Hi everyone, today I want to talk about a very serious issue, one that has become so prevalent that is has forced people off social media, got people gaslit and cancelled, and honestly has reached a point that many people are scared to even ask questions. What is this issue? Well dear reader, that would be cultural appropriation. While this is a massive issue, it has touched our own community here as well, and within the witchcraft community specifically, carries it’s own form of miscommunication, inability to see reason, and has caused members of this very community to either leave, or start spreading their misinformation. So without further ado, let’s stop pretending this is not an issue, and instead, deal with this head on.
First and foremost, let’s start with what exactly cultural appropriation is. Wikipedia defines cultural appropriation as “the inappropriate adoption of an element or elements of one culture or identity by members of another culture or identity”. So let’s break this down, what does this mean? It means that if you are taking part of another culture or identity that is not your own, without the consent of that culture, you are participating in cultural appropriation. An example of this would be someone practicing Voodoo that has not been initiated into it by a member of that religion/culture. As you can imagine, that alone would be problematic, however it goes so much deeper within the witchcraft communities for multiple reasons. While witchcraft is an art and a craft, quite often it is also closely tied to religion, which is near and dear to most people’s heart. I mean, let’s be honest, how would you feel if you found out someone was practicing your religion without doing any of the research, leg work, or being invited to participate?
This is where the idea of closed practices come from. What is a closed practice you might ask? It is a form or type of witchcraft or other magical art that is associated with a culture that has been oppressed. This could be the Native American practices, the hoodoo and voodoo cultures, the Oshun, even Gardnerian Wicca is technically a closed practice as you need to go through a lengthy initiation ceremony to practice it. The reason we consider these closed practices is for one of two reasons, either because it is a religion that needs and initiation to practice (such as Wicca) or because the members of that culture have had so much taken from them, we let them choose who practices it out of respect (such as the Native American practices).
There are many reasons we should not practice closed practices without permission, from basic human decency and respect to the fact that it can be extremely dangerous. During the times of history that people were being persecuted, many chose not to write down information of their practice out of fear of it leading to a death sentence. As such, a lot of the information we have nowadays is given word of mouth, usually through the advancement of various degrees within the culture, also marking important life milestones. This is why it is never a good idea to try any closed practice without being initiated into it, there is a very good chance you are missing important cultural (and even safety) information. For instance, Voodoo uses certain compounds that can be highly poisonous when not used properly. Isn’t it more important to learn these things from the people that practice it themselves, while showing respect to them and who they are, than by taking a gamble of trying a spell found in a book on Amazon that promises the world?
Culture versus Nature
One of the other biggest topics I have seen, especially online, is people saying you can or cannot use a certain herb, stone, etc because it is considered cultural appropriation. This has gone to such a degree that people say you cannot use sage or read the Tarot as they are closed practices (hint hint, they are not). Dear reader, if I see another post about how people cannot use white sage, I think I will simply scream. White sage, in fact any of the 1,000 species of sage (yes it is a 1,000, I looked it up), is perfectly fine to use! It comes from nature, it is not owned by man, is not created by him, and frankly is a very powerful cleansing item. This goes for everything from nature! No stone, herb, animal, or anything found naturally in nature can be considered cultural appropriation. They can be used by ANYONE. That being said, the difference comes into play based on how you use the items. Using white sage to cleanse a room? That’s fine. Using white sage to smudge a room? That is not as smudging is a sacred practice that involves a lot of other herbs, stones, and chants and belongs to the Native Americans cultures.
Now the other important thing to remember, and another big topic of conversation that typically goes along with cultural appropriation, is sourcing. This is a conversation that typically goes hand in hand with herbs, stones, locations, etc. The reason is a simple one, while anyone can use these items, it is important to remember that they are also important to certain communities and cultures. We should ALWAYS work hard to make sure that anything we use or purchase is ethically sourced. Take white sage for example. This is an herb that is very important to certain Native American cultures, however due to severe over harvesting by WalMart, Amazon, and thieves stealing it off of reservations, it is becoming endangered. Making sure you purchase it from an ethical source, such as a Native American herb store or a nursery that focuses on ethical harvesting, is important to make sure that this herb doesn’t disappear into the sands of time. As people who practice witchcraft, we should always strive to have a minimal impact on this earth, and the best way to do that is to ethically source all your items whenever possible.
How to know when a practice is closed?
We often hear about closed practices, about how they are tied to cultures on the decline or cultures that have been oppressed, but how do we know if something is closed? Well dear reader that is a simple answer. Do your research. Anyone reading this has access to the internet in some way, shape or form. Look up the practice, get to the origins of it, find out what it means and what it symbolizes. Or, you can always ask. Most people who practice closed practices will be very up front and honest with you, and they will respect that fact that you asked. Who knows? Maybe it can lead to further conversations, education, and possibly initiation. A lot of people who practice closed crafts take a lot of pride in their work and enjoy sharing it, so feel free to research and read up on it as much as you want. Learning is never a bad thing. Leave the actual practicing however to those that are in the culture.
Cultural Appropriation is a very serious topic, yet one that is not as difficult to deal with as one would think. Simply by doing your research and treating others with respect is more than enough. If you have questions, it is okay and encouraged to ask. We all exist on this planet together, so respecting each other and our beliefs should be paramount to living a good life.
*All images taken from Pixabay, the source free open photo software*