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Conclusion

I do regard a deepening sense of relation with the other-than-human world as a positive move in the face of environmental crisis, and for social and spiritual wellbeing. Yet, in seeking re-enchantment, contemporary Pagans must not appropriate the enchanted worldviews of indigenous peoples, either as salvific symbols or in the pretense that they are the same as we are. We may draw on their insights, for ecology or for spirituality, but it is vitally important to preserve that otherness in the encounter, not to pretend something stumbled across has always been ours, to plant a flag on it and claim it for our own.

Notes

  • 1. With thanks to Kathryn Rountree for this observation.
  • 2. In what follows, most of the examples discussed concern shamanism in particular, and do not always explicitly refer to animism. Shamanism is defined here as the practice of accessing and communicating with the other-than-human world via altered states of consciousness, in order to facilitate healing or attain special knowledge for the good of the wider community. Animism and shamanism are commonly discussed together, since shamanic practices are very much concerned with the relation and communication with the other-than-human world. Neo-Shamanic texts (such as Matthews and Matthews 1994) emphasize the animist context of shamanism. While animism and shamanism are in many ways distinct, this chapter relies on discussions of appropriation of indigenous cultures in neo-Shamanism as well as animism, because the majority of the literature explicitly concerns the former, thus implying the latter.
  • 3. Seidr refers to the sorcery referred to in Old Norse literature, and reimagined in neo-Shamanic practices of contemporary Heathens.
  • 4. Since the shamanic practices of the indigenous Sami people means that shamanism is in some way indigenous to Nordic regions, it is arguable that Nordic neo-Shamanism is not a “relocation.” However, this is only in a geographic rather than cultural sense: Harner’s core shamanism applied to Norse mythology is very much a relocation.
  • 5. I also find problematic Pagan emphasis on the evils of Christianity as compared to the more nature-loving and egalitarian religion of the ancient pagan peoples of Europe. This is because the reification of a purer polytheist religion, eclipsed and oppressed by monotheism from the east, may carry with it a latent anti-Semitism.
  • 6. Leslie Ellen Jones criticizes the “Celtic shamanism” of Matthews (2001) for repackaging the shamanic elements of the medieval Celtic literature in a way that renders it “safe,” also lacking the dangerous power of the shamanism of indigenous cultures: “all of this incomprehensible, dreamlike, frightening and beautiful and dangerous stuff has been homogenized and sweetened by these manuals of Celtic shamanism. I would not go so far as to call them Disneyfied, but they perhaps Tolkienize Celtic myth into something readily assimilated by an audience accustomed to late twentieth-century fantasy and science fiction” (1998: 204).
  • 7. To be fair to Griffiths, she does focus on the political situation of indigenous peoples: while I may feel discomforted by her seeking of personal and cultural healing from the wounds of modernity through encounter with the indigenous other, unlike so many other writers in the same Thoreauvian tradition, she is not seeking wilderness without engaging with the people who have dwelt in, and been inextricably connected with, these wild places for millennia. Griffiths writes extensively of the social realities and political struggles of indigenous peoples. Much as I feel distaste for the romanticized idealization of indigenous peoples, it seems likely that Griffiths’s book would have much more impact on awareness-raising that may lead to change than any amount of squeamish silence.
 
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