First, be sure to read Part 1- Why I Left My Priestess Training
In seeking spiritual strength from my own Celtic roots, I sought teaching from a well known pagan temple in Glasotnbury, UK. Unfortunately, I spent far more time dealing with the hurt of seeing Indigenous practices being appropriated and taught, and the stress of trying to educate on this and being dismissed, rather than actually receiving the teachings or sourced information on Celtic spiritual practices I was seeking.
Smudging & Smudge fans: Early on, we were taught through video to ‘smudge’ and make ‘smudge fans’ with no teachings of the roots behind these practices named after this sacred Indigenous practice here on Turtle Island. There were no teachings related to the Celtic history of smoke cleansing. We were shown a form of smoke cleansing with some similarities to smudging, but there was nothing said about the herbs used, the historical connections to this practice or why.
The ‘smudge fans’ resembled Indigenous smudge fans used here and we were instructed to make these- with no spiritual teachings around them or the feathers, just a video with instructions.
I voiced my concerns with using the term ‘smudging’ when clearly what they were doing was very similar but with different herbs. I asked for more information on Celtic forms of smoke cleansing, such as Saining (which is Scottish), to which I did not get a detailed response. I was told that the Celts routinely cleansed cattle by running them through smoke at Beltane, and used smoke for thousands of years. I wanted more information on this. I am trying to seek this information now.
I asked for sources on the Celtic use of feathers, especially feather fans to smoke cleanse. I was told there were cave paintings depicting Celts with feathers (not specifically feather fans, I am still in search of this info), with no elaboration or sourcing. I was told ‘we all come from the same rootstock” and ‘we are more similar than separate‘ as a way to dismiss my concerns and disregard the effects of colonsation and genocide because we all share some ancient genetics.
The difference between smoke cleansing in the Celtic fashion needs to be distinguished from the Indigenous ceremonial practice of smudging on Turtle Island, in order to prevent appropriation. I know many people now and through history all over the globe use smoke to cleanse one’s space and oneself- sometimes for ceremonial reasons, and sometimes just pragmatic ones. Same with the use of feather fans. When I learn a spiritual practice or craft sacred tools, I like to know the roots of it, for spiritual reasons and to ensure it doesn’t contribute to existing social harm. I am still wading through these questions.
When I brought my concerns to the temple founder I was told that those of us in North America cannot claim the word smudging– even though this is the main word used here in many Indigenous communities, and the term spread through the internet because it became trendy.
Dreamcatchers: More recently my teacher felt inspired to make dreamcatchers. This was after our conversations on appropriation and resources I had sent on this topic. She knew they were of Ojibway origin, but really wanted to make one for herself and said that Cerridwen told her to make one. The trainees were encouraged with photos of trendy appropriative dreamcatchers from non-Indigenous artists as ‘inspiration’. The teacher suggested that they could avoid accusation of appropriation by calling them ‘protection hoops’ and use them as crystal grids or visions boards.
By purposely stripping dreamcatchers of their meaning and ties to their origins, to take them as one’s own and then teach this to others is appropriative and disrespectful. Justifying this because ‘Goddess told me to’ is spiritual bypassing.
Most of the world’s worst atrocities have happened due to people insisting it was ‘God’s will’. Whether it is God, Goddess or any other Divine voice we claim to hear, we need to use discernment and be aware of how our biases filter messages. If Goddess tells us to do something and that we know may harm others, do we do it anyway? Is that really Goddess or maybe a filter of personal desire, entitlement or ego? I feel it is important to be discerning, and question how we translate these messages into practice.
I would suggest that anyone inspired by dreamcatchers to purchase one by an Indigenous artist and if you want to make your own, learn from an Indigenous person if possible and learn about the current genocide and historic trauma that has been caused by having their culture stripped away. Learn about how reconnecting to their culture is life-saving for Indigenous folks and the their art is one of their main opportunities to reconnect and possibly make a living.
I have made dreamcatchers in the past, as a way of exploring my connection to my Ojibwe ancestors. But I have also felt that I did not want to take away from Ojibwe artists and teachers here who work very hard to share and teach this sacred craft, against the exploitation of their culture. If it is not my craft to sell or teach, how it is for priestesses in England don’t have any understanding or connection to the culture behind it? There are many other ways to create with willow, crystals, beads and twine without imitating dreamcatchers in any way. I have made suncatchers and mobiles with colourful beads and natural items that bring in good energy and protection but are not dreamcatchers.
