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Author Topic: Cultural Gatekeepers  (Read 3013 times)

troll maiden

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Cultural Gatekeepers
« on: November 04, 2016, 02:50:02 pm »
I was browsing through Tumblr recently when I came across a post that really got me thinking. It was a huge list of deities commonly associated with Wicca. Not an uncommon sight. But what caught my attention was the huge amount of names with lines through them.

I scrolled to the bottom of the post to find out why, it turns out that someone had taken major umbridge with it. So had reblogged it, crossed a lot of the names off and added a very snotty note.

I can't remember exactly what it said, but the general jist of it was that those deities belonged to 'closed faiths' or could only be 'worshipped by initiates'. It was a popular post too, it had been reblogged by thousands of people.

Now I got into Paganism because it allowed me the kind of growth and exploration that I just couldn't find in Christianity. So it saddens me to find such a high level of restrictive thinking. I also wonder what effect it would have on nascent Pagans.

I can understand that people are very conscious of cultural approriation, but I wonder if acting like a gatekeeper of a culture is the way to go. Especially if it's a culture you're not even part of.

I'm sorry if this post was a load of old waffle. I just wanted to get these thoughts of my chest, and find out others' opinions on the matter. :)
« Last Edit: November 04, 2016, 02:52:02 pm by troll maiden »

Beryl

Re: Cultural Gatekeepers
« Reply #1 on: November 04, 2016, 04:56:18 pm »
Quote from: troll maiden;198660
Now I got into Paganism because it allowed me the kind of growth and exploration that I just couldn't find in Christianity. So it saddens me to find such a high level of restrictive thinking. I also wonder what effect it would have on nascent Pagans.

This is probably true of a lot of people, however, growth and exploration don't inherently mean "taking what isn't yours", do they? I haven't seen the specific post, but I've seen posts like it, both with and without the crossings out and comments about closed cultures. And, well, I agree with it (the crossings out/comment version), for the most part. Neopaganism is full of appropriation from other cultures, often with very little thought or respect for the actual people within those cultures. Neopaganism is also, historically, pretty white and American/European, as I understand it (certainly the vast, vast majority of self-declared pagans I've encountered have been), so it's kinda part of the wider issue of white people going "ooh, that looks shiny, it's mine now." Frequently for profit and/or acclaim, and often in an exceedingly superficial manner. With the added bonus of "but my beliefs, dude!"

An example - Kabbalah. In Judaism, this is SERIOUS business, and should only be undertaken by someone who would be considered an expert in Torah [which doesn't just mean the five books recorded in a Torah scroll, it includes all of the Tenach, the Talmud, Mishnah, etc. Essentially, an expert in all we know of a few millennia of Jewish thought and debate] - traditionally over 40 (and male), both of which criteria imply almost three decades of study (a 40 year old male Jew who hadn't actually been pretty much full time studying Torah would not be likely to be seen as a good candidate for Kabbalistic learning). In Paganism, well, pretty much anyone who's read certain books on Tarot probably thinks they know a whole lot about Kabbalah.

Some cultures and religions (funnily enough, Wicca is one of them) have practices and relationships with deities which are specific to those groups. It seems fairly disrespectful of both the people which has built a relationship over many generations, kept the fires burning, so to speak (and sometimes literally), and of the deity in question, to just claim them as their own.

That doesn't mean you can't learn about/from those cultures (if it's done respectfully and ideally without spending lots of money on books and other products made by people not actually in the group - e.g. 'sweat lodges' run by non-Native American folk), and it doesn't necessarily even mean you can't have some form of relationship with that deity, or work with their energies as an archetype, or whatever. But just grabbing a name from a list of deities and going "yep, that's my Goddess now!"? Meh.
« Last Edit: November 04, 2016, 04:57:47 pm by Beryl »

Beryl

Re: Cultural Gatekeepers
« Reply #2 on: November 04, 2016, 04:58:50 pm »
Quote from: Beryl;198664

Neopaganism is full of appropriation from other cultures, often with very little thought or respect for the actual people within those cultures.

 
(Which kind of makes me boggle a bit when some of those same people start banging on about "Christmas/Easter/Hallowe'en was STOLEN from the Pagans!")

