When Karlie Kloss wore a Native American headdress– a sacred item of traditional Native American culture – at the 2012 Victoria’s Secret fashion show, the internet (rightly) exploded in a furore of rage. Yet when a high street brand like Topshop sells overpriced pentagram-branded clothing and jewellery, a symbol which to me represents my connection with nature and protection from evil, no one bats an eyelid. It’s ‘cool’. And the same goes for ‘witch’ costumes and Halloween. Or jokes about being burned at the stake.
I was raised as and am still a practising Pagan, and I’m here to tell you that this is not ok. You need to stop appropriating my culture. You wouldn’t wear a Native headdress to a festival any more, nor a bindi, nor henna, unless they were given to you by someone of that culture – ‘cultural exchange’. Not appropriation.
For me, this is my heritage. Whilst some in my past may not have identified as strongly, or even thought of their beliefs as an identity, I come from a long line of women who have practised this belief system in some way. I don’t just live this on the 31st October. It is something that has been there for me all my life – from when I was a child and I was told I was ‘gifted’ in supernatural ways (another story), to tying ribbons on trees for the summer solstice. It brings me comfort and peace.
When I was at school, I was laughed at and mocked for being raised this way. “Are you going to curse us?” “Can you really see dead people?” “Where’s your pointy hat?” – all were common jibes. The witch-hunts of the Early Modern period are personal for me – even though most who were persecuted weren’t actually witches but casualties of prejudice against ‘natural’ religion. Halloween is a key religious event in my calendar, not (just) a time to get smashed.
Now I seem to be ‘cool’ and ‘edgy’. I’ve become ‘interesting’ and ‘bohemian’ and ‘fashionable’ because my room smells like incense and I have an altar, and know the properties of various herbs and plants and such. It’s become ‘cool’ for people to call themselves ‘witchy’ or ‘(insert natural phenomena here) goddess’. Just…no. Go away. You do not get to call yourself that.
I’ve given up calling people out; God knows that’d only increase their anger at being asked to change. Remember, callouts are only ok if they’re for other people.
It’s great that we have more awareness of our ability to misappropriate cultures in Oxford; I think that it’s right that we call people out for Arabian Nights bops and henna tattoos at balls. But I cannot take people seriously when they say this, but wear symbols of my culture whilst doing it (looking at you, Oxford politically-correct, Wadham-esque lefties.) I heart you, but you’re being problematic faves. (And here’s betting that because I’m white you won’t take this seriously. Sigh.)
That is not to tar everyone with the same brush. When I asked my friend if we could take a slight detour on a walk to a river so I could cast a healing spell, she politely stood by whilst I burnt an effigy and read my incantation. Sometimes people ask about the small pentagram I wear on my left pinky finger, or the significance of the variety of stones in the rings I wear every day. I don’t mind that, actually I find most of the time, people are respectful and thoughtful. I get that it is not every day you meet a witch. But it makes my blood boil to see pentagrams on chokers available for £4.99 in Claire’s and ‘witchy things’ being Instagrammed for an ‘aesthetic’.
Paganism is one of the oldest religions in history. Show it and those who choose to practise it some respect. The fact that it’s a minority religion does not make it any more acceptable for you to appropriate its symbols – actually, the opposite is true. My heritage is not for you to throw away in cheap fashions. So please stop doing it. Or I will curse you.
Just kidding. Maybe.