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So we continue on though what I thought was Halstead trying to defend himself and has ultimately seemed to turn into him calling his critics Krasskova and Dawson a bunch of hyperbolic crybabies.

And as strange as it is that Krasskova and Dawson can claim to be inheritors of the victimhood of the ancient Canaanites, it is even more strange that I — and all eclectic Neo-Pagans by extension — have been somehow identified by them with the perpetrators of cultural destruction which occurred millennia ago.  Krasskova manages to conflate the disappearance of the Canaanite culture in the Iron Age with the destruction of polytheist cultures by Christians in the first century C.E. and the contemporary destruction of polytheistic archeological sites by Islamic extremists.  First of all, the Canaanites were not destroyed by monotheists.  Canaan was conquered by the Assyrians, then the Babylonians, then the Persians, Greeks, and Romans — all polytheists.  Second, Krasskova has no more right to identify with the victims of the Christianization of the ancient world than I do — and I don’t think I do at all.

I haven’t read Dawson’s or Krasskova’s articles yet, but I have read some of Krasskova’s other stuff and I think Halstead might be pushing this “victimhood” thing a bit more than they did. Certainly, he seems to be mocking their “victimhood” a lot and using it to invalidate their position. To me, it’s starting to come across as attacking the person rather than their argument.

Also, pretty sure they didn’t say “all eclectic neo-pagans” but whatever. Pretty sure it was just Halstead, but he’s one of those guys whose got to be part of his collectives and he’ll drag everyone into it to defend himself.

But as I’ve said in the last article, I don’t know how much we can claim the victim status of ancient deeds. So I’m just going to let the last part here go because at least Halstead isn’t trying to claim greater victim status over them.

Recently, Sable Aradia has described what I think is a common sentiment among contemporary Pagans toward Christian syncretization of ancient paganism:

“Does it make you angry to listen to some Christians waxing rhetoric about “the reason for the season” when you know perfectly well that the reason that Christmas is on the 25th of December is because early Christians wanted to compete with the rival faith of the Sun God Mithras?  Does it infuriate you when they go on and on about the life of Jesus Christ like it was completely original, utterly ignoring how the details were cribbed out right from Horus, Dionysus, Persephone, Osiris, Zoroaster, Krishna, the Buddha and Mithras? And on top of everything else, you know that pretty much every single modern Western Christmas custom was stolen from the Norse and the Saxons?  (If it wasn’t invented by the Victorians). Does a lump of resentment stick in your craw when you consider how dismissive some Christians are to Pagans, and how they call us “evil” and “Satanic,” when you know for a fact that about 90% of their ethics originated in the writings of the great Greek Pagan philosophers? Do you get angry at how the secular world is commercializing and trivializing Samhain?  And now the Day of the Dead as well?”

Eh, not really. I mean, it used to. But in the end I’ve decided that Faith is more important, regardless of who that faith is largely placed in. Sure, I’d rather monotheism die out and go away, but really, Christmas has been around for close to a thousand years, so yeah, Christians can have their reasons for the season and I’ll have mine. And sure, Christ didn’t have an original back story, but then again the guy doesn’t even have a set theology, which really I think hurts him more than it dies anyone.

As for the commercialization of Samhain and the Day of the Dead, frankly, I love it. So does Hel, it’s how I decorate most of my house. It’s responsible for probably a good 70% of my temple’s decorations. I’m still trying to track down a good set of Halloween themed dishtowels. Do you know how hard it is to find necromantic or death related materials it is outside of the Halloween season? It’s pretty damn impossible, especially at good prices. Hel, I get pissed more at Christmas for the fact that its stuff goes on sale so early (seriously, end of Sept? Let me have my dark holiday!!!) and edges out the Halloween stuff more than I do any other reason.

All of what Sable says about the pagan origins of Christianity is true.  But it is one thing to be frustrated with the ignorance of Christians who think their religious culture is some pure artifact descended directly from heaven and untouched by human hands. And it is another thing altogether to act like we, personally, are the victims of crimes which were committed by Christians against pagans in a time and place so far removed from us.

The truth is that we contemporary Pagans — including myself, as well as Dawson and Krasskova — are culturally much closer to the Christians than to the pagans in this scenario.  If we’re going to identify with anyone, it should probably be the perpetrators, not the victims.  Yes, ancient Christians appropriated ancient Pagan imagery and customs and ethics.  But we contemporary Pagans are no better.  We cannot claim the moral high ground in this area simply because we choose to worship multiple gods instead of one.  We have no more or less right to ancient pagan imagery and customs than contemporary Christians do.  As Alexander Folmer recently acknowledged in his contribution to the cultural appropriation discussion:

“Many of us are also fairly far removed from the birthplace of the traditions we practice. I’m a 21stcentury English speaking American, living in the Sonoran Desert. Despite my ancestral origins, I’m about as far from the frozen northern landscape of my seafaring ancestors as it gets. I’ve never even been out of sight of land in my life. I may be descended from Viking stock, but the landscape and language of the lore is foreign enough to me that it might as well be Mars.”

