Is Neo-Paganism Cultural Appropriation?
There is, and has been, a lively discussion about the appropriateness of appropriating, the taking and using, elements of another culture’. While this question applies to the whole of that culture I am interested for the purposes of this essay in the faith and beliefs of the culture.
This taking on of a cultures faith and beliefs can be either wholesale or the taking of elements of that faith structure and incorporating it into your own.
So why is this important? Well there are two aspects for me. The first is that members of the culture being appropriated may well feel marginalised and disempowered where, as is almost always the case, they are a minority population. There is also the question of authenticity. Can a person really be true to themselves if the faith structure they are practicing are not part of their culture and history?
This is quite obviously a huge question but I am going to limit my thought to the use of ancient religions and faith practices in modern UK paganism.
The history of these islands are, as most know, a story of invasion, assimilation and foreign cultures. Between the Romans and Vikings almost any trace of the indigenous religion of England, and to a slightly lesser extent Scotland and Wales has been obliterated. The traditions of the Romans, initially an polytheistic faith tradition accepting, and indeed worshiping, many Gods and Goddesses, followed by a 180 degree turn to a monotheistic, Christian, society.
In a way the fact that the Romans, and anglosaxons, brought their faiths here, and became part pf our culture tells us that we have inherited the links to those faiths. They belong to us as much as they did to the Romans of old.
But in Britain there is a distinctive strand of neo-paganism that yes draws on elements of those ancient traditions brought to these islands but that is distinctively British. Based on an admittedly romantsised vision of the Witch and witchcraft, formalised as Wicca by Gerold Gardner and Doreen Valiente it has developed into a decentralised faith and embraced the solitary witch, the wise woman and man, those that see the spiritual in the land around them and those that see the divine in everything.
Now yes many of these interwoven and often poorly defined faith, and they are often none the worse for not being rigidly defined, do draw on imagery, myths and ritual from those ancient imported faith traditions of the Romans and AngloSaxons but as I have suggested above they can I feel be considered as native, if introduced, to this land and with most of us having a direct lineage back to peoples. And in any case these transported religions of then took the local indigenous deities and faiths and integrated them into their own. English Goddesses given Latinised name and equated with existing deities.
Now this is not to say that there is no usage of bits of faith traditions from other cultures in British neo paganism, with modern communications and the apparent universality of religious concepts that would be unreasonable to expect but I believe cultural appropriation needs more than the incorporation, and adaptation, of small elements of another’s faith tradition.
I believe that British neo-paganism, wicca and its offshoots, the Witch and wise woman, the Pantheists and those grounded in the Land of the ancestors are a uniquely British faith tradition. Yes one that has spread across the world but solidly grounded in the British folk traditions, faiths and witchy heritage.