! One of the nastiest rants I’ve ever gotten about CA was for telling a 19 year old “fire mage” that Pele’s not just about fire; she’s Mama Kali on a surfboard!

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Lamyka-L/649965363 Lamyka L.

    When confronted with this issue, everyone seems to assume the bobble head position to frequently agree but another point that needs to be addressed is the Respect factor.

    Not just the Respect factor towards the culture from which you ‘appropriate’ things/information/aspects/etc. but also that those from whence it came have the right to say “No, you don’t. Give back whatever you took and get off my lawn before I call the police.”

    It’s also the Pagan Community taking a stand against those who feel they can walk into someone else’s house and eat from their fridge. Now what says everyone on that subject?

    (and since I’ve had more than a few brushes with people thinking the worst of others let me be as clear as possible, I’m not talking about telling good honest and respectful people they can’t do this or that. I’m talking about jag-offs that make all of us look bad. I always say the more the merrier but I sympathize with Greek Pagans in that I just sometimes want to throttle the idiots who run around talking about how they’re “Pele worshippers” and “she’s all about like fire and stuff! Cool!” >__> )

    • http://sarenth.wordpress.com/ Sarenth

      I think you hit that nail right on the head.  As someone who has an admittedly eclectic practice, it frustrates me to no end when I have taken a good amount of time, sometimes a long time, to know my Gods, and someone comes along, claims they are a worshiper of so-and-so, and proceeds to spout flippant stuff that has nothing to do with Them.  Perhaps I do not have the kind of relationship with X, Y, or Z God/dess that they do.  I will freely admit I am in a place where people may not have the same relationship as I with my Gods.  While still having empathy and compassion for this, I still find more often than not it is a disrespect to the God/dess that the person did not work to get to know Them, either from their existing lore, or from personal interaction.

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

      LOL! One of the nastiest rants I’ve ever gotten about CA was for telling a 19 year old “fire mage” that Pele’s not just about fire; she’s Mama Kali on a surfboard!


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