Steal, Appropriate, or Borrow?

Week 6 (C): cultural appropriation

How do we, as eclectic pagans, borrow from and interact respectfully with cultures not our own?

More specifically, how do I, as a white western woman, worship Kali without offending Hindus?

Cultural appropriation is when a dominant group adapts element(s) of a minority culture without understanding the context from which said element(s) come from. This largely pertains to cultures that are still living (e.g. the Navajo tribe is still alive and well, whereas ancient Egyptian culture is not). The act of cultural appropriation is often considered offensive, particularly when people choose to use elements that are sacred within the original culture. An example would be hipsters wearing Native American war bonnets. But what about goddesses?


I felt called into Kali’s service a little over six years ago. I believe that my goddesses chose me, rather than the other way around. So how does one practice mindfulness in their spirituality? I do not worship other Hindu deities, nor do I identify as Hindu. But I also feel that I have made a serious effort to understand the context from which Kali comes. At all times, I try to be as respectful as I can be of her origins. But is that enough? I remain unsure, but not unsure enough to feel that my connection to Kali has been altered. It just means I’m less likely to talk about it as openly as other aspects of my beliefs.

My only hesitation with the idea of cultural appropriation is that cultures do change. Every culture borrows elements from other cultures (see my other post on religious remix culture in the further reading section). There is the question of an imbalance of power with the issue of cultural appropriation, because the ones doing the appropriating generally have more power than the group they’re borrowing from. But cultures build upon one another, and the idea of rigidly keeping cultures intact in their original forms is repugnant to me. It seems essentialist and overly simplistic. On the other hand, I strongly support protecting native cultures from forced assimilation (e.g. what happened to Native Americans in the U.S. from the 18th century through the early twentieth).

Obviously people of color differ in their feelings about appropriation. Some aren’t bothered, others are. My inclination is to say that as a white person, it’s not my place to decide when cultural appropriation is acceptable. But on the flip side, I feel that I have been called to Kali’s service. This post is not about answers, mostly because I don’t feel like I have them. I do have plenty of questions though.

Thalia Took

Thalia Took’s interpretation of Kali

Further Reading

A is for Appropriation, or How to be a Modern Pagan Without Being a Dick to Living Cultures

Cultural Survival Vs. Forced Assimilation: The Renewed War on Diversity

Devi as Goddess Kali

Discussing cultural appropriation on the SolitaryWiccans LJ community (an oldie but a goodie)

Kali (Rukmini Bhayah-Nair)

Poems About Kali (a selection)

Religious Remix Culture (my earlier writing on the topic, with links to more resources)

Thalia Took’s take on Kali

One response

  1. Pingback: Favorite “C” PBP Posts | The Lefthander's Path

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