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Re: Cultural Gatekeepers
« Reply #3 on: November 04, 2016, 05:15:43 pm »
Quote from: Beryl;198664

Some cultures and religions (funnily enough, Wicca is one of them) have practices and relationships with deities which are specific to those groups. It seems fairly disrespectful of both the people which has built a relationship over many generations, kept the fires burning, so to speak (and sometimes literally), and of the deity in question, to just claim them as their own.


To follow on with this, I also think there's a difference between gatekeeping relationships with deities, and gatekeeping practices, especially those that have safety or long-term well-being implications (physical, mental, spiritual) if done incorrectly.

On the latter front, taking a practice out of context, without the safeguards that would be present in its originating culture, can lead to people dying, being seriously injured, or having to spend a lot of time dealing with lasting problems.

One of the best discussions of a variety of implications is a very long thread on Making Light about the James Ray sweatlodge incident in 2009 which resulted in the deaths of three people, and a number of others had ongoing significant health effects. (It's worth reading the comments since different people touch on a lot of different pieces of this kind of appropriation of practice)

On the relationship front, one of the things people will say about deity work in oathbound Wiccan traditions is that because information from *within* those traditions is oathbound, people outside them don't know if they're connecting with the same deities, or in the same way.

If you take it as "build the relationships with the deities you want relationships with, and don't claim they're the same deities as those over there you can't compare it to", that's fine, and the British Traditional Wicca folks I know will not be bothered.

(Some of them will go "Well, if it is the same deity, then maybe we'll end up in circle together sometime." because the gods choose who they choose and people make choices about that, and sometimes gods lead to a group, and sometimes other stuff happens.)

It's saying "This deity is the same as your deity" when you don't actually know for sure who the other deity is or demanding that people share oathbound material, personal experiences, or other private details that are really really not cool. (I also feel sort of obliged to link the here.)
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Re: Cultural Gatekeepers
« Reply #4 on: November 04, 2016, 09:19:26 pm »
Quote from: troll maiden;198660
I was browsing through Tumblr recently when I came across a post that really got me thinking. It was a huge list of deities commonly associated with Wicca. Not an uncommon sight. But what caught my attention was the huge amount of names with lines through them.


I'm not going to go in too much detail here - as I'm still relatively new to all this.
I think people of a specific culture are well within their right to hold on to what is probably the last remnants of their people's ancestral beliefs. Some people call this racist, I call it reasonable (although there are a lot of neo-Nazi undertones in pagan sects like Wotanism - which is not reasonable).

Being such an open and limitless spirituality, Paganism opens itself up to everyone, including very thick and shallow people who are simply searching for social acceptance or want to feel cool.
These people tend to appropriate and  romanticize the beliefs of different cultures, so individuals are obviously going to try to protect their pantheon and other's pantheons.    
Having said all that - one person's views, or even many people's view can't really stop you from looking into those crossed out deities.

Some hard-ass Wiccans will give you specific do's and don'ts, while others will promote spiritual cocktails. In the end there is no right or wrong, it's all a matter of opinion, and you just have to settle with what you find is right for you.

Me personally, I only stick to what reflects my heritage. But in my opinion you can certainly have limitless eclectic beliefs, if you're willing to research the history of the Gods to gain a clearer understanding of them. To me, that's acceptable and respectful.
Taking the initiative to learn about the Gods probably means a lot more to them than an offering or fancy ritual.

Sorry if I strayed a little off topic <__<
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Re: Cultural Gatekeepers
« Reply #5 on: November 04, 2016, 10:37:51 pm »
Quote from: troll maiden;198660
I got into Paganism because it allowed me the kind of growth and exploration that I just couldn't find in Christianity. So it saddens me to find such a high level of restrictive thinking. I also wonder what effect it would have on nascent Pagans.
Any living faith is usually going to have people in it, though, and any one with a shred of moral fiber will want to navigate the challenges of co-existing with another or with others. Restrictions such as "no human sacrifice" could be one example, so restrictions at all aren't necessarily a bad thing! :ange:

From what I've gathered, the restrictions you want to talk about now...did not originate from someone who decided to be restrictive for the sake of being restrictive. It came out of someone noticing that the majority of people enjoy growth and exploration in spirituality at the expense of a minority of people who have their spiritual identity redefined and misrepresented—along with economic, legal, interpersonal oppression.

