The Witch Hunt Among Witches: Eclectic Witches & Cultural Appropriation

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This is a touchy subject… not that I’m afraid to talk about it, clearly, if you have been reading my articles, you’ll already know that I have no bones about speaking my mind or hurting a few feelings in doing so. But let me begin this by saying that Cultural Appropriation is different things to different people, and more often than not, it’s solitary Wiccans (usually non-initiate) and non- Wiccan/Witch “Spiritually minded” Pagans, just treading their own paths, who are accused of this more than anyone else. When someone takes a practice (or several)  from one culture and applies it to their own, they may see it as paying homage to that culture or practice and thereby incorporating it into their own spiritual journey, bringing them closer to the Divine (however they may view the Divine to be) on a more personal level. The problem with this however, herein lies with the culture in which the individual is borrowing from. I am not one to begrudge anyone of the spiritual choices they make, but I do see how some of these cultures have issue with this practice. 

You would be surprised at how ugly this debate becomes, especially when it is between what we have come to know as Eclectic Witchcraft and say, Vodouists, who would prefer one not engaging in their practices at all unless you are committed solely to it… and these folks have a legitimate gripe, as do the Native Americans, which is where I believe this whole war on Cultural Appropriation really starts. 

When you look at things from a religious standpoint, it is only natural that a Native American tribe would be troubled by and have some serious concerns about the adoption of Native American practices by someone who is not Native American, (the same with Vodouists) and has never truly had or lived the Native American experience. It makes sense. The majority base practices off of what they think it is and are basing their adopted practice off some imaginary or wishful interpretation of what being Native American really means. The truth is, the lack of social, historical and practical experience of this culture makes it impossible for anyone who is not actually from it to accurately understand what it’s like to be a part of the group and group’s practices they are attempting to emulate. Having a feather in your hair makes you no more a Chief than having a vintage badge you scored on ebay makes you a police officer. The most common one I see today is Shamanism, which used to frost my grandfather (who was Native American) like you wouldn’t believe. Today, you take some classes, go though and achieve different levels, maybe attend a few retreats and you are dubbed a Shaman, complete with a pretty certificate stating so. In tribes, it was similar to some extent, each tribe having their own way of determining whether or not one was suited (strong enough) for the job. But I assure you, there were no sterile facilities or classroom environments involved in this process. It often included days of fasting, a night of plant-induced hallucinating and if  you survived the evening fighting off demons and other monsters that come to you, bringing messages that you had to determine were trick or truth, you then would have to hike far into the forest or desert with escorts and perform a series of other, miracle-worthy feats before they even considered you to be worthy of being a healer. (Again, different tribes had different ways of determining this). 

Even if you were to take a religion such as Hindu, (for the sake of example) where each piercing and each Mendhi design has a significant meaning, a time-honored tradition among a group of people with practices and beliefs that have been around for hundreds if not thousands of years was suddenly taken by Western cultures and turned into something completely insignificant and then dubbed “Spiritual” can actually be insulting to the originating group. I imagine something as beautiful and traditional as this:

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gets taken, melded, mashed and incorporated in with several other belief systems, looks like this in their eyes by the time it’s all said and done:

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Um…. yeaahhhh…. Image

 

So how does this affect the Eclectic Witch? It affects them in a LOT of ways. Particularly, Eclectics have been under fire by just about every Pagan and non-Pagan Pantheon that’s out there primarily because they don’t fit into any specific definitive category. A Christian is a Christian, a Wiccan is a Wiccan, and Celt is a Celt a Druid is a Druid, so on and so forth. The Eclectic takes a bit from each (Christianity aside for a moment because that isn’t always the case here) and then forms his or her own tradition of beliefs and practices, and because this system can’t be defined as something else, it can be defined as eclectic….. which seems to have become a dirty word in the Pagan and Witch community, probably because of some of the points I made above and the perception of there being a lack of commitment to any one path, but I also think a bit of it has to do with the fact that we are human and because we are human, we need to place everything into nice, neat compartmentalized boxes with labels attached to them. If we cannot define it for sure, then it isn’t authentic or genuine… right?

