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Thoughts on Cultural and Spiritual Appropriation
NOTE: For a complete list of articles related to this chapter... Visit the Main Index FOR this section.
You Can't Please All Of The People, All Of The Time
Article ID: 10594
Age Group: Adult
Days Up: 3,826
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Author: Diana Rajchel
Posted: March 12th. 2006
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I once attended an eclectic ritual where the priestess, in an attempt to be “universal”, took time to invoke everything she could think of... in the known universe. While this seemed to work for her regular attendees, it didn’t just turn me off; it confused me as to the spiritual purpose. I was continually distracted by two thoughts. The left brain: Did she actually say unicorn? Right brain: But wouldn’t the dragons EAT the fairies? Center brain: Aren’t fairies actually kind of mean?
Yes, I know I was being ungenerous, and I’m well aware that anyone who chooses to priestess a ritual puts him or herself “out there,” for public criticism in the same manner as any live performer, artist or writer. However, the artists don’t have their equally delicate egos protected the way we protect the egos of our priesthood, and in the name of being “safe” and “accepting” we abandon, at its inception, the possibility of priesthoods from various Pagan religions developing real skill in ritual design and public execution.
I’m just not evolved enough to control my immediate emotional responses to a ritual. I don't have proof, but I'm positive I'm not alone in this. I think there are lots of schmucks running around whose brains run off at the worst possible moments of ritual. I am convinced some things work, and some things don't. You could say I've made a study of it.
I learned many lessons about the failings of eclecticism after working with two student organizations and taking my volunteer opportunity, working with Twin Cities Pagan Pride, to observe as many rituals as I could manage. I’ve seen some rituals succeed and others fail. I've led a few that were tragic flops and a few public rituals that I led spontaneously were – even to my surprise – successful. Eclecticism in deliberate practice has its place, but eclecticism is often misused as an attempt to satisfy and represent everyone. That is not the purpose or intention of the Pagan spiritual eclectic approach.
Here are the messages I have taken from the rituals that have succeeded:
Don’t even try to please everyone.
The Wiccan ritual format is meant for Wiccan ritual. If you are not Wiccan yourself, just do what you actually practice, and invoke who you actually know.
Know what you're doing and why you're doing it.
If you are Wiccan, understand the standard ritual format before doing a public ritual. Don’t treat it as “fill in the blank,” and if that's all you think it is, please reconsider performing a public ritual. Every single aspect of the ritual from circle-casting to element calling has a specific reason and purpose.
If you are just exploring Wicca, I advocate holding off on public ritual until you've made a formal commitment and studied – and been regularly challenged in your beliefs – for a few years. I would guess most Pagans expect and respond to challenges from the non-Pagan religions out there; it's the challenges that come within the Pagan stratosphere that test your mettle the most. If you can't answer an Asatruar's question on Wicca's views on respect and how it's earned, or you're a Druid who can't quite explain to a Stregha why the solstice is so darned important to you, you probably need to take more time understanding what your path truly involves before making those rituals public. It’s all a matter of your reputation and how you want people to perceive you.
Make your guests welcome by introducing them.
Explain what you’re doing beforehand. Perhaps not in deep religious detail, but a quick word about what you’re doing, why you’re doing it, what you hope to achieve and how the attendees can help is good. This has two typical challenges: the first is the person who wants to know WAY more than you can reasonably answer and still do the ritual within a decent time frame. Promise that person, and keep that promise, to answer more thoroughly afterwards. Yes, you will be tired after leading a ritual, but answering the public you don't necessarily select is just as much a part of the responsibility of hosting a public ritual as is the actual service itself.
The second will be a new person who may feel really insecure and out of his/her element, who will also ask lots of questions; it’s generally good to have a designated hitter not leading the ritual to answer questions and soothe those people as needed. You may still need to answer a few questions, and for that person, focus on deflating as much superstition about your practices as possible. In a phrase, make it seem boring when you talk about it. This approach will seem reassuring to those terrified and out of their natural (religious) element.
Be respectful of your attendees’ time.
There are circumstances where long, intense rituals are paramount. A ritual for the general public is not one of those times. I’ve attended and participated in two six-to-ten hour rituals that were for the public. They weren’t pleasant, they weren’t enjoyable and I was moved alright, but not in a spiritual way. Even two and three hour public rituals tweak me, and I suspect I'm not alone.
Ritual is about emotional effect. Emotional response has a limited endurance – which is why people who have persistent emotional states are advised to seek treatment. If you want people to leave a ritual feeling a specific way, you can't tax them. Make your impact, and then send your magic into the world, through the happy buzz of attendees who were affected by a well-done ritual.
If you feel you must, mix traditions.
Be very clear what you're doing and why. If you're mixing pantheons in invocation, know who you're invoking, why, and I strongly recommend you do a trial run on any such invocation at home so you can find out for yourself whether that's a really good idea in public. Again, prepare to be questioned – questions aren't acts of disrespect, they are attempts to understand. Most of the time.
For instance, I've noticed invoking Kali-Ma along with Pan or other variations of a Horned One has gotten popular in a few circles and this is something I'd question right away; perhaps there's some reasoning (like they're both lords of death) behind this. More often, though, when I've asked, the response I've gotten is that they “resonate” without any further investigation or analysis from the person that it resonates with, or (actual, terrifying to me response) “they seem really cool.”
Resonating is great; it's a key from your spiritual center that something merits further investigation. But sorry Regis, resonating does not mean it's your final answer. I've also run this trend past a few non-superstitious Hindus I know; while I didn't hear the phrase “cultural assimilation,” this practice was widely viewed as a bad idea, and no matter what books non-Hindus may read about the evolution of Kali-Ma, I wouldn't presume to understand her better than people who live within her original cultural context.
Please don't just take it out of a book.
I've attended a few rituals where someone just meshed together ideas from a book here or a book there. This refers back to the “fill in the blank” approach to specifically Wiccan ritual. I've watched as people invoked purely fictional deities, made inappropriate offerings or mixed up elemental associations without any evident reasoning. Eclecticism, contrary to popular interpretation, does not mean “anything goes.” Part of experiencing this mortal coil is working with its parameters, and the same goes for ritual practices.
Ultimately, my favorite rituals have been rituals representing one specific tradition, and I haven't even needed to share something in common with the religion behind the ritual. They are as they are, and they are eclectic in the hospitality they extend to the outsider. The mixed rituals just lose that emotional zing I need; I often walk away from these public eclectic attempts a little sad. It looks to me like the true, politically incorrect, naked heart of the ritual creator is lost to some inclusive philosophical politic.
It was true in high school, and it's true in the Pagan community, which can be like high school, only sometimes worse (and often so much better): Be who you are, not who you think everybody wants you to be.
Copyright: Copyright Diana Rajchel 2006. Please do not reprint onto websites or periodicals.
Location: San Francisco, California
Author's Profile: To learn more about Diana Rajchel - Click HERE
Bio: Di Rajchel contributes to the Llewellyn Magical and Wicca Almancs annually. She holds a 3rd degree initiation in Wicca, she has served on the Twin Cities Pagan Pride Board and she has practiced Wicca for ten years. Presently, she is a consultant-volunteer for the University of Minnesota Pagan Society. They have a lot of eclectic rituals.
Other Articles: Diana Rajchel has posted 5 additional articles- View them?
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