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PSA: Yes, “Spirit Animals” Are Cultural Appropriation- That Means You

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Another important topic has been bought up on my dash, and that is the use of “spirit animals”. Having an animal guide or an animal familiar or an animal you really like is not the same as a spirit animal: and for those of you who are confused, here are several Tumblr posts to help you understand:



[NB: if you (like me) are non-Native and you reblogged agentotter’s commentary PLEASE read sofriel’s refutation below. “Spirit Animal” as a non-Native phrase is SUPER FUCKED UP.]






Petition to start using “patronus” instead of “spirit animal” because not being appropriative is pretty rad.

Okay let’s go through this one more time. Deep breath.

If you think the concept of “spirit animals” comes from Native American religious practices, you are wrong. Also, you’re probably basing your ideas about Native American spiritualism on movies that are incredibly, extremely, offensively wrong. (Spoiler alert: You cannot actually paint with all the colors of the wind.) You’re also failing to understand that Native American and First Nations people are not a homogeneous group, that they do not now and have never existed as a single people with a single set of beliefs. In short, what I’m saying is that just this once, calling this appropriation is actually the thing that is offensive.

If you think the concept of “spirit animals” is specific to any one cultural or religious practice, you are wrong. This idea of animal guides and related ones — like shape-shifting, people possessed by the spirits of animals, particular interpretations of animal dreams, a certain attitude toward the hunting of animals, etc etc — have roots in all sorts of ancient religions, including eastern Shamanic religions, Celtic religions, really religions of of every description… I could go on. Essentially it’s animism, which is common to the whole of human experience, because there isn’t a culture on this planet that doesn’t have a complex, deep-rooted relationship of some kind with animals. But “spirit animals” as most of us understand the concept? Is a made-up thing. Just like Harry Potter’s patronus. Just like His Dark Materials’ daemons. Just like basically any other “inoffensive” alternative on offer.

Essentially, “spirit animal” is a trope. I happen to fucking love that trope. I think it’s fun and interesting. It’s not a real concept, except possibly for Wiccans and New Agers, both of whom appropriated the concept from — guess what! — their completely wrong ideas about Native spiritual practices. I’m willing to bet that everything you’ve ever learned about Native religions came from a white person. I’m willing to bet that it’s wrong.

For all these people who want to be sensitive to Native culture, you can do a lot better than defending their honor from a concept that isn’t theirs in the first place. (You can start by acknowledging that it’s New Age, not Native. AT ALL.) There are so many ways you can learn about Native culture and the problems that tribes face directly from the people themselves. You could start small. Read some Sherman Alexie. Watch Reel Injun orIncident at Oglala on Netflix. Read up on why exactly casting Johnny Depp as Tonto is fucking horrible. Try actually learning something about what they’re going through (basically a never-ending shitstorm of oppression and erasure) and you can help just by being more informed. Become a social justice crusader foractual social justice issues. Still not sure about the spirit animal thing? These Natives would be happy to tell you all about it. And these ones. And this one. (tl;dr: They’re sick of your bullshit.)

This information about “spirit animals” not being a thing makes sense, but I’m not really clear on how referencing a stereotypical, New-Age misinterpretation of Native American religion is that much less offensive/appropriative than improperly referencing an actual Native American religious concept? Doesn’t appropriation usually involve portraying the original culture(s)/religion(s) inaccurately?

that makes sense to me, and I’ve definitely also read things by Native folks here writing against using the term “spirit animal”, although I can’t find any of them just now. perhaps sofriel or moniquill (or others, I’m not sure who else follows me) might have more input.

No. Nooooooooooooooo. No. God, I would like to make a rule where non-Natives are not allowed to make any sort of statements on the appropriativeness or non-appropriativeness of “spirit animals” ever again. 

