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Thread: Land-Based Practices (and Cultural Appropriation)

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    sea witch thalassa's Avatar
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    Land-Based Practices (and Cultural Appropriation)

    I don't think that this is necessairly a topic that only "belongs" in this section, but as it originated here, and as many shamanistic techniques and traditions are connected to a specific landscape...I think its as good of a spot as any (and, its my observation that there is alot of overlap between shamanism, animism, and (for lack of a better word right now--i have mush-brain) land worship.

    Quote Originally Posted by Rae'ya View Post
    An afterthought... I don't believe that the land and landvaettir belong to anyone, even to indigenous peoples. Yes, indigenous peoples were on that land first, but I don't actually believe that gives them sole rights to work with the land. It bothers me that many of us who work with landvaettir and with animal spirits are automatically lumped into the interloper and/or culturally appropriative camp, when we have a practice that is completely divorced from any indigenous cultural context or terminology. I don't use the term 'totem' because it's appropriative and it didn't even originally describe what we use it for now... but I still feel like there is this perception that being a shamanist who works with animal guides and physical animal parts is considered a 'Native American' thing. It's not.

    Cultural appropriation matters to me, which is why I'm very careful about the terminology that I use and the research that I do. But the reality is that many shamanic techniques and elements are common to multiple cultures. It is possible for someone to work with land spirits and animal spirits, and to hold a 'sense of place' sacred, without appropriating from the indigenous cultures who just happened to have similar opinions.
    this is a topic that comes up from time to time (the last time that I rememeber it), and I think its a topic worth addressing

    So...here in the US, the problem of cultural appropriate seems to be very regional. I live in one of the first areas colonized by Europeans--Jamestown was founded here, in an area where the Powhatan had been greatly reduced (as with most Native tribes) by diseases spread via trade and exploration in other parts of the Americas prior to settlement--there are two easy to read but decent pop-history books on the subject--1491 and 1493 by Charles C. Mann (and his bibliography is great for heavier reading). There is very little left of their religion, their deity names, etc, to even consider. In the area where I grew up, the major local civilization (Cahokia) had long crashed before either the French or the Americans showed up...what is known about the practices of the people in that area (at least for that time period) are mostly archaeological.

    For me, its not a problem to mostly address the local *spirit of a place* in terms of European paganisms...specifically as the Greek Naiads, Oceanids, etc. In which case, I don't think there is a problem of appropriation--its not an extant religion (in its original form), and the culture from which is derived has undergone considerable and long term evolution from these practices (perhaps most importantly, without recent coersion). But. There are gaps...and there have been some cases where other deities and spirits are more appropriate, and when these have belonged to extant religions of often marginalized cultures, I feel somewhat conflicted.
    “You have never answered but you did not need to. If I stand at the ocean I can hear you with your thousand voices. Sometimes you shout, hilarious laughter that taunts all questions. Other nights you are silent as death, a mirror in which the stars show themselves. Then I think you want to tell me something, but you never do. Of course I know I have written letters to no-one. But what if I find a trident tomorrow?" ~~Letters to Poseidon, Cees Nooteboom

    “We still carry this primal relationship to the Earth within our consciousness, even if we have long forgotten it. It is a primal recognition of the wonder, beauty, and divine nature of the Earth. It is a felt reverence for all that exists. Once we bring this foundational quality into our consciousness, we will be able to respond to our present man-made crisis from a place of balance, in which our actions will be grounded in an attitude of respect for all of life. This is the nature of real sustainability.”
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    Re: Land-Based Practices (and Cultural Appropriation)

    I think that if I had enough interest in the techniques of various native cultures to pursue them than I'd probably irritate people. I don't consider spiritual knowledge to be copyrighted to a given culture and tend to operate on the premise of "use what works for you." I'm against claiming certain cultural titles because those titles are positions within a society and if you aren't filling that role in that society than you have no right to the title. Outside of claiming titles that one has no right to though or passing off one's teachings as things they aren't, see prior point about lack of spiritual copyright. That said, I also don't have enough interest in native cultures at this time to pursue their lore so it's very much a side item for me.
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    Re: Land-Based Practices (and Cultural Appropriation)

    Eclecticism is fine, imo, but it is sort of like fusion cooking -- you really have to know what you are doing to get a good result.

