Originally posted at http://www.memento-mori.ca/blog/appropriation-symbolism-and-magic-2/

I have a symbolism problem. The problem is, essentially, that the symbols that have a strong resonance for me have meaning derived from a toxic culture. The meanings they have for me that seem so deep and magic(k)al are inextricably linked to cultural appropriation, sexism, racism, ableism, homophobia and all the other memetic toxins of modern WEIRD culture.

It's a problem because even if I could come up with a new symbol that is utterly without historical contextual problems, it would lack two things; first, the communication of an idea, and second, the conceptual relevance for me internally. The reason I want symbols is the conceptual weight and shared information tied up in the symbol.

I first ran into problems with this when I started working out what I wanted from my own Pagan practice. I know I'm not going to recreate a historical Pagan religious practice that will satisfy my inner pedant for accuracy, and I dislike the idea of grabbing a god and redefining it for my own use. So, I tried meditation and divination as a way to grab stuff out of my own subconscious for use. I got a bunch of god-symbol-things to work with that felt really representative of parts of myself to work with.
They're also a bunch of problematic ideas. It turns out that my unconscious mind has a lot of toxic masculinity, racism, etc. seething just below the surface, and tapping in pulled that out, too. For my own use, I've come to terms with that - as long as I acknowledge the problematic aspects and don't start assigning cosmic significance to the kyriarchical shit the inside of my skull has accumulated by growing up in this world.
It gets harder, though, when that starts being something I want to communicate with. I don't have to tell anyone what the god-thing that represents love and dancing and joy looked like when it showed up the first couple times. But if I want to use that concept as something I put out in the world, I need a way to represent the underlying ideas without the problematic imagery my subconscious put on it.
My current problem is around a symbol for something else. I'm an old post-goth, and as such, ancient Egyptian symbolism is something I have history with. Eye of Horus eyeliner and an ankh necklace used to be a visible flag for "people like me". A tribal signifier for a subculture of spooky kids. I've been wearing ankhs on and off since somewhere around the end of high school, so let's say at least 20 years, which is a lot of time on the scale of a person. I'm wearing one now, for that matter.

Beyond the "warning: this person probably likes the Sisters of Mercy" aspect, the ankh has further personal meaning. It's a symbol for the concept of "mystery", for "magic" and "wisdom". Which is a pretty idiosyncratic meaning for an ancient Egyptian symbol representing eternal life.
I can pick apart where it comes from, and how the ankh became both personally significant and where the meaning I have stuck on it accumulated. I like ankhs because they used to be what goths wore, and as a weird kid without a place to belong, that became my way of trying to connect to people I thought of as "like me".
Where did the goths get it? From a general association of Egyptian symbolism with death and the occult that goes back to... The fucking Victorians. Who spent a lot of time and energy ripping up everything old that wasn't nailed down from, among other places, Egypt, and carting it back home. The popularity of mummies, hieroglyphs and the book of the dead all go back to the Victorian cultural imperialism and appropriation. This especially comes into play for the goths with Aliester Crowley, who was a) big on swiping Egyptian symbolism, b) big on talking about stuff from his supposedly secret occult societies and c) liked to talk about how Dark and Wicked he was. Early goth subculture liked referencing Crowley a fair bit, and I'm comfortable pointing some blame at him.
So, I have this idea of what an ankh means for me that is rooted in a cultural context of a wealthy European country looting artifacts and ideas from "the Orient" and repurposing them for its own use. Redefining and claiming ownership of a culture for its exotic appeal. So, exactly the kind of thing that we talk about when we talk about why cultural appropriation is bad.
There is an argument that there's a loophole for ancient Egypt (along with the old gods of Greece and Rome), that it's the artifacts of a dead culture and a vanished religion. The people of Egypt, after all, are primarily either Coptic Christians or Muslims. The ankh isn't a symbol of their faith. My unease remains, though, because the whole *reason* it has meaning for me is that my culture, a few hundred years ago, looted theirs. Egypt still wants the stuff in the British Museum back.
Is there an expiration date on symbols? Can one claim that the two century pedigree of symbolism that gave me my gothic ankh of teen angst and spooky mystery is "enough" history on its own, or that Egyptian ownership of its history doesn't come into play? It feels dodgy.
However, I can't throw off the weight of meaning of half my life. My subconscious keeps pulling out ankhs. My graphic design skills aren't really up to coming up with something unique but still that simple to try to attach meaning to. Basically, if I don't use an ankh, what can I use? I also use a raven/crow for similar meanings, but a) not as visually simple, and b) there are similar problems with appropriation with Canada's First Nations.
Maybe loot the symbols of my own culture? The ones we didn't swipe from someone else. That pretty much leaves me trying to redefine Christianity (at which point I guess I go join the Church of Satan?) or Norse Heathenry, where I run into some reeeealy uncomfortable Nazi shit that I want nothing to do with. Furthermore, the idea that your spirituality is tied essentially to genetic descent is super problematic on its own. There are people who try to claim you can't follow Odin unless you're of pure Germanic descent, and now we're right back at Nazis again.
The question boils down to wanting a symbol with no cultural baggage but with relevance and meaning. Is it possible to come up with a symbol that doesn't have a cultural context? Corporate ad departments work really hard at this. How many random connections of lines and circles remain untrademarked in this age of melancholy elephants?
All of this is a really long whine about how I want a tattoo with an ankh in it that I think looks cool. I want the design on my body, but I don't want to feel guilty about it.
A friend gave me a suggestion to use as a test for appropriation; no matter what, someone will think you're an asshole for it. It's a spectrum with white people at Coachella in feather war bonnets at one end and yoga at the other. So, how many people are you comfortable with thinking you're an asshole? They will always be some. There is no decent place to stand, no symbol without baggage.
I guess the final question is, how much of an asshole do I think I would be for getting that tattoo, and how embarrassed will I be explaining it in 20 years? 

