DISCLAIMER: Again, these are my personal opinions toward the subject of fighting racism in the Pagan community, as an African-American Pagan. In no way, shape or form do I wish to promote ‘sectioning’ out based on race/gender/sex, etc. I also am not writing this to ‘down’ covens or groups, nor promote being a solitary or eclectic witch. Lastly, I’m not writing this to ‘down’ Christianity. I simply wish to point out some current affairs in the Pagan community, and my experiences and thoughts on a solution. That is all!
“Everybody is a book of blood; wherever we’re opened, we’re red.” –Clive Barker, ‘Books of Blood 1-3’
I’ve found it easy, up until here lately, to stay out of mainstream Pagan politics. Before I go into the true subject of my column this week, let me back up and give a little background before trotting all over the foreground.
Two years ago this October 2012, I cracked open the ‘broom closet’ and converted into Paganism. To be specific, my flavor as a Polytheist tastes like Greco-Egyptian Polytheism, and the Kemetic Reconstructionist movement. What in the Sam Hell does all that mean? Without writing an encyclopedia, I was claimed by Aset right off the bat; owned by Dionysos, like it or not. Sekhmet has been with me since I was a little girl, long before I recognized what my never-ending dreams of lions truly meant.
By modern Pagan terminology, I am a Solitary ‘Eclectic,’ I spend the majority of my time alone or in private with my gods. I do this so that I can think what I want; worship as I like and say what I feel. I don’t have to feel judged by anyone, in regards to the way I honour the gods. I don’t have someone pushing this book or that object at me, telling me I should do it this way or that. I can avoid what I experienced in my former life as a Christian. I can experience true joy, I can be ECSTATIC and unashamed while solidifying my commitment as a Pagan.
Now back to the task at hand…as I’d said in the beginning, up until now I’ve successfully avoided writing about, or involving myself in current topics in Pagan ‘politics.’ Topics like the issues of whether we should have places of worship, or how to fund businesses in the Pagan community; racism and exclusion due to race/gender/creed (ie. Transvestites joining in “women-only” rituals, Norse or Celtic-based faiths excluding non-whites, etc.) within the different faiths and sub-genres. And let’s not forget the usual “soap-box” bickering and nonsense, over what god/goddess likes what color flower – the list could go on and on!
Someone may read this and feel that I’ve still got a bitter taste in my mouth, in regards to the former missteps I’ve experienced at the hands of others regarding religion and religious practices. However, I can promise you that that is not the case. I’ve just become a master at avoiding zealots, know-it-alls and mentor-wannabes of all shapes and sizes. What I know and have experienced with the gods is very personal to me. And while I enjoy sharing it via this column or my personal blog, I do not feel that I need a special building, group, outfit or ‘campground sabbatical’ to validate what I’ve experienced. I don’t feel that ‘real-world’ issues need to touch my religion; I don’t want my faith sullied by that which I feel is irrelevant compared to my goal – being touched by my gods, and becoming closer to them with each new thing I learn from and of them. Every single day since my conversion and commitment to spiritual growth as a Pagan, my relationships with my patrons and deities has grown. Why would I ever slow these happenings down, by stopping to involve myself in what I’ve always considered drama in the scheme of things?
…I have been Very Naïve.
The time of the saints and mystics — in my humble opinion — has long since been over. What I mean by that is that we can no longer afford to completely divorce ourselves from the material, just to be connected to the gods.
The gods are everywhere, in everything. I do believe that some of our most important lessons to be learned via the gods, are through our interactions in the world and with others. By believing that, I know that the gift of words and writing that I have been given by the gods can be used to spread their words; their lessons. It can be used to spread knowledge and understanding. And it is why I give apologies to the gods, for being so arrogant as to assume that I can carry on as I please without using what they’ve given me towards helping our community provide guidance for those that have lost view of their lessons. If writing is my gift, why am I not paying it forward by spreading what I’ve experienced in order to educate and help those who are missing the point of what it is to be a pagan on the right path? I’m not saying I have all the answers, or that I even know anything of worth. But I am saying that experience sometimes is the best teacher, and you never know who may be in need of yours! With that said, I wanted to address a current ‘hot topic’ in the world of Pagan issues today:
So, I’m not going to reiterate what the majority of us already know; when most people think of Pagans they immediately think of the movie ‘The Craft’ and of Wicca. Obviously, like Christianity, Paganisms has its major genres and then its sub-genres. In my humble opinion, the majors are Wiccans and Pagans/Heathens. While each group has different dieties it may worship, what I’ve always felt of Paganism over Christianity is that acceptance and respect were always offered prior to derision or scorn. Your choice in paths may be different (ie. Druid vs. Greco-Egyptian) but it didn’t matter because you were accepted AND respected for being different. Open Arms, all around, right? WRONG.