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    Re: Land-Based Practices (and Cultural Appropriation)

    My response to this is the same as it was the last time I remember this coming up (about 2 Years ago)

    We are becoming more and more a part of a world culture. Personally I think that's a good thing. Interfaith and interracial marriages are increasing tolerance and acceptance. Even as I post this we have folks in germany, australia, canada, and usa reading (and many more...)

    When it comes to specific land spirits, they're free to choose who to work with. They are attached to the land and therefore the people on it. If they don't like you they don't have to make themselves known. And when it comes to how you approach them and specific traditions, I imagine they'd be more comfortable with the familiar.
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    Opinionated Rae'ya's Avatar
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    Re: Land-Based Practices (and Cultural Appropriation)

    Thal already pulled my opinion on this from the other thread and quoted it above, and I don't really have that much more to add.

    In some ways I may be particularly sensitive to this issue because I have the specific combination of being a shamanist, working with landwights, working with animal guides, using animal parts, working with a drum and a staff that have their own spirits and having a ritual room that is filled with skins, furs, feathers and tools made of those things. A lot of that is automatically associated with Native American cultures... and yet I have not once read anything about Native American cultures except in passing. So to be lumped into the cultural appropriation camp (as has happened on occasion, seemingly by default rather than anything specific) is incredibly bothersome to me. I'm the LAST person someone should be accusing of culturally appropriating from Native American cultures! Though I admit that sometimes these accusations are just plain laughable, especially when coupled with the accusation that using the term 'shamanist' is stealing Native American cultures! (For those who don't know, the term 'shaman' is from the language of the Tungus speaking people of Siberia)

    No one ever accuses people with a practice like mine of appropriating from Australian Aboriginal cultures, even though working with land spirits, animal spirits and animal parts is also a part of the traditional practices of many Aboriginal peoples. I've likewise never been accused of appropriating from traditional Tungus practices or cultures. I find that incredibly ironic.

    I believe that in many ways, Harner's core-shamanism has a little core of merit, but that it was perhaps poorly executed. I also believe that the trend of the neo-shamanist community to denigrate core-shamanists as lacking cultural context is somewhat erroneous. Almost everyone practices within some sort of cultural context... even if it is a 'middle class white American/Australian/Whatever' context. No one lives within a vacuum that is devoid of all culture, and we all allow our societal culture to influence our spiritual practices, because few of us completely divorce our spirituality from our everyday lives. Where does this tie into land-based practices? I'm getting there lol

    Reverence and/or worship of the land is a widespread theme in many archaic as well as extant cultures. For example, making offerings to the landvaettir is believed to have been a part of the practices of Viking Age Northern Europe, and is therefore something that many Heathens and NT folk do. There are remnants of this in many of the folk practices of many European countries, which were imported to places like America during settlement by Europeans. We see it slightly less so in Australia, but then we experienced European settlement much later than the US (and in a much different social context). Working with the land, whether or not you believe there are spirits inhabiting that land, is not an isolated practice. And it is certainly not something that is solely the right of indigenous peoples.

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    Silver Member monsno_leedra's Avatar
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    Re: Land-Based Practices (and Cultural Appropriation)

    For me the issue revolves about the notion that while the ways a people relate and identify Spirit, Gods , Goddesses, etc is universal in most instances the trappings are usually very specific to given peoples and culture's. Yet in the cherry picking many times those trappings are taken and then claimed its all simply part of how archaic, First Nation or Aboriginal mankind worshiped so its fair game.

