In the pagan and witchcraft – heck, even the spiritual community – the idea of gatekeeping gets thrown around a lot. Today, I want to discuss this topic with you and why it isn’t a concept that should be thrown around like salt during a cleansing.
What is gatekeeping?
Urban Dictionary defines gatekeeping as follows:
“When someone takes it upon themselves to decide who does or does not have access or rights to a community or identity.”
So, what does that mean? It means that one person cannot decide who does or does not have access to a community, identity, or – in the witchcraft community – a practice. This means that I would not be able to tell you that you can’t practice witchcraft because you’re a child, or you can’t practice witchcraft if you don’t identify as a female. This is gatekeeping.
And that’s bad?
This is where it gets complicated and where people throw around the term gatekeeping whenever they feel like someone is keeping them from doing something. However, most times, the term gatekeeping isn’t even warranted. Let me explain. Within witchcraft, there are certain practices that are exclusive to certain cultures.
You cannot understand the context and meaning behind these practices unless you were brought up in that culture or invited in. This is a fact – no one outside of that culture will be able to teach you the culture’s practices and significance. When someone tells you that you cannot do a certain thing because you don’t belong to that culture and you call it gatekeeping, that is incorrect. They are simply stating the truth.
Here’s another example that I saw on TikTok. TikTok is one of the main places that I’ve seen this callout of gatekeeping most often, but it is starting to spread into other social media platforms. Anyway, there is someone on TikTok who is in their teens. They have also claimed to be a Reiki Master. Now, in the comments, there were several people who were rightly confused. How could someone in their teens be considered a Reiki Master? Doesn’t it take years of practice, education, and hands-on training to be a Reiki Master?
When those people questioned this teen, others in the comments were quick to cry out that they were gatekeeping Reiki. That was far from the truth, though. Questioning someone’s authenticity when it comes to something that takes a lot of hard work and study isn’t gatekeeping. It’s a good practice. On a side note, the teen never responded to any comments and instead tried to get people to follow their YouTube channel and join their Discord server.
Still don’t get the difference?
Let me give you another example that has nothing to do with witchcraft, paganism, or spirituality at all. I recommend using this analogy when you feel like you need to call out gatekeeping. There are two people who claim to be doctors – whatever doctor you want, okay? Just go with the story. One person is in their mid-30s, has their credentials, certificates, licenses, and awards hung up in their office. They are board-certified and have the education to prove it.
The other doctor is in their early 20s, has none of this, yet claims to know exactly what the first doctor knows through their own education. A doctor is a profession and practice that requires years of study, practice, and hands-on training. It is a perfectly valid response to question the second doctor more than the first. Why? Because they have no proof that they know what they are doing. They have no board certification, no degrees, no hands-on training. Would you claim that questioning the second doctor is gatekeeping? Would you claim that telling them they can’t claim the title of doctor is gatekeeping?
Absolutely not! You would simply say that the second doctor hasn’t had the education and experience to claim the title of doctor. No one is saying they can’t be a doctor – they are just saying they need to go through the school and get the education first. This concept can be applied to pretty much anything.
So, why are people calling out gatekeeping if it isn’t true?
This is a loaded question, and I find that my cynicism comes out when I think about it.
We don’t like to be wrong…
My first idea for why people are so quick to yell gatekeeping is because the population as a whole doesn’t like to be told that they’re wrong. Many people have been conditioned to believe that they know best, that their “research” is the best, and that they are incapable of being wrong. This is detrimental to the pagan and witchcraft community because, without the ability for us to realize we’re wrong, there is zero room for growth!
We need to realize that when someone is taking the time to speak to you about a topic and they’re telling you that you are misinformed, those people are usually doing it out of the goodness of their heart. Or, in my case, it is something they feel called to do. These people don’t get paid to call out misinformation. They don’t get any sort of gold star or special recognition. They speak out when incorrect ideas, concepts, and practices spread like wildfire through our community as is apt to happen.
Lack of experience…
The second reason I think people are so quick to yell gatekeeping has to do with experience. There are people in our community that want to believe that they have a right to access anything regardless of culture, status, or education. This is especially true for someone who is new or who believes that love and light is the only way. So, when a person claims to know something but then gets called out, they claim they are a victim of gatekeeping instead of owning up to the fact that they don’t actually know what they’re talking about. This is evidenced by the fact that, when asked for their training and/or education certification, there is normally no answer.
When I spoke with a friend of mine, she told me a bit about how she became a Reiki master. She detailed the classes she took, the hours spent practicing and studying, and the hard work that went into her getting attuned as a Reiki master. Without me even asking, she offered to show me her certifications – that is the sign of someone who knows what they’re talking about and is not afraid to show up, stand up, and claim their title.
Fear of judgment
I also think that a lot of people in our community are afraid to admit when they don’t know something – and this is a problem. This goes back to not leaving room for growth – either spiritually, magickally, or even personally. I’ll be the first person to tell you that there are things in the realm of magick and witchcraft that I don’t know about – and that’s okay. Why? Because I don’t pretend to know about them and I don’t teach them.
I have no business teaching something that I don’t know about, and I for sure have no business pretending to know something. For what? To look good? To look like I’m a cool witch or elder witch? No – not gonna happen. I’m comfortable enough with myself and my practice to realize when I don’t know something – and I’m comfortable telling someone that I don’t have an answer – and more people in our community need to be like that.
Correcting misinformation, calling out fraudulent people, and telling the truth are the furthest thing from gatekeeping.
Sidenote: if you claim to be a master at something, I’m going to expect you to either have certifications or the experience to back up your claims – and not get mad or defensive when someone asks for them.