You cannot appropriate Gods

Isis Statue

People who claim that worshiping Gods outside your culture or ethnicity is “appropriation” are, quite simply, ludicrous individuals, often crypto if not blatant atheists, whose “metagenetics” or “racialist” view attempts to posit that the divine limit Their interactions with “foreigners” outside of “the race.” This stance can be understood as atheism because it denies that the Gods are real, independently existing entities with agencies of Their own who may engage in personal relations with people by engaging in a materialist reductionism (itself an offshoot of monotheism) which reduces the Gods to merely archetypes of “the race”– ridiculously binding the Gods as subject to a materialist social construct developed by imperialists during the Colonial era, far after most polytheisms were destroyed by many of the same powers. Deities are not mere culture nor objects– They are real, living and eternal Beings who may reveal Themselves to and call upon us to worship Them, and thus They cannot be appropriated. To deny religious experience and denounce true devotion, especially when that deity has asked for it and initiated the personal relation with the devotee, is simply atheism. “Appropriation of Gods” is not an actual issue, but rather, the real problem is the appropriation of specific cultural systems of worship such as sacred rites, methods, attire, and traditions centered around these living immortals.

I call this the “appropriation of spaces,” a term coined by Twitter user āṅgīrasa śreṣṭha (GhorAngirasa, 14 April 2018 6:11 PM). Yes, while there are spaces which are open and “amenable to manipulation and the introduction of novelties” (GhorAngirasa, 14 April 2018 6:11 PM), there are also spaces which are closed, such as mysteries specific to a particular culture or instructions which are not intended for all.

Of course, one could create their own space by thoroughly localizing the worship of a God, with local iconography, rites, liturgy, and so on, while leaving the source intact without any problem. We can see something similar in the Hellenic world, with how foreign deities such as Isis were adopted and given distinctly Graeco-Roman cultus’, or in Japan, with the adoption of various Hindu deities such as Saraswati or Indra. However, a foreign devotee cannot, for example, go to a traditional temple and ask the priest there to provide an untraditional offering to a deity because that’s what they are used to– however, they are more than free to do so at their “own home or some other privately bought/hired space” (GhorAngirasa, 14 April 2018 6:39 PM).

Likewise, simultaneously, if one wishes to worship a God in a known traditional form, using traditional rites, traditional liturgies, traditional iconography, etc., then that isn’t a problem either. There are many traditions which accept converts, even if there are preconditions one must meet before joining– but even if they are not, then the words of doctor Edward Butler, “nobody can stop me worshiping any God I like, if I’m not demanding some kind of recognition in a space which is closed to me or closed without certain preconditions I’m not willing to fulfill” (EPButler, 14 April 2018 6:54 PM). You can worship whatever Gods you choose and never be accused of committing cultural appropriation, as long that it’s in private space, and not some performative act in the eyes of the public. In this case nobody needs to know what deities you worship and how, and if you do need to talk about it in public, then “the charge of appropriation might well have something to it” (EPButler, 11 July 2016 3:47 PM).

 

(Special thanks to Edward Butler, āṅgīrasa śreṣṭha, Ptahmassu Nofra-Uaa and Tamara L. Siuda)

 

Bibliography

EPButler. Twitter Post. July 11, 2016, 3:47 PM. https://twitter.com/EPButler/status/752635429892005892

EPButler. Twitter Post. April 14, 2018, 6:54 PM. https://twitter.com/EPButler/status/985335409864568832

GhorAngirasa. Twitter Post. April 14, 2018, 6:11 PM. https://twitter.com/GhorAngirasa/status/985324595187257344

GhorAngirasa, Twitter Post, April 14, 2018 6:39 PM. https://twitter.com/GhorAngirasa/status/985324595187257344

Ptahmassu, Twitter Post, April 15, 2018, 12:37 PM. https://twitter.com/Ptahmassu/status/985602916223512576

tamarasiuda, Twitter Post, April 14, 2018 7:27 PM. https://twitter.com/tamarasiuda/status/985343850024767488

tamarasiuda, Twitter Post, April 14, 2018 7:29 PM. https://twitter.com/tamarasiuda/status/985344337767817216

About HeliosTheDemiurge

Proud Pagan and polytheist. Reconstructing Late Antiquity-Early Medieval Hellenism of the Roman imperial era based on the teachings of Julian the Philosopher and Iamblichus, referred to as "Julian Hellenism."
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18 Responses to You cannot appropriate Gods

  1. I saved another quote of Edward’s which he posted on Twitter, which I feel is appropriate in the context of this post, though it’s aplication is limited to those peoples who succumbed to the onslaught of Christianity and Islam:

    “No culture which has forsaken and defamed its Gods gets to stop other people from worshiping them, period.” – Edward Butler, 15 May 2017, 1.37u.

