The Fear of Expression; Family, Culture and Expectation

I don’t usually struggle with expressing myself. It has been a blessing and a curse my whole life. This over communicative Gemini thing has gotten me into and out of some of the most interesting spots in my life. It is something I heavily rely on as one of my greatest tools now that I am an adult. (Won’t talk about them teenage years).

Yet today I had an interesting moment where I struggled with not knowing how to express myself. It was not to a bunch of strangers, not when I was talking in a seminar, not at work when counseling traumatized kids, not in a business meeting with executives, not in a conversation with a publisher…… it was with my mother’s family.

This is not about them as much as it is about me. I have felt a separation, living on the West Coast, from my maternal and paternal relatives my whole life. While I had some of my childhood connections with my mom’s family, at 37 years old it is hard to remember who everyone is and doubt that they know who I am. And so I wonder how my Black family in the South perceive this West Coast Witch.

Much of this lies in culture and fears, I do not blame them. My family is heavily Christian, as many Black families are in the South. I have no problem with people’s choices of religion, I do not feel it is necessarily my business. Yet, I often find the pressure of conforming is present more when it is your family and your views might be disturbing for them. I question, “don’t I have just as much of a right to say my own prayers and blessings as they do?” And of course the answer is yes…. yet….

Today is the birthday of one of the matriarchs of our family. Her influence on all of our lives is profound, and it is ever present for me. My memories of my Mama Cora are largely influential in my own understanding of what it means to be a strong Black woman, despite circumstances and trials. She walked through many circumstances of life that I imagine would be crippling to many people; she was a warrioress.

And not only did she set the bar as the “Big Mama” of our family tribe, my own mother was named after her. Cora… the name of a mother Goddess with warrior stripes.

In a family thread today I over-thought my words to express how important she is to me, and that she is one of my mighty dead ancestors. She has been for a long time. I ended up saying something about the importance of her memory in my life and wanting that to be a part of my son’s life, which was fine, but it did not express exactly what I was feeling. I sacrificed by expression of faith in order to respect other’s comfort. That is a hard sacrifice to swallow sometimes.

My ancestor altar

How many times do we do this in life? How often is the Pagan challenged with thinking through separating out their presentation from their spiritual self? How often are African American Pagans, or any other ethnic Pagan that has to balance the worlds of faith and culture, confronted with the confusion of expression? When do we stand in who we are, say what we feel, and be our authentic selves, versus walking away feeling somehow separated and unseen?

These questions are so very challenging. I think that everyone has this kind of challenge in some area of his or her life, and I do not feel it is exclusive to ethnic people or Pagan people. I do, however, feel that the added challenge of conflicting cultures for Black Pagans is a challenge that is often overlooked, even by myself. I surround myself with people that understand who I am, and what I am. It is only in times when I have to connect with my familial relatives that I am reminded of the sheer complexity of cultural integration.

So as we all cherish, honor, and pray for our family members in different ways, I will continue to hold my Mama Cora and all my family that have crossed as my honored ancestors on the other side.

  • kadiera

    I know it’s a daily occurrence here – between family we’ve been asked not to tell about our faith, family who repost everything I write, and the steady stream of nurses & therapists my kids see, every day I “soften” something I would have said in different company….

  • Leanne Pemburn

    Oh, I have southern family, and “Big Mama”, too. And I often struggled with expression of who I am when my parents were alive. Thank you for putting this into words.

  • koridawn

    YES. YES. YES.

    As a black pagan, my spiritual side is easily separated from that of my current culture. Sometimes this occurrence is intentional, other times it appears to be not under my control.

  • sonya miller

    My parents didn’t really say anything about my faith, they knew what I was but didn’t discuss it with me (sort of like sex) at ALL. Then, I became a Highpriestess leading a coven, and the got a little aggressive sending me Bible verses and calling me asking me whether I would go to heaven or hell. Then, I founded a Wiccan Church in the heart of my city and they hit the roof! Now, all the relatives all the neighbors, all the people I went to school with and their parents would know that they raised a NON christian person who was a “witch”. I have always gone to their rites of passages, funerals, holy days and quietly participated finding nothing wrong with them I believed they just did not resonate with me. Now, I do not feel like doing that anymore, I have my own faith…my own traditions,my own community that I do not have to feel embarrassed about, by or with. I think I would have appreciated them acknowledging my traditions (like at Yule, or Easter (Ostara) or asking me about Samhain…but they never did, and if I tried to share quickly shut me down by acting as if the rituals we did were “weird” and “cultish” . I think there is something to be said for Private Spiritual practice and Public one to some extent. Sometimes, I wish they did not know I was a Legal Clergy/Priestess/etc..


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