Cultural Appropriation

Some time ago I got involved in a discussion about cultural appropriation. And I would like to share my thoughts around this concept in the context of witchcraft. There are quite a few people out there who apparently see witchcraft as a progressive political movement with strong roots within feminism. I am not saying that it cannot be that, but that is not the only thing that witchcraft is about. A lot of currents within witchcraft are counter-cultural and opposed to the ideas of mainstream society, but that does not mean that it has to be political.

When I pointed that out to someone who apparently saw it like that, they got offended and could not understand that someone else could be of a different view.

Personally I have huge problems with the concept of “cultural appropriation”. In my opinion it encourages racism in the sense you cannot borrow from other cultures and therefore they will remain “pure” or separate from one another. It’s a political ideology based on the idea that you need to be careful about not offending someone else. The problem is that cultural appropriation does not have any good definition and it is extremely problematic to know where the limits are. For that reason alone, I do not think it is very fruitful to use it. If a boundary is overstepped and something is “culturally appropriated” and it is clear that the intent was to offend, it can easily be defined as racism, sexism etc. instead. We do not need a concept that is masking up other concepts and making them more unclear. It is not doing anyone any service.

Historically, things get mixed when different cultures meet. Just look at the syncretizing of deities in the ancient world. I don’t think we can point to just one reason for it happening, but one of the reasons was people in conquered territories would be allowed to keep their own customs. Over time it would evolve and maybe be merged with a similar local deity. This happened for example with the Roman deity Mars who essentially is the Greek God Ares mixed with a local agricultural deity.

Also it doesn’t only need to happen through conquest. When traders met, it is not unlikely that they also would gain knowledge of how to gain safe passage through meetings with other cultures. Asking for safe passage has been one of the main things that people asked deities for.

I think the important thing to understand here is that when a custom was adopted, that it does not necessarily take exactly the same form as it originally was. That is not something that is done out of disrespect of the original source rather it is something that happens and evolves over time. Take the goddess Hekate for example: the mother, maiden, crone aspects are a modern invention. Some people decide to use it, others don’t (I’m not).

Another example is how Tarot and Runes have been appropriated by the New Age Movement. I personally cringe when I hear some of the modern ideas about tarot. But it has to be that way.

The point is that the meeting of cultures happens all the time. It did not stop in the ancient world. And today with the internet and information so easily accessible. It’s a natural organic process that things get mixed up. Sometimes it happens that it won’t resonate with us. It could for example be argued that seeing witchraft as a progressive political movement is an appropriation of what witchcraft used to be, but that’s fine, even if I don’t agree with that version of witchcraft. There is just no way that we are going to have a world with a political consensus where we can agree about everything. And that is why there is no use for concepts such as cultural appropriation.

 

-Thus Spake the Night Spirit

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My calling and the Goddess Hekate

In January 2018 I had a dream. I often dream when I sleep and usually there is some kind of strange story going on. And if there isn’t a story going on at least there is some kind of location or setting that would be possible to describe. In January 2018 though, when I had this experience, there was neither a story going on or any particular location that I would be able to recognize. Everything was pretty much black or grey. It could be that I am in a dark cave or something, but I cannot tell because I don’t really see anything.

All of a sudden I feel a force that seems overwhelmingly powerful and frightening. I understood instinctively that I was no longer alone in this dark space. I would never hold any conversation with any entity without trying to have it identify itself, so I asked it what it was and it replied “I am the Goddess Hekate”. At the time, I did not really know much about Hekate at all. I had never worked with her before and the only context I had heard her mentioned in was a negative context as something dark and terrifying and referred to as the Queen of the Witches. So perhaps not so surprising my response back was asking what she wanted from me. Her response took me quite a bit by surprise: “I want you to become my messenger”. Only a fool would accept such an outrageous request immediately so my response was somewhere along the lines of “Hell no!”.

Today, I am not actually sure how much choice I had in the matter. I don’t act on or put too much meaning into every single dream I have, but now I felt strongly to seek out information on Hekate. Perhaps this was the intention. It is likely she already knew that I would seek out more information. I ended up getting a few books and reading up on the historical Hekate. It was a lot more complex than I had expected with all the different epiphets, syncretisms and alternative names so getting a clear picture of exactly who she is, isn’t easy. I am not going into detail of that here, as I think that is a process that is useful for anyone with an interest in her to go through, but she is definitely not what I thought she was when I first met her in that dream.

I also had some books recommended to me by an “occult friend” who had been interested in Hekate some years ago and that’s  when I got into reading books by modern day devotees of Hekate. I enjoyed these and I enjoyed reading about the historical Hekate so eventually I decided that I would be willing to be working with this entity. So  I set up a devotional shrine where I can honor and petition the Goddess. After that I have just been continuing that practice as well as incorporating new elements into my practice, adding things step by step, as it feels appropriate when I read something new and discover new ideas. The studying doesn’t stop (it never will). And I frequently have new and interesting experiences.

One rather interesting episode happened after I got my statue of Hekate. I had decided to invest in a proper nice statue and much to my dismay it arrived broken. It was broken in two places. The headdress of the statue I managed to fix quite easily with some glue, but the torch she was holding in her left hand proved to be more difficult. I tried to glue it back on, but it just wouldn’t hold. When I took my fingers away after holding it in place for a longer period of time it would fall off again. So I went to the store to buy a second type of glue and repeat the process. It still wouldn’t hold. In a last desperate attempt I went back to the first type of glue and it still didn’t seem to work, but after I got tired from holding the torch in place at the correct angle, I decided to try and support it up with a small box of incense sticks that I placed between the torch and the body of the statue. It seemed stable enough, but suddenly the box of incense sticks fell rather violently to the ground. Anyone familiar with spirit communication knows that it doesn’t necessarily take the form of audible sound. In this case I suddenly felt a strong sensation of “I don’t need this”. The torch has been standing in place ever since.

The reason why I said that I am not sure how much choice I had in the matter is that now recently, I have been asked to hold a talk about witchcraft in a local shop. It wasn’t even my idea! I don’t know much about Wicca or other types of witchcraft so naturally a lot of my talk will center around Hekate and the type of work that is possible to do with her. What was absolutely unthinkable for me before is about to happen. I suppose I have gone from a “hell no!” to a “hell yeah!” Having that said, I consider this story that I just shared to be rather ordinary and normal. There are a lot of devotees out there with interesting stories (many way more interesting than my own).

Going forward I suppose I will share more of the work I am doing with her as it ties into some of the other topics I have already started writing about here.

 

– The Night Spirit

 

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Again I find myself standing at the Crossroads.