Is Spirituality Culturally Appropriated?

Is Spirituality Cultural Appropriation?

What is Smudging?

White Sage and ‘Smudge sticks’ are a very popular method of cleansing in the crystal community. 

There are hundreds of different species and types of Sage, from regular garden sage you can use when cooking dinner.

White Sage, the dominant sage in the new age frenzy of ‘smudging,’ is native to North America. However, it is a sacred herb to Indigenous communities like Lakota, Cheyenne, and Navajo. 

Why is Smudging Problematic?

The name ‘Smudging’ is the name Indigenous communities gave to their ceremonial purifying rituals and prayers. Smudge sticks didn’t just have to be white sage, either, they could be a bunch of different dried herbs, used for a bunch of reasons other than cleansing, they could be purifying or banishing depending on what the herbs mean. The practice of smudging had a long and deep history before it was brought into new age stores and popularised.
Shockingly, the practice of smudging was actually made illegal until 1978, and many were jailed or killed for simply just trying to practice their religion. Native peoples to this day are still fighting to have their religion justified and given the fairness and consideration that other religions are given. Even in hospitals, where they practice and pray for their loved ones to get through surgeries, is often not allowed. 

Not only is smudging a way for Native people to cleanse their area, but it represents their strength and resilience in their culture and centuries of facing oppression.

Why is White Sage Problematic?

White Sage is problematic mainly because of cultural insensitivity and environmental unsustainability. If you are not indigenous, then yes, it is cultural appropriation. 

Not only is it appropriated, but since it has been popularised it has been unsustainably, incorrectly and rapidly farmed, creating shortages for Natives and those who practice it to access it. It is now an endangered species of Sage. Even so, Natives are not the ones to profit off of its farming, making it so unethical and so wrong.

Instead of using white sage, you use other cleansing methods or room sprays, burn incense or grow and dry your own herb bundles at home. I make some from an abundance of Rosemary I have around my house.

What is Cultural Appropriation?

Cultural appropriation is when a majority group adopts elements of a minority group in an exploitative, disrespectful or stereotypical way. If we take a step back and look at spirituality as a whole, it is obvious that most of what we practise has been stolen and appropriated from cultures that once suffered oppression by our ancestors. 

Is Yoga Cultural Appropriation?

Yoga, for example, originates from the Hindi people, who were forbidden to practice Yoga and were forced to practise it in secret for hundreds of years when Europeans colonised India. Today, the practice of Yoga is popularised in Western society without any acknowledgement of its origins. On top of that, today’s yoga only incorporates 1/8th of the practice, and it’s original purpose of spiritual development and productivity has been completely ignored.

Is Meditation Cultural Appropriation?

Meditation originates from Buddhism, and has been recently popularised in Western society for purposes such as efficiency, productivity and focus. Apps like Calm and Headspace cherry-pick the original teachings and promote what is profitable. 

Are Chakras Cultural Appropriation?

Chakras originated from Tantric Buddhism and Hinduism. In western culture, chakras have been popularised as 7 energy centres in the body. The original practice focuses on 4 to 114 energy centres in and around the body. However, many original scriptures were written in Sanskrit, so it is likely some meaning was literally lost in translation. The Western representation of Chakras is an extremely watered down version very far from the original ancient practice. This is a very contested subject and it is recommended to talk to Buddhist and Hindu teachers and elders in your area to see what they think. Some believe that since we all have energy centres, we should all be able to work with Chakras. I now practice through focussing on particular energy centres in the body rather than the 7 chakras, as I am not Buddhist myself and recognise that I do not know enough about the subject. Both Buddhism and Hinduism are open practices from my knowledge, so it is encouraged to learn more about Chakras if you want to continue using them. I have been in the process of rephrasing my chakra references in my work to energy centres. I heavily encourage you to read this great resource about Chakras.

Is the Evil Eye or Nazar Cultural Appropriation?

