I happened to stumble upon some blogs about other ways in which people of European ancestry find culture in their lives. I know we have a few Pagan readers here and I think this is the same or similar. It seems that some people are going back to Nordic traditions of their ancestors as well. This suggests to me that my sense of lack of culture is a common problem here in America.
One person put it really interestingly:
""I know the feeling of having been exiled from your ancestors’ traditions. I know what it feels like to see other cultures reveling in traditions, and medicines, and lifestyles passed down to them for thousands of years, while I am given only Advil with which to soothe my pains."
The post is about how sometimes people trying to reclaim their European heritage fall into problems with racism (wanting to have White pride, since Black pride is okay).
It seems that a lot of people feel very connected to their own family and ancestry. I don't really feel that. I don't have a sense of my lineage reaching back through time in one particular family. Believing in reincarnation, this body is little indication of what other lives I've had and those lives are equally valid as this one. It's not like a previous life is less real because it is over. I may have been Indian in my last life. I may have been something else.
With that in mind it is also hard for me to understand how people get held accountable for the actions of their race in the past. It seems like such a strange idea to me because I didn't personally do any of those things that white people did to subjugate other races. But is that just a "white" way to think?
The same person above quotes Churchill [Edited to correct: not The Churchill, apparently, just A Churchill] as saying: “[People who appropriate the affects [sic] of other spiritual cultures] are attempting to avoid responsibility, to sidestep the heritage they’re a part of. Rather than rectify it, putting it right, putting it back in balance, they want to step out of it and appropriate something else from somebody else so they can pretend to be other than who and what they are.” (From what I read of the link Tandava shared, this Churchill guy is out of his mind. With alleged claims of a little bit of Native American blood, he criticizes all other white people for being imperialists and apparently published an essay basically saying that victims of 9/11 had it coming).
I don't understand this perspective at all. For wrongs of the past, I think we should all be working to rectify those. I think we should do our best to avoid those wrongs in the present. It seems to me that the responsibility belongs to everyone, not just those whose ancestors two hundred years ago did something wrong.
So here we are, back at the subject of cultural appropriation. I went looking for a definition and I was pleased with what I found. A detailed article on Pagans using Hindu deities gave this definition:
" Cultural appropriation happens when someone from one culture borrows symbols, rituals, and practices from another culture without fully understanding the context, meaning, and complexity of those things, and then passes them off as one’s own, or uses their own interpretations and then passes them off as 'authentic.' "
By this definition, one would need to be using items from another culture without understanding their full meaning and claiming one's own interpretation as more valid. I don't believe that I am doing either of these things. I come to Hindu practices with much respect. I have a great deal of study, knowledge, and practical experience participating in Hindu ritual. I value my own understanding of my worship, but I'm always open to deepening that understanding with the many, many people who know more than I.
This person goes on to say, "I’ve seen plenty of neo-Pagans doing a great job at respectfully approaching Hindu deities and incorporating Hindu worship into their own with some amount of care and respect. At the same time, I’ve also seen a few neo-Pagans worship Hindu deities with some bravado, and have seen and heard about some rituals that are at best ignorant and at worst blatantly disrespectful of Hindu traditions and culture."
Another blog post defining cultural appropriation says this: "Cultural Appropriation: The unhealthy aspect of multiculti, where a more powerful culture raids a less powerful neighboring culture ... and appropriates aspects of that culture without proper acknowledgment of the 'home culture' or understanding the cultural context from which these aspects spring. Examples: yoga, Buddhism, hip hop and ebonics-derived slang, graffiti art, etc."
Pretty similar, the key idea being that the source of the cultural tradition is not acknowledged and the understanding is incomplete.
The first article is more positive in tone than the second, but both give me the impression that there are ways to do what we do well and there are ways to do it badly and we need to be aware of that. It doesn't mean that neo-Pagans can't worship Hindu deities or that non-Indians can't worship Hindu deities, it just means that we have to do it with care and respect.
The same blog above has more to say on this subject and also references someone else's thoughts as well:
And We Shall March
A post referencing the above post and adding some things