You might not think this is something I need to devote a whole WordPress article to. I respectfully disagree.
Recently I went out drinking with some friends. Over the course of the evening it came out that I regard the Diamondback rattlesnake as my spirit animal. I did, after all, name my sword after it. One of these friends asked if that wasn’t “cultural appropriation.” I politely explained what I said up there in the title of this article.
It happens to be true, of course. But I also happen to know that further left along the political spectrum, that’s not good enough.
A few words on my family’s heritage. We’re actually majority German, with a smattering from Baden-Württemberg through Sachsen and Bayern, as well as some Prussian influence which I have been guilty of overestimating in years past. In my defense, I really like Prussia. It’s actually kind of creepy. As in, “I have the flag of the Königreich Preußen on my closet door next to my bed” creepy. After that (if you couldn’t tell) the next largest line is Scots, followed by Irish and then a smidgen of Polish. Even the fact that I can tell you this much is conspicuous; many don’t know remotely as much.
Now, I don’t know about Poland, but Scotland, Ireland and Germany all have plenty of historical examples of animal worship. We know this because the Romans really enjoyed bringing such things up as a point of superiority. Except that the Roman Empire had a spirit animal: the Eagle. You don’t need to know that much about the Romans to know that every Legion had an Eagle standard. If it was captured in battle, the Legion was dissolved unless it could be recovered.
If determining military organization and strategy (“recovery” often meant “kill the people who stole the standard”) based on whether you have access to a pole and cloth mounted with a particular gold sculpture of a fricking bird isn’t animism, I don’t know what is. Just because the Romans didn’t constantly refer to it that way doesn’t mean it wasn’t a spirit animal. You may mention at this point that most people don’t have that association with the world “spirit animal;” they hear it and assume a Native American connection.
And this is my fault how? If anything, the ones to be blamed for this are those who insist on bringing up the Native Americans every time they hear this phrase. This is despite the fact that the concept behind it is universal. In any case, the fact that they have that association doesn’t invalidate my heritage. And that’s what we’re talking about here. I seem to speak lightly of it at times, but I take this rather seriously (I also speak lightly of my own death, if you haven’t noticed). I chose the Diamondback both for traits in it that I admire, and for negative ones I see in myself. The Diamondback, like a skilled swordsman, strikes and recovers with lightning speed using most or all of its body. When threatened, it first gives warning, then strikes, much as a swordsman may choose to free up or lay a hand on his sword before drawing it. Yet, like myself, the Diamondback can be too quick too attack. It lashes out without taking time to understand whether it is truly under threat or not. It causes injury where it doesn’t have to happen, and makes enemies where none existed before.
If a Native American used this term, most either wouldn’t think about it at all or they’d assume this careful analysis and personal significance already existed. I use it, and they assume that I’m some New-Age crystal therapy advocate with five dream-catchers to a room. Well, I can’t appropriate this bit of culture, this comes from mine. The Germans, the Gauls, and yes, the Scots and Irish have all used animals like the bear, the wolf and indeed the eagle as icons in the past. Berserkers, druids, and the like used to do this as much as any pagan culture on the planet. Just because it’s not popular now doesn’t invalidate it. If some aspect of my heritage speaks to me, am I seriously expected to relinquish it just because those before me haven’t maintained it?
Regardless your answer, I will not.
I’ll be the first to tell you how abominable the U.S. government’s treatment of Native Americans was and remains. Letting others take my own ancestry away from me is not going to change that, though. And to be honest, it’s very difficult for me to take attempts to do so as useful. If you’re concerned about Native Americans and their situation in these United States, making donations or talking to people about their struggles for land and economic standing are a lot more meaningful than pouncing on anyone who identifies strongly with a certain animal. No matter what the stated intention is, this just functions to drag other groups down. Native Americans are not helped by this, and the “punished” demographic don’t necessarily learn anything either.
That’s actually a theme I’ve begun to notice in social justice discourse, one I’ll likely address in a longer post soon.