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Author Topic: Cultural appropriation and not being a douche  (Read 345 times)

Castus

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Cultural appropriation and not being a douche
« on: October 30, 2017, 12:48:36 pm »
I'm sure we all dearly miss the fiery clusterfucks which CA threads on The Cauldron usually turn into, so I figured it was time to get the band back together. After years of marinating in this particular pagan soup I am distressed to find that 'cultural appropriation' is actually something that bothers me; especially since the religious waters into which I am presently wading aren't exactly known for preserving their traditions without attempts at theft. After a period of kvetching and passing interests I finally went to a botanica the other day and purchased a very lovely statue of La Santisima Muerte, and now have Her comfortably set up on a shrine at home. I'm trying to keep in the bounds of what I'm able to glean out as acceptable behavior -- cigars as offerings, fresh water every day, don't share the shrine with other deities or saints, etc etc -- and so far I think I'm doing a good job. The only initiative I've taken is to put together a Little Office in her honour, which mixes fairly liberally with Gnosticism, but that's just as a personal devotional tool and I have no reason to think She would disapprove.

HOWEVER.

Info on La Santisima in English is scarce to begin with and much of what is out there seems... sketchy... at best; so while I like to think that thus far I haven't violated any major taboos or done anything wrong that would go against the grain of the traditions in which She is embedded, I cannot be sure. Now part of this isn't too difficult because Santa Muertismo is very decentralised and doesn't have very many hard lines, so it's not like ATRs where one can very seriously fuck up if they go in blind. I mean, I'm sure I could piss Her off individually -- G'd help me -- but I'm not so sure about the cultural appropriation part, if that makes sense. Because unlike ATRs info in English is, again, scare I feel She and other Santa Muerteros would understand "doing the best I can" but... I'm not sure? La Santisima is famous for accepting pretty much anyone who wishes to work with her -- Death doesn't discriminate, after all -- but I guess I'm worried about seeming inauthentic? There's a chapel to her up in the PNW, Our Lady of the Shadows, and I'm given to understand it's pretty exclusively composed of white people. The organiser, Rev Erik Winsor, is a deacon in the Ecclesia Gnostica and white as snow but from what I've seen they're pretty good at what they do. The chapel's practice is heavily rooted in Catholicism, its prayers are beautiful and reverent, and there's none of the shadier stuff (La Santisima being the supreme deity, blood sacrifices, etc) that even I can recognise as out of bounds.

And yetttttt...

Can an organisation of white Santa Muerteros be considered as legitimate as, say, a Hispanic-run temple in Los Angeles or Mexico City? Is there such a thing as more 'legitimate' in the first place when speaking of such a decentralised religious phenomenon? At what point does a spiritual practice such as Folk Catholicism and Santa Muerte devotion go from being mostly ethnic to more 'universal', and is that even desirable? Like I'm genuinely asking, because defining or recognising cultural appropriation isn't really my ballgame; so I'd like input from someone which a more familiar perspective.

Side note: I'm also giving Vodou a look and seeing whether that's something I may be interested in, but AFAIK since Vodou is an initiatory tradition the Do/Do Not line is fairly clear: if you're initiated, you are one of us and can do our things; if you're not, you aren't and you can't. I'm also fairly sure that the only way to get initiated is to go to a houngan/mambo and get divinitory work to see if the lwa even want you to begin with, so I'm more comfortable knowing that there are clear lines which I can navigate and explore by without stepping on any toes. BUT if anyone here is also familiar with ATRs and such, let me know.
Unlimited goodwill. Suspension of the compulsive anxiety complex. The beautiful "character" unfolds. All of those present become comically iridescent. At the same time one is pervaded by their aura. -- Walter Benjamin, "On Hashish"

