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Author Topic: Non-recons: sharing non-historical beliefs  (Read 865 times)

Snowdrop

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Non-recons: sharing non-historical beliefs
« on: April 04, 2013, 03:30:02 pm »
Since there have been a couple of threads about how/whether recons share info, I'd like to have a discussion about the others.  Non-reconstructionist religions sometimes make claims --- particularly, in my experience, claims about deities --- that are extremely dubious, if not outright false, historically speaking.  This isn't to say they're wrong; perhaps in your tradition all goddesses do need to be given a maiden/mother/crone classification, or perhaps in your tradition Inanna is a peace-and-love earth mother that would never hurt anybody.  

On the other hand, while that information may be completely true as it regards a specific tradition, it's often presented as an unqualified truth that holds across traditions.  If I write "Inanna is the Sumerian goddess of peace and kindness . . . " there's a strong implication that I believe that the Sumerians also regarded Her this way.  

So, some questions:

1. What is the basic due diligence that non-recons should have when imparting information that is true in their tradition but may be false or irrelevant in most others?  (For instance, should someone qualify their statements about their Neolithic Mother Goddess with "We worship the Great Neolithic Mother.  Although modern archaeology has shown that the goddess cult that was once thought to exist likely did not, we still take Neolithic art as emblematic of the great goddess we worship"?)  

2.  What is beyond the scope of what non-recons should be expected to do?  

3.  Does it make a difference if the sources they're drawing on include living traditions like Hinduism, NA cultures, etc.?

4.  X has joined or was born into a pre-existing Western tradition that draws on elements from around the world.  One day, she is approached by Y, a person from one of the cultures her religion draws on; Y tells her that he finds her use of random parts of his culture appropriative and offensive.  These things are essential components of X's religion.  What is the best way to handle this?
« Last Edit: April 04, 2013, 03:31:37 pm by Snowdrop »

Nachtigall

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Re: Non-recons: sharing non-historical beliefs
« Reply #1 on: April 04, 2013, 04:02:49 pm »
Quote from: Snowdrop;104356


1. What is the basic due diligence that non-recons should have when imparting information that is true in their tradition but may be false or irrelevant in most others?  (For instance, should someone qualify their statements about their Neolithic Mother Goddess with "We worship the Great Neolithic Mother.  Although modern archaeology has shown that the goddess cult that was once thought to exist likely did not, we still take Neolithic art as emblematic of the great goddess we worship"?)



It depends. When writing on my blog, by default I write about my practice only; so, a statement like "Apollon has attribute X" can mean either that this is historically correct or that it's just some weird UPG I got. When talking specifically about historical information, I usually point it out.

In other discussions, it depends on context, but I try to make it clear where is historical information and where is UPG.


Quote

4.  X has joined or was born into a pre-existing Western tradition that draws on elements from around the world.  One day, she is approached by Y, a person from one of the cultures her religion draws on; Y tells her that he finds her use of random parts of his culture appropriative and offensive.  These things are essential components of X's religion.  What is the best way to handle this?

 
Frankly, I don't think it's always that important. Clearly, if a person present themselves as an authority on this culture, they need to perhaps make some adjustments; but as long as it's just a part of personal practice, I don't one should stop using these elements if they are indeed essential.

Though, it's mostly theoretical on my part. I would find it very... hypocritical, to say it mildly - if Greeks or Italians would start complaining about my "appropriation" of their culture. Other than that, I don't think that my yoga practice or occasional study of Qabalah or Christian Mysticism really counts as cultural appropriation from Hindus, Jews and Christians.

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Re: Non-recons: sharing non-historical beliefs
« Reply #2 on: April 04, 2013, 04:44:49 pm »
Quote
3.  Does it make a difference if the sources they're drawing on include living traditions like Hinduism, NA cultures, etc.?


YES. It makes a huge difference.

If we're talking about a still-living tradition such as NA cultures and Hinduism, it's necessary to tread carefully. It's very easy to unintentionally spread misinformation. Doing so in the case of living traditions is that much more egregious because misrepresentation can be harmful to that tradition's image.

I'm really torn on this one. I feel like if the tradition is living and fairly open, then a person should be practicing that tradition alongside theirs. The overlap between the two turns syncretic. If not, then understanding the context in which the practices and beliefs exist should be understood and, when possible, lifted into the other tradition.

Quote
4.  X has joined or was born into a pre-existing Western tradition that draws on elements from around the world.  One day, she is approached by Y, a person from one of the cultures her religion draws on; Y tells her that he finds her use of random parts of his culture appropriative and offensive.  These things are essential components of X's religion.  What is the best way to handle this?

 
Well, that's not easy. :\ Obviously, you want to be sensitive to other people, but you don't want to remove essential components of a religion, either.

It depends on what X is doing and what the Y-related thing is. For example, if X is presenting him/herself as a Y, or a Y-expert when s/he is not, then that's not a good thing to do. Or if X is, say, wearing a "war bonnet" (not the right term, but that's the best I can remember) as part of his/her practices, then I would also understand Y being upset. X might want to find a way to tweak what s/he does.

