I was reading one of my daughters books to her last night and in it Olivia compains that all the girls only want to be princesses. After talking about other things she likes to be she later reflects: “Why is it always a pink princess? Why not an Indian princess or a princess from Thailand or an African princess or a princess from China?”
While I applaud the message of the book and the thought given to non-European cultures, there is still something wrong here. India is a country. Thailand is a country. China is a country. Africa is a fucking continent that contains 54 different countries with a land mass larger than all those other places combined. Why not South African, which is where the Ndebele people are from?
Why am I writing about this on a magic blog? Because every time someone refers to a teaching from “The East” or “From Africa” your bullshit detector should go on high alert. Everytime someone suggests that a practice will work for “Easterners” or “Africans” but not Westerners because we are fundamentally different, you are listening to bullshit. I am not talking about regional, cultural, or tribal practices that are specific (though often that is bullshit too, just of a different sort). I am talking about the broad stroke nonsense.
Here is an example that I have hear several times: Single pointed meditation is fine for easterners but we westerners are used to complexity and need to meditate on something like a tarot card. Khabbalah is the Zen of the west because in the east they respond to simplicity, but in the west the Khabbalistic Complexity will bring us to the same state by overloading the brain.
This idea is utter nonsense. The people that have religions with thousands of Buddhas, Dieties, protectors, and spirits, and who score higher in math and science than the west does are NOT more responsive to singlepointed meditation, Zen, or anything else. I also refute the notion that Western brains that can handle string theory and nanotech are somehow going to be tossed into Samadhi by doing Gematria.
Apart from painting a false exotic blank slate upon which we can project any kind of magical fantasy we wish, referring to “The East” and “Africa” also leads to some very sloppy magic.
Last year I was contacted by someone who was putting together a Samhain rite for their coven. Their High Priestess wanted to call upon Ghede and Santissima Muerte as “The God and Goddess” in the ritual because they were both concerned with death (fair enough) and they wanted to work in the “African” Pantheon. This person wanted to know if I had any advice.
I explained that neither was from Africa. Ghede was from Haiti but is part of the African Diaspora. His female counterpart, if you absolutely HAD to work that way, would be Manman Brigitte not Santissima Muerte who is from Mexico. The only advice I have is to ask the Priestess to step down and disband the coven before someone gets hurt.
The funniest part is, that if you were to suggest that Lugh and Aruabrhod be called together you would be subjected to a rant about how one is Irish and one is Welsh and the differences between the two cultures, and how they are SO different. But hey, fuck it! Mexico and Haiti are both non-white right? So they are African!
Obviously this is an extreme example, but it is all a matter of degrees.
While I am not against cultural mixing, synchretism, or even appropriation in some cases, there are ways to do this with respect. There are a lot of ways to show this respect but the first one has to be acknowledging the many different cultures and traditions that exist within “Africa” and “The East”.