We have been pretty clear about the issues of using the term “spirit animal” in many of our blogs, but we decided to set aside an entire blog to discuss the issue. There’s a lot of information out there that is more opinion than fact.
We want to make sure that our readers have all the information so that they can make an educated choice. So, here are the facts about the term “spirit animal” – and why you should most likely choose a different phrase when talking about your relationship with nature.
The term “spirit animals” is cultural appropriation.
Before the internet, the term “spirit animal” was mostly a neopagan term used to refer to relationships, both physical and metaphysical, with nature. A “spirit animal” could be a kindred spirit; it could be a witch’s familiar, or it could be a spirit helper that only appeared in dreams.
However, the concept belongs firmly within Native American cultures. Although no one specific group or tribe ever used the term “spirit animal”, with the advent of the internet, it quickly became associated with making light of American Indian culture.
The internet destroyed spirit animals.
Pop culture turned the concept of a spirit animal into a chance to shit on indigenous people and indigenous culture. People across the internet would identify superfluous things – like a wet sponge – as being “their spirit animal.”
It is for this reason that the phrase “spirit animal” has become cultural appropriation of indigenous cultures. The internet has routinely mocked aspects of a belief system that are older than modern post-colonial America.
It costs nothing to use a different word.
This brings me to our second point. It costs you nothing to avoid using “spirit animal” in your magickal practice. You can use a term like “Spirit helpers” – it means the same thing. You’re really just trying to get to what an animal represents to your spiritual practice. What about “spiritual guide”? Also an easy switch.
Within the larger spiritual culture, it’s important for us to respect other minority traditions – like native cultures. Some Native Americans have asked that we avoid using words like “spirit animal” – and so, we should probably just respect that.
Language changes over time.
Yes, “spirit animal” was appropriate in the 90s. We didn’t know any better, and there was no adapted understanding of the word meaning something absurd.
In the 90s, white people also did black face, and even started wearing headdresses to mock Native American culture. Neither of those were appropriate back then – but they’re certainly not appropriate now.
My point is that how we live and talk about the world influences both perception of our religion and how people interact with and respect us. As witches, we occupy a special place between traditions and worlds. We need to act as role models.
“Spirit Animal” isn’t the only phrase we need to give up.
I’m not only picking on you for “spirit animal” – and this doesn’t just affect Native Americans. There are other phrases that we use that are offensive to non-Native Americans.
For example, the term gypsy: it’s insanely offensive to Romani peoples. It’s a racial slur, not a cute thing that you do on Pinterest.
The word guru is another big no. Guru means something specific in Buddhist and Hindu religions. It doesn’t mean “knowledge or domain expert in western civilization.” Co-opting words like that does nothing for our brand.
“Tribe” is another word that we see misused all the time. Indigenous peoples and indigenous groups have reserved that word, too. We can respect that and just use other words, from our own cultures, to represent the feeling of the word.
Language has power – so use it wisely.
There’s an old witchy saying that you should never curse at anything – just wish it away. That goes for words, too. There are other ways to describe things without bringing harm or disrespect. Think before you speak, and avoid cultural appropriation at all costs.
Thank you for reading this article! Please comment below with your thoughts.
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