Though the following isn’t the first time I’ve noted racism in the various online Pagan communities, I will say it was the most blatant of showings I’d ever seen. In an article called Wicca, Paganism and Racial Identity — per the lovely Patti Wigington’s blog ‘About PaganWiccan’ (http://paganwiccan.about.com/b/2012/06/15/changingofwicca.htm) last week:
My friend Kazoo is a self-described “combo plate” of a variety of backgrounds. She’s got a mom who’s half Irish and half Puerto Rican. Her dad is from Somalia, but his mother is descended from Dutch settlers. Kazoo herself is Wiccan, and is married to a Jewish guy of Polish extraction. She’s raising her kids as Pagans, and she says, “We show up at a Pagan potluck, and you can always tell who the new people are. They stare at us, and you can tell they’re thinking “Who are all those brown people, and why are they here?” And then they realize I’m the High Priestess, and it’s a bit of a jolt. You can see it when the lightbulb clicks on.”
How sad is that? Within her own religious community, AND as a High Priestess – she gets raised eyebrows, regarding her skin color? In this day and age?
Most of the commentary following this article was positive, sans one reader named Silvia. I won’t give her comment another view to the light of day – I’ll only acknowledge it by stating that Silvia felt the need to leave Wicca because of the advocacy for integration by minorities. Patti’s response article addressed it so well (found here: http://paganwiccan.about.com/b/2012/06/19/reader-says-leave-wicca-to-the-white-folks.htm) that I don’t think anyone else could’ve said it better. But I use this more recent example as a background to why I felt the need to step out of my self-proclaimed shadow of silence.
As an African-American woman living in the Midwest, I have not experienced a lot of open racism. This is mainly due to the fact that I live directly in the MIDDLE of the state of Missouri, which oddly enough is much more progressive than most of the Northern and Southern states that surround it. Mind you, there are still some small towns and counties that I am aware need to be avoided after dark, as the ‘lynch-mob’ mindset is still alive and well there. What racism I have experienced, is usually not the outward aggression that many have. It’s actually more subtle occurrences; more displayed prejudices vs. racist acts — usually regarding my level of education and that “I speak so well!” I take all of that with a grain of salt; my color has NEVER defined who I am. Identifying with others simply because of color has always been a loser mentality to me; if you can’t be who you are on your own then you are weak.
Awhile after converting to Paganism, I realized that I was even more of a minority in the Pagan community than I am in life. Regardless, I didn’t see it as an important thing to represent myself nor ‘affiliate’ as an African-American Pagan in any way, shape or form.
Somehow, this has changed in the past few days after reading the feedback to the aforementioned articles. For some reason, this latest example of ‘racist pagan’ rhetoric hit a button that opened the floodgates to ‘soul-search land’ on my end. Though I abhor the idea of groups, I’ve come to realize that I myself am being prejudiced by thinking that groups almost always equal group mentality.
By representing myself as an African-American Pagan, I’m not just saying I want to be considered over whites and other minorities simply for being black. It doesn’t mean I’m going to join an organization and do/agree with everything they say simply because we are all minorities. It doesn’t mean that I consider myself BETTER than other Pagans, because I am black and I worship a genre of Paganism that is a very small group compared to all the Wiccans, Druids and Celts out there. It doesn’t mean that I’m going to *not* learn about other dieties because they were worshipped primarily by those of Anglo-Saxon or Caucasian persuasions.
So, what am I saying it means?
It means that I’m letting people — Pagan or otherwise — know that I support knowledge, education, and companionship for ANY minority looking into becoming a Pagan. Regardless of whether they choose to be a Druid, a Kemetic or a Wiccan – I support their steps toward the pathways of Paganism. I support helping them connect with reputable, knowledgeable individuals who can further their education and initiation into the path of their choosing. I support freedom of choice for religion, no matter what it may be – but more importantly, EDUCATION for anyone who chooses the Pagan lifestyle. I feel that advocating an organization like the AA Wiccan Society, or reading and promoting the writings from blogs like Black Witch or Daughters of Eve helps to open the doors for those minorities who may have felt like I did, but who are afraid to pursue what they feel because they don’t have the resources locally or otherwise. I feel that by advocating and promoting those blogs/organizations, I make it a little easier for those non-minorities who are Pagans to feel more comfortable asking and getting information from the minority point of view.
By advocating and representing as an African-American Pagan, I feel that it’s not just about this group that I’m in but it’s also about opening the doors for those who are afraid to enter –simply because of how those around them may react or what they may say. They would have an informed, reputable support system behind them so that they don’t have to be afraid. Through kinship and communication, we open the doors for ANYONE to learn about who and what we are as Wiccans, Pagans and Heathens.
To me, this is the most important fight against racism within our community — online and in life. This is how we beat it. By communicating with each other, and spreading that communication through kinship with those around us; inside and outside the Pagan community.
Once done, we can then begin to educate about who and what we are; our dieties and their place in our lives, this earth and our respect for it. We can explain why we are so proactive in the Pagan community to do our part to protect this Earth; our connection through the teachings on our chosen path that urge us to respect the Earth until the end of our days — so that our progeny can continue the tradition during theirs.
It’s my firm belief that ignorance is what feeds the flames of the fire – those flames that Hatred, Racism, Bigotry, and Prejudice ride upon to spread themselves into the world. If my simple words in this humble column of mine do nothing else, I hope it is that they combat separation based simply on color, but promote communication and education beforehand. Considering how the world looks at Pagans in the first place; racism, prejudice & exclusion of others based on the race/gender/creed should NEVER have a place to call home in the Pagan community.
Brightest Blessings, Until We Meet Again…