Cultural Appropriation

At the heels of Episode #4 on syncretic religious practices, now let’s chat about cultural appropriation. Or is it misappropriation? I get just as confused by the lingo as the next lay person.

In this video, I chat with you about some of my latest thoughts on the topic of cultural appropriation, but focused narrowly on cultural appropriation as it would pertain to religious or spiritual practices.

So this isn’t going to cover cultural appropriation in the fashion industry, in the naming of sports teams, or when commodifying a minority culture to the point of objectification. I’m speaking specifically about adopting the religious or spiritual practices of a culture that isn’t necessarily one that’s part of your DNA.

By the way, I addressed the issue in one of the closing chapters of The Tao of Craft, in Chapter 12. As a preview of the book, you can read the entire chapter right here on my website. Scroll down that page until you get to the PDF link, “A Note on Cultural Appropriation.”


“Bell Chimes In” is about discourse, or at least that is my hope and intentions for the video series. It’s about me chiming in on a topic oft talked about, with my own perspective, opinions, or hypothesis, and with that, continuing the conversation on that topic. So I hope you’ll join in.

What are your thoughts on cultural appropriation?

Now it’s your turn to chime in, whether that’s as a comment, your own blog post, or a VR video response. Even if you don’t chime in publicly, perhaps this episode and my “Bell Chimes In” series can serve as personal prompts for reflecting more incisively on these topics for yourself.

9 thoughts on “Cultural Appropriation

  1. That was so interesting (which is really such an inadequate word) as I had been so busy studying different beliefs and religions to expand my awareness of how different people approach this business of being alive I had never thought about the skin colours of who I was going to to learn from. Now I am wondering if that is because I am suffering from white arrogance. I surely hope not.
    Thank you so much for your talks. I really appreciate them


    1. I don’t consider it “arrogance”, more like “only knowing what you personally experienced”. We all have to take care of ourselves first before we can be functional enough to consider others. Some people are more habitual in caring for others, some are not. Sometimes we are so wrapped up in our heads that we don’t see what going on outside and it takes an attention grabbing lesson or bit of information to push us out to smell the roses. (I often get so obsessed with certain things in my head that human and spiritual friends have to try really hard to pull me away and help me gain perspective on the situation)
      I am thankful that Benebell Wen made this wonderful video which has caught your attention and gotten you to consider the experiences of other people and what it has to do with your life path and your choices. Btw I love her videos also 😀 this one came at a perfect time for what had been happening around me.
      I feel like the experienced we encounter first hand, and what we learned and adopted growing up, can “limit us” in a sense, but we don’t have to only live within those limits, we can choose to look and grow beyond what was arbitrarily placed in our environment. Things an both limit us and set a foundation for our paths, it is a matter of perspective and also how we choose to interact with the knowledge and resources we were given. It is like a Tarot card that can have all sorts of meanings, but in the end, it is what We get out of the message and How we work with it.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Pingback: List of 2017 Bell Chimes In Episodes – benebell wen

  3. Adalbert Sarrazin

    From the debate about cultural appropriation is the idea of restricted symbols – items that righteously raise anger or at least discomfort when appropriated outside their culture of origin (

    How do the idea of restricted symbols would apply to Fu sigils creation by westerners ?
    Restricted symbols are « restricted items in specific cultures […] These items cannot be legitimately possessed or imitated by just anyone, as they represent achievements earned according to a specific criteria ». Exemples from the Western world would be « military medals, Bachelor degrees (the actual parchment), and certain awards representing achievement in literary, musical or other fields.»

    Many insist that to avoid cultural misappropriation, as you cleverly call it, when someone adopts a cultural practice, one must also be aware and « respect » the significance of the gestures and the context in which that practice is lived in the culture of origin.

    To stick within the field of spirituality and fetch an exemple from my own culture, it would be considered bad taste if I was to garb myself in full catholic priest regalia while doing public tarot readings, even if I was to justify myself by saying that I respect and assume fully the significance and meaning of those garments and that they really add to my spiritual practice.
    In my culture, that’s definitely not OK to garb yourself in a chasuble if you are not an ordained priest. At best I would be considered as a lunatic and at worst guilty of a disrespectful sacrilege.

    So I was worrying if there is any idea of « restricted practice » in the making of Fu sigils in Asia. I understand that we are no longer in the era of daoshi or « Fulu Pai » when the craft was restricted to special lineages.

    I have read maybe a dozen times your chapter on cultural appropriation… (to the risk of breaking the back of your book); it’s carefully thought and one’s gets the impression that many ideas are only hinted at… for example it seems that you went through the same struggling many westerners do when wanting to legitimise oneself for appropriating something they don’t feel is completely theirs by right or birth (« what does being ‘asian enough’ mean », indeed).

