At a human rights conference I remarked to my Jewish friend Manya that all the people at our table were white. She looked at me sideways. “I’m not white,” she said. “I just look white.”
I’m not a Jew. The Jewish people I know have stories. Manya’s father escaped from Germany because he was an athlete and was warned by an SS friend. Like many Jewish people she says she was raised to say “never again”.
I’m not Jewish but I am a Witch. I’ve experienced harassment for my religion. When I was young a friend introduced me at a party as his friend the Witch and the whole party backed me into the kitchen shouting at me. A woman saw me reading a book on the bus and reached over to tap it and say it was the devil’s work. A friend’s mother filed a custody suit to take her grandson away on the grounds that her daughter was a Witch (fortunately it didn’t work). A couple I knew hid their occult books when their grown children came over. In the era when I converted to Witchcraft my religion could endanger my my place to live, my job, my family relationships, my friendships.
It’s been a while since stuff like that has happened. My generation built organizations like Covenant of the Goddess. We educated and advocated and presented ourselves as normal and dispelled a lot of the fear around the image. For many people, especially if you live in the urban core, your religion isn’t such a big deal any more. In fact it’s fashionable to be a Witch today, I can pick up a pentacle and a book of shadows at the T-shirt shop in the mall. But I have hidden all my life. I never told any employer I was a Witch until the day I retired. Even now only one of my brothers knows I am a Witch, and my parents died never realizing I was no longer Catholic. They never read any one of my books.
I was able to hide my religion because I am white. It’s not just a skin color, it’s an identity. I grew up in segregated culture. I only recognized this a decade ago when I started doing the work to contest racism in myself, to break the color line, to become a race traitor and work to dismantle white supremacy. I know that my stories do not compare to the everyday experiences of people of color. I have never feared to walk up to a police officer. I have not feared for the lives of my children when they leave the house. I have been spared a thousand humiliations and dangers that are commonplace for others.
White identity gives my white friends a sense of security. There is nothing in our lives to wake us up to the dangerous times we have entered. A wave of populism has swept people into power who set up other people as targets. After the last election I thought our culture was strong enough to withstand this – we’ll never see concentration camps, right? A year ago detention centers opened at the border and dentention centers around the country are filling up as ICE raids homes and businesses. At the border families are separated by policy and children are treated so cruelly the world condemns this as torture. Manya calls these detention centers concentration camps.
I am learning a lot from my Jewish friends. I am not saying that I think Witches and magicians are in danger of being rounded up and put into concentration camps. I am saying that Jewish people can help us figure out how to navigate a world in which our country has them. Here are some of the things I’m learning.
Jewish people remind us whiteness is Christian
The writer Nathan Goldman describes how Jewish whiteness has come into question. After World War II Jewish people were inducted into the white folks club as Europeans. The rise of white supremacy has re-introduced rhetoric questioning their humanity. He quotes Zoé Samudzi: “There are many Jewish people racialized as white who have access to power and privilege within whiteness . . . but per the white supremacist imaginary, a Jewish person racialized as white can never be white.”
To a white supremacist, a Jewish person can never be white. To a white supremacist, white means Christian. The people in power in America are Christian Dominionists. They believe God has picked them to rule America and their long term plan is to detain and deport anyone who is not a white Christian. If you want more detail I wrote The Thelemic Guide to Surviving the Dominionist Theocracy to explain how that works.
It’s so normal for us to think of ourselves as white that there are actually Witches and Pagans who are white supremacists. I don’t just mean racist Odinists, I’ve seen ordinary Pagans saying online that they want their white children to live in a white world. But remember that Jews and Witches have been linked in European thought from medieval times. Lily Climenhaga reminds us:
The same charges that were levied against heretics and witches were also raised against the Jewish community. These charges involved: but were not exclusive to, a pact with Satan, secret late night-rides to nocturnal meetings that later, through anti-Jewish and anti-heretical polemic, became the witches’ Sabbath. Diabolical traditions practiced at the “Sabbath” or “Sabbat” such as orgies, host desecration, infanticide and cannibalism were allegedly witch, heretic, and Jewish “traditions”.
The Evangelical Dominionist world still thinks about us this way. Looking and sounding white doesn’t override these associations.
It’s so normal to think of ourselves as white that there is actually a Thelemic Dominionist sub-sect. Like any right wing religionists they believe the Book of the Law is literally true when it promises to give them a “war engine”. They identify with the white supremacists who identify as Templar Crusaders.
White supremacists identify with the Templars in an anti-Islamic move. The Templars were Christians crusading to expel Muslims from Jerusalem, and they imagine themselves as carrying that anti-Islamic banner forward. But the first Templar order didn’t end well. The order was accused of heresy and disbanded, knights were killed, and their last leader Jacques de Molay was burned at the stake.
Prayer warrior web sites identify Thelemites as sinners. It amazes me that anyone who calls Christianity a “slave religion”, who stands up in church and says “I believe in the Serpent and the Lion, Mystery of Mystery, in His name BAPHOMET” and then kneels in front of a naked woman seated on an altar would align their politics with Dominionists.
Witches and Thelemites may identify with white supremacists but white supremacist leadership decidedly does not extend membership to us. When the world splits into Christian and non-Christian we are not among the elect.
Jewish people remind us no one is safe
Manya’s father escaped the Holocaust. Her grandfather was going to join him after to running one more errand. He died in Auschwitz.
We are not safe because historically we have not been safe. Karl Germer was arrested and placed in a concentration camp for translating Aleister Crowley’s work into German. The second world war destroyed the O.T.O. in Europe, and only in the past decade or so have a few people managed to put groups together; the vast majority of O.T.O. members are North American. The O.T.O. survived because of an American soldier.
We are not safe because people like us are being arrested now in formerly democratic regimes that turn authoritarian almost overnight. In Turkey judges, reporters, academics, and intellectuals have been arrested in the last three years; there are 200,000 detained citizens and more prisons are being built. Five years ago Turkey was a model of democracy. Worried analysts point out that America is following the same path.
Jewish people declare it is our duty to stand up for freedom
America’s policies currently target Hispanic and Muslim immigrants and refugees, not Jewish people in particular. Nonetheless Jewish activists have turned up to block entrances to the detention camps, stop traffic on freeways, and demonstrate at politician’s offices. “Never again”, they say, “is now”.
On the week of July 4 2019 I hosted a #ClosetheCamps protest to stand up for immigrants and refugees and for the humane treatment of all children. I did it because it is the right thing to do. I use my white privilege to oppose white supremacy.
It is also in my self-interest. I am a Witch and a Thelemite and an intellectual, and if America flips the way Turkey did my friends and I could end up in prison. It’s still hard to believe that emotionally. But then, I didn’t believe we’d re-open detention camps either.
My friend Manya spoke at the event. She reminds us that in a country with detention camps – concentration camps – none of us is safe. Even if we do look white.