I’ve been struggling with ideas of Scottish appropriation from our culture for a while now. Some of you may have read Saining Not Smudging. This article explored it in reverse light really. Sadly a lot of hate mail was received because of this article. Though that’s why we write right? To challenge ideas.
Scottish Appropriation. What a phrase. You might think it’s not important but recently I’ve been seeing people using words like Dà-shealladh, second sight in a very wrong context. Not only this they are being paid to talk at expensive conferences about it. They use it to describe a practice completely unrelated to the traditional Scottish experience of second sight. Why use our language if it’s not what our words describe? They have used the Scottish Gaelic phrase to suggest its tradition and then supplanted their own ideas of what the practice is. They have simply used the word as a wrapper. It’s beyond annoying. Scottish folk culture is being exploited into different traditions, with vastly different approaches, making the practices meaningless if not seen through the lens of Scottish culture and the traditions existing underneath it. Without the philosophy of the Scottish diaspora and life experience it’s based on many things are lost in translation. It feels like window dressing a pigs corpse and calling it a ball gown and charging through the nose for it.
Needless to say I’ve been struggling to write an article about it. It’s too emotional for me to tackle full on. Instead of an article I’ve decided to write a story. Inspired by Laurie Anderson please enjoy the
Tale of the Ugly One with All the Jewels.
Out of all the somebodies in the world, there was once two someone’s.
One was old, with roots settled into eternity. Lör was their name, though others called them Relic. Lör was enclosed head to toe in fine jewels and charms of uncountable names, sleeping safe inside forgetfulness. Cozied within a hand-woven blanket of community and culture Lör dreamt the dreams of the disregarded. Lör felt safe. Those who loved Lör were small in number but lived just the right side of forgetting to remember, unlike most. Though love on the right side of forgetting isn’t always enough.
The other was young, new, pretty and handsome. Prettified with skulls, sticks and moonlight. They sounded ancient in voice though this was a practiced affectation. In reality they were only hollow. Made of the world of image. No deeper their thoughts than midnight’s frozen echo. Voguish some called them. They employed a staff, Meedeea, to curate desirable images and songs. Entertaining endlessly to the same broken tune – “Mine, more, accumulate.” Off key. All strings. No bass. Despite how much people loved them. Voguish coveted what others had and had no other cares.
So as these things go, Voguish’s attention turned to Lör.
Whilst Lör lay sleeping counting sideways, entwined in memories of forgotten places, old languages and ancient books, Voguish hatched a plan.
Spinning Meedeea steadily faster, Voguish began to sing The Zeitgeist Song. A song weaving covetous images wilder and faster into the dreams of their Mindless Magpie Followers. The persuasive tune filled the space left by Lörs forgetting. Pushed aside their lassitude. The Magpies began to see. See how interesting and pretty they could be. Vougish knew all to well the lost are easily given a new compass. This melody. This empty tune, had a purpose. “Hear me” Voguish sang, “I need you. I call you! Be empty no longer. Follow. My. Voice. Find for me charms and jewels hiding in ugly places. Find them and we can dazzle the world.” The magic released as the recital reached its crescendo. A squall of Magpies sprang ready to scour the world at Voguish’sbidding.
Berserk by the power of Meedeea the Magpies leapt, flew and circled here and there, stealing, appropriating and coveting all they could find. Voguish wasn’t satiated with small treasures. Voguish wanted more. “Find me the Jewels!” Voguish howled in torrents of image, scent and sex “Find me the charms!” The Magpies cowered. The wrath of Voguish was fierce, but none of them wanted to be on the bad side of the Meedeea. Frantically they searched. Inspired as much by fear as desire by the song of the Zeitgeist.
After countless moons, the Magpies discovered where Lör slept. At first, the Magpies were worried. Those who live on the right side of forgetfulness might stop them.
