A Black Pagan: Minority within the Minorities

A Black Pagan: Minority within the Minorities

This piece is based from my perception and experiences. It is not a representation of “all black folks.” Although, I am sure that there will be individual black minorities within the minorities who can relate to my sentiments.

For black Pagans/Wiccans/African-Traditionalists, Atheists, Buddhists, Hindus, and Humanists (to name a few), being anything but Christian can be “challenging” if not, “threatening,” to the sociological and psychological foundation of what individual blacks in America and/or black Americans view as “our cultural identity.” I must reiterate for those who don’t follow me on Patheos that I am a first generation American from Haitian-born immigrants. That being said, I try not to use the term “black culture,” for my cultural heritage is different, even though there are similarities, from black Americans. Even black Americans from generational North have a different “culture” than blacks in generational South. Black culture is as diverse as the world is diverse. Black immigrants from predominately “black” countries also have different cultures from one another.

This is similar to Chinese immigrants having different cultures from Japanese immigrants. Therefore, it is my opinion that “black culture” should not be pigeonholed, for it is impossible to pigeonhole…we begin to start stereotyping (this can be positive and negative).

Back to being black and non-Christian in the United States: My personal experience so far with black Americans knowing that I am not Christian has been positive. I can count on one hand the ones that I actually had indifferences with due to my religious belief. I basically tend to “keep it moving” without dwelling in pain. I know that there will be those who would discriminate against me based on whatever reason. Yes, there was one friend that I felt deeply hurt, but I understood her misconception and forgive her for it. I understood that my faith challenged the sociological and psychological (ie: How can she be “Christ-like” and not a Christian?) foundation of her black identity, which is her Christian identity. The reason why I mentioned the “black identity” for her is that we met and grew fond of one another via an organization to “uplift” the underserved black community. “Tradition” has it; most of the organizations that directly serve to uplift impoverished and underserved black communities are the black church, to which black church equates to Christianity. So, I met her at an organization that was sponsored by a black church that is Christian. This leads many to assume that I must be a Christian. I understand where she felt betrayed or “bamboozled.” I never lied to her—she just mistakenly assumed, like many assume.

I cannot deny the role Christianity played in slavery, both negative and positive, but via the black American’s eye, Christianity played a powerful and spiritual role, predominately. Yes, the first Africans who came to America via the slave trade were not Christians. Christianity became either a “indoctrinated” religion by force or birth, via the first slave descendants who no longer have any cultural ties to their ancestors’ “native land.” Language was lost, cultures have been lost…but one thing that was never lost was the thirst and need for spirituality; for spiritual solace. Christianity became the faith for many descendants of slavery to hold onto. The spiritual longing and answers did not change, just the faith/religion changed. As my Haitian ancestors adopted by blending African-Religion with Catholicism to make Voodoo, so did the slaves in the US adopt their thirst for spirituality with Christianity (not all, but many). For many ancestors, I am sure, to make their voice heard, they must speak in the tongues of their new land and masters. That tongue is Christianity. It is absolutely brilliant how the ancestors in America used the same Christianity that may or may not justify the injustice for some individuals against the very same individuals who “forced it upon them.” Harriet Tubman, an abolitionist, humanitarian, spy, nurse, and freedom fighter is nicknamed “The Black Moses.” “Moses”- an inspirational figurehead that many white Christians can relate to (must speak in their language in order for them to understand). The black church has produced many inspirational black freedom fighters and movements that I will NEVER deny or downplay. So, I do understand when our generation and/or time, after the civil rights movement, may or may not feel free to believe or not to believe. I understand how it can challenge some individual black folks. It can seem to some that not only are black Americans turning away from the “one true religion,” but also turning away from the religion that gave solace and fought for equality at a period of time. It can seem as a “double-edged sword.”

The only basis for my opinion is that I do have friends who are black Atheists and Buddhists who receive “more” flack than I’ve personally experienced. I must admit, when I do tell individuals that I do observe African-Traditionalist religion, it seems that I secretly get a “free-pass.” Unspoken words of, “Oh, she is just going back to her roots.” Especially when I also reveal that I am first generation Haitian-American. I’m sure many black Wiccans and Pagans can somewhat understand my perception. I am sure when individual black Wiccans or Pagans come out of the proverbial broom closet, the first question asked, “Do you do Voodoo?” “Do you practice Hoodoo?” or any African based religion: and when those individuals ask, some may hear the “I hope it is” in their tones. Again, I’ve experienced individual black folks who also hold the misconception of my belief as seen in “mainstream” Christian fundamentalist Americans, regardless of race. As in “mainstream” America, it is so in the black community. You have liberals, conservatives, Republicans, Democrats, Independents, fundamentalists, vegans, vegetarians, and the list goes on. There is diversity within black community, somewhat an unspoken word for few.

