And here I was all set to write a nice little post about the Summer Solstice and some preliminary designs for a wood-carving project, when I allowed myself to become impossibly distracted and simply wandered off the trail.
Distractions happen. Just lately, they seem happen a lot.
Sometimes, when they crop up, I am able to ignore them and force myself back onto the trail. And then there are those times when I find that the place into which I have wandered is, for the moment at least, more interesting than my original destination.
This time the culprit was a post on one of the Pagan forums I follow on Facebook.
Ahh Facebook, we might have colonized the planet Mars by now, if not for thee!
Anyway, someone posted asking the group if it was okay for him to adapt Native American rituals to his practice because he feels called to spirits from that tradition, this, despite the fact that he has no Native ancestry to speak of.
“Well now, there’s a topic just ripe for debate, “ I thought to myself, “surely there will be plenty of folks who will speak up against the appropriation of First Nations beliefs, while others will urge respectful study of those traditions, and….,”
And I should have known better.
It’s not that kind of board.
“Do what you want.” — “It doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks!” — “Whatever makes you happy.” — “No one culture has more claim on a god just because they made them up.” — “Pick and choose whatever you want … instead of fighting it, consume it.”
Because the gods are just boxes of breakfast cereal to be pulled down off the shelf on a whim.
So as I was about to turn my attention away from this consumer-culture imperialist love-fest, I began to notice something happening that struck me as quite odd.
The primary justification, provided by the majority of the people posting in the ‘Do what thou wilt’ column, was, “You may have been Native American in a past life, so just go with it.”
As I watched this theme appear again and again throughout the thread, I realized just how wickedly perfect this argument is in the hands of those who would prefer to duck any responsibility for their actions and beliefs.
“I’m a rebel. I’ll do what I want, and I don’t care if you don’t like it.”
“Oh, and by the way, I was the concubine of Ramses III in a past life, and that’s totally why I’ve got that statue of Bast on my alter, and it’s not just because I thought it would look really cool sitting on my purple altar cloth.”
And who can argue with that?
You can’t very well prove that someone wasn’t formerly a priestess of Ishtar in ancient Uruk. And if you like her statues, or her legend, or even just the sound of her name, who is to say that you are not recalling a past life memory creeping through into the present.
That, my friends, is the kind of circular logic I usually only encounter in conversations about the Bible.
But there are obvious problems with this line of…, thinking (heh, I almost said logic there).
Firstly, as I’ve already stated, the reincarnation argument abrogates responsibility for almost any form of cultural appropriation, and for that reason alone, it should be treated with the utmost skepticism.
If that were not enough, how about this…,
Whenever I have encountered people who believe in this sort of reincarnation, where you could have been anyone from any time or place, this has been coupled with a related belief that we live these lives for a reason, to learn certain lessons from our experiences there, which our souls require to reach a level of enlightenment.
And if that were true of our past lives, it must also be true of our present lives, which means we are, who we are, in the here and now, for a reason.
So why then should who we were in our past lives trump the realities of our present?
The journey, as I understand it, is intended to be a one-way affair, not there and back again.
But let’s say we just forget all of that, and really just focus on that past life. But instead of using it as an excuse to do what we want in the here and now, what if we instead used this belief as an opportunity to truly empathize with the person we were?
Imagine yourself for just a moment, falling under the guns of the 7th Regiment at Wounded Knee. As you go down, you die with the knowledge that your family falls with you. Brothers and sisters, grandparents and toddlers alike, gunned down by men who will be given awards for your slaughter.
Now try to imagine how you might feel about the descendants of the people who gunned you down, raped your women, and stole your land, looting your most sacred rituals…, and then tell me again how your possible past life experience gives you the right to any damn thing.
Yeah, I don’t think so.
The gods are not commodities to be used by just anyone who comes along, and our ancestors, all of our ancestors, deserve better than to have their traditions plundered by those who would ignore ancient wisdom in favor of wishful thinking.
Let’s do the work people.
Let’s be willing to take responsibility in the here and now.
And let’s build upon the past, instead of trying to co-opt it.