Tips for Respectfully Learning About Closed Practices:
Recently I came across this post on witchy Tumblr – yes, the witchcraft community is thriving on Tumblr, for better or worse – and I thought it was a good reminder.
I personally have had contemplations on the very topic, especially when it comes to mythology, religion, and spirituality. There is something so amazing about the vast variety of belief systems on this planet, and it’s even more interesting to learn about how they came into existence.
To think that we are only allowed to study the religion we were born into, or only study open practices, feels a little…counterintuitive to me. Because after all, there is a difference between stealing and appreciating, between learning, expanding your mind, and…well – perpetuating stereotypes.
Unfortunately, there are a lot of gatekeepers in the witchy and spiritual community. There is a lot of misinformation and fighting and arguing within the community, no matter what platform you’re on.
But then I think about all the lovely people I’ve met from vast religions and practices, from Mormonism to Hinduism. Most of the people I know in person, and even those I’ve spoken to online, have been more than happy to answer my questions, teach me, and discuss things with me.
It’s all about asking the question in a respectful way. Try things like:
· Hey, I’m just curious about learning. Could you tell me more about “x” (practice, belief, specific or general concept)?
· I think “x” culture is beautiful and would love to learn more. Do you mind if I ask you some questions?
· I’m curious about learning more from resources written by people from “x” culture. Could you point me in the direction of some sources you love?
Most the time, if you come into learning from a curious, genuinely respectful way, people are more than willing to share.
My sister married into a Hindu family, and everyone on my brother-in-law’s side has been more than welcoming when letting me participate in activities, teaching me about the pantheon, and even getting my Vedic birth chart read and translated as a gift.
I’ve enjoyed books like “Braiding Sweetgrass” by Robin Wall Kimmerer for learning more about my native heritage – which I’ve sometimes felt wrong by wanting to learning more about in the first place.
We are allowed, and encouraged, to be respectfully curious. To learn and then advocate for these marginalized or forgotten beliefs and groups, or just for those groups in general.
That is the point of learning, studying, and respecting closed practices. To figure out why they came into existence, learn the pain points of the people practicing, and then advocating and helping to remove stereotypes associated with those belief systems.
If I hear someone say something remotely stereotypical or hurtful about Mormon beliefs, I now have countless respectful ways to say “Hey, that actually isn’t true. Here’s what is.” The same goes for any other cultural belief or practice.
If I hear something that I’m not sure about, and possibly could be a negative stereotype, I can politely reply, “Hmm, I wonder if primary sources would back that up” or “I’ll have to look more into that.”
So yes, you’re allowed to be curious.
You’re allowed to research and learn. You’re allowed and encouraged to talk to people that are actually part of that belief system, religion, practice – whatever word you choose.