Cultural appropriation is a big deal in the pagan community. Or, rather, it should be more of a big deal than it is in the sense that many pagans and New Age practitioners are using practices that they are ignorant of the origins of. This gets pretty complicated especially since there is a strong emotional response to be told that one is appropriating a culture when someone is going by their direct personal contact with a particular deity.

What we teach in our coven, which I know not everyone will agree with, is to not be ignorant about the spirits that are poking at you. In other words, if Kali is knocking on your spiritual door, and you want to have a relationship with Her, then it would be in your best interest to get information about how She is worshiped in the cultures that She lives in. What are Her stories? Which cultures worship Her? Are there practitioners near you that you can ask questions and learn about Her from? What kind of books (and not just by other pagans) are written about Her?

Basically, there’s a lot of great spiritual technology out there from many different cultures, but it’s better if we give these technologies the respect they deserve. There are some techniques that I use in magick that I have a general idea of where they come from, but nothing absolute. In this situation, I still use the technique, but I make sure that I let the person I’m teaching know that this is not my technique and I tell them what I know of the the origins of it.

For example: recently, I have been working with Yemaya, and I’m lucky to have a friend in the tradition to ask questions of. I won’t claim that I’m one of Her priests, nor will I take on the clothing/rituals of Santeria since I have not been initiated into that tradition. If someone wanted to know more about Her, I’d tell them what I understood, with the caveat that that’s how I understand Her from my experience, but then I’d refer them to my friend if they wanted to learn more about Her. If I ever felt called to go through Her initiation process, I know who I can talk to about that.

In other words, if you really want to do a particular thing from another culture, you should learn as much as you can about that culture and why they do the particular thing. If you’re doing something just because it looks cool without even trying to find out the meanings behind what you are doing, I think you should just leave it alone. And I think it should go without saying that if you are using a culture’s mannerisms and dress to make fun of it, or the people who are part of that culture, then you’re being an asshole.