While in Ktown for the weekend, we stayed with the Lizrents. The Lizrents have a cat. A sweet, pretty, stupid cat with long hair. This means that my allergies start to overwhlem whatever anti-allergen I throw at them after a while. To survive, I bring out the nuclear option - stimulants. Pseudoephedrine and caffeine keep me perky and breathing despite the cat.

The downside is that I don't sleep well with all that in my system.

Sunday, I loaded up with tea and advil cold+sinus to get to "normal". Then we left and headed home. By the time we got there, I was bouncing off the walls. My stomach is also unhappy, whether due to turkey or caffeine (or egg nog) I am not sure.

I only got about 4 hours of sleep last night.

Yule vigil (staying up from sunset to sunrise tonight) is going to be *fun*! I'm hitting caffeine now to make it through the day. I don't want to touch stimulants after sunset, since it feels like cheating. If I start nodding off, though, I may cheat with some absinthe.
curgoth: (moon and stars)
( Dec. 19th, 2009 05:46 pm)
Monday is Winter Solstice. I'll be staying up all night to make sure the sun comes back on Tuesday. :)

I'm working Monday, but taking Tuesday off to sleep. We'll see how this goes - I prefer to do the vigil without stimulants since I figure it should be difficult. Given that by the time the sun rises on Tuesday, I'll have been up for more than 25 hours, I may give up and caffinate. Or have absinthe. We shall see.

The plan is to leave work a bit early and get home to do my opening rit at sunrise. Thereafter, I'm not sure what I'm getting up to. I want to hit the festival of lights in Kensington, but I also want to hang out with the "It's not a school night!" Stitch and Bitch crowd.

I'm giving serious thought to dressing up in a robe and my birch bark mask for Kensington, just because. I also think I will rig up a carrying method for a moon jar, since it is effectively captured sunlight in a jar. I'd also like to see how long it lasts on a full charge with the new batteries in it.

Has anyone else been to the festival of lights before? When are the prime hours to be there?
From [livejournal.com profile] thefridayfive

1. What song would you sing to your newborn child? (OR if you already had a child, which song did you sing to him/her?)

Jonathan Coulton's Re: Your Brains, Leonard Cohen's Famous Blue Raincoat and Chelsea Hotel no 2., It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Fishmen...

You know, it's best that I got fixed, really.