Emboldened by Vougish’s spell a few tried to get passed. One or two Magpies were no problem for Lör’s family to fend off. Soon came a horde of them as word spread of Lör’s location. One after the other after the other, a fulguration of monochrome seized the moment and overwhelmed the stewards of Lör’s sleeping. Hysterical at the smell of roots, comfort and duty the Magpies began to tear at Lör. Shredding the blanket of community and culture. They pecked at Lör’s eyes pilfering Dà-shealladh, and Fiosachd. They took from Lör’s fingers Naisg, Caim and Frith. “More! More” Voguish sung, urging their frenzied appropriators onwards. They ripped Manadh and Bruadaraiche from Lör’s mouth and tore from Lör’s crown Taibhsear, Taibhsearan and Fiosaiche. From the shelves they stole language. From the garden, plants and their lore. From the nooks and hearth, food, water and sacred fire. Lör shuddered awake, owl eyes blinking. The cavernous room shook as they watched the last Magpie flyting with a wheat-filled beak and surveyed the devastation.
Voguish thundered with pleasure as the Magpies returned. “Finally,” Voguish thought “I can clothe myself in meaning.” The magpie’s dropped each stolen jewel and charm into a pile at Voguish’s feet. Gleefully they looked on from the surrounding branches as Voguish ploughed into the stolen hoard. Admiring the fine jewels with gleeful grimace.
Voguish’s smile soon changed to a look of confusion. They knew the jewel’s names. Who doesn’t know of the great jewels and gifts Lör gives us. But something was awry. Voguish realised to their horror they did not know how the stolen bounty worked. “The Jewels are not enough!” Voguish thought, outraged. “How does this all work? How does it go together? All I have is names!” This is when Voguish realised they had made a terrible mistake.
Furious with idiocy, Voguish struck Dà-shealladh and Fiosachd with Meedeea shattering them to pieces. “Dà-shealladh – Second Sight” they crooned, and then, weaving their own made up myth to the assembled crowd, spoke of how to “see” with herbal smoke and mirrors. Voguish splintered Naisg, Caim and Frith, “Caim- a conjurers circle” Voguish’s voice once again spat. They beguiled the crowd with lies of conjuring from directions energies to protect and ward. Headlong Voguish went, smashing, repurposing and lying until everyone present had a body made of jewels made in their own image. The Magpies, overjoyed with their dazzling brightness, remarked how colourful they thought they were. They failed to notice how dull they shone, blinded by each other’s brilliance.
Lör was remiss. Their most precious jewels stolen by monochrome robbers. Slowly, saddened by their efforts to prevent what had happened, those treasured by Lör entered. They dared not look Lör in the eye, such was the humiliation. They blinked their sparrow eyes, twitched their fox ears and hopped from toad leg to toad leg in discomfort. Lör spoke heavy-heartedly “Dears,” Lör’s voice, ancient and resounding, “Do not fret so. The poetry isn’t in the rain. It’s in the sound it makes. The jewels have no purpose and make no sense without this …” Those who loved Lör blinked, looking on.
Lör placed a small red ochre rock, leac-theallaich, onto the middle of the bed. The crowd pondered “How could something so seemingly dull be so important?” Lör, picking at the holes in their cosy blanket, swathed themselves and leac-theallaich and began to fall into the other side of absentmindedness. “Voguish may take our language,” Lör sighed, holding the stone to their chest as they lay down. “Voguish may steal our knowledge and culture for reasons we can only guess, but without leac-theallaich – our heritage, our community and the knowledge we hold, all is for naught”. Lör yawned. “Guard well leac-theallaich from Magpies. Though make no person unwelcome who seeks your aid. Recognise we are few and they are many. Remember they are lost and searching. When they return you will know them by their alluring hues. Don’t be blinded by the diverting display. Remember Voguish’s Zeitgesit Song and Meedeea have made them that way. Forgive them. But be wary, dear hearts. ‘Sleamhainn an leac a tha an doras an taighe mhóir’– The powerful make fickle friends”.