Here, largely, Halstead is at least not wrong. Chronologically, we are closer to the Christians than the Pagans. Culturally…is a different matter to me. I live a life whose culture is very far removed from Christianity and its culture. I think most Polytheists do, because culture is thoughts and deeds. How one acts and thinks can be very far removed from the culture one lives in, even if that culture is on the TV in your room. Claiming that Krasskova or Dawson are more “Christian culture” than “Pagan Culture” is a false claim, though. I don’t think he knows either of them in real life, not has spent a great deal of time with them online. Claiming to understand the mind and beliefs and motivations of someone then, and then claim that they’re more “christian” because they happen to live an a nation which has been somewhat dominated by “Christians” is a false claim. and smells of projection.

That would be like claiming people from Louisiana are culturally the same to New Yorkers because New York has dominated so much of the popular culture. The “Dominant” culture no more shapes the views of people living in its area than people let it, especially when most of that culture is presented via media that can just as easily be ignored as not.

In the course of the Cultural Appropriations Controversy, several people, including Yvonne Aburrow and Crystal Blanton, have observed that the defining characteristic of cultural appropriation is an imbalance of power.  Perhaps you could make the case that I, as a living person, have more power than those who belonged to the dead culture and who — with the exception of a handful of self-appointed defenders — have no living representatives.  (This is an interesting intersection of politics and metaphysics.)  But, what you cannot say is that I have more power in this situation than Dawson or Krasskova.  Being an eclectic Neo-Pagan does not give me any privileges which are denied to polytheist reconstructionists.  Whether they want to see it or not, we’re all in the same boat.  Neither of us owns these images.  Krasskova and Dawson have no more right to them than I do.  Perhaps I am “appropriating” ancient Canaanite religious culture — but if am, so are Dawson and Krasskova.

You know, I was wondering when we’d get to the Progressive Rhetoric. Also, I love this “if I’m evil, you are too” defense. Which, frankly, I think is the only defense he can come up with. Because he can’t acknowledge the reason why most Polytheists feel we own our religion’s imagery and rituals.

Halstead doesn’t believe in the Gods. He doesn’t worship them, doesn’t believe in their individual agency. The simple fact is that these images, symbols, rituals, and so forth belong to the Gods, and they give leave to Polytheists to use them in the worship of said Gods. A good way to look at it is say the pictures of a celebrity or an artist. They technically owns that image, and they use that image to have more people focus on them. So when you take that image and alter it in some way to fit your own message outside what the celebrity or artist intended, can you really claim that right, or that those who are using the image as intended are in the wrong.

Well, no, you can’t. And that’s really the problem here. It’s not an issue of “power” or “privilege” its about Halstead and those like him using an image intended for one meaning and transforming it for another. Now, Halstead’s argument seems to be consistently that “the original owners are dead, so it’s okay for me to do this because you’re doing this,” but when you come from a theistic perspective and hold that it has always been the Gods, not mortals, who own these religious things, his argument falls apart, because the original owners are not dead. And ultimately, that’s why Krasskova and Dawson would not be “culturally appropriating” because in their practices, they have been given permission to use those symbols and rituals in the worship of those Gods, where as Halstead, refusing to acknowledge the copyright holders, is basically engaging in piracy of copyrighted material.

And if we are all all appropriating dead pagan culture, then the real question simply becomes whether the appropriation is respectful.  I get that Dawson and Krasskova feel that my appropriation of the Canaanite image is not respectful.  I have explained in my last post, I feel that it is:

“This is where I write about my spirituality.  This is where I write about holy things.  And this image is holy to me — both the original image and the “adulterated” image (as Tess calls it).  Now maybe Tess can’t appreciate the connections I’ve drawn above.  I don’t expect her to.  But I do expect her to respect the fact that the connection exists for me.  It is as real and as holy to me as her relationship to her gods is to her.”

Is “respect” though really a good justification? By Halstead’s logic it is, but if we look at it through the lens of essentially Divine Copyright, is it? Certainly the issue of media piracy is a complicated one and even I myself am not sold one way or the other.

But you can respect the cast, crew, and producers of a show like Game of Thrones all to hell, but if you pirate the episodes vs pay to watch them as they come out, is your respect really worth anything? You refused to pay the fee, in fact one can argue that you feel entitled to watch the show, and do not feel you are responsible to have to pay for it, when you pirate it online.

What then, is your “respect” really worth?

If you consume, but give nothing back. If you call a thing holy, but never truly pay homage to the Divinity from which it comes from. If you take, but never give. Do you respect?

