Before we discuss this controversial subject, let’s discuss what we mean by the two terms.
- Cultural Appreciation – appreciation is when you seek to understand and learn about other cultures in an effort to broaden your perspective and connect with others cross-culturally.
- Appropriation is when you take, adopt or invent aspects of a culture that is not your own and use it for your own personal interest.
It is the difference between a cultural exchange and stealing. One is a permission and the other is taking without consent.
Cultural appropriation though is far more complex and involves a lot more. Since we’re the Order of Celtic Wolves, let’s consider this from the Celtic aspect.
The Order was created to show appreciation for our ancestors and learn about their teachings and culture. This is appreciation, because it helps us understand the life that our ancestors led, the food they ate, the clothes they wore, their beliefs etc.
Also, others who can’t claim Celtic ancestry have joined our Order because they find the Celts a fascinating culture that they can learn from. These too are welcome. Also, the majority of the Celtic world has vanished and there are certainly not a continuation throughout history of practitioners, although certain customs have continued throughout time.
If anything, though, it was the Romans who introduced Celtic Appropriation because they did not come to appreciate the culture. They came to invade, pillage and take over the land.
Interpretatio romana refers to ancient Roman religion and myth being combined with another culture. An example is the formation of a distinctive Gallo-Roman religion. The Romans reinterpreted Gallic religious traditions in relation to their own and basically replaced them. They imposed their deities upon to the ancient Gauls and Celts. Gradually, during their long occupation and reign this became accepted, although it was initially forced.
This isn’t new to the Romans, though. The Greeks did exactly the same, especially during their rule of Egypt and most Roman Gods have a Greek equivalent.
Pliny the Elder (a first century Roman author, naturalist and philosopher) expressed the “translatability” of deities as “different names to different peoples” (nomina alia aliis gentibus). This enabled the religious syncretism of the Hellenistic era and the pre-Christian Roman Empire.
What better way to take over a people has been used than taking over their religion and imposing yours upon it. The European empires of more recent centuries had the greater audacity of forcing Christianity upon cultures such as India, the Americas and tribal Africa. This is more of a cultural eradication.
Irish mythology, as you can see from our lessons so far, was blended in with Christianity. Deities were reduced to humans, like Brigid became a Saint and her story distorted. The myths were given a Biblical basis, with genealogy being given to add credibility to the connections between settlers in Ireland and mythological figures and people, like the Fir Bolg.
This kind of cultural appropriation continues today, even within pagan groups. You often hear people ask “who is the Celtic equivalent of Thor” or “Odin”. Let me be clear on my thoughts on this. Each culture has its own ancient deities and even though comparisons can be made, the Order of Celtic Wolves is about preservation of OUR deities. They are unique to us. Ogma is not the same as Hermes or Mercury, neither should he be.
Whilst we acknowledge such comparisons and promote healthy discuss, for us they are our deities and should be protected as much as possible.
Some types of appropriation is acceptable to different cultures. For example, most Indians don’t object to others wearing a Sari. Jewellery is also often acceptable. Thor’s hammer, for example, was often wore in defiance of the Crucifix. However, if we called it Taranis’ hammer that would be cultural appropriation, rather than appreciation.
One particular culture that is “used” more than most, is native American tradition. In fact, the term is a misnomer. Each tribe has its own individual deities, Teachings, totems, etc. Some tribes are also very protective and secretive about their beliefs and rarely let outsiders in, even to this day. This is probably in reaction to the way they were decimated and had Christian names forced upon them by the European invaders.
Not only this, but great profit is made by Capitalists exploiting native America. For example, some natives would trade dream catchers and make canoes that they would sell to make a living. Now dream catchers are mass produced in factories and carved canoes have been replaced by lightweight plastic versions. This kind of appropriation is damaging. Buying genuine native products from the source, however, is cultural appreciation.
Then we have “invented” appropriation. Fraudsters like Iolo Morgannwg have introduced their own teachings in the guise of ancient Celtic teachings and these are passed on by even some of the most respected Druid Orders. Teachings such as Nwyfre, the Pherllyt and the 21 lessons of Merlin have corrupted beliefs and teachings of our ancestors. Sadly it is difficult to distinguish between actual ancient Celtic teachings and those of the 18th and 19th century renaissance.
And no area had been more corrupted than Astrology. The earliest 6th century records of Celtic Astrology shows that there isn’t a vast difference between the Zodiac of our ancestors and that of the Greeks, with slight differences. Leo, for example, is represented by a Hound and Aries is a Hook. Ogham Tree Astrology is a modern invention promoted by Robert Graves in his controversial book, The White Goddess. Likewise, in American folklore full moons are given names that have become attributed to native Americans, but are largely a more recent invention.
Think about the impact of cultural appropriation on the culture it is taken from. Is it something stolen, or is it a mutual exchange? It is a corruption or pure? We are probably all guilty of some appropriation, sometimes without realising. Let us always be learning and be prepared to unlearn things we might have previously accepted as fact.