commodifying spirituality?


Something I’ve noticed lately on social media is that someone with a sacred spiritual practice or religious belief will share something from their culture/practice for the education of the community. Then, seeing that it’s cool, viewers go out and use that as their own tradition, usually without giving credit where credit is due. Without even truly understanding where the tradition came from in the first place.

This is a unique form of cultural appropriation that has evolved with social media — especially TikTok. There’s a gray area for some, who see that the tradition has been shared online and thus assume it’s okay to replicate. Sometimes, this is true, but I’ve found that it’s only when the person sharing the tradition says it’s okay that viewers can use it in their daily lives. Without this explicit permission, it is undoubtedly appropriation, if a veiled form.

Why do people do this? It may be a lack of culture. In the U.S. especially, people have grown up without anything “sacred.” I know I grew up in a two Christian households that certainly enforced going to church and serving others, but outside of that, we had no practices or rituals that would distinguish ourselves as Christians. We celebrated commercialized Christmas and Easter and everything else.

I can’t speak for those who were raised with other religions or traditions, so this is just speculation… But I can imagine that for people who grew up agnostic or atheist, this idea of sacred anything is quite foreign. So when someone comes across, for example, the idea of wearing a hematite ring to absorb negative energy, it’s enticing. They don’t stop to think whether or not they believe in the negative energy they’re trying to collect or why this tradition even exists (it was used in Egyptian tombs and as mourning jewelry in the Victorian era). They just go and buy a ring to feel a part of a greater tradition.

There are more unfortunate examples, too. The use of unethically harvested white sage by non-native peoples has risen because witches online spread the message that burning white sage is the best way to cleanse the energy of a place. They say this without acknowledging native lands or traditions. And that is just about the most dismissive and appropriative thing ever, but it happens to indigenous people all the time. Indigenous practices do not belong to non-indigenous people! There’s no gray area here!

But this issue is more than just knowingly appropriating culture. It’s seeing a tradition that has been severed from that culture and taking it into one’s own practice because it’s not being linked to any spirituality or culture. This is the danger of sharing cultural experiences on social media. It’s sad that this has to be a fear — in several cultures, sharing experience on socials has become a way of preserving themselves and making themselves known. But with that desire to be recognized comes the risk of someone sharing that experience… without referring back to the original source. This is disheartening and plain wrong.

So, what can be done? First of all: if you come across a practice and think it’s something you might like to incorporate into your own life, do your damn research. Know if it’s a closed practice, as in it’s intended for members of a specific culture that you are not a part of, or if it’s a secular practice and free to anyone.

Next: don’t just copy and paste. Spirituality isn’t a cookie cutter of going through the motions. If people are copying practices they see because they seem cool, or because they don’t have any sacred practices of their own, they’re defeating the entire purpose. By just carrying over the exact practice into your own life, you’re removing the personal influence of having rituals in the first place. Make practices unique to you, your beliefs, and even your surroundings. Say you do want to try burning white sage (which, unless you grow it in your own backyard and/or have explicit permission from a native person, please don’t do this!). Instead, think about what grows around you. Do you have thyme, rosemary, lemon balm in your backyard? Another kind of sage? Mint?

Take into account the place where you live instead of blindly making a copy of someone else’s spiritual practices. Honestly, doing that is just plain lazy, and when you’re being spiritually lazy, you’re not cultivating practices you care about, and you’re hurting other traditions that just want to be heard.

My final point: give credit where credit is due! If someone who shares a practice says it’s okay to use what they’ve shared, honor their experience and tell people you share it with that it belongs to someone else. This is one of the best ways to mitigate online appropriation. You learn it in middle school: always cite your sources. Only this time, it’s not a zero on an assignment that’s at risk, but the harm of groups of people.

So, that’s my soapbox for today. Please take these things into account the next time you see a trendy evil-eye bracelet on TikTok.

-ellynn ❤

some things happen for a reason.


ripple effects.

you decide to go get coffee and sit for awhile at a coffee shop you’ve never been to. you’re nervous to go, but you do it, and you find yourself pleasantly surprised by a friend you haven’t seen in a long time.

you go online to find a book you really want to read and come across a better one that’s cheaper and it’s by an author you’re going to meet in three months.

you speak french and love political journalistic writing and go to a university reception to do those things. you meet a student whose three majors are french, journalism, and politics.

i’m not saying life is perfect, and i’m not saying everything is meant to work out in your favor. i’m saying we, on this beautiful planet, are all interconnected. there’s not necessarily a reason for you to step in the mud, but there might be if the person to help you get your foot unstuck is the love of your life.

we may not have destinies or fates or grand plans, but we definitely find ourselves in situations that simply could not have happened had we not made a decision that led to that point. what things have happened to you that you felt were meant to happen? how would your life be different if they hadn’t happened?

so many pieces of the past make up the lives we have now. the language, the upbringing, the culture, the education, the access to knowledge… life is insanely cumulative. i believe that’s why some people don’t think they can change their lives.

