Sunday, March 12, 2017

Spirit Animal and Cultural Appropriation- A Lesson Learned

I had a very interesting conversation on a friend's thread today. I am all for educating yourself and this was a good opportunity for me. As a pagan of 20+ years I always thought Spirit Animal was simply what you called the animal spirit that guided you that you were connected with. It was today I learned that many Native Americans believe this to be cultural appropriation.

(Cultural appropriation=is the adoption or use of the elements of one culture by members of another culture.)

I disagreed with this because many cultures have animal spirits that guide you and are sacred, so I argued with my friend’s friend and then I did some research. I mean ALL religions have cultural appropriation in them, you see bits and pieces from so many cultures in everything, where do we draw the line at what is offensive and what isn’t?

Spirit Animal is a roughly translated phrase introduced by white anthropologists into American Literature. It is something sacred to Native Americans. I never knew that, I thought it was a basic concept not the actual translation of something specific.

I can admit when I’m wrong,  the term is cultural appropriation. I also enjoy learning new things, reading, researching and educating myself. So thanks to my friend’s friend! I am a better person because someone else took the time to explain something to me and while I don’t agree with everything they said- I appreciate others opinions and new knowledge.

I read dozens of articles and blogs about this subject, desperate to learn about it.

I found some Native Americans who didn’t care if white people used this term as long as they weren’t using it like “whiskey is my spirit animal.” I found others who think it’s totally inappropriate to say If you’re non-native. I also found some who didn’t care about this phrase, but did care about the use of the word totem.

As a pagan, a liberal and a human being I will try to stop saying this word if it is offensive, I would never use a racial slur or want to make someone else feel uncomfortable. It is difficult as I grew in my own religion using this phrase.

I do, however, have a few things to point out.

1) If it’s not ok for me to call my kinship with bats who have spiritually guided me for almost 20 years a “Spirit Animal” what do I call it? I have seen recommendations from daemon and muse to patronus and those are all awful. Patronus isn’t even a real thing and the other two do not actually describe what Pagans are normally talking about when they use this phrase.

2) Do not get angry if you hear your pagan friend use this term. Most pagans actually think a spirit animal or guide is simply that. A corporeal animal spirit that protects and guides you that you feel kinship with. We don’t mean to be offensive, instead educate them- kindly.

3) In the realm of cultural appropriation non-pagans should realize using terms like Samhain or forgetting you celebrate Christmas because Christians took over a pagan holiday is also insulting. However paganism is treated like a joke, unlike other religions and cultures. So no one worries about offending us. I haven’t been offended by a non-pagan saying Samhain in years because it doesn’t matter, it won’t change.

Anyone have suggestions for better terms than Spirit Animal? I really would love something that doesn’t make my religious belief sound stupid or like a joke. Does anyone know if Spirit Guide is part of someone’s cultural and is offensive? I like that term too.

Anyway, I love that even at almost 34 I can still learn new things, about others and about myself.

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