    Liked by 5 people

  2. Pingback: You cannot appropriate Gods — Hellenic Faith « A Polytheist's Ramblings

  3. Liadan says:

    Your opening paragraph is a literary gem. So powerful. Magnificent piece of writing.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Reblogged this on Temple of Athena the Savior and commented:
    THIS.
    I got a very rude comment about “white people” worshiping Gods from other cultures and this person dared to call my spiritual path a joke.
    My Gods are bigger than race. Race is a human concept that doesn’t apply to the Gods. I’m sorry if you’re limiting yourself and your experiences because you’re the “wrong” race to worship any Deity that calls you. I’m not in this to impress people, I’m in this for my Gods and spirits.

    Liked by 5 people

  5. River Raines says:

    Amazing piece! Thank you!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Brightshadow says:

    The original verse was:
    “How odd of God
    To choose the Jews.”

    to which another writer riposted,

    “But not so odd
    As those who choose
    A Jewish God
    Yet spurn the Jews.”

    That’s a good comment on “appropriation,” eh?

    (signed)

    A Jew who worships the Olympian Gods. Among others.

    Liked by 3 people

  7. Controverse says:

    Cultural and racial appropriation isn’t a thing? Tell that to those First Nations activists who have something to say about the paleface claiming to be Manitou’s medicine men.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Hi Controverse,

      I never said cultural appropriation isn’t a thing– infact I explicitly state that it is within the first paragraph:

      the real problem is the appropriation of sacred rites, methods, dress, and traditions centered around these living immortals.

      However, I do thank you for your comment, and I have edited my article to make it more clear and especially put more emphasis on this part to prevent future confusion over my intention.

      All the best,
      Klaytonus Silvanus

      Liked by 2 people

  8. This is among the most important theological topics that exists in our highly globalized world and our recent revival of seriously researched polytheism. Although I am on the traditional side which values ancestry more than inclination, I do understand this is not the case for all. Yet, at the same time, it is necessary to discuss this point without ad hominem or accusations from one side to the other, because that only causes division rather than pluralism. The underlying questions in the theological topic here are,

    (1) Is polytheism essentially an ancestral mode of belief or is it merely defined by plurality of the divine?… I would answer this by saying that the plurality of divine pantheons parallels the plurality of the peoples who worshipped them. It is ancestry and the cultural upbringing that attends it (either by birth or adoption) rather than mere choice that establishes the necessary connection to former ancestors through whom we can feel obligation and pride for continuity.

    (2) Is the worship of major Gods in polytheism better done in the form of a personal devotion or communal participation?… I say major Gods because we have smaller localized spirits that better fit personal devotion. Whereas in the case of major Gods, they are better served by many people in unison, for it is by major effort in quantity and quality that the status of such major Gods are properly served–personal devotion, especially at the expense of communal, looks also like the sort of worship done in hiding or in intellectual isolation, and this is the reason we find the practice in monotheism and philosophical religion respectively.

    (3) To what degree are the immortal Gods connected to what you describe as “specific cultural systems of worship such as sacred rites, methods, attire, and traditions centered around these living immortals.”?… Inseparably would be my answer. It’s true that one can’t appropriate certain Gods, but it’s also true that you can’t really worship a God outside of your ancestral & cultural scope properly without appropriation if done publicly, unless it is done in a private space. But why should it be insisted on being done privately at all is the real question. How can we last and grow without community??

    (4) To what degree is it right or wrong for someone who prefers a foreign God to an ancestral God, as for example when Dr. Butler worships Hellenic Gods, without worshipping ancestral Celtic Gods?… I do have great respect for Dr. Butler’s scholarship and activity, first of all. But generally speaking, I would say that one should at the very least honor an ancestral God as readily and as faithfully as one foreign to their ancestors, because insisting on not doing so does give a hint of some sort of problem with personal identity, cultural standing and ancestral respect. Now, it might be countered (certainly through your late antiquity tradition) that there is a precedent for this “foreign” worship with the Romans and Hellenistic Greeks. But in this case, I will argue against the colonialism and imperialism to which such a practice belonged and from which it developed.

    (5) To what degree is it right or wrong to worship or choose a God for worship in a non-traditional manner which was not practiced by ancestors? In spite of its name colloquially, the term “traditional” in this case means “with precedent”. I am not an innovator in polytheism and I hope the consequences of historical innovations in regard to the decline of polytheism will be acknowledged, at least in great part.

    (6) To what degree does this practice of worshipping any God without regard to ethnic or cultural bounds (if it becomes too common) endanger the distinctions of pantheons and the “specific cultural systems of worship” that are attached to the God?… I would say considerably, unless question #4 is addressed properly. For otherwise, if we don’t run the risk of monism, we will certainly run the risk either of diluting “cultural systems” (rather than celebrating and entrenching them) or worshipping the Gods wrongly, or both.

