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For Those Who Practice New Age Spirituality: Cultural Theft in New Age Religion?

I have a question for those involved in New Age religion/spirituality:
Do you ever feel bad about the cultural theft that happens? For example, the New Age is a syncretism, or bricolage, meaning that it takes from many different spiritual and cultural traditions. Many times, this is fine. But other times, a cultural group doesn’t like that their culture is taken and used (or mis-used). For example, vision quests, sweat lodges and smudging are all present in the New Age and are taken primarily from Native American traditions. Many Native Americans do not like this. Another example is Shamanism (aspects of shamanism are used in the new age and taken from various shamanistic cultures).
The question is, have you ever thought you were doing something wrong in using these traditions that weren’t yours (assuming you are not of a Native or Shamanistic tradition)? If you haven’t thought it is wrong, why? I suspect that it is because you’ve never thought about it (correct me if I’m wrong, please). It just isn’t something that’s talked about in the New Age, so I think many people who practice New Age just don’t think about it. I certainly don’t think there is anything malicious going on.
Please understand that I’m not being accusatory, I just am curious whether any of you have thought about the topic of cultural theft, and how it affects your spiritual practices.
For more on cultural appropriation (theft) look here:
http://www.hanksville.org/sand/intellect/NAbibBell.html
http://www.geocities.com/d0n0harm/
http://www.geocities.com/d0n0harm/links
“There is no harm in White people’s retreating into solitary places for spiritual insight and growth. This has been part of most religious traditions. So the popularity of calling such a retreat a ‘vision quest’ comes from the commodification [sic] of Native Americans as the latest consumer fad. By turning Indians into commodities, they are incorporated into capitalism’s way or perceiving and valuing reality. Their own perceptions and values are thus undermined. What is called “Indian spirituality” has actually become a distortion. Those words then cannot be relied on, they have been warped to fit another agenda. By this, the attempt to hold onto authentic Indian spiritualities has been rendered more difficult.”
http://www.geocities.com/d0n0harm/Wanting2BNDN8
Apeman: appropriation is not flattery. This cultural theft of Native American religions and Shamanist cultures lends to the further obliteration of Native communities. The Chinese government did (is doing) this consciously to Tibet: it is appropriating Tibetan culture and twisting it so that the original Tibetan culture itself is lost. Non-Natives are doing the same thing to Natives, but they are not aware of what they are doing.
[note: this part of the quote comes after the below quote]
“What are some of the effects of this warped agenda on Native people? The actual realities of Native communities are erased. Native communities have been under assault for 500 years, and are facing issues of dislocation, continued theft of land, poverty, unemployment, addiction, suicide, and despair. In Native communities, the recovery of traditional practices such as the vision quest helps build identity and community pride, helps empower Native communities for life struggles against a racist mainstream. If these ceremonies are diluted by misuse in White America, the communities are weakened in their struggles for survival.”
– From “Wanting to be Indian” http://www.geocities.com/d0n0harm/Wanting2BNDN8
grr sorry – these edits are screwing up the quote order. I put a quote from “Wanting to Be Indian”: The one that starts “There is no harm..” is first. The one that starts “What are some of the effects” continues the first quote.

8 COMMENTS

  1. i believe these new age spiritual religions are to infused with christian ideals and beliefs that are not from the original pagan and gentile practices. That’s why i follow the truth the old faith of satanism which predates all modern religion including Judaism. I suggest everyone finds the truth
    http://www.joyofsatan.com

  2. I completely and utterly agree with this. I think it is very strange to play at belonging to another culture or ethnicity than the one which is actually your own… In an increasingly educated and secular society, it seems to me that the new age movement is more of a REGRESSION than anything else – following anachronistic beliefs which were out-dated hundreds of years ago…

  3. Absolutely I agree. Many times pagans have co-opted the traditions and rituals of other cultures. Any time I have ever done anything that was originated from another culture, I give appropriate thanks to those whom it came from. Especially if I am doing a public ritual involving rituals and practices from other cultures, I give mention of them. Not everyone does this. Not everyone knows that some of our most common practices were gleaned from other religions.