Castus

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Re: Cultural appropriation and not being a douche
« Reply #1 on: October 30, 2017, 12:54:13 pm »
I'm sure we all dearly miss the fiery clusterfucks which CA threads on The Cauldron usually turn into, so I figured it was time to get the band back together. After years of marinating in this particular pagan soup I am distressed to find that 'cultural appropriation' is actually something that bothers me; especially since the religious waters into which I am presently wading aren't exactly known for preserving their traditions without attempts at theft. After a period of kvetching and passing interests I finally went to a botanica the other day and purchased a very lovely statue of La Santisima Muerte, and now have Her comfortably set up on a shrine at home. I'm trying to keep in the bounds of what I'm able to glean out as acceptable behavior -- cigars as offerings, fresh water every day, don't share the shrine with other deities or saints, etc etc -- and so far I think I'm doing a good job. The only initiative I've taken is to put together a Little Office in her honour, which mixes fairly liberally with Gnosticism, but that's just as a personal devotional tool and I have no reason to think She would disapprove.

HOWEVER.

Info on La Santisima in English is scarce to begin with and much of what is out there seems... sketchy... at best; so while I like to think that thus far I haven't violated any major taboos or done anything wrong that would go against the grain of the traditions in which She is embedded, I cannot be sure. Now part of this isn't too difficult because Santa Muertismo is very decentralised and doesn't have very many hard lines, so it's not like ATRs where one can very seriously fuck up if they go in blind. I mean, I'm sure I could piss Her off individually -- G'd help me -- but I'm not so sure about the cultural appropriation part, if that makes sense. Because unlike ATRs info in English is, again, scare I feel She and other Santa Muerteros would understand "doing the best I can" but... I'm not sure? La Santisima is famous for accepting pretty much anyone who wishes to work with her -- Death doesn't discriminate, after all -- but I guess I'm worried about seeming inauthentic? There's a chapel to her up in the PNW, Our Lady of the Shadows, and I'm given to understand it's pretty exclusively composed of white people. The organiser, Rev Erik Winsor, is a deacon in the Ecclesia Gnostica and white as snow but from what I've seen they're pretty good at what they do. The chapel's practice is heavily rooted in Catholicism, its prayers are beautiful and reverent, and there's none of the shadier stuff (La Santisima being the supreme deity, blood sacrifices, etc) that even I can recognise as out of bounds.

And yetttttt...

Can an organisation of white Santa Muerteros be considered as legitimate as, say, a Hispanic-run temple in Los Angeles or Mexico City? Is there such a thing as more 'legitimate' in the first place when speaking of such a decentralised religious phenomenon? At what point does a spiritual practice such as Folk Catholicism and Santa Muerte devotion go from being mostly ethnic to more 'universal', and is that even desirable? Like I'm genuinely asking, because defining or recognising cultural appropriation isn't really my ballgame; so I'd like input from someone which a more familiar perspective.

Side note: I'm also giving Vodou a look and seeing whether that's something I may be interested in, but AFAIK since Vodou is an initiatory tradition the Do/Do Not line is fairly clear: if you're initiated, you are one of us and can do our things; if you're not, you aren't and you can't. I'm also fairly sure that the only way to get initiated is to go to a houngan/mambo and get divinitory work to see if the lwa even want you to begin with, so I'm more comfortable knowing that there are clear lines which I can navigate and explore by without stepping on any toes. BUT if anyone here is also familiar with ATRs and such, let me know.

Also here's a super bad picture of my shrine:

Unlimited goodwill. Suspension of the compulsive anxiety complex. The beautiful "character" unfolds. All of those present become comically iridescent. At the same time one is pervaded by their aura. -- Walter Benjamin, "On Hashish"

Sisu

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Re: Cultural appropriation and not being a douche
« Reply #2 on: November 14, 2017, 12:37:18 pm »
La Santisima is famous for accepting pretty much anyone who wishes to work with her -- Death doesn't discriminate, after all -- but I guess I'm worried about seeming inauthentic? There's a chapel to her up in the PNW, Our Lady of the Shadows, and I'm given to understand it's pretty exclusively composed of white people. The organiser, Rev Erik Winsor, is a deacon in the Ecclesia Gnostica and white as snow but from what I've seen they're pretty good at what they do. The chapel's practice is heavily rooted in Catholicism, its prayers are beautiful and reverent, and there's none of the shadier stuff (La Santisima being the supreme deity, blood sacrifices, etc) that even I can recognise as out of bounds.

