feminism, witchery

Calling in the New Age: Identifying Oppressive Ideals in our Spirituality

As I’m sure we all by now know, there was a white nationalist rally attended by white supremacists (the “Alt-Right”), Neo-Nazis and Klu Klux Klan members in Charlottesville, VA this past weekend. The protest culminated in a domestic terror attack in which a white supremacist drove at high speeds through a pedestrian walkway, injuring many and killing one woman, Heather Heyer. Police stood on and watched quietly, not breaking up the violence–not tear gassing and arresting protesters like they did to peaceful Native water protectors in 2016. More white supremacists rallies are being planned in Boston and Texas.

The stakes are higher than ever for people of color, especially black poc. Especially Jewish poc. Diasporic Jews. Trans women. Queer folks. Immigrants. So many of us.

And that means that stakes are higher than ever for white silence.

I am white, and I benefit from white supremacy. I am complicit in upholding it.

I am also responsible for dismantling it.

Are you white?

Then you are too.

britt packnett
“I know this [is] hard to hear, but… White supremacy benefits all white people. Including the ones with no torches. That’s why it survives” – Brittany Packnett @ https://twitter.com/MsPackyetti/status/896419481236496385
As a witch and spiritual practitioner, I feel especially compelled to action. Especially responsible for dismantling white supremacy and all oppression. I am called to this work because I feel immense compassion. I sense with all of me that humanity and the earth needs healing. There is deep, important, hard work to be done. As a witch, I want to heal where reality meets spirit.

But in order for full, meaningful healing to take place, we cannot turn a blind eye to the injustices that live in the fabric of our human society. Sure, in the eyes of the universe, all spirits are equal in their love, light, and importance.

But we don’t live in the realm of spirit.

We live in the realm of humanity, and if we want our world to look like the glory of god and the light of the Universe then we need to put blood, sweat, tears, energy, thought, and action into making it that way.

Just because we may be lightworkers does not mean that we can hide away from shadow. The raw truth is that we live in a world that is built on the oppression of many for the benefit of few. In order for our healing to succeed, we need to acknowledge the depth of the wound.

How do we get there? First things first: let’s take time to reflect. It is Mercury retrograde after all–prime time to explore our own shadows.

Let’s take an honest look at our spiritual frameworks, mantras, and practices. Where do we ignore suffering? Where do we turn a blind eye to the impact of power? Where do we uphold white supremacy and oppression? Here are some examples I’ve come up with, inspired in great part by the work of Virginia Rosenberg in her article 6 Ways Spiritual Thinking Can Reinforce Oppression and Racism. Share yours in the comments. Write your own articles and share them with me & others. Let’s get down and dirty with our spiritual shadows.

And know–yes, this may feel critical. Quick reframe: this isn’t about what we’re doing “wrong.” This is an opportunity to expand. This is a chance for us to increase our capacity for healing. (As an interesting aside, read this post about how “perfectionism” upholds white supremacy, inspired by this workbook re: dismantling racism.)

If you’re feeling called out by this or any other articles going around, or low on energy in general, check out this post

1. Writing Off Anger as “Lower Vibrations”

In learning the craft of energy healing, so much of the literature I’ve come across, and so many of the people I interact with, refer to anger, sadness, and other such emotions as “lower vibration” energy that we should steer clear from. Instead, we need to “Raise our vibrations.” Act out of love and light.

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Naturally, love and light are represented by the image of innocence and purity: a young white girl. https://elinatrance.com/268/
Anger in and of itself is not hurtful. Really, no emotion is better or worse than any other. Interactions that are rooted in anger can inflict wounds, sure, but so can happiness when it is at the expense of someone else’s pain. The idea that anger is bad keeps us complacent, keeps us numb, and keeps us small.

Anger is fuel. Anger is sacred. Anger is a compass. Anger is love. Love for ourselves that we have boundaries. Love for others that we expect them to be kinder. Love for others that we feel alongside them when they suffer, and know they don’t deserve that hurt.

All emotions are filled with potential for understanding. They are guideposts for us.

When we see anger and people’s expression of it as “less than” and something to be avoided, we shut ourselves off from seeing the depth and breadth of injustice that others face. When we’re in the habit of judging anger as somehow ungodly, we purposely or not blame those who speak out against injustice with passion and fury, when they cast light on a system that was set up to keep them struggling.

Love and light cannot be expected to replace anger. As Asali at Asali Earthwork writes, “When healers with marginalized identities are asked to focus on light when their hearts are breaking you are sucking up the air around them and ensuring that it is always hard to breathe.”

Especially for women and femmes, white supremacy and patriarchy asks us to be quiet and complacent. Not loud, expressive, and assertive. Anger is not what keeps our vibrations low as an individual or a collective. Injustice is. Keeping people disempowered is. Refusing to give people basic human rights is.