  4. we who are native have asked repeatedly for the appropriation of our ceremonies to be stopped. some have gone so far as banning all non natives from our ceremonies because of the abuses. yet still there are those who for a fee will give you an authentic spirt’ul experience. some do it for money, some for their own ego. but all because they feel entitled to take whatever they want any time they want. you see the justification attempts all time.
    your self entitlement is destroying our ways because of your sheer numbers. we are few, less than 1% of the population and you have taken just about everything from us. why can’t you leave us what makes us who we are and stop corrupting one of the last things we hold close as indigenous peoples?
    @fire falcon. we do not need non natives to preserve our culture. we are not dying out. in fact we are the fastest growing group in the population. your governments of usa and canada are no longer forcefully sterilizing us.
    our culture survives by passing it on to our children. it is not something we do…it is who we are. our ceremonies are always done in our languages. our beliefs and practices are not something one can do outside the community as everything is focused on the community. to try is to bastardize it. that is why we keep things to ourselves. we remember how we shared things and what happened to those things. we have learned the hard way.
    it is pretty arrogant to think that without the non native’s help, we are destined to disappear, when it was your “help” that almost made it a reality. we have survived for thousands of years plus 500 yrs of genocide. we will continue to survive and that is why when it comes to our spirituality we say..hands off. it is not yours, it never was yours, it will never be yours. if people cared they would listen to us for once and respect our wishes. but of course respect is not a strong point with the dominent culture.
    @fire falcon. if i ask to use your car and you say no and then i take it anyway, even if i am very careful with it, is it still stealing? i mean..i know EXACTLY where it came from so i couldn’t have stolen it! of course it is stealing. when native people have asked for outsiders, meaning people not within our communities, to leave our ceremonies alone and yet they continue to mock them and us by attempting to use them, it is theft. cultural theft. we are telling you.. it DOES harm us, but you dismiss what we say just like many others. you do not want to be lumped in with other people but you are justifying what so many of those others do. its always the same story..”we respect native people..we just won’t listen to what you are saying or respect your wishes because obviously we as the dominant culture know better than you do what you need and don’t need.”
    why is it so hard to understand? this is exactly the entitlement we speak about. you don’t like being told “no” especially by natives! all of us know the attitude even if it is unspoken…”we won, you lost, you don’t get to tell us what to do”. it is the same attitude that pervades the mascot issue. you want something and nothing will stop you from taking it. it is what your culture does all the time and all over the world. you make up excuses for why you should have it, and justify the usually forceful and deceitful means you use to take it, too. like talking about the war you won to take this country as your own. there was no war! there were lies and legislation and massacres! but you get to write the history your way. we get it.
    perhaps you should read your own history to see what happens to native people when we share with your people. we’ve been there already and have no intention of going back.

