Have You Seen Me?

 

I remember the first time I picked up Faerie Magazine ™. “I like faeries!” I chirped, excitement bubbling through as I thumbed the glossy pages. My husband rolled his eyes and walked away, unwilling to share in, what I thought, was a great find. But as one page turned into another, I felt that sinking pit in my stomach. You would not find me there. Every picture, every drawing, every cultural nuance announced boldly

This magazine is Eurocentric.

I put the magazine back and went elsewhere, probably to the science section, where the faces of Neil De Grasse Tyson and Claudia Alexander would greet me with their astronomical delights.

It is no surprise that the modern pagan movement is heavily Eurocentric, and very fond of cultural appropriation for the sake of the ‘exotic’ or ‘ancient’. Plastic Shamans hawk ‘ancient native rituals’ about as ancient as the first tablet PC and Hoodoo and Vodun becomes the latest craze amongst those seeking the spirits of the ‘noble savages’ they’d be too frightened to speak to in real life.

With this in mind I’ve grown use to the European faces staring up at me from pagan magazines. Sometimes in Renn-garb, they smile secure in their history, their place, within this grand religious spectrum; Celts, Gaels, Visigoths, Normans, Saxons, and Jutes- proud warriors and spiritual women all, with eyes the shades of their ancestors. I am not a part of this, nor do I wish to be, but there is the constant reminder, the hint, the faint odor beneath the perfumed veneer; this is what paganism looks like.

And it is consistently reinforced in the imagery our community puts out for mass consumption. Despite there existing goddesses, faeries, mermaids, sea peoples, shadows and shades, in every continent and culture, the black appearance is consistently ignored, or shown as a token to diversity, instead of a reality within our community. According to most pagan magazines I’ve seen we’re the writer of the Voodoo/Hoodoo section or the mammy-esque wise-woman, none too threatening in her sexuality while being meek and comforting to their target audience.

The absence of black faces, especially black female faces, is one of the reasons, I believe, Daughters of Eve is so necessary. As we dive into subjects surrounding black culture, our interactions with society, and our journey within paganism; we provide an outlet and voice for those, often unintentionally, ignored by the pagan community at large.  We get to display our fire, our various philosophies, and just as significant, our faces to other pagans, perhaps even younger women who never knew they had a choice when it came to their spiritual/religious beliefs.

Illustrators: Leo and Diane Dillon

Every reader of Daughters of Eve has seen me and, in a small way, knows me; knows I exist and is well aware that my paganism runs just as true through my veins despite there not being a lick of Irish within me to account for it. This tangible reality, my skin the color of sandalwood, and hair like lamb’s wool are an affirmation of the biological diversity of our planet, our cities, and our pagan community.

Many more black Americans will be coming to this community, with their own fears and misconceptions and what better way to welcome them than to prove to them that we are here? Have been here and will be here for years to come?

 

About Pythia Theocritos
  • http://twitter.com/walkingthehedge Juniper Jeni

    Funny as a Canadian I see Paganism as being very USA-centric.

    • http://profiles.google.com/stacylynnevans Stacy Evans

      As do I, Juniper!  

    • M.H.

       I think the word Euro has taken on a different meaning than she intended, she’s referring to skin color rather than nationality.  I am a 6’2″ blonde haired, blue-eyed Pagan of Nordic/Irish/German/French descent, and modern paganism is sickeningly catered to me.  She’s not referring to current “Euro”, and yes, modern paganism seems to revolve around the vision of U.S. pagans, she’s referring to the “white”-washing of history to make people like me feel more comfortable thinking about – for instance – voodoo in Haiti.

  • http://www.facebook.com/kenazfilan Kenaz Filan

    I commented on this post (which is excellent) on my blog.  Now that we’ve got discussion going on gender and privilege at Pantheacon, perhaps we can start talking about why it is that American Neopaganism is so lily-white and why so many American Neopagans who would be horrified by de jure segregation have no problem with a de facto segregated religion.