2. How do you think animals think? (i.e. in animal language, human language, etc.)

This question is built on a mountain of weird assumptions.

3. As a child, did you have a dream to make a difference in the world? Can you describe your dream?


4. Do you believe in God/a Higher Being?

Yes, but not in the way most people mean it. (Thou art god)
Also, no, not really.

5. Do you believe in aliens?

Yes, but not in the way most people mean it. (Thou art god)
Also, no, not really.

From the [livejournal.com profile] altfriday5:

1. Do you often have songs stuck in your head? Does it bother you? What sort of songs get stuck for you?

Almost always. I have a soundtrack that plays almost constantly. I prefer to have music playing unless I'm doing something else to introduce variety to my mental soundtrack.

2. Do you converse with yourself in your head? How distinct are the pieces (from "I'm alone in there" to "there are several distinct people who inhabit our body")?

All the time. Sometimes the component parts of my personality are extremely distinct.

3. How easy it is for you to do math in your head?

I have to draw it first - I "write" on my mental canvas to do math.

4. How easy is it for you to visualize things in your head?

My mind's eye is as continuous and constant as my soundtrack. I have a continuous head's up display that I always imagine to be somewhere in the region of my forehead that's always got imagery of some kind on it.

5. Anything else we should know about that's going on in your head?

There are probably a few things. That doesn't mean I'm going to tell you what they are. It might help you steal my robot bee!
curgoth: (sick)
( Dec. 29th, 2007 03:54 pm)
I can has Fevar. :/

Weird, fucked up dreams last night, wherein I was ridden by an alien intelligence. It was metal-based, and green-mossy. Sometimes, I just had gods in my head, which was easier since they could at least understand the concept of a human. Fever dreams is spooooky. At least there was no wrestling Pierre Trudeau for the Canadian flag this time.

Fortunately, teh drugs are working, and I have had pretty ladies looking after me.

In other news, I survived grumpmas, spent too much money when I used my gift certs (since I'm here already...), and have been spending nearly all my computer time playing civ 4.

I owe peoples e-mails, which will prolly happen either tonight or tomorrow, depending on intensity of fever.
curgoth: (Ravens)
( Aug. 1st, 2007 12:43 am)
Kscope prep!
Remaining to do;

Make trail mix of proteiny doom
paint toenails
actually drag all this shit to the van

Looking at how much of the space is being taken up by food, we may need to forcefeed people to make sure we can bring [livejournal.com profile] tormenta home!

I'm told the site is pretty full already; [livejournal.com profile] tormenta apparently got us the last space capable of holding 6 people, when one takes into account the palace and gazebo I'm bringing.

Happy discoveries;

  • Found the incense I like hidden on my desk

  • Found my bells!

  • Van secured without problem!

  • Dry ice booked tomorrow morning!

Tomorrow morning, I pick up [livejournal.com profile] mycrazyhair, and we're off!
curgoth: (Default)
( Jun. 21st, 2007 11:54 am)

Survival by Julie Czerneda

Book one of the Species Imperative trilogy. I loved these books. There's romance, but it's not gooey and romance novelly. There's Canada, but it's not "OH LOOK, CANADA!" like a lot of books that are set there are. Good characters, and a pretty good job on aliens that feel alien. I highly recommend these to anyone who likes SF.

Migration by Julie Czerneda

Book 2.

Regeneration by Julie Czerneda

I was so caught up in these books that I skipped ahead; I should have gone on toa "Serious" book here, but I had to finish the series.

The Magician's Reflection by Bill Whitcomb

I came back to this for a few chapters; read a few, and did some exercises. I think on the next burst of work I may come close to finishing. The end result will be a magical system of my own devising to work with. It may not be the system I end up using forever, but it'll be mine.

curgoth: (Default)
( Dec. 25th, 2006 01:09 pm)
I've been remiss at logging my reading...

Probably out of order. I hope I haven't missed anything - among other things, this list is supposed to help prevent me buying books I've already read.

The Hallowed Hunt by Lois Mc Master Bujold

Mmm, Bujold. I really like the theology for this ficton.

