Rethinking Ritual and Ceremony

Edited to add: If smudging is in your culture and heritage, this is not in reference to your practice. I acknowledge that other cultures have a similar practice and that is not what I’m referencing. It’s unlikely that those cultures are harvesting and practicing with the same sage I speak of, but I don’t know enough about them to comment. I understand it’s not clear-cut.

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Over the past few years, I have slowly shifted my beliefs and practices as I learn more about Indigenous cultures. I have always been careful and *I think* respectful, particularly in my history of teaching babywearing, but other areas I am still learning about. The colonizer way of babywearing involves safety rules that often paint traditional babywearing (in a kanga, cradle board with moss bag, amauti etc.,) as inherently unsafe, when in reality it’s just that colonizers don’t have babywearing in their heritage and thus must learn according to the society we live in. I call bullsh*t on the rules, and I 100% stand behind traditional babywearing. I used to burn sage (and sweetgrass on occasion) for cleansing, before realizing that it’s not mine to burn. And I used to have a desire to be a part of ceremonies that simply are not for me to experience without clear and explicit invitation by the communities who practice said ceremonies. I used to think “spirit animals” were cute conversation starters, until one of my junior derby skaters educated me otherwise. I’d like to share some of the reasons why I choose to leave the rituals and ceremonies with the cultures they belong to, and challenge you to think critically about the ones you participate in.

A few years ago myself and a few friends were en route to a birth conference and we were discussing rituals around birth. One of my dear friends indicated that she would no longer be burning sage, due to the fact that we are living on stolen land and have no business burning a sacred plant where we are. As someone who dabbled in Feng Shui, I kinda shrugged that off and continued burning sage. However, every time I lit the sage for a cleanse, all I could hear was my friend’s (who I deeply respect btw) words. Within short order I stopped burning sage altogether… and decided to educate myself instead.

Sage is one of those things that has been commodified by today’s colonizer society and can be attained at any new age witchy store, often never making reference to the Indigenous origins or spiritual importance. Well intentioned folks will use the sage to smudge, not acknowledging that smudging is an important ritual in Indigenous cultures that was banned for many years along with Indigenous traditions in general (at least for Indigenous folks). Currently the selling of sage by non-Indigenous sellers, the harvesting by people who do not know how to harvest sustainably and respectfully, and the burning by people who know nothing of the origins or importance, is cultural appropriation at best. I am all for cultural appreciation, but this is not it. We, as colonizers and white witches, have no business picking and choosing sacred practices to uplift our spirit and seek enlightenment without learning at the feet of the people who practice this ceremony as a way of life. A good explanation can be found in this article:

Indigenous People Want Brands to Stop Selling Sage and Smudge Kits

Another ceremony that I have chosen not to participate in (not that it was ever an actual option) is the consumption of Ayahuasca. I learned about it many years ago, and always thought it would be cool to participate in this seemingly life changing, enlightening experience. I never sought it out, but definitely romanticized it in my mind. That was until an issue of Bitch magazine showed up on my doorstep with this article all about it. There were parts of me that knew Ayahuasca was not really for me, but I never had the words or knowledge to formulate an actual reason. That article was enough to convince me that Ayahuasca would never be part of my spiritual growth, although there are plenty of other articles that would do the same. Basically it comes down to over harvesting happening to the point that the practice may not be able to continue for the local communities, and instead it is touted as retreats for spiritual tourists. The people who own the lodges that many of these retreats take place are owned by outsiders of the communities themselves, which means the money is not going to the people it should be. Some communities were persecuted, having to witness their sacred plant being burned and the ceremonies belittled (Hay, 2020). So when spiritual tourists come in and show an interest in these ceremonies, they are ultimately fetishizing the practice instead of understanding and appreciating it.

“Like many other sacred things that have been Columbused by colonizers, be it hip hop, sage, or the very lands we live on, the act of taking ayahuasca is an attempt to flee toxic whiteness, to heal the splintering of the self that occurred when the project of white supremacy was set in motion through atrocities like genocide and chattel slavery.” – Bani Amor

I think there are a couple things worth noting about ceremonies and rituals that are not in your ancestry. The thing that ties it all together and gives these practices meaning within the cultures they are practiced in, is tradition. Anyone can follow some guide and go through the motions of a ritual or ceremony, but unless it is embedded in tradition and honoured as such, it’s just a performance. Going back to sage… do you know if the sage you have was harvested ethically? Were the roots left in the ground? Was the earth thanked for the sage? And do you acknowledge the origins of the practice of smudging before engaging in your own ritual with it? There’s so much more to it than just the burning and cleansing and we all need to challenge ourselves to learn about it. I often think about how I would behave if I were surrounded by Indigenous folks. Would I burn the sage if my Indigenous friends were over? Hell no I wouldn’t… so I won’t do it alone either.