    Consider offering many culture's made them. Yet the types of offerings varied greatly as to what was used, how it was used even when it was used. Votive offerings depicting proper human anatomy are common offerings found in many Hellenic sites and some later Roman sites. Yet one does not hear of similar offerings in other places that equally used votive type offerings. Haniwa's (sp) are frequent offerings in parts of Japan and take many shapes but again the symbology and usage is unique to them. None of that even considering the cultural and social connection between the people and the items and what they represent to them.

    Consider how many horses are found in offering form. Can't tell how many times i've heard a horse is simply a horse while the person making the statement as justification has no idea at all of what the horse meant. One group its wealth, one group its military might, one group its riches but not wealth, another group its valor in combat and skill, another social status and ranking but not wealth. But after all its just a horse and means so little.

    It's bad enough with culture's that have fallen to history but its also done to existing culture's and done in the name of some supposed universal right. Though the most visible one is probably that of the Native American's, its still present to varying degree's with Eskimo's, many Pacific Islander groups, parts of sub-saharan Africa to a great degree, etc.

    I personally think that's part of the issue with core shamanism. Yeah it has a culture its performed within but it most often lacks the very heart and soul of the culture's and societies that it's pulled from in its skeletal form. Like a human skeleton, they all look pretty much the same as a species but its not until you put the dress them back up that you can see who and what they really where. Until then its just bones that look similar, perform the same biological functions, same strengths and weaknesses, and lack the spark that made them human and a society with morals, ethics, dreams and fears.

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    Re: Land-Based Practices (and Cultural Appropriation)

    Quote Originally Posted by monsno_leedra View Post
    For me the issue revolves about the notion that while the ways a people relate and identify Spirit, Gods , Goddesses, etc is universal in most instances the trappings are usually very specific to given peoples and culture's. Yet in the cherry picking many times those trappings are taken and then claimed its all simply part of how archaic, First Nation or Aboriginal mankind worshiped so its fair game.

    Consider offering many culture's made them. Yet the types of offerings varied greatly as to what was used, how it was used even when it was used. Votive offerings depicting proper human anatomy are common offerings found in many Hellenic sites and some later Roman sites. Yet one does not hear of similar offerings in other places that equally used votive type offerings. Haniwa's (sp) are frequent offerings in parts of Japan and take many shapes but again the symbology and usage is unique to them. None of that even considering the cultural and social connection between the people and the items and what they represent to them.
    I admit, I leave tobacco and pollen as an offering quite often. It's not just about 'oh, the Indigenous Americans left tobacco', though - there's a chemical reason, too. A lot of the more destructive insects avoid plants that have been sprayed with tobacco tea, and many people encourage smokers to drop their butts in the garden for the repellant factor. For you insect-lovers, I don't leave tobacco surrounding an entire stand of plants - just the one I've harvested from. And what flowering plant doesn't love pollen?

    Sometimes there are specific offerings for specific deities, but land spirits, spirits of place - they're usually not so rigid. Offerings of food, drink, hair or pet fur for local birds, bright shiny things that have caught my eye & seemed 'right' to leave as a gift... When you consider the vast number of items left as grave-goods, things tied to wishing trees at springs, offerings thrown into bodies of water - they're usually things that were of value to the person offering them to the spirits, or a token of sympathetic magic like the anatomical votives.
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    Silver Member monsno_leedra's Avatar
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    Re: Land-Based Practices (and Cultural Appropriation)

    Quote Originally Posted by Ophidia View Post
    I admit, I leave tobacco and pollen as an offering quite often. It's not just about 'oh, the Indigenous Americans left tobacco', though - there's a chemical reason, too. A lot of the more destructive insects avoid plants that have been sprayed with tobacco tea, and many people encourage smokers to drop their butts in the garden for the repellant factor. For you insect-lovers, I don't leave tobacco surrounding an entire stand of plants - just the one I've harvested from. And what flowering plant doesn't love pollen?

