Part 1 I spoke about why Eclecticism has become a slur and why despite that, I think it is essentially a good thing. In this post we will be looking at some of the arguments against Eclecticism and why I feel that while that many of them point out real issues and dangers on the path, they do not hold enough water to justify not being eclectic anyway.
The first argument, and the one that is getting the most attention right now in the community is cultural appropriation. I spoke a bit about this in the last post and pointed to an article about how appropriation is harmful when it misrepresents a tradition.
Make no mistake, representing a path that you do not belong to, claiming titles you do not legitimately have, and pretending to have initiations you do not, all damage the tradition and culture that you borrow from. Cultural appropriation is real and harmful. White privilege and the sense of western entitlement is real and harmful. There is no doubt.
I was happy at first to see Pagans and Occultists become more aware of this problem and take it seriously. But as often happens, people run to the opposite extreme. Now people are quick to call any kind of cultural interface or synchretism appropriation.
For example when discussing mindfulness tactics being used by companies and the military a few months ago, someone pointed out that if these techniques are rooted in Buddhism that non-buddhists have no right to use them because that is cultural appropriation and any and all cultural appropriation is wrong. Of course many Buddhists, most vocally the Dalai Lama, actually encourage people to use many of these techniques without actually converting to Buddhism. None of that matters. Its just more evils of appropriation.
When discussing that these techniques work regardless of culture and is a matter of science as much as religion. I compared it to a drug cures cancer being discovered amid Peruvian shamanic medicine. Surely a cure for cancer would be worth taking this Shamanic potion out of its culture and seeing if we can synthesize it to make a drug that cures cancer, right? Nope. According to the person I was speaking to, no one that is not of the race and culture who has undergone the appropriate shamanic prep should ever be allowed to take the drug because to do so otherwise is cultural appropriation and I am showing my white privilege by even suggesting otherwise.
When trying to be mindful of appropriation, sometimes people can over-idealize the idea of a race or culture. In a discussion about Tulpas and the meaning of the term I was hounded about whether I was Tibetan or not, and if not I should shut up. You see this in Vodou, and pretty much every other area as well. There is this assumption that being born a particular race will grant automatic knowledge. It doesn’t.
I am half German, I know WAY less about Runes and Germanic culture than a friend of mine who is Italian and Tunesian but has been studying Runes for 20 years. A Korean Catholic Priest probably knows more about Catholicism than a typical Italian kid. An American who has studied Kung Fu for 30 years is probably better able to teach it than a Chinese guy who has studied it for 10. Knowledge and authenticity are not conferred by race alone.
In my last post someone commented that my experience with Quimbanda was an “appropriation raid”. This is a good example of what I mean. This is a scenario where I had Unverified Personal Gnosis of a spirit that usually requires initiation to contact. Rather than just go nutty, I contacted a Tata (priest) of that tradition and asked for confirmation. The presence was confirmed and I then asked for traditional means of making contact given my situation. I then ordered appropriate supplies from Brazil through one of my students in that country, and moved forward lightly. How is that appropriation?
Anyway, my point is that Cultural Appropriation is real and harmful, but that should not stop all syncretism, cross-pollenization, borrowing, or eclecticism. Respect, intelligence, research, and initiation where appropriate should be the rule to follow.
This is particularly true when it comes to tech vs symbol set. It is one thing to shove Orisha or Tantric Yidams into a Kabbalistic ritual, but it is quite another to adapt modes of offering used in Lukumi and Buddhism and apply it to Ceremonial Magic. The first is bastardizing and misusing the gods of another culture, the second is adopting something that simply works because it works.
Another argument against eclecticism is the possibility of danger. I have written about this in the past several times. Again, very real possibility to be mindful of.
Not all techniques or practices are safe when done without guidance. Not all spirits get along with one another. Sometimes guardians are in place to keep out the uninitiated. There are dangers.