Fact 1: I am Native. So-called “spirit animals” are part of my spiritual tradition, which is Metis-Anishinaabe. They’re usually called by the Anishinaabe word, which I am not putting on the internet, or “spirit/dream helpers” in English. Natives in fact are not, gasp, homogeneous, and omg some of us have different spiritual traditions than others! (look, I can do the obnoxious patronizing voice too!) And so just because you point to three Native people from cultures that don’t have such a tradition doesn’t mean that it doesn’t exist! This tradition is a VERY sacred one, and thanks to colonization it is being forgotten in huge amounts, to the extent that most young Natives don’t even really know much about it—a situation exacerbated by the popular appropriation of “spirit animals.”

Fact 2: Yes, people around the world have and had similar traditions of spirit helpers, who are frequently animals. HOWEVER, the concept of spirit animals in popular culture came from anthropologists’ descriptions of Native American religions (see Durkheim, The Elementary Forms of Religious Life). It doesn’t matter if the ancient Celts had similar practices, because spirit animals are associated in the popular imagination with Natives, not Celts. I and other Natives regularly get asked, “Can you tell me what my spirit animal is??” Irish people, for instance, do not. And “it’s not Native, it’s New Age” my ass.Where the hell do you think the New Agers got it from? They got it from anthropology textbooks and from the hippies who went to the reservations in the 60s seeking Noble Savage enlightenment.

Fact 3: The fact that spirit animals in popular culture are a bastardized form of Native traditions does not mean they are not appropriative or harmful. Why? Because the popular idea of it comes to supersede the original meaning, infantilizing our traditions.Non-Natives start to think that they understand our traditions, and that they are primitive, rather than actually consulting and trying to understand. This gets bad when those non-Natives are the ones with control over our legal ability to practice our religion. Non-Native appropriation of the sweatlodge incorrectly done and causing death, for example, has resulted in greater restrictions on Native sweatlodges, because the non-Native interpretation was assumed to be representative. 

Fact 4: Appropriation is a part of Native oppression, not a decoy issue, good lord. This attitude of popular ownership of Native traditions causes people to deny Natives the right to practice our religion, which is tied to the colonization and denial of access to our landbase since our practices are often linked to specific places, which is tied to the situation on reservations. It’s tied to the psychological state of our people, because you try growing up with having everyone making an utter mockery of your religion and see how your self-esteem comes out.

And yeah, I will also say, if calling out appropriation is the only thing you’re doing to help Native people, if you are just shouting “Don’t wear headdresses!” and don’t actually get why it’s a problem, then yes, you’re kinda failing as an ally. But appropriation is part of the violence being done to indigenous people. 

You did get one thing right though, we are sick of your bullshit. Very, very sick of it.


I see a lot of ppl on my dash reblogging the post where someone else says that “spirit animal” is not a racist or culturally appropriative term because it’s “New Age” and not Native—but that doesn’t erase the v v smart and true response that sofriel explains above: where did the New Agers get that stereotype and how are you acting in concert with their racism???


Please stop with your weak attempts to justify your appropriation. PSA over

Books for the Pagan of Color

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Hello there lovelies!

I know I said I would get around to creating this list, but I’ve been busy with (insert excuse here)

So tonight I thought that I would at least start a list of my favorite non-Eurocentric pagan books. I feel as if this is highly important, because so so so so sooo many books on the modern Pagan market a) do not address-nor where they made with the consideration of-PoC and b) do not mention non-European spiritualites or deities, or if they do, they are often in some sort of appropriating way. So tonight I’m going to be compiling a list of non-Eurocentric books for the PoC interested in practices, beliefs, cultures, and deities of other non-European cultures.

For the record, I am only posting those books in which I am able to say are good and worth reading. All of these books I own in a digital format.  I am also in the process of reading them.


The Lunar Tao: Meditations in Harmony with the Seasons by Deng Ming-Dao

This is one of my favorite books. I have not finished reading it, however it is so good and insightful, I recommend to anyone who is looking for a natural, earth based path.  This book is rich with Chinese culture, and is the perfect example of how other cultures revere the natural cycle- and the moon. This is Taoism at it’s finest- if you are interested in Taoism, please look no further than this book. 