I also can’t emphasize enough the difference between appreciation and appropriation. It is entirely possible to appreciate cultures without appropriating them. As an example, I used to wear my babies in an Amauti, which is a traditional Inuit parka/baby carrier. How I managed to do this without appropriating was by purchasing an Amauti from an Inuit seamstress and protecting their intellectual property. The amauti pattern is protected and should never be made by a non-Inuit person, so respecting that and speaking of the carrier origins allowed me to appreciate that cultural practice in a respectful way. I also speak loudly when it comes to babywearing “safety,” as the colonizer language around it marginalizes traditional babywearers… and I won’t have it. So I believe I use my platform as a babywearing educator to amplify the voices of traditional babywearers, if that makes any sense. On the other side of the coin, if someone were to use an amauti made by a non-Inuit seamstress, not understand its origins and acknowledge the cultural practice and history… then there could be an issue.

I feel like I might be going on a few tangents here… so let’s wrap it up. Bottom line… if you do not know the origins of a practice that feels like ritual and ceremony, look it up. If you are unsure about if and how a traditional ceremony can be implemented ethically in your life, listen to Indigenous communities. The communities are sharing their thoughts, it’s up to you to find the information and listen. And lastly, take an Indigenous studies class for a deeper understanding around Indigenous cultures and why we as white colonizers and/or white witches should not just pick and choose specific rituals that we deem appropriate.

I’d also like to acknowledge that I am still learning. I strongly believe in the motto, “when you know better, do better” and I will not pretend to know everything. I do not. I have made mistakes and I will continue to do so, but I am committed to anti-racism, decolonization and Indigenization. I will humbly receive criticism and be accountable for any harms I have committed, albeit ignorantly. I will work towards cultural appreciation and not appropriation, and call my friends and family in as much as possible.

Recommended reading:

The Differences Between Traditional and Pagan Totemism

The Heart of Whiteness: On Spiritual Tourism and the Colonization of Ayahuasca

The Colonization of the Ayahuasca Experience (Mark Hay, 2020)

Not Your Spirit Animal: Cultural Appropriation, Misinformation, and the Internet

White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack

Please feel free to send me any suggested readings, I’d like to make this list more comprehensive.

**picture from Zenaphoto (Getty Images) via Huffington Post

Secret Castle

Easter was this past weekend (shoot… it took me too long to post this and now that sentence is inaccurate). I wasn’t technically supposed to have any kids, but my older two’s dad was out of town working, so I made plans to hang with them. I like to have all my kids for the holidays, so I’ve coordinated with both my exes to ensure that is how it works and that all of our schedules line up accordingly. This year was a little different, and even though I expected to have no one for Easter, I ended up hanging with all four of my kids! I decided to take the teens out to Castle Mountain, where the littles would be, and we spent the day on the hill.

Ashton and Aisha’s grandparents were pivotal in the development of Castle mountain/Westcastle, and they have been locals ever since I don’t even know when. The littles are there all the time and it’s essentially their second home. 

This trip was not met without resistance. Faith made sure I knew the grave injustice that was being forced upon her, as to spend 24 hours without her friends (even if it is Easter) is just too much. Snowboarding is awful, family sucks, and is there wifi? Dakota also wanted to bring a friend, but eventually understood where I was coming from in my request for it to just be the family.

We drove out on Saturday afternoon and spent the night at the hotel on the hill. We went to the T-Bar (the pub on the hill) and I reminisced with the teens about what it was like when I worked there 20 years ago while we inhaled our nachos and wings. It’s a unique pub, littered with memorabilia from the past several decades, filled with old and young all laughing, and home to the roots of table traverse. I could sit in there for hours just people watching. I love sharing that with my teens, and Dakota has already expressed an interest to work there next year.