    Sometimes there are specific offerings for specific deities, but land spirits, spirits of place - they're usually not so rigid. Offerings of food, drink, hair or pet fur for local birds, bright shiny things that have caught my eye & seemed 'right' to leave as a gift... When you consider the vast number of items left as grave-goods, things tied to wishing trees at springs, offerings thrown into bodies of water - they're usually things that were of value to the person offering them to the spirits, or a token of sympathetic magic like the anatomical votives.
    I would respect that, especially since you give a valid reason as to why. Far to often it seems the person can only say because I read it elsewhere or such.

    I do agree that many land spirits / water spirits or grater and lessor Spirits of place are not as picky about who or what leaves them offerings. Food offerings get a bit touchy to me, especially depending upon where they are left. Many times I think we believe we are helping the wildlife and appeasing some local spirits when we actually hurt things by where we leave food or even what we leave as a food offering. But that is a different subject I think.

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    Opinionated Rae'ya's Avatar
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    Re: Land-Based Practices (and Cultural Appropriation)

    Quote Originally Posted by monsno_leedra View Post
    For me the issue revolves about the notion that while the ways a people relate and identify Spirit, Gods , Goddesses, etc is universal in most instances the trappings are usually very specific to given peoples and culture's. Yet in the cherry picking many times those trappings are taken and then claimed its all simply part of how archaic, First Nation or Aboriginal mankind worshiped so its fair game.
    This part I agree with, in that there are many people who cherry pick trappings and then use the same names or claim that they are practicing whatever tradition. This is the worst form of cultural appropriation in my mind. But I also recognise that a great many people DON'T do this. And I recognise that just because someone leaves... say tobacco out for their landspirits... it doesn't mean that they are automatically cherry picking, appropriating, or practicing something with no cultural context. Ophidia's example is a very good example of this. She happens to leave the same sorts of offerings out that some Indigenous American peoples left out... but she has her own reasons and context behind that offering which means that she isn't cherry picking or appropriating anything at all. I guess what I'm getting at is that I prefer not to tar the entire movement with the same brush. Some are disrespectful. Some aren't.

    Quote Originally Posted by monsno_leedra View Post
    I do agree that many land spirits / water spirits or grater and lessor Spirits of place are not as picky about who or what leaves them offerings. Food offerings get a bit touchy to me, especially depending upon where they are left. Many times I think we believe we are helping the wildlife and appeasing some local spirits when we actually hurt things by where we leave food or even what we leave as a food offering. But that is a different subject I think.
    I suspect I have the same issue with food offerings that you do. It's the same reason I wont let Torey feed the ducks at the duck pond, or set up a bird feeder in our yard. When we have our own house, we will plant a native garden that attracts local insects and birds and creates a haven for them. That will be a part of our offering to the landspirit upon which we settle on. I prefer other sorts of offerings, and so far have had fairly good success with not leaving food out.

    Honestly, I think that gardening in general can be a very good offering to the local landspirits, especially if it is done with the local ecology and bioregion in mind. Permaculture, companion planting, using local or endemic species, encouraging beneficial insects, encouraging local birds, improving soil health and reducing the use of harmful chemicals are all incredibly powerful actions when interacting with the landvaettir and domestic spirits of your home. Gardening can be done 'wrongly' in the context of an offering to the landvaettr, but its up at the top of my offering list.

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    sea witch thalassa's Avatar
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    Re: Land-Based Practices (and Cultural Appropriation)

    Quote Originally Posted by Rae'ya View Post
    And I recognise that just because someone leaves... say tobacco out for their landspirits... it doesn't mean that they are automatically cherry picking, appropriating, or practicing something with no cultural context. Ophidia's example is a very good example of this. She happens to leave the same sorts of offerings out that some Indigenous American peoples left out... but she has her own reasons and context behind that offering which means that she isn't cherry picking or appropriating anything at all. I guess what I'm getting at is that I prefer not to tar the entire movement with the same brush. Some are disrespectful. Some aren't.
    I have often left/often tobacco or kinnikinnick as an offering: 1) In those places where its customary in a historical context--not just by Native Americans, but also by some of the early French settlers...the fur traders and the like would often leave an offering of "appeasement" (for lack of a better word) when passing through/around/near sacred areas (like burial grounds) as a sort of way to ward off bad luck...or displeased spirits. 2) Because (IMO) alcohol is a really cruddy land gift for a number of reasons, some of which are related to the contentious history of colonization here in the US. 3) I have issues with food offerings from an ecological/conservation perspective (though I'm okay with appropriate feeding--bird feeders in the winter time of bird seed in areas where birds live, etc) 4) When my traditional form of offering isn't appropriate for whatever reason.