  • M.H.

    I understand what you are feeling completely!  I am a white man with a big pet peeve on re-writing history and heritage to sanitize it for consumption by the majority.  Like the Nubian pharaoh statues that had the noses chiseled down to a more Roman size and shape before they could be presented in the museums.  The whole U.S. centered version of paganism all but buries the god and puts the goddess on a pedestal, pushing women’s rights so hard the men become irrelevant.  By appearance, I could easily be a poster child for the pagan man.  And it’s that Euro-centric image you are talking about, tall, blonde, blue-eyed, long flowing hair.  I don’t want to see diversity for diversity’s sake, I want to see it because it actually exists!
    A few years ago, I was driving down the street at night, and there in someones yard were a group of women of African descent performing a full moon rite, in the Bible Belt of all places!  I was so shocked at seeing this I almost ran a red light,  it stood out on many levels.  1. This is Alabama (not unheard of but very unusual). 2. They were black  (not a problem in itself, but see #1.) 3. They were garbed in robes and using tools you would expect to find from a cliche Wiccan supply store.  While it was heartening to see someone of African descent openly performing their pagan rituals, it was disheartening to see that they too seemed to get all their materials from the Pyramid Collection.  Diversity gives us many roads, it’s unfortunately they all seem to lead to the same store selling the same “universal” product.  I would love to see more actual culture, and less cult-of-personality.

    • Cai

      Wicca can be a good starting place for someone who’s just beginning their Pagan path.  Most of the pagans I know began as wicca and then grew towards more specific callings.  I believe it was the late Isaac Bonewitz who compared it to KY Jelly…”It slides you into Paganism.”  :D

    • Wildchild

      I have had concerns with some of what you express. In the process of finding balance within a dominate culture that is still very patriarchal many people, especially women, feel a need to spend some time getting a feel for a dominate feminine presence. I think the vast majority recognize that we must have balance within and without and that means loving the presence and gifts of both the feminine and the masculine.  Many of us are stumbling in the shadows, trying to fill the calling of our hearts and spirits. Yes, for some, paganism is more a matter of costumes and a roll to be filled – media probably has something to do with that and Pyramid does have some pretty tantalizing looking stuff. 

      They are seeking and you as a conscious man, a pagan man, can be a great positive force for healing, just by being.  Not all of us are drawn to the Nordic god look. You are right we should have diversity because we are diverse and not because we are trying to look diverse.  Some of us want to be fairies and prince/sses or warriors, others like that Ren Fair look, some of us change from day to day but it’s what helps you feel connected to the sacred space that matters. 

    • Witchgman

      Being an artist/actor/weaver when I came to my pagan roots, it seemed so obvious to me that it is called the ‘Craft’…….so make and produce as many tools and dress as you can. It is easier to throw money around rather than learning the Craft.

  • CorvidDreams

    This is something that I actually think about quite a bit.  As a white person, I feel comfortable with my Eurocentric pagan path because a) it is an attempt to connect with my ancestors and b) there are a lot of hard feelings by some folks who don’t like their culture being appropriated, which I totally respect.  I can only hope that more people of color find their way to paganism and that they can be vocal enough about what paganism means to them.  I am not trying to exclude anyone, and welcome the chance to see what others find spiritually important.  

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1114845537 Kay Massey

      Two of the Female Orisha are in my Pantheon, Yemaya and Oshun…and then there is Baron Samhedi. Along with Kwan Yin and the NON divine healer named Jesus, for all intents and purposes! :)

  • sydney

    First, I have to mention that my heart fluttered a little at seeing Neil deGrasse Tyson’s name. He is such a role model. 

    Secondly,  thank you for acknowledging the pink elephant in the room.  It’s time to have this discussion.  I wonder if in an a effort to recreate (I use that term loosely) ancient ways or maintain tradition, folks are missing the forest for the trees. 

    This is very relevant in the U.S. because it mirrors a larger issue in our country.  I would like to know if minorities in other countries have a similar reality. 