In the comments to the last post someone was concerned about dangers arising from two spirits from different pantheons interacting. This is a possibility, but actually pales in comparison to the possibility of two beings of the same pantheon not getting along. Just like people, beings who do not know each other might not get along, but people who actually know each other and have history can really hate each other. Throw Yemeja and Oya in the same ritual, or Aphrodite and Helios, and you are just asking for trouble. If you just read a book or two, or even worse shoving it all into a 777 like sephira set-up, this is stuff that you won’t know.
So again the danger argument makes a legitimate case for danger. The question is: is there enough danger to avoid eclecticism entirely. Not for me.
First, having been involved in traditional paths I have seen plenty of people fall into difficulty and danger even when working within just the one tradition. I have known students studying closely with well-known, ethnically Tibetan, and traditionally enthroned* Tibetan Tulkus, who have had startelingly bad mental and physical difficulties from some of their work.
Second, its simply a matter of being willing to exercise the third power of the sphinx: “to dare”. If you feel the call to do something outside the bounds of tradition, or even engage with two at the same time, you should recognize that there is danger, take any precautions you can, then decide if it is worth the risk. Eleanor Roosevelt urged us all to “do one thing every day that scares you”. Good advice for magic and life in general.
Idiots do dangerous things with no preparation or consideration.
Cowards avoid dangerous things entirely.
The Sorcerer Sage should investigate the danger, prepare themself, and proceed anyway.
MASTERY AND DILLETANTISM
Perhaps the most compelling argument against Eclecticism is the idea of Mastery and Dilettantism. The Masters and luminaries of any one tradition dedicate themselves to one path for a lifetime – isn’t it somewhat disrespectful and silly to think that we can grasp anything meaningful by engaging in many? If one tradition holds enough teachings to occupy you for a lifetime, how dare anyone think that they could handle more than one?
Its a good sounding argument isn’t it? What it does not take into account is level of mastery one actually desires, and the time and work it takes to achieve just that.
Think about it gain great benefits from taking Kung Fu or Yoga three or four nights a week. The effects of going from couch potato to Kung Fu student are remarkable. This is because it does not take a lifetime to gain core competency in the art. You will not however, ever get to be as good as a Shaolin Monk this way. So the question is: Are you being disrespectful to the art by not being a Shaolin Monk and seeking complete perfection of the art, or is it ok and useful to seek competence, and even mastery,without ever achieving that level of perfection. To me, its a no-brainier: mere competency will do wonders.
This is what we are talking about here:
COMPETANCY: Being able to do a thing reasonably well.
MASTERY: Being able to do a thing with consistent excellence and being able to teach that thing to others
PERFECTION: The work of a lifetime.
Never let the perfect be the enemy of the good.
Look back on your training in Sorcery or Magic: at first every class and book is a revelation, every thing you read and every person you speak to has something to teach. Eventually the return on investment slows down. The revelations crop up every so often, and most of your time is spent honing what you know. This continues as you move forward – the returns on time investment diminish. It is true with just about everything.
It’s that pesky Pareto Principle again: 80% of a thing is accomplished by 20% of its resources. 80% of conversations use 20% of languages. 80% of flowers in a garden arise from 20% of the seeds. 80% of sales numbers arise from 20% of customers. Knowing this, you learn what to seek in order to gain competence in an efficient way.
If you seek Mastery then obviosuly it takes more time, but still less than hard-liners would say. In his book Outliers, Malcom Gladwell coined the 10,000 hour rule: that it takes roughly 10k hours to master a skill. Others would say it takes less, and yet others would say that far time is not the major factor at all.
In your life there will be one or two things maybe that you wish to devote your life to. Maybe 10 things that you feel the need to Master. But there will be dozens that are useful to gain competency in.
Just as it is important to have people that are single focused on one thing, it is equally important to have people that are focused on drawing connections and making innovations. Many traditions and scriptures that people now consider primary sources and sacrosanct teachings simply because of their age, were once the new-fangled eclectic practices of their day.
*Note: I did not say competent or honest. You find people within large traditions that have all the credentials you could ever ask for but who are incompetent, dishonest, or both.