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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About nouvellenoirgoddess
  • Nouvelle Noir Goddess

    I wanted to fit this piece of excerpt into my article but couldn’t find a place to fit it in. So, here it is;

    “The governor demanded a personal audience with him and learned that he was a skilled tradesman, had a white wife and had owned land and slaves in Virginia and North Carolina . Declaring the Gibsons to be “not Negroes nor Slaves but Free people,” the governor granted them hundreds of acres of land. The Gibsons soon married into their Welsh and Scots-Irish community along the frontier separating South Carolina ’s coastal plantations from Indian country. It did not matter if the Gibsons were black or white — they were planters. The Gibsons were hardly alone in their journey from black to white. Hundreds of families of color had gained their freedom in the colonial era because they had English mothers, and within a generation or two, they could claim to be white.”

    The article link is:

    It is title “Black or White?” Really interesting read! BB!

  • Judy

    Many of the men I worked with here in New York (I worked for the local phone co. for 10 years), who were from the Islands (Haiti, Jamaica, Trinidad, etc.), were/are very proud of their Irish/Scottish backgrounds (and their families/ancestors being part of the fight for freedom). This is a fantastic blog post-I really enjoyed it.

  • Eric

    Nouvelle Noir Goddess,

    I highly applaud and commend you on your blog here. In short, I love it.

    If only more historians and other like-minded individuals such would A) delve into their histories and world history IN GENERAL as deeply as you have with your own, and B) made a much greater effort to understand all the collected data from WITHIN the context of the time periods which all of those events occurred in, rather than taking it and attempting to place the biases of their own contemporary time period and forcing them on a past where they bear NO relevance yet at all, then maybe a much clearer, more honest, and more ACCURATE picture of mankind’s past would begin to emerge.

  • Nouvelle Noir Goddess

    @ Judy: Thank you so much! I’m glad that you enjoy this piece. Yes, many Latin Americans (Caribbean Islanders) are very much proud of their lineage and history. Despite the conflict of the Haitian Revolution with the French: many Haitians are also proud of their French lineage. I know when the earthquake in Haiti erupted in the media many felt that Haitians still hold a grudge with the French. No, we tend not to hold onto grudges that is centuries old-lol. Even when Baby Doc came back to Haiti many weren’t as upset as the media ENJOYS to let on. As a collective whole, our society practices forgiveness and believes in redemption.

    @ Eric: Thank you very much; I’m glad that you love it. It took a lot of channeling the ancestors for me to write this piece and honored to have them within me to guide me. I totally agree with you that history shouldn’t be biased nor viewed in modern minds. There are a lot of historians, books, and websites that do tell the truth. Unfortunately, what is popular is “darkness” and one-sided views, unfortunately.

  • Michele

    What a fabulous article! I learned a great deal about Haiti and it’s heritage here. I wish I known this much when our local museum had their Haitian exhibit, I might have understood more of what I’d seen there, especially the voudou altar.

    And I agree with your points about understanding that our skin does not always reflect our true ancestral heritage. My mom and I learned long ago there’s an “occult” ancestor (or two?) of color our heritage that isn’t visible in our white skin but showed up in the whites of my mom’s eyes! Unfortunately we may never know where it came from, as no one would admit it. A shame! I would love to know and be able to honor that heritage!

    Keep sharing! I am a new fan of yours :)

  • Nouvelle Noir Goddess

    @ Michelle: We, as a collective whole, don’t know the ancestors in the closet, at times-lol. My daughter was often confused as being half from the Orients when she was a newborn and my paternal side of the family do have the slight shape eyes of individuals in Japan (mentioning Japan due to the eyes shape of the Orients are different). Come to find out on my paternal side of the family do have ancestors that came from the Orients. I’m sure that a few ancestors never imagined that their future descendents would take a form of being another ethnic group. Likewise, with my great-grandfather’s, who adored me (don’t remember him for he passed when I was a tot), ancestors most likely never imagined that there will be a Florestal, the family last name, that would be another ethnic group (they are white).

    So, it wouldn’t be shocking to me that your ancestors where of “African” descents. Just now your bloodline took another form. It is amazing when we look into our family lineage to find that we took on another form (as in ethnic group). There is so much beauty in this! Knowing this keeps me balance to strive for equality beyond the racial lines. For equality beyond race means I honor all my ancestors (not one above the other). Blessings to you and yours!

  • lynn

    Great article. I didn’t know all that stuff about Haitian history so thanks a lot.

