I have recently come across a couple of articles regarding the appropriation of other cultures’ religious and spiritual beliefs and practices. Since Chango and Oya and Oshun and even Papa Legba have made themselves known to me, I have often wondered what African deities have to do with me, a white pagan who was raised Roman Catholic. I am not the only one who feels this way…here’s an article on Eclecticism and Appropriation, or How Does a White Guy Work with the Orishas? I have to agree with a lot of his statements and musings…like the awkwardness of explaining what a white person with no ties to black culture is doing dealing with the Orishas. But is it spiritual appropriation we’re dealing with, or is it cultural appropriation?
Addendum: I just recently came across this article on There is No Such Thing as Cultural Appropriation. His assertion that ideas are not intellectual property hits home here...
I live in a small town of under 5000 people, almost exclusively white Christians and Mennonites. I believe there are just 3 black families here, and I’ve only seen 2 oriental men. My New Age beliefs are not supported here, and the Orishas are a totally foreign concept! But Chango and Oya both appear to me in my dreams, and I have gathered information on them in order to feel closer to them and come to know them better. I am leery of a lot of the religious aspects associated with them, since I do not believe in organized religion. I have tried to stick to their original Yoruba roots, and the African stories told of them. I am leaving it up to them to lead me to truthful information on themselves.
I have set up small altars/shrines to Chango, Oshun, Oya and Papa Legba, using symbols and colors to represent them. I have made small offerings to them as well, usually in the form of lighting a candle or incense, and a little bit of rum if I ask for something. I feel I should honor them somehow for agreeing to help/guide me. Is this spiritual appropriation? Am I somehow wrong to be using another culture’s religious figures?
This article by the Santeria Church of the Orishas is quite harsh in their judgement of people like me. But then of course they want you to belong to their church if you’re going to worship “their” gods. They talk about 2 aspects to the cultural appropriation of religious symbols and beliefs – 1) that symbols are taken from another culture, and 2) lack of permission to do so. Is it just me, or does this idea of “lack of permission” seem like a ploy by Religion to keep its adherents firmly in their grasp? If Chango appears to me and speaks to me, is it not his permission I need, not the Santeria Church’s? They don’t “own” the Orishas, and as legitimate souls and divine beings, the Orishas are free to deal with whoever they want. Is setting up an altar based on their symbols wrong though?
The small shrines I have set up are not traditional in any sense of the word. I live below the poverty level and cannot afford to buy traditional sacred objects. I have made symbols of each Orisha as I have come to know them. Oya’s shrine has dragonflies and fireflies, because she has made herself known by sending me both. Papa Legba’s shrine has his veve, but I also made a little spirit doll that he said he would like. I had gathered a bunch of ideas for spirit dolls, and he picked out the one he liked. I have not created “thrones” and do not make ritual sacrifices or observe their days. I am not following any of the religious tenets when I deal with these souls…so is what I’m doing wrong? And who says I am wrong? Is a religious body even valid judges of such things? I personally do not think so…I do not think mere humans can dictate the spiritual realities of others.
Thus, I am still going to deal with the Orishas who have presented themselves to me and agreed to be my spirit guides. I’m keeping my little shrines because they make me happy and feel like a link to each of them. Each has had a say in what I include, and if they are happy with it, then who are others to say it’s wrong? I am not trying to appropriate another culture’s beliefs…I am merely embracing beings who are worshipped by another culture, and may have once belonged to that culture. But as they are no longer human, the Orishas are spiritual beings who belong only to themselves. Same as any other god/goddess or ascended master.
The Orishas weren’t the first non-Christian being to appear to me…over 25 years ago I had an interesting interaction with Kuthumi! (His picture is above). I was at a Spiritualist meeting, which was run by a very good psychic I was fond of. We were doing a candle gazing exercise (in order to attain an altered state) when Kuthumi appeared in front of me, stuck his fist through my throat, and disappeared. It was a rather startling vision, and at the time, I did not know who Kuthumi was. I only knew his name was Kuthumi, but I had to ask the teacher who he was. I was informed that he was an ascended master, and was told he was one of a group of 12 that help out the human element. I had to look him up, and although I have not encountered him again, I still sometimes wonder what he was up to. Was he working on my throat chakra? I do believe I started speaking up more about New Age topics after this incident, but my current understanding comes many years after the fact, so I may be mistaken about the timeline. Here is an article about Ascended Master Kuthumi, with some very interesting facts about him.
So, I want to be clear that I am not trying to infringe on another’s culture or religion when I speak about the Orishas or any other god/goddess/ascended master. I am only speaking about my experiences with various entities who have popped up in my life and have had dealings with me. I have done research to better understand them, although I would like to point out that in many cases, the belief systems are not very indicative of who these beings really are. Chango is considered a god of war, but that is not the persona I have encountered with him. He is much more a ladies man with me…kind, warm, flirty. So I’m going with my intuitions and dealing with my spirit guides in my own way.