The Nazar or Evil Eye talisman has its roots in many cultures, typically worn as a protection amulet. The earliest use of the Evil Eye was in Ancient Greece, and has been seen in many different cultures around the world, even Christianity. The Evil Eye talisman is an open practice from most cultures, but as with any spiritual practice; only as long as you understand the meaning and significance behind it. The mass manufacturing of the symbol and having it slapped on things like decor is the appropriation, removing the symbol so far from it’s meaning because it’s ‘aesthetic.’

Is Palo Santo Cultural Appropriation?

Palo Santo is another example, growing on the coast of South America, it has been used by Incas, indigenous people of the Andes, and shamans in sacred plant ceremonies like Ayahuasca (other thing our ancestors stole). Palo Santo wood naturally falls from trees and is left for 4-10 years before they are wild-harvested by indigenous communities. Even then, they only take what they need for their ceremony. Thanks to cultural appropriation by white people, it is now over harvested and an endangered plant species. The lack of wood resting on the forrest floor has upset the biosphere and nutrients in the soil, threatening the forrest and the creatures that live there.

Are Spirit Animals Cultural Appropriation?

Spirit Animals are a deeply treasured Native American spiritual practice. The term ’spirit animal’ is a term coined by colonisers to understand animal significance to different tribes. Using the term ‘spirit animal’ to describe something you have an affinity towards is not only inaccurate towards the roles the entities play in native practices, but is downright offensively ignoring the deep cultural significance these entities have.

Are Dreamcatchers Cultural Appropriation?

Another Native American symbology and tradition stolen is Dreamcatchers; a hoop with a weaving and feathers, and cultural significance, they can include sacred objects, and are so common in a variety of stores. They are inextricably linked to new age spaces and are commonly sold for the purpose of safe sleep and dreams, or as an object that suggests spiritual endeavour. 

Is Karma and Manifestation Cultural Appropriation?

Even Karma and Manifestation were appropriated and made popular by Nikola Tesla, in particular the 369 method of manifestation. In Tesla’s defence, he did try to tell people about the method’s origins but was mostly ignored.

Is Reiki Cultural Appropriation?

The practice of Reiki originated from Japan and came to the west before WW2. Anti-Japansese bigotry and racism that came during the war laid the foundation for the current whitewashed version of Reiki we commonly know today. As someone that has studied Reiki, I was aware of the Japanese roots but unaware of the blood that was spilled for it to get here. Japanese were being incarcerated in concentration camps in America whilst teaching Reiki. Important parts of the Japanese culture, history and traditions were purposely left out of the westernised practice to make it more palatable for white people. To my knowledge, Reiki is not closed, but it is vital any Reiki Practitioners or anyone who receives Reiki treatment has a deep and intentional understanding of the culture, history and traditions of Reiki. To ignore that would be to further endorse the white supremacy and whitewashing of numerous cultures. A great resource: 

Is Hoodoo Cultural Appropriation?

Hoodoo, a closed witchcraft practice, meaning you must either be initiated by a practitioner or be a descendant of those that created the religion, who were enslaved in the United States. Tiktok completely appropriated the practice and white people, without any idea of the practice. Non-descendants were making Honey Jars, a type of hoodoo spell to sweeten relationships or reconnect with exes. 

As Sabina Magliocco, professor of anthropology and religion at the University of British Columbia, puts it: “Spiritual and cultural threads are complex and interwoven and at a certain point, you can’t separate the butter and the milk out of the scrambled eggs.” But what some people on #SpiritualTok emphasise –which Magliocco agrees with – is that when traditions originated from specific struggles, they are meant for specific communities. 

These are cultures whose practices have already been affected by colonisation, with colonisers that have often tried to eradicate traditional spiritual and magical practices,” Magliocco explains. “So for Westerners to now go in and say, ‘Oh, you used to do this, now this is mine, I’m taking it and I’m going to charge $500 for other people to do it,’ is ethically and morally wrong.”

Is Cultural Appropriation so wrong? Yes, it is.