2. The Law of Attraction

This one is huge and so insidious. It keeps us blissfully unaware, content to view social reality through the lens of individualism. Take out the rose-tinted lenses and put in the sociological, because it’s time to give this idea a re-up.

The Law of Attraction and its various other incarnations are embedded in so much of new age spirituality. It says that, essentially, you manifest your reality by willing it into being through the power of intention and thought. Like attracts like.

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Or your environmental conditions, social location, and access to opportunity for upward mobility. But alright.
This is a belief that even witches like Carolyn Elliott employ in some way.

Listen. There is an immense amount to say about the power of intention, and the importance of recognizing the power you have in changing your inner and outer world. I’ve lived this.

But it’s not an excuse to dismiss people who struggle with oppression. It’s not an excuse to blame poor people for being poor. It’s not an excuse to blame black folks for being targeted by angry violent racists, because they were “too aggressive” in standing up for their rights, or anything else.

It’s also not an excuse to write off people’s experience with mental illness, suggesting that it can be cured through the power of positive thinking.

There is a real magic to manifestation, but it requires the right resources–social connections, money, technology. We don’t all have equal access to resources. If someone comes to you as a healer expressing exhaustion over their circumstances, consider if their pain is rooted in something wider and more insidious than simply their attitude. Direct them to resources and organizations that can guide them and expand their capacity. Don’t tell them the spiritual equivalent of pull up your bootstraps.

3. Appropriating Symbols and Practices Without Understanding History, and Profiting

This is a big topic that deserves 400 articles on its own. There are many who have written better words than I can on this topic. I’ll link to some below.

In short: your white yoga lifestyle brand is more likely than not a commodified version of a deeply sacred spiritual practice.

Spirit animals are not yours to claim.

Smudging is a term that refers to a sacred practice of indigenous cultures; try smoke cleansing.

On culturally appropriating Buddhism.

ojibwe
Mari, Ojibwe Writer @ https://twitter.com/cyborgn8vmari/status/758755500099940352?lang=en
Using spiritual symbols that belong to indigenous or Eastern religion and using them as branding tools for your business is white supremacy. If nothing else, it is deeply disrespectful.

The fact that you get to sell a t-shirt that has the “OM” symbol and it looks trendy is a byproduct of white supremacy. If a person of color expresses their religion, they may look like a threat. This is white supremacy.

Learn about the difference between cultural appropriation and cultural exchange. Be especially mindful of this when your spirituality is your business.

Karin Adam, a black Muslim femme witch, argues that this type of appropriation and white supremacy “goes deeper than” cultural appropriation. It is “spiritual appropriation.” The following is an excerpt of Karin’s article The Misadventures of being the only Black Witch among White Witches, which explains spiritual appropriation and its roots in white supremacy.

The whiteness and white supremacy of these Wiccan spaces was undeniably suffocating, violent and needless to say, exhausting. Across White Wiccan spaces, there is another type of appropriation that takes place in these spaces and that is spiritual appropriation. There are elements of cultural appropriation within this, however, it goes deeper than that.

There were different Native American chants included in rituals, West African Ifa and Haitian Vodou practices completely white washed and administered by White priests and priestess to mostly White followings. Often White people taking up our ancestral African and Afro-Diasporic spiritualities that their own ancestors outlawed and were used by our peoples to resist slavery, white supremacy and colonialism. White washed Gods and Goddesses who were from many places in the world where they were Black, Indigenous and POC.

If our goal is to heal, then by spiritually appropriating, we are not living up to our goals or our purpose. We are only contributing to a deep, historical wound that continues to have material consequences like we saw this past weekend.

4. The Self-Proclaimed Guru

doreen virtue
Doreen Virtue may approach what I’m talking about.
Ah, the mystical, self-proclaimed guru. The one who traveled to India for a yoga retreat, traveled to Peru to participate in an ayahuasca ceremony, meditated extensively, wrote a book with a shiny cover, and has now declared themself a spiritual guru.

This is elitism. This is power posturing. This is self-deifying as branding.

For one, if anyone is the spiritual guru–might it not be the Yogi who has devoted their life to the spiritual practice of yoga? Or the village shaman who held the ayahuasca ceremony? Why does your brand involve you as an omniscient person with a unique link to the divine because you spent a lot of money to experience someone else’s spirituality? How do those things now belong to you, as ways you can profit? This is white supremacy; this is neo-colonialism.

And second, rich “guru” or simply fledgling witch, do you communicate to your clients indirectly or directly that they need you?

This is exploitative. These are business practices rooted in capitalist tactics that seek to undermine the consumer’s sense of self. Consumer-brand identification is what keeps us–especially women, femmes–reliant on consumption.

You will only achieve your full capacity if you work with me, the master of this topic.

