From the Archives: Who Owns the Sacred? A Personal Search beyond (European) Indigenous Knowledge by Eline Kieft

This was originally posted on Jan 17, 2020

For almost 35 years nature has been my sacred place. As an 8-year old, I started to pray to Mother Earth even though the protestant tradition in which I grew up only recognised ‘God the Father’. I went outside in my inflatable rowing boat to seek solitude (as an only child in a quiet family!) on a small island in the lake of our local park. I practised rowing and walking quietly to not break the sacred silence. I collected herbs to brew infusions in my little thermos flask with boiled water brought from home. I sung to the moon, and danced my love for all creation back through my moving body. Over the last 15 or so years, I spent many days and nights at Neolithic monuments, dreaming in ancestral burial mounds, time traveling in stone circles in Cornwall, Wales, Scotland, England, Ireland and Brittany. This nature-based practice evolved naturally, and later incorporated my training with the Scandinavian Centre for Shamanic Studies and the School of Movement Medicine. Nature is where I reconnect most easily with the Sacred, and listen to the whispers on the great web of life in which all of nature is a great teacher. Nature, for me, is a strong place of prayer, solace, awe, reverence, gratitude, joy, guidance, reconnection, healing and transformation. 

Rowing contemplation Image credits Henk Kieft

Yet I am confused. I am confused because although this way of connecting to the mystery feels the most natural and innocent thing in the world to me, my practice is criticised as “playing Indian” because I did not happen to be born into one of the indigenous traditions that kept nature-based (“shamanic”, for want of a better word) practices alive. Critique includes cultural appropriation in relation to colonialism and white privilege, as well as that any form of spirituality outside the five major religions is considered as empty, eclectic, post-modern consumerist product that lacks meaning and substance because of its diluted, selective ‘picking’ of traditions from other times and contemporary contexts.  

Ritual in West Kennet Long Burrow Image Credits Eline Kieft

I understand that many indigenous peoples call for “white” people to return to their own roots. In Europe much of our indigenous pre-Christian “pagan” traditions have been lost. Traditions that were apparently “Celtic” in origin (another problematic term) were either incorporated into Roman or Christian spirituality, or thoroughly annihilated during the Inquisition’s witch burnings. However, some seeds of wisdom survived. Roman conquerors described ‘druid’ practices they witnessed at the time of their arrival. Christian monks wrote down local stories handed down through oral tradition. Perversely, books like the Malleus Maleficarum, the book that the Inquisition used to capture witches, and subsequently through their recorded confessions, we glimpse what the North-Western nature-based practices might have involved. Also, some family craft has been successfully passed down through generations. These “seeds of evidence” show remarkably similar ingredients to contemporary “shamanic” practices, including ways to communicate with animist nature and the spirit world, relationship with power animals or familiars, the use of dancing, drumming and sometimes hallucinogenic plants to induce vision, and healing practices using the four elements water, earth, fire and air. 

However, revitalising this traditional knowledge in movements such as wicca, druidry, or neo-shamanism (to mention a few) also receives criticism. After all, how can we really know what an oral tradition was like 2000 years ago, what is the value of descriptions by successful conquerors or indeed testimonials given under torture, and how genuine can a contemporary recreation of a “new (age) body” of spiritual lore really be? So we find ourselves in a paradoxical Catch-22 or double bind situation. I full heartedly agree that it is essential to return to our own indigenous roots, but what can we do if simultaneously any attempt to do so is ridiculed, criticized or dismissed? How can we revitalise pre-Christian pagan cultural heritage with integrity after two millennia of near-absence, a collective memory gap, and an equally a strong ‘hold’ of Christian views that do not favour nature, body or gender and sexual equality?

Embrace Sligo Image Credits Jose Kieft

Dancing with the wind and trees Image Credits Henk Kieft

Thank you Mother Thank you Father Cornwall Image Credits Henk Kieft

Although most anthropologists will not like this generalisation, I believe that existential questions are of all times and places. People will always search for ways to communicate with the mystery, even though subsequent cosmologies and practices will be context-dependent. I wonder if there is a place before cultural compartmentalisation, where a spiritual practice based on nature is one of the most self-evident developments, to connect to earth, moon, sun, and stars, to nature’s seasons and the cycles of life, to scented herbs, to embodied practices to celebrate and give thanks. It is this practice I naturally developed as a child, instinctually, without instruction, because the instruction I received, in my understanding and experience, only partially touched on the wonder of life. 

