Tuesday, September 18, 2007

One Person's Religion, Another Person's... Bling?

Remember how in the eighties lots of Wiccans were in an uproar about Heavy Metal musicians wearing pentacles to make themselves seem spooky and "satanic"? I do. I remember a great deal of kvetching, a bit of activism, and even some personal confrontations.

Mostly, I remember the indignation, and the sense of violation.

So how come so many Pagans are still pillaging cultures they know little to nothing about for exotic bits of bling? Is it somehow more noble that they're trying to make themselves seem spiritual as opposed to satanic?

Due to the hard work of First Nations activists and their supporters, there's a bit more awareness that it's not cool for a white person to buy a "peace pipe" on eBay, or to pray to their Caucasian ancestors with a stolen chanupa. But notice I only say, "a bit." Now and then I'll make the mistake of picking up one of the more lowbrow Pagan zines and it still looks pretty ugly.

Lately I've been noticing a similar trend with appropriating Hindu religious objects. Look, I don't care if Courtney Love performed on an awards show with a mala hanging off her mike stand - it didn't make her suddenly seem spiritual, and it doesn't make you more spiritual to wrap one around your wrist.

While I have occasionally seen people of actual Hindu traditions wearing beads on their wrists, they're almost always bracelets made of rudraksha or wooden beads, not actual malas (aka japa beads). Actual malas are usually kept in a special bag, and only taken out during a meditation session, not worn as decoration. What's particularly sad is seeing Pagans and others wearing malas in ways and situations that are patently offensive in Hindu cultures.

What people don't seem to understand when they desecrate objects this way is that the only people they're going to impress are the ignorant. People in the know are going to look on this behaviour with, at best, amused tolerance for a noob's mistakes, or, at worst, the complete contempt deserved by someone who should know better, but just doesn't care.

I want to be a reasonably tolerant person. I want to keep my sense of compassion. But those whose traditions are being insulted also deserve compassion, and respect, and yes, justice. I am so tired of Pagans picking up anything that gives them a bit of an energy hit - be it real or imaginary, harmonious with their lives or not - and caring more about how special or intense it makes them feel than what it really means to the people who've maintained those traditions. Without the people of those religions, outsiders wouldn't have sacred objects to rip off and use as bling. And you know what? If outsiders continue to pillage traditional cultures they will contribute to the dilution and possible death of those cultures, and there will be no more sacredness to pillage.

Bad hippie, no patchouli.

Bad newager, no bling.

Bad Pagan, none for you, either.


Michelle said...
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whatsername said...

But I like my patchouli :(