Christian, cultural appropriation, cultural theft, culture, diversity, dogma, eclectic, Fatima, filianism, independent, Islam, majority, orthodox, Paganism, Prophet Muhammad, respect, self, Shekinah, spirituality, tolerance
I was originally planning to return at some future point in order to continue on my ramblings regarding my spiritual doubts (Hence why I tagged on “Part One” to the title of my previous post), but instead I have come here today with new insight into my spiritual beliefs.
A fellow member of the House of Kyria (an independent Filianic/Deanic discussion group for all those who are devoted to Our Heavenly Mother) incorporates Islamic beliefs into her spiritual practice, namely that Fatima, the daughter of Prophet Muhammad, was the Shekinah. In other words, Fatima is an emanation of the Divine. She expressed concern in sharing these beliefs with the public because she did not wish to offend Orthodox Muslims who certainly would not hold the same opinion. Mulling over how best to reply, I discovered some insight into my own spiritual doubts and questions.
I have the unfortunate disposition of being easily swayed in my outlook on life. It is a blessing in the sense that I can relate to others empathetically and compassionatley. I can understand others on a very personal level simply by conversing and exchanging ideas with them. At the same time, I find that I have trouble differentiating self from others at times. I have difficulty forming a sense of self at all in fact. By this, I mean that I hold very few beliefs that are non-negotiable. I know what is wrong for me, but I don’t necessarily know what is right, and so my ideas of what is right for me are in a state of constant shift.
I live in a predominantly Christian community. My immediate family, significant other, and most people I interact with on a daily basis are all Christians. Many laws in my community and nation are debated and discussed on the basis of what is Biblically correct. In the sense that I can maintain a minority spiritual stance against an overwhelming majority, I suppose I have attained some level of spiritual autonomy between self and others. In this way, I know what I am not. I respect Christians, and even read Christian literature at times and find myself nodding my head in agreement with some of their ideas, but I cannot share their basic beliefs with them because I have questioned and re-questioned Christianity for years and arrived at the same conclusion every time. I have also read and agreed with literature from Buddhist, Taoist, Muslim, Jewish, Hindu, Luciferian, Neo-Pagan, and Atheist sources, but there is always some sort of doubt, an inability to fit into the mold of spiritual belief or unbelief for whatever reason. I find myself occassionaly re-examining previously discarded spiritual beliefs, and this has been the primary source of my doubts in the past few months. However, through all that messy chaos created by my mind, my identity as a devotee of Dea is the most constant form of thought in my spiritual belief, even though it too has been shaken for short, intermittent periods during this past year as well.
But I realize now that being a Filyani, especially an Independent Filyani, is not about fitting into a mold. Strict dogma may increase cohesion and unity within a group, but more often than not it is unity only on the surface. People are diverse and every individual is unique is his or her own way. In my experience with members of groups with strict dogmatic beliefs, the members either only comply with the dogma on an external level or internalize the dogma through social conditioning. Both of these methods stifle the spirit because one is a lie and the other is imposed order. I believe in personal gnosis coupled with knowledge, not simply believing in something only because my family, community, and the majority believes it.
There are dominant thoughts and beliefs in the Filianic community. I personally agree with some of those beliefs, but not all. That is the beauty of Filianism. We all share one basic belief and devotion to God the Mother, but our expressions of belief and devotion branch off into a beautiful spectrum of colourful diversity. We can find beauty in one another’s spiritual paths, and even beauty in the paths of those who fall completley outside of our spiritual community. The religion of Our Mother is so rich and diverse that it has been present in every culture and in every religion, on a grand or minute scale, since the dawn of time.
Respectfully incorporating other cultures and spiritual paths into one’s own Filianic path is not cultural appropriation (cultural theft). Cultural appropriation is a topic that frequently troubled me during my time as an Eclectic Pagan. I felt drawn to images of Dea from more than one culture, and could not choose a single culture from which to practice. There is nothing inherently wrong with this, so long as we keep in mind the principles of cultural bricolage (adopting practices in a respectful manner) and avoid cultural appropriation. But the issue becomes even more tedious to manage when incorporating ideas from other living traditions that hold staunchly dogmatic beliefs about the manner in which those images are to be interpreted. For example, Christians revere the image of Mary as the Mother of Jesus, not as Divine in Her own right, while Filyanis do not worship the historical personage of Mary but rather the fundamental truths Dea has revealed through Her image. Many Christians find the worship of Mary repugnant, because that belief does not fit within their own dogma. But Christians from different denominations disagree amongst themselves, and some even go so far as to condemn rival denominations to eternal damnation (I hope to never see the kind of close-minded fundamentalism within our community).
In this case, I don’t believe that avoiding conversation about or apologizing for our own beliefs in Mary as a Divine image of Dea is effective, because nothing short of conversion and propagation of their version of truth will ever be satisfactory. The same can be said for the incorporation of Fatima into our worship. What is important is to show respect toward the original cultural and spiritual path from which these images originate. Below I have copied and pasted a short list of ways written by Miss Yvonne Abburrow on Patheos. A link to the full article is given below in the References:
- sensitive borrowing of stories and techniques (but not historically-situated rituals), fully acknowledging their source and original context, and that you might have changed the meaning in the new context (e.g. I do lectio divina workshops, which is a Christian technique, but I always acknowledge that that is what it is, explain the context in which it arose, and acknowledge that doing it with non-Biblical texts changes the meaning of the practice)
- thoroughly investigating the context, history and safeguards for the technique you propose to borrow; acknowledging your source and directing people to resources that explain these (e.g. if teaching Metta Bhavana, teach the safeguards that go with it)
- reading from the sacred texts of other traditions, where these are publicly available
- telling a story from another tradition, fully acknowledging that it came from that tradition, and explaining its context if necessary
Dea is universal. She has revealed Herself in all places and to all peoples. Anyone and everyone, from any spiritual path and background, is invited to join us in the worship of God Our Mother. I hope this article has cleared any doubts and concerns about the difference between cultural bricolage and cultural appropriation/theft. If you have any questions, feel free to leave a comment below!
Note: I use Filianic and Filyani throughout this article as a descriptive term for my spiritual identity, but I am currently leaning more toward the simplistic Deanic worship of God the Mother rather than the Tritinitarian Filianic belief. However, in our community Filianism has become a blanket term for both Deanism and Filianism, and so I have used the term “Filyani” to describe myself instead of the somewhat awkward “Deanist”.