Even if you'd taken to following that post, you're likely to enjoy far more freedom than people who have been struggling to keep body and soul (and every part of their identity) together for generations.

Quote
I can understand that people are very conscious of cultural appropriation, I wonder if acting like a gatekeeper of a culture is the way to go. Especially if it's a culture you're not even part of.


So, I mentioned my idea that such restrictions did not originate from someone who decided to be restrictive for the sake of being restrictive—but it can be perpetuated by people who have noticed that all the cool kids are cruel, smug, and persnickety (and they want to be cool, too.) Reinforcing the dominant narrative—growing in dominance, in some spaces—gets easily mistaken for insight and authenticity. Meanwhile, individuals from othered/marginalized demographics do get talked over by those who prioritize the appearance of moral superiority over real compassion, over doing any real justice by anyone. That's when acting like a gatekeeper to a culture you're not a part of gets dodgy.

It stands to reason, though: If it's only people within the culture/tradition who have any thought to respect the integrity and boundaries of that culture/tradition then...it's not going to work. Of course people outside of the culture/tradition are the very ones that the insiders need to cooperate in respecting a culture/tradition! Or else integrity and boundaries are not going to happen.

Sometimes when people are hurt, they need to be left alone to breathe, heal, and sort out how they're going to go on. A lot of people in the same sort of pain together can operate in a similar way. Maybe the post you speak of was more on the "Notice and care already please I am so tired..." side of that than it was on the "Am I cool yet?!?" side. Because one person setting boundaries can be taken as snobbish if the other starts off entitled to what one has: to someone in a position of privilege, equality feels like oppression. (But of course, that makes it very easy for someone to justify/disguise actual snobbishness that you've accurately perceived, so...really, it's your call. I personally take it case-by-case rather than broad strokes, "my rights end when yours begin" and then it gets complicated to misalign grokking the lived experience with statistics that reflect a demographic imbalance of power, but that's life.)
« Last Edit: November 04, 2016, 10:38:43 pm by Faemon »
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Dusk

Re: Cultural Gatekeepers
« Reply #6 on: November 05, 2016, 04:37:42 pm »
Quote from: troll maiden;198660

I was browsing through Tumblr recently when I came across a post that really got me thinking. It was a huge list of deities commonly associated with Wicca. Not an uncommon sight. But what caught my attention was the huge amount of names with lines through them.

I can't remember exactly what it said, but the general jist of it was that those deities belonged to 'closed faiths' or could only be 'worshipped by initiates'. It was a popular post too, it had been reblogged by thousands of people.

Now I got into Paganism because it allowed me the kind of growth and exploration that I just couldn't find in Christianity. So it saddens me to find such a high level of restrictive thinking. I also wonder what effect it would have on nascent Pagans.

I can understand that people are very conscious of cultural approriation, but I wonder if acting like a gatekeeper of a culture is the way to go. Especially if it's a culture you're not even part of.

 
You don't have to be the member of a specific culture to listen to people of that culture saying they don't want others to appropriate their faith, and to then spread the word that it is unacceptable to steal from those traditions.

Especially because it is in a Wiccan context. The broad collapse of "all deities are aspects of the God and the Goddess" and the tendency to use gods as "correspondences" is already criticized by some hard polytheists even when those deities are not from closed traditions. It is disrespectful to take the deity from a culture that has already been decimated by colonization and is struggling to hold onto their traditions and stick it into a ritual because you think it's cool or convenient. Using those deities in the context of a tradition which involves completely removing them from their culture without any mind to the values or beliefs of that culture is not "growth," it is disrespect. Avoiding this is not "restrictive thinking," it is being self-aware and respectful.

If you want to worship gods in closed traditions, you should do it after extensive study of the tradition, within the context of that tradition, and being fully aware of the complexity involved in you, as an outsider, taking on that faith. You should know from your own research and hearing from people of that faith who have the right to be the gatekeepers of their religion whether or not it is acceptable and respectful for you to do so. Then you will have truly experienced spiritual growth.

There are thousands of gods in traditions that are not closed to outsiders. Thousands of gods for everything imaginable with their own unique personalities. Countless spirits to explore, to connect to, to learn from, to grow from, who you are perfectly within your right to worship. Why is it so important to you that you be able to take the gods of marginalized peoples as well?
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WritchCodex

Re: Cultural Gatekeepers
« Reply #7 on: April 19, 2017, 09:08:57 pm »
Quote from: Beryl;198664
Neopaganism is also, historically, pretty white and American/European, as I understand it (certainly the vast, vast majority of self-declared pagans I've encountered have been), so it's kinda part of the wider issue of white people going "ooh, that looks shiny, it's mine now."