I let my kids lead the way when we were riding on Sunday, which is always a little risky. Ashton likes to show Dakota how good he is, so generally picks some of the harder runs. My favourite run at Castle is commonly known as “The Dump,” although they formally changed the name to “Dusk” about 20 years ago. We still call it The Dump, just like we still call Castle, “Westcastle.” Ashton also took us to one of his favourite chutes, “Shotgun.” In all honestly, I had avoided the chutes forever because they’re always black diamond and a little steep for my liking, but I LOVED it. They’re essentially like a natural half pipe (also like The Dump), and that is definitely my jam. So I was pleasantly surprised and happy that Ashton took us there. Also, a little disappointed in myself that I had avoided them for so long. Damn.

Castle is known as The Secret Castle in a mini doc made in 2006. The mini doc was screened all across the globe as a precursor to Warren Miller’s “Off the Grid.” You should watch it, then you can see the origins of table traverse (I brought this game to the derby community) and get a small feel of what it’s like there. They say that if you can ski castle, you can ski anywhere, and I have to agree.

 

I am thankful for weekends like this, where we can all hang out and experience some joy/adventure. It’s not often, because the teens don’t generally wanna hang with me, so when it happens I basically celebrate.

** at night we like to do Biore nose strips and face masks, it’s become a tradition.

F*ck Chem

I’m registered in a chemistry class as part of a requirement for the local midwifery program. Well, approximately 1 month ago I found out that my 3.925 competitive GPA was not high enough for an interview, and I would definitely not be offered a spot for Fall 2018. But here I am in this chem class.

It. is. killing. me.

Today, I decided to just say “fuck it.” Fuck chem, fuck the stress it is causing me, and fuck all the kids in my class who are my actual kid’s age who do nothing but talk about how hung over they are and how mad their parents are at them. Where am I and why am I trapped in this room with all these kids? Riiiight, I’m in Chem 30 because I was once one of those kids who did not give a shit and didn’t give chem a second thought back when I could have. Did I sound as ridiculous as they do? I hope not.

Fuck. Chem.

I didn’t get in to midwifery school, this year. I will get in next year…or I better. That means I have exactly 15 months before I actually need to have this chem class completed. If I don’t pass (trying not to say fail here) this time, then I don’t pass. I will take it again. In fact, I should probably take the prerequisite to this chemistry class anyways, then maybe I wouldn’t struggle so hard. Whoever said that you could return to a high school science class 20 years after graduating, even if you don’t have the prerequisite, is a dirty liar. Oh wait, no one says that. I have a B.A. dammit, I took several Neuroscience classes! Why is this so hard?!

I’m going to breathe, switch gears, and do something other than chem (like write this here blog about chem!).

FUCK CHEM.

oxytocin

*this is literally the only chemistry I care about right now, can you guess what it is?

Yes, I am still here

It has been so long since I’ve updated the blog, that I almost don’t even know where to start. I have plans of the things I should write, I do up half a draft, and then let it collect virtual dust in the “neglected posts” section. I’d like to break that cycle. So here is a little post just to let you know we’re still alive… sometimes barely, but alive nonetheless.

There’s no way I can catch you up on everything, so here is the most brief update ever. We had a pretty rad summer, including a week at Family Camp, another week out at the family cottage on Winnipeg Lake, and exactly zero family camping trips. Lindsay and I did do our first ever back country camping trip though, which resulted in us getting lost in the mountains for five hours, nearly giving up on life, and then finding our way to camp after an additional 3 hours of hiking. So that was fun. Here are some valuable lessons I learned:

  1. Bring beer. The weight may be difficult, but the beer will be worth it. You can probably adjust the allowable weight by taking out some food (we brought WAY too much).
  2. Water filters are the best invention ever. We literally survived because of that water filter.
  3. Tang and Everclear is a pretty good drink. If you can’t bring the booze you like, at least bring an alcohol with extremely high alcohol percentage. Everclear is ridiculous, but is okay when diluted properly in your powdered juice of choice.
  4. NUUN electrolyte drink in tablets is essential.

The fall came fast and all the kids are back at school. My teens are not really going though, so there’s that. I am still struggling with the teens, more than I ever thought possible. I am afraid for their futures and I just wish they’d care a little bit. I have spent so much time at the courthouse, and I am getting resentful.

The three littles are back in to derby, and I’m coaching, so that’s rad. Ashton couldn’t play football this year because the games are on Saturdays and his dad couldn’t make that happen (he lives 2 hours away). I’m super sad about that, but we’ll see if we can get him back in it next year.

Halloween was awesome as per usual, and we’re still in the Samhain spirit around here. I’m dreading taking down the decorations and then setting up for Christmas.

Okay, that’s all the update I can stomach at this time. I hope to be a little more diligent with my posting going forward.