Religious diversity is rarely spoken in the black community and media outlets. I’ve come across those who rather say they are Christians than Agnostic. I can sense they are agnostic by their speech, but to mutter the words, “I’m Agnostic,” I perceive, can be difficult. To mutter, “I believe in Christ. I just don’t believe in Christianity” can be hard to swallow. I believe the first black casted show that displays the unspoken word is Sanford & Son where Aunt Esther took issues with “heathens” (she meant it derogatory, like many others who are ill-informed of heathenry). Her character is extreme, but there are “Aunt Esthers” abound, male and female, who took issue with any black folks who don’t identify themselves as Christians. Aunt Esther had zero tolerance for individuals (in this case, black folks since it is an all-black cast) who don’t believe in the Christian deity. She had some tolerance for those who simply don’t go to church for she has this immense hope that one day, they will “see the light” and come back to church. Or, with a bit of her help, encourage them to go to church.

It is from that moment, when I was a child watching Sanford and Son, that I realized the lack of understanding, if not tolerance, for black Atheists or anyone who is black and not a Christian. Even HBCU (historically black colleges and universities) is tied to Christianity. So, where does a black American or individuals who live in black America who are not Christian, but would like to attend an all-black college, go? The answer: some go into the proverbial “closet”. I must admit that there is change in the mentality of black colleges. Just recently, HBCU held a seminar to address and educate on the black LGBT community. An issue that is long overdue and I’m overjoyed that many black generations “today” want to break away from “keep it in the closet” thinking or “no such thing black LGBT” thinking. I hope soon there could be a dialogue of black interfaith or non-faith. I, for one, can speak upon myself. I will always admire the black church’s involvement in equality and uplifting the black community. For some, the issue is not the “black church” as a “figurehead” for inspiration. It is the doctrine for some, it is the theology for some, it is Christianity for some…for some, it is not for them or they don’t believe. Two issues: believing and respecting the historic black church vs. the religion. The proverbial black church was a meeting place in a time where there were not too many places for black folks to congregate and meet. Honestly, we don’t know if back then, there were black folks who were “closeted” non-Christians but resorted to the black church for respite, relaxation, and to get together with the community. I’m assuming there were non-Christian believers among the Christian believers during those times for even to this day, in my time, for me to volunteer services to uplift the black community: there is a link with a Christian organization (or Muslim), or today’s modern church. We must admit that black church is…well, church. A place for worship. A place to get together with other Christians. Today, there are many organizations that uplift the black community. Granted, many of them are linked to religious groups, nevertheless, they don’t call for me to step inside the church. I think that is what gave my non-Christian belief away to my friend. I never attended the “on-site” or “off-site” directly church-related functions. I attended the “secular” organization, even though there is a link to the church…but it wasn’t
“really” about the particular church.

Maybe the black community needs more Humanists, Atheists, Buddhists, Pagans, and the list is endless, organizations within the black community to make ourselves known. Or an organization that is non-denominational that is black-run and owned to build this “things we shall not speak of” bridge between “us.” That is the key…black-run and black-owned. Maybe we need a black college that is secular with no hidden religious affiliation ties. A secular black college. A place that black minorities within the minorities can come together in love, peace, respect, and tolerance with the majorities (black folk) within the minorities…

A place to clear up the misconceptions and stereotype of what “black culture” is…which diversity that can’t be contained inside a box.

About nouvellenoirgoddess
  • Elysa

    You’re beautiful and inspiring :]

  • http://www.imakhu.com Queen Mother Imakhu

    Peace & Blessings Sista,

    Kudos to you for your article. This is the topic of ongoing discussion amongst my students. Most of my following tend to be people of African descent who are often “the only ones” in Pagan gatherings. Having been in that position so very long ago as a young woman in my twenties, it is interesting now in my fifties to see that things have not changed much. The blessings of the Internet have connected us, though. We have the grace of fellowshipping with one another. We comfort each other through discussions of how harsh both the White Pagan community can be in it’s overt and covert elements of racism, and how our own people can shun and label us based on societal fears and misperceptions of non-Christian traditions. We are often like the red-headed step-children. Yet we are unassumingly strong because of our wealth of knowledge, character, self-determination, character, and uniqueness. We are Way Showers. We take the info of global Pagan traditions and process them back to The Ancestral Source for our soul healing, then feed it back to the Home Community, sometimes just by standing in the sacred space of being. We bear many stripes, yet rise Illuminated. Keep to your path, Children. Many years ago, I walked this path alone. Now I see all of you coming up behind me, walking beside me, and yes, flying on ahead of me. Keep to your path. You are here for a purpose. M Khu-t N Mer. (In Light & Love)