Does your business rely on that dynamic?

An alternative might look like you offering a genuine collaborative relationship. One that isn’t centered on you and what you hand down to your client, but what your client already has inside of them. And certainly not you as someone with a unique, direct channel to the divine.

Your clients are not small without you. They are not more powerful with you. They are powerful when they tap into themselves and connect with their communities. All you are there to do is give them the space to locate that power.

You are opening a window to let in the light, not the sun shining in.

5. Enlightenment as Perfection, Perfection as Positivity

Perfection is unattainable. Always–but especially when perfection is relentless positivity. Gratitude. Happiness. “Rising above anger.

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i.e. Be Positive
Pause for a moment.

Don’t these ideals sound a lot like something else? Sounds to me like the Female Lifestyle Empowerment Brand, which has left women and femmes exploited and reliant on consumption, pursuing hyper-feminized ideals of submissive purity masked as empowerment. And the ideal of submission and purity (of body, of beauty, of eating habits, of behavior, of intent)? That’s white supremacy speaking, too. Not clear how? Read Layla Saad of Wild Mystic Woman break it down. 

Enlightenment will not be achieved by divorcing yourself from your emotions. Enlightenment will not be found in looking down on others for expressing the full depth of their hurt, for being tied up in their hurt–even for being stuck in it.

Frankly, I’m no guru (heh), so I don’t quite know how enlightenment can be achieved, if at all.

But I do know that any spiritual practice that asks people–especially femmes and women who participate–to “rise above” (aka repress, ignore, avoid) their sacred feelings of pain, anger, disempowerment, and rage, is reinforcing harmful social expectations that we as witches and healers should be resisting.

Healing takes place when we let emotions arise, feel them, notice them, and work with them. Feel anger? You’ve discovered a boundary you can now enforce. Feel envy? You’ve discovered what you want to become–or what ideal it is time to reconsider. The darkest emotions have deep lessons. They are part of how we grow and expand–perhaps even achieve enlightenment.

Reflect on how your spiritual practices are a reflection of your human environment rather than a connection to the divine

I believe that we are capable of channeling wisdom, of accessing intuition, and of communicating with the great beyond (or the great within).

But we need to take time to reflect on how the injustices in our human environment are showing up when we translate the wisdom we receive into practice and healing.

What are your thoughts? Have you done this reflecting, and if so, what have you found? Do you have suggestions for how we can expand & shift?

To keep in touch, please follow me on Instagram at @bitchy_and_witchy or on Facebook

Soon after I published this article, I stumbled upon this one written by Layla Saad, an Arab-African black British Muslim woman who runs Wild Mystic Woman. Her words are immensely powerful. As you finish reading this article, please be sure to read hers too. An excerpt: 

It absolutely boggles my mind that there are spiritual entrepreneurs who do not see the clear link between the work they do as healers, mentors and teachers for their paying clients, and the work that’s needed in the world for our collective healing and liberation.

And this is not to say that your whole business has to become about activism. That isn’t what I’m saying at all. I’m also not saying don’t do the work that you have been doing or don’t serve the audience you have been serving. What I’m saying is, open up your eyes and take a more expanded view of what your role is here.

I’m saying you are kidding yourself if you don’t believe that it is your responsibility as a spiritual teacher, healer, mentor or guide to say something and do something about what you see happening in the world.

When I think of the great mother goddesses and Divine Feminine teachers who guide my path (Isis, Kali Ma, Kuan Yin, Mary Magdalene, Diana, Joan Of Arc, Mother Mary, to name a few), I see women who were committed to the whole world’s healing and liberation. And not the privileged few who could afford to work with them and who fit into the mould of the archetype of the Female Lifestyle Empowerment Brand.
If you truly live your life guided by the Goddess, and you are not doing your part to dismantle white supremacy, then you’ve got work to do.

The Goddess isn’t just here for the liberation of white women.

She’s here for the liberation of us all.

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19 thoughts on “Calling in the New Age: Identifying Oppressive Ideals in our Spirituality”

    1. !!! Thank you so so much. I’m glad it resonated. I look forward to hearing others’ thoughts on practices & beliefs we take for granted that really, we need to think critically about!

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  1. There’s some good stuff in here it sounds to me as if you are also being oppressive. People can go down whatever spiritual path they choose, to whatever depth they choose. I seriously doubt that spirit animals are reserved only for native tribes any more than any other spirits are reserved for the peoples that first named them. But hey, what do I know…nothing really…I’m just making a guess.

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    1. Maybe read up on cultural appropriation more and why feeling entitled to do “whatever you want” with someone else’s SACRED practices is hurtful and disrespectful to others, like Indigenous people – and how that is an extension of white entitlement/oppression/supremacy?

      Liked by 1 person

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