The Living I Ching: Using Ancient Chinese Wisdom to Shape Your Life by: Deng Ming Dao

Too many times have I seen the I Ching approprtiated by Pagans who want to learn a new form of divination without understanding Chinese culture. If you want to learn about this beautiful, poetic, and complex form of Chinese wisdom, I highly recommend this book.


A Healing Grove: African Tree Remedies and Rituals for Body and Spirit by Stephanie Rose Bird

This is one of my favorite pagan books. As an African American pagan, this book has been such a learning experience. Not only does the author explain and differentiate between the different tribes and countries in Africa (Unlike most Pagan books), she also provides amazing information on the wide variety of trees and healing plants, as well as how you can live as an African-inspired herbalist.  A wonderful book for anyone who loves trees and tree-lore (herbalism as well) but cannot find pagan-oriented books that deviate away from European lore.


Sticks, Stones, Roots & Bones: Hoodoo, Mojo & Conjuring with Herbs by: Stephanie Rose Bird

If you are looking for insight into African American herbalism, please, I implore you, choose this book over Denis Alvarado’s “Hoodoo Voodoo Spellbook”. While I will be giving a review on that book later, I will tell you here that it is a prime example of cultural appropriation and white washing of Hoodoo in the current Pagan community. Stephanie Rose Bird’s book, however, presents Hoodoo as not as some mass of formulas and recipes for Mojo hands, but instead, she presents it as it really is-a diverse system of African American spiritual herbalism that can be used to enrich your life, connect with the Earth, honor the ancestors, and empower yourself. Highly recommended.


Almond Eyes, Lotus Feet: Indian Traditions in Beauty and Health by  Sharada Dwivedi and  Shalini Devi Holkar

While not necessarily a “pagan” book, I found this book to be a wonderful source of Indian lore in regards to beauty rituals. A good read for anyone looking for homemade and traditional beauty recipes.


An Illustrated Chinese Materia Medica by: Jing-Nuan Wu

This is a fantastic resource for anyone looking to study Chinese medicine and herbalism. A very accurate source, it’s intricately detailed and meticulously drawn.

Understanding Problematic Beliefs: What About the Gaps?

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This blog post was inspired by something that came up on my dashboard on Tumblr. It reads like this:

“The Universe sends us exactly what we are ready for at the exact time we need it in our lives.”

Why is that problematic, you say? Well, the problem with beliefs like this is that people take them for absolute facts instead of personal beliefs. Many people who believe in various forms of Karma, the Threefold Law, the Law of Return, ect,  have them backed up by personal experiences, thus re-affriming said belief.

The problem is that there are many gaps in thinking this way, because there remains a lot of  unanswered questions. Here are some questions I propose to counter the Three Fold Law:

  • Does harm against anything result in the Threefold law? Does eating a chicken which has been killed- either through more human methods or through factory farming- mean that a person will recieve punishment?
  • Is the Threefold Law in referrence to just magical practices, or in everyday life?
  • How long does it take for justice to be distributed to the person after an act-either good or bad- has been committed?
  • Does the Law apply to those who don’t believe in it?
  • Isn’t saying that the Law exists and applies to even those who don’t believe in it the same as Christians who assure us that hell is real, even though we don’t believe in that?

Some of you may have even answered those questions as you go along. As you may have learned- through pagan books, blogs, and other sources- different people have different answers, different interpretations of the same laws.

For something to be considered a Universal law, it must apply to everyone and everything. Laws usually have set rules and meanings, and aren’t fluid and up for interpritation. Gravity, for example, is a rule, although the way that it applies outside of Earth is different. Gravity, as it applies on Earth, is not up for personal interpretation.

The thing that pissed me off so much in regards to this Tumblr post is the fact that some people treat every bad thing in life as if it was a lesson to be learned. This is not to say that there are no lessons, it’s just that you cannot say that everything negative thing that has happened is some sort of learning experience that we should take note of . Honestly, if you think about it, you can understand why this is problematic. You mean to tell me that slavery was a lesson to be learned? That the Universe waited until juuuussst the right time to free all those slaves?  That their lives were just a lesson to us all to treat  other better?


