Religious Imagery and the Question of Appropriation

It appears that since I don’t follow Patheos that I miss out on a lot of stuff, but the address towards whether ancient religious imagery can be appropriated or not was one that I found rather curious and spent the better part of the last hour contemplating. My response ended up being yes and no, and really the line between them is pretty fine and largely conditional.

For instance a theist borrowing the image from another theistic group in an almost syncretic identification based on cross-cultural shared symbolism and meanings which aids the former’s religious worship, especially in conditions which are inhospitable to the worshiper’s religion or in one which they do not have access to traditional imagery I would not consider appropriation. We find this a lot in more recent history in regards to the use of saint and angel images but many diaspora religions and others, some of whom identify as pagans. This is plausible for those polytheists who follow religions that no longer have surviving intact example of their ancient icons in replica form or even original form to be inspired by if they possessed the skill to reproduce them.  I do not find this as appropriation as it is the cross cultural identification and a loose syncretization  in which shared symbolism makes sense and even maybe the motivating factor for it. For instance for myself I identify Leto in some regards with the dragon Delphyne, and she had a serpentine form as identified with Wadjet in Egypt. I find commonality for both her and Delphyne with the Asiatic Nagas. Therefore I have an image on its way (if it ever gets here!) of Naga Kanya as an appropriate icon of worship that I used based off this cross cultural identification. This is a case of what I would consider a theist identifying and making use of the icons of the cultural that they are identifying their own religious worship with.

The presence of icons of the gods as matter of art and décor I also don’t object to. They are kept mainly for the sake of their beauty and cherished in appreciation for themselves as they are. This has served to preserve many ancient images that may have otherwise been lost and demolished if there had been those who appreciated the asthetic quality of the images. I would consider this similar to numerous statues that hoisted publically both modernly and anciently which would have had meaning to some folks and been just admired by other folks. An attractive image can be kept and displayed for the sake of its attractiveness without being appropriation as no qualities are attached to it other than an asthetic appreciation for its form and often a sense of curiosity and appreciation for the native culture from which it came which I think can apply to many collectors of various replicas of ancient art. In fact those who collect images for aesthetic reasons tend to be very well informed about what the object is, what deity or spirit is represents, and even in many cases how it was used. Identification of deities in their statue form in modern times can often be due thanks to rather obsessive meticulous collectors and historians (ie professional collectors) lol.

What I would consider appropriation would be the use of a religious icon for that which it was not intended. That is to say an icon and can be ornamental and it can be used in cultural and cross cultural theistic worship, however when one takes a religious icon, designates all of its original symbolism as being without value and/or false but ritualizes the icon for an entirely different ceremonial/ritual purpose that neither recognized or honors its original meaning, I would consider as walking the fine line into appropriation. This is due a blatant ignorance and misuse of an important spiritual/religious symbol in a way that has nothing to do with its original intent, and often done so while deriding the beliefs regarding that image. This would be in a similar category of other religious and ceremonial things which have been taken from other cultures and completely misused in a way that is no way tied to what it was intended to be used for. This is a recognized rampant issue among those who appropriate native American symbolism and spiritual objects and re-designating them without any knowledge or education about said items. As such I can understand the objection to non-theistic use of theistic images for humanistic spirituality as appropriation, especially in cases where theistic spirituality is being derided and disrespected. Further it seems that there would be no reason for non theistic individuals to use theistic imagery and icons. By utterly dismissing and removing any theistic identity to the icon it is no less desecration and destruction towards the item than it would be physically removing it from the earth. It is damaging towards the history and education of the theistic spirituality from which it arose. Especially when there are many ways a non theistic spiritualist can express their spirituality without borrowing from theistic imagery in ways that theists, and especially polytheists regardless of the state of its native culture, consider blatantly disrespectful.

