Archive | May 2014

Talking About the Elephant

talking elephantTalking about the Elephant by Lupa is an anthology of essays on neopagan perspectives on cultural appropriation. The essays cover various paths from Celtic Reconstructionism to Egyptian mysteries to eclectic paganism.

Cultural appropriation is where members of a dominant culture take sacred aspects of another culture and appropriate them for aesthetic purposes. A good, and recent, example is white people wearing traditional American Indian headdresses. Each feather in a warbonnet means the person wearing did something. It’s like wearing medals you didn’t earn. Members of the tribes of American Indians are very vocal about the appropriation of their sacred rites, such as dream quests and sweat lodges, and the people who use them without understanding the culture. They make the very valid point that religion is about community and you can’t separate the practice from the life.

Neopagans draw from any religions going – including the dominant Abrahamic religions – and they do it with the full range of motivations. Some neopagans are all about community and some are all about the individual connection with the divine. These essays are from people practicing various paths and talk about their experiences of cultural appropriation. In many cases, that means working through a rationalization for doing whatever you want and not feeling guilty about it. There is an interesting discussion about academic bias and lots of tidbits about various traditions and where symbols are derived from. While the essays are engaging and, I believe, genuinely try to tackle the issue, this anthology feels like it failed to get to grips with it.

I don’t know what the answer is here. I understand the desire not to give up the objects and activities that you’ve become attached to and have a connection with. I also feel that’s it’s not enough to say, well it’s ok to violate the living culture of a people who have been colonised and are still experiencing oppression so long as you do it respectfully. Maybe, the answer is to address the social issues that make cultural appropriation so harmful.

The Borgias and their Enemies 1431-1519

borgias I’ve been watching the series The Borgias and enjoying it enough to want to find out more about the actual Borgias. Because, you know, TV tends not to be terribly historically accurate and I was curious to know what it was all based on.

There’s not a lot out there, unless you want to pay thirty quid for something very academic. Christopher Hibbert’s book had good reviews so I chose that. It covers a large period of history and is a relatively short book, so it is necessarily superficial.

It covers the election of Rodrigo Borgia to Pope and gives some interesting background on the state of the papacy in the fifteenth century. We tend to forget just how corrupt the system was, just how tied into the political power-broking of the time. There’s a section about Cesare and his military exploits. And finally something about Lucrezia. It focuses quite heavily on her ability to rule and the fact that Rodrigo often entrusted the running of the Vatican to her rather than any of the Cardinals.

It was interesting and a very easy read. Certainly, a decent place to start. It wasn’t quite what I was looking for though. I think I wanted something that took apart all the juicy, salacious rumours about the Borgias and separated fact from fiction. I think I was also looking for something more in depth about the personalities involved. I guess I might have to shell out for one of those more academic books after all.

Body Double

Body Double by Tess Gerritsen is a Rizzoli and Isles mystery. body doubleA woman is killed in a car and she looks just like Maura Isles. Naturally, she’s shaken by this and responds by investigating the case. Isles is adopted and so it’s entirely possible the victim is related to her.

In the course of finding out who the murdered woman is, Isles meets a policeman who had been the victim’s lover and who develops a (slightly creepy) attachment to Isles. She and Rizzoli also discover some truly horrible crimes going back decades.

I don’t want to give the plot away. It’s nicely twisted and the connections are surprising. Gerritsen is a solid writer who creates believable characters. I enjoyed this, as I’ve enjoyed all of her books, and if you like thrillers, then you’ll like this.