I spend a lot of time on the road for work and I listen to several podcasts to help pass the time. One I recently found, though it’s no longer being produced, is Elemental Castings by author T. Thorn Coyle. In one episode, titled Honoring or Appropriation, Thorn and several panelists discuss the difference between honoring other cultures and appropriation.
This subject hits home for me since I have recently began to work closely with the Orishas. As a white man with no cultural ties to Afro-Caribbean spirituality, I sometimes get awkward glances. Just over the weekend, I visited a local pagan shop and purchased some hoodoo supplies. Even though the owner didn’t say anything, he did give me an odd glance when he rang me up. When I was in New Orleans, shopkeeper after shopkeeper kept explaining to me the uses of several of my purchases. When I politely explained that I was a student of the African syncretic religions, I got the same odd glances that I experienced this weekend. Each time this happens, I feel a bit guilty. I feel like maybe I am doing something that is inappropriate.
During the discussion, Christopher Bradford, an initiate of Palo mentioned that anyone can be called by a certain deity and that ethnic background is of little importance. Additionally, he mentioned that feeling called to a certain path doesn’t entitle you to receive training. This rang true for me. I didn’t actively seek the Orisha, I feel that they reached to me. I researched their path and the religions that honor them. What I found is that the religion isn’t for me. For one, animal sacrifice is a major component of the path. I believe that all life is sacred and I couldn’t imagine taking an animals life, even if a deity required it. With this in mind, I can’t practice Lucumi or Santeria. They are not for me. I can’t expect a religion to change their rules just because it makes me uncomfortable. I also understand that not being an initiate in these religions means that sacred knowledge cannot be shared with me. That means I have to do the work.
For me, I don’t consider myself a Santero, I am just Joe. I practice a personal belief system that includes a personal relationship with the Orishas. I have drawn the line with what I am comfortable with and they have agreed to meet me in that space. The same can be said for my practice with Ganesh. Although I am not Hindu, I have found a way to honor Ganesh in a way that is mutually beneficial for the two of us.
In my personal understanding, I don’t see myself as appropriating a culture. Instead, I have found a way to incorporate ideas from other cultures into my spiritual path, without dishonoring the tradition. I think that’s what’s most important.