I decided to give my blog over to Pagan/Polytheist/Pantheist People of Color (and later this year to pagan/polytheist/pantheist queers and trans folk) to give them an audience for their experiences. All too often, we traffic only in our familiar circles and that lessens the chance for dialogue. This is a chance to hear from the affected folks themselves.
I sent out a series of questions to folks that I know and it went viral. expect several columns like this one as the answers to my questions come back to me.
This interview is with Preston Eclipse. My questions are first followed by hir answers in italics.
Can you please tell us how you identify religiously/spiritually?
I identify as a witch/priestess/gatekeeper. Specifically, I am a Reclaiming Tradition Witch whose cosmology in deeply rooted in Evolutionary Spirituality.
Can you tell us how you identify as a person of color?
I usually call myself Black (race) when people ask my ethnicity(ies) I break it down as having one parent who is Cape Verdean [which is an African-Portuguese Creole] and another parent who has African-American and Wampanoag Indian ancestry.
Do you identify with the term "pagan"? Why or why not?
I prefer Witch. Pagan seems too much of an umbrella term. It's original meaning refers to people who live in the countryside. Now it's a diffuse term to describe all religions that are not Abrahamic. I don't use it that often because I feel that it implies these spiritual traditions are too unimportant to be acknowledge by their self-identified names and practices. I do sometimes find it a useful point of entry into these types of conversations. However, it is not the destination.
Have you ever encountered what you consider racism (however you define it) while at a pagan gathering, circle, or workshop (public or private)? Can you tell us what happened?
I've encountered cultural appropriation such as not naming of giving due credit to where a particular practice has come from (especially indigenous practices) I think that without naming where a particular ceremony or part of a ceremony comes from and then explaining to the ancestors/wisdom holders of that tradition and to those that are participating that your intentions are not to commercialize, appropriate or purposefully distort the practices then it's perpetuating colonialism. I have also witnessed discounting diversity and large scale assumptions that all participants are of European descent. For example, during a Samhain Ritual planning meeting at a university some of the other planning members suggested we all paint ourselves in blue woad like our ancestors did-ignoring my physical presence there as a person of color and assuming everyone that would be involved had ancestors who painted themselves in woad.
Do you believe that there is a bias against any traditions/Gods/types of religious practices in the greater pagan community? Do you believe that these biases are informed by racism?
I have seen a bias against traditions of the African Diaspora that incorporate animal sacrifice or animal parts. I have even heard racist remarks such as that type of "primitive ritual scarifice" isn't necessary anymore. It does appear to stem out of the moral high road of the techno-industrial west, which knows better and does better than the "developing countries". There may be actual concern regarding animal rights however it is couched in ignorance regarding the social, economic, and religious structures and cosmologies of these spiritual traditions and their communities.
What would you like to tell white pagans about making spaces more welcoming, inclusive, and "safe"?
Please be very aware of the lense of your own experience and how it colors your perception. Having that awareness can minimize the hurtful effects of assumptions, ignorance, and covert/overt bigotry.
Have you had conversations with "white" pagans about race? Did it go well? Do you feel as if you were heard?
I've been fortunate to have salons with people in my traditions to discuss race, genders, sexual orientations and I have been unexpectedly satisfied. There is more work to do, however the collaboration thus far seems promising. I did feel heard/seen/valued.
Do you have anything to say about appropriative spirituality? Has your tradition been appropriated?
I am a witch of Reclaiming Tradition and also resonate deeply with its sibling the Feri Tradition. It is an ecstatic tradition that draws on inspiration and wisdom from numerous historic and living traditions. I am often cautious that while I share in the wisdom of our global village I must give something back in addition to honoring the original sources so that I can minimize appropriation.
For more information on dismantling white privilege, race in the news, and anti-racist activism, check out:
Understanding and Dismantling Privilege
What Tami Said
and more links to come.