I've been called an appropriating doucheface for wearing an ankh (apparently, it belongs solely to people living in Egypt. . . .) I still wear it, because that's ridiculous. You can't walk on eggshells around people for your entire life. You'd never get anything done.

Now, in the case of things having a strong cultural meaning such as war bonnets, instruments, or representations of deity, I tread more carefully.
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Re: Non-recons: sharing non-historical beliefs
« Reply #3 on: April 04, 2013, 06:11:20 pm »
Quote from: Snowdrop;104356

1. What is the basic due diligence that non-recons should have when imparting information that is true in their tradition but may be false or irrelevant in most others?


I think it depends, to some degree, on context and how public or private the conversation is. In a class, or a (general) discussion outside the group or tradition, I think that part of being a responsible person is qualifying your information if it might confuse or mislead.

This doesn't necessarily have to be a footnote on every statement - for example, a general "We know some of this has been disproven, but the myths work for us, so we use them, please feel free to ask for more details at the end of the conversation" might be a perfectly fine way to handle it in many settings.

Quote
2.  What is beyond the scope of what non-recons should be expected to do?  


The people I want to encourage are the people who don't make things harder for other people around them, by spreading confusing misinformation, or dated information. There's two answers for this: take some basic responsibility for saying "Yes, this is disproven, but it's useful in other ways", or don't have the conversations out where people who might be confused can hear you. One may make more sense at a particular moment than the other.

But I think that about lots of topics - religion isn't special here. People pass on lousy information about history, about health, about politics, about sex, about technology, about science, and a dozen more things. I wish people wouldn't do that either, and I know I am doomed to disappointment. Most of the time, it is not the end of the world.

Quote
3.  Does it make a difference if the sources they're drawing on include living traditions like Hinduism, NA cultures, etc.?


For me, yes. Because misrepresenting other people's religions is Not Cool. And it's even more problematic when you have a long history of appropriation, misinformation, and deliberate antagonism towards specific practices in the larger mainstream history (which is true in the US for NA cultures, and even more complicated re: India in the UK.)

Quote

4.  X has joined or was born into a pre-existing Western tradition that draws on elements from around the world.  One day, she is approached by Y, a person from one of the cultures her religion draws on; Y tells her that he finds her use of random parts of his culture appropriative and offensive.  These things are essential components of X's religion.  What is the best way to handle this?

 
With care and (one hopes) grace.

The first thing is that generally, knee-jerk reactions don't help in this kind of conversation. Taking a step back and saying "Thank you for bringing that up, can I take a bit of time to figure out how to respond?" can be a good thing for everyone involved.

The second thing is looking at the larger picture. People get to be upset that people are borrowing pieces from their religion and culture. At the same time, I think being aware that some things have passed into popular usage, disconnected from their origins (burning sage, for example).

What I'd do - have done, actually, in dismantling a specific trad ritual so I could put it back together in a way that's actually viable for me to sustain - is to break it apart into components, figure out how I felt about the actual origin of each piece (i.e. does it come from the claimed culture, does it actually have a different origin, or can we not tell anymore because there's insufficient data?) And then make a decision about it. Rinse and repeat with each piece.

Chances are, in most cases, this will produce some stuff where it's probably okay to use it (i.e. a concept that's widely used in a bunch of other religions, even if it's more commonly associated with a few), some cases where it's really clear appropriation (which I wouldn't use, but which need gentle handling if you're going to) and some stuff in the middle. Mostly, I'm inclined to fudge the stuff in the middle, document it as well as I can, adjust what I can and then *not talk about it in places where it might be upsetting or confusing to other people without the context*

Which is where I get back "There's a reason we keep coming back to the Witch's Pyramid, isn't there?" - know what you've got, decide what matters to you about using it, deal with the emotional pieces, and then shut up about the stuff that isn't actually destructive to others or to other cultures, but can be difficult to talk about well.
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Snowdrop

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Re: Non-recons: sharing non-historical beliefs
« Reply #4 on: April 04, 2013, 06:22:24 pm »
Quote from: Shine;104362
Well, that's not easy. :\ Obviously, you want to be sensitive to other people, but you don't want to remove essential components of a religion, either.

 
Pretty much.  The first three questions are discussion questions that I have my own opinions on . . . this one is a genuine 'I have no clue about this' question.  Obviously it does depend on what exactly is being taken from another culture.  I think the potential appropriation of ideas might be more difficult to gauge than potential appropriation of things.  Also, appropriation of words, which is a very difficult issue to handle.  For instance, I've heard people say that the term shamanism shouldn't be used by the pagan community because it's a culture-specific term.  On the other hand . . . English is a language that borrows words, and shamanism has very much become a loan word.  

Quote
I've been called an appropriating doucheface for wearing an ankh (apparently, it belongs solely to people living in Egypt. . . .) I still wear it, because that's ridiculous.


See, that's bizarre.  I'm starting to get creeped out by the extent to which for some people, having anything that belongs to a culture other than your own = appropriation.

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