This is something that this white American witch has become increasingly aware of over the past year, when I have been trying to keep my privilege in check just about every moment of the day. Though I consider myself eclectic, I've been sure to steer clear of everything from deities to terminology that some oppressed cultures have been trying to keep exclusive to their culture, because the last thing I want to do is knowingly or unknowingly commit a kind of spiritual "identity theft" with a group that is working to keep their traditions alive in the face of oppression, active or residual. I've even stopped using the term "smudging" for my smoke cleansings, because I've been told smudging is exclusive to some Native American traditions by both Native Americans and non.

And that actually ties into my real reason for reviving this thread - my sister (yes, I'm asking for advice for her again) feels she has special affinity to ancient Egyptian spirituality, and she has taken on a particular magical name in order to reflect that. She's not sure if it's alright, though, because she has read that the name is both ancient Egyptian and Arabic Egyptian. Not sure if it's crossing a cultural gatekeeping boundary or not, she's unsure if she should drop the name or retain it.

If anyone has any advice on what is the most respectful thing to do in this situation, it would be greatly appreciated! Thanks!

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Re: Cultural Gatekeepers
« Reply #8 on: April 19, 2017, 10:46:58 pm »
Quote from: WritchCodex;205177
And that actually ties into my real reason for reviving this thread - my sister (yes, I'm asking for advice for her again) feels she has special affinity to ancient Egyptian spirituality, and she has taken on a particular magical name in order to reflect that. She's not sure if it's alright, though, because she has read that the name is both ancient Egyptian and Arabic Egyptian. Not sure if it's crossing a cultural gatekeeping boundary or not, she's unsure if she should drop the name or retain it.

If anyone has any advice on what is the most respectful thing to do in this situation, it would be greatly appreciated! Thanks!


If she is the one asking for advice on what the most respectful thing to do is, I would say that the fact of simply asking the question is 49% of the answer. The complementary 51%, however, is how much she genuinely wishes to embrace and learn from the traditions she is honoring. If she really does have that desire, I would say, "Go ahead." For anyone who is more of a dilettante, though, I would recommend that they learn to watch and listen before jumping in.

Not being personal, here, but just speaking in general terms: If someone hasn't specifically asked for advice on such a matter, but you are asking for advice because you want to tell them what they should do, IMHO the most respectful thing to do is Mind Your Own Business.
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Re: Cultural Gatekeepers
« Reply #9 on: April 20, 2017, 06:03:36 am »
Quote from: WritchCodex;205177
And that actually ties into my real reason for reviving this thread - my sister (yes, I'm asking for advice for her again) feels she has special affinity to ancient Egyptian spirituality, and she has taken on a particular magical name in order to reflect that. She's not sure if it's alright, though, because she has read that the name is both ancient Egyptian and Arabic Egyptian. Not sure if it's crossing a cultural gatekeeping boundary or not, she's unsure if she should drop the name or retain it.


I personally see nothing wrong with it. Cultural boundaries are not dotted lines and have no credential checkpoints. Cultures blend into one another all the time, and elements that survive the transition do so because they remain meaningful.
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Re: Cultural Gatekeepers
« Reply #10 on: April 20, 2017, 07:18:10 am »
Quote from: Chatelaine;205211
I personally see nothing wrong with it. Cultural boundaries are not dotted lines and have no credential checkpoints. Cultures blend into one another all the time, and elements that survive the transition do so because they remain meaningful.

 
I think you are portraying the process as somewhat sanitised. Not all cultural exchanges are the result of benign blending between equals. Between some groups the difference in political power can be considerable, resulting in heavy cultural distortion. The obvious example is cultural genocide. However, cultural blending can have harmful affects of its own, especially when combined with repression, and there are many examples of this.

For example, in Guatemala 2012, Maya people were unable to visit sacred sites in Tikal to celebrate the Bak'tun because it had been reserved for tourists attending for the '2012 end of the world thing,' which wasn't even Maya.