Now, maybe that’s just my Norse heritage showing, but it is a gift for a gift in my culture.That is how you show respect. That is how you make holy.

Halstead basically is saying “it’s okay to take from dead people because they have something I find meaning in, but I do not have to acknowledge or give back to the living gods these people received these gifts from because I don’t believe in the Gods these people worshiped or respected.”

This is not “commercialization” or “commodification”, and to describe my spirituality in those terms is insulting.

Let me give you another example from Steven Posch, “Pagan Culture Builder”:

“The way they tell it around here, two brothers fell in love with the same woman. She favored the younger, and in a fit of rage the elder brother killed him, hacked his body into pieces, and threw them into the river. It so happens that this woman was a witch, so she paddled up and down the Mississippi singing her spells, and in the end she managed to find his whole body. Well, not quite the whole body, since his dick got eaten by a catfish. (If you’ve ever wondered why people eat catfish at Beltane, that’s why.) So she carved him a new dick from a cottonwood root, and then she put all the pieces back together. She breathed the life back into him long enough for one last loving. Then she buried him. But out of that one last loving she got a child and they say that’s where this whole line of river-witches comes from.”

This tale was obviously inspired by the Egyptian myth of Isis and Osiris.  Is this cultural appropriation?  I don’t know.  But real question, I think, is whether it is respectful.  And I think it is.  In fact, I think the ancient Egyptians — master syncretists as they were — would really appreciate it.

I think people really need to learn the difference between an “homage” and “appropriation” here. That story is not an example of appropriation. Stories like that are somewhat universal. What that story is, however, is an homage, a tribute to an older story. And it is inherently respectful. It acknowledges what came before in what is happening in the now.

Living in a pluralistic society, we have to get used to the idea that others will use our images and our words in ways that are sacred to them, but alien to us.  I remember an instance when I was a Mormon missionary and I met a lady who told me she too believed the founder of the Mormon church, Joseph Smith, was a prophet — but the lady was not Mormon.  (I think she may have been Baha’i.)  I insisted that a belief in Joseph Smith’s prophetic calling logically compelled her to become Mormon.  She just responded that she had incorporated my beliefs into her own.  Frankly, I was offended.  (Mormons don’t worship Joseph Smith, but they honor him like a prophet, like Jews do Moses.)  Emotionally, I felt like she was  “stealing” Joseph Smith from me.  But looking back, I realize now, she wasn’t taking anything away from me.  Her Joseph Smith wasn’t my Joseph Smith. And for that matter, my Joseph Smith wasn’t the Joseph Smith anyway.

This goes back to the copyright and image holder thing. Sure, his Joseph Smith was different from hers, and different from the real one. But isn’t there some need to try and represent the Original as they intended to be represented?

My George Washington is perhaps different from Halstead’s George Washington, but is it not better to try and preserve and present George Washington as he historically was, rather than create some great myths of hero or villain to serve one’s “holy ideals?” And I think that ultimately is the problem that has been had with Halstead here. Krasskova and Dawson want to preserve the Historical Truth of the Gods, and Halstead just wants to take their images and stories and use them for what feels Holy and Respectful to him, regardless of historical accuracy or the true positions of the individual gods in question.

The same is true for the image of the gods in the header above. The figure on the right in the header is the Canaanite god Resheph.  My Resheph is not Tess Dawson’s Resheph.  And neither of our Resheph’s are the Resheph.  My Odin is not Krasskova’s Odin.  And neither of our Odins are the Odin.  Krasskova sees herself “guarding carefully every metaphorical stone that we have again unearthed and set in place as we restore these sacred containers of our mysteries and mystery”.  I agree with Krasskova that we need to guard the “sacred containers of our mysteries” … from “commercialization” and “commodification”.  But we do not need to guard them from each other.  Your holy may not be my holy, but what matters is that we both are trying to see the holy.

You know, I’d been trying to place Krasskova’s name and thanks to this I have. If I recall correctly (and Gods have I read so many people I might not be) she’s an Odin’s Wife. In which case I would say that in fact, yes, her Odin is the Real Odin.

It what matters really that we see the holy, and not how we do it? I don’t know, that is a question larger than me. However, given that I believe Krasskova is a godspouse to Odin, dismissing her “holy” as the same level of holy Halstead has is about like saying that Michelle Obama doesn’t know the real Obama any more than say some Obama fangirl on the street, and that the Obama Michelle knows is less real, less important, or less correct than the fangirl’s Obama is…not holy at all.

Frankly, I’ll give this one to the Godspouse.

 

So there we have it, Halstead trying to defend his “cultural appropriation” and my various thoughts about it. Ultimately, it goes to show that no one is ever 100% wrong on stuff…but you can still be a complete asshole about it. Anyways, I’m just happy I didn’t have to write about pedophilia.

Leave your thoughts below.

 

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