Polytheistic Ethics: Cultural Appropriation

Noted art historian and critic, James O. Young observed that as cultures intertwine, their cultural motifs overlap. But he warned that using another culture’s motifs in art “carries with it certain responsibilities.” For example, Paul Simon often used the motifs of African cultures in his music. Since he approached the act of composing music with respect, Simon kept the authentic voices of the Africans intact. For that reason, many people do not consider him a cultural appropriator.

Young concluded, “I urge everyone to avoid making blanket pronouncements about cultural appropriation. As we have seen, cultural appropriation has many forms. Some examples of certain forms are certainly immoral. At the same time, many examples of all forms of cultural appropriation are morally unobjectionable. … Cultural appropriation is sometimes to be condemned but equally to be avoided is a restriction of artists to their cultural homelands.”

Since many Neo-Pagans integrate the beliefs of various cultures into their practices, Patti Wigington, in “About.Com Paganism/Wicca,” addresses the issue of cultural appropriation. She states, “If you are incorporating a practice into your belief system, ask yourself whether you’re doing it because you’re truly called to do so, or whether you simply saw it in a book and thought it looked appealing. Carefully evaluate the practices you borrow, and make sure if you choose to use them, that you do so with respect and reverence towards their original owners.”

In regards to Native American cultures, Laura Donaldson (Cherokee) believes that cultural appropriation “strips [them] of any historical specificity of contextual depth and interprets them with a colonial logic of cultural commensurability.” Vine Deloria Jr. (Lakota) adds, “It’s about what white people think Indians should be.” Others include in their commentaries that careless people perpetuate the “noble savage” stereotype, lump diverse cultures together, or imply that Native Americans existed only in the 19th Century.

In her review of “Oracle of Shadows and Light” (Lucy Cavendish & Jasmine Becket-Griffith, 2010), Cat discusses the misuse of cultures in this deck. Kali, the Hindu Goddess of Destruction is displayed as a soulful-eyed being who takes bad things away. Meanwhile Amara, the Menehune is a stereotype of a Native Hawai’ian – soulful-eyed long haired girl, who wears flowers. Since this deck does not provide any cultural context, Cat wonders how Hawai’ians or Indians would react to these skewed depictions of their respective cultures. Moreover, she asserts that the authentic voices of these cultures (and others) are distorted and overwhelmed by “cuteness.”

Living in North America, I am mindful that other Gods reside here. In my devotions, I follow the practices of the Religio Romana. For example, I ask the local land spirits (by divinations), if they want my devotion.

Works Used:
Aldred, Lisa, “Plastic Shamans and Astroturf Sun Dances: New Age Commercialization of Native American Spirituality.” The American Indian Quarterly, 24:3. 2000. Web. http://muse.jhu.edu/article/193

Cat, “OMG Your Ethnicity is So Cute.” Cat’s Journal. 19 March 2012. Web. https://tarotreading.wordpress.com/2012/03/19/omg-your-ethnicity-is-so-cute/

Cole, Joan, “Pseudo Native American Tarot Decks: A Picture is Worth 1000 Words.” 2004. Web. http://www.lelandra.com/comptarot/tarotindian.htm.

Cormack, Bridget, “The ethics of cultural borrowing.” The Australian, 18 December 2012. Web. http://www.theaustralian.com.au/arts/visual-arts/the-ethics-of-cultural-borrowing/story-fn9d3avm-1226538593187.

Green, Heather, “The Hula Dance: From Sacred to Commodity.” The Wild Hunt Blog, 23 June 2013. Web. http://wildhunt.org/2013/06/the-hula-dance-from-sacred-to-commodity.html.

Young, James and Conrad Bunk, “The Ethics of Cultural Appropriation,” John Wiley: New York, 2011.
Young James, “Profound Offense and Cultural Appropriation.” The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism, 63: 2, 2005. Web. http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.0021-8529.2005.00190.x/full.

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