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 relationship 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 relationship 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.
This can be termed the “appropriation of spaces.” Yes, while there are spaces which are open and open to changes and new innovations, 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 demand the priest there to provide a nontraditional offering to a deity simply because that’s what the foreign devotee are used to. They can, however, more than freely do so within the confines of their own privately owned spaces, such as their home.
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, Ptahmassu Nofra-Uaa and Tamara L. Siuda)
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
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
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.
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Pingback: You cannot appropriate Gods — Hellenic Faith « A Polytheist's Ramblings
Your opening paragraph is a literary gem. So powerful. Magnificent piece of writing.
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I think the whole article is pretty stupid.
Reblogged this on Temple of Athena the Savior and commented:
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.
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Amazing piece! Thank you!
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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?
A Jew who worships the Olympian Gods. Among others.
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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.
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I never said cultural appropriation isn’t a thing– infact I explicitly state that it is within the first paragraph:
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,
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First off First Nations do not speak with a single voice, not all venerate Manitou (both because they have their own religious traditions that don’t invovle Manitou or because they converted to Christianity or Athiesm or something else). Secondly there elements of FN that are spiritually welcoming among those white people who do worship Manitou. Thirdly Manitou van speak for himself and doesn’t need self appointed gatekeepers. Fourthly what about those of mixed blood? in North America having at least a tiny bit of FN blood is very common, in fact I’m some what sure I do.
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.
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“(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?
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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.
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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.
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“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.”
So, I recently took one of those commercial DNA ancestry tests. While I know they’re not known for being particularly accurate, I uploaded the data to several different sites to help “triangulate” my true lines of ancestry more reliably. What this process has revealed is that I have significant Celtic and Germanic ancestry, the latter of which some services misinterpret as a combination of Scandinavian and southern European (Greek/Italian/Balkans). My hypothesis is that this confusion is due to the fact that my father came from a part of southwestern Bavaria that was something of a cultural crossroads in the ancient past (his ancestral town is built on or near the remains of both Roman villas and Alemanni gravesites). So, even before immigrating to America, my lineage was a mix of several ancestral lines that likely worshiped different pantheons, and probably highly syncretic pantheons at some point in the ancient past.
Which ancestral gods would it be appropriate for me to honor? Which would it be inappropriate to ignore? Should I create some kind of syncretic pantheon based on the proportions of my DNA percentages or something?
This seems to be viewed by many polytheists as a uniquely american or colonial problem but I don’t think even many Europeans who are currently living in their “ancestral” lands can actually claim any kind of ethnic purity, especially in Europe which has been a genetic blender of invasions and migrations for thousands of years.
The only conclusion I have been able to reach thinking about all this is that of this post’s author, which is that the “major” gods are the same beings across all cultures and have just been worshiped and viewed in different, culturally specific ways throughout history, and that there are also many minor gods and spirits who are more localized but who have nonetheless been given different names and forms of worship through the ages. Therefore it doesn’t really matter if I am worshiping Helios in the way of my Greek ancestors, or Sol in the way of my Roman ancestors, or Sunna in the way of my Norse ancestors, or Belenos in the manner of my Gaulish ancestors, or Etain in the manner of my Irish ancestors. What matters is that I am orienting myself to receive the gifts of the sun god in a manner that both works for me and is not appropriation (simply because I’d feel weird about worshiping this being as Amaterasu, having no connection to the peoples who worshiped that way).
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.
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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):
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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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