Updated: Jul 16, 2021
“The myths that link you to your social group, the tribal myths, affirm that you are an organ of the larger organism. Society itself is an organ of a larger organism which is the landscape, the world in which the tribe moves.” Joseph Campbell, The Power of Myth
Times are changing rapidly - our planet is becoming more and more unified with technological advancements such as the internet and boundaries between our nations and cultures are blurring, as we remember our unity. In this post I wish to examine how I can move forward in regards to oppressed cultures and being mindful and respectful of past wounds such as colonialism?
When it comes to the cultural appropriation debate there seems to be five major themes to consider:
- Being respectful
- Are we connecting to our enlightened ancestors and true cultural pathway?
- Seeking permission (whether physically or at the soul level)
- Questioning our intentions – are they serving our soul, or do we have another agenda?
- Keeping it simple and being humble - stories and ideas can migrate.
The Chalice Well at a Lammas celebration, in Glastonbury - this heritage has been experiencing a revival in recent times.
The topic of cultural appropriation seems to be in the great cooking pot of the zeitgeist in America in recent times. These lands have supported and held many cultures over the years and many have needed to protect the boundaries of their cultures strongly. In certain Native American cultures, a headdress must be earned by the community and if someone who is not part of this community wears one as a party item it is felt that this symbolic meaning can be lost. In 2013, a new beer was released by the Half Acre brewery in Chicago called Heyoka IPA after the sacred clown archetype the ‘Heyoka’ which was also a spirit of thunder and lightning in the culture of the Lakota people; yet activists and members of the American Indian Movement complained and said that it constituted as cultural appropriation and the name was changed to Senita instead. Reflecting on this subject, some questions arose in my mind: how can I approach other cultures respectfully? What are my intentions and where do I sense the invitations? How can I become more respectful of others? Am I taking or giving? These are all good questions to ask and it is my belief that everyone will receive unique answers and intuitions according to their own inner dialogue with the sacred within themselves.
I later discovered that this was a topic that storyteller Martin Shaw had reflected upon in his book, Scatterlings: Getting Claimed in the Age of Amnesia, and had considered how many were flocking to India in search of something, which suggested to him that this was a sign of trouble for a person’s own indigenous mythology and culture and he believed that the overly-developed spiritual striding of young people suggested that their parents or elders had let them down. After walking down many spiritual pathways including Buddhism and Advaita, I still felt strongly that something was missing in my life and I needed to take this pilgrimage to the sacred sites of old Britain. Authenticity was the key for me – over the years I have felt called at the soul level to connect with different cultures and I recognise past life connections. Some of us may feel drawn to other cultures since we are serving as a bridge between cultures or might be helping a culture to migrate. Everyone’s path is different and listening to my own heart has helped me to navigate and find the path that was right for me.
'The Ancestor' in the Wildwood Tarot Deck
There are lots of people out there in Britain who are very connected to its ancient cultural heritage and have been for a long time. British Shaman and writer, Elen Sentier, wrote the following in her book about the goddess of deer, Elen of the Ways: “My practise doesn’t come from “core shamanism”, it hasn’t been reinvented or any of the other terms that seem common in some circles. It comes from my awenydd family, the village and the land where I grew up, from the places I’ve lived and where I live now as well as the places I’ve visited; it comes from people who are rooted in the customs of land.” In the past, the ‘new age’ tag was seen by some with a lens of scepticism or judgement – yet these are new times of internet, information, worldwide connection and psychological expansion and I feel that I need to adapt to the significant new changes that I am experiencing in my emotional, mental and physical bodies. I need to learn practices of mindfulness that uniquely suit me, as I engage with energies, cultures, contexts and environments that my ancestors weren’t acquainted with. When a culture is strong, we can feel unity, connection and strength – it can bring people together in a meaningful way. Ultimately my peace is found inside of me and it not given or taken away by external conditions such as political situations. When I find this peace and happiness, I can bring it into my life with meaningful culture, community, craft and mindfulness.