When I brought my concerns about teaching dreamcatchers to the temple founder, I was told the Celts used lace curtains in a similar way, as though this similarity is some kind of excuse for making dreamcatchers. I propose, why not make some sacred lace curtains that reflect or reinvent those traditions instead of contributing to the harm of Indigenous folks?
Ho’OPonopono: We were encouraged to do an appropriative Ho’Oponopono prayer – a westernized money-making spinoff of another spinoff of a sacred Indigenous Hawaiian practice sold by Joe Vitale, a known new-age fraud and spiritual huckster.
The original Ho’Oponopono practice is an Indigenous Hawaiian healing & reconciliation ceremony which involves elders and the parties who are in conflict. It is a deep and interactive process which can go on for days or much longer. It is very different from the quick and easy, solo 4-line prayer. This prayer is a colonial abomination of the original meaning and practice of Ho’Oponopono, but to acknowledge that takes away all the escapist warm fuzzy feelings of forgiving someone and being forgiven without actually having to speak to them. Trainings in this form of ‘healing’ are a big money maker.
It was brought up by someone that this might be appropriative, so I looked into it and easily found articles discussing the reasons why it is indeed, appropriative, as you can read here and here. I shared these concerns but they were ignored and the prayer was encouraged and shared in ceremony anyway. This prayer appeals to people for various reasons- it is quick, easy and you can do it on your own. It shares a resonance with the Christian idea of forgiveness, so it may resonate with those who find this familar. I know several people who absolutely love it and feel great doing it, and that’s fine! But it is not true Ho’Oponpono and should not be called such. I personally would much rather experience the original Ho’Oponopono as it seems to be a much more meaningful and real way to find forgiveness and reconciliation.
Rosaries: We were also instructed to make Christian-inspired rosaries out of crystal beads (which are expensive and hard to find ethically sourced). As someone raised in the Catholic faith, for whom rosaries have a particular meaning, I asked why we were doing these. I was told they were assigned because ‘Cerridwen said so, and I don’t ask why’. Myself and a few others in the group who grew up Catholic and moved away from this religion struggled to embrace this.
I thought of the Indigenous children and adults who suffered and died at the hands of the Christian Residential Schools and how traumatizing being told to make a rosary could be. Currently, since the remains of 215 Indigenous children were recently found at the Kamloops residential school (as well as hundreds more remains at other schools across the country), the Catholic church has been called upon for apology. Indigenous people are traumatized by the Catholic church. Why are we making rosaries without any discussion on the history of them, the religion they come from and the feelings this assignment may bring up for some of us? I used the opportunity to deal with some of my resistance and tried to see it as a form of reclaiming my power from the church, however something still didn’t sit right with me, it felt insensitive to both Christians and Pagans and am still trying to come to terms with it.
Despacho Ceremony: I also noticed through social media that the temple does their own version of Despacho ceremonies. There appears to be no reference to the Peruvian Q’ero culture nor the roots of this practice that I have seen. Unless the priestesses performing these trained in Peru and learned from the Q’ero people and got permission from them to share it, this is definitely appropriative. I have visited Peru once before and I was overwhelmed with how kind and humble the people I met were. They too are struggling from the effects of colonisation by the Spanish conquistadors in very similar ways the Indigenous folks here are affected by the English and French colonists. There are so many other beautiful, ritualistic ways to show gratitude to Mother Earth, why do we need to copy someone else’s ceremony with no connection to their landscape or people? Can’t we look to our own traditions for inspiration? Can we get inventive?
The importance of being open to learning
I brought my concerns to my teacher, repeatedly. I gently called her in for some conversation as to why I was feeling uncomfortable with these assignments and the harm that cultural appropriation causes to Indigenous people who are currently living the trauma of genocide. I mentioned how important Indigenous rights are to me, how important the Indigenous community is to me. How as a priestess in training, it is my responsibility to create an inclusive, safe space for the diverse community that I serve. I spent alot of emotional energy trying to share my perspective but it was mostly not wanted nor understood.
