Cultural Appropriation is a stone that gets thrown a lot in the Pagan community, often by people who are guilty of appropriating things themselves. If you are any sort of Pagan or Heathen, particularly in the United States, chances are that some part of your religious practice is tainted by cultural appropriation. Patti Wiggington, who most new Pagans seek advice from on About.com (because, you know, that’s the best place to seek religious guidance), has this to say about cultural appropriation: http://paganwiccan.about.com/od/glossary/g/CulturalAppropriation.htm.
Personally, I don’t really care about cultural appropriations. All cultures are guilty of it at some point. Everybody borrows and steals each others’ ideas eventually, so it’s not really that big of a deal. Of course, I’m not in a minority cultural group (although I’m part of a minority religious group who has appropriated, but who has also been appropriated from). But seriously, when was the last time you had henna applied by somebody whose ancestors wore henna? In a weird bit of reverse cultural appropriation, my Hindu relatives had me apply henna to them because they didn’t know how to do it. Their relatives would just use red nail polish and markers–an idea that they got from Americans.
Cultural appropriation is a slur that gets spit at many Pagan and Heathen women who choose to veil. Remember, when we use the word “veil”, we’re pretty much talking about any kind of head covering. Some people think it’s wrong for these women to veil at all because they say that there’s no basis in Paganism and Heathenism for the practice and that these women shouldn’t borrow the practice from religions with well established veiling traditions. Then others say that veils are a symbol of oppression, and that Pagan and Heathen women who veil are undermining the seriousness of that oppression. Then still others say that veiling is fine as long as Pagan and Heathen women choose a new style or method of veiling.
All of those accusations are false. There is some basis for veiling in Paganism and Heathenism, which we’ll take an extremely brief look at. There’s nothing wrong with borrowing practices from other religions, particularly if you’re Wiccan, because that’s the path that most modern Pagan practice consists of. Non-Pagan and Non-Heathen women who wear a veil aren’t all oppressed. Many veiled women have the same freedom of choice to wear a veil as they do to not wear a veil (and let’s not forget France, where women are being coerced to not wear a veil). The reasoning that veiling is acceptable as long as you choose a new style is ludicrous. There’s only so many ways to tie a scarf or wear a veil. Somebody, somewhere, has done them all. Here again, it doesn’t really matter. You can either see it as an offense or as flattery, but it doesn’t really matter.
Why are Pagan and Heathen women starting to veil?
This is a really good question. There are almost as many reasons as there are women veiling. The main reasons that have been given by the women who veil are that their God/Goddess told them to, they follow a tradition that historically veiled, it makes them feel comfortable in public, they want to be modest, they use it as a tool in ritual, and it makes them feel sexy.
I’m an occassional veiler. I usually veil when I’m having a lazy hair day, don’t feel like people seeing my face, in a ritual context, or to please my partner–because veils satisfy one of his kinks.
I feel that when you please a partner that you’re intimately and seriously involved with that you’re pleasing your deity, because really, what’s the point of putting your all into a relationship if your partner doesn’t embody the God or Goddess for you? I also think modesty has its own sex appeal. Doesn’t curiosity just kill you to know what’s lurking behind a veil or under a long skirt?
While I use sex as the main reason to justify my veiling, many Pagan and Heathen women look to history and myths. Historically speaking, many European cultures (as you may remember from Part 2) did veil. It was common in Scandinavia, in some parts of the Celtic realms, and through out the Mediterranean. Just like today, these women veiled for a variety of reasons, ranging from protecting themselves from the weather to honoring a Goddess who veiled, to being modest to doing it for fashion’s sake.
Certain Goddesses, such as Hestia and Isis, were portrayed as veiled, and many adherents to these Goddesses today use this as a reason to cover up.
Covered In Light
As some of you may remember from cruising different Pagan news sites earlier this year, there was supposed to be a “Covered In Light” day in September to bring awareness to ladies who veil and who face discrimination. If you missed this, here is a helpful link to catch up: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/confessionsofapagansoccermom/2012/07/pagan-women-organize-covered-in-light-a-day-to-support-all-women-who-veil-by-choice.html
So what happened to International Covered in Light Day? To be honest, who the hell knows. “Covered in Light” was originally the name of a “private” Facebook group that you had to know a secret knock to enter. I joined the group earlier this year after reading about it on another blog. In most groups, I’m a lurker, and this group was no exception.
At the time that I joined, the group was in a tizzy about how Star Foster infiltrated the group under false pretenses to write her article. Then there was the controversy that brought about Covered in Light Day and the Pagan press coverage. Shortly after that, I went out-of-town for the weekend and the group imploded. After contacting several key people in the group, I still don’t have a clear sense of what happened. I suppose if I didn’t have a life, I could have spent the next 2 weeks sifting through all the messages that were posted that weekend. Some group members refused to discuss it; others were vague. My conclusion is that Covered in Light fell victim to what a lot of Pagan groups experience–unfortunate Pagan bullshit. For most of us, it’s an unpleasant carry over from when we participated in Christian churches. Here is a link to the “official” statement: http://coveredinlight.org/2012/07/25/public-statement-regarding-icil-day-and-the-dissolution-of-cil/
I can’t really tell that many people still participated in Covered in Light Day. I didn’t. What was the point? Everything had fallen apart. I’m still a member of the Facebook group that now has a name that I can barely pronounce, but I rarely even look at the messages. Most of the people who were in the group when I joined are no longer in the group, and the new members just don’t seem to be my type. I guess I should quit, but I’ve been too lazy to press that button.
So, where does that leave Heathen and Pagan women? If you want to veil, go for it. Just be prepared for stares and discrimination from both inside your faith community and outside of it. If you need something handy to pull out from underneath your veil when you encounter negativity, check out my Chirp Tract on veiling: http://barbedpentacle.com/on-tract/chirp-tracts/veil-tract-2/
These folks cover up for sex appeal:
Passion And Soul: http://passionandsoul.com/
Knotjokin Rope Floggers: http://www.knotjokin.etsy.com
Tonia Brown www.thebackseatwriter.com
Just Smack Me!: http://barbedpentacle.com/just-smack-me-a-wooden-spoon-decorating-contest/