Talking About the Elephant: An Anthology of Neopagan Perspectives on Cultural Appropriation by Lupa

Review by Mike Gleason

Talking About the Elephant: An Anthology of Neopagan Perspectives on Cultural Appropriation  by  Lupa (editor)   © 2008  

It happens all the time.  You’ve seen it…perhaps you’ve even done it yourself.  But nobody is eager to talk about it.  What is it?  The “borrowing” of religious or cultural ideas (or artifacts) by members of another group.   “Celtic Shamans,” Native American sweat lodges used by Indo-European groups, the “blending” of disparate  pantheons (Yoruba orisha called into a Wiccan circle for example), are all examples of this borrowing (or is it theft?).

In many instances, the attitude seems to be “It’s Pagan(ish), so it will work in any Pagan system.”  In a word – WRONG!  What marks an appropriate attitude toward such a multicultural approach?  The best answer begins with respect.  As an example:  A number of years ago, while attending an intertribal pow-wow (my wife and daughter have Native ancestry, I do not), I was helping an elder set up his selling space.  He and his wife had informally “adopted” me earlier.  While we worked on getting things organized, Grand Entry was announced, along with the request for all non-Native men to “Please remove your hats.”  I immediately stopped what I was doing, removed my hat and waited quietly as the dancers entered the circle.  Three Bears looked at me and said “That doesn’t include you.”  I responded, “It doesn’t cost me anything to show respect.”  He grinned and said, “I knew I made the right choice with you.”

Respect, however, is not enough.  I am cognizant of several pantheons in the neo-Pagan community.  I am moderately familiar with a couple.  But I would hesitate to ask, for instance, a Yoruban orisha into the same sacred space as a Greek deity, no matter how similar they appear to be.  For one thing, their ritual requirements are very different (I doubt that Athena is particularly familiar with coconuts).

Lupa has made an effort to assemble a wide variety of viewpoints in this book.  It shows both the good points (a wide diversity of viewpoints and styles) and the not-so-good points (a wide diversity of viewpoints and styles) of this style of book [and NO, that was not a typo – the good and not-so good points are identical].  Some of the contributors see cultural appropriation as utterly reprehensible, while others see it as appropriate under some (or even most) circumstances.

Among the reasons I like books from this company are the wide diversity of topics and the fact that, agree with the authors or not, I always find my ideas being challenged.  And, as an added bonus [for me, personally] there are normally fewer mistakes than I see in books from many other companies.



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