Skip to Content

Witchcraft and Cultural Appropriation: A Critical Examination


In recent times, the concept of “Witchcraft and Cultural Appropriation” has become a topic of significant interest and debate. This blog post is dedicated to unraveling the intricate relationship between the burgeoning world of witchcraft and the contentious issues of cultural appropriation. Our focus is to shed light on the multifaceted aspects of this discussion, offering an in-depth and nuanced analysis. We will explore how modern witchcraft, a realm deeply intertwined with various spiritual traditions, is navigating the complex waters of cultural appropriation, aiming to provide a well-rounded and insightful perspective on this important subject.

Witchcraft and Cultural Appropriation: A Critical Examination 1

The Rise of Modern Witchcraft and Its Cultural Implications

Modern witchcraft has seen a significant revival, particularly in the United States. This resurgence can be attributed to various factors, including increased interest in spiritual practices, holistic healing, and new age spirituality. However, with this growth comes a critical issue: the appropriation of cultural and religious practices from indigenous and marginalized communities.

The Starter Witch Kit Controversy

A notable example of this issue was the backlash against the “starter witch kit” sold by major retailers like Urban Outfitters. This kit, which included white sage smudge sticks and tarot cards, sparked outrage among many in the spiritual community. Critics argued that it trivialized sacred practices and disregarded the deep roots of these traditions in indigenous cultures.

Witchcraft and Cultural Appropriation: A Critical Examination 2

The Complexity of Cultural Exchange

Cultural exchange, when done respectfully, can be a good thing, fostering understanding and appreciation between different communities. However, it becomes problematic when elements of a culture, particularly those with religious or spiritual significance, are commodified without understanding or respect for their original meaning and context.

Understanding Cultural Appropriation in Witchcraft

Cultural appropriation in witchcraft goes beyond mere imitation or borrowing. It often involves a power dynamic where dominant cultures, historically European colonizers and their descendants, take elements from marginalized cultures for their use, often erasing or altering their original context.

The Role of Social Media

Social media platforms have played a significant role in both the spread of modern witchcraft and the issues of cultural appropriation. Instagram and Twitter users frequently share images and information about their spiritual practices, sometimes including appropriative material. This widespread sharing can blur the line between cultural appreciation and appropriation, making it a complex history to navigate.

Indigenous Practices and Modern Witches

A significant point of contention is the use of indigenous practices, such as the burning of white sage or the use of spirit animals, by predominantly white practitioners. These practices have deep roots in Native American and other indigenous religious traditions. When used outside of these contexts, especially for financial gain or as a trendy element, it disrespects the original cultural context.

Witchcraft and Cultural Appropriation: A Critical Examination 3

Balancing Respect with Spiritual Exploration

For modern witches and those interested in spiritual practices, it’s crucial to understand the fine line between appreciation and appropriation. This includes recognizing the importance of personal and family lineage in certain practices, the sacredness of rituals to particular religions or cultures, and the impact of historical oppression.

Learning and Growing within the Witchcraft Community

The witchcraft community is diverse and ever-evolving, with new information and perspectives continually emerging. Engaging in open, respectful dialogues, educating oneself about the history and significance of various practices, and supporting practitioners from marginalized communities are vital steps in this journey.

Witchcraft and Cultural Appropriation: A Critical Examination 4

Five examples of cultural appropriation within the context of witchcraft:

  1. Use of Sacred Indigenous Items: The use of sacred items from indigenous cultures, such as white sage for smudging or the use of spirit animals, by individuals who do not belong to or understand these cultures, is a common form of appropriation. These practices have specific cultural and spiritual significance and are often used out of context or commercialized, disrespecting their original meaning and importance.
  2. Commercialization of Closed Practices: Selling items or services related to closed practices, like starter witch kits that include elements of specific cultural religious practices (e.g., voodoo dolls, Santeria beads), by businesses that don’t respect or understand their significance. Closed practices are those that should only be partaken in by individuals who are part of the culture or have been formally initiated or trained.
  3. Misappropriation of Rituals and Ceremonies: Adopting rituals and ceremonies from other cultures without understanding their significance, history, or correct practice. For example, non-Native individuals performing Native American ritual dances or ceremonies, or using Norse runes without understanding their historical and cultural background.
  4. Adopting Titles or Roles Specific to a Culture: Using titles or assuming roles that have specific cultural significance in a tradition one is not a part of. For instance, calling oneself a ‘shaman’ without being part of an indigenous community where this title has a specific, earned meaning, or claiming to practice “Gypsy magic” without any Romani heritage or understanding of Romani culture.
  5. Distortion of Historical or Cultural Narratives: Integrating or promoting distorted versions of cultural myths, deities, or historical events in one’s witchcraft practice. For example, reinventing the history of the Salem Witch Trials in a manner that disrespects the actual historical events, or misrepresenting the deities of African diasporic religions in a way that strips them of their cultural and religious context.

In each case, the key issue is a lack of respect and understanding for the origins, meanings, and cultural significance of these practices. It’s important for individuals engaged in witchcraft to educate themselves about the cultural backgrounds of the practices they are interested in and to approach them with sensitivity and respect.

Examples of Closed Practices:

  1. Hoodoo: An African American tradition that combines elements of West African, Native American, and European folk practices. It is deeply rooted in the historical experience of the African American community and is considered a closed practice because of its cultural and historical specificity.
  2. Native American Ceremonies: Many indigenous tribes in North America have specific ceremonies and rituals that are sacred to their communities. These might include specific dances, the use of sacred objects like eagle feathers, or ceremonies like sweat lodges. Participation in these practices usually requires being a part of the tribe or being explicitly invited or guided by a tribal member.
  3. Vodou (or Voodoo): Originating in Haiti and influenced by West African religions, this practice is deeply intertwined with the cultural and historical context of the Haitian people. It involves a complex system of deities, rituals, and ancestral worship and is not open to outsiders without proper initiation and guidance.

A Relevant Statistic:

While exact statistics on closed practices are hard to come by due to the nature of these traditions, a study conducted by the Pew Research Center in 2014 found that approximately 0.4% of Americans (about 1.2 million people) identify with Native American religions. This statistic highlights the relatively small and specific nature of these communities and their practices.

A quote that encapsulates the importance of respecting closed practices comes from Luisah Teish, a respected author and practitioner in African American spiritual traditions:

“To engage in a spiritual practice that is not one’s own is like walking into someone else’s house and rearranging their furniture. Spiritual traditions are living entities that belong to a specific group of people. They are not commodities to be taken and used at will.”

This quote emphasizes the importance of respecting the boundaries and cultural contexts of spiritual practices, especially those that are deeply rooted in specific cultural experiences and histories. It’s a reminder that participating in a closed practice without proper context or invitation can be seen as a form of cultural disrespect or appropriation.

Moving Forward with Cultural Sensitivity

Moving forward, it’s essential for the witchcraft and broader spiritual communities to acknowledge and address issues of cultural appropriation. This includes giving credit where it’s due, seeking out authentic sources of knowledge, and being mindful of the origins and significance of the practices they adopt.


Witchcraft and cultural appropriation are deeply interwoven topics that require ongoing attention and sensitivity. As modern witchcraft continues to grow, it’s imperative that practitioners approach cultural practices with respect and understanding, recognizing the complex history and significance behind them.

Witchcraft and Cultural Appropriation: A Critical Examination 5

Further Reading and Resources:

Witchcraft and Cultural Appropriation Questions and Answers

How can white people practice witchcraft without appropriating from indigenous people and Native Americans?