    I understand that there is a current of self-righteous ethics in tarot, allowing many to say and do anything they please as long as it is done with sincerity and corresponds to their personal faith system (in contrast to other authors who stick to « tradition » and would not be caught saying anything that doesn’t come from at least a two centuries old textbook).
    Same from practitioners of the Craft who adhere to the wiccan rede (An it harm none do what ye will). Those attitudes call for highly individualistic, personal ethics that need not to answer to anybody. And it’s damn’ convenient too, not having to answer to anybody or not having to ask « permission » before appropriating a cultural practice.

    I appreciate your encouragement to craft Fu sigils in the privacy and confort of our own home, but allow me to ask you, since you are our resident expert, if the public crafting of Fu sigils for money would be frown upon by the bigger segments of the population from where this practice is commonly experienced.

    By specifying « publicly » and «for money » I am conscious of crossing a double line here. Asking money for spiritual services is still an uneasy idea for me – I was raised catholic and those services are supposely free… tarot reading being an exception since it was (and still is) perceived as a fringe activity (and is still illegal in Canada if you present it as anything else than pure entertainment). I was told that in some parts of Asia (Singapore, for instance), paying temples or monks for sigils tailored to your needs is accepted (or maybe even the only way to obtain that service). In Japan, you pay for O-fuda (or are those payments donations ?) and there are even vending machines for Omikuji divination (even if the deep significance of that practice implies the participation of a kami – deity of the temple – it seems kamis are not bothered by that use of modern technology). And of course any tarot reader worth its salt would ask payment for his services.

    So what about Fu sigil Craft ? Could a secular westerner offer those services as a complement of tarot readings ? How spread are those « social constructs that still hold on to the belief that only an ordained priest or priestess (??) of a recognised Taosit lineage can craft a Fu sigil» ? I would not want to do that and discover after a few years that I was guilty of the equivalent of being caught in public, wearing a native headdress while garbed in a gothic chasuble (yeah, you can laugh at this mental image)..

    I have the uttermost respect for your work, please don’t see my somehow ironic comments as a jab against you or your practices, it’s just my clumsy attemps as using English which is for me a second language.


    1. Hi Adalbert: If you don’t mind, instead of responding here, I’d like to respond in a future “Bell Chimes In” video. Hope that is all right with you. =) I have a lot to say on this topic in response to many of the sub-inquiries you brought up so I’m thinking a video might be the best way to answer. ❤


      1. Adalbert Sarrazin

        That’s perfectly fine, although according to your schedule, I would have to wait until somewhere in 2018 😉
        Anyway, I feel already priviledged to obtain an answer from you.

        In the meantime, here are two resources that I found to be of interest (amistd tons of readings I’ve done), even if I don’t totally share their point of view. They are centered around native or north-american indigenous culture and may not totally apply to an asian context.

        The first concerns mainly material culture for creators and designers (aren’t we all ?) and advocates to work in collaboration with representatives of the culture you want to borrow from… and ideally representatives still living in their original communities. Which can be a problem when you want to borrow from litterally the other side of the world… but maybe no so much of a problem considering modern means of communications:
        Think Before You Appropriate

        Click to access think_before_you_appropriate_jan_2016.pdf

        The second is particularly interesting because it adresses the question of spirituality, which is unusual in discussions about cultural appropriation. Again, not everything may apply to asian issues, but the author’s conclusion matches yours in a thrilling and uncanny way : « I hope that you might trust in our ability to do our own spiritual work, trust that we can find a way to do it with each other. I ask you to believe with me that the spirit is here in our midst.» :
        When Spiritual Searching Turns Into Cultural Theft

        Click to access wantingtobendn-read.pdf

        I understand you already have your own answers and I wouln’t pretend to teach you anything, but maybe some reader interested in the subject may find those worthy of their attention.


  4. Adalbert Sarrazin

    Some cultures are, understandably, more sensitive to the commercialisation of their culture than others.
    Some people have less tact about it too… until they are caught red-handed. Here is an exemple :

    IMHO, Benebell’s book (Tao of Craft) shows a great sensitivity and respect for the traditions she refers to and its value is invaluable for people like us interested in this stuff. Her care and attitude as an author makes respect ooze from the printed page to our own practices. Would have she decided not to publish it by fear of cultural misappropriation, it would have been a great loss.

    Looking forward for the broadcast!


  5. Pingback: Cultural Integration and the Prisca Theologia – benebell wen

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s