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While I, myself am somewhat on the fence about this entire subject, mostly because I believe in a person’s right to choose the spiritual path or paths that brings to them the most peace,and also because I myself am from a mixed bag of spiritual and magickal cultures, I am also a bit old-school when it comes to being respectful to the originating pantheon or culture in that, if you are to emulate one of their practices or incorporate them into your own, it should probably be done discretely and with as much reverence to it as possible. I’ll be the first to admit that I have a deep fascination with Vodou, but encourage as they might, my friends in the higher ranks of the religion who have suggested I look further into it and go through what it takes to be initiated, I simply will not do it for the fact that I cannot whole-heartedly commit to its belief system in its entirety, and so I have taken a fancy to the practices of Hoodoo and rootwork instead, allowing me to have my “fix” of some of the practices without completely insulting the religious aspect of it (they are the same, yet very different–much in the way that Wicca and Witchcraft are–one is a religion, the other is a practice). But simply because I cannot completely commit does not mean it isn’t genuine or real, and for the same token, also does not give me the right to pick apart the pieces of it that jive with me and incorporate it with the things I do believe simply because it will suit me. It isn’t fair. And so, out of respect for the religion and those who practice and have worked hard to preserve it, I ask questions for understanding and education, but I certainly will not besmirch it by picking it apart and bending it for my own needs. 

I recently had a conversation with a friend of mine who is a Vodouist (translated in French to vodouisants, meaning “Servants of the spirits”) that began after he’d posted a photo to his Facebook page of an altar he’d erected to the Loa. Before I continue this story, allow me first to explain how this works, to the best of my ability, since I am not a Vodouist. Vodouists believe in a distant and unknowable creator god, called Bondye, who does not intercede in human affairs. Therefore, vodouists direct their worship toward spirits subservient to Bondye, called Loa. (Any vodouists reading this, please correct me if I am wrong in anything I have attempted to explain here). Every loa is responsible for a particular aspect of your life, with the dynamics and changing personalities of each loa reflecting the many possibilities inherent to the aspects of the practitioner’s life over which they preside. Vodouists cultivate personal relationships with the loa through the presentation of offerings, the creation of personal altars and devotional objects, and participation in elaborate ceremonies of music, dance, and other rituals and practices, which as you can see, makes it quite difficult for an Eclectic or anyone else who is not of this religion, to truly grasp the meanings and practices of this religion, because if you believe in many Gods, how can you also only believe in one Bondye? Pagan witches seek to know and build relationships directly with their Gods and Goddesses, where the Bondye is unknowable, and doesn’t get involved with our day-to-day rif-raf. Can you imagine erecting an altar to honor the Loa, having all the appropriate statuary and offerings on there and then placing a statue of Pan up there with them? How pissed off would the spirits be? 

And that brings me to the conversation, where someone commented under the photo asking if it would be appropriate to erect a similar altar to the loa but incorporating a few pagan touches. The answer was a resounding NO. 

When it comes to Wiccans and Eclecticism, there is some argument about who is Wiccan and who isn’t (here we go again!).

The argument is typically over the existing lineaged Wiccan traditions, such as Gardnerian, and newer “eclectic” traditions. The argument goes something like,  only those lineaged covens are permitted to call themselves Wiccan, and that anyone who claims to be eclectic is, by definition, not Wiccan but Neowiccan (labels, labels labels!!!). But lineaged is often used to describe more or less who initiated you and who initiated the person who initiated you and so on.  While lineage is not of importance to some traditions, in those that count it, you can bet your bottom dollar you will find a whole lot of “Uppity-ness” over your eclectic practices if you are also calling yourself Wiccan while doing it. Lineage is more often than not however primarily found in the traditional groups and not so much in Neowiccan or other pagan paths, but you still might want to be a smidge pickier about what practices you take from what traditions… Wiccan or otherwise. 

There is no easy answer to this debacle of eclecticism….and it is a bit of a debacle, at least until there is more tolerance for it. On one hand, your spiritual path is just that–yours. On the other hand, some religions have a real issue with parts of their beliefs and practices being picked apart and used in conjunction with others. Is there ever going to be a happy medium? A meeting of the minds? Probably not. 