With thanks to Amy for all the amazing help !! Credit for Magpie image goes to http://maudeux.canalblog.com. Credit for featured image goes to Photographer and author Paul Koudounaris Taken From CNN.
you manage so well to put into words what goes through my head as feelings and thoughts. The instant gratification mob have the ascendency just now but deep roots are stronger
Thanks Bob. It seems to becoming more and more of an issue these days. I love sharing a community building but some of it is getting a beyond appropriate and respectful.
“the lost are easily given a new compass” Beautiful and resounding with truth.
Aww thanks Heather …
So beautiful amd a brilliant allegory of what is happening to our old lore and traditions. Many times I find I am trying to explain to many “new agers” how mixed up they have things and undo the damage. Feel like I am a small drip in an ocean though!
I try explaining that you are likely to leave important pieces behind if you treat spirituality like a buffet. also that, you change a thing by interacting with it.
so picking a choosing bits of a culture or spiritual practice without being thorough actually degrades the practice for everyone else.
sometimes they understand. more often they get angry but maybe they’ll think on it later.
Such a wonderful story and more present in this day and age than it has been previously. It has many lessons for us all!
Thank you for sharing.
This is wonderful. Scott! I have wondered about the matter of approbiation and discrimination against Scots traditions and culture. I felt it early in life as a small child. I am glad you stepped forward and are addressing it. Well done!
the idea of second sight is older than the hills in Ireland , get my meaning
This is brilliant and speaks volumes. Ironically, my crow tarot kept telling me speaking to me about materialism, and it harkened back to the message conveyed here. Let us not have our heads and eyes turned to the shininess others present, but to stay true to what resides in us, for us. Thank you!
Beautifully written – you’ve made your case so well. This is going in my wee book of quotes “Guard well leac-theallaich from Magpies. Though make no person unwelcome who seeks your aid”
This is beautifully written, as well as having a poignant message. I have really enjoyed your site and writings. I am new to a more spiritual way of life, but became aware of the issues of appropriation right off the bat. So, as someone of Scottish descent, I’ve found it delightful to have some scholarship and information at my fingertips via this site and it has made me think and tailor my practices to those of “my people” and not someone else’s. Although other cultures have traditions to be appreciated, and a general knowledge of what’s out there in the world context is enlightening, I find it so much more meaningful to tailor my practices to that of my own ancestors. It makes everything more personal and connected. I look forward to more from you!
Thank you! I’m still searching for the words to express my appreciation for your perspective!
Loved your tale…a great bright spot on a stressfully annoying day. Thank you!
Fight the good fight!
if I understand correctly, while annoying, appropriation is theft without substance? And back to your intro, twisting the meaning of second-sight is annoying and risks hiding it even further from those who might find it useful…but the twisting doesn’t affect the reality of second-sight at all?
the thing about the appropriation issue that challenges me most is the idea that people or a group of people can own a spiritual thing of any sort. they can have it but they on’t own it. as my Sun Dance Chief is fond of reminding us, “The Creator didn’t make the good things of life for just some people.” and still, that same wise leader always also tells us wenon-natives are welcome in the lodge but being there will never make us into something we are not (Indians) so we should also seek out the good ways of our own ancestors (to help us be more fully ourselves). Thanks for helping us in that regard and I greatly enjoy the expression of your very creative mind at work.
