Location: The Hudson Valley in upstate NY
How long have you been a Wiccan/Pagan?
I’ve identified as pagan since the fall of 2009, so it’s been about two years now.
What drew you to the path?
During ’08 and ’09 I underwent some very transformative life experiences, including the death of my father, whom I took care of while he was dying of cancer. There was a lot of despair and questioning, and I spent several months intensely meditating, doing yoga, journaling, writing songs, walking in the woods, etc. It was a concentrated effort on my part to just process all the things I was feeling in an honest, organic way. At the time I was attending a Baptist church, which I had been a member of for several years, but I found during this very turbulent period that the sermons and other teachings we were getting during service were not really speaking to my experiences. I felt more and more disconnected.
This disenchantment with the church had been growing for several years, actually, but I had been putting it in the back of my mind because one, I liked singing and directing the choir and two, I had friends there. Finally I just decided the whole thing was a waste of my time, and that I was getting more spiritual sustenance by going hiking in the mountains than I was sitting in the pews every Sunday.
Right around the same time, the whole autumn season was happening: the falling leaves, the changing colors, the sudden cold winds, the coming winter, the whole turning of the seasons, and it all started resonating with me in a very deep way. Then I found out there were modern people who set their lives to the rhythms of nature, and that’s when I started exploring paganism.
How has the path changed you? How much of you stayed the same?
Following this path has given me a deep sense of the sacredness of nature. At the core is a sense that nature and the universe are holy, and everything in it, from rocks to people, is an intrinsic part of this holiness. I spend so much time in the woods now, just watching and praying and soaking everything through the senses. So I feel much more connected to the natural world than I ever have. With this connection has also come a huge amount of sadness and despair, as I watch our species — myself included — basically kill the biosphere (that is the part of the Earth that sustains life) with our environmentally destructive ways.
How have I stayed the same? Well, I’ve been spiritually seeking for a really long time — I’m 46 now — and from pretty much each tradition I’ve explored, certain elements have stayed with me over the years. I go more by experience rather than theological purity, so I’ve never had any problem with using certain parts of a tradition and disregarding what doesn’t vibe with me. Some would call this “cherry picking” or “cafeteria spirituality,” I just call it crafting a personal practice that works for me.
What inspired you to create the blog?
Once I got into paganism, I found there wasn’t a whole lot out there in the blogosphere for people of color. At least not for people of color who wanted to see some semblance of themselves reflected in their spirituality. A lot of the information was strictly from a Eurocentric perspective, it was all “Celtic this” and “Asatru that” and what have you. It was weird because for me, paganism was about relating to the natural world — in other words something universal, for everybody — and not about blood ties or reproducing ancient cultures. Even among eclectics, when they were borrowing from non-European traditions — such as yoga or West African drumming circles — there wasn’t a whole lot of acknowledgement that they were borrowing. Paganism was still being framed as a phenomenon for people of European ancestry even though a lot of its tenets and practices shared commonality with non-white, non-Abrahamic religions worldwide.
So after being annoyed about this for awhile, I finally got a clue and realized that one, it was perfectly all right for white folks to focus on their roots if that’s what they wanted to do, and two, if I wanted to see myself represented at all in the pagan blogosphere, I would just have to start my own blog. So that’s what I did. I also wanted to help other black pagan newbies find some type of community, and I wanted some community for myself. Plus a sharing of information from a less Eurocentric perspective.
Name one misconception of being a black witch, pagan, Wiccan that you personally feel should be addressed? Within the black community? Within the pagan community, as a whole? What steps/ strategy should black pagans take to combat the misconceptions?
There is this definite misconception among black Christians that paganism, or Wicca, is devil worship, especially the magick part of it. Among black folks in general there is just an overall lack of awareness that paganism exists. Or if they’ve heard of it they think it means you’re goth or something else they’ve seen in pop culture. I had one woman ask if I was into vampires. The only way for these misconceptions to be remedied is for our numbers to grow and for us to come out of the broom closet whenever possible. Within the pagan community as a whole I really can’t say what the misconceptions are. White pagans really don’t talk about black folks much and truth be told, I haven’t really encountered enough of them in real life to form any kind of educated opinion.
What is your personal practice, spiritual/religious identity that you go by? Why do you choose such title?
I consider myself to be an eclectic pagan/pantheist. My major influences are Wicca, Buddhism and pantheism, which is the belief that god and nature are one. I also make free use of spiritual technology from various other traditions, including yoga and Christianity. I’m eclectic because my spirituality is a mash-up of a number of sources; I’m pagan/pantheist because nature, my experience and understanding of it, my reverence of it, is at the root of it all.
Tell us about your practice: Are you solitary? Do you attend group rituals? Do you belong to a group? Why do you choose such practice?
On a day to day basis, I meditate, I go into the woods, I ritual the moon cycles, I observe the wheel of the year. Sometimes my husband will join me in these activities, but I’m basically solitary, mostly because I haven’t found like-minded people who practice the way I do. I have been to few group rituals. They were okay but not quite the right “fit.” One was a goddess-oriented circle. I enjoyed the ritual and respect that path, but it’s not something that would work for me on a regular basis because I don’t really believe in an anthropocentric female concept of deity. It would just be make-believe for me. To me the divine is a thread that runs through nature and we’re all a part of it, so I can’t relate to separate, individual deities that have human-like personalities.
