Death; the Great Divide

There seems to always be an assumption that Black people are Christian and when someone dies it becomes automatic that many reach for the church. This assumption that black people and Christianity go hand in hand isn’t just from those outside looking in but I have found this mostly within the dynamic of our community itself.


Several articles online cite statistics from UC Berkeley that say 82% of African Americans are Christian, 42% being Baptists. While I struggled to find the actually UC Berkeley study to verify these statistics, they felt about right to me.

In an ABC News poll called Poll: Most Americans Say They’re Christian Varies Greatly From the World at Large, analysis Gary Langer states, “Baptists are especially prevalent among black Americans: Nearly half of blacks, 48 percent, say they’re Baptists, making it far and away their No. 1 denomination”. These statistics are amazing to me because it shows how we continue to operate in a society that historically dictated to us who we are and what we should believe; and this tradition has translated into the main religion that we are continuing to practice. In looking into these statistics, it makes sense why many Black/African American Wiccans and Pagans have expressed so much opposition from their families and others in the Black community.

This makes me wonder how the split between culture and spirituality play such a major role in the decisions that are made, or ignored, during the final phases of someone’s life. I often think that the role of spirituality, when dealing with death, is more about comforting those who are remaining; reframing the version of what is about to happen so that those who are left are able to cope with this process. Often a person passes and the family pushes the automatic “religion” button that moves forward with this agenda and not specifically focuses on the religious beliefs of the person itself, especially if he or she is from a non-christian path. I have often heard people say “it is the family religion”. Where does this leave a Black Pagan or Wiccan when he or she dies among the Christians of the family? How can we advocate for ourselves as spiritual Wiccans and Pagans after death?


I think there are many things to think about when it comes to how deep the the lines go between our Black culture, religious rights, personal preferences, family allowances with choices around the death of loved ones and our final wishes. In reality, no one wants to talk about this stuff until we have to. It is not the type of discussion we want to have around the dinner table and it is scary to consider, but it is important for us to remember that minority preferences are not always considered by the larger culture.

I have recently had two family members pass, both of which had some counter-culture spirituality, and the complexity of grief, religion and family history have played out differently in each case. Much of that has been due to the differences of the very people who were able to call the shots, making the decision on behalf of the situation. While there are no rights or wrongs in the intent of honoring a loved one who has passed, in order to have ones spiritual beliefs taken into consideration it is crucial to consider how we can be effective in setting the stage of our final scene.

PantheaCon 2015; Pain, Healing Work, Allyship in Action and Coalition Building
Memories, Apologies and Veneration
Solstice Hope in the Darkness of Justice
Magical Beginnings Begin Again
  • http://www.facebook.com/jacquiemg Jacquie Minerva Georges

    My condolences on your lost, dear and blessed sis. I truly agree that is very important to discuss end of life care and “celebratory’ rites upon death. Ever since I had my first born, I really thought about the ‘what ifs” and made preparations (wills, living will, insurance, ect). I’ve even changed some of my request periodically the older my children are reaching in age (as in, life support or no life support, for an example). Death was never an untouched/taboo topic when it came to me (my brother still doesn’t want to discuss it). So my parents established that I will be taking care of their last rites and funeral arrangement since I’m very the ‘open” one and ‘more stable”, emotionally, one. In addition, my brother doesn’t believe in cremation and that is what my mother desires. She made preparation (documented legally) to have her body cremated for she does not desire me to take the “fall” if my brother objects and sees it as my wishes vs her own (my brother doesn’t argue but he does get emotional with death- I’m the ‘strong one’ Yet really–weak). It is very hard. I work in hospice and seen many squabbles and uncertainty with the aftermath of death when people don’t prepare nor prepare loved ones for those occasions. Yes, my service in hospice is the “deal with the enviable” Yet it does make my work harder when family don’t speak about it when the client/patient were ‘healthy’ or sick but they feel that they can “beat’ death (we’re all dying). I have cases where family had months to prepare to cases when they had less than 24 hours. I do stay for the aftermath to assist the family with funeral homes or crematory. Even act as a “medium” to convey the patient/client wishes to their family member who may feel at ease to hear it from me rather than the one who is dying. I had one case where the man/client was an Atheist who came from an Orthodox Jewish background. Luckily he made legal preps and paid for his body to be cremated prior to the “event” So his wishes only had to be ACCEPTED and respected even though it was different from other family members. The best gift we can give to our loved ones is placing our affairs in order in the “now’ Not when were ill or believe that death is something that happens when you’re at a certain age. It’s best in the now. The last thing loved ones, that we will leave behind, need to deal with is family conflict and turmoil during grieving. As the example of what my mother has done–placed her wishes on a legal document so when she must leave us–my brother and I don’t have to bicker on ‘who is fulfilling mom’s wishes” I now have the proof that her wishes is to be cremated, what flowers and colors she desires, and what song she wants played for services (we’re a detailed orientated family-haha). Anyways, thank you for sharing and minding us of our own mortality. 