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About krystalmadison

Known as "The Witch of Sleepy Hollow", as a child, Krystal knew that there was more to this physical existence where black and white exist, that there was a gray area many still could not see. But she could. Even as a young child, Krystal was able to see and communicate with those who have crossed over, but at nine years old, a near-death experience thrust her head-first into a world that would make her realize that we really aren't alone. Visions became clearer and made more sense, the spirits that roam the earth would begin to seek her out to relay a message to a loved one she was simply walking past in a super market. She understood even then, that there was more to this life than just existing and believes that we don’t have to live with all the limitations we place on ourselves, nor fear our own mortality. A 10th generation natural born witch with close ties to Salem and New Orleans, Krystal comes from a long line of magickal roots, with grandparents who were Native American and Gypsy, and a mother who was a Santeria Priestess. In May 2012, she founded The Pagan Circle, an online social media community that has grown to 23,000 members world-wide. In May, 2013 the Pagan Circle website was launched. On November 15, 2012, she founded Pagan Parents Online, another social media resource for Pagan Parents. In May 2013, she launched Enchanted Hollows, an online store dedicated to offering hand-made, old-world alchemical and magickal products and in 2014, Deja-Vuduu. Her published works include articles and features in Inner Realm and Wisdom Magazines, and she has made appearances on Darkness Radio, Z-Talk Radio, HEX Education,30-Odd Minutes and other media outlets. Regularly volunteering her time to the Pagan Community, Krystal is also an Ordained Minister and High Priestess of the Raven's Wing Coven in upstate New York, and founder of The Council of the Serment Sacre' (Sacred Oath) the Corvin Method of Witchcraft, and Festival of Witches in Sleepy Hollow, New York as well as playing host to the weekly radio show, "Good Morning Goddess", and Nocturnas Paranormal Radio on Blog Talk Radio. You can visit her on her websites at: http://www.krystalmadison.com http://www.festivalofwitches.com http://www.hudsonvalleybeltane.com
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20 Responses to The Witch Hunt Among Witches: Eclectic Witches & Cultural Appropriation

  1. I recently read a story about a Leader (who I think was Heathen) who dealt with some Native American spiritual leaders who were angry at the “cultural appropriation” going on with the first leader’s group. The Heathen sat down with them and showed them that no, cultural appropriation hadn’t happened, but that these were our original traditions…but because both paths revered nature and a multitude of Gods, they had naturally evolved to look similar to each other, to the point where another culture thought it was their rituals.

    Perhaps the eclectics aren’t as wrong as we like to assume. If we hold that ones spirituality is tied to one’s blood, one’s soul, it could be that the blood/soul is trying to recreate it’s ancestral ways by copying that which feels familiar and right to them. Add to the fact that most “eclectic” witches and wizards are generally either American or Canadian in origin, and those people tend to have so radically mixed bloodlines (i’m have European and half American, my European side has three blood lines all from Scandinavia, my American side has close to 10 bloodlines from all over) and you’re going to have one very confused soul that is drawn to rituals from dozens and dozens of places.

    I mean, look at the Poppet vs the Voodoo doll. One is European, one is Vodun, they work differently, but they look exactly alike half the time. To a Vodun priest who has never heard of a Poppet, it would look like the Witch using one had stolen his culture’s Doll and was using it incorrectly. Or the Maori tattoos vs the Viking tattoos. Maori use tattoos to form a resume of their deeds, where as the Norse would use them to invoke magic, but they often could end up looking very similar. I often wonder just how much of the cry of “Cultural Appropriation” is actual appropriation and how much of it is ignorance of the other culture’s practices.

    • I know what you mean, and I do wonder the same. Great point about the dolls and tattoos though. I was actually going to bring up the tattoos in the article, but because of the different cultures who use them for different things as you noted was far too intricate, it would have been too lengthy and I didn’t want to make anything more complicated than it already was, so I settled for the Menhi designs instead. Thanks for your input!

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  3. Moonramun says:

    I went into this thinking that there is nothing wrong with taking from each practice and molding it into your own. For example, I am not a fan of Do No Harm. This doesn’t sit right for me, I feel if I have the power to send back what was done for me, than I could and should, eye for an eye. I am also very drawn to Vodou and hoodoo. I know though one of my past lives this was a religion and practice of mine and I have an understanding of it on a deeper level. I also know I lived a life in ancient Egypt practicing Heka, so I do some work with the Egyptian Gods and Goddesses as well. But mostly I work with Greek Gods and Goddess, mostly Persephone, but again this is another past life of mine where I studied it in full and have that feeling of understanding. I feel this is the only reason why I do combine these practices. Does my conscious mind remember all of it, no. But when I am casting, I do so naturally and most of the time it isn’t written down.

