cultural appropriation, halstead, Heathen, john halstead, krasskova, Pagan, patheos, tess dawson
Well, I’m back, with another Halstead article. And Gods help me, it looks like I might be defending him, slightly. I’m sure by the end of it though we’ll run into Halsteads usual logic fails and I’ll be driven to something. But hey…it’s not pedos, and frankly I couldn’t be happier. That being said, Halstead has gotten himself in some trouble, and I am probably going to laugh a little bit, because it has to do with “cultural appropriation.
We’re All Appropriating Dead Pagan Cultures
I swore I was not going to get involved in the Cultural Appropriation Controversy here at Patheos Pagan. But yesterday, I got dragged into it when I was accused of cultural appropriation myself. Specifically, I was accused by Galina Krasskova of “appropriating” the images of gods for the banner for this blog (above). (The image in question is of Egyptian-Canaanite gods.) Now, I had been previously accused by Tess Dawson of “defacing sacred images for fun and profit”, and I responded to that accusation here in my last post. But Dawson didn’t use the word “appropriation”. Her concern was with how I used the image, not the fact that I used it. Krasskova took this to the next level. According to her, because I am an “outsider” — meaning I do not believe in the literal existence of the gods depicted — then my use of polytheistic iconography is a form of cultural “appropriation”.
You know, I kinda recall accusing Halstead of cultural appropriations myself, but I’m not listed here. Maybe this is an internal Patheos thing. No idea, don’t spend time over there because for some reason Patheos’s website manages to make my pretty well set up gaming pc lag like nothing else out there. That being said, you can judge a man by his enemies and as I recall, I tend to respect Krasskova and her work. I don’t really know who Dawson is, but then I may have read her stuff as well and just forgotten it. I’m pretty bad with names.
As far as Dawson’s “how Halstead used the image” thing, really I can’t find a problem with that. Everyone is going to have an opinion about other people using pre-existing art and modifying it and frankly, I don’t see the problem with adding flowers and a box to a bit of art. He didn’t edit in giant wangs, so meh. Is it defacing? Technically yes, but even with my problems with Halstead I can’t say that it’s a horrible act of sacrilege. Then again, Halstead might be blowing it up to make himself look good, I’ll have to go read Dawson’s article.
I will give Krasskova the point here. Halstead has repeatedly said he doesn’t believe in the Gods, doesn’t worship the Gods, and as my own long series and other pointed out, feels that those who put the Gods first and worship them need to “check themselves before they wreck themselves” and put the planet before anything else. So yes, it is a bit odd that a man who is all “Earth First” would have an image of Gods rather than Earth, but hey, I run a blog for Hel and yet most of my banners have been Viking barfights and various sorcerers. Topic doesn’t have to dictate imagery.
That being said, how much his use of that imagery is “appropriation” is debatable. There has been a strong tradition since the Renaissance to use the imagery of Greek, Roman, and Germanic Gods, even though most of those using it were Christians. It kept the imagery and the myths alive, wove them through western culture and preserved them better for we Pagans today. Give that these “Christians” were the children of those who had worshiped these Gods, it certainly was a part of their culture already, so they can’t have been appropriating what was already theirs. So oddly, in defending Halstead, I have invalidated the title of his article, but more on that later.
Now, apparently the image Halstead uses is from the Middle East, specifically the Canaanites I believe. So yes, it is from outside Halstead’s “European” cultural heritage and could be considered an act of appropriation. Could also be considered an homage. But since the Canaanites have been extinct for over a thousand years and any children they had are so firmly in the pocket of Allah, it becomes less an act of Theft and more along the lines of “if a watch is lying in the middle of the dessert and no body wants it, is it really theft?”
Krasskova’s post raises some interesting questions which have barely been touched on in the discussions about cultural appropriation on Patheos. Most of the discussion at Patheos has focused on living cultures, like those of indigenous peoples. But how does that discussion apply to a culture that has been dead for millennia, i.e., the Canaanites? Of course, Krasskova (and presumably Dawson) would argue that the Canaanite culture is not dead, because it has been recently revived (i.e., by Dawson). But that causes me to wonder, who can claim the right to revive a dead culture? And do the modern individuals who revive a dead culture automatically inherit the injuries and the victimhood of those who died millennia ago?
Canaanite culture is undead, apparently. I had heard people were bringing it back. Cool. Better than bringing back sexy, which neither brought it back nor was in fact sexy. Still, Halstead raises a good point.
I’m not sure how much “victimhood” the Canaanites actually have/had. They weren’t destroyed by the Muslims, nor were they destroyed by the Christians. In fact, I’m vaguely sure they were already gone by the time the Romans showed up, but I could be wrong. The only victimizaiton I can think of that they would have would be either against the Jews, Syrians, or Persians. Maybe the Babylonians. My “biblical history” is not what it was. And of those four groups…well, Israel and Syria are both modern recreations of the ancient countries and didn’t exist even a hundred years ago, really. The Persians are now the Iranians, I think, and the Babylonians are just plain gone. So no one is around that the Canaanite Recons can really claim oppressed them because, well, all their oppressors are dead and gone.