    (7) To what degree is the modern notion of the universality of all Gods in conflict with the ancient notion of their regional plurality, and how can this be theologically redressed or understood in modern times?…This is perhaps the hardest question of all. I began to think of it in regard to imperialism & colonialism, and it became more urgent than ever when an agnostic once raised the following question to a polytheist friend of mine “how can the same sun be worshipped in different parts of the world as different Gods?” I haven’t entirely determined how to redress this problem, but I would say that since our Gods aren’t omnipotent (a monotheistic invention), they also by extension aren’t omnipresent. Hence, it is possible to proceed with the notion that distinct Gods and pantheons have distinct spaces in natural phenomena (certainly with measurable overlap) that are best determined by the distinct lands and the ancestries that worshipped them.

    (8) To what degree did monotheism and the decline of polytheism result from the mixture of foreign beliefs and the subsequent syncretic or hegemonic influences on their distinct Gods?…Well, it’s no secret that Christianity grew out of the same syncretic milieu of Gnosticism and Mithraism and broadly the “Greek philosophical theology” that spread with Hellenistic imperialism. It’s enough to look at the city of Alexandria’s cultural & religious products to understand exactly what I mean (9) To what degree is it true or probable that a God can or should call someone to their worship?…This is a hard one too, but I think UPG can make it unnecessarily impossible. It is better to rely on logic and probability: (a) A major God “calling” a particular person to their worship is highly unlikely because (at least according to your Platonic philosophy) the Gods are always self-satisfied (b) There is some hubris in thinking that a major God would call someone to their worship, but this hubris disappears entirely if it is an ancestor calling on a descendant to worship his Gods. (c) In the case of a person being “called” by a foreign God, why would that God appropriate that worshipper from his ancestral counterpart (i.e. a native God who has the same function)? If repeated, doesn’t this inevitably lead to conflicts between pantheons? (d) The notion of being “called” by a God is almost entirely a monotheistic one, with some earlier isolated instances in eccentrics like Socrates (but he didn’t claim a Major God visited him anyway) and others like Orpheus whose fate is undisputed in historical sources as negative (I think I need not mention how they later influenced Christianity). Other than these, we don’t have a precedent for this practice. Dreams are beautiful experiences, but any amount of attachment to something can produce a dream, and any amount of admiration resulting from it can produce an inclination. Once again we should be grounding our experience in the communal rather than personal, and (in a parallel sense) in the ancestral rather than intellectual, at least with regards to Major Gods and related traditions.

    Liked by 1 person

    • phosphorou says:

      “(4) To what degree is it right or wrong for someone who prefers a foreign God to an ancestral God, as for example when Dr. Butler worships Hellenic Gods, without worshipping ancestral Celtic Gods?… I do have great respect for Dr. Butler’s scholarship and activity, first of all. But generally speaking, I would say that one should at the very least honor an ancestral God as readily and as faithfully as one foreign to their ancestors, because insisting on not doing so does give a hint of some sort of problem with personal identity, cultural standing and ancestral respect.”

      This presumed that worship is necessarily a one-sided activity. If one receives a response from some gods and not others, it is natural that they should want to worship (perhaps exclusively) those gods that provide some indication of acceptance. In addition, for someone of a particularly mixed background especially, how many gods would you have them worship simply for ancestry’s sake before you would deem it ok for them to worship “foreign” gods?

      Liked by 5 people

    • Edward P. Butler says:

      Μελας, you shouldn’t be so free to make assumptions about people’s ancestry or their religious practices. You infer at once, I suppose from my Anglophone surname, that I am “Celtic” in ancestry, which is true in small part but which has nothing to do with my surname. You see, in America things are more complicated than the simple world in which you apparently live. People have diverse ancestries and backgrounds, and this is our tradition for more than 200 years now in this country. It may not be that ancient, but then again it is a good deal older than many a tradition practiced by self-styled “traditionalists”. You then gratuitously assume that I am ignoring my “ancestral Gods”, whoever they might be, after centuries and millennia of monotheism on every side. But I shall bear no grudge, as it is so amusing to be lectured about theology by someone who thinks that “How can the same sun be worshiped in different parts of the world as different Gods?” is a cutting-edge problem.

      Liked by 5 people

      • Phosphorou, worship isn’t one sided, but there should be a pre-guiding principle to it. If I work hard enough, I could probably get a response from Allah if I rely solely on UPG and believe in what I’m doing. You see why community and the religious professions as well as institutions that go along with it are so necessary? In the case of mixed ancestry, why not worship on both sides? Quite easy. Although it is my personal opinion (as I had explained once on my site) that one should choose a dominant side and stick to it in the interest of a stable identity. For example, I have Canaanite, Hellenic and Illyrian ancestry, but I stick to the Hellenic as the dominant side. It’s not as if I’m prescribing anything universal, certainly no more than the author of this site. It’s a discussion that I’m contributing to.