    After reading this, I can see and understand why people would find it disrespectful. I still maintain to do what your path calls, but I see a reason behind these things. Before I would have just been defensive and said it is my way, worry about yours. Now I can at the very least understand why. This is a great, thought provoking article, thank you for your time, wisdom and energy spent on it.

    • Moonramun,

      I just want to say that I appreciate your comment. My intention here is not to have folks think I per say am against eclecticism… I did say I was on the fense about it personally, because I am from a mixed bag of spiritual and magickal lineage, and I don’t throw stones if I live in a glass house, if you catch my drift.

      I can certainly see why you choose the path you have. And as someone who grew up in the Catholic Church, I certainly didn’t like rules either 😉

      • Moonramun says:

        I think it was well written you made me, someone who defended my path to people daily, see the other side of it. That isn’t easy to do. So I applaud you.

      • And I applaud YOU for stepping up and speaking out! Thank you 🙂

      • Thank you for this important message. I am an old man trying to learn more ways to expand my spirituality. Have several sisters that practice and have a spiritual bond with them. I have been learning, or trying to, what I can and not trample on some one’s toes. My wish is to be solitary practitioner , I became aware in my in my late 50’s that was a women empathy ( so begins another story.) and needed more ways to help others as well as myself. I hope to continue my path as it is, and accept all as they are with love and respect. Thank you, Peace and Blessings to all..Blessed Be..QF

  4. snowfox66 says:

    I can understand your thoughts on this, HOWEVER there are only a few ideas out there. What you are talking about really is not against anyone. The BASICS of belief are really the only part that counts. So what if Julie barrows certain things from Brad’s beliefs and adds them to hers. It is just random things. Either they believe in a single or multiple deities. THAT is the core belief. everything else is just fluff. Nothing wrong with fluff, You are actually acting like the Christians who say that if you happen to do something a certain way you are stealing those ideas. Come now, All that you consider as bad is just someone deciding that this works for them so they add. Solitaires actually have no contact with others and have every right to believe as they do. It is sad when people start believing that those who are solitary are a threat to them. Did you know that archeologists have proof that covens did not show up until it became necessary for protection? That originally there was only ONE healer/religious leader/witch who took care of a village or town? Sorry, I can not see any problems with what you consider as bad for someone to “appropriate” because they may not even realize that is what they are doing. Now if I am wrong thinking that was your intent, forgive me for misunderstanding. If I am correct though please think on this. I do enjoy your writings, this however struck a sour cord and as I said reminds me of Christians who say this about those who don’t follow THEIR particular ideas and beliefs. It is sad…

    • I thought I made it very clear that I was not personally begrudging anyone of their personal practices, clearly stating that I was “On the fence” and saw both sides. I wasn’t throwing stones. I can’t. I have a grandmother who was Hungarian Gypsy, a Grandfather who was Native American, and a mother, grandmother, aunts and uncles who are Santaros… by all standards based solely on that alone, I should be considered “Eclectic” myself. But I was also raised in each of these traditions, under the guise of attending Catholic Mass because we lived in a predominantly staunch Irish Catholic community. I was merely pointing out how those other groups felt about certain practices of theirs being picked apart (which is how many of them view it), particularly where it concerns time honored traditions and the worship of Deities. No one can really fault them for wanting to preserve their traditions, but at the same time, I see your point in “Why can’t I adopt it?” I think sometimes part of the problem may be is that some feel they are entitled to do so, when they are not, and in this day in age, there are folks out there perporting to be someone they aren’t or from a culture they have absolutely no affiliation with, and people who go to them get ripped off or hurt. Here is just one example (and a tragic one) of this: James Arthur Ray. Patti Wigington did a whole write-up on this and it along with several others can be found all over the web: http://paganwiccan.about.com/od/contemporaryissues/a/JARayUpdates.htm

      So while I am not completely for or against, I can certainly see the concern.

