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Some Things Are Sacred: Spirituality and Appropriation

In recent years, spirituality and healing practices have become quite popular amongst many demographics. Interests in learning how to naturally combat life’s everyday stressors and cleanse one’s environment from negative energy have prompted people to engage in tarot, charging crystals, mediation, and smudging. Like most new interests, though, it’s important to do your research. These healing practices didn’t just materialize out of thin air. Each practice and its components originate from specific cultures and/or tribes. They are sacred and shouldn’t be carried out by those who aren’t a part of that culture. 

I have found cleansing methods, like burning sage, to be the most problematic amongst the several healing practices. White sage, specifically, has been highlighted by Indigenous peoples  as a sacred herb that is cherished within their community, but it is currently going extinct. It is their medicine and has been their medicine since before 1492, but it is being exploited and used for profit by big capitalist corporations. Simply put, if you are not Native American and choose to smudge using white sage, you are actively participating in cultural appropriation and the endangerment of a sacred species. It is equally important to note healing practices, like smudging, are becoming somewhat of a trend. 

It wasn’t until 1978, under The American Indian Religious Freedom Act, that this way of life was made legal by the United States government. This act protected the rights of Native Americans to exercise their traditional religions by ensuring access to sites, use and possession of sacred objects, and the freedom to worship through ceremonials and traditional rites. Before this legislation was enacted, Indigenous people could be subject to starvation, imprisonment, torture, and even execution for participating in their spirituality. Before smudging became a familiar and rampant healing method, Native Americans were branded as evil and exotic for taking part in the culture they created. 

In times of uncertainty, anguish, and distress it’s important to look for healthy ways to cope with your anxiety. In doing so, remember to be respectful of coping mechanisms that aren’t yours to participate in. All it takes is being mindful and going out your way to research the things you aren’t sure about. Spirituality and healing is such an expansive and historical concentration that you are sure to find practices that you can participate in. It’s all about delving deep into your ancestral origins and finding out what cultural practices you identify with.

Raven Flowers is a sophomore Biology major at Howard University where she works as a student researcher in their College of Arts and Sciences honors biology program. In addition to research and health studies, Raven enjoys reading, writing, music, yoga, and vegan alfredo. She is an advocate for inclusion of Black environmentalists in the global fight against climate change and enjoys partaking in conversation about sustainability movements, particularly in the fashion industry.
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