  • Nouvelle Noir Goddess

    Thank you, Sisters, for your compliments and reading this intimate piece! I am honored to walk the path alongside of you! We are only reflections of one another other. I’m in the process of typing up the other spectrum (being a black Pagan in an all white dominated circle). I’m currently waiting about the ancestors and Gods to assist me with the next piece, patiently waiting with hopefulness. Till then, infinite blessings to you both! We will continue our divine and inspiring plight to inform and educate others… together, as it should be!

    Brightest Blessings!

  • http://www.imakhu.com Queen Mother Imakhu

    I tackled this topic in my NUBIA GODDESS RISING podcast episode:
    “Why Blacks Are Drawn to EuroPaganism & Whites to African Religions”


    It is an uneasy fit for many people of African descent to find their niche when their spirits are called to non-mainstream places of worship. Support is difficult. How does one continue to feed to soul and intellect without being branded a cultural traitor? It is possible. It isn’t easy, but it is possible. And the Internet does, indeed, facilitate supportive connections.

    M Khu-t N Mer,
    Queen Mother Imakhu

  • Trystn M Branwynn

    This is a very cool article and a lovely, well thought out, and expressed view. Thank you! :-)

  • Nouvelle Noir Goddess

    Thank you, Blessed Trystn! You’re comment means a lot to me! Internally grateful in love and light to you and yours! Blessings!

    • http://twitter.com/TriniPagan KS Lewis

      Even though I am from the Caribbean, I face a similar issue. I came out of Christianity towards Wicca and now a path within traditional witchcraft. A few ppl that are aware of my faith actually expressed disappointment that I am worshiping white goddesses. I find it ironic that these same ppl see nothing wrong with worshiping Christ, a decidedly non-African deity. They see him as Universal and beyond race, yet have an issue with my choice.
      So I identify with you and the author of this blog.

      • Kirey65

        Your repsonse to this article touched me…my family is from the Carribbean too many wonder why I choose to worship a non-black deity. I no longer feel so alone.

  • Trystn M Branwynn

    A blessing given is returned with blessings – to your Hearth and Home, to you and yours. May any hand that helps be rewarded tenfold. May any raised against you turn aside in confusion.

    Flags, Flax, and Fodder,

    Trystn M. Branwynn

  • http://www.filedby.com/author/eugene_lacorbiniere/3380996 francene

    Hello great article, religion is and always was a central part in the black community in the US. Christianity was the only religion for blacks during the time of slavery so this is what the older generation has held on to. You and your readers should really read the book I Am Not A Slave. It’s written by this brilliant author by the name of Eugene LaCorbiniere.

  • Nouvelle Noir Goddess

    @ Francene: Thanks for the book recommendation. I’ll be sure to add it on my list of books to read (already enjoy the excerpt and cover photo of the book). If you have anything you like to share, feel free to share with us. Brightest Blessings!

  • lynn

    Queen Mother Imakhu it’s great to hear from elders like you have forged the path for the rest of us. Thank you for all thw work you’ve done and all you’ve been through.

    Nouvellnoirgoddess, great piece. I’m sure many of us can relate (I know I can). But the more we tell our stories the more other people of color will see Paganism as a viable, rich path. And then we won’t feel so alone anymore in our majority-white circles (or alone in our rooms as solitaries).

  • http://www.atthequillsmercy.com Lenora

    Wonderful article! Thank the gods there are others out there. I don’t have to feel alone! :D

  • Nouvelle Noir Goddess

    Dearest Lynn: Thank you, so much. My personal experiences made me realize that I was not alone. My father, shall I say, was my mentor along the path (hereditary). Even though for I awhile it was just him and me (amongst other family members) I knew I wasn’t alone but also knew I must maintain discernment until my entire being as whole was “strong enough” to handle negative feedback. So, being secretive was not out of shame, per say. Yet, out of protection of my entire being. Once that was ready—then I came out. When I came out—it was very easy for me. I’m sure residing in a liberal secular community also assisted with me (living in co-existence with many belief and non-belief). Funny, for I recall two of the men I dated wanted me to admit out loud that I was a witch for the sense the witch in me-lol. One was actually his mother who senses it for she was a Santeria practitioner.