      • snowfox66 says:

        As I said, I apologize since I didn’t get that part. But then I have been a bit fuzzy lately. Please don’t get me wrong, I do love you writings, Perhaps make it a little clearer on that? You still bring a good bit of information on this. 🙂

      • It’s hard to decipher things in writing… I hope I didn’t come off as snarky or nasty in my reply, that wasn’t my intention and I still appreciated your input 🙂

      • snowfox66 says:

        I am too old to be offended dear. At 55 I tend to be a bit on the blunt side as well. I forget to tone it down, but I will never mince words nor politically correct. Age allows me to do that. Keep up your writing. You ARE good.

      • Well, as you have probably already guessed, I too am a bit on the blunt side 😉 And Thank you ❤

  5. Thank you for sharing, it is a fascinating topic for debate with no one right answer in my opinion. It has happened throughout history, look at Voodoo itself and the incorporation of catholic saints into its practice, yet is anybody complaining about it? I believe to each their own, spirituality is something personal that no other person has a right to determine for you.

    However, I do see it being an issue to mix and match cultures and pass it off as a new tradition and to make money from doing so.

    But that is just my opinion 🙂

  6. benebell says:

    Re: “So what if Julie barrows certain things from Brad’s beliefs and adds them to hers. It is just random things. Either they believe in a single or multiple deities. THAT is the core belief. everything else is just fluff. Nothing wrong with fluff.”

    That sentiment sums up perfectly why I and many Chinese and Taiwanese Americans would get offended when someone not from our heritage picks and pulls at Kuan Yin or thinks it would be cool to clutter their altars with Buddha statues . To you it’s fluff. To us, you’re talking about a Truth we believe in. You’re referring to our faith and convictions as fluff. I hope you understand that.

    Re: “I cannot see any problems with what you consider as bad for someone to ‘appropriate’ because they may not even realize that is what they are doing.”

    Not realizing they’re doing something that might hurt, offend, or step on the toes of others doesn’t mean there isn’t a problem. There is definitely a problem and both parties need to communicate about it and strike an understanding, preferably one coming from a place of empathy.

    Re: “I see your point in ‘Why can’t I adopt it?’”

    Oh absolutely you can adopt any practice and appropriate away, but then these same people shouldn’t get defensive and act like the victim when those from the culture they’ve appropriated from are offended. Likewise we have the right to be offended and feel hurt and if your practice is one truly coming from a spiritual, enlightened place, then wouldn’t our hurt mean something to you? Don’t you want to reach a place of understanding with us to resolve that hurt?

  7. Thank you for this deeply thoughtful post. I often imagine that those of us who are of Mixed Ancestry walk a complex road indeed. Issues of appropriation and blending spur much debate, and for good reason. Yet the road we walk takes us directly into this difficult terrain.

  8. Brian Henke says:

    There is a reason so many people just say that they’re “spiritual” when asked “What is your religion?”
    I get asked this a lot….
    I am a musician who plays pagan fests, metaphysical shops, Unity and Unitarian Churches, Bluegrass Music fests, Hippie Fests, Folk Fests and I get played on New Age, Folk and Pagan radio shows.
    My music is “spiritual”……..
    Being more of a wise guy than a wise man, when asked I quite often reply “I belong to the Church of the Holy Bag”….”I’m sack religious”…….. OK that joke does work better in person…..
    In other words….I feel absolutely no desire to be a part of any one religion or set of spiritual beliefs. Dogma bores me and since I believe that boredom is a self inflicted condition I just won’t go there.
    I see the divine in a baby’s smile and the sunlight on the leaves. I hear Every God and Goddess voice in laughter and a parent singing a lullaby to their child. My “magic wand” is my guitar and the magic is the music I’m given by whatever the power of life and the Universe is, to me…. to share. When I don’t have an instrument to play, smiles, hugs and dumb jokes work too……
    Love is simply the greatest magic we human beings can create!
    For me religion is simply whistling in the dark while walking past the graveyard. You can choose to join in with someone else or another group of people’s tune or whistle your own or….not at all and just give the universal “driving symbol” of a middle finger towards death and our impending doom.
    Our time here on this beautiful planet is much to precious to waste our time arguing about “Whose religion is bigger”!

    Great writing Krystal!!

    Brian

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