So no, I don’t think those who revive a “dead” culture can or should automatically inherit the injuries or victim-hood of those long dead. But then again I look at this whole “Victimhood” thing as a very stupid and dangerous idea from certain political circles. When you define yourself by the wrongs “Done” to you, you tend to ignore all the good things you and others can accomplish.
That being said, do these Canaanite recons have a right to the imagery? Perhaps so, if their Gods give unto them and respect their worship. It is a bit like the great grandson of the person who lost the watch in the dessert coming to claim it. Does he automatically get it all, no, but there is a case that it is indeed his. Same too with these images. Now, is it in their best interest to prevent others from using those images, no. Freedom of speech is still very much a good thing for Pagan religions, and that means sometimes you gotta let an asshole use your Gods’ pictures. Let the Gods sort out if they don’t like the use.
It is important to point out that it is only an aspect of the Canaanite culture Dawson is attempting to revive. As far as I know, she is not attempting to live like the the ancient Canaanites. She’s not learning Canaanite basket weaving and living in a mud hut. Does her worship of polytheistic gods entitle her to feel victimized by events that happened thousands of years before she was born? Does reviving the worship of Canaanite gods make her a Canaanite? Does it matter whether she is descended from Canaanites? Does it matter whether she lives in the place where the ancient Canaanites lived? Does it matter that, whatever we do religiously, we still immersed in contemporary Western culture in nearly every other way? Does it matter that culturally all of us are much closer to the perpetrators than to the victims of the cultural crimes that we are claiming to be vicarious victims of?
Then again, I can seriously understanding wanting to belt said asshole in the Gob.
Geez, Halstead, you were asking some really good questions and actually had a point. And then you go an ruin it with this childish bit of what looks like postmodernist bullshitery. “Dawson’s point is moot because she’s not living exactly like they did, ahaha!”
First off, I’m pretty sure if the Pagan Canaanites lived today, they would be buying up tvs and ipods and everything else they could afford. The Canaanites were an incredibly advanced civilization. This whole “Basket weaving and mud huts” thing, Halstead, do you think Canaan was 1600’s Africa? These people had vast irrigation, stone cities, and were in one of the most technologically evolved areas in their day. Sure, they weren’t Roman level builders, but they weren’t fucking slouches either. The Canaanites were not some backwater barbarians, they were part of the highest Civilizations.
And how one defines a “Canaanite” would answer this question. Is a Canaanite one who lives in Canaan or one who keeps the customs and religions of the Canaan Gods? Personally, I’ll accept the later because, well, immigration happens and just because my grandparents left Scandinavia doesn’t mean I’m not Scandinavian. So no, to me it doesn’t matter that she doesn’t live in Canaan. Frankly, I’m pretty sure that area has been over run by ISIS and no one wants or could live there that worshiped Pagan Gods. Way to be insensitive Halstead.
And yes, Halstead, it does matter what we do religiously even if we are immersed in contemporary Western Culture in every other way. Just because you “live” in Western Culture doesn’t mean you embrace everything in it, nor does it preclude you from having your own cultural ideas, norms, and morals. If it did, Halstead, then you probably need to drop this Earth First and get back into the cultural line.
As for the “We’re closer to the perps than the victims” thing here, I call bullshit. I’m Scandinavian, and we really didn’t do anything to anybody in the last thousand years, and the parts of me that aren’t Scandinavian are mostly Irish and Scottish, in which case I would like to point out historically that a) they never did anything to anyone and b) typically, all the bad stuff was being done to us same as any African or Native American, thank you very much.
Do those who are attempting to revive a dead culture have the right to claim vicarious victimhood? That is exactly what Dawson and Krasskova are doing. Both of them analogized the header on the banner of this blog to the physical destruction of the holy sites of ancient polytheists by Daesh/ISIL which is going on in the present. According to Krasskova, her religion is under attack — both by Islamic fundamentalists in the Middle East and by atheist Pagans in the West. For her, the “co-optation” of “her” religious termination and the “watering down” of “her” traditions are somehow equivalent to the physical destruction of archeological monument by Daesh/ISIL in the Middle East. This is obviously hyperbole, whether Krasskova recognizes it or not. (Matty James does a good job of highlighting Krasskova’s persecution complex in the comments.) But what I find curious is how Krasskova identifies with the victims of the violence of Daesh/ISIL — not as a fellow human being, but as a polytheist. For her, the destruction of the holy sites of long dead polytheists is the destruction of her holy sites. And this causes me to wonder — who is really doing the appropriation here? Me or her?
Wow, Halstead, I get you’re trying to defend yourself here, but frankly, you’re mostly just being an asshole about it. Once again, I can agree that they don’t automatically have right to be the victims of ancient deeds. That being said, modern deeds are a whole other matter.
