Cultural Appropriation

I recently saw a really interesting video from the BBC that I wanted to share: Whose Problem is Cultural Appropriation?

Cultural appropriation is a much-discussed topic in Pagan circles at the moment, and definitely something I think we should be aware of and sensitive to. How many times have we seen people at Pagan events, or even at mainstream music festivals wearing eagle feather headdresses and “smudging” with white sage, without any connection to the various Native American traditions and cultures where these practices originated?

I confess as a newbie Pagan I did the white sage thing, but once it was explained to me how it comes from a specific set of traditions and sacred contexts, I since switched to growing my own native herbs and drying them out to use for cleansing rituals. There is evidence that ancient Celts used smoke in sacred ways, but it would not have been done with American sage and it would not have been called “smudging”.

For me, following a Pagan path like Druidry, which is rooted in still-living Celtic cultures, I think it’s important to honour our own roots and not to take things from other cultures just because we think they’re cool or “exotic”. We can appreciate other cultures, of course, and share ideas and expressions, we can enjoy food and music and fashion from around the world – but I think that appreciation is different from appropriation in the same way, and for the same reasons, that sharing is different from stealing.

Cultural exchange, when mutually entered into and understood through the lens of both cultures willingly learning from each other, is a beautiful thing and helps make the world a more diverse and interconnected place. Cultural appropriation, on the other hand, is where a dominant culture take from an historically or currently oppressed culture, without permission and without understanding. This is especially pernicious when it comes to sacred objects and sacred rituals.

I found the video very thought provoking and as always, there are more questions than there are answers, but I think it is important in issues of cultural appropriation to listen to the voices of people from diverse cultures.

Let me know what you think in the comments!

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