Atheopaganism, Cultural Appropriation and Creating New Culture
Atheopaganism as I initially described it in my essay and book was intended to create new culture: a modern Earth-revering Paganism. Rather than drawing on existing cultures or ancient ones, the oldest element directly incorporated into Atheopaganism is the “Wheel of the Year”, which has global and ancient roots for some of the holidays (like the winter solstice), but was set forth as a package in the mid-20th century by an Englishman. No cultural appropriation there.
This was deliberate. I wanted to avoid the wholesale cultural appropriation of indigenous cultures from Africa, Southern Asia and the Americas that I have seen in Pagan and New Age spaces and practices. Rather, the idea was to simply start from modern times, with a clean slate, and create healthier, happier, kinder, more inclusive and more environmentally sustainable culture with which to go forward.
I also wanted to avoid any contribution to the culture of the Empire: domineering, racist, colonialist, patriarchal, heteronormative, environmentally exploitative, and cruel beyond measure. What is termed the Overculture.
The intention was to create a modern, Earth-revering and counter-cultural Paganism without appropriatively mining the myths, symbols and traditions of other cultures, ancient or contemporary.
Bear in mind that when I was creating Atheopaganism, it was as a mapping-out of a spiritual path for myself. I never expected that it would be embraced by others, and so I didn’t consider others who aren’t like me as I thought about integrating preexisting cultural traditions into its practice.
As a result, I missed something. I made a mistake.
It’s not a surprise that I missed it. I’m a straight, white American man and that means I see the world through lenses filled with blind spots. I’m learning, and will be learning all my life, but many such blind spots persist.
What I missed is that if you’re not–like me–descended from, steeped in and trying to get free of a culture of white privilege, individualism, greed and colonialism–you might not want that blank slate. You might instead very well want to proclaim and reclaim your native culture from the abuses and erasure they have suffered at the hands of colonialism and settler mentality.
So, first: I’m sorry. The fact that this never crossed my mind reflects limitations on my understanding due to my privileges and the way I was raised. I humbly apologize for any negative effect or impression this may have caused.
But let me be very clear:
I have always believed that if you are raised in an indigenous culture, and practice the traditions of your culture, that’s great. It’s essential for these traditions to survive.
Or, if you derive from a culture which was displaced, subjected to genocidal oppression, nearly erased or subjugated by European colonialism, and you seek to re-establish your relationship with that culture in your practice–again, great. Essential work.
That’s not cultural appropriation. It’s cultural persistence.
And if, in addition, you adopt the naturalistic Atheopagan worldview, Principles and/or practices into your spiritual practice, well, I’m honored. Delighted to have you in the community.
In any case, I hope that you will carry on with your path and help to bring its wisdom into the world. You are welcome in any ritual circle I convene.
Atheopaganism welcomes all who choose to embrace it, and that includes integration of other, preexisting traditions with its precepts. The “blank slate” of creating new culture applies only to those who choose it, who seek to find and create meaningful practices to supplant the directives of the Overculture.
Now, does this mean that if you choose Atheopaganism, you’re off the hook for the responsibility to work to dismantle the bigoted legacies of the past? No, it most certainly does not. That is work that all of us have to do, even those who are directly oppressed by said legacies. Internalized self-hatred is a thing, as is blithe assumption of privilege by people who look like me.
We need to learn to recognize the deep wrongs of the Overculture in defining, framing, and building a poisonous social contract around bigotry. And then to struggle to wring them out of ourselves and our world, one painful twist at a time.
It ain’t fun. It ain’t triumphalist and glorious, and we shouldn’t expect gratitude for doing it. It’s hard, gritty work that simply must be done if there is ever to be justice.
We’re all on this planet together, and we’re all fundamentally equal in worth and deserving of respect, dignity and community support. Nothing removes our fundamental obligation to work for the liberation of ourselves and our oppressed kin.