SPIRITUAL TERMINOLOGY AND MEANINGS

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Whitewashed Spirituality

What is whitewashed spirituality?

The phrase whitewashed spirituality refers to the colonization and appropriation of spiritual practices from other cultures, stripping them of their original cultural significance and context, and exploiting them in the process.

In indigenous cultures, spiritual practices are considered sacred and are handed down from generation to generation through a specific lineage that includes the transfer of knowledge about those practices from an elder to an initiate, thereby keeping the cultural significance intact.

Many modern New Age practices and rituals such as shamanism, smudging (saging), various styles of meditation, yoga, sweat lodges, ayahuasca ceremonies, and even the chakra system itself have their roots in the spiritual practices and lineages of indigenous or ancient cultures. However, those practices are being mainstreamed and taught by white practitioners without reference to the original culture from which they came, and in many instances the practitioner themselves has no knowledge of the cultural significance. Many times this results in lost knowledge and context about spiritual practices.

Cultural Appropriation

When someone from another culture appropriates spiritual practices without the appropriate training and education, and then sells those practices to people outside of that culture–and in some instances, to people from within it–for financial gain, it is considered exploitation, because the people who cultivated those practices do not benefit from the profit, and in many cases, have been persecuted throughout history for engaging in those very practices.

Colonization and Fakelore

Many popular New Age myths or prophecies that are attributed to Native American tribes actually have their roots in Evangelical Christianity and were created as a way to convert Indigenous peoples to Christianity. Two such examples are included below.

The Story of the Two Wolves

One myth which is popularized in New Age circles is the Story of Two Wolves, attributed to a Cherokee proverb which states, “There is a battle between two wolves within all of us. One is evil, and one is good. Which wolf wins? The one you feed.”

This story actually originates from a 1978 book by Evangelical pastor Billy Graham and attributes distinctively Christian ideologies to Native Americans, which in reality, hold a very different set of belief systems.

Read more about the Native American response to Two Wolves

The Legend of the Rainbow Warriors

Another popular New Age trop is the legend of the Rainbow Warriors which states that a time of crisis will come to the Earth and that people of many races will come together to save the planet. Native Americans be joined by many of their light-skinned brothers and sisters, who would be the reincarnate souls of the Indians who were killed or enslaved by the first light-skinned settlers. It was said that the dead souls of these first people would return in bodies of all different colors: red, white, yellow and black. Together and unified, like the colors of the rainbow, these people would teach all of the peoples of the world how to have love and reverence for Mother Earth, of whose very stuff we human beings are also made.

This story was popularized by a book published in 1962 titled Warriors of the Rainbow which relates these fictitious “Indian” prophecies to the second coming of Christ and has been described as purveying “a covert anti-Semitism throughout, while evangelizing against traditional Native American spirituality.”

Read more about the Native American response to Warriors of the Rainbow.

RELATED TERMS

Ayahuasca
Shaman
Sage

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