    • http://www.facebook.com/kenazfilan Kenaz Filan

      I have been rather involved in the transgender v. Dianics argument*ahem* discussion. After seeing comments from several Pagans of color I have come to the uncomfortable realization that despite the Z Budapest brouhaha, white transfolk feel safer and more comfortable at Pantheacon than cisgendered black Pagans. For all our talk about tolerance, there’s less racial and class diversity at an average Pagan gathering than there is at an average mosque or Christian revival meeting. And that’s something that really needs to be dragged out into the sunlight. 

  • Nici Johnson

    It has been very interesting reading this article, and the ensuing comments.  I think about this subject a whole lot, as a biracial pagan woman of both African and European heritage.  I remember feeling intense waves of disconnect 20 years ago, when I began to read about Pagan life in America and gazed at the accompanying pictures of what an American Pagan looked like.  They didn’t look like me, it seemed.  I too, had the sad disappointment of not being able to find any depictions of faeries of any variety of hues other than fair-skinned or blue or something like that.  Almost 6 years ago now, at my 20 week prenatal ultrasound appointment, I recall feeling overwhelmed, and even a little frightened at the idea of my responsibility to teach and show by example what it meant to be a woman of color in the world to my soon to be born daughter.  I remember feeling dismayed at the amount of things that I would need to teach and tell her, just so that she could be safe to be who she was in this society, and in this world.  I was really tearful, until I remembered something: if I, a biracial, bisexual, pagan, woman of color couldn’t show her the way- then who in the world, possibly could?  A challenge had been issued, and I had answered, and continue to do so, every day.  I was considering attending my first Pantheacon by myself, but am more convinced than ever that I need to bring both of my daughters to see, experience, and be experienced by community.  Thanks for another great article and indepth perspective on a very important issue, Lady.  Also, I love the illustration, and have included one that I found somewhere years ago.  =0) 

  • Anonymous

    What a great blog.  Women  of color seem to have even more obstacles to getting in touch with our pagan history, meanwhile it was just a few hundred years ago that it was how our ancestors lived.  Nothing shameful about that but the church still has a poisoned grip on our communities, its like they want us to equate our cultures with sin and it just aint goinna happen.

  • Anonymous

    Great post. I do want to point out that neo-paganism has always been influenced by non-Euro traditions, so we who are of color should not feel like interlopers. For instance, there was a heavy Egyptian and Eastern (Hindu) influence on the Golden Dawn, a direct precursor of Wicca. Even now, what large pagan gathering is complete without a West African-style drum circle, complete with djembes and congas? 

    Some very complex issues involved, much too many for one measly combox. I will say this though:

    With respect to people of color who are practicing pagans, I would not hold my breath waiting for white folks to acknowledge us. 

    One of the best ways for us to feel more connected and have more of a presence is to just tell our stories as pagans of color. Get more vocal about who we are and what we do and to get together in person, in real time, whenever possible. So when that lonely black kid in the Midwest googles, for example, “black and Wiccan” he or she will find someone who looks likes him/her. 

    Also, as modern people in the 21st century, with multiple cultural influences on us since birth and instant global communication and information to make this even more so, we can be proactive in creating more inclusive and varied pagan traditions. Not ones that box us into some ancestral trip — whether our own or somebody else’s — but new ones that reflect us in all our creativity and complexity. Like Jim Morrison said, “Let’s start a religion.”  

    • Cai

      You’re right, the djembe is everywhere in pagan circles!  It was preceeded in many circles by the Irish bodhran, which is more temperamental and harder to keep.  The Djembe is a wonderful instrument, great sound, travels well.  And they’re often just gorgeous.  I’m a dancer, so I’m always tickled to see drummers show up.  :) 

  • http://blog.chasclifton.com/ Chas Clifton

    Here is what might be happening.

    The contemporary Pagan movement, with its beginnings in the UK and in North America, is sensitive to charges of cultural appropriation. In addition and consequently, it has been focused more on re-envisioning, re-creating, and rediscovering ancient European Paganisms. In North America, no one wanted to be accused of ripping off the Natives/First Nations.