  • http://www.facebook.com/jacquiemg Jacquie Minerva Georges

    My condolences on your lost, dear and blessed sis. I truly agree that is very important to discuss end of life care and “celebratory’ rites upon death. Ever since I had my first born, I really thought about the ‘what ifs” and made preparations (wills, living will, insurance, ect). I’ve even changed some of my request periodically the older my children are reaching in age (as in, life support or no life support, for an example). Death was never an untouched/taboo topic when it came to me (my brother still doesn’t want to discuss it). So my parents established that I will be taking care of their last rites and funeral arrangement since I’m very the ‘open” one and ‘more stable”, emotionally, one. In addition, my brother doesn’t believe in cremation and that is what my mother desires. She made preparation (documented legally) to have her body cremated for she does not desire me to take the “fall” if my brother objects and sees it as my wishes vs her own (my brother doesn’t argue but he does get emotional with death- I’m the ‘strong one’ Yet really–weak). It is very hard. I work in hospice and seen many squabbles and uncertainty with the aftermath of death when people don’t prepare nor prepare loved ones for those occasions. Yes, my service in hospice is the “deal with the enviable” Yet it does make my work harder when family don’t speak about it when the client/patient were ‘healthy’ or sick but they feel that they can “beat’ death (we’re all dying). I have cases where family had months to prepare to cases when they had less than 24 hours. I do stay for the aftermath to assist the family with funeral homes or crematory. Even act as a “medium” to convey the patient/client wishes to their family member who may feel at ease to hear it from me rather than the one who is dying. I had one case where the man/client was an Atheist who came from an Orthodox Jewish background. Luckily he made legal preps and paid for his body to be cremated prior to the “event” So his wishes only had to be ACCEPTED and respected even though it was different from other family members. The best gift we can give to our loved ones is placing our affairs in order in the “now’ Not when were ill or believe that death is something that happens when you’re at a certain age. It’s best in the now. The last thing loved ones, that we will leave behind, need to deal with is family conflict and turmoil during grieving. As the example of what my mother has done–placed her wishes on a legal document so when she must leave us–my brother and I don’t have to bicker on ‘who is fulfilling mom’s wishes” I now have the proof that her wishes is to be cremated, what flowers and colors she desires, and what song she wants played for services (we’re a detailed orientated family-haha). Anyways, thank you for sharing and minding us of our own mortality. 

  • Anonymous

    Great post. Write a will and get your wishes for your own death arrangements, memorial service, etc. written into it.  My son and daughter-in-law would do whatever I asked, but some other family members, not so much.  And even my son and daughter-in-law, who aren’t Pagan, wouldn’t know what to do absent my will.  

  • Anonymous

    Great post. Write a will and get your wishes for your own death arrangements, memorial service, etc. written into it.  My son and daughter-in-law would do whatever I asked, but some other family members, not so much.  And even my son and daughter-in-law, who aren’t Pagan, wouldn’t know what to do absent my will.  

  • Meia

    Timely article.  I was thinking about this the other day.  I have no childen, and am not close to my family.  I have maybe one cousin, no two that I could sort of depend on to carry out my wishes, but I wonder if they would.  Both are Christian, one is sort of open, but she seems overly emotional and I think if anyone were to object to my wishes, I think she would acquiese.  So I look at my friends…again not sure.  I love them but they are … tending on the unreliable…meaning they very well could be not in a place to carry out my wishes, and would probably disappear.  So, I decided to allow a law firm to carry out my wishes.  They are the executors of my estate, and I know, in all probability they will do as I request.  I paid them.

  • Meia

    Timely article.  I was thinking about this the other day.  I have no childen, and am not close to my family.  I have maybe one cousin, no two that I could sort of depend on to carry out my wishes, but I wonder if they would.  Both are Christian, one is sort of open, but she seems overly emotional and I think if anyone were to object to my wishes, I think she would acquiese.  So I look at my friends…again not sure.  I love them but they are … tending on the unreliable…meaning they very well could be not in a place to carry out my wishes, and would probably disappear.  So, I decided to allow a law firm to carry out my wishes.  They are the executors of my estate, and I know, in all probability they will do as I request.  I paid them.

  • Anonymous

    I’m sorry for your loss. 

    You are right. A lot of people don’t wan to think about this subject but it’s really crucial for people who practice alternative spiritualities to make arrangements in advance. A lot of pagans want to be returned to the earth in some way after they die, and not embalmed in formaldehyde and put in a coffin. They want their bodies or ashes to mix with the soil and be eaten by other creatures, like microbes, in order to participate in the great cycle of life. I know I do.

    It’s really crucial to have one person you can trust who can advocate for you when you’re gone. In my dad’s case, that person was me. He was non-religious and didn’t want a funeral and he wanted to be cremated. As he was dying of cancer, he asked me to take charge of this since he knew other members of the family would want a funeral and a church service and the whole nine yards. So that’s what I did.

  • Anonymous

    I’m sorry for your loss. 

    You are right. A lot of people don’t wan to think about this subject but it’s really crucial for people who practice alternative spiritualities to make arrangements in advance. A lot of pagans want to be returned to the earth in some way after they die, and not embalmed in formaldehyde and put in a coffin. They want their bodies or ashes to mix with the soil and be eaten by other creatures, like microbes, in order to participate in the great cycle of life. I know I do.

    It’s really crucial to have one person you can trust who can advocate for you when you’re gone. In my dad’s case, that person was me. He was non-religious and didn’t want a funeral and he wanted to be cremated. As he was dying of cancer, he asked me to take charge of this since he knew other members of the family would want a funeral and a church service and the whole nine yards. So that’s what I did.


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X