        Dr. Butler, I had rather we continue mutual respect than anything otherwise, at least for the greater good that we are both attempting (in spite of some differences) to further. You must know that everything I say or have ever said regarding polytheism is sincerely expressed in the service of it. I meant no offence here, but I didn’t expect ad hominem where I offered none. My purpose was only to discuss a point I thought very important. I have been called a good judge of phenotypes by many, and I meant you have Celtic ancestry in the broad ancient sense (not the limited modern one), but perhaps you may also be partly Jewish (like myself as I have lately discovered)or Greek or something else. Nevertheless, while I do understand that America has complicated ancestries, I believe (as an American by birth) that such a situation can be as much problematic as interesting. You know there’s a serious problem with what’s called “race” in America, and I have always maintained that rediscovering & acknowledging older indigenous ancestry (or ancestries) helps in the case of preventing racial divisions, where one would otherwise be assigned to useless, colonial & ill-defined categories like “white” or “black” or “Hispanic”. Unless this is resolved, I fear that America will do to polytheism what the Roman and Hellenistic Empires did before (and yet I hope I’m mistaken). I don’t mean to imply that everyone ought to return to their indigenous lands (although it would be ideal), but only that ethnic ancestry should be rediscovered and celebrated,  rather than avoided (if not altogether sacrificed) in favor of a universal system that is, for some expedient reason or another, mistaken for being ideal. Lastly, the theological problem I described about the sun was in earnest and I wouldn’t hasten to call that amusing if you think about its implications on the understanding of not only outsiders but also polytheists themselves. If you disagree, there’s no harm in it, so long as we can have a discussion without unnecessary contempt.

        Liked by 1 person

  9. Edward P. Butler says:

    You say that you don’t expect ad hominem, but then you proceed to speculate in disgusting fashion about my “phenotype”, like a spectator at a dog show? I’m going to give you the benefit of the doubt and credit you with mental illness.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Great Gods below, man, what ails you? If you are intent on making me your enemy and poorly attempting to shame me for sport, then declare it. There’s nothing at all wrong or disgusting with what I have said! My own phenotype (facially) is Eastern Mediterranean and everyone has a certain facial phenotype that tells a wonderful story about them. I developed a fascination with the subject ever since unique scientific and academic research came out from the University of Aberdeen in Scotland (see faceresearch.org):

      http://memolition.com/2013/09/23/the-average-women-and-men-faces-in-different-countries-2-pictures/

      Surely, you can’t accuse me of mental illness now? I never implied the words you’ve put in my mouth about me being “a spectator at a dog show”, but that is what you would have people believe, isn’t it? If you didn’t know what I had meant by phenotype, you could have asked or looked it up. Now I’m going to give you the benefit of the doubt and credit you with inability to engage properly in the discussion. That’s all I have to say here. Farewell.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. Llewellyn James says:

    Fantastic article!

    Liked by 1 person

  11. I’m banning Melas “the Hellene” (hardly a Hellene at all!) for endorsing a Folkish approach to polytheism. He can go obsess about someone’s phenotypes elsewhere.

    Liked by 2 people

  12. siyawardas says:

    In the tradition of Hinduism, I come from, there is clear mention that it is open to all creatures- even animals and birds, ghosts, celestial creatures; and after mentioning some races-went on to say-whichever man, woman or anyone who can not be categorized as man or woman. Bhagvadgita too mentions the same. I do not know how Angiras said some spaces are closed based on race or ethnicity. If it comes then that hindrance is from the practitioner’s own lack of ability, which can be over come with time. A relationship with a God/ess is formed, whenever one hears about, and feels some thing for them. Even if it is hatred, pure hostility and enmity one feels-there is a relationship; and no relationship is permanent.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. siyawardas says:

    It keeps changing from hatred to love, love to hatred till it reaches a point where it transcends these feelings and pure relationality is reached. Then one realizes the relationship was always there, deep as the bottomless and timeless ocean, it was we who focussed in ripples on the surface-just for the fun of it.
    In Hinduism Gods are made of energy-tejas they do not have body, and in our real self we are also beyond body; hence the race and genetics is denied. Gods can give any experience to anyone, no one can control them, and in this way no one has right over Gods. Yes, they have right over us. But if one does not feel like worshipping them, what one will do? One will go to some other God, may be even foreign God. Enriched, then one may feel, oh, I loved this God, I did not notice this thing about this God, and say thank you Foreign God for making me have peace with the Gods of my ancestors. And then Foreign God also adorns your altar.

    Liked by 1 person

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