OK, so if you have been following all the back-and-forth everywhere you might get the impression I am completely, inflexibly, intolerably opposed to what people have been referring to as 'syncretism'. As RO points out with his post, I am in fact all about synthesis. Much of what I blog about is synthesis. Yes, my blog is even titled Gnostic Conjure. So why am I being such an enormous pain in the ass about it with Jason?
Firstly, I am not convinced that syncretism is something that can be done consciously by individuals. No, in my opinion, syncretism is a cultural force that happens when living systems interact with new information and external pressures; historical, social or environmental.
Individuals synthesise. It is what makes us human - we compare and combine in order to make sense of all the diverse facets of our experience, spiritual or otherwise. We do it in order to find common ground and areas that overlap. When I learn a new language, for instance, one of the easier techniques I was taught is to listen for all the words that kind of sound the same as the language that I already speak and then build my sentences out of those words, adding the new language's grammar and vocabulary as I go a long. Most germanic and romance languages have quite a few words that are the same - and sooner or later I am speaking more and more of the new language by using what I already know as the basic framework.
Secondly, our blogs have been getting increasing visibility and currency in popular occulture which is neat. This kind of discourse and debate is healthy and important because it brings an important issue out in the open so we can confront it and talk about it. And the issue of cultural appropriation in western occultism is an important one. It's one that won't go away by pretending it doesn't exist because it is thorny or uncomfortable - nor should it. It's a bit like racism - nobody likes to talk about it. And when confronted with it everyone groans and shuffles their feet uncomfortably because, surely they would never do or say that. Yet racism continues to exist in our world. It's a harsh reality that many, many people have to contend with every day. Pretending it doesn't exist doesn't make it go away, it makes it more malignant. It enables the people who are guilty of it.
Is everyone who uses a technique from another tradition guilty of cultural appropriation, and should the culture police raid their temple and confiscate their dream-catcher, didgeridoo and hotei statue? Probably not. Does it give us free license to grab whatever we like, in any manner we like, from whomever we want?
No, it doesn't.
The question that remains is this - can anyone stop us? Probably not. So we are totally free to be the spiritual equivalent of those annoying fucking morons on quad bikes that are destroying the beautiful, fragile dunes in Cape Town. Just go ahead and tear through another culture's magical heritage like it's our big play ground; spin our wheels and then piss-off when we are done and have had our fun.
Though, you can bet whenever I see one of those idiots rampaging around the dunes I tell him what a stupid knob I think he is and that I pray he falls down and breaks his neck next time he ramps over the fynbos.
What then, is the difference between sane, sensitive synthesis and making a mockery of another's heritage? I am unsure quite frankly, and it is confusing terrain that I continue negotiate as carefully as I can. Conjureman Ali, takes an eloquent stab at distinguishing the two issues here.
Check it out he makes some good points.