The other rituals I attended were basically Wicca and shamanist, and they felt a bit dry to me. Kind of staid. You know, the black church is highly skilled at raising energy and that’s one thing I’ve missed in the pagan rituals I’ve attended. That feeling of soul. My ideal circle/ritual would have African drumming, chanting and other black musical traditions as a basis for the liturgy and would take place outside under a full moon or by a huge fire. It also would not center all the time around specific deities, as in “we’re a circle that worships such and such gods” although once in awhile that would be okay. I haven’t found that yet and probably never will, at least not here in the predominantly white rural area where I currently make my home. But hey, I wanted to live in an old farmhouse by the mountains. . .you can’t have everything.
Also, at this point in my life, I don’t really think I’d care to be the only black person in a circle or coven. I feel like I’ve already put in more than my life’s quota of being “the only black person” in a predominantly white setting. A fatigue has set in regarding that, and that is just my personal baggage.
I’d much prefer an ethnically mixed group. Outside of maybe places like NY and San Francisco I’m not sure that beast really exists. With Ifa or Voudon and other Afro-Diasporic traditions, sure, but those are not my things. I’d love to circle with a bunch of other black folks in a more eclectic context. Maybe that will become a possibility someday, if I ever move back to a city and this pagan thing catches on with a more diverse crowd.
That said, I’m always trying to get out of my comfort zone and try new experiences. A part of me does crave community, and since there’s a Unitarian church with a pagan group in my town, I’m going to check them out some weekend very soon and who knows? Maybe some of them will be cool people, and maybe I just need to get over myself! I’ll definitely be blogging about the experience, so stay tuned.
What was your religious background prior to your current path?
I grew up in New York City, in a secular household where religion was rarely discussed. On Sunday mornings instead of taking me and my siblings to church my parents sat around reading the New York Times. My dad thought religion was “horse dung.” I do remember asking my mom once to teach me a prayer, and she taught me the one that goes, “And now I lay me down to sleep. . . ” which I enjoyed saying at bedtime. But that’s about it for organized religion. I spent my summers in the country and was big into the natural world, so I spent a lot of time playing and exploring outside.
In high school I started reading existentialist philosophers and decided I was atheist. In college I experimented with psychedelics, or entheogens as they are now called, and it was through these “plant teachers” that I regained a sense of the divine. From there I spent time in various traditions, including Buddhism, Hinduism, Rastafarianism and most recently, Christianity. I learned a lot from each but none really fit me to the core. Parts of them would, but other parts would feel all wrong. In the church I got a strong sense of God through singing gospel. That was the main attraction. I would lose myself in it. And you know it was the exact same feeling I used to get from blasting punk rock when I was an angry teenager. Music for me has always been a conduit for the divine. I love all kinds of devotional music, from all around the world.
What type of audience do you feel would benefit from your blog?
Probably other seekers of color, especially people who have a very diverse background and feel comfortable drawing from a number of influences. I’m not sure they’d benefit but hopefully they’ll be amused! And maybe pagans of any ethnicity who are on a similar path, or who want a window into what one black pagan thinks about things.
Do you have anything specifically that you want to say to your readers?
Yeah, check out my blog and then start your own. Soon we black pagans will take over the world, mwoo-ha-ha-ha.
What deity (deities), if any, you most “work” with?
I don’t work with or worship specific deities in ritual, since I don’t really believe in any. I believe in a “ground of being” that can be experienced by us humans as different energies, so sometimes I try to access those energies depending on where I’m at.
I’ve never been able to envision gods that looked like people. I know for many black folks, it’s empowering to be able to worship gods that look like them, which is a natural impulse for people everywhere and also totally understandable given all those centuries of having a blue-eyed Jesus rammed into our psyche. Those five years or so I regularly went to church, they had a black Jesus up there in the stained glass. But I still couldn’t relate. I would basically ignore Jesus and talk straight to God, whom I imagined to be an amorphous blob. Something invisible, like gamma rays or the wind. Now, if a specific deity were to thump me on the head to get my attention, that would be a different story. And I would change my tune completely.
As it rests, I do get inspiration from thinking about these deities in the mythical sense, or as Jungian archetypes that reside deep in our universal psychology. Some that resonate with me are the Dark Mother, Oya, Skadi and the Green Man. Also Shiva, dancing her dance of creation and destruction. I don’t work with them in ritual or anything, but sometimes I will just think about them in the course of everyday life and say a few words. Like I will say hello to the Green Man when I’m out in the woods, or if I’m meditating by the window on the night of the dark moon, I’ll light a candle to the Dark Mother. If I’m the one crazy person walking outside in a big snowstorm and it’s 15 degrees out, I will think of Skadi and Oya, goddesses of winter and storms, respectively. I don’t try to evoke them though cause I don’t really think of them as separate beings. I do work with the four elements, but I don’t consider them to be gods in the usual sense.
What advice would you give to “new” black pagans?
Be true to your own heart, and have fun. It’s okay to be black and not fit into some pre-set box.
Are you a pagan and/or Wiccan of color? African traditionalist, regardless of ethnicity? Email firstname.lastname@example.org if you’d like to be featured in DOE Q&A.