So the ever fabulous Tracy the Red posted a reply to my recent Beltaine related post. I should like to share it and my reply, with you my dear readers and encourage more discussion on this, here, and on the Pagan Community Builders list, and elsewhere in the community.
Anyway Tracie posted this to my comments section…
“Be careful there, darlin’ because Beltane is a festival that is directed at the Celtic fire God Bel and Aphrodite is Greek. She has Her own holy tides and we all know how stroppy She can get if She doesn’t receive Her proper worship. Beltane also doesn’t involve Maypoles either; that’s May Day. Maypoles are something Germanic peoples are into, even to this day. May Day itself is a day sacred to Freyja and is a lot more “Samhain-esque” than most would realize.
Wouldn’t mixing and matching deities and festivals fall under “cultural misappropriation?””
Well, I’ve written a small bit about cultural misappropriation recently, and also had a bit of a chat on the topic with Tracie the other day (pray for her air-conditioning unit folks!), so the topic is hovering about and well worth bringing up. It is also an issue I have started to seriously wrestle with as both a Neo-Pagan Witch and a budding Hellenic Polytheist.
I have re-read the article, and I can see where, as a result of some inspecifics in my writing of it, I did commit some cultural misappropriation… or an least provide opportunity for it to flourish.
I would say there are two areas where I could have written things out better.
1. I did not write clearly enough about which Beltaine I was writing about.
Beltaine/May Day/Walpurgisnacht are three inter-related festivals that have some very different meanings for different branches of our Pagan movement. I tried to speak to this within the post
“Especially this time of year. Beltane, or May Day, is the time of year when many of us modern Pagans celebrate fertility and passion and joy and love and lust.”
Note the use of the word “many”… not “all”; but I should have been more detailed.
To a Celtic Reconstructionist, it is the fire festival celebrating the beginning of Summer and a festival for Bel.
To Heathens it may be a festival of Spring, and a time to honor Nerthus and Njord. (for some Kindreds anyways….)
(And in both of the above examples different groups and individuals will have different observances, and ways of relating to and honoring the holiday.)
For the Hellenic Recons and well Beltaine really has little to do with the directly reconstructionist path. Some have already celebrated Anthestreria. (more on this Dionysian festival later)
Then of course for the Neo-Pagan and Witch and Wiccan communities the Beltaine Sabbat takes elements of all of the above with a heavier focus on the light-hearted fertility and spring and a little less on the Samhaineque elements.
(by the by Tracie I am officially filing the serial numbers off of ‘Samhainesque” and going to be slipping it into as much everyday conversation as is possible)
It was this last iteration of Beltaine, one of the more widely celebrated ones (currently) in the Pagan movement, that I was speaking to in my recent article.
2. I did not explain a few things about my Hellenic Polytheism
See even though I am a self-described Hellenic Polytheist, and I am currently researching and involving myself in some Hellenic and Greco-Egyptian Recon subjects/groups… I am not a hard core recon… at least not yet, I am more than willing to concede that my thoughts and feelings on this issue may change and evolve, but here is where I am at the moment.
~I am drawn to the worship of the Immortal Gods, the Olympians, the Cthonic Dieties and a number of others from the Hellenic Pantheon, most especially Dionysus and Hecate with some burgeoning relationships with Antinous, Aprhodite, and Pan. I make offerings of incense and pour libations of water and, as I am able, wine to Them whilst reciting from the homeric and orphic hymns and sometimes my own poetry striving to do Them justice and honor.
~ It is my heartfelt belief that the Gods are real are many and have always been with us, to paraphrase Plethon. They didn’t go up onto some shelf at some point in History. Thus they are as much a part of the modern world as say cell phones or Valentines Day.
~ At the moment I am welcoming the Gods into my life in the Modern world… Honoring Aphrodite at Valentines for example… and Dionysus during the two Florida Wine Harvests (June and August). I am looking at some of the Recon calendars… but my thing is I am not living in Ancient Alexandria or Athens… I am living in Davenport, Florida USA. The agricultural and spiritual rythms, the rhythms of the natural world around me, are very different than those in the lands where the Theoi were first honored.
~This also relates to a similar difficulty I have had with the Neo-Pagan Wheel of the year since moving to Florida. What does Beltane really mean in a land where fertility is never in question and Winter Solstice and Imbolc are the Citrus and Strawberry Harvests respectively?
So those are some of the issues I am trying to sort out for myself right now, and part of why I wrote of Aphrodite in association with Beltane. I was not trying to claim that Beltaine is a festival of Aphrodite, more that Beltaine celebrates things that are a part of Aphrodite’s concerns…
I send my apologies to Aphrodite, Bel, any hardcore Recons reading the blog for any offense the piece may have caused.
Though, in the end, I must also stand by the posts core message of honoring fertility and sex and sensuality, honoring the Goddesses and Gods related to those things, and honoring ourselves through responsible behavior.
_PS_ this may seem like a silly post to some, but if I am going to speak about how words and language has power I need to be very conscious of how I use them. Also, if I am going to kvetch to people about a local Pagan groups “Native American” Pipe Cermony (which doesn’t actually involve ANY native americans nor any sort of sanction approval from the Lakota people whose ceremony they are stealing)…. well, if I am going to complain about such things I need to keep my own spiritual house clean!!
2 thoughts on “Discussion of my recent Beltane post…”
Cultural misappropriation is an important and interesting topic, but I have never quite understood why “mixing” pantheons has anything to do with it. If you are a “hard” polytheist, for instance, and believe that deities are real, independent beings, then certainly you should be able to establish personal relationships with these beings without “stealing” from some culture other than your own. Accusing someone with relationships with Aphrodite and Bel and Thor and Isis of cultural misappropriation is, it seems to me, akin to telling a child, “You can’t be friends with Johnny because he’s Italian (or black, or Jewish, or gay, or whatever).” On the other hand, if you’re the kind of polytheist who believes that the gods are aspects of our own internal landscape and psychology, or that they are facets of some Bigger Unifying Life Force of some kind, then again, the issue of “mixed” pantheons is moot. Now, that’s not to say that there isn’t immense value in exploring deeply the cultural contexts that give rise to unique mythologies and their related social and private rituals. Of course that’s important! But I think we should be determining misappropriation based on one’s real relationship with the gods–i.e. if one has a real relationship, then that is the foundation for sincere practice even if that practice is eclectic or poorly-defined in terms of traditional ancient cultures. Similar to what you mention about the seasons–a real relationship with the local landscape (in your case, the climate and growing seasons unique to Florida) sometimes demands that we forgo strictly “traditional” interpretations of seasonal ritual and the cycle of the year. Studying anthropology or sociology even a little in-depth shows us that people all over the world are doing this all the time, adapting their celebrations and worship to the unique needs of their communities and individual personalities. I think it’s a restrictive and narrow box we place ourselves in if we condemn all “mixing” and blending as automatically misappropriation.
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