You can thank the fact that I’m thinking about getting into Shamanism for this one.
It’s also probably going to be one of my more politically incorrect posts too.
Ah the 60’s a time of peace, of love, of enlightenment. We were tearing down the walls of society, we were ripping apart racism, we were moving towards a brighter future. Why, we’d even elected an Irish Catholic as President, a racial and religious minority. It was unheard of. We were on the verge of a spiritual, racial, and economic age of equality and life was going to be wonderful…
Wow did those guys manage to fuck it all up.
By the end of the sixties we’d had the Civil Right Movement, which still carries on to this day but really did most of its work in the 60’s and early 70’s, by the time we had the constitutional amendment about equality and how we weren’t supposed to discriminate, the legal work of the Civil Rights Movement was done, though further laws did later happen as a continuation of it. But the Core Foundations were laid. And yes, I’m playing a bit fast and loose here, since the timeline of events is as important here as certain other factors are.
One of our biggest changes, however, wasn’t legally, but culturally. It’s something I’ve talked about before, and that is what I like to call “Racial Homogenization.”
Now, most people have heard of “Racial Homogenization” as the idea that “all races will interbreed to create one race.” It’s something that a lot of racists don’t like (not just the white ones, but racists of all color) because it theoretically would remove racial distinctions and eliminate existing races for a new, “mixed” race or whatever it is they call it. I generally do not pay much attention to the whining of such people.
What they fail to realize, however, is that “racial Homogenization” has, in fact, already happened. It has happened in the context that I am speaking about today, though I suppose if we wanted to be technically correct we’d call it “Ethnic Homogenization” but I’m using the term “Racial Homogenization” since what happened was a bunch of disparate ethnicity were piled into a “race” and called, well, a race.
“Racial Homogenization” had been occurring in the past to greater or lesser extents. Most Native Americans were called Indians, for example, and most Native Americans called Europeans “White.” But this wasn’t true Racial Homogenization in my eyes, because both groups recognized the different Ethnicities within those two groups. White and Indian were over arching things to discribe which landmass you were native to, but everyone knew that there were Cherokee, Comanche, Germans, English, Irish, Navajo, etc. While there was lumping together, there was also recognition of differences within those “racial lumps.”
This all seems to have stopped really in or about the 1960’s. Kennedy is really the last you hear about it in terms of “White” people. John F. Kennedy was an Irish Catholic, and while you might not think it a big deal today, let me tell you that it was. When I’ve talked before about how electing Kennedy back then had the same cultural impact and awe as the election of Obama, that isn’t me making shit up. That is me actually talking to people who were around for both. Before that, every president had been what we’d call a WASP: White, Anglo-Saxon Protestant. The Irish were not just a minority, they’d been a minority heavily discriminated against on a level equal to the African Americans since before the of the 1900s, not just in America but also in their own native Ireland. Add to it the Catholic religion, which back then was a minority religion with nearly as much hate as Islam gets today, and we’re talking big, big deals here. While these attitudes had softened a bit by the 60’s, largely due to the Irish working hard and becoming known more as cops than gangbangers, they were still there.
After the 60’s, though, you’d think the Irish had always been part of the “White” race. Same for the Germans, Poles, Russians, and every other European based ethnicity. They weren’t German-Americans, or Swedish-Americans, or Irish-Americans, they were all deemed “White” regardless of the personal history of their ethnicities and all discrimination against them were well, “white washed.”
The reasons for this are likely many, complicated, and tinged in ethnic and racial histories and tensions. I think part of it was the fact that African Americans do not have an “Ethnic” Identity (as in they do not know what tribes/clans they come from) and have only a “Racial” Identity (Black). This was due to a concerted effort to remove ethnic identities in order to make slaves easier to control (no inter tribal warfare between slaves if they don’t know their tribes). But sadly it put things into motion that those African American leaders of the Civil Rights movement then saw only in terms of Color, rather than Ethnicity, and thus we came into our post-ethnic age where the Irish, Scandinavians, and other ethnicities who had little to nothing to do with slavery and often were in as poor economic straights as freed blacks, are as responsible for slavery and black oppression as Anglo-Saxon Protistants, British, or other social elite peoples and countries that actually took part in the trade on a massive scale. All “Whites” are to blame, even though most “whites” were far removed from the process.
The end result is that people no longer see ethnicities, at least here in the states.
What does this have to do with Cultural Appropriation, especially in terms of Shamanism. Well, all of Paganism tends to get hit with the cry of “Cultural Appropriation!” every so often, though it seems Shamanism is one of the hardest hit, especially the branch known as “Core Shamanism.” Now I’m still just learning all this, but Core Shamanism seems to look at the commonalities between different Shamanic traditions and see what is common themes or practices that run through all of them. It then takes these “Core practices” and uses them to live and practice shamanism or recreate European Shamanism, because if 90% of such societies practiced meditations with drums to reach an altered state…then we can presume that the X% of European shamanic traditions that were destroyed also did this. So on and so forth, techniques that show up all over the world likely showed up in Europe and were used by European Shamans.
Which leads us to the “Cultural Appropriation” in which say Native Americans point at European Shamans practicing something that is a “Core” practice and yell “you stole that from my people!”
