Learning & Borrowing

Jun 18, 2006
I've finally found time to catch up on my podcast listening, and today I heard the Deó's Shadow interview with Janet Farrar (I know I'm really behind, shush, school ate my life before now). It was a great interview -- Janet Farrar is an important person to modern Paganism, and a strong and fascinating personality to boot. I particularly liked one of the things she talked about, which was her interest in studying contemporary indigenous religions and magical systems rather than continually looking to Europe's past as the sole source for modern Pagans. I think she's right; what we know about original European paganism is vague at best, and our understanding of it will always be colored by the means by which we get information about it: through Christian sources.

I am a little wary of the way she phrased the issue, though. She talked specifically about visiting groups in Australia and South Africa which still practice traditional religions and magics, and recommended learning about pagan styles of worship and ritual from them. While I'm not familiar with the details of the political situations there, I do know that many of the indigenous North American groups which practice traditional ways of life do so in much the same way as modern Pagans do, as reconstructions. Because of colonization, acculturation, and various other changes in lifestyle that come from a shift to a capitalist culture, traditional religion often almost completely died out before it was recorded (often by Euro-American anthropologists, in North America) and resurrected in common practice. The time difference between these groups and modern Euro-Pagans is huge, of course, but we may be in more of a similar situation than we realize.

What Janet talked about, though, is a perfect example of the kind of eclecticism I try to practice -- understanding how other people do things in order to better understand and formulate your own practice, without rampaging through their traditions and picking out bits as you see fit. As I said, it was a great interview, for that and many other reasons, and I highly recommend it for anyone who hasn't already heard it (you can download it from that link above).


Sojourner said...

Interesting. I haven't listened to Deo's Shadow for awhile. (Schoolwork got in the way for a few months.) I will have to go back and find the episodes I missed.

Having not listened to the episode you are referring to, I would still have to agree with you that I would be a little wary of what she said. It's not as easy as going to a place and learning about their religion and magic. The groups of people she is reffering to are not likely to hold their arms wide open to a stranger seeking to learn how they do things.

The phrase "understanding how other people do things in order to better understand and formulate your own practice" stood out to me. To be able to practice your own beliefs you need to know what they are all about. I would go as far to say that you may want to know about others' belief, too, so you can help to explain them, to yourself or others, in greater detail. But going directly to a group of people that might not welcome the chance to explain their beliefs to strangers might not be the way to do it.

Thanks for the thoughful post.

Jenavira said...

My very first blog comment! You have absoultely made my day. :D

It's always tricky asking other people to explain themselves; it can so often sound like a challenge. And it's even more complicated with indigenous groups who've often had their trust violated in the past. I do think it's helpful to understand other people, but we can't expect them to be willing to help us do it.

Sojourner said...

Glad to have made you happy! :) I know I love comments on my blog and love when new people comment. Each person brings a whole new perspective on the subject being talked about.

You've got a great thing going on here, and I do hope that you continue (and post more often!).