Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Reconstruction and Appropriation

Dear Pagan Reconstructionists:

Unless you belong to an isolated enclave of (Norse/Celtic/Hellenic/Roman/Sumerian/etc.)-practicing people who have been sufficiently isolated from the rest of the world that we have not yet found them, the culture you are reconstructing still does not belong to you. You're just grabbing bits and pieces of it that make your life just exotic enough without actually making it unfamiliar or foreign.

This is okay. Eclectic Pagans deal with this problem all the time. "I find this a helpful metaphor," or "this ritual was very powerful for me," but they don't make the mistake of saying, "I am following in the Footsteps of the Ancients and my religion is Their Religion" the same way that recons do.

And they do make it. Discussions between eclectics and recons are notorious for the same kind of endlessly-repeated vitriol that we've come to expect from discussions of Mac vs. PC.

Eclectic: So, I was wondering what kind of altar I should put together for Baal. Opinions?

Recon: You don't deserve to worship Baal. I have a personal connection with him that entitles me to an ownership of his traditions, and you are bastardizing our god.

Eclectic: I didn't realize he was your god.

Recon: Well. I mean, he's Canaanite storm god. But I'm a reconstructionist, and I take their traditions very seriously! That means they're mine!

Eclectic: Except that you're just picking and choosing, too. Unless you have a great big child-incinerating oven in your basement to show that your dedication to him surpasses all other loyalties. Or I guess you could also offer yourself as a prostitute for religious reasons. I assume you've got all that covered?


Christian: You're all wrong, but don't worry about that now. You'll find out someday when my God throws you in a lake of fire.

Eclectic and Recon: SHUT UP!

You see what I did there? PC, Mac, PC, Mac, Linux, RAAAAAAAGE.

Seriously. We have a term for this. It's called "cultural appropriation." It's what we call the practice of pulling a cultural artifact out of its cultural context and deciding it's yours now. Pagans who treat Kali like she's just the Wiccan Crone with a dot on her forehead? They're appropriating her from her native context, either out of ignorance where that context is concerned, or out of disinterest in it altogether. Pagans who treat Artemis like just another face of the Virgin are appropriating her from her "home culture."

The difference is, they don't call that "reconstruction," because they're not rebuilding anything. They're building something new, and they're comfortable with that.

So recons, please. Stop using the phrase "bastardizing our god" at the drop of a hat. I get sick of reading it, because odds are that your claim to that deity is no better than anyone else's who is also not a part of the cultural context from which the deity came.

Best regards, and let's hope we don't have to go over this again.


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