The Value of Multicultural Awareness
Article ID: 15350
Age Group: Adult
Days Up: 444
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Author: Taylor Ellwood
Posted: May 5th. 2013
Times Viewed: 1,588
In a previous article, I discussed why contemporary culture is important for Pagans to embrace in order to advance their magical practices. I think it is equally important to embrace a multi-cultural perspective, in order to appreciate our spiritual practices and the context that informs them. Pagans can be forgiven for thinking that they may already have a multi-cultural perspective, but Iíd argue that if anything we really donít. You might be learning Celtic magic or Egyptian magic or even both and argue that both of these practices of magic are providing you a multi-cultural experience, yet consider that whatever you are learning is mediated by the culture you live in. You arenít really experiencing ancient Egyptian culture so much as you are experiencing an interpretation of it that is mediated by Western culture.
So how then do we really cultivate a multi-cultural perspective? Even if a practitioner of Egyptian magic were to fly to Egypt today and live there for a while, the culture s/he would experience is different from the original culture that his/her spiritual practices originated from. Nonetheless such an experience would likely offer contextual information of a sort that would help the person connect even more deeply with spiritual work s/he is doing. However most of us canít fly to Egypt and live there for an extended period of time.
Alternately, another approach is to reconstruct the original culture as much as possible. Being familiar with a number of reconstructionists, I can attest to the fact that they are connecting to the original culture to some degree, but they would also readily admit that the culture they live in still has some influence on their practices as well (not to mention technology and all of its conveniences) . This raises the question whether we can really experience another culture.
Before I answer that question, I want to note that I donít consider a subculture to be a separate culture so much as an interpretation of mainstream culture. Paganism as a subculture (or variety of subcultures) nonetheless is an interpretation of mainstream culture, with Pagans having many of the same cares, concerns, and issues that people in mainstream culture have. And the fact is that pagans do live in mainstream culture most of the time. With that said, there is also something else to be acknowledged. Each personís experience of mainstream culture is going to be different from others.
What I mean by that is this: I am a middle class white male. I have a level of privilege that shapes my experience of mainstream culture as well as the opportunities I have access to. I am likely not even fully aware of the level of privilege I have, but what I do know is that someone from a different class, gender, or race will have a different level of privilege that shapes their opportunities and experiences of mainstream culture. Thus their interpretation of mainstream culture will be different from mine, and the subcultures they are part of will also have some say about mainstream culture that I may not be aware of.
This takes us back to that tricky question of whether we can really experience another culture or sub culture. My answer is that to a limited extent we can experience another subculture or culture. It is a limited experience because we are always interpreting that experience through our own cultural background and experiences. Culture is such a deep part of the identity of the person that it is not something that can easily be changed. And even if you change part of it, there is always a part that still speaks to the culture of origin.
However, even if we can only experience another culture or subculture from a limited perspective, I think we should try to cultivate a multi-cultural awareness as much as possible, and use it to help change the world around us, and our respective identities for the better. Thus I see the work of the cultural reconstructionists as an activity that allows us to cultivate that multi-cultural perspective. But I also think that learning about contemporary disciplines, and contemporary subcultures is just as important. And while I canít change my place of privilege, and I wonít understand the experience that someone of a different gender or race has, I can make an effort to promote dialogue and awareness, and work to a more equitable world. And I can go and experience other cultures in other parts of the world and use that experience to question my own culture and how it perceives the world.
And I think that Pagans in general should strive for this kind of awareness because it allows us to question the culture we live in and to also examine our subculture carefully to make sure that we arenít replicating the mistakes and problems that occur in the mainstream culture we live in. While we are marked by the culture we live in, we do have a choice about what we accept from the culture and what we question, but we can only effectively question it, if we take on different perspectives that provide us an opportunity to question the culture we live in.
For example, being a Pagan provides you the opportunity to question the mainstream cultural religion of Christianity and whether its rules or mores really apply to you. Your choice to be a Pagan implies in part that you disagree with the cultural aspects of Christianity that impact mainstream culture and instead choose to adopt the cultural mores and values of Paganism. So using that example, the question arises: What else can you to take on other perspectives and then use those perspectives to bring change into our culture? Such change can only occur if we are willing to take on different perspectives that get us to question our roles in mainstream culture and examine our level of privilege.
When we take a hard look at what we have access too, at what opportunities we have available to us and recognize that other people donít have the same level of access and opportunities, it ideally provides incentive to make change. Such change is never easy, but if you look at how Paganism has evolved over the last 60 years, you can see that such change can occur if people are willing to work for it. A multi-cultural perspective is a first step toward cultivating change and taking on a level of social responsibility for not only your own welfare, but also the welfare of others.
Copyright: Taylor Ellwood 2013
Location: Portland, Oregon
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