Friday, April 15, 2011

Sage is not just for turkey

Dan Waters is a snarky 22 year old queer biracial wonderment who is part White, Portuguese, and Native American (Wampanoag-Kiowa). He currently lives in Massachusetts, and plans to become a Lawyer. That is, if he can survive Algonquin language classes and polyamorous dating right now! He also identifies as Two Spirit, and prefers male pronouns, but cherishes his female body that he was given graciously by the Creator. He blogs at Identity Exposure.
 
Firstly I’d like to apologize for the title of this piece, Renee pitched it to me and it stuck. I really love it, but please feel free to use seasonings for your turkey. Secondly, I am a bit drunk so any typos, I sincerely apologize. Try to not let them deter you from my gospel. Also, I already know that some White people will start complaining “why do you keep blaming us, wah wah, fee fees” throughout the piece, but I haven’t met any Black or Latino people trying to lead a fucking rain dance ever. Just sayin’. I will also be talking about a lot of “woo-woo” (as Sparky would say), and I am not saying all Indians believe this, but most traditional or trying to go back to traditions people do. I am also not picking on Wiccans and pagans because they are “bad”, but because they do a lot of appropriation themselves.

I didn’t answer this on Renee’s Friday question, but I absolutely love paranormal shows. Ghost Hunters, Ghost Adventures (though that Zack dude is such a tool, am I right?), and Paranormal State just to name a few. However, there is a common theme amongst them…inevitably, if the space needs to be cleared of spirits, they will whip out the white sage bundle.

Press pause here. A white sage bundle. This is called smudging, and it is believed in some tribes (not naming specifics) to cleanse spirits or bad energy. Here’s the thing, it’s an INDIGENOUS thing. Ryan Buell from Paranormal State, will whip out the Catholic bible, which is totally in his right to do because he’s Catholic, and the majority of his clients are as well -- but why does some White person find it okay to randomly start smudging? Without even using the proper chants? Oh, yes, there are chants, White people. And, how do we even know the white sage plant spoke (yes, they speak) to this user that they were the right thing to do the job?

This is the thing, people. unlike religions like Islam, Judaism, and Christianity, and unlike practices like yoga and meditation, where its teachers explain that it can be non-spiritually based -- Native American spirituality is not something you can convert to. It’s a part of your principal people, and thus a part of your culture. It is part of how you perceive the outside world. It is extremely, vastly different than how Western people approach religion. For many, like myself, it’s a 24/7 thing.

However, Native American spirituality has been appropriated for decades. Ironically, we weren’t even allowed to practice it legally until the 1970’s, and were killed for practicing it earlier than that. It makes the whole “freedom of religion” thing seem exclusive, doesn’t it? Without fail, if I go into a psychic fair, I see dream catchers (even convenient mini ones for your car. Really, your car? You sleep in your m-fucking car when you drive it?), sage bundles, and animal totems with convenient little cards about which animal is best for what purpose. When I correct someone on something, I get brushed off as some sort of purist and the whole “Well the intention gets it across.” excuse is used. I can’t help but have a seething glare that boils from the pit of all things evil within.

No, the intention won’t come across, random pagan making a buck off my religion. How about you go back to your own roots instead of co-opting mine? I don’t give a flying leap if it involves invoking Freyja, but fucking stop selling Spider Woman and Corn Maiden post cards. Eclectic pagans like to “dabble in a bit of everything”, and this is problematic on even metaphysical levels. I have heard over the coven chit-chat that they disapprove of the secretiveness of the Hopi (and other tribes) keeping tourists and others out of their religious practices. That book that they put out probably doesn’t even cover half of it. Why? Because we want the appropriation TO STOP. Perhaps the spirit(s) told them TO NOT SHARE. I have had it up to here with this idea that in order for us to be considered human or more than primitive, we should be willing to let others in on us and our ways. I will put the kabash on that right now: whatever I fucking share here, and on my blog, is what I’ve been told I can share. I do not feel any obligation to share anything spiritual about myself with others to satiate their curiosity and desire to treat me like some Smithsonian exhibit or talking bible.

Now, I know that some of you reading are either going “Wow Dan is such a level-head, science-y person, does he really believe in ghosties and woo-woo shit like talking leaves?” if it bursts your bubble, sorry, but yeah I do. I’ve been a healer for a little over 4 years, and I have seen many a great things, and done many a great thing with spirits’ guidance. Because of this, I will let you in on a secret…

When people don’t know what they are doing and appropriate us, BAD SHIT HAPPENS. I promised myself I wouldn’t write a word about this thing, but I feel it is relevant. This isn’t the first time that White people gathered around and wanted to fiddle with something they shouldn’t fucking do in the first place. I heard enough professors make jokes about trying to figure out how much peyote is too much, or how some White person wrote a book about shamanism and has this invocation for the “Wolf God”. I firmly believe that incidents like that Sedona one could have been avoided if people stopped fucking appropriating our culture. I am deeply saddened that lives had to be lost because of ignorance.

So please. Allies, call someone out when they start trying to smudge shit, or have white sage lying around for no reason. Practitioners, please be aware what and whom you are calling, and that it is appropriation. Brothers and sisters who are keeping the traditions alive, keep on keepin’ on.

As always, I leave with resources to check out. Fellow City Indians can probably find use in The World We Used to Live In: Remembering the Powers of the Medicine Men by Vine Deloria Jr., and for those on the east coast and Canada will appreciate the supplies from The Wandering Bull online.