It’s crucial for white practitioners to acknowledge the history of witchcraft and understand the cultural context from which certain practices originate. Engaging with spiritual traditions respectfully means avoiding the use of sacred elements like white sage smudge sticks or palo santo, which have specific meanings in Native American and Latin American cultures. Instead, focus on practices that are part of one’s own cultural heritage, such as European Witchcraft or Norse Paganism, or those that are open and not culturally specific.

Is there such thing as a non-appropriative way for white women to use tarot cards, considering their Romani origins?

Tarot cards, though popularly associated with Romani people, have a complex history that intertwines with various European traditions. The best way to use tarot cards in a non-appropriative manner is by understanding their history and using them in a way that respects their origins. Tarot readers should avoid perpetuating stereotypes about Romani culture and instead focus on the spiritual content and personal insight the cards can provide.

Can practicing witchcraft be considered a real thing in the face of accusations of white supremacy and cultural appropriation?

Practicing witchcraft is indeed a real thing and a valid spiritual awakening for many. However, it’s important to recognize that issues of cultural appropriation and white supremacy have been raised in recent years, especially regarding how dominant culture practitioners adopt practices from marginalized groups. Practicing witchcraft responsibly involves acknowledging these issues, educating oneself, and ensuring that one’s practice doesn’t perpetuate appropriation or harm.

How do beginner witches, especially people of color, navigate the witchcraft?

For beginner witches who are people of color, navigating the realm of witchcraft often involves confronting and addressing the challenges posed by cultural appropriation from white practitioners. It is essential for them to anchor their practice in the rich history of their own cultural and religious traditions. This approach not only fosters a deeper, more authentic connection to their spiritual journey but also serves as a means of preserving and honoring their heritage.
By doing so, they create a space for their voices and experiences within the broader witch community, which is often dominated by the narratives and practices of white practitioners.

What’s the role of modern paganism and television shows like ‘American Horror Story’ in shaping perceptions about witchcraft and cultural appropriation?

Modern paganism and television shows have played a big part in shaping public perceptions of witchcraft in recent years. While they can spark interest and provide a general introduction to the topic, they often lack depth and can misrepresent the core values and complexities of actual witchcraft practices. It’s important to differentiate between entertainment and the real practice of witchcraft, which is diverse and rich with ancient traditions and current practices.

Are practices like candle magic and Ouija boards culturally specific, or can they be used by anyone interested in witchcraft?

Candle magic is a practice found in various spiritual and religious traditions and can generally be considered open to anyone. It’s a good way for beginner witches to start exploring witchcraft. Ouija boards, popularized largely by American culture, are not specific to any one particular religion or culture. However, it’s important to approach any practice with respect and understanding, avoiding commercialized versions that may not accurately represent the practice’s origins.

How can one differentiate between cultural appreciation and appropriation in the context of using products like white sage in witchcraft?

Differentiating between cultural appreciation and appropriation in using items like white sage in witchcraft involves understanding the item’s cultural context and significance. White sage is sacred to many Native American tribes, and its commercialization can be seen as appropriation. A better approach is to use herbs or products that are part of one’s own cultural background or are not culturally specific, thereby respecting the original traditions while still engaging with the natural world.

For instance, European witchcraft traditions have historically utilized herbs like garden sage and rosemary. These herbs were often used for similar purposes as white sage, like cleansing and protection, but are rooted in European herbalism and folklore. By choosing herbs like garden sage or rosemary, practitioners can honor their own ancestral practices or engage in universally accepted practices, thereby maintaining respect for the original traditions associated with specific sacred herbs like white sage.

What impact has the portrayal of witchcraft in Harry Potter had on cultural appropriation within the witchcraft community?

The portrayal of witchcraft in Harry Potter has significantly influenced public perceptions, especially among younger generations who were introduced to the concept through the series. While it has brought a lot of people, particularly high school students and young adults, into the witchcraft community, it has also perpetuated some misconceptions. It’s important for those interested in witchcraft to delve deeper into the practice beyond what is portrayed in popular media, and to understand the real thing involves respecting the cultural and religious traditions behind various practices.