The Pagan Blog Project 2014 has been such fun these past 10 weeks! In the process of writing more, I’ve connected with so many pagans, animists, witches and such worldwide that it’s almost overwhelming the thoughts, ideas and practices. It has resulted in a deeper consideration of my own practices, at least, in terms of my explaining and communicating it to others, especially in the context of the core task at hand, that this blog serves; the engagement with Land in Australia from an overarching European, animistic worldview. This, and my last post have been an attempt to explore the premises upon which my practice rests. Not because I am particularly confused about that premise, I like to work from the ground up, so-to-speak. But in the process of learning, and continuing to learn, occasionally I find myself having to work backwards, examining some of the practices and habits I have picked up and reconciling them with the threefold core of my Craft. On occasion, I find myself examining some old and familiar terms, how I use them and why. In this case, thinking on a very thoughtful article as I lay red brick dust…
I use red brick dust. I picked up a few red bricks from a salvage building materials yard. I grind it myself. It’s a practice that has been lifted directly from the streets of New Orleans, and a religion and sorcerous practice that heavily influenced those who taught me. I could not be further removed from the Southern States of the U.S.A., in location and practice. But I also came to make my own Hot Foot Powder with a distinct Aussie flavour that I’ve used with excellent results. To be honest, I didn’t expect it not to work. The ingredients might be local, but the recipe is age old, I’m not one to generally look a gift horse in the mouth. I’ve always thought that a truly powerful witch could use a handful of the dirt they were standing on and a random stick to excellent effect for anything they might be doing; intent, will, and a well-worn, powerful underscoring sorcerous practice account for half of everything I make. I have no doubt that is true for many people who make their wares available for purchase.
Is this an example appropriation? And if it is, am I simply a bowerbird eclectic?
I recently read this article On Eclecticism, Syncretism, Multile-Path, and other Combinatorics by Darkhawk at The Cauldron: A Pagan Forum. I found it thoughtful and interesting, and here describes appropriation:
[T]aking what’s not yours to keep. This is an especially common issue with indigenous religions of whatever region; people claiming parts of their traditions for their own can easily come across as offending interlopers. This is especially the case when the outsider doesn’t know the full details of what they’re taking; they can, very easily, make themselves look incredibly foolish to someone who is more aware of their cultural context. These things often have very specific importance and very specific meaning; rather than being generally available, they are much like family heirlooms.
Considering that, my answer to my own question would have to be no, it is not “appropriation”. Firstly, the practice is freely given, and the roots of the practice as it comes to New Orleans Voodoo (and others) is well documented and explained. For those interested, there’s Lucky Mojo: Hoodoo in Theory and Practice by Catherine Yronwode: an introduction to African-American rootwork. The entry on Foot-Track Magic being particularly relevant here, along with the associated page at Herb-Magic.com where you can purchase Red Brick Dust where Yronwode writes “RED BRICK DUST, also known as BRICK DUST, REDDUST, RED POWDER or REDDENING, derives from the ancient use of red ochre clay for sacred purposes.”
Ochre has been used on every continent. The concept of reddening is one of those things that seems almost universal. Tools, weapons, people, art have been made, adorned painted and made sacred by the addition of ochre throughout history. Scandinavians still paint houses with it! I use ochre to paint the sigils on my drum, I use it to redden my wooden tools. Images of Tasmanian Aboriginals show the use of ochre clay to adorn hair similar to the beautiful Himba women of Namibia.
One could argue there is a degree of rationalisation going on here. Or, alternatively a case of “everyone else is doing it so why not me?” In the case of something like the use of red brick dust, particularly in the case of reddening ones own home as a spirit vessel in itself, and as a means of protection against negativity and ill will, few would be inclined to snicker and roll eyes. Items for and practices of protecting and blessing a home are actually universal, as is the use of ochre, and its brick dust relation. When I was first learning ‘eclecticism’ was a term alike to ‘fluffy-bunny’, denoting a practice of ill-thought out magpie-ism. ‘Appropriation’ was something to be careful of when considering Indigenous Lore, and not so much when it came to Voodoo iconography and root-work, further attested to in the aforementioned article.
Things become even stickier when it comes to the Gods and Great Spirits. It is one thing to take a practice that can be seen as fairly universal and imagine it anew into ones practice, another to pick and chose ones patrons or fail to understand the fullness of their myth in order to somehow jam them in. It is one thing to take a cue regarding the dingo or some other thing from Indigenous Lore, and yet, it is another to presume one enters into The Dreaming itself. (I might add that I think there is a subtle but important difference in terms of sorcerous practice and religious observance.) Simply put, as someone who is not Aboriginal, I can not, and entering into the land here and participating with it’s spirits has to be another thing. Is that other thing, which is informed by British Traditional Craft, English speaking, beaten on an ochre and Rune adorned drum, sat under a gum tree, and that honours Norse ancestral Gods the hallmark of cue-eye-rolling eclecticism? Does the thorough thinking through and consideration of each aspect which harkens back to one of three core premises of my personal craft, Land, Ancestry and Culture, change it’s status from “eclectic” to the vastly less negatively loaded term “syncretic”? There seems sometimes to be an consideration for our contemporary culture, complete with hyper-inter-connectivity, that there is little excuse not to be well informed in regards to one thing or another, yet little for the fact that culture is one that is informed and formed entirely by access to knowledge sourced from traditions, religions and practices worldwide freely and openly shared for the very purpose of using it. Is Darkhawk correct? “Given that various forms of eclecticism are, historically, quite common, and are in fact critical to the development of some of the most popular forms of neopaganism, why in particular are so many people so irritated at the concept? Eclecticism is very, very easy to do badly or in a manner that comes across as disrespectful or offensive; it is extremely difficult to do well.”
How well something is done, in this case, my craft, is perhaps hard to gauge from inside the square. I’ve had my share of people who have barely concealed their eye-rolling at my practices. As I swept my doorstep, rotated my plants to catch the sun, and scrubbed my front door and laid my brick dust, I thought about these things. If I scrubbed all the accoutrements and little habits away, would I be left with little? No, that’s not the case. I’ve spoken before about the many things one might do when they live a life of Craft and Spirituality. But rather than a sense of “busy-ness” there is still, if I remove all these seemingly odd things, a sense of fullness. I am a thing that is informed by British Traditional Craft, English speaking, beaten on an ochre and Rune adorned drum, sat under a gum tree, and that honours Norse ancestral Gods. There is nothing inauthentic about that.
And I lay red brick dust at my door. It doesn’t seem to be such a bad habit to have picked up.
P.S. ‘E’ is for Eclecticism! This post participates with the Pagan Blog Project!