Or more simply “90% of the world may do that exact same thing, but you stole it from me, you racist asshole.”
Now don’t think I’m picking on the Native Americans here. I respect them greatly and find the different ethnicity have amazing cultures equal to everyone else. It just seems that they’re the ones who most often scream cultural appropriations towards Pagans and the shamanic branch in particular. Some of it is fair, but the complains and the “appropriation” come from the fact that Native Americans are the most populace tribes with a “shamanic” basis in North America, which has the largest Pagan population as well. So it’s kinda the “Squeaky wheel gets to be the example.”
One of the biggest reasons stuff from the Native Americans gets “copied” is because its well preserved, still active, fairly easy to get to, and since most Americans have Native blood in them, probably speaks to their soul. The fact that it gets changed during the coping is because the techniques are being adapted to more “European Pagan” values and energies rather than “Native American Pagan” values and energies.
But is this really “Cultural Appropriation?” If we realize that most “European Americans” at this point have “Native American” blood in them…then these things are part of their heritage to begin with, and you can’t steal what is a part of you. Even if that’s not the case, the argument could be made for “Cultural Exchange” rather than “Appropriation.” After all, do not Native Americans train to be Doctors and Scientists in the European Traditions? Should we then say that they are “Culturally Appropriating” Native European wisdom and art? How is it different for a “White” person to learn the Native American medicine traditions than for a Native American to learn the European medicine traditions?
Honestly…it’s not. Each side is learning from the other. The fact that some on one side want to get butt hurt over the fact that a cultural trade is going on and want to call it theft, doesn’t make it theft. If it was theft, then they should stop using all the various cultural advances that were developed and traded with them from the European Americans. Some would make the argument that we’ve done enough damage to the Native Americans and that we’ve taken enough from them, but most European Americans who use stuff drawn from Native Americans either were trained directly by Native Medicine Men, or are now learning from those who trained under Natives, either from their books or in person. In which case its not appropriation, but a continued voluntary tradition.
What gets hilarious is apparently some Native Americans will complain that Europeans “appropriated” the term shaman from them. Why is this funny? Because Shaman is a term used by the Siberians, that was adopted by Academics to describe practices similar to the Siberian Shamans (remember that Core thing) and then was, well…appropriated by the Native Americans to describe their Medicine Men. So in a way, those complaining about appropriation…started the entire appropriation thing when it comes to Shamanism.
But how does this relate to the above part about Racial Homogenization? Well, this is where the cultural appropriation thing gets kind of messy. See, when Native Americans say that European Shaman are appropriating their techniques and practices, they aren’t talking on an individual ethnic basis. They are talking as a Racial Whole. That might not sound like a big deal, but when you get down to it, the fact that most Native American ethnicities have their own Gods, Languages, Traditions, and Magic styles…means that there isn’t really a unified “Native American” race or culture. There are lots of similarities, but that like saying there’s a lot of similarities between English, Danish, French, and Germans. Or to put it another way, it’s like saying there is no difference between a Cherokee and an Aztec. And if you don’t know the difference and why that’s a big deal…shame on you. But its unfortunately the way of thinking. A macro “us vs them” based on skin color that completely ignores the differences in cultures between individual ethic groups…and assumes that the practices of one are the practices of another, and that similar practices to one mean theft from all.
It also means that a “White” man who learned under a Cherokee medicine man can be accused of “cultural theft” by a Comanche…which doesn’t work. Not only did the man receive his training with respect, he learned it from someone completely different than the person claiming the theft. If the “White” man stole it from the Comanche…then so did the Cherokee man. The same is true even if the ‘white” person learned it from a book published by the Cherokee shaman. That knowledge was put out there and it worked.
It’s these similarities between cultures that often causes confusion and claims of cultural appropriation. Most shamans around the world wear special garments adorned with bells, use drums, speak to spirits, and go into trances sometimes with the aid of hallucinogenic materials, carry their magical gear in special bags, use staffs, etc. These are universal traits for that kind of practice, hell, for magical practice in general. But some people, rather than realizing that such similarities happen because they work, like to scream that it was stolen. This is something I do not understand.
But it is a danger of “Racial Thinking.” By seeing a European Shaman practicing with techniques similar too or learned from a Native American Shaman, someone sees only color and screams “Theft” when no theft occurred. Instead of seeing the similarities of ethnic traditions, they see only the difference in race. Be this a white person screaming theft or a native amereican, or a voodoo priestess or anyone.
Which gives me a great example. Everyone knows the Voodoo Doll. What most people do not know is the Poppet Doll. Both are dolls, both are used to effect another person. Their manufacture is similar, but does have its differences. To a Vodun, the Poppet doll would look like a perversion of their Voodoo doll, stolen and twisted, when in fact it is its own tradition dating back thousands of years in European styles of Witchcraft. The Vodun would scream theft…over something that wasn’t a theft at all.
But there is hope. I have heard of Native American shamans who railed against European descendant Pagans using “culturally appropriated techniques” who later changed their minds and their words, when they were told that no…the techniques are similar, but these are the actual European traditions. Magic works the way it works, and that leads to similar techniques…the same way it does in Science. What works…works. It might come from different places, look the same, and have different outcomes, but similarities do not mean theft.