Indigenous Communities and spiritual theft
Firstly I would like to pay respect to the traditional owners of this country and recognize the strength of spirit and depth of knowledge that exists in both the Elders of the past and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people today, in which the rich tapestry of the Dreaming runs strong.
As a person practicing magick it is important to both understand the Indigenous heritage of the country you are blessed to be in and its history. Often I see people ‘taking’ the spiritual aspects of the Indigenous community of which they find appealing, and yet not having taken the time to understand the Indigenous communities, creator beings or history in which they take this knowledge from.
The closer you get to direct work with the Earth Mother, the more you realize how much the language of the Earth has a rhythm and a song that it sung the world over. Traditional Indigenous cultures whether it be Aboriginal, Native American or Goddess based magick have rhythm that moves with the seasons, a respect for Mother Earth as sacred, and a deep sense of responsibility and Law woven into the fabric of the elements.
Because of this many similar practices and sacred symbols arise around the world in cultures that have previously had no contact with each other. They are speaking the Earths language.
This rhythm and beauty that exists however is not an excuse to universalize or take sacred practices of another’s culture without permission. In Indigenous cultures knowledge is earned, it is sacred and does not belong to everyone. You earn the right to have knowledge, you cannot just take it. Indigenous spiritual systems also sit within a cultural framework and reinforce community structure, protocols and respect. So often people will take part of a spiritual system, yet don’t know Aboriginal people and have never even taken the time to learn their own countries history. By taking spiritual systems that don’t belong to you, internal mechanisms within Indigenous communities are undermined. We need to respect and understand that we are both working the Earths Law, but that does not give you the right to take another cultural heritage and practice for your own use.
Western people have often looked at Indigenous cultures and have simple taken the things they wanted. Things they often didn’t think caused any harm. They are not using the land like we do, so we can take it- their children aren’t being taught like our children –so we can take them. Now some argue that Indigenous peoples spirituality is the last form of colonization. The concept of spirituality as ‘universal’ is being used so people just take what they want. When in reality Indigenous systems are counter opposed to this modern and misguided belief. Spiritual Law requires relationship to Elders, to specific area of country and carries with it heavy responsibility and obligations to the community. This concern is not just one of western culture. Indigenous cultural Law is defined by geography and cultural groups, and what is Law to people in the Cape has nothing to do with what exists as Law for those in the Desert. Misuse of spiritual systems has even caused a great deal of pain and anxiety between Indigenous communities as some people have used symbols, art or practices that they do not have rights to as Aboriginal people within their region of Australia.
I have seen many people using the images or symbols of Indigenous Australia in their own work. A particular creator being or symbol not being used to degrade Indigenous Australia, but adopting symbols or practices as a sign of respect. People simply wishing to incorporate the beautiful traditions of this country into their spirit. Many western people do not view culture and spiritual systems as a form of property that can be stolen or understand spirit as distinctly connected to land and community. If a particular Elder holds the Law or Dreaming of an aspect of the community’s spiritual and cultural heritage, there remains strict protocols around the knowledge and use of that Law. Knowledge is held and kept safe for generations to come, the songs and symbols and art that aspect of dreaming represents belongs to that community, and the way those symbols are managed is in line with how it has been done for tens of thousands of years and manifests in healthy land and happy communities or sick communities and damaged land. The spiritual system, the people, the land, their health are all connected and work as one large eco-system. It is crucial these internal mechanisms, as direct Law from the Earth, are not interfered with and mismanaged for personal use. Taking this spiritual Law outside of its context regardless of motivation, is nothing more than cultural and spiritual theft that damages internal mechanisms in contemporary communities today.
This does not mean you cannot have deep and wonderful relationships that take you into the beauty and power of Indigenous Law. In fact the more you honour and give respect for the protocols and Law that exists with Indigenous spirituality the closer you will be to the Dreaming and to understanding your own Indigenous history. In Australia we have one of the oldest living cultures in the world, it’s worth making a relationship with the wonder and beauty that is. I have been very fortunate over the years to sit with many Elders and hear their stories, to dance, to sing, to rally, to laugh and to share my love of the Earth Mother. But if you are not Indigenous to the country you live in, do not take from their Law like a spiritual fast food menu, but rather learn and exchange stories in a place of respect and mutual exchange. People of all cultures have a heritage that leads back to the Earth mother. Sometimes people look at Indigenous people as naturally ‘more connected’ to her and long for that rhythm in their life. However there is no need to damage existing cultures to experience this. It is not a privilege you are born to, it’s not something you can find in another’s culture. When you walk with respect the earth sees you. As a great Bunjulung Elder once said to me, ‘you cannot find the earth’s knowledge it finds you’. People and societies may change, and sometimes people think Goddess spirituality is an ‘interesting’ time in history. But it is important to remember that no matter how society changes, the Earth will always remember, the Earth’s knowledge will always be heard. The only thing you have to do is listen.
Nicole Newley (Nigooli) artwork- used with permission and available for purchase.
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