  5. And what exactly do you think the Christians did?
    Every religion and spiritual belief system has been taken from someone and/or somewhere else. That’s just how things go. New belief systems rise up and pick out bits they like from others and build their own belief system with it… And sometimes, the old culture dies out, leaving the new culture to keep the old traditions going; said traditions are not always preserved exactly as they had been to the old culture, but there’s not much people can do unless they learn the old way or someone can teach them.
    And there’s the rub with the Native belief systems. I have Native blood myself, but even if I wanted to lean their belief system, they’d likely never teach me. Most Native Americans from what I’ve seen only teach people who are “real” Natives, and refuse to teach people outside of their standard. Eventually, unless someone starts teaching people who are interested– Native or not– the system WILL die out. It might piss them off that non-Natives are picking up their traditions, but honestly, unless they get some elders out there teaching people how to go about it properly, it’s either that or let it all be lost twenty or forty years from now. Which is worse?
    I’m an eclectic sort, and I do incorporate Native American and other culture’s traditions into my belief system. No, I don’t think it’s wrong. I don’t think it’s wrong because if it’s something that it truly THAT meaningful and THAT special, then it shouldn’t be allowed to disappear. It should be available to those who are interested in spreading it and keeping it alive. If the original culture has an issue, maybe they should realize that hey– people LIKE it, maybe they could teach others about it and HELP THEMSELVES in the process.
    For example, with the Native Americans… If people want to learn about Native American traditions and Shamanism, maybe Native communities could get together and help TEACH people. It certainly is NOT going to destroy their culture by teaching people and SHARING their traditions. It might even help people realize what they’re doing to the planet and to each others… plus as the same time, people will become more educated about what the Natives are going through and things might get better for everyone.
    Similarly with Tibet, if they taught people how things really are, then it could help slow down the distortion to their culture (because THEY would be teaching people, not sitting in silence letting someone else tell people what they’re about) and educate people to their plight.
    Eventually, the cultures are going to have to merge somewhat if the culture is to survive at all. They have to keep themselves from being lost, and the only way to do that is EDUCATION. And if they want it done right, they need to start doing it themselves so they can be sure that some idiot who’s only read a few Silver Ravenwolf books isn’t the one telling other people how it “really is”.
    The recovery of traditional practices can help build community and pride, yes. It can help empower them, yes. But if that knowledge, pride and empowerment stops where their skin color and percentages end (I think if you have 6% Native blood you’re considered Native now..?) then they’re going to end up in the same spot that they were before.
    It isn’t exactly an easy mission, but ending racism and restoring the Native culture throughout the ENTIRE nation and teaching people who want to go back to that is the way to go. Not keeping traditions only open to the select few.
    EDIT:
    “Because you are NOT part of the people you know nothing. Our traditions are not dieing. You are stealing from our people. To say theft is a benefit to a victim is a lie. You can lie to others, but you can not lie to those from whom you steal.”
    No, I’m not part of the culture, but I do have Native blood and I have been around Natives long enough to know SOMETHING about what’s going on. Assuming that someone knows nothing just because someone isn’t right in the middle of it all is a bit absurd. And fine, if you want to think that it’s all going to last and it’s not dying, then keep heading down the road the people are already going.
    And /I/ am not stealing from anyone. If you want to lump me in with everyone else, so be it, but I know EXACTLY where some of my beliefs come from, I’m not out there trying to pass my ideas off as “the real thing” and I try to HELP people because I know what the Natives are going through.
    I did NOT say theft was beneficial. I said teaching others about the traditions so people who DO steal aren’t as harmful would be beneficial. There’s a difference between letting people steal, and actually reaching out and teaching people who want to learn.
    “But you say I will teach you Native traditions so you can become enlighten. You know nothing of the philosophy on which those traditions are based. You corrupt our traditions into rituals. Ritual is just activity to give a sense that something is being accomplished.”
    And again with the “you”ing. Stop assuming what people are thinking or doing, please. I don’t want anyone to teach me anything they don’t want to, I simply suggested that teaching people who want to learn would benefit everyone in the end. How can anyone know the philosophy and prevent the corruption if no one tells them? People are going to adopt traditions, there’s no stopping that because people find personal meaning in them, but it IS possible to prevent corruption by teaching people.
    And I don’t do rituals, by the way. Not my thing.
    “To say are traditions are “special” shows your alienation, The meaning of our traditions are lost and you apply new meaning.”
    You’d rather I say they’re NOT special…? I’m not applying new meaning, I’m stating that traditions in general ARE special. Anything that holds meaning to a people is special. If it wasn’t special, what would be the point of trying to keep it alive?
    “You steal from our people and lie about our philosophy. Then you say we should teach you our traditions because it will benefit us in our destruction.”
    I don’t steal from anyone, I don’t lie about anything, and teaching people about things would not destroy anyone. If you want to think it would, then fine. I hope I’m wrong, I really do. I personally want nothing more than to see the Native culture continue and flourish. But I’ve studied history enough to know that putting an “us/them” wall doesn’t tend to end well.
    And the “us/them” wall is painfully obvious with the use of “you”. Lumping one person in with everyone else, accusing them of being the same as others and of being a thief and a corrupter. It almost reminds me of the attitude some African Americans have towards white people… the “oh, you and your people made us slaves, so GTFO” attitude. Understandable to a degree, but not when people have good intentions and are TRYING to help.