To put it this way from a theistic perspective, the image of the gods are more than just images but are representations of very real divine beings and spirits, to spiritually make use of it and destroying the theistic identity with the image can be considered a kind of subtle violence towards the gods and spirits we revere no less insulting that someone taking an image of the god and smashing it to bits. Does it harm the deity? No. Does it potentially damage or influence human-divine relationship via the use of that sacred image? Yes I would say so as one blog reminded of sacred symbolism that were appropriated and co-opted for foreign use to their original meaning and use and now have such negative connotations because of this that it has been abandoned by a number of folks such as the case with the swastika. This blog poster through this example provided a very good reason that we should object to the use of sacred theistic images for completely other and unrelated purposes (and while I understand the value of non theistic humanistic spirituality it is very different from theistic worship in the use of the icons as spiritual intermediaries no matter how the image is dressed up or how attractive it is made to look if it is not used for the purpose of worship then it is falls under the realm of other purpose).

Now on a personal note while I hate the concept of gods existing as archetypes, and have hated it ever since I was first introduced to it. A non theistic humanist collect images of the gods as part of this philosophy of archetypes (but which still is attached to the identity of the god) as décor and collectible art doesn’t bother me or cross into the realm of what I consider appropriation. I would only personally consider it such if it crossed into a non theistic spiritual use of those icons/statuary. Even then I can object all I want, but I can’t change what you are doing nor would I fool myself into thinking I had any input on what you do in your spiritual practice. All the same though, I would hope that said individual would not be surprised and understand the root of the objection rather than getting up in arms about it. It isn’t an attack on their non-theism or spirituality but about protecting and preserving the sacred in our own spirituality from the potential harm, pollution/miasma and any damage through causing harm to the divine link between gods and spirits via the representation with their worshipers. Thus we are going to take it personally as we take our relationship with the gods whom we revere and adore quite personally.

as a follow-up

As a follow up to my last post I just want to point out that in ancient Hellas it was not uncommon for those who were considered ” too powerful” to be exiled for a time. This seems reasonable, though it is justified in history as a reaction based in fear of someone becoming too powerful that they become a dictator, but should be seen rather than those who are excessive in power and finances cause instability in a society of equals for which democracy is supposed to be. In the US this is particularly evident with the disappearance of the so called-middle class and the gulf between the haves and the have nots widening (reminiscent of the Great Depression). All the power is put within a limited sector of the population, because, lets face it…in a capitalist system the person with the money is the person with the power. Perhaps that is what we need to do. Those who are ridiculously rich and powerful…take away their property and a large chunk of their funds and kick them out for a bit and they can return in …say… ten years time when they will be less influential. Though this seems even a bit too drastic for my tastes, it seems like it would be more worthwhile to reduce their property and power by taxation and regulation rather than having all the drama that goes with exile LOL. All the same excessive power and the excessive resources that goes along with it, leads to social instability not unlike the relationship of master and serf. Therefore a social contract which protects the interests of fellow citizens by putting in restrictions in order to provide a better welfare for all, should include a regulation against such excessiveness. Nothing in excess is not a meaningless maxim, but applies also to our social relationships with each other. In order for a state to be able to provide equal freedom to all of its citizens there must be provision within the social contract against economic usary, or economic slavery as I call it, that benefits only a small percentage of citizens. Once a social contract ceases to benefit its citizens it is useless, and then what prevents people from living outside the social contract and giving rise to excessive crime.

I watched a video recently about the social humane conditions of Norway, and though I know it was posted as means of conveying a kind of lackluster dullness I was rather impressed with it. By equal and humane treatment they have by far much lower crime rates than what we see here. Though there will always be some psychopaths in every group of people, there does seem to be some coorelation between equality and fare treatment in the social contract and how people react towards their laws and government.

And we have a provisio in our own constitution that says if every our government fails to protect the rights of its people it is our responsibility to dismantle it. It seems quite evident as to why this was put into a federal document of such importance, because we had just gotten out of a system of government which was abusing the basic humane rights of the people for its own excesses in order to start a democratic state in which the people would have the determining voice.