Emerging from burial mound Image Credits Jose Kieft

Feather and Heather Burial Mound Brittany Image Credits Eline Kieft

What if reconnecting to (European) Indigenous Knowledge is not so much a matter of revitalising anything as much as it is of remembering ancient knowledge that lies dormant in our bones, in our very DNA? What if practices such as lighting a candle, sitting by a fire, being out in nature in solitude, working with plants and animals as teachers, do not belong to any culture in particular, but to all? What if no culture owns the stories of eagle, mouse, wolf, seal or butterfly, but if these other-than-human-beings “simply” empower us to remember the sacred nature of all of life, and of the power of transformation? What if no culture has the perfect answer to ‘right livelihood’ but together we learn what it is to be human and how we can take care of all life respectfully? What if we can honour our collective ancestors, who co-created such an incredibly rich tapestry of cosmologies and practices of which all the threads reverberate with and strengthen each other? What if we move beyond cultural boundaries and fears of misappropriation, towards the reverence of the mystery of beating hearts and shared humanity? What if no one owns access to the Sacred, and we are all responsible for honouring it together, in any way we can? 

I would like to meet you there, in respect and gratitude for diversity, and from a deep longing for inclusivity rather than separation.  

Gratitude Image Credits Jose Kieft

Leaning into the Ancients at Avebury Image Credits Celeste Snowber


Pre-register for 10 webinars on Embodied Spirituality to strengthen your spirituality in relation to your body and the land. We will reframe our notions of contemporary spirituality, including the sacred body, nature as teacher, ceremony, healing and transformative narratives. Live and replay sessions starting in Autumn 2023. Pre-register here.

If you find yourself in France this summer, I’d love to meet you for this workshop to dance with nature and the spirits! Payment and registration happen directly via the Ecolonie venue, and please add your name to the course email list via this link so I can contact you with details closer to the time!


Eline Kieft danced from a young age, including rigorous classical and contemporary training to become a professional dancer. She then studied anthropology, deepening her fascination with worldwide similarities between indigenous traditions regarding intangible aspects of reality and other ways of knowing, including embodied epistemologies and shamanic techniques. 

She completed her PhD in dance anthropology at Roehampton University, trained in depth with the Scandinavian Centre for Shamanic Studies and the School of Movement Medicine. Eline worked at the Centre for Dance Research (C-DaRE) at Coventry University for five years, where she created a Somatics Toolkit for Ethnographers, and pioneered soulful academic pedagogy. Her recent book Dancing in the Muddy Temple: A Moving Spirituality of Land and Body was well received as a unique blend of theory and practice and a medicine for our times. 

She is now a full-time change-maker and facilitates deep transformation through coaching and courses both online and in person. Her approach The Way of the Wild Soul offers a set of embodied, creative, and spiritual tools to re-connect with inner strength and navigate life’s challenges with confidence. 

Website: Also on Facebook | Instagram | Twitter | LinkedIn

Author: Eline Kieft

I'm passionate about tending and mending the soul in everyday life! I offer Qi Gong, courses on embodied spirituality and shamanic techniques, and safe online community spaces away from Facebook, especially through The Art of Thriving Network!

19 thoughts on “From the Archives: Who Owns the Sacred? A Personal Search beyond (European) Indigenous Knowledge by Eline Kieft”

  1. When we connect with nature or spirit, we’re doing exactly that. We’re not connecting with traditions or even people’s opinions of what is right. As a spiritualist, I believe in reincarnation and have had glimpses of my past lives. This makes me wonder if sometimes our ways of connecting is coming from past reincarnations.

    As for cultural appropriation, I think that label applies when you hijack a native tradition in a showy, public manner especially when not having a clue what it means. For example: I read a recent article on saging written by an idigenous woman and realized–I wasn’t doing it right. I switched to rosemary and bell ringing to clear my household, instead.

