The Cloak in Which We Call Skin

The Cloak in Which We Call Skin

April 20th of this year, I took my children, along with my nephews, to see an art exhibit called, “Reframing of Haiti” at Brown University in Rhode Island. There was an exhibit of Haitian flag tapestry art with numerous beautiful and intricate details with beads displaying many Vodou deities (Lwa) and ceremony. One flag showed many “fair-skinned” people in ceremony. I told my children of the history of the revolutionary war in Haiti was the upraising of the slaves against the French. It wasn’t about black vs. white, but the oppressor vs. the oppressed. The oppressed were African Diaspora, Irish, and Scottish slaves. Yes, I said it…“white” Irish and Scottish slaves. Through our “white ancestors,” they brought us the Haitian Lwa,  Madame Brigitte, blending our Vodou religion with, not only African elements and Catholicism, but ancient Celtic elements.

 My children, the night before, watched “Black in Latin America” with Henry Louis Gates and asked why Mr. Gates did not mention it in his segment of Haitian Vodou. Mr. Gates only made note of African religion mixed with Catholicism. I was about to answer with my perception when a woman who, at first, was across the hall, inched her way toward the children and I and asked if I could retell the Haitian and Irish connection. The older woman informed me that she is from Ireland and that prior to me walking into the hall, she looked at this one particular flag in bewilderment. She recognized the ceremony in the flag in her native Northern Ireland during a spring festival. She couldn’t understand how a Haitian artist captured her Celtic heritage element. She actually thought she was “seeing things,” that her mind was playing tricks on her—that she was trying to force her mind to see her native Celtic tradition. I laughed and informed her that her mind was not playing tricks on her, per se…it is what we have been told through history by individual re-visionaries for whatever reason. It is normal for our mind to accept it due to comfort for whatever reasons. The black-skinned folks have a lot in common with the Irish and Scots. I recommended her to read several books on this subject, especially one titled, “Black and Green: The Fight for Civil Rights in Northern Ireland and Black America,” by Brain Cooley.

During those times, and the time of our pagan ancestors, Pre-Abraham religion, the word “race” held a completely different meaning from what we know of the word “race” today. In Haiti, the slaves, during the fight for Haitian independence had issues with the French. The Irish and Scottish slaves were “black.” They were “our tribe,” while the “white” took a form of “The French.” Even the Polish army, who fought alongside the slaves and against the French, were “our people.” The Celtic deities were “our gods.” So, when I step into a Wiccan circle in our modern day and pay homage to the Celtic deities, it is out of reverence for my ancestors. Yes, ancestors. Ancestors who moved me in spirit but are hidden within me due to the color of my skin.

 Occult Etymology: “secret, not divulged,” From Latin, Occultus, “hidden, concealed secrets,”  pp. of occulere, “cover over, conceal” From “ob” “over” + a verb related to celare “to hide”. Meaning, “not apprehended by mind, beyond the range of understanding” is from 1540’s.

So, what happened to the free Irish and Scottish slaves after the war in Haiti? Many remained and many left. Those who remained intermarried and bore children. Those children are “concealed” in a cloak of different shades of skin tone. Yes, I am the walking and breathing “occult” of the Irish and Scottish ancestors of that time. What I mean by that is my dark skin hides my “Caucasian” ancestor’s stories. My immediate maternal great-grandfather is a Frenchman: white Frenchman. Again, my cloak of dark, mahogany skin tells another story, shall I say. I am used to individuals not seeing this, as I am used to history not speaking of it. Our written history, as a collective whole, has a way of glorifying the darkest elements. As humans, we, at times, find comfort with the darkest elements: that tends to be Xenophobic. What I mean by that is the “comfort” that many slave masters raped the women. Yes, it is true. Events like this did happen. Yet, there are also events where “slave” and “master and/or slave mistress” fell in love. Some risked their life for love and others ran away from the community to live out their love in peace and non-judgment. That is what I mean by “comfort in the darkest element.” Likewise, in the South during the civil war, only 20% owned slaves. The rest of the “white” populations were poor, and many destitute. Yet, when I hear the descendants of individuals from the South speak, they speak as if all “white” ancestors owned slaves, as if they were all were of wealthy class. What happened to the descendants of the bottom 80% who were destitute, poor, and illiterate? Something that many descendants of Caucasian ancestry in the U.S don’t want to speak about is the harsh treatment of their ancestors by the same “cloaked in white skin” counterpart. Likewise, not all black folks want to discuss that not all blacks were slaves. Heck, there were some free blacks who owned black slaves. Many black folks who fought in the Revolutionary War were offered sovereign land in Canada. Many left the US and lived as free blacks in London (Black Loyalists).

This brings me to individuals within the Wiccan and Pagan community who feel entitled to honor their ancestors and yet take issues when “cloak in black skin descendants” partake in the reverence of the old ways. They, too, cannot state that there is not one drop of what we know today as “black” or “the other” skin (yellow, brown, black, red, etc.) in their lineage. Most recently, the controversy of the comic book, blended with Norse element, movie “Thor” starring a black British actor, Idris Elba. I’ve heard many disdained for the selection of what we know today as a “black” man playing “the whitest of all gods.” Keep in mind, the individuals are using what we know today as “white” to make a claim. Keep in mind, that back in the earliest part of the 15th century, the word, etymologically speaking, “white” meant “morally pure” and “honorable, fair,” as in “fair in judgment and character,” which Heimdall is the fairest god in judgment. The word “white” as we know it didn’t come into its meaning of “today” until after the 18th century. Now, add the century when the Edda was written-the 13th century. I hope, brethren, you understand where I am going with this. For those who do not: What I am implying is that “we” should not interpret words written in the 13th century up until the 18th century in our modern lexicon. It is a disservice to our ancestors if we use our current minds to understand their mindset. They were of a different time.

