Appropriate Stories

Appropriate Stories March 5, 2013

Elinor has written here about the nature of displacement in modern Paganism. Displacement is one of the factors in cultural change and cultural borrowing. It can also lead to ugly cultural appropriation. For someone who is concerned about cultural appropriation, sometimes it can be hard to know where the line is between borrowing and stealing. Other times, you have no choice but to adopt something as your own because it simply speaks so deeply to your soul. What else could you do?

“I wanna show you the stars! So substitute the ignorant oppression with guilt and depression and it’s yours, it’s yours!” – Grippo by Saul Williams

The two stories of Mount Diablo that I shared in February come from two cultures that are not my own. I am not Chochenyo. I am not Spanish or Catholic. However, both of these stories have some meaning in them that relates to my personal experience of the place. I’m not even sure how to describe the way that Coyote, Eagle and Hummingbird drew me back to Chochenyo country over the course of several months in late 2011 and early 2012 after a long time away. It is a strange and long story that sounds like a folktale all its own. I have also experienced something terrifying and mysterious at the foot of the mountain, like the Catholic priest’s Devil.

I balk a little at the idea that someone might think that I am “stealing” the tale of the people who lived in Oakland before it was Oakland to explain and describe a piece of my own life, but what else can I do? No one would think to say that I’m “appropriating” the story of the priest. Perhaps some might tell me that I’ve “assimilated” that tale, but that doesn’t have the same nasty ring to it, or the notion that I’m hurting someone else in the process.

How can someone from a dominant culture share the ways in which another culture has helped them without seeming to be a cultural colonist? I have no good answer for that, only an assortment of incomplete solutions to the problem. And yet, I still learn every day by being the eternal outsider and borrowing folklore from everyone.

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