    I can’t speak for other members of the Diaspora, but I know that a lot of American blacks have some European ancestry back there, and Native American as well. I myself have Irish (via Barbados) and also on my mom’s side Irish from Virginia, through several ancestors, most recently my great-grandmother (white Irish) who married my great-grandfather (black American). They married in VA during the Jim Crow days, even though it was illegal then through the ‘anti-miscegenation’ laws.

  • Nouvelle Noir Goddess

    @ Lynn: A girlfriend of mine sent me a video awhile back about African-American’s who claim the “Indian in my family” Well, Henry Louis Gates did an ancestral DNA on several AA (African-Americans for those who don’t know) who claim the “Indian in my family” All of them actually had more European (for the sake of my “argument” European means white) than Native American. Here is a link:

    Interesting video. Henry Gates does a lot of ancestral DNA with many groups of people. He also did this with his “Black in Latin America” series.

  • Elskabar

    I love his piece. It actually resonated so strongly inside my body that I could feel the ancestors dancing within me. Some people give little credence to DNA and all of the information we carry in us from generation to generation.

    Point: I left my homeland of Cuba when I was only 7 years old. I knew nothing about my paternal grandfather’s work and did not see him often since I lived with my maternal grandmother. 30 years later, when I purchased my first home, I had a sudden urge to establish a wood work shop. Not only that, but it needed to include hand carving tools (which were very expensive and which I knew nothing about). A few years later, my brother came to visit me and asked me what all the stuff was in the garage. I explained it was my woodwork shop. He asked me if I did woodwork and I explained “No, but for some reason I had to have it”. He commented on the DNA and I asked what he meant. Then he disclosed to me that our paternal grandfather had been a carpenter and master carver.

    I was born into an African religion and, though I do not follow it, I keep an altar for them and many African items live with me in my home. I am a Solitary Witch who accepts all paths as equal to my own and all leading to the same place.

    I applaud you for bringing this sensitive topic to light and hope all who read it get as much out of it as I did.

    Thank you.

    Manny Goyanes

  • Nouvelle Noir Goddess

    @ Manny: thanks for sharing! I had similar experience with ancestors directing me and my children. When prime example is that when my son began to talk he called my mother “shou-shou” (pronounced shoe-shoe). We all thought it was cute and adorable. My mother was amazed for it is Creole slang for “sweetheart” Mind you, I rarely used that term of endearment and I spoke English more so around my home. When my mother’s 1st cousin visited and heard my son calling her “sho-sho” hairs stood up on the back of his neck (figure of speech). Apparently, that is what my great-grandfather called my great-grandmother. There were other things my son does that reminds my grandmother of her father. For skeptics things like this would be dismissed…yet, for those who are into nuance—it something we don’t dismiss lightly.

  • Nicole Youngman

    NNG, do you know Ned Sublette’s book _The World That Made New Orleans_? It addresses a lot of the issues you’ve discussed here–fascinating stuff. Thanks so much for a brilliant essay–this New Orleans Druid with Maman Brigitte on her altar just loved it. :)

    Do you think it’s useful to think about “cultural ancestors” as well as biological ones? I don’t know of any non-white/European ancestors in my family tree but acknowledging all the ancestors of the place and culture where I live has become very important to me.

  • Apel Mjausson

    This was a fascinating essay. Perhaps our cultures are more of a melting pot than I’ve previously thought. Also thanks to the commenters. Love to see the diversity of inheritance and religions.

    I was born in Germany so I get very suspicious whenever somebody is excluded or included because of inherent, unchangeable traits. If you can use DNA or family tree research to prove your claim to a certain ancestry, that’s great. Some people may be persuaded to grant you a place at their table for it. Personally, I don’t like that attitude. Nobody should have to prove anything beyond a sincere desire to engage to be welcome. Religion is not a zero-sum game.

    Nicole: I honor “place ancestors” — the people who lived and died where I currently live. I let the spirits of the place guide me in this.

  • Nouvelle Noir Goddess

    @ Nicole: It is very hard for me to be connected with “direct” ancestors of Rhode Island or United States; I must admit this (but will work on tapping into). Simply for the reason that I am 1st generation American (also 1st bore American from both sides of the family). I’m sure if I still have descendents in the U.S. (future) I will be one of those ancestors. Yet, in the present…it’s just me. I will not exclude the thought that I maybe unaware of their presence and they’ve been guiding me through and through (simply for the reason that I’ve found that I’ve been guided in U.S. histories that many U.S generational Americans are not aware of —so who is guiding me on my research of U.S history?). As of yet, none of the ancestors has made themselves known to be.

    @ Apel: totally feeling your comment, “Nobody should have to prove anything beyond a sincere desire to engage to be welcome.” I so agree! You shouldn’t have to prove anything!