Recently, I started hanging out on Tumblr. I had tried it once or twice, decided it wasn’t my cup of tea, and deleted my original blogs. I don’t remember what preempted me into going back there, but I did. Initially, I was aiming for a Tumblr-companion to my religious blog. Then, when I realized Kemetic info is sorely lacking over there, I decided that I would go with the info-giving and Tumblr-companion to my religious blog. I started following a bunch of people and then, suddenly, realized why I had given the place up initially. It’s a hot-bed for bullshit.
Now, let me level here, a lot of the people I follow are young. I mean, Internet presence for people over the age of 25 is pretty rare. It’s mostly a teenage hangout. I legitimately try not to let that phase means, though. The kids want to learn; they want to read and experience. Some of my dearest followers over there are in the kid mentality that I’m talking about. They’re sweet and kind and can make me feel better on a bad day. They post pretty pictures, interesting content, and commiserate when a day goes bad. Some of them, as young as I tend to think of them, can even see what I’m talking about or are in similar situations. That’s a boon, there. Still others are curious and not afraid to ask me for help about X, Y, and Z. That’s another boon, right there. But what gets me are the little, little kids who just don’t get it.
There are lots of “ready-made” activists over there. However, all they care to do is “educate” others and leave it at that. And almost in its entirety, they’re little activism moments regards “proper word usage.”
Now, anyone who has known me long enough knows how I feel about “proper word usage.” I’ll sum it up for anyone who isn’t sure. Anyone who is gonna go preach to me about how I use a word and its proper context can just go eat a big, fat bowl of dicks. And I’ll be gracious and classy enough to not mention that bowl full o’ dicks being disease-ridden… maybe. But I sure as hell ain’t a fan of kiddies trying to be politically correct about shit, whether they think they can be or not. If I don’t allow it from my peers, I sure as hell am not going to allow it when kids have ten years to go before they’ll be in my age range. No, sir. But let’s talk specifics instead of generalizations. I sure do hate them broad generalizations.
Now, before I get going, I’m going to mention a thing or two. In an effort to grab attention, I began following a bunch of people with a pagan slant to their stuff. One person in particular alerted me to the “misuse of words” almost from the first day I was on Tumblr. I started following her because I was intrigued by the native American-Irish-Romani chit. I’ve come to regret that intrigue. As cute as she is, she’s got the youngest perspective out of many of the children over there. She’s like a puppy that’s been kicked too much, able to go rabid at a second’s notice. I keep her ’cause she’s cute, but I’m mighty tired of her preacher persona. So, from MizzEe, as I’ll call her, I have learned that I can’t use the words “totem” or gypsy” and that I shouldn’t use aspects of other cultures in my spiritual practice because I’m stealin’.
Hoo, boy; chitlin’s young.
Now, prior to following MizzEe, I didn’t know much about the word “gypsy.” I never used it and aside from that garish television show on TLC about weddings, I had never come into [knowing] contact with any Roma/Romani people before. So, I was a little shocked and startled when I was informed (a lot of times) that it was a racial slur. I decided to look this one up myself, just in case. My first step was looking up the etymology of the word itself. Taken from Etymonline, “c.1600, alteration of gypcian, a worn-down M.E. dialectal form of egypcien “Egyptian,” from the supposed origin of these people. As an adjective, from 1620s.” All said and done, the word hasn’t been around long enough to carry too much of a negative impact, but the etymology doesn’t tell me if its derogatory or not. I had to keep looking. Now, according to this Google search, it appears that is the case.
Color me schooled, but you know, I just can’t help but think that an American kid wouldn’t be able to interview every Roma/Romani person in the world. So, I did a little bit more digging. And I honestly couldn’t find anything but opinionated essays stating that the word has a negative association. Now, I know some history. And I know that the Nazis added the Romani to their genocide during WWII. I also know that gypsy tends to be viewed in a negative light, very similar to how Jews are often portrayed: stingy, is what comes to mind. The word “gypped” stems from the word “gypsy,” which we can assume is where a lot of its negative associations come from, just like how you “get jewed” when someone rips you off or holds out on you. Interesting how monetary practicality instantly gets a negative association with the ethnic group it’s referring to, but neither here nor there. Where the fuck did this racial slur start up?
Now, while digging around, I couldn’t find anything concrete about organizations referring to themselves as gypsies, aside from this piece from the Smithsonian. I’m going to have to assume they have some form of concrete information here, but they say, “Several groups, all known to outsiders as ‘Gypsies,’ live today in the United States. In their native languages, each of the groups refers to itself by a specific name, but all translate their self-designations as ‘Gypsy’ when speaking English.” And that’s kind of the general feel I get about this. I’ve heard here and there (and I’m not lookin’ because I don’t want to) that there are organizations in various countries that utilize the term “gypsy” in a positive light. And the Smithsonian as all but said that quite a few of these groups refer to themselves in that way, as well. I think that the negative association here is more from an outsiders’ perspective and the general tonality of outsiders employing this term…
…but that doesn’t mean that the people themselves object to it. It could be like black men and women using the n-word to refer to one another. They’re taking it back kind of like Justin Timberlake and sexy. Oh wait. He was bringing it back not taking it back. But whatever. The correlation works here. While on a personal basis I can see that someone may become upset by this term, but as a generalization, we have to tread carefully. Until MizzEe or her compatriots have interviewed every person who self-identifies with the various ethnic and cultural backgrounds that would be deemed as “gypsy” and their personal thoughts and feelings regarding the term “gypsy” we cannot just assume that it is only a racial slur and that is should never be used, ever. (And I saw MizzEe schooled in this by someone who self-identified with one of these groups of people who referred to themselves as a “gypsy” and telling her, in effect, to fuck herself because it was none of her business. But this ready-made soap box instructional was “correct” and the person who was claiming gypsy decent was wrong.)