they may be taught, from a young age, that they always fail at everything. the more they’re told so, the more they believe it. then, when they go to do something world-alteringly important, they may chicken out because their fear of failure has been encouraged from a young age. it’s just like water erosion. just a few drops, yes? but enough time passes, and rock disappears forever.

that’s why, too, we think life sucks. a family member passes, and we ask, “why does _____ matter if this happened?” insert god, living, love, passion, growth, trying… whatever the matter seems to be. it’s not the fault of god, life, love, passion, growth, effort, or any other scapegoat you might come up with. because life is cumulative. and if you’re going to tell you that god made all this happen to you, then you’re telling me that this isn’t your life. you’re telling me you’ve made no decisions, chosen no paths, and done absolutely nothing.

we aren’t passive creatures. we have emotions, convictions, desires, fears… we do not go gently into that good night. i’m not saying that your decisions killed your grandparent, but i’m saying the world happens and is going to continue to happen for as long as it does. we don’t even know how long that is.

so because the world is going to continue to happen for an undetermined amount of time, i’m offering up this solution: live. live every day, and never stop living until you’re dead. and then fertilize the earth with your corpse and let the next people live. it’s kinda crappy, that it works this way, but it does, so live a life of living life.

nobody and nothing made this awful thing happen to you, the thing you’re thinking about. it’s not your fault, it’s not god’s, it’s not the person you want to point fingers at… it’s the fact that life goes on. you’ve only got a little bit left, though, so move on from what’s hurting you and let yourself live the rest in peace.

let yourself have peace. ❤

-ellynn

september astrology.


Here’s a column I wrote for a newspaper that didn’t make the cut. Decided to put it here.

Aries (MAR 21-APR 20): It’s a good time for you to get things done, as competitive Mars will remain in Virgo until October. The increased drive can lead to quick anger in Aries, so be mindful of how you express your feelings this month. Aggression is ill-advised, and it would be wise to stay out of arguments.

Taurus (APR 21-MAY 21): Not the best month for any romantic relationships — Virgo season puts a stop to that. However, your cousin Libra will soon accept your shared ruling planet, Venus; expect ease in professional and personal relationships mid-month. Remain confident in your identity. You are strong.

Gemini (MAY 22-JUN 22): Gemini, your intellectual side will come up several times this month. With brilliant and communicative Mercury in Virgo, you may notice that it’s easier to speak about your ideas. It’s time to seek the answers you need, and if you can’t find them, ask for help. Guidance will be given.

Cancer (JUN 23-JUL 23): Cancer’s energy should feel a boost around September, as the Moon is going to pass through Virgo, the sign of health and nurturing. Be wary of your aggressive tendencies toward emotions; allow yourself to spend some time committing to self-care. You’re worth it.

Leo (JUL 24-AUG 23): It’s normal after a sign has passed through their seasons to feel drained, especially after Leo’s boldness and flamboyance was so prominently highlighted in August. Some introvert time may be necessary, but the Sun still rules until September 23rd, the Equinox. Don’t let your light dim too much.

Virgo (AUG 24-SEP 23): It’s your time to shine! Your service-oriented heart and analytical brain are in full swing, so use this to your advantage. You’ll be able to help more people and be more organized this month, but don’t forget to acknowledge that you need to serve yourself as well. You deserve love.

Libra (SEP 24-OCT 23): The beginning of September may be difficult, as Venus doesn’t like to be in Virgo. However, charming Venus and amusing Mercury both enter Libra on September 14th to ease Libra’s struggling relationships. The Sun enters Libra on the Equinox for a balanced, peaceful end to the month.

Scorpio (OCT 24-NOV 22): One word comes to the surface this September: introspection. You may find yourself “in the feels,” contemplating your ambitions, passions, and new beginnings. The depth of Pluto can offer a sort of mental clarity you may have been seeking over the summer. Spend time in thought.

Sagittarius (NOV 23-DEC 21): It’s a month of optimism for Sagittarians, kicking off with Jupiter in Sagittarius squaring Venus in Virgo. All signs point to “yes,” and you’re on a roller coaster that only goes up. Dive into new friendships, schools of thought, or places to visit. The outcome might just surprise you.

Capricorn (DEC 22-JAN 20): The beginning of this month puts a damper on the emotional side of Capricorn, but don’t stress, as your knack for hard work will come to light by the second week. Motivating Saturn goes direct in Capricorn on the 18th, allowing you to reflect on the previous April retrograde.

Aquarius (JAN 21-FEB 19): Aquarius is rather quiet during this upcoming month. You may want to spend some time with the people you trust. October can bring up some unexpected anxieties, so start to prepare for the ahead stressors. We can often store up our energy for when it is needed most. You’ve got this.

Pisces (FEB 20-MAR 20): For much of this month, you might have trouble remembering who you are. Creativity can run wild, but a sense of self can disappear. Use that boost to remember your true nature and take care of yourself. It’s okay if your outer protections falter or even change. Treat yourself gently.