In 2007 I began working for a wilderness therapy program called SageWalk, the wilderness school. We took teens with behavioral and emotional issues into the high desert of Central Oregon, taught them survival skills, and allowed the experience of living in nature transform them, reflect their own brilliance and resilience back to them, to show them how strong and capable they truly are. Of course, it had the same effect on all of us, including the staff.
The culmination of the program for each student involved a solo experience, where they lived outside of the group for any number of days, sitting with themselves and seeing what the wilderness wished to show them. At the end of their solo, each student received an “earth name,” in a sacred ceremony around a fire in a stone circle, and each name came with a story and a hand sewn leather pouch. We would tell them the stories we had written for them, as witnesses to their magical transformations, giving them new frameworks to see themselves, and they were called their earth name for the remainder of their time in wilderness.
The staff, too, received earth names and stories. Mine came in late fall of 2007, and it was one of the most impactful memories of feeling seen, loved, and understood. Waking Journey, the story of a woman walking into the sunrise, willing it to cast its light on the land, welcoming deeper growth and self-awareness with each step she takes. This is the story that informs everything I do now in my work, casting the light of the sun on the hidden places within ourselves, loving the journey as it is an intrinsic part of life itself.
I have been torn about telling the story of my name, for there are problematic elements to this beautiful journey. The ceremonies we led for the students were incredibly meaningful and powerful, and the need for a rite of passage in youth that honored the truth and power of a young person was (and is) was great, and so missing in our culture. But because of our dominant culture’s lack of meaningful rites of passage, and the lack of connection to the land and the rhythms of the Earth, because we have forgotten our own ancient stories and ceremonies, we used a framework that did not belong to us, inspired by Indigenous traditions and beliefs, with no connection to the culture and peoples from which we were taking.
Appropriation is a problem that is rampant in the spiritual growth industry. I am guilty of it myself—I continued to use white sage as a ceremonial tool without understanding where it came from and the impact my usage of this sacred tool was having on others (this is one example of many and I know there are still blind spots in my practices and this is an ongoing process of understanding and recalibrating). I know appropriation is a hot topic right now, but it is something that matters to me a lot. I have taken many trainings and workshops of different indigenous and “shamanic” modalities and it has always felt a bit off to me, as ancient practices are commodified for profit but very little is done to challenge how our dominant culture continue to oppress and marginalize and straight up eliminate the very cultures that these sacred practices come from. But, I would think to myself: these types of practices don’t exist in dominant white culture—and I need them! And then I started to delve into the question: Why don’t they exist in white culture? The answer is not hard to find. We eliminated them in our own communities with the spread of Christianity, Patriarchy, and “Western Civilization.” During the Renaissance (over several hundreds of years, actually), healers, medicine women and midwives, practitioners of the “old ways,” and anyone not conforming to the ideals of the Christian church and the male dominated systems and institutions of the time were systematically tortured and murdered, wiping out our own stories and traditions, the same as we did later to the Native peoples of this land, to the African peoples brought to this land against their will, and whomever else dares to be true to their own cultural practices and beliefs.
As a white woman, I am both a victim and a perpetrator of colonization/colonialism. This work is complex and I believe it is rooted in our spiritual growth. However, it is important in our process to seek out understanding of our own lineages and traditions, and not use other cultures’ practices without permission and for profit. We need to be open to understanding how our work perpetuates oppression and inequality. We need to be willing to alter our practices accordingly. We need to give credit to the original sources of these potent spiritual tools and we need to support them energetically and financially. We need to listen and follow people of color in this work. Integrity must be leading the way in everything we do. We also need to mourn the loss of connection to our own indigenous practices and allow our grief to help us understand what other communities have experienced through colonization.
When we do this, we become even more powerful. When I connect to my ancestors, and the lands they came from, and the herbs they used, my magic is much more effective than when I use stories and plants and traditions that are not my own. That being said, there is such beauty in sharing spiritual traditions and learning from each other—but it must be done in a way that honors each other fully and with permission! We must also be always advocating for this in our work, for we do not operate in a bubble, and if we care little for how our practices may be negatively impacting others, our magic is not clean and we are manifesting from our shadow.
Some ways to incorporate these principals into your spiritual work RIGHT NOW:
Know the sources of your spiritual tools and start producing them yourself. Instead of buying white sage, make a bundle of juniper, rosemary, or any other herbs you grow in your own garden, or can harvest thoughtfully from the land where you live. When purchasing spiritual tools, find out where they come from. Purchase them from indigenous sources to support the communities that they come from.
Find out who lived on your land before white settlers came there. Honor those communities; listen to their stories and support them financially and politically. Seek out information about the history of Native communities and speak about it to others.
Crystals are a beautiful tool and a booming industry, but there is very little regulation at this point about how/where they are sourced. Often, children are working in these mines in extremely dangerous conditions and paid a pittance. KNOW WHERE YOUR STUFF COMES FROM, and ask the stores where you shop to educate themselves and be accountable to what they are selling and the energy that it comes from.
If you are a white woman, stop centering yourself! Listen to people of color and consume their work: writing/journalism, art, music, etc. Pay them for their labor—especially that of educating you about inequality and oppression. Understand that it is time to lift up and amplify the voices of the marginalized, not talk over or take over. We are not here to rescue anyone! We are here to be accountable and hold white culture accountable for the harm it has done, and begin the process of making amends and repair.
How/where you spend your money has incredible power. Think about the businesses you support. Are they ethical? Do they create tons of garbage? Do they contain ingredients that poison you and/or the environment? Do they exploit cheap labor, or indigenous communities? Can you use your privilege and pay a little extra to purchase sustainable goods made by people of color and/or marginalized folks and support the growth and financial success of those communities?
Be willing to lovingly challenge the men in your life to be more aware and accountable to these ideas as well. White women have enabled the structures that white men have created and been complicit in upholding harmful institutions out of a belief it keeps us safe (and we are reasonably comfortable, so it’s not really our problem…right?). Speak up. Challenge white men to speak up. In order to change this whole shit show we are in, we need white men to get on board with us! We need to show them what it means to share power, and understand that shared power is not lost power, it actually increases our power!