The Sense of Loss in Paganism

I have about a dozen or so back issues of Sage Woman in my library, bought mostly in 1999-2002. I spent a good few hours the other week going through each issue trying to find a quote I half remembered, but I didn’t have any luck.

The quote, as I remember it, was from a Native American woman, asking a group of white women why they tried to learn and emulate Native spirituality. Why didn’t the women look to their own heritages for magic and ritual? It’s a quote that has stuck with me for years, coming at a time when I hadn’t yet heard the term “cultural appropriation” but I had a vague sense of it. Having been raised in Wyoming, with no sense of where my family was from, I didn’t have a personal answer to that question.

I’ve been doing a lot of research for a book I’m writing, and in my reading I came across this quote that expanded on my thoughts and feelings on the above.

I feel a sense of loss over this distance between American witches and their European heritage because even if a person studies and learns about these things, the culture was not “lived”.  What is attractive about the Craft is that the expression comes from the experiences and feelings of the practitioner.  For example, it is fine to learn Celtic (all knowledge is a delight), but there is a difference between learning Celtic and growing up Celtic in Wales. — Ann Moura, Green Witchcraft

I feel that sense of loss sometimes.  Even if I researched my ancestry, I would still feel removed from it.  I identify as American, a national identity that is still primarily “Christian-esque” with a heritage that has little in the way of pagan faith.  And those few groups that have nurtured a pagan faith, or developed one over the years, are not groups I could be part of without feeling like an interloper looking to appropriate something that does’t belong to me.

And if I feel this way, I am sure there are others who do as well.  Wicca certainly fills the gap between European heritages and those American pagans who have only the most tenuous claim to them.  But Wicca isn’t without it’s own problems with “borrowing” from other belief systems without due credit.  (As an example, look at candle magic, which was largely developed in the hoodoo and rootwork traditions.)

I don’t know where that leaves me.  I want to practice a faith that isn’t rooted in appropriation, that isn’t taking the bones of Christianity and dressing it in a magical flesh.  And that becomes part of the research as I work on this book.  For, if nothing else, all knowledge is a delight, and if all I get out of these next couple of months of research is new information, I will be content with that.