Something that I think gets a little lost when discussing cultural appropriation with Mexican culture, especially with non-Mexicans (most egregiously Americans) is that "Mexican" is a nationality and not a race or even a clear-cut ethnicity. It should seem obvious, but I can't count the number of times that this has come up in conversation about anything related to Mexico and people get shocked when they find out "white" people can be Mexican too. Within Mexico, there are a wide variety of people from all walks of life that participate in Santa Muerte veneration. Perhaps most relevantly, marginalized peoples make up a sizable portion of her devotees and sometimes those boundaries of marginalization also run parallel to ethnic heritage. Mexican folk traditions at this point are largely a mixture of various indigenous belief systems with a heavy dose of Roman Catholicism thrown in, so the nature of the issue itself is not as clear cut as people would maybe like when trying to decide whether something is being appropriated or not. Also, let's not forget that Mexican-American customs are often quite different from native Mexican ones (to the point to where there can be some friction between these communities), and you get a new level of complication.

All this is just to provide some context when discussing the issue and I personally am not a devotee of Santa Muerte so I cannot speak from an insider perspective on that. However, I have lived in Mexico (in a neighborhood that had an altar to her), have a white-passing Mexican partner, and a good friend who is a historian that specializes in Mexican history and currently making a documentary about Santa Muerte (and has since become a devotee through the course of their research), so these perspectives are what have formed my views around her.

I would say that as long as the practitioners are as informed, respectful, and supportive towards the original communities that this figure emerged from, and are not just treating it as a fad or something to up their edgelord-factor, the risk of appropriation is lowered (though I am not familiar with the organization you mentioned).

EnderDragonFire

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Re: Cultural appropriation and not being a douche
« Reply #3 on: November 15, 2017, 10:56:13 pm »
Can an organisation of white Santa Muerteros be considered as legitimate as, say, a Hispanic-run temple in Los Angeles or Mexico City? Is there such a thing as more 'legitimate' in the first place when speaking of such a decentralised religious phenomenon? At what point does a spiritual practice such as Folk Catholicism and Santa Muerte devotion go from being mostly ethnic to more 'universal', and is that even desirable? Like I'm genuinely asking, because defining or recognising cultural appropriation isn't really my ballgame; so I'd like input from someone which a more familiar perspective.

Well, personally, I don't think race matters one whit in the authenticity of religious belief. With a few exception, most Gods aren't concerned with the race of their devotees; sometime tribal, ethnic, or family identity matters, but race? It's very rare to see that being a qualifier for religious affiliation. I certainly see no indicator that Santa Muerte cares about the color of her devotee's skin.

The question then, is whether or not she cares about the nationality or cultural background of her devotees. Is she considered a national saint/deity, or is she open to non-Mexican devotees? From what little I know, I have not seen any indication that you need to be Mexican; she has devotees in the U.S. Southwest, and they aren't all of Mexican descent. It seems to me that, as long as you follow the tradition earnestly and sincerely, she would be fine with you being her devotee.

I often get asked how I can be a "real" Hindu, since I'm a white American. I don't understand the question; if race isn't explicitly and overtly part of a religious tradition, (as it is with some Wotanist traditions, for example), I see no reason to conflate correlation with causation. Just because most Hindus are Indian, or most Santa Muerte devotees are Mexican, does not mean that those groups have been exclusively chosen by their deity/saint.
"The worshippers of the gods go to them; to the manes go the ancestor-worshippers; to the Deities who preside over the elements go their worshippers; My devotees come to Me." - Sri Krishna

Jainarayan

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Re: Cultural appropriation and not being a douche
« Reply #4 on: November 16, 2017, 10:43:58 am »
Well, personally, I don't think race matters one whit in the authenticity of religious belief. With a few exception, most Gods aren't concerned with the race of their devotees; sometime tribal, ethnic, or family identity matters, but race? It's very rare to see that being a qualifier for religious affiliation. I certainly see no indicator that Santa Muerte cares about the color of her devotee's skin. ...