    Anyways, when I began coming out on the website I noticed many black Atheist and Buddhist approached me for they felt alone. Yes, there is a difference in belief but the feeling of being a minority within the minorities is still the same. Black Wiccans or non-African Traditionalist approached me for they received flack for observing the Gods of what is supposed to be “European roots” Which is odd for me for learning the anthropology of Haitian Vodou—Haitians did blend Celtic spirituality (Maman Brigitte/Goddess Brigit). So I was exposed to Celtic Spirituality very young (along side other belief. I was named after the Roman goddess Minerva). Therefore, I spoke out about how African-Traditional Religion did blend Euro-Indo religion and vice versa. Race as we know today isn’t like how our ancestors known it to be.

    @ Both Lynn and Lenora: we are never alone—our hearts not only bears the spirits of the ancestors and Gods but the spirit of those of us, today, who walk the path.

    Internally and Eternal blessings to you all!

  • http://www.crystalblanton.com Crystal Blanton

    very nicely said. We do not talk about religious diversity enough in the Black community and it is a growing concern as more of us come out of the broom closet and express ourselves as individuals. I think it is important to have us all create a space of diversity and understanding among our own. If we cannot open the doors of acceptance to ourselves, then who can?

    Thank you for writing this!!

  • https://greeneclectic.wordpress.com/ Anne Green

    Thank you so much for sharing this with us.

    I am so pleased that you wrote this, and to see that there will be a regular voice for a variety of Pagans here at Pantheos, because (as you so eloquently point out) there are communities within communities within communities, and we can learn from one another and find each other and work together. I can only hope that other lesser-known segments of our population speak up, so that we can realize our own diversity of thought and gain strength from it.

    Also, I simply must say that Nouvelle Noir Goddess is a wicked awesome handle (and I mean that in the best sense of the word)!

    I look forward to your next essay. Namaste.

  • Nouvelle Noir Goddess

    @ Crystal: I absolutely agree that we need open and healthy dialogue within the “black community” There are many voices within the community who are speaking out. For instance I referred a book to a friend of mine, a black atheist woman, titled, “Moral Combat: Black Atheist, Gender Politics, and Values War” by Sikivu Hutchinson who is a black atheist woman. It is an interesting read and one can share her sentiments even if one is not an Atheist. Another woman I know, Arielle Loren, is speaking out on black Vegan, Vegetarian, non-meat eating in the black community and showcases many black women Vegan on Frugivoremag: dispelling the myth that vegans and vegetarians are “white thing” and “all blacks eat chicken” She recently wrote an article on Clutch magazine regarding how majority of all black film cast by black producers also perpetuates the “idea” that black love stories are Christian and heterosexual. Somewhat indirectly implying that black Christian heterosexual love is what being “black” is. Sadly, even “our own” community perpetuates stereotypes.

    I’m honored that Shondra Rhimes, black female producer, created shows like Grey’s Anatomy and Private Practice to show the diversity of all humans (yes, including black).

    @ Anne: thank you, dear sister! Nouvelle Noir Goddess, my spirited name, is a reflection for the need to bring the positive images of black women. I picked my spirited name for all women of color to know they are inner goddesses. I also picked that name to pay homage to the misunderstood “dark goddesses” within all women. Nouvelle Noir Goddess is French for “New Black Goddess” A sense of healing for all women who feel broken—knowing that they are not shattered in pieces and if so, you can mend those pieces make together. My spirited name is not just for me—but for all women (men too).

    Well, I will end this here and wish you all infinite blessings continuously, always!

  • http://www.defend.ht Samuel

    I think if she understood that she is Haitian, and a citizen of Haiti, that black pagans are in the majority.

  • http://www.qetesh-iseum.co.uk Lady Skydancer

    This is a wonderful article. I am feeling quite alone as a black British Wiccan High Priestess, and I am very much in the minority and expected to only practice, Voodoo, Hoodoo or other Root-work.

    Blessings to you,

    Lady Skydancer x

    • http://twitter.com/TriniPagan KS Lewis

      Even though I am from the Caribbean, I face a similar issue. I came out of Christianity towards Wicca and now a path within traditional witchcraft. A few ppl that are aware of my faith actually expressed disappointment that I am worshiping white goddesses. I find it ironic that these same ppl see nothing wrong with worshiping Christ, a decidedly non-African deity. They see him as Universal and beyond race, yet have an issue with my choice.
      So I identify with you and the author of this blog.

      • Kirey65

        Your repsonse to this article touched me…my family is from the Carribbean too many wonder why I choose to worship a non-black deity. I no longer feel so alone.

  • Nouvelle Noir Goddess

    Blessings return, Lady Skydancer x. We are never alone but from time to time…it does feel that way. BB