Often in the Spiritual circles, it is practiced what it is not understood, and then not understood the consequences of said practices. Cultural appropriation comes with the caveat of a practice being tailored for the needs of the culture that appropriates it, hence void with it’s original content and rendered fashion instead of hard individual and authentic work.
Religion is both feared as it is questioned, people with faith are considered unintelligent and those of us who practice spirituality and research endlessly about spiritual practices, are often considered nutjobs, when in fact is these practices that bring us the sanity we need to face the hardships of this world.
There is knowledge to be understood in all religions and spiritual practices, and there is appreciation to be held in them as well, without the need to appropriate them into our worlds. We don’t need to have something belong to us to understand it or even like it. We don’t need to be on one side of the fence unable to see the other side, if the fence is not high enough. With this I mean, it’s perfectly possible to understand and accept a culture without the need to make it our own.
Culture…is that complex whole which includes knowledge, belief, art, law, morals, custom, and any other capabilities and habits acquired by man as a member of society (Tylor 1920 : 1)
When in spirituality we take the beliefs of a culture and make it our own, we make an appropriation of everything in said culture, mix it with our own culture and create a hybrid often void with meaning for lack of research and understanding. Another problem with cultural appropriation, comes from taking a culture out of it’s historical context, such as the “Pagan Witch” we see so often around us, that have appropriated the habits even traditions of said culture, without living in said time and fully understanding the realities of the culture they have called their own.
I’ve spoken extensively on this blog on the appropriation of the Gods and Goddesses and the dangers that brings to the authenticity of the Self. It’s like children playing doctor, really, it is not needed to understand medicine. The culture of honoring the divine feminine is something completely different than calling one self a Goddess, as it is equivalent to the culture of worshipping Gods being something completely different than calling your dog Thor.
So, how do we go from cultural appropriation and debouchary, to simple yet important appreciation? People can do all the research and study all the books, but still won’t live in the time or place of said culture. We can travel to the touristic destinations of said culture, but as all traveleres know, it’s not with a 2 week visit we will even begin to understand the culture. We can even live in the place of origin of the culture we appropriate, but even so, we will not fully understand it. It’s by understanding this we can move from appropriation to appreciation.
Appreciation calls for reverence and respect. Calls for understanding and support. Calls for connection and right livelihood. It is not needed to go to church on sunday to be a Christian, as it is not needed to worship a statue to believe in a deity, but it is needed to understand why both the church and the statue are important and what they mean.
Once, a very long time ago, I browsed a cult of Gnosticism. It ended up being a temple for the Goddess Isis and their practices attempted to use symbols and knowledge to use the feminine energy for manifesting wishes and riches. I was appalled, made a scandal and left. To this day, I think I grew a bit weary of what I see around me when people attempt to call themselves this or that, being it spiritual or even political. There is a lack of awareness, research and knowledge that permeates everything humanity attempts to understand.
To understand cultural appropriation, we also need to understand it’s deep roots to colonialism and the “magic” other cultures seem to the foreigners. It is like a man from a remote African tribe going to New York, he will also believe it is magic and supernatural.
In this globalized world, it seems all culture is up for grabs. Hollywood, Netflix, cable channels dedicate their lives to globalize culture in one large melting pot of ideas and beliefs. Writers from all over the world, but particularly the United States, make millions selling books about spirituality that it’s either their experience or cultural appropriation of symbols and archetypes they do not fully understand. This issue has become intergenerational and it’s very hard to not succumb to it in the Western world.
Cultural appreciation involves deep studying of a culture, going to the most authentic sources and trying to understand how the knowledge might have been transformed through times.
I think, in my personal and professional experience, that the most important and dangerous part of this is why cultural appropriation exists like it does nowadays. It’s simply an escapism to the realities of one’s own culture, how disconnected we are from the roots of our ancestors. We often don’t even know the names of our great grandfathers, or know little about our family’s history. And if we don’t understand our own family history and what genetics and education made us what we are today, how can we possibly begin to really understand a whole different culture than our own?
Cultural relativism is the notion established by Franz Boas, that another culture should be understood by the lens of their own value and belief system, habits, traditions and practices, rather than judged by another culture’s viewpoint. On the other hand, ethnocentrism is judging another culture based on the own’s values and belief system. Neither of which is a solution to understanding culture, as it is continuously established by social sciences academia.