I was asked ‘How can I possibly be appropriating when I know nothing about Indigenous culture?’
This question contains the answer. If we lack knowledge, learning is needed. If someone mentions that we may be appropriating, we must get curious! Start listening and learning as to why they might be saying that.
Also, let’s be real. Inauthentic, appropriative knockoffs are everywhere, I have definitely seen them in Glastonbury. Not only there, but all over the internet. These items misrepresent Indigenous culture and undermine the massive amount of energy, time and skill required by Indigenous artisans struggling to survive. They are sold in countries across the globe where the exposure to Indigenous culture is often from Hollywood images, mass-produced items and potentially unreliable sources. As said in this wonderful video about Indigenous cultural appropriation by Revolutionary Mystic– “Buy from inspired Natives, not Native-inspired.”
Buying authentic Native crafts and learning spiritual teachings from Native people helps put sovereignty back into their hands. We need to bring balance to the damage done by colonisation.
I am concerned that in the UK & Europe, there is no mirror of accountability or reference point as the appropriation spreads. The chances of them coming across an Indigenous person from Turtle Island is quite small, and they are not aware of things happening here in terms of truth and reconciliation efforts, or it seems even the truth about their own far-reaching colonial legacy.
My voice was met with avoidance in the Facebook group and defensive, far-fetched justifications were the usual in conversations with my teacher. The spiritual bypassing excuses given in answer to my concerns such as ‘we are all one tribe’ and ‘We all come from the same rootstock’ minimised my feelings and glossed over the real life inequities. To me, this is like saying ‘I don’t see colour’ – A statement that dismisses the inequities and harm our systems uphold.
Over time, I kept feeling that my questions and views were becoming more unwelcome and I was being passive-aggressively ostracised. I had a sense due to the defensiveness I encountered that I was neither the first nor the last to bring these concerns to the temple, and neither the first nor last to be dismissed.
My Resource File
As I was going through this, I was doing a lot of research in Indigenous perspectives on cultural appropriation, racism, etc. So, I decided to make a resource file: Indigenous Cultural Awareness for Pagans, Priestesses and Healing facilitators.
This is a collection of information with the intention of amplifying the voices of Indigenous people and perspectives to help pagans and priestesses begin to uncolonise their practice and appreciate Indigenous culture rather than appropriate. This is work I am in the process of doing- this learning, and re-working of my spiritual practice and fostering inclusivity. I always welcome feedback, and am a work in progress with this. If you have anything you’d like to add to the resource, please contact me!
My teacher was concerned that this file could create divisiveness. Even though it is simply an educational resource on issues commonly talked about here in the pagan communtiy and in general, I felt it was treated like something harmful and exclusionary, the complete opposite of what it is. I wish I could have articulated that there is a difference between creating divisiveness and recognizing that it already exists. In homogenous groups like the training, in the world, in the systems we live in. The intent of this resource file is to help right that. To bring more awareness and understanding which can lead to better inclusivity in the future. I was able to share it in my smaller FB group, but my request to share it in the larger group was denied. There was no space created for discussion on these issues as a group.
Cerridwen is a Goddess of transformation and shadow work. We all have to look at the parts of ourselves that we keep in the dark- our fears, our power, our desires. Those of us who benefit from the current system have a vested interest in maintaining it and keeping certain aspects of ourselves out of view. If we identify as a Priestess, we may strive to always fit an ideal of being kind, giving, powerful, generous or (insert ideal trait here) and hide the messy, insecure, powerless, less ‘Priestess-y’ aspects of ourselves. These neglected or repressed parts of us can fester under the surface and rear their heads unconsciously in our words and actions.
Because colonisation, white supremacy & patriarchy have infiltrated our psyches so deeply, we all unconsciously perpetuate it in different ways.
Uncolonising work is needed. This is where we examine the ways in which we’ve unconsciously assimilated colonial values and ways of relating to ourselves and the world. For Settlers and Non-Indigenous folks, these values can manifest as a sense of entitlement to or desire to own or exploit the earth’s resources, romanticisation and exotification of Indigenous people and culture, a deep spiritual hunger and grief for lost Indigenous and communal ways of living, white privilege and white fragility. For Indigenous folks, it may manifest as internalised shame, self-hatred and rejection of one’s own Indigeneity.