The point of this post is not to attack people who believe in particular beliefs, but to reinforce the fact that they are beliefs, and are not set in stone. We have to understand-as a community- that anyone who does not believe in the Threefold Law is some sort of negative Pagan bandit whose giving the community a bad rep. We have to understand that to foist our beliefs onto others is just as bad as a Christian foisting their beliefs on us. We have to understand the gaps in thinking and theology, and admit to ourselves that sometimes we just don’t have all the answers.



White Out: If You Can’t See it, it’s Not a Success!

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A prime example of whitewashing and how Euro-centric beliefs prevail within the Pagan community.

Black Witch

Storytime! So one day I was at my local metaphysical shop and I saw a goddess statue for sale among many on the wall behind the register and mentioned, “Hey, that’s a nice Brigid you have.” It had a white dress on, pale skin, flowing hair, I figured it was a Celtic goddess. Then the shop assistant, who I have known for years, snorted a laughter and said, “That’s Yemaya.”


I immediately responded, “You lyin’, she’s White,” and as solid proof, she took down the figurine and there it was beneath the pale feet was “Yemaya” stamped on the name plate.

Lemme throw up a picture here so y’all can see what I saw, sans the nameplate:

The shop assistant was just as baffled as me, “I don’t know why we have it, Yemaya is not White, she looks like she was dropped in bleach.” I told her, “Yemaya…

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Why Katy Perry’s AMA “Performance” is Racist

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Well, no doubt many of you are scratching your heads or shaking them with disbelief over Perry’s AMA performance. Most likely, however, you’re confused as to  why so many people are getting their panties into a knot over it. What’s wrong with it? Wasn’t she just dressing up? Why are people so sensitive about race? It’s just a costume.


She’s dressing up- using someone else’s culture as the costume and a bunch of random Asian props as her background.

For those of you who don’t seem to understand, the East has long been plagued by exotification and appropriation of it’s many diverse cultures. Many Asian women-especially Asian American women- are turned into sex objects, as stereotypes of the sexy, submissive, stereotypical Asian girlfriend/lover plagues the mind of many men.

Also is the tendency to ignore the fact that Asia is not limited to just China and Korea and Japan- it is also made up India, Vietnam, and Thailand, just to name a few. These are all different countries, each with their own individual cultures, food, and ways of life.

So the very fact that one privileged white pop singer feels as if she has the right to get up on stage and ignore the cultural diversity of an entire continent is extremely disrespectful. Picking a bunch of “Asian Inspired” clothing and props is disrespectful to those people who you are stealing from especially since homogenization of Asian cultures is extremely prevalent in the United States.

Taking a “kimono” and sexing it up for your viewers also plays into the “sexy Geisha” stereotype that America can’t seem to get enough of. Geisha led very complicated lives, and yet people still believe that Geisha’s were prostitutes or some type of  sex workers (not that there is anything wrong with being a sex worker). By dressing up and pretending to be one, what you are doing is playing into harmful assumptions and stereotypes that many people still believe, reinforcing the image of sexy, exotic Asian women.

Also important to note is that when members of a particular race practice cultural activities, they are met with scorn, distrust, disgust, and racism. Because of white privilege, it is always okay for a white person to practice a cultural activity belonging to a certain culture, but when a person of said race does it, it is no longer okay.

For those of you wailing, here is a list of examples:

  • Black women who wear braids are seen as ghetto, white women who do it are seen as edgy or stylish.
  • Indian women who wear Indian clothing are seen as “too ethnic” and unwilling to except white American culture, white women who do it are seen as fashionable or exotic.
  • Black women who twerk are seen as ghetto and un-classy,white women who twerk are seen as just dancing or even as sexy.
  • Native Americans who dress in their respective traditional clothing are seen as being old fashioned, unwilling to “give it up” and just accept white American culture- white people who dress up as stereotypical, homogenized versions of Native Americans, complete with random ass paint markings and feathers are seen as (by a lot of people) edgy, boho, unique, alternative

The list goes on and on.

Not to mention the overt racism that also happened when Psy, an actual Asian- get’s up on stage, que the racist ass chanting.