White people massacred Indigenous people all over the world, in Canada which is now rightfully called the genocide it was, as well as all through America, and even here in Australia and New Zealand. Canada has recently had awareness spread about their attempted genocide from the 1880’s to 1996. The Canadian government kidnapped over 150,000 Indigenous children away from their families and placed them in ‘schools’ where they forced them to assimilate. They stripped these children of their language, culture, identity, family and community. They lived in subpar conditions and endured physical, spiritual, emotional, psychological and often sexual abuse for the entirity of their childhood and teenage years. The impact on the Indigenous community was devastatingly widespread, and it hasn’t gone away. Indigenous peoples underwent coerced and forced sterilisation, so they could not reproduce any children, as recently as 2017. Read more about this here 

An Act of Genocide: Canada’s Coerced Sterilization of First Nations Women | Intercontinental Cry

Indigenous people were not allowed to vote in Canada until 1960, 44 years after women were given the right to vote in the same country. In America, Indigenous religious practices were illegal until 1978.

Indigenous peoples and communities have suffered in unimaginable ways for centuries at the hands of our white ancestors, and we still have not relented and let them had something that is purely theirs. We do not get to justify our actions or tell them to get over themselves or compromise, we sincerely apologise and we ask how we can help.

There is no way to immediately remove societal decolonisation and indentured racism in one swipe, it is systematic, making up the very ground our society walks on. You can be shunned and laughed at for even trying to defend those that have been wronged. It is frankly disgusting. We cannot change the violent and horrendous actions our ancestors took, but we can do our best to transform our future. It will be uncomfortable and we will give many apologies for our actions and the actions of those that came before us. We must educate ourselves, listen and empathise to their plight, we must also realise that this will impact many parts of our lives, making us acknowledge systematic racism and prejudice that has been instilled in us by our society. 

Where do we go from here?

I admit as a white woman with European heritage, I have used White Sage, Palo Santo and appropriated other native practices like Chakras and Yoga, without any knowledge of where they came from or what I was doing. My practice without education has financially encouraged appropriation, as shops will continue to promote and sell culturally appropriated items and ideas if there is a demand for it. For this, and for the impact I have had because of my uneducated actions, to all of the communities that have been stolen from, I am deeply and sincerely sorry. I can only hope that my standing as a Crystal Shop owner and practitioner of Spirituality, that making my voice heard in all ways I can, is the least I can do. Making this information easily accessible is the first step. However, through my thorough research, I am in no way an expert on any of the subjects mentioned below. Please do you own further research and listen to Native Creators as they will know so much more about this subject than I do. This great list was collated by  so definitely go check out her blog post too. Please feel free to add anything onto this blog via the comments below and let me know if anything is incorrect.

 Additional Resources

Listen to podcasts by Indigenous people

read articles by Indigenous journalists

watch movies written and directed by Indigenous people

read books written by Indigenous writers

follow Indigenous influencers

and attend open events held by Indigenous people in your community. 

Simon Moya-Smith’s ‘100 Ways to Support—Not Appropriate From—Native People‘ 

Indigenous Ally Toolkit

The University of Alberta is also offering a 12-lesson Massive Open Online Course which explores Indigenous histories and contemporary issues in Canada. 

We can all humble ourselves and release the ego by owning up to past and present cultural appropriation we have taken a part in. We should be listening with a compassionate, open mind to understand the anger of oppressed peoples we have stolen from. From there, we can work together, have conversations and make all spiritual practitioners aware of lines that are not to be crossed without respect to those that have suffered before us.

As a rule of thumb, it is a good idea not to profit from a culture that you are not a member of. It would also be encouraged not to purchase from people that are profiting from sacred items of a culture they are not a part of. Purchasing cultural items directly from indigenous people means you would be shopping ethically, and discouraging the racist economy and cultural appropriation of white people profiting off of stolen practices.

It is encouraged to do a DNA test to find out your personal heritage and learn more about that so you can practice what your ancestors did, much like these indigenous communities are just trying to do.

Further resources


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