  6. Somehow it seems that being Indian/”native” from any country, has become something almost “extra-wordly”. (native then being belonging to a group who traditionally not has been in political/economic power, although not necessarily the group who has lived longest in the country/area (Europe, Asia, Africa)), There is an extreme admiration for “native” cultures, bordering on the absurd. Look for instance to the sami in Northern Europe who have special political/economic rights that lead to a potential destruction of the environment.
    Correct, I am not an American. We have all of us lost our original practices, due to the big religions and other factors, Christianity being the worst of course, we even lost a lot of our herb lore due to the insane witch burnings.
    So not to wonder, when we are free to start rediscovering our lost heritage and our spirituality, that we turn around looking to “native” communities to see what we can find. I know that even the American Indians are not one group, but several cultures. Some of these cultures have a tradition for keeping spiritual practices very secret, even within their own group, individuals being designated certain secret tasks. That should be respected, they have their reasons. Others are more open and sharing. Maybe the so called stealing isn’t as much that as rediscovering. Pretending to do an original ceremony is cheating, but trying, respectfully with the help of your spirits to find something new/old, is not. Vision quest is not stealing, you find it all over the world under different names, “outsitting” for instance. Even the word shamanism has been “stolen” if you wish,- what is the name for shamanism in various Indian languages? You can’t steal a word, a word is something we accept to use to understand each other. Also other practices have been designated English words.
    I am thankful, in spite of all, that some cultures have managed to keep parts of the old ways, that means inspiration to me, it means the road is easier to walk, in that I can try to do ceremonies,- in my own way – that I otherwise wouldn’t have thought of, because I have no one to teach me. We can never get back to the old ways,- sorry, you Indians and other “natives” in other parts of the world, not totally, because the world is different, our societies have different rules, our material way of living and our needs are different.
    Yes, there is a lot of phonyness out there, I’ve met some of the phoniest, but then again, I’ve met some phonies with surprising power. Who am I to tell?
    I understand that there is bitterness within some cultures, there has to be, but then again, nothing lasts for ever, and we have to build the future together, so let’s keep trying…with respect to all, trying to find spiritual ways can never be wrong.

  7. (fire falcon)
    Because you are NOT part of the people you know nothing. Our traditions are not dieing. You are stealing from our people. To say theft is a benefit to a victim is a lie. You can lie to others, but you can not lie to those from whom you steal.
    Other religions may have taken from others. Such as Christianity who took from the Jews. They took the philosophy and not the traditions. They did not say I will teach you how to follow Jewish traditions so you can become a Christian.
    But you say I will teach you Native traditions so you can become enlighten. You know nothing of the philosophy on which those traditions are based. You corrupt our traditions into rituals. Ritual is just activity to give a sense that something is being accomplished.
    To say are traditions are “special” shows your alienation, The meaning of our traditions are lost and you apply new meaning. The new meaning corrupts the philosophy. When you corrupt the philosophy of a peoples you destroy their culture and society.
    You steal from our people and lie about our philosophy. Then you say we should teach you our traditions because it will benefit us in our destruction.
    ================================
    EDIT
    You say you want to learn. Ok let’s start with your statement:
    “Assuming that someone knows nothing just because someone isn’t right in the middle of it all is a bit absurd.”
    It’s not absurd at all . . . Who are you? What is it that makes you who you are? Your culture and your society. And that is the same with us. Right there is the first division. (by your own observation)
    Because we are a communal society, our worldview is that of belonging. That belonging starts with the family, community and our Nation, and eventually encompasses all other Native American nations. Belonging moulds our relationships and responsibilities. Even without being taught, those relationships and responsibilities are engrained in our behavior because they are the norms of our society.
    Our philosophy and traditions are based on those relationships and responsibilities. Our philosophy is not a religion it’s a way of life. You can’t seperate one from the other. Our philosophy is in how you speak, how people are fed, how medicine is gathered, how you dance.
    Everything is related, equal, has a purpose, is interdependent and must be respected. Its a lifetime of learning. You learn by living it and listening. If you are not as you say “right in the middle of it” then those things do not become a part of who you are.
    As soon as you take one aspect of our traditions for your purpose, isolate it and designate it as “special” you destroy it’s relationship, its interdependence it’s equality, it’s meaning and with it the philosophy on which it was based. Tradition does not create philosophy. A society’s philosophy creates their traditions.
    In our society, we are taught to “respect” everything and everyone, including their beliefs and traditions. You can see by this example, the response of two Native Americans, from two different Nations, one from the east and one from the west coast, Yet they say the same thing.
    http://ca.answers.yahoo.com/question/index;_ylt=ArTyt47O1oO9nMMnx5RxoevBFQx.;_ylv=3?qid=20090223042200AAh4oAB&show=7#profile-info-0ov9qvKtaa
    .

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