The spiritual community on TikTok is, for the most part, a soothing corner of the internet. People speak quietly and smile radiantly, reminding you that you, too, are a celestial being. Their skin glows and they look like they haven’t had a busy day in ten years. You can almost smell the incense passing through the screen.
But #SpiritualTok, the hashtag that has garnered 267 million views on the app, is more than just love and light or a digital oasis of peace and harmony away from the drama that other online communities suffer. Disagreements range from how best to perform a certain spell or ritual to a much larger current debate: the question of who can participate in – and profit from – Certain spiritual practices belonging to Black, Indigenous, Hispanic, or South Asian cultures.
Hoodoo, for example, is a spiritual tradition inspired by West African folklore created by enslaved people in the United States. However, on TikTok, the vast majority of people make videos about honey jars. – a hoodoo practice used to sweeten situations and restore relationships with people. – young white witches are desperate to reunite with their exes.
Hani, 22, is known among her 90,000 TikTok followers as @thathoneywitch, causes this cultural appropriation for what it is. As a descendant of enslaved people, Honey has the right to practice Hoodoo, which is considered a “closed practice”. – a tradition that you can only participate in if you have a particular lineage or if you have been initiated into it by a practitioner. “I always like to make the connection between intellectual property and closed practice,” they explain. “To understand that appropriation is wrong, you must first understand that people can do things for themselves and they are allowed to keep it to themselves.”
Chaewon Koo, 42 – known on TikTok as @hichaweon and leading youtube channel witches and wine – also posted several videos denouncing the use of closed practices, including Hoodoo, in an online witchcraft community. “Why is it that in any other area of life, when we see a closed door, we are like, ‘OK, there is a border, I shouldn’t go in. But when it comes to spiritual practices, which are in many ways the most personal thing we do, all of a sudden [people] can’t you respect it?” she says. “It’s the colonizer mindset that says, ‘I see something cool and shiny and I want it.’
Spiritual appropriation, both in the occult world and in spiritual circles in general, is nothing new. – but online spaces have only made it more common. “The digital environment adds a new layer to this phenomenon and perhaps offers even more opportunities for decontextualization and recontextualization of practices,” explains Linda L. Warwick, professor of psychology. whose research focused on spiritual appropriation.
Of course, not all spiritual content created by white people online is appropriation. Wicca, for example, is a Western magical tradition, and there are many practices that cannot be completely attributed to a particular group or culture. As Sabina Magliocco, professor of anthropology and religion at the University of British Columbia, says: “Spiritual and cultural threads are complex and intertwined, and at some point you can’t separate the butter from the milk from a scrambled egg. ” But what do some people on #SpiritualTok emphasize – with which Magliocco agrees – lies in the fact that when traditions have arisen as a result of a particular struggle, they are intended for certain communities.
“These are cultures whose practices have already been affected by colonization, with the colonizers often trying to eradicate traditional spiritual and magical practices,” explains Magliocco. “So for Westerners to now come in and say, ‘Oh, you used to do this, now this is mine, I’m taking this and I’ll be taking $500 for other people to do this’ is ethically and morally wrong.”
This often happens with Native American practices. It’s not uncommon to see white TikTokers talking about their “spirit animal” or burning white sage. – a sacred plant used by Native Americans for purification during ceremonies and prayers. The growing commercialization of white sage, rebranded as cleanser, has led to deficit factory. And it is not surprising that indigenous groups have not capitalized on the newfound popularity of their practice.
“Native Americans live in an environment where they have little political or socioeconomic power and where they have no access to good health care or even justice,” Warwick says. “Their religious practices are meant to help those communities that don’t have many other sources of livelihood or power.” Thus, the desire to protect one’s tradition is not so much a guard as a guard, a means of survival, and not a desire to set arbitrary boundaries.
Similarly, South Asian spiritual traditions were commodified. Hindu and Buddhist symbols and practices – including chakras, yoga, meditation – Was joined the West wellness boom, with their original meaning and purpose diluted. Radinka Jeyatas, 31, uses her TikTok account. @radinka.jp as a space to explore her spiritual roots as a first-generation Tamil Canadian and as a platform to speak out about the threat that appropriation poses to South Asian ancestral practices.
“Spiritual white people become these so-called ‘experts’ and then sell books based on knowledge that doesn’t really belong to them, and add their own thoughts to it,” Jeyatas says. “If we don’t enter and stay in these spaces, our culture will be lost.”
For Hani, white spiritual authorities become representatives of traditions to which they do not belong. – and whose history they don’t know – harms the people who should benefit from these practices. “We want to help our community with our work, but it’s hard when things are stolen by people who don’t understand what they’re doing,” they say. With their platform, Honey wants Hoodoo to practice the way he should, with the right people and with the right intentions.
This is complicated by the fact that the loudest voices on #SpiritualTok are from white people. “Black practitioners should make a double effort to make our voices heard, because people will go to anyone they think knows something, especially if that person is acceptable. And often white people are nicer than people of color. It’s just the truth,” Honey adds.
Calling for spiritual appropriation when they see it, trying to serve their community the best they can, and fighting to be heard amid the endless stream of TikTok content is a big responsibility for these creators. “This is such a huge request to people of color. To fight the injustice around us, not only in private life and in society, but now you need to do it online, ”says Radinka.
That’s why white spirit practices on TikTok also have a role to play – mostly by taking a step back. “Listen to people who are in closed practice, take what they say, but also do research,” Hani says. As far as open practices are concerned, including most of the South Asian traditions, the best way to honor them is to be trained by someone who is intimately familiar with those traditions.
“It’s just common sense,” Chaewon counters. “Do you want to learn from someone who has read one book and has no relevant cultural experience? Or do you want to learn from an expert? For me, besides being a moral issue, it’s also a matter of skill level.”
It’s unlikely that everyone in the TikTok spiritual community will want to abandon closed practices or learn about the complex history of certain traditions. But others, perhaps having encountered the #SpiritualTok side of Hani, Radinka and Chaewon, hope they will understand that remembering others and knowing the centuries-old roots of practices is essential for their own spiritual journeys. As Chaewon concludes, “It’s all about manners, emotional and social grace. You’re fine as long as you’re invited.”
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