Being Pagan in America at this point in time has some amazing features. We can walk the streets with a crystal hanging around our necks and no longer be the freak or strange hippie (hippies are still trendy, right?). It also comes with a long list of problems that fill my head and practice with anxiety. Yes, I am talking about cultural appropriation and every piece of particularity/label/notion that comes with it.
First, I am here to say that being aware of the culture, land, and people around you is brilliant. I will also be the first to admit that I have mixed, dabbled, and made a complete fool of myself by thinking I was being uber cool during ritual by incorporating aboriginal practices without much thought behind it. The truth is that for the longest time I just did not know how to properly adjust to the spirits of the land I live on while honoring the Gods, Goddesses, and Spirits of where my ancestors came from (Ireland, Scotland, and France primarily).
However much I wish that I could feel what my ancestor’s felt and have my bare feet standing on the cold ground of Ireland; that just isn’t my situation. I live in Utah and this land is full of beauty and warmth. My backyard IS the mountains and then driving three or four hours you run into a landscape that just screams, “I AM MADE BY THE GODS, LOOK AT ME!!!” Every day there are complex feelings about how to feel. Namely because this land is sacred and is already deeply meaningful for the local Ute and Goshute tribes that lived in this area. I do not know the first thing about the Spirits of this region, their names, or their myths.
So let us step back a little and look at what all of this means and to really explore how to become mindful of the Spirits that are here, while exploring a religious practice that comes from across the pond. As someone who is marrying into a Native American family I have become more and more aware of the atrocities every tribe (band if you’re in Canada) faced and still to this day face. I have had to become aware of what it means to be sensitive to terms like “Shaman” in an open context. Or how to put “witch”, “shaman”, or even “pagan” into deeper terms that explain a Pan-European point of view.
This has opened up quite a bit of dialogue that sometimes ends in a positive light but sometimes I think it raises more eyebrows and creates more questions. The conversations that end in eyebrows being raised usually send me into an internal fume of, “why can’t we all just get along and be what we want where we want?!” And the thing is, we can and nobody is going to stop you from doing what you feel or perceive to be right. There may be a few people that want to help tweak your point-of-view but that doesn’t mean you have to take their advice. However, in some cases I would argue that you should take the advice.
Being the sensitive and caring soon to be husband that I am, I wanted to take my new family’s advice and apply the lessons. I also did not want to come across as another privileged white man who just wants to do what he wants when/where/ and how he wants.
Here are some basic ways that I try to be mindful while maintaining my spirituality.
Genuinely give thanks to the land and spirits where you are:
It is good and arguably necessary to be thankful for the land and spirits near and around you. Not only are they present but they have given you nourishment, guidance, and sometimes protection. So go ahead and give acknowledgement and thanks.
If you’re in America (or anywhere else) and not part of a tribe/band, don’t bring those religious beliefs into your practice:
This might seem extremely blunt and again, nobody can stop you from doing what you want. What I will say is that it can be offensive and at the end of the day we want to do good by those around us. I also believe that if you are going to incorporate any form of aboriginal belief or practice into your spiritual system that is not your own, be informed! Know the ins and outs of what you are including and be mindful.
Go ahead and use some things:
Wait, this contradicts EVERYTHING I have just written. Yes, I know this and I stand by my previous pointers. When you learn about any culture or practice and you find something that resonates; this is an important opportunity. This gives you the opportunity to find ways that your spiritual practice relates with another culture and can give you a new view or feeling of what other people have in their own systems. Use those feelings and use those ideas in a way that connects you with others. You can appropriately share your views and feelings. You can also share a new method of practice when (and only when) you have given this method the study and time it deserves.
So what does this mean for all of those chakra balancing, yogic, and Ayurvedic followers? This means exactly what I said: “You can also share a new method of practice when (and only when) you have given this method the study and time it deserves.” If you want to implement a form of medicine that is from an aboriginal culture, please study it. I would hate to read of people accidentally poisoning themselves because they read a blog or watched a video on Native American Medicine and felt like they were suddenly a pro.
If you want to utilize a sage cleansing ceremony, go right ahead. I just ask that you read about its history and realize that to different tribes/bands it means something deep and powerful. And if you want to weave a dream catcher for those nightmares of yours, weave away my friend. Just be sure to realize in some tribes/bands, like the Lakota, the dream catcher has a mythology and deep purpose that you may not have thought of.
We all have the opportunity to find good in the world and good in other people. In fact, this is at the core of every human (I believe). It also is at the core of my own spiritual practice. At the end of the day we all want to be connected to something and part of a bigger picture. And at the end of the day I believe we all are part of a bigger picture. That is why it is so important that we honor each system, belief, and practice with respect.
Walk your path with integrity and light.