Confronting Appropriation in Witchcraft

Make sure you use your personal power in the proper way.

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Hello, wonderful witches!

Today I want to start out by discussing a term I absolutely cannot stand: “baby witch.” (It’s relevant to today’s article, I promise.) If you’ve had any personal interactions with me outside this newsletter, you likely already know it makes my skin crawl. But here’s why: Calling yourself a baby witch immediately infantilizes you and dismisses your own innate power. So what if you’ve only been following your path for a few months, a week, or even a day? You’ve decided to dive into your pagan spirituality—that makes you a witch. A novice witch? Sure. A witch-in-training? Why not. But don’t dismiss your own skill—whether it has emerged yet or not—by calling yourself a baby. That being said, there are a couple instances when it’s an appropriate term. One, if it’s a literal baby that’s a witch. Two, if it’s a little critter that looks like the below, which often elicits a squeal of “awwww look at the baby witchie!!!”

Full disclosure, I’m also a Boston terrier owner, so this is likely not the last time you’ll see Bostons in this newsletter. So anyway… please stop saying “baby witch.” Embrace your power!

OK, so here’s how that all relates to today’s article. Some newer witches—or ones that came to witchcraft through the current trendy methods of spiritual wellness—have a tendency to try a boatload of different traditions and tactics to see what works for them. Which is great! As long as you’re being responsible about it. That means researching what you’re about to do to see if it’s appropriate. There’s an unfortunate trend of modern-day white-identifying witches co-opting Indigenous and African spiritualities for their own practices. Writer Lola Méndez explains.


Confronting Appropriation in Witchcraft

By Lola Méndez
Photo by Joanna Kosinska on Unsplash.

Ever since colonizers first wreaked havoc in the Caribbean, Latin America, Africa, and Asia, they’ve been after herbs and spices with magical medicinal properties. Herbalism was a common practice among many animist cultures who turned to healers for alchemy in times of trouble and times of joy.

“Euro-Americans have always profited off of what they proclaimed at some point to be primitive,” Dr. Sunyatta Amen, Afro-Caribbean naturopath doctor, vegan entrepreneur, fifth-generation herbalist, and witch said.

In the States, it was illegal for Indigenous people to practice their methods of spirituality until 1978. Spiritual leader ancestors paid in blood for their beliefs for centuries.

“Midwives, herbalists, witches, and witch-doctors were the first to be murdered by colonists,” Dr. Amen said. “Shamans’ presence stood in direct spiritual opposition to the occupying force’s ability to use Christianity as a means of subjugation.”

The appropriation of ancient rituals continues in the 21st century. Problematic white-owned brands market traditional healing methods as nuevo wellness without properly crediting or compensating the cultures that originated the practices. These sacred traditions deserve respect, not monetization. Many modern witches borrow ideas without deep understanding. Dr. Amen recommends that white witches examine the history of rituals and festivals that are of European origin, like Imbolc, Beltane, Lughnasadh, and Samhain.

Ancient traditions come from a long family lineage. The initiation process begins in childhood and is a life-long education.

“No weekend retreat sweat lodge or six-month yoga teacher training can supplant that,” Dr. Amen said. “Mastery cannot be microwaved.” She recommends that ethical modern witches turn to elders to transfer information.

Some appropriation is blatantly obvious, such as white-led shamanic ceremonies including cacao circles, ayahuasca ceremonies, and peyote experiences. Other ways white people have co-opted witchcraft are a bit more subtle. Open up your cabinet at home and you’ll find many ingredients that are believed to have powers far beyond spicing up your dishes. For instance, Dr. Amen explains that allspice was used by Mayans and other Indigenous tribes in the Americas for male virility, fertility, and power. 

Sage is used in protection magic by Indigenous American tribes for purification rituals to drive away negativity and cultivate peace. Burning the herb is so trendy among modern-day witches who smudge their spaces that the plant is over-harvested. Indigenous people who customarily use sage now have difficulty accessing the sacred plant. Palo Santo, meaning “wood of saints” in Spanish, has also gained popularity and is threatened by over-harvesting, making it challenging for Amazonian tribes to cultivate the wood they use for ancestral ceremonies.

“Shamans teach that sacred trees like Palo Santo have a distinct spirit that lives in the wood after the tree’s life has ended,” Dr. Amen said. “It’s that honored spirit that does the healing. A spirit must be respected and never misused. ‘I just need to clear my space because my roommate moved out’ isn’t what the spirit of the tree had in mind when summoned. It’s not a spiritually charged Glade Plug-In.”

To decolonize witchcraft, we must become informed about the origins of magical practices and give proper credits to the cultures where they originate.

“Modern witches’ historically beneficial relationships with our stolen land and kidnapped ancestors must be publicly given due and permission granted by us before our practices are borrowed—for their spiritual safety,” Dr. Amen said.

We can be mindful of sourcing ingredients from BIPOC-owned businesses. Witchcraft with disregard for the sacred is nonsensical.

Lola Méndez is an Uruguayan-American freelance journalist. She writes about sustainability, travel, culture, and wellness for many print and digital publications such as CNN Travel, Lonely Planet, InStyle, Cosmopolitan, Ozy, and Bustle, in addition to her responsible travel blog, MissFilatelista.com. You can follow her on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and LinkedIn.

Book(s) of Shadows

This sometimes-section of Kitchen Witch is where I like to call out witchy literature and books that I’m particularly excited about. Right now, that’s “Italian Folk Magic: Rue’s Kitchen Witchery,” by Mary-Grace Fahrun. If you want to learn about traditional Italian witchcraft, particularly how it shows up in the kitchen, use this book as a starting point. For a detailed review, head over to one of my favorite newsletters, Books on GIF, where you can read a recap and review peppered with my preferred method of communication: funny GIFs. A new book gets the GIF treatment in every issue, and it’s a delight to scroll through.

Another couple great books I’m looking forward to are “WitchCraft Cocktails,” a collection of 70 magical drinks by Julia Halina Hadas (publishes September 8); and Grimoire by Arin Murphy-Hiscock, a pre-made Book of Shadows with illustrated pages to add your own spells, correspondences, and rituals (publishes October 27).


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Coming Up Next Week…

If you haven’t yet discovered the joys of fire cider, you’re about to—and you’ll get a recipe, as well.

See you then!