Hi David, Yeah the appropriation is an issue. A HUGE ISSUE. My definition is this “appropriation as a thing meaning one person profits off the use of another cultures spiritual technology” ( in this instance). That not to say it isn’t there for people to use. There are too many people who believe they are doing and using something they are not because of all the misinformation. There are also people who try to legitimate things they do by claiming heritage, a practice or using a term and a word they don’t have access to. Don’t get me wrong i love cultural exchange which is what you are talking about i think and there is no harm in that. But by exchanging and learning from each other we grow which is lovely. But if all folks are here to do to is to take how can we exchange on an equal footing? You say you offer spiritual pilgrimages here. i find those can also be very problematic unless they are offered as a form of facilitation ie you provide the vehicle to get here and you speak to people who live here and work and practice here in the form of spiritual technology you are exploring and NOT overlay your own practices or have people speak to groups who aren’t part of the land you are visiting. Otherwise its just weird tourism with no real connection ( i have a million and one examples of where this is already happening). That to me is a bit weird and really deafest the purpose of a “pilgrimage” or what have you. Spiritual technology is a form of language or way of communitcating. Its not universal just was Gaelic isn’t universal. I wouldn’t go to a Native American site and speak Scottish spiritual technology there. If i wanted to go and experience that i would work with who ever lives near and practices there. I woudl build community and not become a spiritual tourist. I hope this is what you do with your own company of spiritual experiences otherwise the conversations you are having with our spiritual landscape may not be understood because your spiritual language is different. Also you run the risk of appropriating and commodifying for your won needs.
Hello from Canada. I began this year awakening to my Scottish heritage and your website found me. What a wealth of knowledge. Thank you for sharing.
you’re welcome :)
I loved your story. I am an American also seeking to learn from my Scottish heritage, but on Scottish terms, not mine. Many of us here are familiar with cultural appropriation because of what people in our country have done to the First Nations here. When I first became aware of the Wicca Wheel of the Year and how four holidays were appropriated from Celtic practice with barely any acknowledgement of its origins, I realized that Scottish cultural appropriation was indeed a thing. I like how you compare and contrast Scottish understanding of divinity compared to polytheistic traditions from other cultures. Keep doing what you do!
I empathize with the way you narrated the feeling of loss when one has pieces of their culture stolen. Though, I might argue that many of those who have appropriated said pieces of culture likely were looking for pieces of meaning within their own past and clasped whatever they could find. I’m not saying that it is right or that they can’t be shown their error, but that many are misinformed or misled. I have had much difficulty myself when it comes to finding the traditions and practices of my family’s heritage, in large part due to the actions of the church and government of PEI that allowed my mother and here siblings to be stolen from the island and adopted out to couples in the United States and then change birth records effectively severing our familial connection for several decades and making the task of finding out our heritage heartwrenchingly monumental in the very least. I can understand how someone may be misled by another that seems authoritative in a subject. That said, I definitely agree that those who take pieces and claim ultimate authority for the sake of profit could be viewed as deplorable, especially when willfully spreading lies guised as some mysterious spirituality that only they have the key to… I appreciate those, like you here, that put up an effort to research thoroughly the traditions of the past to both understand the moods and motivations and to share with others who seek similarly. On what is hopefully the lighter side, recent ornithological research might show that magpies are not the thieves of shiny objects that humans think they are, oddly that was in part what motivated me to comment ?. I hadn’t thought I would be sharing my family’s past.
I appreciate this site so much… I was unfortunately not imparted with any ancestral knowledge. My family’s history, in my opinion, appears to be severely whitewashed and hidden by Christianity… seeing as we’re a bunch of red headed McGregor’s and all. I have never felt comfortable taking from culture that isn’t mine unless it is willing given without request, but not knowing what is mine is difficult, not having family to speak openly with regarding such things is difficult. In finding your page (after many days of ‘rabbit holeing’ through historical and scientific papers), It makes sense. Many of the things I find here (especially The Cailleach) hit a spot where research into other culture has been a near miss for me personally; This specifically relates to internal arguments I have had regarding the way of things (which I have been pondering since I can remember). Anyway, I see there hasn’t been any recent comments on this post, however I hope this message finds you well. Thank you for the time you’ve taken in creating this
Thanks Jess!! this feedback is always so nice to hear!!
Am faod mi faighneach, a bheil Gàidhlig agaibh?
Ach beag ach miannach air ionnsachadh :)