March 23rd, 2010

pacific torus vedic echoes

A few oddball thoughts on spirituality

... before I get back to plotting my Fireborn game (where the PCs have just learned they need to slay the seven siblings of Chaos -- the closest thing to gods/creators that the human race has -- before a new and growing darkness drives the gods all mad) ...

I. A tangential thought spun off from skimming through the webcomic Pantheon (warning: NSFW for nudity, heresy) earlier today...: Cultural appropriation. More specifically, self-cultural appropriation.
  1. Is it even a meaningful concept to talk about appropriating one's own culture?
  2. Assuming yes to #1, when is it harmful and when is it a necessary part of cultural/religious evolution?
  3. Is it possible to discuss this idea without being offensive to people who are genuinely hurt by (cross-)cultural appropriation?
I'm not trying to single out Pantheon here (which is an example, albeit mild, of more traditional appropriation; it's nigh-impossible to create stories about gods of multiple religions without crossing that line). This is a more general question.

Take for example one of my college acquaintances Gary, who was a devout cultural Jew, and utterly non-religious -- to the extent that he celebrated Passover by eating ham and cheese sandwiches on matzo bread. Or what about Christians who insist (contra the more traditional denominations) that Jesus was gay? Or in the pagan community, practitioners of chaos magick, who basically are this trope embodied?

II. Something that's been circling my brain as I've been reading through lupagreenwolf's excellent "DIY Totemism":

Mages in shamanic traditions work with totems: either (depending on who you ask!) an archetype of that animal, or a representation of ancestral/group connection, or a spirit animal, etc.* Totems are representations of entire species: Bear, Eagle, Fox, Wolf, etc.

Why not Human?

I should first make clear that I identify as dragon, thus negating the complaint that totems should be a chance to connect with something other than yourself**. To the related complaint that totems are about nonhuman and thus non-sapient animals, I point out that the entire point of working with totems is to communicate with them, so even "unintelligent" animals have totems that can speak with you. (Besides, don't even try to pretend that neoshamans don't use dragons as totems; turnabout, fair play, etc.)

Of course, since there is quite a body of human religiosity already, this begs the question: how are "the totem Human" and the human god(s) related? Are they separate entities, or do the things a species worships come from the same pool of spiritual space and/or archetype that the totem is drawn from? Does the fact that humanity has an endless pool of variety and an endless pool of gods complicate the attempt to condense the species down into a single archetype, or merely mean that we can't grasp it all at once and must see one facet of a much larger gem? But what reverse implications would that have for our work when we invoke a totem of another species to/into ourselves?

What lessons does the totem animal Human teach? What qualities does it possess?***

Could therians and Otherkin benefit from developing a healthy relationship to totemic Human as they go through the arduous process of reconciling their spirit and their body?

(And yes lupagreenwolf, I'm looking at you with this one. I know you're still having problems with posting LJ comments, but I'd love to pick your brain about this offline sometime.)

* Speaking purely personally, it makes sense to me to think of a "totem" as something greater than a mere spirit helper; otherwise there's little point in making the vocabulary distinction, and thinking of your personal spirit animal Yiffles as being somehow capital-F Fox can ... seem a little egotistical/disconnected.
** Though Lupa -- who is a wolf therian with Wolf as a totem -- would take issue with that complaint from a different direction.
*** I somehow doubt that one's in a whole lot of totemic dictionaries.