I often get asked how I can be a "real" Hindu, since I'm a white American. I don't understand the question; if race isn't explicitly and overtly part of a religious tradition, (as it is with some Wotanist traditions, for example), I see no reason to conflate correlation with causation. Just because most Hindus are Indian, or most Santa Muerte devotees are Mexican, does not mean that those groups have been exclusively chosen by their deity/saint.

I agree with this. There's a tendency in Hinduism, though I've encountered it only on the internet, to say if you're not born Hindu or Indian, you can't be Hindu. I've been called mleccha and western half-Hindu, and told to go back to being Christian by internet ponga pundits. In person, my Hindu coworkers and people at temple are flattered that a white guy adopted Hinduism; they tell me I am and was always Hindu, whether I knew it or not. There are those in Heathenry who feel unless you have northern European, and better yet Scandinavian or Nordic blood, you can't follow the Norse gods. I think this is all bullshit if one considers the gods to be beyond race, ethnicity, nationality, or even species (do 'Gliesans' have their own gods that look like them?).

The gods, whatever one thinks they are, call whom they will. To say whom the gods can choose as devotees, or to say another person cannot be a devotee of this or that god or goddess is the height of hubris. Trying to avoid that hubris myself in speaking for the gods, I dare say it's probably offensive to them also, given how many devotees they have of backgrounds not related to those gods.
śivāya vishnu rūpaya śivaḥ rūpaya vishnave
śivasya hridayam viṣṇur viṣṇoscha hridayam śivaḥ
Vishnu's appearance is Shiva; Shiva's appearance is Vishnu
Vishnu is the heart of Shiva; Shiva is the heart of Vishnu - Skandopanishad
 

TheGreenWizard

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Re: Cultural appropriation and not being a douche
« Reply #5 on: November 19, 2017, 10:26:58 am »
...

This may seem idealistic - and please correct me if I am incorrect - however, from a Divine point of view, I would surmise that race, nationality, and possibly ethnicity (there are exceptions, I would expect to counter this last one), would not matter because over the ages, societies, nations, and ethnicities have come and gone. Instead, I believe it would be more about the character traits of that devotee, their goals/desires, and more that would matter to a god/goddess/divine figure.
“You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose. You're on your own. And you know what you know. And YOU are the one who'll decide where to go...”
― Dr. Seuss, Oh, the Places You'll Go

Emma Eldritch

Re: Cultural appropriation and not being a douche
« Reply #6 on: November 19, 2017, 08:56:58 pm »
This may seem idealistic - and please correct me if I am incorrect - however, from a Divine point of view, I would surmise that race, nationality, and possibly ethnicity (there are exceptions, I would expect to counter this last one), would not matter because over the ages, societies, nations, and ethnicities have come and gone. Instead, I believe it would be more about the character traits of that devotee, their goals/desires, and more that would matter to a god/goddess/divine figure.

From a deity perspective? I agree - doesn't seem to matter much who gets tapped.

But from a human perspective? There's a verrrrrrrrrrrrrry long history of white pagans stealing shit that ain't theirs. So I think Castus is right to try and not be a dick about his research and practice, because this is a living tradition he's dealing with as an outsider. It is both difficult and disrespectful to divorce religious and magical practices from the cultures from which they originate.

TheGreenWizard

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Re: Cultural appropriation and not being a douche
« Reply #7 on: November 19, 2017, 09:05:42 pm »
From a deity perspective? I agree - doesn't seem to matter much who gets tapped.

But from a human perspective? There's a verrrrrrrrrrrrrry long history of white pagans stealing shit that ain't theirs. So I think Castus is right to try and not be a dick about his research and practice, because this is a living tradition he's dealing with as an outsider. It is both difficult and disrespectful to divorce religious and magical practices from the cultures from which they originate.

Very true points there Emma.
“You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose. You're on your own. And you know what you know. And YOU are the one who'll decide where to go...”
― Dr. Seuss, Oh, the Places You'll Go

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