    Only some groups—such as the Church of All Worlds—took a global view. Only recently have some academics like Michael York in Pagan Theology begun to look at Paganism as a “way of being religious” that can be applied cross-culturally.

    Result, yes, it looks Eurocentric. But if you want to see real Eurocentrism and to feel unwelcome , go to Eastern Europe, e.g., Poland, Ukraine, Russia. There you will see the whole “blood and soil” mythos in full flower, with the sense that “we” belong here and you other rootless, mongrel, foreign people do not. It will make Wicca seem positively multicultural by comparison.

    See, for example, scholarly articles by Victor Shnirelman (Russia), Kaarina Aitamurot (Finland), Mariya Lesiv (Ukraine/Canada) and others.

    What you are complaining about is just the historical moment and the hesitancy of a group of new movements that are condemned on all sides for being new, regressive, fake, made-up, New Age, cultural appropriators, etc. 

    • http://blog.chasclifton.com/ Chas Ciifton

      Bad typing. Kaarina Aitamurto is the correct spelling.

    • http://hellenicpolytheist.wordpress.com/ Pythia Theocritos

      So in other words “We’re not nearly as bad as THOSE people so stop complaining!” Because of course we have NO IDEA what we’re actually talking about or what our experiences mean in the country in which we live. We have no sense of proportion when it comes to how badly we would be treated elsewhere. I mean hey, things could be worse and think of those poor white pagans; having their religion accused of all sorts of mean things.

      If my eyes rolled any further into the back of my head I’d be staring out of my balcony. Thanks but no thanks.

      • http://blog.chasclifton.com/ Chas Clifton

        Please don’t put words in my mouth, Pythia. I merely point out that there is a spectrum of contemporary Paganism. In the US and the Anglosphere generally, you do not often find “blood and soil” imagery. 

        That does not take away the perceptions of people who feel excluded. I merely mean to say that maybe some of the perceived exclusion is unintentional, based on leaning over backwards to avoid accusations of cultural appropriation.

        As for the issue of who is portrayed in art, that one has been kicking around since the 1970s, when artists for GREEN EGG magazine were accused of favoring images of young, voluptuous white women as divinities.  This was held to be disrespectful to those not young or voluptuous. The racial aspect did not get so much attention in those days. The criticism is justified, but it seems to me that the solution is to create other images or to ask catalog sellers why they use the models that they do. Maybe a tug on the flared crushed velvet sleeve is all that is needed.

        Wicca in particular is spreading worldwide, to places like India and Mexico. It is flexible enough that that “lonely black kid in the Midwest” googling “black and Wiccan” out to be getting some hits in his or her search.  Wicca is fissile — people who don’t like what they see create their own. It is turning into a genuine world religion, and I expect to see even more forms and flavors as time goes by.

    • Cai

      Your argument has some legitimate points – it is wise not to appropriate other cultures.  But a greater wisdom is to invite all peoples to write for your publications, to include all kinds of faces in your photography, to seek a broader and inclusive path. 

      • http://blog.chasclifton.com/ Chas Clifton

        Good point. Writers, photographers, and artists have to push their work forward though. They cannot sit and wait to be discovered. This very blog is a good example. It will undoubtedly lead to other projects.

    • http://v-v-f.blogspot.com/ V.V.F.

      I’ve always felt that the trend *started* with paganism being understood as a general religious approach, and has only recently focused itself on specific religious/cultural histories. Druidism, for example, in its early history was very cross-cultural, and continues to be so. By contrast, Celtic Reconstructionism has only really become visible in the last decade or less. Hellenic paganism developed similarly, as people left Wiccan and Goddess traditions for more historical approaches. 

      Also, I think the problem being articulated here is not that “most Caucasian people are only into European traditions.” The problem is, “non-Caucasian people are into this stuff too – more than you’d think – but to the pagan scene at large, it’s like we’re invisible. Even, sometimes, in discussions of non-European or non-culturally specific traditions!” 

