Beloved guests, you don’t have to follow a particular religion in order to be respectful to it. And boy howdy if you’re going to make something associated with any particular religion you need to have a lot of respect for it. Today we’re going to break down the bare bones of what that looks like with a very specific project plan.
A friend of mine posted on a popular social media site that she was considering buying a Tallit. She posted a couple links of things she was looking at. She is someone I am rather fond of and so I offered to weave her one custom. As a gift. Because I believe sacred objects should be gifted not sold. I did agree to let her buy the silk for me to make it with because well, I’ve been dealing with a lot of Life lately and I’m broke and living on my own for the first time. So lets break down how to make this, shall we?
Step 1: Research.
Know what you want to make. Read up on it, ask people whom it is sacred to why it is sacred. What makes it holy? What are the parts? Are their parts that are more holy than others? Is there something that you just should NOT make/touch as someone who doesn’t follow the faith or cultural practice in question? Is there something that HAS to be there? Is there a specific thing that CAN NOT be there?
If the answer is “do not make this thing. Do not wear this thing. Do not do this thing in this way” honor that. Full stop, no buts, end of discussion, thanks for coming to my TED talk. It’s not yours, you’re not entitled to it because it looks cool.
In my case the questions I had were:
What is a Tallit? Short answer: A Jewish prayer shawl.
What should I not make as someone who is not Jewish? The tassels. Those are extra sacred and I’m not comfortable putting those on.
Is it still going to be sacred if I (a not Jewish person) make it? Yes if it’s blessed by a Rabbi after I make it, before it’s used.
Is there anything I CAN NOT do to make it? YES do not mix wool and linen. No mixing fibers. That’s bad. So pure silk it is. Just avoiding the possibility of wool/linen mixing or the question of if a cotton blend is ok. Silk is good.
Other than that the person it’s a gift for signed off on the colors and design. So we’re good there.
Step two: Is the faith practice you’re making or the culture you’re working from still alive and active?
If so then you really Really need to talk to people who actually practice and make sure you’re not stepping on toes. If not, look at why. If it suffered a violent death or was stomped out rather than just faded with time? Maybe skip this project.
In my case, yes this is still a very Very alive and active and vibrant faith. So I sought out a couple other folks who practice it aside from the friend this is for to check and make sure this was really alright.
Step three: Be brutally honest with yourself for why you want to make it.
Are you looking to convert? Did you marry into this faith or cultural practice? Is it a gift for someone who follows it? Are you attempting to authentically reenact a specific place and time where this would have been ubiquitous? Are you looking to create something challenging and display it with the appropriate context and research?
Do you want something pretty without context? Did you see someone wearing it and decided you needed to have it for fashion sake? Is it Halloween and you think it’d be great to dress up as another faith/culture? These are all signs you should really skip this project. No matter how pretty it comes out, you’re skirting the edge if not diving headlong into, cultural appropriation here. And that’s just a poor life choice my darling dear. That being said, I can’t stop you. No one really can. I’m not your parent or legal guardian and you’re more than likely not a child. But still. If you persist that path you’re getting a hell of a lot of side eye.
For this Tallit I wanted to make something pretty to celebrate a friend finishing converting to the faith that makes her heart sing. I wouldn’t make it for myself, and (pretty as it’s going to be because SILK) I’ve got no temptation to keep it. I was told the tassels are the most sacred part so I’m not going to make those, I’m going to leave that bit for her or her Rabbi to do.
Out of steps but reflecting on my own actions like a halfway human critter
My persona in the SCA is a Christian woman. She’s a Saxon. She’d at the very least have been culturally Christian, whether she believed the dogma or not. I am, well suffice to say I am not a Christian, devout or otherwise. So where does that leave me? I cover my hair, and wear long sleeved dresses, just like a proper Saxon lady would. The bible speaks on covering hair and dressing modestly. Am I failing my own test here? Can I reasonably assess that, given my own bias towards assuming what I’m doing is ok?
Lets try to break it down and see what I can do differently.
How much do I wear that is actually religious? I veil myself, and wear long sleeves. I don’t wear anything with a cross, or a saint’s face, or an associated animal or symbol. At least not on purpose or knowingly. Veiling and long sleeves are not confined to Christianity, and it is almost, if not, impossible to break out the garb of my chosen era from veils and long sleeves. I can’t do Saxon and ditch them. Therefore I’m calling them cultural rather than sacred.
Is my chosen culture still alive? If not how did it die? No. It is not still an active culture. Fucking Normans and Vikings. I have to rely on books, engravings, and whatever we can dig out of the ground. I can’t actually ask if the veil is sacred or cultural. I just have to assume and er on the side of caution.
What can I do differently? Not much that I can see. I don’t invoke God, I don’t carry a bible or prayer book, and I don’t wear religious jewelry. I think I just need to stick with that and put more careful consideration into any pieces I add to my kit.
So I think I’m doing ok? If not, let me know.