Cultural Appropriation or Appreciation?

Aunty Snark,

I am really interested in studying shamanism but I am afraid to because I am white. Would it be considered appropriate for me to even to show any interest in shamanism?

Am I appreciating or appropriating?


Am I appreciating or appropriating,

Way to bring me a tough one. There are so many things for me to address here, so let’s begin with opening this can of worms. 

Appropriating is defined as the unacknowledged or inappropriate adoption of the customs, practices, ideas, etc. of one people or society by members of another and typically more dominant people or society by the Oxford Dictionary. But what does that mean exactly? If you are non Native American, you should NOT be dressing up in regalia, if you are not Hindi, you should NOT wear a bindi and if you are white you should not be wearing costumes that are blatantly  racist or culturally insensitive. Basically, don’t be an asshole. But I am just celebrating a culture, you say in a whiny voice. Are you? Are you really? Appreciating means that respect has gone into your actions. Doing anything above is not about respect whatsoever.

So you want to study a religion such as shamanism that is primarily  practice by indigenous tribes of a particular region. How do you go about it without coming off as a total white asshole that is trying to take something? You do it very, very carefully. Don’t go reaching for the first book you can find about Shamanism. I mean you can. It will more than likely be an extremely bastardized thing and is considered by ingenious people as just plain rude. I don’t suggest it. What you can do is start researching about indigenous tribes that are local to you. Remember, that these tribes have individual cultures with separate tales and aspects that define them. Hopi Shaman practices will be different than those of the Hmong Shaman. You will next want to respectfully approach the tribe/elder and ask to be taught. There is a HIGH chance that you being Caucasian, you will be told no. Accept that no. Don’t try to nag, weedle or beg to be taught. Respect and accept that no you were given and move on. 

Don’t attempt to go behind that elders back and find someone else of that tribe to teach you. Don’t try to teach yourself on your own by scouring everything you can find on the internet. It seems harmless, studying on your own, but you were told no. Not taking that no as an answer and studying on your own, that is appropriation. What you can do is find something that is very similar to what you wish to study. For example, although not 100% meeting on every single practice but close enough, Druidism is very similar to  Shamanism. You would be surprised how many things are similar in the Pagan/Witch community.

You want Voodoo dolls? Well let me tell you something, not really used in Voudon (Vodou) but there are things called Poppets that are a witch’s best friend. Speaking of Voudon, once again, you white, you see a teacher to learn, just like Shamanism. Don’t be a little jackass by waking up one day and proclaim to the world that you are a Voodoo Priestess. You want spirit animals? At this point what religion doesn’t have those pretties? Spirits? Again, so many choices, so little time. You know what will be your biggest problem? The hours of research trying to find that one religion that resonates with you.

You may run into one small problem though in your attempt to learn a Non European religion. Your location versus the location of the elder that you wish to study with. If you are in a rural area that can be a problem or even in the same country as the elder. However, with the internet, distance that seemed so vast begins to shrink. You may have to spend some quality time on boards but it is something you should do with glee. If you are serious about your path of shamanism or any particular one that is not European, you will want to start off on the right foot and do the work. Don’t half ass things just because it is easier. Remember that respect equals appreciation and taking is appropriation. I wish you the best of luck in your search.

Until next time witches!

May the brew in your cauldron never burn and your broom never splinter.

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