Now, let’s talk the word “totem.”
I started off with the Merriam-Webster definition of this word, which is, “1a : an object (as an animal or plant) serving as the emblem of a family or clan and often as a reminder of its ancestry; also : a usually carved or painted representation of such an object; b : a family or clan identified by a common totemic object; 2: one that serves as an emblem or revered symbol.” Then I went and did a search on the etymology of the word, “animal or natural object considered as the emblem of a family or clan, 1760, from Algonquian (probably Ojibwa) odoodeman “his sibling kin, his group or family,” hence, “his family mark;” also attested in French c.1600 in form aoutem among the Micmacs or other Indians of Nova Scotia. Totem pole is 1808, in reference to west coast Canadian Indians.” INTERESTING STUFF HERE.
So, the word itself is a direct take from a native language. All right, but the belief behind the work is not native American in origin. While Wiki is a shitty source a lot of the time, just looking at the page for “totem” gives you a bunch of different areas of the world that have similar belief systems. As taken from Wiki, “Similar totem-like beliefs have been historically present in societies throughout much of the world, including Africa, Arabia, Asia, Australia, Eastern Europe, Western Europe, and the Arctic polar region.” So the word, itself, has become part and parcel to the English language when conveying a particular spiritual concept. There’s your appropriation: some anthropologists went around naming things in a frame of reference that other anthropologists could understand. But, the use of it in regular culture now is… well, in a pagan context, it’s pretty damn extensive. One would think that the use of a word of a tribe would be exciting because every time it’s used, in a way, we are paying homage to the Ojibwe tribe.
But, apparently, no, this is wrong.
I’ll be honest, I don’t use the word. I prefer to refer to whatever the hell animals may be in my life as a sort of “animal spirit,” which is in similar context although not the same as the word totem. But getting all bent out of shape because we’re using a word that was originally made manifest by a specific tribe, to me, seems like an awful waste of energy. The soap box educator is burning out all of her circuits before she hits 25! Why not get angry over something else?
But, okay, I’m white. So, what do I know?
What I do know is that wasting your time in trying to school the Internet on something is about as useful as holding your breath for ten minutes. You’ll pass out long before anything is achieved.
As for the use of other cultures’ religious beliefs in my practice, I’ve done talked about that where it belongs. But, I’ll reiterate something I said on my religious blog about it: You tell the lwa I work with that I’m appropriating their fucking culture and tell me how that works out for you. And in case I’m not clear on where I stand with this whole appropriation thing, it’s a bunch of fooey. It’s a bunch of childish rhetoric trying to maintain a personal identity in a world where we’re rapidly becoming more and more conscious of ourselves on a land or nation level than on a personal level. So often I see these children going on about how we shouldn’t look to ourselves on an individual basis via countries, but that we all share the same thing: we’re all human. But when it comes to making this a reality, they get all bent out of shape about losing their culture.
Well, which one is it? Do we all get together, hold hand, sing a few happy songs, and revel in the fact that we are all human or do we retain our cultural and ethnic identities to the point where no one is allowed to learn anything about anyone else?
I’ll mention this. I don’t think that deep mysteries should be taught to anyone who asks. I know that there are numerous mysteries in native practices that we should never, ever be able to convey or should be able to learn. Case in point is voodoo: how the big stuff is done is specific to each individual society (in a native American context, in each individual tribe, I guess) so how I may learn it in a society is not how someone else will learn it in another society. And that’s their prerogative. Just as that’s those tribes’ prerogative to keep that to themselves and I commend them for it. You shouldn’t give such high knowledge to anybody who wants to learn. But, when it comes to more general and face-value like terms and dream catchers, well on that score, I think we should stop gettin’ up on those soap boxes and just let what has come and gone be.
And as I said before… damn those kids are so very young.
But, I’ll be honest here. The thing that bothers me the most about all of this soap boxin’ is more to do with the fact that all they ever do is bitch about it on the Internet. All they ever do is sit around and bitch about how shit is just wrong and people should be educated. So, my thoughts on that is that maybe you should go off and educate. Start a class. Make a petition. Rosa Parks sat at the front of the bus; MLK, Jr, well, he had a dream; and W.E.B. Du Bois wrote prolific works, started the Niagara Movement, and founded NAACP. None of those people sat around (with the notable exception of Rosa, that being the point and all) and hoped changes would be made while they sat around watching shit just turn bad. They got up. They took a stand. And they made shit happen.
If it’s that important to you, then maybe, you should make shit happen instead of preaching to a bunch of twits on the Internet.