The Hidden Family by Charles Stross

Book two in the Merchant Princes series. I liked this one much more than the first, and that's saying something. The main romantic relationship was clarified in a way that covered my problems with it in the first book. Also, Stross manages to make economic theory interesting, and with much fewer words than Neal Stephenson did in his Baroque Cycle.

Accelerando by Charles Stross

Why yes, on my last book store trip I did buy a bunch of Stross. Accelerando is Stross' most direct take on the Singularity and Posthumanism. I want utility fog! I am not sure I want an omnipotent cat, though.

The Atrocity Archive by Charles Stross

Imagine Tim Powers' Declare if written by Neal Stephenson after reading a lot of Lovecraft, in England. British Lovecraftian geek spies. I devoured this one like a Shoggoth, and I'm looking forward to getting my hands on the next book.

Oracle's Queen by Lynn Flewelling

A good, clean end to a good series. I can't stress enough how much I enjoy fantasy series that actually end, these days. Yes, there are unanswered questions and unexplored story gems. That's fine - those are different stories. Good stories need to have endings.

Making Comics by Scott McCloud

So much goodness! I leanred a lot, and will likely re-read this periodically as I make my glacial progress on my own comics experiments over on [livejournal.com profile] mrdeth. I really need to get ahold of McCloud's other two books.

The Magician's Reflection by Bill Whitcomb

An examination of symbolism in a magical context, with the aim of developing systems of symbols for a magical system. I've been getting a lot out of this, but I have had to put it down for a while to read other things.

Techniques of Chaos Magic by Joseph Max

The nice thing about online works is how easily they are downloaded to my futurephone. This is worth reading if you've any interest in Chaos magic.

If I can finish off the book I'm currently reading (American Backlash: The Untold Story of Social Change in The United States), I'll have made 20 books this year, which is a decent showing for me in a year where I've read this many non-fiction books.
curgoth: (Default)
( Dec. 22nd, 2006 08:15 am)
I made it - from sunset to sunrise, I stayed awake and kept vigil over the light through the longest night. The Wolf didn't eat the sun while it was gone, and the Sun King made it back. I may have a more coherent report on the night, but I need more sleep to do that, I think. However, the sun is up, and I'm hungry. I think I'll wait for [livejournal.com profile] neeuqdrazil to wake up and see if I can talk her into going for breakfast.
A story/myth/something inspiried by my drive in this morning. Were I
less tired, this might be better written.

The Daughters of the Storm God )
curgoth: (thorn-crowned sun)
( Jun. 21st, 2006 10:19 am)
Happy Solstice to all who care about such things. It's the first day of summer and the longest day of the year. (5:36 to 21:03 in Toronto, according to the government).

A bit about what it means to me, and what I am planning to do about it )
Yet again, the gym saves the day. I seem to be out of the pit of depression, for now - the fact that I am having upswings in mood suggests things are getting back to better. There is still brain work to do to make this state sustainable, but I am in a place where I can start to hope again.

Now, about the workout )
Dear universe,

Are you fucking with me?

I really need to be careful to be very, very precise when I think "Hey, what I really need is...", because the universe tends to provide what I ask for. Leaving out, of course, certain key details.

Mutant power still appears to be in effect. Should really look into substituting mutant power for actual social skills and/or personality.
I had been thinking earlier that the kitchen really needed to be cleaned, especially the top of the stove.

It is now much cleaner.

In such ways does the universe move through us. In my solipsistic philosophy, much of what we call "fate" is our own unconscious minds acting through us.

So I get to blame both fate and myself.

On the plus side, the apples are tasty, and not filled with glass.
curgoth: (Default)
( Apr. 26th, 2005 07:57 pm)
SourceryForge A wiki for the more mystically inclined. Also includes a Tarot reading gizmo that lets you do things like this;

curgoth: (moon and stars)
( Nov. 15th, 2004 08:11 pm)
I made myself a new icons; this is the image I am planning to get tattooed on the inside of my wrists. I figured that I needed a moon-yin-female symbol to balance out the sun-yang-male thorn crowned suns on my shoulders. The image isn't perfect, but it's close enough that, by the time I get around to getting it done (there are some ravens that want to be on my back first), I should be pretty settled with it.
today, I tried something different )


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