Rant re: Your Native American Totem meme

Waning Wolf Moon (Age:  18 days)
Sign: Virgo
Weather: bitter cold, lake effect snow

I've seen this meme flying around Facebook. I'm pretty sure it is on other social media platforms too. It is a click-quiz that proposes to determine what your "Native American Totem" is. I've seen several variations of this meme over the last few years (if not longer) and I am rapidly hitting a point where I want to poke people with a stick for posting it. I recognize that all things Native American are popular in fashion and pop culture right now. Their version of Native American chic is a repulsive lampooning of these dignified cultures and should be rejected.

I can understand if someone who is fairly new to the idea of animal spirit guides latches on to the idea that the Native Americans know more about it then the rest of us. It is intimidating to start researching spirit guides, especially when you come at it from an angle that doesn't seem to have much going on from your background (for example Asatru doesn't really have an official line on animal spirit guides). It is tempting to use something from another background because it is 'ready made' and can theoretically be applied by most anyone with a minimal amount of research.

There is, however, a big problem with that. It is called cultural appropriation. This is when someone assumes elements from another culture into their own activities with out any sensitivity or consideration for the original source of the material. A fine example of this, with the Native American cultures, is the use of warbonnets as a fashion prop. For the cultures that warbonnets originate from (and by the way, the Native Americans have multiple cultures and its an idiot who thinks there is only one), a warbonnet is both formal military dress and military honors. Wearing a warbonnet as a fashion statement is like putting on a full formal USMC uniform with a bunch of ribbons and medals that you not only haven't earned but you're not even remotely attached to the USMC and wearing it. Sadly, however, there are people who feel that stealing things such as warbonnets and wearing them for fashion are appropriate because the cultures they are taking from are 'defeated.'

There is a lot wrong with the idea of stealing from another culture. It is even more offensive when you are doing so from one that has suffered mightily at the hands of the 'dominant' culture. It is rubbing salt into those old wounds after forcibly reopening them whilst denying that there is anything wrong with that behavior. It is utterly callous and disgusting to do so. Now, there are ways to borrow elements from another culture with out engaging in cultural appropriation. When the elements adopted are done so from a position of respect and scholarship, it makes it possible for the person adopting those elements to do so in a manner that honors the original culture.

Now, some people may be wondering if an animal spirit guide is the sole property of the Native American cultures. While the concept is heavily influenced by how scholars (both professional and hobbyist) interpret the concepts from Native American cultures, the modern take on animal spirit guides really has developed into something different and unique to our time. While it is tempting to say that these ideas are for the really serious modern shamans, the modern understanding of animal spirit guides is fairly accessible to most anyone. The people who apply the label 'Native American' to these concepts (which are what is pretty much always shown in these memes) do so out of an attempt to 'legitimize' the concept by associating it with an older culture and earlier era.

This, however, is not necessary. I have friends who are modern, urban shamans that work with animal guides all the time. They don't paint things in the terms of 'Native American' anything because they don't need to. What they are using works with out any need to 'legitimize' it. While they recognize that there are some common elements between the animal guides of Native American cultures, they own the fact that what they are working with is a product of our society and era, of our culture. And that is more then ok.

I just wish that more people took that approach, to be honest.

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