The witchcraft and paganism communities have always had issues with division and in-fighting — usually over whether or not certain lore is accurate, or whether or not a pet can be a familiar. However, there is a new trend that is causing far more negativity between witches — to the point that it seems like more time is spent arguing and debating idiotic comments, than actually practicing witchcraft. That trend is the aggressive, and often misguided, gatekeeping of practices, paths and even supplies that witches frequently use in our crafts. How do we, as a community, address this problem with awareness and sensitivity while combatting misinformation? There might not be an easy answer to that question.
Is gatekeeping ever necessary?
It’s no secret that the witchcraft community — in general — has a cultural misappropriation problem. It’s for that reason that gatekeeping and callout culture are necessary, albeit unpleasant, concepts. Crystals are over-mined, sometimes through slave labor child labor in impoverished parts of the world. White sage is a sacred medicine to specific Native American tribes. Voodoo and Hoodoo are spiritual paths that are specific to African and Caribbean people. Making use of unethically sourced items, or participating in practices to which you have no blood right, will undoubtedly — and fairly — attract negativity from people who are culturally connected to these concepts. Nobody likes being called out or questioned about their practices — especially in front of their peers, or even by their peers. But none of us are perfect, and all have room to learn and grow.
Gatekeeping is necessary when disrespect, ignorance or frivolity is being displayed by someone who is borrowing from other cultures. Gatekeeping is necessary when someone in the witchcraft community brags of dabbling in Voodoo with no knowledge of the path outside of some Google searches and some time spent on YouTube or TikTok. There are countless real scenarios I could list in which some gatekeeping and calling-out are necessary evils. However, it has become such a hot button topic that this brand of callout culture has become a means to troll and harass random people in the online community.
Trolls love sensitive topics
It’s easy to see the reactions that result from even mentioning the terms “closed practice” or “cultural appropriation” in various witchcraft and paganism groups or forums. They’re so easy to see, that every bottom feeder that’s plagued our community since the first troll said “You mad, bro?” can see it too. The instant tension these topics cause is so thick that it makes the lowest common denominators of our community salivate. In other words, these topics have become low-hanging fruit for bad actors — bad actors who have always existed.
Trolls love sensitive topics — especially topics that focus on religion, race and politics. With the current focus on cultural appropriation and gatekeeping closed practices, people with negative intent have a veritable buffet from which to pick and choose. Likewise, with witchcraft experiencing a rise in popularity, it’s no surprise to see that the community is experiencing more division than normal. An opportunity to call out a white-appearing person for having dreadlocks or burning white sage is as exciting to some as it is for others to have an opportunity to be racially offensive in order to upset so-called “snowflakes.” These two examples are two sides of the same coin, and both are the symptoms of a growing problem.
The misinformation problem
Just as it’s hard to tell the performative woke trolls from sincere people, it’s hard to tell fact from myth. The witchcraft community has always had a problem with myths being romanticized and passed off as fact, and our community has long-had an issue with flouting real history for fictionalized stories. After all, why do you think so many people believe they’re witches because they “descend from Salem witches?” Why do so many people believe that all witches were “burned at the stake?” And why do so many people continue to spread the myth that one must never purchase their own tarot deck? Because of this already-existing issue, it’s just become even easier for new bits of misinformation to spread — and they’re spreading like wildfire in the name of gatekeeping.
If you’ve spent any time on Facebook, TikTok or Twitter over the past few months, you’ve probably heard that tarot is part of a closed practice belonging to the Romani people. You’ve probably been told, by people who passionately believe what they’re saying, that reading tarot is a form of cultural appropriation. This is an example of the misinformation that gets spread in the name of woke culture, and it’s more harmful than helpful.
I addressed the history of tarot in this video, but what I failed to address in the video is how this misinformation is harmful to other cultures — possibly to the point of erasure. Attributing tarot cards entirely to one culture, intentionally ignores the many others who played a direct role in the creation and shaping of them. Pushing the false rhetoric of tarot being closed to Romany people actively covers up the fact that Chinese people, Jews and Africans were instrumental in the history of the cards. It directly turns a blind eye to these other people, and creates further racial and cultural divide.
Misinformation that is being spread with the so-called aim to uplift a person, group or idea is still misinformation. When that misinformation effectively erases knowledge of historical contributions made by countless people of color and oppressed people, it becomes harmful misinformation. You can either choose to actively participate in this misinformation, or you can reject it for what it is. However, all it really takes to do the right thing is to think for yourself and put some thought into a concept before blindly cosigning it.
What’s a witch to do?
Trends come and go, so it’s highly possible that by this time next year the hot gatekeeping topic will be over something entirely different from cultural appropriation and closed practices. When that time comes, everyone with a level head on our shoulders can breathe a sigh of relief. Until then, it’s like navigating a minefield out there on social media — especially with everyone all cooped-up and bored. I’m no expert by any means, but if you want to maintain living an existence of respect for others, while also standing up against misinformation, perhaps the following tips may help:
- Humble yourself in knowing that we all have room to learn and grow. If someone is telling you that something is sexist, racist or ignorant of closed cultural practices, then at least give them the benefit of hearing what they have to say. This doesn’t mean you have to accept what they’re saying or even respect what they’re saying, but at least listen — or read if you’re interacting through social media.
- Research everything you’re told. Just like it’s important to accept that you might not know everything, it is equally important to know that nobody else knows everything either. The world is full of dishonest people, and if you’re interacting with strangers on Twitter, Facebook or other popular platforms, you shouldn’t really trust everything you read. If someone tells you that xyz is a tool or medicine that belongs specifically to one culture, then become best friends with Google before you start arguing from a place of emotion. The other person might be right, or they might be wrong. What’s important is that you actually learn something.
- Learn to ignore people. This is hard for everyone, including myself, but for every person who is gatekeeping from a place of honesty, there is at least one other who is merely using the topic for troll fodder. Learn to tell the difference between these two types of people and learn to completely disengage from the latter type. This also applies to people who approach you disrespectfully from the get-go. Nobody is entitled to disrespect another person, regardless of their personal feelings on a sensitive topic — and they’re not entitled to your time and energy.