Spiritual Misappropriation...The Latest Trend?

There is no denying the trend of spirituality that exist outside of Abrahamic religions. The resurgence of indigenous and esoteric practices, combined with the popularity of yoga, tantra, eastern spirituality, and energy healing therapies, has taken spirituality into the mainstream. At times it feels we should celebrate this new wave of spiritual efforts being made. "Hooray!" Right? As fascinating as this is and as exciting many must feel to leave behind their Abrahamic religions and sway towards a more organic, indigenous approach to spirituality, we can not negate that the enthusiasm of some has crossed the lines into the territory of misappropriation. Unfortunately, spiritual misappropriation is a trend that does not seem to be going out of fashion.

To misappropriate means "to steal, or otherwise use something in a way its owner did not intend." Spiritual misappropriation occurs when there is a public disclosure, sharing, and teaching of spiritual traditions, practices, and/or concepts by either inexperience people and/or anyone who has not properly went through the appropriate channels and training to teach and speak. To put it simply, it has become common to find many people very early in their spiritual journey assume the role of teaching without receiving proper training and mentorship under a teacher. Many would say "these spiritual concepts can be shared and taught by whomever", this statement is not only inaccurate, but a folly. Case in point: would you trust your surgery in the hands of professional surgeon who studied and went through the process of medical school, or would you put your life in the hands of someone who learned from YouTube videos? This may be an exaggerated scenario, but it drives the point that there are subjects, task, and vocations that are to only be performed by professionals. The same applies to spirituality.

It was never the intention of the priest/priestess, shamans, medicine workers, yogis or any initiates/teachers of spiritual traditions or energy healing modalities to be taught by anyone who had not gone through any formalize training and acceptance of these teachings into their daily lives. To not have gone through formalize training in areas such as ancestral reverence, plant medicine, ritual rights, energy clearings, divination, and many more, and begin teaching and sharing these concepts publicly, it is an act of spiritual misappropriation. For example: to be a certified Yoga Instructor, a person must complete at least 300 hours of a Yoga-Teacher training with a certified instructor. Now imagine you have elected to accept the Yoga-Teacher training course, you paid the fees, and you spent months learning all the positions, techniques, and instructions to grant you the right to teach. Now you have completed the course, years have passed and you are teaching others. One day you come across another person charging people and teaching. You asked this person, where they received their training and certification. The person replied that no one taught them, they never received certification, and that they simply sat in a couple of Yoga classes and decided to take it upon themselves to teach. You as the certified instructor with years of experience, how would you feel about this? As a certified professional you will not only see it as a disrespect to the yoga practice, but a danger for people to be taught by an uncertified person. To fully grasp the depth of of indigenous base spiritual concepts takes more than just listening to podcast, sitting in on workshops, or parading/dancing around at festivals under the influence of psychedelics. To understand the ways of spirituality takes years of study, training, and engraining into a spiritual lifestyle. Part of the spiritual lifestyle is being under the guidance and instruction of a bonafide spiritual master teacher, also referred to as an elder or mentor. Through the guidance of an elder, an individual can begin the process of learning and navigating through a spiritual tradition that with time will become engrain within a person lifestyle.

Numerous indigenous traditions have a common thread that knowledge is passed from generation to generation from elder to student, to which the student becomes the elder, and so on and so forth. It is through this dissemination of information that many traditions today continue to thrive and adapt to our modern world. Case in point the Lucumi-Ifa/Orisha traditions (commonly known as Santeria). Lucumi traditions stem from West African spirituality believed by the Yoruba people. During the Diaspora, many slaves were taken to Latin American and despite the oppressive state they experienced, they were able to preserve the faiths in the Americas by adapting to their new environment. This adaptation of Yoruba-Orisha spirituality into the New World was made in part due to the initiated slaves who made it a point to continue passing on their knowledge from generation to generation. It was because of their spirituality they were able to continue. Utilizing the Lucumi traditions as an example, we can understand to never negate people in today's time carrying these traditions and spiritual concepts because they will continue to disseminate the information to those that have embraced the spiritual lifestyle of the tradition.

In no way should reading this discourage people from finding a tradition and/or spiritual practice that works for them. It is our right as humans to understand how we are to serve. This is a call to plant the seeds of mindfulness to not step over how many spiritual concepts have survived.

To be an ally or advocate of preserving any indigenous tradition, one must keep in mind that there are already practitioners and initiates carrying on the practices. One must never assume that the work of preservation is not happening. Not remembering the already established practitioners and their opinions will showcase a lack of respect and further cause for an individual to commit acts of spiritual misappropriation.

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