Third Wave Witch: Feminist Spirituality, Spiritual Feminism

Third Wave Witchcraft explores the intersection of feminism, Witchcraft, Goddess Spirituality, and feminist activism. A place to explore how to make our spirituality more feminist, our feminism more spiritual, and our world more just.

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Pagans Must #StandWithStandingRock

Posted by on in SageWoman Blogs

I've been following the events on the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation, where hundreds (if not thousands) have gathered to protest the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL for short) for the better part of two months, though I've been dimly aware of the issue since last spring. As a native South Dakotan transplanted to Texas, I still follow news outlets from my beloved prairies, including several independent Native news agencies. When I started sharing posts about the growing camps of protectors -- community members prefer this term to protestors -- I was shocked and amazed when friends told me that my Facebook feed was the only place they were hearing about the situation. (The 1,172 mile pipeline, which will carry oil from North Dakota's Bakkan region, crosses the Missouri River in a number of places, threatening the only source of drinking water for many indigenous communities. Construction also threatens burial grounds and other culturally important sites for the Standing Rock Sioux. For a quick primer on the situation, go here and here.)

I've been heartened to see that the Pagan community has spoken out about the DAPL and has offered support to the protectors at Standing Rock. While I understand that many Pagans "don't like to be political," there is no question in my mind that we have a duty to stand with indigenous peoples everywhere, and in particular with Native American/First Nations peoples. For Pagans in the United States and Canada (and elsewhere in the Americas), the very land on which we stand and which we purport to venerate is the same land (and water, and air) threatened by the DAPL and projects like it. The environmental stakes alone should give us reason to stand up and say #NoDAPL and to support those seeking to prevent the "black snake" from being built across the nation's prairie heartland, from North Dakota all the way to Illinois. As earth-venerating people, I believe that it is incumbent upon us to stand up against environmental degradation -- as Al Gore famously said in Earth in the Balance, Paganism is the spiritual arm of the environmental movement. 

But I have other reasons for thinking that American Pagans in particular have a duty to stand up against the DAPL, and against other degradations of Native lands and cultural sites. We have a long history of appropriating Native American spiritualities and cultures in our Pagan practices. Whether it's the wearing of feathered headdresses in rituals, the burning of sage to cleanse space, or attending $500/weekend "sweat lodge retreats" put on by white folks, we have much to answer for. Issues of cultural appropriation and cultural exchange are finally being talked about within our community, for which I am grateful. But we cannot deny that much of the American Pagan movement is built on the commodification of Native spiritualities by authors such as Lynn Andrews, Sun Bear, and others. They are often packaged into a singular "Native American Spirituality" and informed by tropes such as the "mystical Indian." At its worst, this cultural appropriation -- which is really racism -- is justified with platitudes such as "we were all Native American in a past life, so this is OK" or "We are all one people." And this appropriation of Native spiritual practices is usually, in my experience, accompanied by an astounding ignorance of the lives and challenges of real, living, contemporary Native American people. 

For instance, did you know that it wasn't until 1978 that Native Americans in the US were allowed to legally practice their ancestral religious traditions?

Check the copyright dates on some of the books on your shelves that purport to teach ancient Native ways. I will guarantee you that they were published by white folks who got quite rich off them, at the same time that living Native peoples were forbidden by federal law from practicing their own traditions. 

Most Pagans I have spoken to react badly when presented with information about cultural appropriation of Native spiritual practices, and I'll admit that I didn't react well when I first began grappling with these issues either (though that's another post, which I promise is coming). But if we are going to claim to be inspired by Native spiritual practices, then we have sacred duty to stand up for the people to whom those practices rightfully belong.



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Susan Harper is an eclectic solitary Feminist Witch from Irving, Texas. She is a professor of Anthropology, Sociology, and Women's Studies, with a focus on gender, religion, and sexuality. She is also an activist, community educator, and writer. When she's not making magick or fomenting social change, Susan is the head soapmaker, herbalist, and aromatherapist for Dreaming Priestess Creations. She shares her life with her partner, Stephanie, five cats, and two guinea pigs.


  • Anthony Gresham
    Anthony Gresham Thursday, 08 September 2016

    I know about a pipeline being built here in Virginia, there have been a lot of newspaper articles on it. It looks like the state will exercise eminent domain to push through the pipeline over land owners objections, all for the benefit of the power company. Yours is the first article I've seen about a pipeline in the Dakotas. It makes me wonder how many other pipelines are being pushed through that I haven't heard about.

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