So, is what Halstead did to the image in his banner the same as ISIS destroying Palmyra and other Pagan sites…yes and no. The original image still remains, preserved, Halstead hasn’t gone out and destroyed all copies other than his altered image. This is a far cry from the very final destruction committed by ISIS in the middle east.
Yet, at the same time, the image he uses is an idea. It is a concept, a symbol of belief, and he has altered a pre-existing image and co-opted it for his own purposes. And given Halstead’s rather prolific anti-polytheist rhetoric and his mocking of polytheists who dare challenge him…it’s an easy case to make that he has appropriated and “destroyed” something that does, arguably belong (if not too, than with) polytheists.
Now, polytheism, Paganism, in fact everything not of a specific belief of Islam, is under attack in the middle east by ISIS and other Islamic fundamentalists. That’s really something beyond all debate. As for here, are polythiestic and Pagan ideas under attack, sure. Christians and Atheists do it all the time, and by all accounts Halstead has been leading the charge of “Atheistic Pagans” who mock theistic pagans, insist we have the wrong priorites, and do take the imagery from ancient Polytheistic Pagans and use them in their own Atheistic Pagan rituals for their own emotional pleasure.
Is that the same as what ISIS is doing. Again, it’s not the concrete damage, but we are looking at basically the somewhat destruction of ideals and symbols. These are things that are held in the mind, and their meaning is what people believe their meaning to be. Take the Swastica. For thousands of years it was a symbol of the sun, of good luck, fortune, and joy. Now, it is a symbol of hatred, violence, and horror. It is hard to imagine that it will ever be restored to what it once was, and certainly I doubt it would happen in my lifetime, or many lifetimes after.
Is the destruction of that symbol any less permanent than the destruction of Temples by ISIS?
So really, I can see Dawson and Krasskova’s point here. And it’s not a hyperbolic point like Halstead says it is. Taking a symbol or a ritual, stripping it of the original intent and reason, and then substituting one’s own meanings destroys that ritual. This destruction, if used often enough, can end up being a complete reworking of the meanings of said rituals and symbols.
I’ll carry on in part 2
Reblogged this on Gangleri's Grove and commented:
Son of Hel weighs in on my calling out of Halstead and his response.
Joe Bloch said:
I submit that the scenario with the watch is a little more subtle. It’s not the watch owner’s grandson that has come to claim it. It’s someone who has read about the original watch owner, and is a great fan of his works, and feels entitled to it on that basis.
Is that a legitimate assertion of rights? I can’t say. But I know there is more than a little “I was the first person to do this, so I have some pride of place and my claim has more legitimacy than those who come after me.”
Not sure if “I got here first” is really a good argument.
Lucius Svartwulf Helsen said:
I…actually agree with you on this. Although I think it’s perhaps a bit like a great, great, great, great, etc grandkid who really admires the work and wants to claim it. So there is a bit of an inheritance factor, but it is fairly removed.
Honestly, I’ve flipped through Krasskova’s post and I think I’m going to look through Dawson’s I may end up doing posts on them too.
Renee M. Dooley said:
I really enjoyed your well thought out response to Mr. Halstead’s blog post. I look forward to reading the second part.
I take some issue with you using 1600’s Africa as an example of a less technologically developed culture(s). Keep in mind that Africa is a continent with many ethnic groups and cultures. There is no generic “African” culture/history.
The West African religions that were dispersed in the New World during the Trans-Atlantic slave trade, are theologically complex, enduring, and resilient, they have adapted and still survive In Africa( though facing increased oppression from Christianity and Islam) the Us, Puerto Rico, Brazil, Cuba and Europe.
Various ATR communities also deal with issues of appropriation, mostly from Neo-Pagans/Wiccans who are looking for something ‘exotical’ to spice up their ritual or who see the Orisha/ Lwa/ Nkisi as plug n play wish fulfilling genies. Completely disrespectful and,they seem unwilling to listen to WHY such an attitude is an issue.
This is why prefer Polytheist and Recon blogs/sites at this point.
Lucius Svartwulf Helsen said:
There is no “Generic” African culture/history, but there is the popular image from shows like Roots and documentaries, and what have you. However correct or incorrect it may be. that’s what I was referencing.
I do hope you enjoy parts 2, 3, 4, and 5 of this as well and look forwards to your thoughts on them.
There are others besides Tess Dawson who are worshipping Canaanite Deities, who are from those areas, and who have been doing so because they were taught by their parents and communities to do so. Look up AMHA, for example. When the elected leader of AMHA heard about Halstead’s usage, she was not happy…
Lucius Svartwulf Helsen said:
I may look into that. Perhaps it will make a part 7, lol. Thanks for the info. I’d heard the Cannanites had more than Dawson, I didn’t know they’d gotten big enough to have an organization, that’s pretty cool.