It’s my blog, I’ll tell it like I see it.
I’ll preface this by making it very clear that you’re going to easily find some First Nations people who this doesn’t bother. It doesn’t even bother my husband. It does bother me.
With any marginalized group, you’re going to find some people who are hurt by microaggressions and some who are not. That comes under the equivalent of ‘but my black friend isn’t bothered by the N word.’ (Spoiler, you still shouldn’t use the N word unless you’re black!!)
For me… all it takes is the potential to hurt or harm ONE person with my actions/words before I stop doing/using it.
To the meat of it.
People don’t like to find out they’ve been appropriating something.
They REALLY don’t. Especially, I’ve noticed, white and/or white-cultured people.
Today, I’m pointing a finger at white pagans.
I saw something that hurt (the hashtag game of gif your spirit animal) on twitter so I tweeted this:
Random reminder that any use of the phrase Spirit Animal is an appropriation of first nations sacred practices and ouch please don't?
— Kaelan Rhywiol (@KaelanRhy) September 23, 2017
It happens, every now and again where I’ll point out something that many people actually don’t know. Things like use of the G word in reference to the Romani people is a racial and ethnic slur and people really shouldn’t use it, at all. Or like the above tweet pointing out that the concept behind the words of ‘spirit animal’ is UNIQUE to some First Nations tribes/indigenous peoples.
Yes. It really is. No matter what you WANT to believe.
I… got a rather lot of pushback on something that to me, is very simple.
It’s a microaggression against living, breathing, bleeding peoples still suffering from systemic genocide to keep using the term ‘spirit animal’ in the casual way it’s ALWAYS used.
That is appropriation.
I’m very willing to say that using the term ‘spirit animal’ as a part of a pagan belief system is ALSO appropriation if you have no ties to the tribes who practice such.
*I* don’t even use the term, and my guide showed itself to me in a very clear fashion when I was twelve years old.
Many pagans love to believe that they are part of an ages-old system of belief. I even got the argument that “MANY cultures had spirit animals.”
It’s common enough coming from pagans.
For what it’s worth, I’m a belted priestess and I learned my faith when I was 17. I’m now 41 and I’ve been pagan for more years than I haven’t been.
I’m also a historian (Masters in World History).
While some ancient cultures had things similar to spirit guides, familiars and the like, the concept behind the English words ‘spirit animal’ is uniquely indigenous.
This article breaks it down in a decent way, so I won’t really go into the details.
It honestly hurts too much. I’m not rez raised, but two of my grandparents were. My hubs mom was, it’s still part of me.
Because of my looks, (light skin ranging from dark caramel to ivory depending on the season, blue eyes, dark brown hair) I rarely run across the microaggressions and outright racism so many mixed-race people like me do. That’s called white passing privilege or being white-coded.
I doubt it hurts less to get it more often, in fact, I’m certain it would hurt more. I’m lucky my weird genetics give me white-privilege. I do my best to use that privilege in a way that benefits rather than harms.
The pushback I got on that tweet actually hurt, which surprised the hell out of me. I’m sitting with my feelings until I can find peace in my heart again.
There’s also, you know, no connection between modern paganism and ancient belief structures.
Modern paganism came about as the result of many factors, but it didn’t even start until the late 19th century. It didn’t gain traction until the 1930s and didn’t really become popular until the 1960s and 1970s.
Christianity wiped out so much of pre-christian faith that what modern pagans follow is (as most faiths are) completely made up out of whole cloth.
That doesn’t negate the belief system, it is a powerful, beautiful thing and I’m happy to claim it as my own. One of the guiding precepts of MOST modern pagan faiths is ‘An it harm none, do as ye will.”
This is one of those things that causes harm. No matter what you WANT to believe, tribal councils and first nations peoples have said, over and over again, this is ours, it hurts when it’s taken from us, please stop using it.
Why is that not enough?
When someone asks you to stop, or hollers ouch, didn’t we all learn at some point that we’re SUPPOSED to say… “I’m sorry, I didn’t know, I’ll do better.”
So many people don’t do that.
But, you know… even the WORD pagan is an appropriation. A deliberate reclaiming that so far, (to my knowledge) no one has complained about. It comes from the Latin, then it migrated to Middle English.
No one has complained, and that I think is the crux of this problem.
When someone complains about something that hurts them, getting defensive is a very wrong thing to do.
Especially if they’re asking you to stop using a term that has meaning to their people.
I’ve been pagan for a long time and a VERY large percentage of pagans are deeply guilty of cultural appropriation. They aren’t going to like hearing that.
Egyptian gods, Celtic deities, Norse pantheon, First Nations spiritual practices (insert mixed groupings of those and others).
I don’t honestly care that much if you FEEL you have a guiding force in your life or what you call it in private. They are, as my husband pointed out, just words. Calling your guide a ‘spirit animal’ doesn’t make it so.
I DO care that y’all stop using in public though. Please and thank you.
Because I just don’t have it in me right now to get into the differences between APPRECIATION and APPROPRIATION.
Suffice it to say I can recognize it when I see it.
Using the term ‘spirit animal’ is flat out appropriation and it HURTS PEOPLE.