Eclecticism or Incompetence?

May 11, 2012

I went to a spiritual event recently that’s been troubling me. It was sortof Native American, pulling in concepts from disparate tribes, but then it included elements of Wicca, without any mention of goddesses or gods. The boundaries of witchcraft were approached but safely skirted while popularized tribal practices were incorporated out of context. I struggled with the question of whether I found the pageant more embarrassing or offensive.

I have a high tolerance for unorthodoxy, a respect for creativity and a cautious appreciation for those who can seamlessly synthesize shamanic practices across cultures, but the effect of this particular ceremony was chaotic. Nothing was meshing well, and the whole thing left me feeling rather flat.

What a lot of people call eclecticism can be called other names: appropriation, lack of cohesion, dilettantism, laziness, fear of witchcraft, disrespect, not knowing better. It’s one thing to study one or more traditions in depth and gradually incorporate other elements; it’s another to jumble things together with no understanding of context. A spiritual practice is not a shopping cart; you can’t just grab what strikes your fancy from every aisle. Or you can, but you won’t get very far with it.

2 thoughts on “Eclecticism or Incompetence?”

  1. This is part of the reason that I’ve been shying away from the word “eclectic” lately.  People tend to assume being “eclectic” means you just pick and choose what you want without any regard for where it came from, and what you’ve described is why people tend to think that.

    A lot of people don’t seem to understand that everything has cultural context behind it.  And I’ve noticed this happening with Native American cultures, especially.  People will lump a bunch of stuff that’s even vaguely Native and refer to it as Native American (as if Native Americans all share one culture) or apply it to one specific tribe (Navajo turns up in this way a lot).

    I agree, this type of thing is more appropriation than eclecicism.

    1. In medicine they use the term “integrative,” which emphasizes the determination to maintain a certain perspective. Whether you agree with that perspective or not, it does avoid the pitfalls of “pick and choose.”

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