  • Cai

    More color!!  MORE!!  One of my favorite things about being American is how diverse our people are.  I feel distraught whenever I go to a pagan event of any sort and find only pale faces.  Same with magazines.  I think I’ll write to the one I’m subscribed to.  Fae/Faerie Magazine is a UK publication, but I don’t think that excuses them.  Thanks to their former empire days, the UK is almost as diverse a people as we are.   
    p.s.  The most fabulous Asatru I know is African American.  She’s gorgeous and I will always remember her calling the gods, hammer over her head and 2 year old daughter on her hip.  I’m getting chill bumps right now. 

  • Wildchild

    I grew up with a jumbled up mixture of Christianity, Native American and Pagan. We attended illegal powwows before the civil rights amendment legalized Native American religious practices. One of the biggest thrills in my 5 year old life was to be crown bearer for the May Queen. We talked to the spirits of the plants and land. People of all colors and cultures were in and out of our home – much to the dismay of some of our neighbors. My vision of pagan practices are eclectic.

    American Paganism is a reflection of many of the changes and aspects of our culture, throughout most of the white hegemony anything that wasn’t protestant was highly suspect. Although in a side note in colonial history that few are aware of, in some of the colonies and villages laws were passed making it illegal to join and live with the native people because there were mass exoduses in some places.  The observation that for those of us who respect the history and origins of peoples who have, at least to some degree, an intact historical paganism, such as Native American peoples and some Americans of African decent, there is an avoidance of any appearance of “stealing” their beliefs and practices. I am personally very bothered sometimes by white people who make up “Indian” names and gambol about performing “Indian” ceremonies. But all earth based practices will have commonalities and overlap. I think respect is the key. In many cases it isn’t just the whites of European ancestry, whose pagan history was consumed at the stake,  who are seeking to reconnect or recreate what was lost. We feel the energy and are called to a Pagan/earth based path, many seek to give it some authority or approval by claiming a long history, others are drawn to ancestral connections. The truth is that the way of the Goddess and God is fluid and what is important is that it fills our need and brings us to harmony, connection and conscious living. 

    I am “white” looking, not all my family is. I watched my mother struggle to walk in two worlds. My children, whose father brought new elements into the family, are darker than I. My son proudly sports the biggest afro in his school. When they were young my daughter wanted dolls that looked like her, with dark eyes, olive skin and rich, thick, dark hair. Pocahontus and Esmerelda  dolls were right on target. In children’s books, Arthur, Little Critter and Berenstein Bears provided ethnically neutral characters. We read the teaching stories of many cultures, Native American, African, Middle Eastern, Asian, European. What you bring to it is what your children will take from it. 

    Pagans, because we are not working from a “revealed” religion or A book with A leader, have the wonderful ability and opportunity to explore and create what works for them, what speaks to our calling and understanding. We can draw upon many sources and traditions and create new ones. Just because something was practiced or we imagine it was practiced, ages ago does not make it immutable, true or relevant to us now.  We are seeking to belong, to be part of a community or tribe, to connect to each other and to the earth and all that lives upon it and to the greater spirit that guides us.  We are free to learn and create that experience in what ever positive way best speaks to us. 

    • http://blog.chasclifton.com/ Chas Clifton

      Exactly! Can we call Wicca “open-source religion”? 

      True, it had a sort of reconstructionist element at the beginning (1950s-1970s, I would say), when many Witches believed that they really were continuing the ancient Pagan religion of Western Europe. But we have moved beyond that.

      Sort of a side note: In the late 1990s, a group of Brazilian Wiccans paid for my friend M. Macha NightMare to fly to Sao Paulo and give some lectures.

      I was a little surprised to learn that there were Wiccans in Brazil, given the many permutations of African Diasporic and European Spiritist traditions there. Given all that magickal religion, I asked her, what is the appeal of Wicca? She replied (and I paraphrase) that these Brazilians considered Candomblé, Umbanda, etc., to be “too Christian.” Make of that what you will.