*I recently learned from this insightful article by Tanya Rodriguez, the difference between ‘decolonising’ and ‘uncolonising’, which is a very powerful distinction.
This is a particular brand of shadow work- one that may not yet ready to be explored yet by some. Hopefully, even a small, tiny step in this direction will be taken. I feel I still have a long way to go myself, but am on the path.
I know we still have a long way to go in Canada and the US with this work, but it is well underway, which brings me hope. I have thankfully learned from Celtic pagans in the UK who value authenticity and understand the effects of colonisation & cultural appropriation, as they are living its legacy as well. It is wonderful to know there are others out there who value teaching with a rootedness that helps ground our spirituality in truth, reconciliation and non-harming values.
I understand the hesitancy, the defensiveness, the fear you might may have to give up something meaningful to you. I know the pain of loss, disconnection, and the feeling of coming home that Earth-based practices bring. It is for this reason we must be discerning and dare to go deeper, because we are not the only ones with this wound. Many are living this trauma now, with systemic oppression on top of that. Why perpetuate more trauma and oppression?
Many of us need to let go of the need to take from other cultures, and either go into our own roots, or learn from the culture we are interested in, respectfully, with awareness of our biases. If it is an Indigenous culture currently experiencing genocide, we must take the time to truly learn the wholeness of the culture and lived experience. Do research. Form relationships to the living people and place. Be only a student and ally, not a teacher or exploiter of it.
What we gain from this work is so much more than what we give up. We gain a deeper understanding of ourselves and others. We develop empathy and build bridges of respect and kinship. We become empowered with the tools to change our lineage legacy and transform our own pain into healing. We gain integrity.
Simply pausing is very beneficial. For those of us engaged in any healing or teaching, it might be a good idea to just take a step back from the usual and reflect, learn, become more informed on these issues before moving forward again. I am doing this right now.
My own shadow
I was able to recognize and shine a light on this shadow in my teacher and the training because I have already made many mistakes myself.
I’ve said things out of ignorance in the past and regret it. I have appropriated in the past. I was completely unaware of these issues at one time. I am still learning now. We all make mistakes and the only thing we can do is learn from them. The main thing is that we stay in relationship with any hidden shadow parts- hunger for spiritual nourishment, grief for lost community, longing for belonging, and the desire to re-create a long held memory of a better time. I need to be gentle and patient with these aspects of myself. Comfort them and bring them into the here and now with acceptance for what is. Heal and envision a new and better way. It is ongoing work.
After much sadness and frustration from not being heard nor valued, and much emotional labour, I realised that to continue down this path with the course would be a self-betrayal, as well as a betrayal to the Indigenous people and communities I deeply respect and the lands I live on. I cannot be a priestess or healing facilitator living on these lands, without honouring the original people of this land. This is something many pagans here have woken up to, but still many have yet to. I don’t know if many priestesses in the UK and parts of Europe quite understand the struggles Indigenous communities here face yet. Hopefully one day they will.
I accept that everyone has their own path and I cannot change someone’s behaviour, even if its harmful to those I care about. I feel grounded in knowing that I did all I could do and did it for the right reasons. I stood up for those who are repeatedly harmed and silenced.
Since leaving the course, I’ve rekindled some of my practices that fell by the wayside. I’ve re-created the bond with Cerridwen that I had at the beginning, and have returned to the books, workshops and teachers I feel I can respect. I look forward to visiting Cerridwen’s sacred site of Llyn Tegid in the future. I am saddened that this experience was not what I had hoped, but I see in hindsight how perhaps Cerridwen’s energy has worked through me, creating transformation, change, and calling on myself and others to be wise with our power and magick. I take full responsibility for my own transformation through this experience.
I feel this experience has been helping me face my fear of betrayal, banishment, and persecution, which is part of the reason I joined this training in the first place, to help heal my ‘witch wound’. I’ve received a lot of backlash and hateful, ignorant comments from folks of the temple, for speaking out, for simply writing this blog. I have also received many messages of support and understanding from others who’ve had a similar experience. It’s been very clarifying. I suppose I got what I wished for, just in a different form than I expected. I thank my teacher and the temple for channeling this learning experience.
One thing I have learned on my path is that there is always a teaching, it is just often something other than what we set out to learn.