Monday, January 9, 2006

Pagan Deity Appropriation

Pagan Deity Appropriation Cover I have been having this discussion for weeks now and have reached no definitive answer, nor have any two people actually agreed on a position. What is the core of the discussion? Appropriation of deity.

In the neopagan community, it is generally acceptable for people to choose/be chosen by any deity from any religion, regardless of actual tradition practiced. My personal opinion is that this is inappropriate. Now, with careful research and acceptance of socio-cultural mores from the deity's country of origin (if that term can even be used) and with addition of proper religion-specific ritual I can deal with it. However, I have a problem when someone worships Kwan-Yin, Bast, Osiris, and the Morrighan on one altar. I realize that this, along with most of my opinions lately, will likely make me very unpopular with the pagan community, but I just can't stop associating "appropriation" with "theft."

Why do I feel this way? After all, I've said many times that I believe that deity is inherent in all things and that God is all one in the same. However, when I go into a church, I find myself apologizing to Jesus for invading His sacred House. Why is this? If I consider deity to be inherent, then why would I apologize to deity? Yes, deity is, in my mind, inherent in all things. As I'm typing on my computer, I'm feeling the wind from outside, I'm feeling the wooden chair I'm sitting in, my heart is beating, my roommate is laughing, I can smell the chocolate her friends just finished eating. All of that is, to me, sacred. Deity is in all things, whether it's something tangible like a chair or the wind, or something intangible like joy, it is all sacred. However, this sacracity is channeled by faith into various forms. Just as I cannot fully equate joy and sadness (though they are both sacred) I cannot equate Kali with Jesus (though they are both deity and have much less in common than do joy and sadness).

Being in the House of the Christian God makes me uncomfortable, because that space was created by people for Him and for thier worship of Him. I cannot partake of this worship because my idea of deity does not conform to the Christian idea. This is the same way I cannot attend a Hindu ritual and expect to participate because of the same reason. Furthermore, if I were to attend a Hindu ritual, I would be a great deal more out of place because I can never fully understand and embrace the social mores surrounding Hindu faith. I cannot truely worship Ganesha because I cannot fully understand the songs sung to him, I cannot understand the aspects of the caste surrounding him, and I will always be an outside, regardless of the amount of study I undertake. If I were to start worshiping Lakshmi, I would expect Ganesha to feel fairly insulted, since I'm completely ignoring his place in Hinduism and only embracing one Hindu deity, without paying proper and respectful attention to the others.

Take Kwan-Yin for example. I know several friends of mine who have lovely statues of her on thier altars. However, when I tell them that she evolved from the male bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara (Compassion), they are genuinely surprised. How can one truly worship a channel of deity when one has no idea of the wide-ranging aspects and history of that deity?

Lately, Kali has been calling me, and I've been resisting with every ounce of my being. I do not feel justified in "adapting" her to my worship. Choice of religion is a very Protestant American idea, and Kali does not fit in that worldview. India Hindus do not "choose" to be Hindu. They are born into it. Brazilian Catholics do not "choose" to be Catholic, that is just what you are. However, in this country, choice of religion is as simple as breathing. Of course a person is not limited by birth into a particular religion! Given all of this, I cannot ever allow myself to take Kali as my patron goddess because I will never fully understand her and everything that surrounds her.

I took this problem to one of my friends and she suggested that I "create" a goddess for myself that has Kali's attributes and happens to be named Kali as a compromise. I did not tell her outright that I thought her idea was ridiculous, but I think my long pause of silence indicated the same. Kali is a sacred word in the Hindu faith. Kali is a word that means a particular goddess that has a history and has songs and prayers and complex rituals. She is not just an amalgam of ideas with an arbitrary word attatched. I might as well worship a giant earwig and name it Georges as a "compromise" for Kali, for all the good that idea does me. Kali is that word attatched to all of that "baggage" and that is a particular channel of deity.

None of this is to say that I do not "condone" other people's choices of worship. Who or what a person worships is really none of my business, and I have no business telling any person that he or she is wrong. However, I cannot stand by the general idea that choosing a deity is like choosing what pants to wear in the morning. Deity is deity, yes, but Kali is not Jesus. The earth is sacred, just as is sorrow, but sorrow is not elation. Yes, they are both sacred, but they're not the same thing. I cannot "choose" to be joyful when I am sobbing at a funeral any more than I can equate Kwan-Yin with Loki.

I apologize if my ideas insult anyone's worship, for that is certainly not my intent. However, if someone is new to the pagan community and has read one or two books that said Artemis is "pretty awesome!" encourage them to think about what it REALLY entails to actually worship her.

Even though this isn't an article, but an essay, I figure "better safe than sorry": In the light of a recent comment regarding copyright infringement, I would like to assert that all of the material in this article are my own unless they are appropriately cited. To use the standard book/movie resolution: Any resemblence this article has to any others of its ilk is purely coincidental and does not reflect on the authors of those articles or the quality of thier production.

Suggested ebooks:

Franceska De Grandis - Goddess Initiation
Marcus Cordey - Magical Theory And Tradition
Alfred Thompson - Magic And Mystery A Popular History