There are also accounts of tourists going to archaeological sites and damaging them with ill-conceived rituals. The Serpent Mound was vandalised in such a manner. La Venta in Mexico suffered from a similar event.

Then there are cases where 'Plastic Shamans' have taken real Indigenous ceremonies, and sold them to tourists (which is unscrupulous), causing injury and even death. This reflects badly on Indigenous cultures, despite them having little to do with such practises. Or taking drugs like Peyote or Ayahuasca, which can be dangerous in and of itself. However, it can also cause problems for communities that rely on such materials for their religion. Peyote in particular is vulnerable to over-consumption because it grows so slowly.

This is further complicated because Indigenous Americans are heavily marginalised. In some places, like Mexico, their culture is acknowledged, but exploited by the state, a situation from which they derive little benefit. In the USA, Indigenous culture has been reduced to the point where it is almost invisible. This creates problems, because it is easy for fictional cultural traits to be attributed to certain groups. Or, a cultures traits get adopted, but their origins get forgotten about. Then the group from which they came either disappears from view, or becomes vulnerable to attack as members of an alien culture who don't 'contribute.'

This doesn't mean that communication and sharing are impossible, or even undesirable. They are fairly normal. However, that does not mean that the context in which such sharing should be ignored. In other words, it is a reasonable thing to do, but it must be approached with care and cultural awareness.

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Re: Cultural Gatekeepers
« Reply #11 on: April 20, 2017, 07:32:23 am »
Quote from: Yei;205215
I think you are portraying the process as somewhat sanitised. Not all cultural exchanges are the result of benign blending between equals. Between some groups the difference in political power can be considerable, resulting in heavy cultural distortion. The obvious example is cultural genocide. However, cultural blending can have harmful affects of its own, especially when combined with repression, and there are many examples of this.

For example, in Guatemala 2012, Maya people were unable to visit sacred sites in Tikal to celebrate the Bak'tun because it had been reserved for tourists attending for the '2012 end of the world thing,' which wasn't even Maya.

There are also accounts of tourists going to archaeological sites and damaging them with ill-conceived rituals. The Serpent Mound was vandalised in such a manner. La Venta in Mexico suffered from a similar event.

Then there are cases where 'Plastic Shamans' have taken real Indigenous ceremonies, and sold them to tourists (which is unscrupulous), causing injury and even death. This reflects badly on Indigenous cultures, despite them having little to do with such practises. Or taking drugs like Peyote or Ayahuasca, which can be dangerous in and of itself. However, it can also cause problems for communities that rely on such materials for their religion. Peyote in particular is vulnerable to over-consumption because it grows so slowly.

This is further complicated because Indigenous Americans are heavily marginalised. In some places, like Mexico, their culture is acknowledged, but exploited by the state, a situation from which they derive little benefit. In the USA, Indigenous culture has been reduced to the point where it is almost invisible. This creates problems, because it is easy for fictional cultural traits to be attributed to certain groups. Or, a cultures traits get adopted, but their origins get forgotten about. Then the group from which they came either disappears from view, or becomes vulnerable to attack as members of an alien culture who don't 'contribute.'

This doesn't mean that communication and sharing are impossible, or even undesirable. They are fairly normal. However, that does not mean that the context in which such sharing should be ignored. In other words, it is a reasonable thing to do, but it must be approached with care and cultural awareness.

 
Granted, but you need, in turn, to acknowledge that, for each cultural setting with the baggage you cite, there's at least another that doesn't.

In the particular case, the interface between ancient Egyptians and Arabs is minimal, thanks to the Greco-Roman buffer between them, so I suspect that the misgivings have as much to do with (lack of) Arab ethnicity as (lack of) Islamic tradition, neither of which is really much of a thorny issue.
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Re: Cultural Gatekeepers
« Reply #12 on: April 20, 2017, 08:24:19 am »
Quote from: WritchCodex;205177

And that actually ties into my real reason for reviving this thread - my sister (yes, I'm asking for advice for her again) feels she has special affinity to ancient Egyptian spirituality, and she has taken on a particular magical name in order to reflect that. She's not sure if it's alright, though, because she has read that the name is both ancient Egyptian and Arabic Egyptian. Not sure if it's crossing a cultural gatekeeping boundary or not, she's unsure if she should drop the name or retain it.