We all know that our ancestors roamed the world. Sure, there were ancestors and descendants who remained in a certain geographic location for an extended period of time. Nevertheless, I am sure in each and every one of our lineage…some of our ancestors did not “stay put” in the countries that we find comfort to recognize as our nationality. In addition, keep in mind that the countries and boundary lines of countries were not as we know them today. For instance, I state that I am Haitian-American (born 1st generation American from both parents from Haiti). Yet, I am consciously aware that my ancestors came from all over. I personally feel those who are keeping their ancestor’s way of Scandinavian Nordic heritage, and who wanting to believe that their lineage only is “Scandinavian” and/or as we know as “white” today finding comfort in it. That is where they chose to halt their search for their lineage, their Scandinavian Nordic roots. On the other side of their comfort lies the question, “where did the Scandinavians come from?”

 “…Years later, the explorer stumbled upon another correlation between Norway and Azerbaijan. Norwegian mythology tells that the Scandinavian god Odin moved with his people to Norway from a land called Aser, in order to avoid Roman occupation. A 13th-century historian’s description of Aser’s origination matches that of Azerbaijan: east of the Caucasus mountains and the Black Sea. By Thor Heyerdahl, Norwegian ethnographer and adventurer  

 Azerbaijan, today, is bordered by Russia, Iran, Georgia, and Armenia. In the 11th century, they were combined of two ancient civilizations: Selik Turks and Persia. They also have close ties to the ancient Mongols. So, my dear brethren who found outrage in a “cloak of black skin” man playing a deity of Nordic origins…the Norse, as we know it, changed in “typical” ethnic features. An example: when you think of Iran, what color skin pops into mind? Is the skin complexion the same vision of what one perceives as Nordic “today”?

I am sure those who chosen to go on the journey to the West left their ancestors back East. With that, they also changed their ethnic features, language, culture, and image of gods. In my mind’s eye, as a black Pagan who honors the Norse Gods as well, and, from time to time, honors the Nordic Gods, is honoring the obscure ancestors within my DNA who get denied reverence due to the “cloak of my skin.” I am sure the black pagans who are drawn to the path that is considered by some to be “white gods” are honoring the ancestors who are hidden in DNA, concealed in black skin. An ancestor who, around the 13th century, may have been what we know as white, or may possible be a dark skin (tan, olive, black) complexion of that time. To state there were no “blacks” in the region during those times, is stating that all Africans, from continental Africa, are black…when we all know it is not true.

I truly believe that my calling on the Pagan path has much to do with the gods and ancestors directing me; ancestors who are concealed within me (occult). So is that with minorities who dedicate themselves to Nordic and/or Celtic tradition and the likes…it is their “hidden ancestors” and the gods who beckon them to “remember us.”

It is disheartening what has become of us. When race means skin tone in our time but in the time of our pagan ancestors, it meant “someone within in our tribe” beyond skin color. In pagan circles, I am connected with the everyone, the universe, the ancestors, and the gods. As the gods are omnipresent, omnipotent, and omnipresent…so are we. As the gods shape-shift to reveal themselves to us in a way that we will take notice of their message, so have we shape-shifted from beginning of time immemorial via our ancestors and DNA. Part of the blood that runs through me had another ethnic characteristic. I acknowledge that and honor each strand and/or drop of each ancestor (from the beginning of the Mitochondrial Eve, even prior to her).

If individuals feel comfort to focus on one ethnic group and a certain ethnic group and/or race, as we know the word race today, of their ancestors…freely do so. Yet, to infringe upon others who focus and give reverence to all is loathsome, an act that our ancestors fought for, the freedom to simply live and worship as they please.

I’ve yet to experience racial bias or bullying in circles that I’ve attended that are “predominately white” as we know the word white today. I’ve been received with open arms as I receive each individual within the group with open arms. I am saddened to hear the contrary with today’s minorities receiving indifferences, not only from within the minority ethnic group of today, but as well with the individual “majority” within the minority path/religion of today. Individuals who, for some odd reason, desire to pigeonhole the gods without respect to their omnipotent powers (their ability to shape-shift). Individuals who want to pigeonhole the ancestors in ways that I am sure some of the ancestors would be displeased, stating that it is impossible that one of their ancestors has not love outside the tribe is not the reflection of all ancestors, but the individual thoughts and opinion of what “race relations” is today.

In a nutshell: if one wants segregation—fine. Yet, leave the gods out of it. As well with the ancestors, unless one has actual proof that their DNA/bloodline does not have one ancestor that is not of what they perceive as “their race and/or tribe.” Mind you, scientifically based on the evidence of Mitochondrial Eve…it is impossible. I’m also speaking to my “ethnic group” of pagans who holds “circles” of African-Based religion and deem “non-black” folks are not permitted in or raised into ranking. Individuals who are not of “black cloak skin” are also our brethren…yes, despite physical feature distance. Individuals who are drawn to the path that is not of what one will consider “today’s status quo” ethnic group, are drawn by the ancestors and gods to that path for a reason. Who are we to object the gods’ calling?

As is today with individuals who marry, love, and procreate interracially, intercultural, interfaith, inter-tribe, and non-religiously…so it is with our ancestors…and, some of our gods.

For those minorities within the religious minority, please share with us your grievance in the comments. You’re not alone. Purge your pain of discrimination here with us (me) and let us heal together and hopefully banish the pain together and educate one another. Reveal to the world that even the Pagan community can be like any other community (beauty and ugly, positive and negative, tolerance and intolerance). Our minority religion is not that different…one of those “things we shall not speak of.”

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Above music: Eireann-Afro Celt Sound System

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