    Love the photos. Thanks for blessing us with your wisdom and starting the dialogue.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ironically that’s not even what it meant originally. The term was never fully defined. But the most accepted belief is that it comes from a Sociologist who talked about slaves “appropriating” the religions of their masters to hide their traditional African religions. That’s it.

      Liked by 1 person

    2. Hey Morgan, thank you for your reflections, and I’ve been thinking exactly the same recently about the knowledge we pull through from other lives. Yes, ‘sacred smoke’ – great to use herbs that are local to you, lovely project also to go out and gather them in the wild, and bell ringing too. Have a wonderful week!


  2. As a multi racial Cuban who studies and practices many religions and backgrounds I say they can kiss your ass. These identity politics people are the modern post consumerist ones. They try to shove us all into neat little packages. Black and White. But it’s not all black and white there are greys and greens and reds etc….and indigenous just means coming from a specific land.

    You are practicing indigenous European spirituality. I bet if you practiced Native American religion you would be criticized for “cultural appropriation”. I’m so sick of this nonsense that they have become the liberal version of Fox News and the Maga Trumpers. Which is why I simply don’t listen to them. I practice as the spirits and Gods I worship see fit.

    Not them. They can kiss it. Final note, I’m mixed and I am practicing two European religions : Greek Polytheism and Druidry. Does that mean I am “culturally appropriating” Greek and Celtic culture? 🤔 nonsense,

    – M

    Liked by 1 person

        1. Funny, not even knowing you, I feel your words help heal a time of ‘enforced separation’, confusion, and a lot of hiding and apologising… It’s only in the last few years that I’m finding my own feet and heart in this and am able to fully reclaim my joy! Thank you again.

          Liked by 1 person

          1. I had to go through much of the same thing. When I entered the Voodoo and Hoodoo community, to say I was treated like rancid garbage is putting it lightly. I made enemies right away because I wasn’t “pure enough” to study Hoodoo and Voodoo. Or I didn’t have the “right” or “authority” to say anything. In the end, I realized they were just jealous.

            I am good at studying and learning magic. I am good at making relationships with Gods and spirits. I’m so good at what I do in fact that I probably took some of their customers away. It all boils down to jealousy. And a need to feel superior to someone else to validate themselves.

            That’s why they do it. I have learned something very important : do not engage with trolls. Delete their comments on your blogs. Block them. Ignore them.

            Don’t give them power. Their power only comes from making you suffer. But I run my page like a dictatorship. I don’t like what someone says? Adios. And delete. I do what I want when I want and make no apologies to them for it.

            They need a tall glass of shut the F— Up. Lol


  3. Thanks for this post. Interesting timing. The reading from the Hebrew Bible this week in the Jewish cycle is the building of the (portable) sanctuary. I led a discussion of What is your sacred space/time. Responses varied from “my couch where I relax for a few minutes when I get home from work” to “the vehicle with medical supplies that I invited people in need into”, and of course included places/time spent in nature.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, I think this is a beautiful invitation, to reflect on their sacred space and time, which indeed will be different for all of us! And I love the idea of portable sanctuary. I have a mini-altar which I take with me when traveling :-)


  4. I don‘t think any tradition owns anything… I did not know of my Indigenous roots as a child – my brother and I instinctively turned to nature for sustenance and joy…. However I think the new age movement ( very patriarchal ironically) DID appropriate American Indigenous traditions missing the core of all – living in peace in community with nature as relative -experiencing nature as kin, – not using her – taking words like gifting or the eagle – and using them without understanding – I think that the same is true for European Indigenous knowledge – with that much said any authentic relationship with nature stems from archetypal roots that belong to no one and are acted out through ritual…. Nature wants relationship with us – for 40 years I have been creating my own rituals and using the Celtic calendar because it follows the seasons of the year as I experience them – and every tradition I know of follows that calendar loosely! I encourage others to do the same. I think if we follow our hearts we will find our own authentic way.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Sara, I love how you write nature wants a relationship with us… That’s my experience too, and I often find a lot of humour there, despite everything that is going on. Authentic, heart-led, nature-related… yes yes and yes!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Hi again Miami Magus, thanks for sharing about your process. Inspiring. Your blog looks amazing, and glad you’re doing such empowering work – for people and the spirits!


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