Equality, Freedom and Justice….the handmaidens of Apollon. Lets give them their due and proper recognition. The polis is created to bring together the people for the benefit of all (flash forward now as an important note for the Metageitnia, which refers to a bringing together). Therefore if we are going to successfully live in a polis, the equal benefit of all must be recognized. The American economy is having a difficult time…it is not just to fix this by punishing the poor and take away what little is available which in reality is far from enough whereas all citizens should enjoy the basic privlidges of education (and where a four year college degree is now becoming necessary for decent employment attending college for a four year degree should at minimum be included in this though it seems that we would prosper if full graduate education was provided in order to benefit our society at a large…after all a doctor who gets his degree paid for by the state cannot justify high rates for medical care, and then the cost of general medical care is decreased for which it is also a reasonable burden for the state to take on to provide free healthcare), health (many people cannot get medicaid or afford insurrance and if they take money for medicaid that will be even more people hurting for basic medical care) and nutrition (have you seen the cost of groceries lately!). It makes no sense to hurt the greater majority for the benefit of the minority. We have been brought together in a federal state, a singular body, and now all citizens must be treated justly. And I will not consider it unjust treatment if someone cannot get a new jet or mercedes this year.

Enough rant now 🙂

the gods and civics

I had recently read the opinion that the gods are not interested in our civic affairs and take no part in them, and therefore all what we accomplish in regards to law and legislature is solely of a human invention. I am not entirely sure how I feel about this. It is certain that in the councils and places of meeting that certain gods were particularly honored, most especially Zeus and Apollon as I believe Pausanias described them being depicted in such a place together with Demos. This certainly implies that the gods are not entirely apart from the civic forum. Likewise Apollon was also consulted at his oracle regularly in the matter of civic law. Perhaps this is most notable in memory in the cases of Lycurgus who on many occassion affirmed his laws with the temple, and as Theseus was said to have also consulted on the part of Athens when he brought them together and abolished the old kingships. This certainly doesn’t strike me that the gods take no part in the matter of law.

That said, being human, and quite fallable, we are capable of making the most horrendous laws that violate the laws of nature. We are capable of ignoring the principles of freedom and equality, and even justice. In this respect we are in our civilization’s social-civic arena more than able to de-evolve our social conciousness. The gods do not need to take matters into their hands regarding this for we hurt ourselves more than any punishment that can be afforded to us, though I do believe that the most horrible tyrants among us have some kind of punishment leveled at them for abusing the laws of nature by abusing their fellows in humanity.  Therefore there is a difference between the horrendous acts instigated and followed with full understanding of wrongdoing and turning away from the principle of light which brings enlightenment and evolution, and the civilization at large that is de-evolved by a corrupt infiltration into the body of the state.

Therefore as being mindful of the laws of nature and as we progress and becoming more aware of what is righteous and good, we are responsible civically to act upon this. As I wrote on my website recently, Plutarch derived Apollon from apella, the meeting place of the community council. Therefore under the governance of Apollon we are all free and given equal voice in our communities in accord to nature’s production of all beings as being of equal value, therefore we are all equal to each other. Unfortunately the USA is a  bit stuck in her development from my point of view. So much of the noble things that our country embraced by the theory that no one was subject to hierarchy and that we are all masters of our own fate, it has long been swallowed up by capitalism and the idea not of equality, family and fraternity, but stuck in a dreadful phase of usary and worship of the almighty dollar. We are stuck in our progress but we as a civilization are given the self-determination in what direction we wish to go, and truly believe that the gods are watching to see what progress we make together, and what is corrupting us in attempt to de-evolve our society. But more importantly how we acknowledge what is right and just, and what forces are working against these things.

In short, no I don’t agree…I do think that the gods are concerned to some degree in our civic affairs. I don’t think that the civic laws we have come from the gods to speak, but I do think the voices of sanity, logic, enlightenment and reason are orators inspired by the gods for the positive welfare for the people.