So basically the lesson is that it’s okay for white people to take the pretty parts of other people’s culture, but it’s not okay for people of that culture to do them. Because everyone knows that white people just do everything better.

Propaganda About Muslim Women: How Does it Fit into White Oppression?

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If you live in America, then no doubt you are aware of the “politics” surrounding what Muslim women choose to wear on their bodies. I wanted to write this blog post about it, because it is actually very important.

Usually in topics such as these, whether it’s white people speaking about sexism in the black community or what Muslim women choose to put on their bodies- notice how there is always a need to make it appear as if somehow these cultures are any more sexist than their own.

They will always try to make it seem as if their culture is somehow the pinnacle of appropriate behavior, overlooking their own flaws and instead choosing to focus on those in PoC communities, because those flaws they find only serve to feed how great white culture is as compared to those of PoC.

Also is a need to “save” brown women from brown men, (or other PoC). Here we also see how many white people view MoC (Men of Color) as beastly, uncouth, and uneducated. The idea that WoC would be “better off” if they simply emerge themselves in white culture or just stay away from men of their own race is also present- as if somehow things are always better if they are white.

The very fact is that white people are offended that you will not shed your own beliefs and culture and be more like other Americans. (White) This is also coupled with the propaganda the U.S. is using in order to fuel it’s interference with the Middle East, under the guise of fighting terrorism. The U.S. has a history of painting other races and cultures as barbaric, lazy, uncivilized masses in order to fuel it’s political agenda- today is no different, albeit in a much more subtle form. 

Hatred, misunderstanding, and down right LIES about what is and what it means to be a Muslim only serve to rile white America up into outrage, building anti-Islam into a smear campaign against Middle-Eastern Americans.

The idea of a white Nun being the epicenter of purity and devotion but a fully covered Muslim women being oppressed is no coincidence.

Because the idea that women’s bodies- especially those exotic, foreign brown women- are covered from white male eyes is literally throwing white America into a tizzy. Because in American culture, women’s bodies only exist for the gratification of white men, to serve as their own sexual fantasies and conquests.

The idea of a Muslim women- or any other women- is refusing to please the white male gaze is like an unmentionable crime.

Also present is the confusion that sexual freedom somehow equals power, because if  you please white males and entertain their white male privilege, everything ill be a-okay. Just don’t mention their privilege. Or your culture, other than those “exotic” adornments. Or expect him to take your customs seriously. Or honor your family.

Why I Don’t Want to Hear Your White Opinions on Race

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Another thing that often sickens me whenever talk about race and racism is involved is when white people attempt to have any sort of dialogue on it. Why? Because most of the time they cannot see past their own prejudice, white privilege and white guilt to truly see the matter- these things distort their perception of events, and they often try to take race out of things because the topics of race and white privilege in general makes them uncomfortable.

Whether it’s Lily Allen or Miley, it seems as if white critiquers always manage to divert attention from the actual problem in facor on focusing away from racial conversations. The very fact that white people believe they have the right to tell PoC what is and is not cultural appropriation and theft is white privilege. The fact that Miley’s sexuality will be applauded while Beyonce’s will be demonized is because of white privilege and the constant demonization/fetishization of WoC by society.

This is why most PoC tell whites that their opinions are not needed or wanted- because their opinions often attempt to derail conversations away from race and thus away from any feelings of white guilt.

Your guilt is not my problem. I don’t care what you thought about Lily Allen’s video, because I know that you will just assume that I’m overaccting, “bringing race into it”, being a “race-baiter” ect. This is why your opinions on topics are not wanted in PoC spaces- like this blog.

Because while in most other places (minus a select few) you will be assured that race and cultural appropriation had nothing to do with it, thus soothing any anxiety you feel when the subject of race comes up. It will not happen here.

What I will say is that most comments on race by white people range from blatenly ignorent to downright disgusting, whether it’s about racial crime (it’s not about race!) racial discrimination (that’s just the race card) cultural appropriation (I’m just appreciating the culture!) or what the fuck ever.