• 10/22/2023

Modern Witchcraft: 5 Practices That Avoid Cultural Appropriation


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Modern witchcraft is in a new era. WitchTok is a popping community, exposing many more people of all ages and backgrounds to these spiritual practices. Some content is truly informational and well-rounded, while other influencers and news outlets misconstrue where witchcraft came from. 

Curious minds buy witchy makeup palettes and crystals because they love the aesthetic, but sometimes, it isn’t the most ethical purchase. How can you practice modern witchcraft responsibly and conscientiously without appropriating other cultures?

Cultural Appropriation, Simplified

Cultural appropriation is taking other cultures’ customs, ideas, styles, art, practices, and even holidays. Often, more prominent, dominating cultures adopt them and warp the practice beyond its original intent. It overlaps with whitewashing and colonialism. Here are other associations with cultural appropriation:

  • It is inappropriate because it promotes inaccurate practices to a broader, impressionable audience.
  • The act goes unacknowledged by appropriators. 
  • It bolsters the dominant culture while exploiting the minority.

It differs from cultural appreciation, exchange and curiosity, where people kindly ask questions or research cultures but do not adopt them. Consumerism shapes everything, even people’s religious or spiritual practices. 

Modern witchcraft is there, causing many to delve into the trend with their credit card without acknowledging the practice’s roots. There are plenty of ways to practice modern witchcraft, such as engaging with and charging crystals, without using traditional rites. Let’s clarify and fix it now.

Smudging in Modern Witchcraft, Debated

Smudging is a rite that involves burning a bundle of herbs around a space. It is meant to cleanse an area or person as a means of interacting with divinity. The herbs must be powerful enough to impact the space, so Indigenous people of the Americas traditionally used white sage and palo santo. They spent years developing a connection to the plant. 

Now, modern witches use it while doing mundane things like cleaning their house or filming an Instagram reel, drastically minimizing the importance of the rite.

Other cultures burn plants, but not necessarily for witchcraft. Aboriginal Australians have a smoking ceremony using Berrigan emu bush to cleanse physical and spiritual spaces after a child is born. Saining is a Scottish tradition where participants burn juniper branches while saying poems and prayers for protection.

It is clear these practices pre-date the 2020s when modern witchcraft had its resurgence. It makes sense that New Age, modern witchcraft wanted to embrace the rituals. But should you?

Modern witchcraft is not the same as the witchcraft practiced by Indigenous people. People modernized it and, sometimes, made it a consumerist bandwagon. Some people practice smudging without acknowledging the sacredness of what they are doing, potentially disrespecting the people and their ancient traditions. 

There was such a resurgence of witchcraft that sacred herbs like white sage became overharvested. Modern metaphysical shops began selling them to people without context, and traditional witches kindly asked sellers to stop because they couldn’t access them. Even luxury grocery stores started selling white sage as part of self-care or starter witch bundles, further commodifying witchcraft when it should not get branded and sold.

Alternatively, you can practice smoke cleansing, but it should not be with white sage or referred to as smudging. Modern witches are speaking out online. They attempt to spread the message about appropriating other spiritualities and religions and clarifying closed practices, including Hoodoo, dreamcatchers and spirit animals.

5 Respectful Modern Witchcraft Activities

You can dive into these modern witchcraft practices, embracing spirituality without compromising the cultures and livelihoods of others.

1. Tarot Card Reading

Tarot cards were initially a game, and telling the future from cards — known as cartomancy — exists in numerous cultures. It is a form of divination. Tarot cards feature figures with an associated arcana. The cards have unique meanings, whether they are upright or upside down. Tarot readers do spreads, where they draw cards without knowing the results and the placement and orientation of cards represent specific things, like mental blockages, goal progress or physical health.

For the sake of being comprehensive, modern conversations suggest Tarot is a closed practice belonging to the Romani people, but it is heavily debated and emerging. 

2. Connect With Your Ancestry

People with Irish ancestry can look into Gaelic magic, and those with a Grecian background can start there. You could be inspired by what actually means something to you in your history instead of taking from others. You may be surprised by what you learn about yourself.

3. Candle Magic

Candle magic is not a closed practice in modern witchcraft, so long as you do not do candle-related rituals that are part of other cultures, such as Brujeria. You can use it to perform spells, rituals or divination by examining the wax’s color and strength and behavior of the flame. 

4. Being in Nature

There is an undeniable connection between humans and nature that transcends cultures. You may feel drawn to plants, stars, rain or anything in between. Also called green magic, modern witchcraft practices are associated with the natural realm. Here are some of the focus areas:

  • Nature-focused meditation and sound healing
  • Tree magic
  • Animal magic
  • Botanical studies
  • Alchemical studies
  • Weather, storm and elemental magic
  • Lunar magic and astrology
  • Forest witchcraft

5. Be Curious and Connect

Go beyond watching WitchTok and read stories, books and content from own voices. Ingest new information not just for your practices, but to make yourself more aware of witchcraft’s history. Learn about palo santo overharvesting or crystal overmining and its negative impacts. Ask yourself what you can do to help. Reach out to people who need support. If you purchase products, buy from genuine sellers who are not exploiting people. 

Enjoying Modern Witchcraft Guilt-Free

There are many ways to engage in modern witchcraft without taking advantage of someone else’s culture, spirituality or faith. If modern witchcraft interests you, always do your research to be on the safe side. Look into every practice to see if it is closed or has ties to other cultures. If not, how are experienced witches performing witchcraft? Modern witchcraft can be very healing for many people, so it is worth exploring with kindness and wonder. 

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