      • Anonymous

        The open source-ness of Wicca is what attracted me to it in the first place.

        I am currently brushing up on my Spanish, so I spend a bit of each day checking out Wiccan-oriented Spanish-language blogs and youtube videos. There are many from all over the Spanish-speaking world, from Spain, the Caribbean to South America. I agree that Wicca is gradually becoming a world religion, which is great, with people from various cultures adding their own particular flavor. Wiccan books, websites, etc. which only feature European gods in them (with a few Egyptian thrown in there) will in the future seem quite antiquated. 

  • http://blog.chasclifton.com/ Chas Clifton

    And according to Anne Johnson, who writes about fairies a lot they are not really human or even necessarily human-shaped anyway!

  • Agnikan

    There are lots of African-American with Irish descent: Obama, for one.

  • Ladyoh

    Yemeya called to me many years ago.  I remember well how frustrated I was that I could not find ANY pictures or statues or anything that represented her.  

    • SkyeRanger

      In the land of ironies; in my own connection to Yemaya, one of the earlier depictions of her that came to me is as a syncretistic Mary, which uses a Anglo depiction rather than a Middle Eastern depiction of Mary. Now the world is slightly more sane, let us pray. It is nice to be reminded of this, however; the insanity out from which we draw ourselves.

  • SkyeRanger

    I think there are a lot of factors at play.

    I have been attending contemporary Pagan gatherings since the mid to late 1970s. I attended Pow Wows before that and have been involved in alternative Spiritual paths since the late 1950s I figure. Go figure. I watched as more babies and children showed up at gatherings. I watched as the military finally became honored. I watched children’s programs start to be developed; and rites of passage be invented for both the young and the old (and others in between.) I watched the LGBT community develop. I watched as greater spiritual diversity began to unfold ~ such as drawing from the African disapora.

    Even the concept of “people of note” coming to speak at gatherings was not there in the beginning. 

    Every time I see the demographics at Pagan gatherings take a step forward, I want to bellow Hallelujah far and wide. So far I have refrained from running up to people and hugging them and saying “I am sooooo glad to see you here.” 

    We still have a long, long way to go.Thank you for this incredibly important post. It is frustrating that it is already more than a decade into the 21st century and this is still a question.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000427154637 Johnny MoonOwl

    I do realize that in America, there is white culture and there is black
    culture. Church is and has been the most segregated hour in America for
    hundreds of years. Why are there more white people at African Drumming
    classes than there are black people?  Perhaps black people are less
    inclined to leave the churches of their ancestors for something
    different? Beating paganism down as something “less than” isn’t helpful
    either.

    • Crystal Blanton

      Not sure who you are referring to but I know I am in no way beating down Paganism. I am a Wiccan and very connected to that path. As for why there are not more black people drumming, I think that we are as diverse as others. Just because we are Black does not mean that African drumming would speak to each and everyone of us. Also I think there is something to be said for the disconnected piece of our culture coming here and separated from our roots. There is a lot in those arenas to continue to explore….

  • SkyeRanger

    I forgot to add in my comment below, for what it is worth, in Dream Time in my own encounters I have found that the whole world of humans is represented ~ and then, of course, quite some diversity beyond the world of humans too….

  • Adeoso

    I have felt what you feel from the other side.  Imagine a red haired freckled woman and her bald Caucasian husband at their Babalawo’s healing ceremony in Atlanta.  We got a lot of those “what the hell are THEY doing here” looks.  Baba said not to “pay them any mind because the Orisha speak to them they choose”. 
    Whenever there is a cultural difference there is likely to be ignorance, lack of inclusion and bias.  It is an unfortunate thing indeed.

    • Crystal Blanton

      I have heard of similar experiences. If you are interested in writing something of your experience, I would be interested in doing something with that here. Blessins and thanks for writing.


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