    Honestly, I don't consider leaving an offering from anything other than a land perspective--the feel of the land and the cultures which have inhabited it...which is why balloon releases, and other synthetic crud I've seen done(not necessairly offerings, but part of modern rituals) pretty much infuriates me. Plus, even when I was theistic in belief, I've was of the opinion that thinking that the gods were static and had to be worshipped as they were worshipped X years ago by X peoples was a bit silly... Personally, I prefer work as an offering, because I think its the most meaningful thing that one can do, but when I feel more ceremonial or ritualistic, a physical offering (which really depends on where I am and why I'm there) is sometimes more appropriate.


    I suspect I have the same issue with food offerings that you do. It's the same reason I wont let Torey feed the ducks at the duck pond, or set up a bird feeder in our yard. When we have our own house, we will plant a native garden that attracts local insects and birds and creates a haven for them. That will be a part of our offering to the landspirit upon which we settle on. I prefer other sorts of offerings, and so far have had fairly good success with not leaving food out.

    Honestly, I think that gardening in general can be a very good offering to the local landspirits, especially if it is done with the local ecology and bioregion in mind. Permaculture, companion planting, using local or endemic species, encouraging beneficial insects, encouraging local birds, improving soil health and reducing the use of harmful chemicals are all incredibly powerful actions when interacting with the landvaettir and domestic spirits of your home. Gardening can be done 'wrongly' in the context of an offering to the landvaettr, but its up at the top of my offering list.
    This! (and I think we even have a "don't feed the animals' thread somewhere about food offereings, don't we?)

    Also, nesting boxes, bat boxes, bee boxes (Mason bees are the native pollinator about here---people are so panicked about CCD...which I agree is a problem...but the honeybee isn't actually native) are awesome land offerings (since I worship the bioregion directly). Once I have a yard I want one of these (the kids make little ones, and hang them in the woods nearby with loose threads and things for Candlemas, when the birds are getting ready to build nests).
    “You have never answered but you did not need to. If I stand at the ocean I can hear you with your thousand voices. Sometimes you shout, hilarious laughter that taunts all questions. Other nights you are silent as death, a mirror in which the stars show themselves. Then I think you want to tell me something, but you never do. Of course I know I have written letters to no-one. But what if I find a trident tomorrow?" ~~Letters to Poseidon, Cees Nooteboom

    “We still carry this primal relationship to the Earth within our consciousness, even if we have long forgotten it. It is a primal recognition of the wonder, beauty, and divine nature of the Earth. It is a felt reverence for all that exists. Once we bring this foundational quality into our consciousness, we will be able to respond to our present man-made crisis from a place of balance, in which our actions will be grounded in an attitude of respect for all of life. This is the nature of real sustainability.”
    ~~Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee

    "We are the offspring of history, and must establish our own paths in this most diverse and interesting of conceivable universes--one indifferent to our suffering, and therefore offering us maximal freedom to thrive, or to fail, in our own chosen way."
    ~~Stephen Jay Gould, Wonderful Life: The Burgess Shale and the Nature of History

    "Humans are not rational creatures. Now, logic and rationality are very helpful tools, but there’s also a place for embracing our subjectivity and thinking symbolically. Sometimes what our so-called higher thinking can’t or won’t see, our older, more primitive intuition will." John Beckett

    Pagan Devotionals, because the wind and the rain is our Bible

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