With apologies to Mr Worf.
Both botanicas I visited in Little Havana the other week had staff that either only spoke Spanish or at least only spoke Spanish to me. They also didn't speak French (I tried) because my Spanish is worse than my Chinese. In the second botanica, the woman behind the counter presumably asked me why I was after such incongruous and weirdly specific items. I managed to get across that I live in London and they don't have stores like this over there and that I'm doing a resupply. She laughed overly hard and agreed they do not have stores like this in London.
They also do not have botanicas in Sydney. But -having a much larger Chinese population than Hispanic- they do have the Leung Wai Buddhist Craft and Joss Stick Trading Company (which would be a good name for a band). I bought everything here for years. Everything. It has changed locations since I found it as a teenager playing hooky from school in Newcastle and having hopped the train to Sydney to smoke cigarettes and pretend to be an adult. Back then it was dusty, dark and dirt cheap.
As a kid with no money and no access to genuine occult supplies, my patronage of Leung Wai was right at that sweet spot where appropriation meets necessity. The choice was either to not do magic or to do the best I could with what was available to me. (Chaos magic, innit?) Walking up and down the aisles, I wondered whether only having access to Chinese folk magical supplies impacted my practice in any way. It probably didn't to begin with... I needed statues to house spirits and this angry looking Chinese beardy man will have to do... and I needed incense and I hope everybody likes those yellow joss sticks because that's what was on the menu. (Except when spices bought at Coles could be used with briquettes and not make my eyes water.)
Now I'm not so sure. Because it is the season, this post almost carried the title "death money bitches!" Here's why:
Three aisles of combustible spirit offerings. Three. And I will just say it and take the heat. I use death money out of its original context. I have appropriated it. When I can get it -and my suitcase now looks like a prop for a short film about Asian drug dealers- I use it for my ancestors, for the Dead, for other spirits.
Can I justify this? I'm not sure I need to but here's an attempt at doing so: Australia has taken a while to come to terms with its geography but most people will now agree that it 'is' a Southeast Asian country. Sydney has had a large Asian -and specifically Chinese- population for more than a century and has one of the world's best Chinatowns. Sydney's magic is Chinese in the same way New Orleans's magic is African: "yes, kinda, no, kinda... there are other influences but that is probably more right than wrong."
There's more. Leung Wai has certainly become a lot more invitational and practical over the years. When I first shopped there it really was all about the giant Kuan Yin statues for Chinese homes. Now there are walls and walls of charms; astrological ones, Buddhist ones, Taoist ones. There were less back then but most of my luck and wealth talismans were derived from Chinese folk magic. Now these charms are about a third of the whole store.
And they have explanations in English! Got an exam coming up? Need a promotion? Just duck into Leung Wai and talk to one of the attendants. I cannot tell you how happy this makes me for all the weirdo honky kids of Sydney. This is folk magic specifically targeted at a wider market. This is a mutation of original forms into delivery systems that match a city's host culture and practices. This is Sydney hoodoo. (Unclench your buttcheeks, you know what I mean.)
Last month Kalagni posted about tulpa appropriation. He doesn't know this but I am pretty sure the only thing stopping us from being besties is geography. Over the years, Jason has also pointed out that tulpas are not the same thing as thought forms and you probably shouldn't use the word interchangeably. They're both correct, of course, but I think the ship has sailed. As a seasoned appropriator, let me provide some consolation. I don't think the use of the word 'tulpa' in western monoculture is appropriation because it differs too dramatically from its original meaning.... I think it is 'semantic drift'. I think the word has come over, not the concept. Words do that all the time, even between English language countries.
Terence McKenna once said "if it's real, it can take the pressure." Accidental appropriators find out when they have gone too far because Tapu. We possibly need to choose our battles. Once something has appeared on Supernatural we aren't getting it back.
I take my appropriated loot to the counter and the sales boy smiles and asks me if I know how all this stuff works. I resist the temptation to ask "do you?" because thirty thousand years later and we still don't know how magic works. But I know what he means. Then he asks if I would like little explanation cards for each of my purchases. Some of them are gifts so I say yes to a few of them. He pulls out an enormous folder that I am sadly familiar with because it is the kind you have when you collect trading cards. He flicks through the pages and pulls out a couple of explanations in English.
Amazing. This is neither the store nor the city I knew as a kid. It is so much better.