During his storytelling workshop in Dartington, Martin Shaw spoke a bit on the topic of cultural appropriation and explained that he had been given permission by elders to share medicine stories from Indigenous American cultures and that they had given him permission to allow these stories to circulate – for us to spread them. “If you don’t, who else will?” they had said to him. The notion of permission is an important one. Remembering where the stories come from and honouring the community and culture is also an honourable thing to do – Martin recommended sending some money back to any community which gifts you with a story to ensure a fair energy exchange. If people fear that they will get swallowed up by outside cultures and create walls, is a sign to me that someone’s inner culture is weak. Love is definitely an energy which can be cultivated by a community and it in turn strengthens the place and allows things to blossom and grow there.
One afternoon I was sent a photo meme of an Italian-American immigrant being pinned down as he looked in horror at someone putting pineapple on a pizza for the first time in 1914 in Brooklyn, New York. The image is incredibly profound and the man’s expression says more than my few words can add. It shows us the strength of the old ways – the old recipes handed down over the centuries – these were soulful recipes; these were trails back to the treasured garden. With these recipes, the land and human beings could keep an intimate relationship – it was deeply connected to the land, the ancestors and the stories of place. I do believe that there are times to evolve and there are times to cherish the old and it is possible to maintain a healthy balance between the two.
I believe that we are all guardians of the land and guardians of our culture. I can choose to step up and honour this responsibility and stand in my integrity as a carer of the land and the animals. Cultures are animate. The culture is the folk-soul of the land. Cultures are not separate from consciousness but are as alive as a tree or the wind. They evolve and change just as we do. The heart of a culture is its folk-soul, yet a culture can also have a ‘collective shadow’ - during Covid, we have been blessed with the chance to go inwards and integrate more of our shadow at personal and collective levels. We are in extraordinary times where we are not only facing the pressures of individual awakening, but also collective emergence – shifts are happening at every level as we are forced to confront transgenerational traumas and conflicts and go beyond our differences to find peace and unity for our world.
I recognise that we are all one – interconnected – and yet we are all guardians of different cultures. If we were all the same and walking the same path, life would be very boring indeed. Diversity is part of the brilliance of life. With globalisation and multiculturism transforming so much of our lives, learning to honour the boundaries of our cultures and honouring the boundaries of another’s culture, I feel, will be key. Demonstrating sensitivity when working with a different culture is vital. In his book On the Map: Why the World Looks the Way it Does, Simon Garfield included a map created in 2010 by Facebook intern Paul Butler – it demonstrated the co-ordinates of its 500 million members and the friendship links between these members, which revealed an astonishingly detailed map of the world although some deserts and countries were missing such as China. It revealed how interconnected we are across the globe. He remarked that in the past, Jerusalem was at the centre of our map, yet over the centuries our maps have transitioned and now with technology and systems such as Google Maps we no longer have an external centre:
“We each stand, individually, at the centre of our own map worlds. On our computers, phones and cars, we plot a route not from A to B but from ourselves (‘Allow current location’) to anywhere of our choosing; every distance is measured from where we stand, and as we travel we are ourselves mapped, voluntarily or otherwise.”
Stories can also migrate and adopt new homes – Martin Shaw spoke beautifully in depth about this topic in his book, Scatterlings. He discussed the topic of changes in weather and human and animal migration and how this is influencing new changes in regards to how we relate to mythology and story: “Who has the furry receptivity to absorb those emerging myths in the wider frame of stories that humans have carried like precious cargo? Unless these aspects of story come together, things will fragment with ever greater speed.”
Shaw also examined the topic of a story’s origins and that even this is not as clear cut as we may have first imagined; he referred to research by C. Scott Littleton and Linda A. Malcor who believed that the Arthurian legends were Iranian, from Scythia, due to parallels of key characters and motifs in the mythos:
“We see again and again and again that a story’s origin is rarely its end…We find Russian fairy tales in New Mexico – or is it the other way around?...Who owns the story?...Where did it begin, where does it end, and where do we stamp copyright?”
'The Damsel of the Holy Grail' - Dante Gabriel Rossetti
Shaw finished with an interesting reflection that men and women might not be creators but instead act as vessels for something greater to come through. With so many writers out there now, each with their own social media accounts, platforms and blogs, ideas are racing across the globe at lightning speed. There is now more chance of synchronicity – people are likely to channel topics of the same theme and content at the same time and spread similar messages. We can ask the question: who is the real author of an idea?