Appropriation: Worship Like You Stole It

Okay. Appropriation. I want to have a discussion, and here’s a thought I seem to always have when the topic comes up. As an American, everything I have is appropriated. I have not a single thing that I can claim as unique cultural heritage found only in my birth land that belongs to “my people”. The language I use-English, is an obvious place to begin. I learned Spanish. I’m not Latina. Therefore, by the broad scope of appropriation, I’ve just bungled. English itself is a mash up of other languages. I use it every day and I don’t bother giving a wit about the words that aren’t English. I don’t know the history of the words and I use them with impunity. I speak therefore I appropriate. I guess you can argue that my ancestors, or at least some of them, brought the language along with them, but some of my ancestors didn’t speak English, it was forced on them. So, am I now practicing some strange form of forced appropriation? Is there a term for that?

I’m not Native American, or at least not ONLY Native American (I believe I would be about 1/8 native American. My Great Grandmother was the ancestor in question.), so if I try to immerse myself in that culture I wasn’t raised in it can be considered appropriation. I haven’t, but I like learning about it, and I’ve occasionally thought I’d like to use some terms here or there in my spiritual practice, though I don’t out of shear laziness. It takes more time to explain something unusual than use common lexicon. I use sage-sage bundles, which are native American in origin, without knowing much about the traditional use for them. I don’t feel bad about it and I don’t know that most pagans would. I rather think of it as a tool l’ve acquired that works. Should I research it? Probably. Nothing but good would come of it. However, I’m extremely thankful for the people who came before me and realized Sage was awesome.

Because of my mixed genetic background I can say I feel free to work with any number of deities, but I wasn’t really raised in any of the backgrounds they “come from”, such as the Norse pantheon I work with now. I’m not part of the Asatru bandwagon that thinks we should only work with deities we’re blood tuned for (*cough*racisist undertones*cough* Excuse me.), but then isn’t that what the abhorrence of appropriation is all about? Don’t raid other people’s cultures for your own benefit, willy nilly. I wonder how America’s Buddhists feel about this? Either it’s okay for me to research and come to something respectfully and use it in my practice or work with deities that want to work with me, or it isn’t.

For example, most Americans almost look on Greek and Roman mythology as our own. It’s very intrinsic to our culture, at least educationally, yet, it isn’t ours. Is it appropriation if Persephone wants to work with me (I’m not Greek) if She’s decided to work with me? In some ways the entire idea of appropriation spiritually is just farcical. Some aspects of appropriation seem to negate the idea of free will on behalf of deities or the fact that some ideas simply don’t exist in other cultures. Isn’t making up new words for an idea, such as two spirit people for example, more disrespectful than simply using the original term? I realize bigender is more academic, but there was already a name for that. Maybe I’m just being a jackass and maybe I just don’t get it, but much like the rest of American culture, spiritually, there just isn’t anything unique that I can lay claim to without “appropriating”.  We don’t have many things that are uniquely our own aside from Phili cheese steaks, the Liberty Bell, and arguably, pop culture deities that originate in the States. Voodoo, I suppose, but wouldn’t that still be appropriation? Thoughts? Should I just let this go? I think that people who come from countries with their own deities and cultures get more hung up on appropriation than Americans do, in general, because of this stuff.

Americans don’t have anything that we haven’t stolen.

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4 thoughts on “Appropriation: Worship Like You Stole It

  1. And now I want a Philly Steak Sandwich. While listening to jazz- which is, like it’s cousin the Blues, definitely American. Possibly while watching the American sport of Baseball on TV. Actually, I do like all of these things and I’m glad we have them. But I see your point.

    Most of us, when we start looking around at other ways to feed our souls, take at least a brief look at the stories of ancient Greece and Rome because we do feel connected to them on some level. It is not a genetic connection, but to deny the reality of a cultural connection is wrong. Our ancestors brought their stories with them and- in that spectacularly American fashion- they got a bit mixed up and formed some new flavors. It makes it hard for us sometimes but generally speaking I find that this is an excellent way to go about things. Try to realize where the things we do and say and use come from and go as the magic requires.

  2. Not all cultural borrowing is appropriation. This is actually why I hate the term, it’s become so broadly used that it’s become rather watered down in meaning. I prefer to focus on practicing mindful cultural borrowing rather than a paranoid list of Do Not Do X!! Greek & Roman stuff is very much fair game as is Norse, grumpy racists aside.

  3. I agree that not all borrowing is appropriation. Before that phrase started getting thrown around it was widely understood that some cultural exchange is common, and happens anywhere you go. Mindfulness and respect is the best way to handle anything spiritual. I totally agree with your frustration.

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