 
One of the guidelines I've heard that I like - though it's imperfect, I think it's a good starting place - is that things that would be open to children in that community without additional training / adult responsibilities / special experiences are probably okay if you're doing them respectfully and in the appropriate context, but anything more than that, you should not do that unless you go through the appropriate training / special experiences / etc. for that thing.

(Which is possible in some cultural groups in a respectful and appropriate way in the right circumstances, and not in others.)

So doing the thing an average household would do to celebrate X, probably okay. Doing the ritual that would require a religious figure with specific training or experiences, not so okay. For example, doing the candles and baked goods for Santa Lucia day, probably fine even if that's not your heritage, but running a religious service about it, not good unless you're clergy in an appropriate tradition with that training (since the religious traditions that celebrate it as a holy day have clergy training requirements.)

There's also a question of how public something is: a ritual name your sister uses only in private is very different than one used in public, especially one that someone uses in public in a teaching, ritual leading, etc. role. (Though of course, even for private names, you want to think through the implications carefully.)

That's both because the more public name is going to have a lot more commentary, and because, of course, people will make judgements about your approaches to things based on the name (some of which may not be accurate, but if you're concerned about appropriation, you wouldn't want a name that would signal that strongly.)
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WritchCodex

Re: Cultural Gatekeepers
« Reply #13 on: April 20, 2017, 08:39:41 am »
Quote from: Jenett;205221
There's also a question of how public something is: a ritual name your sister uses only in private is very different than one used in public, especially one that someone uses in public in a teaching, ritual leading, etc. role. (Though of course, even for private names, you want to think through the implications carefully.)

That's both because the more public name is going to have a lot more commentary, and because, of course, people will make judgements about your approaches to things based on the name (some of which may not be accurate, but if you're concerned about appropriation, you wouldn't want a name that would signal that strongly.)

 
That's a good point, and there are times that she uses the name as part of online pseudonyms, which I think she's much more worried about than the ritual use. She has used it in that context for years now, and no one has said anything, but she is still a little wary of maybe eventually offending someone. She feels comfortable using the name in rituals and all, but she's still uncertain of the implications of its use.

I suppose if she's unsure, she can always just drop the name to err on the safe side, but that's probably a lot easier for me to SAY than it is for her to DO.

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Re: Cultural Gatekeepers
« Reply #14 on: April 20, 2017, 10:33:25 am »
Quote from: WritchCodex;205222
That's a good point, and there are times that she uses the name as part of online pseudonyms, which I think she's much more worried about than the ritual use. She has used it in that context for years now, and no one has said anything, but she is still a little wary of maybe eventually offending someone. She feels comfortable using the name in rituals and all, but she's still uncertain of the implications of its use.


It's really hard to make suggestions without knowing the name, but here's the stuff I'd think about:

- What kinds of spaces is she using it in? (Pagan-friendly spaces where it's common for people to use a name related to their practice or spiritual interests are different than random online forum. Also, places with a culture of mentioning where a username came from may be different than places where there's no space for that.)

- How identifiable the name is to people inside that culture and outside the culture.

- Whether the name itself implies things about her connection to the culture, status in the culture, etc. (i.e. there's a 'This is a name I like that is also used in a bunch of ways' and 'this is a name I like which is normally only given to people from X small group or Y group with particular status' The second one is more of an issue.)

- How widely the name is used in various contexts, especially outside the primary cultures it comes from. (And in this case, I'd look at 'how widely used it is in modern Arabic cultures and the impressions people will have from that')

One of the things I think about a lot with names is an experience I had as a kid: I had a friend I saw in the summers who was adopted from Vietnam by Irish-heritage parents, and whose usual name in use explicitly read as Irish. (Especially in the Boston area of Massachusetts, where we were.)

One summer, I brought a friend along from school who was startled that this person I'd been mentioning with Very Irish Name was very visibly Asian. (I hadn't mentioned the 'adopted from Vietnam' part because it hadn't come up).

Mildly awkward, and solved quickly in that case, but I think in Pagan settings, there can be an issue of people expecting someone with expertise in X area from a name, and then being startled when the physical body doesn't match that (in names strongly associated with a particular place).

There are plenty of ways to solve that, but they sometimes involve a bit more glossing than just using the name. (This is where the "I chose the name X because Y is important to my practice." sentences can come in.)
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