#blacklivesmatter: reaction and response

Heather Greene —  December 10, 2014 — 176 Comments

On Dec. 4, Crystal Blanton, a Wild Hunt columnist, author, Priestess and activist, issued a challenge to the Pagan community, as a whole, after noticing “the silence of the Pagan organizations in light of recent unrest.” She said, “This is an opportunity to stand up and support the people of color within the Pagan community … Tonight, I am saying to the Pagan community, I see you. The question is, do you SEE us?”

 

That single Facebook post was a catalyst for an avalanche of response from individuals, small groups and organizations across the nation. Over the past six days nearly 50 public statements and articles have appeared in blogs, websites and Facebook status updates, making this, quite possibly, a historic moment of unprecedented solidarity. Moreover, the responses aren’t limited to the so-called Pagan community. Responses have come from Heathen organizations and Polytheists, as well as a large variety of Pagans from a diversity of traditions.

“The response of many organizations and leaders over the last week has shown something we haven’t really seen before in our community; a willingness to speak up and speak out about the needs of Black people and ethnic minorities,” Crystal said, expressing her surprise.

Due to the number of reactions, it is impossible to share in detail each and every statement or article. It is even more difficult to encapsulate the grief, anger, frustrations, power, hope and even confusion expressed in many of these statements. A full list is included at the bottom. Of course, it is important to also remember that this list is not comprehensive. More statements and discussions are published every day.

Before Blanton issued her call-to-action, several Pagans had already made public statements on the #blacklivesmatter national protest campaign On Nov. 25, T.Thorn Coyle, who wrote an “Open Letter to White America.” In that statement, Coyle called for empathy and compassion, saying, “I pray that we remember: We are responsible for one another’s well-being.” On Nov. 29, Peter Dybing posted a photo of himself holding up sign that read, “White Privliege is real. Stay calm and listen.” Like Thorn, he was speaking to white Americans, asking them to stay silent and listen to those oppressed.

[Courtesy Photo]

Following Dybing’s lead, author Christopher Penczak also posted a photo of himself holding the same sign. He issued a heartfelt statement, saying:

I have tried to take the advice of a friend who said one of the best things we could do, particularly those of us in a place of privilege, is to listen …  I know sometimes I don’t want to, but its so important, particularly at this time. So I thank Peter Dybing for asking me and others to let people know that listening while keeping calm in uncomfortable situations is absolutely necessary at this time. Blessed be.

These statements came shortly after the Ferguson grand jury decision. However, after that announcement was made, other similar incidents made headlines, including the choking death of Eric Garner in New York City and the shooting death of Tamir Rice in Ohio. At that point, the tone of the public conversation changed from simply “stay silent” to “act and acknowledge.” Additionally, the messages, which were originally aimed predominately at white Pagans, also changed direction. This wake-up, so to speak, was expressed by Jenya T. Beachy, who wrote in a blog post, “I’ve fallen prey to the ‘nothing is right to say so say nothing’ theme.”

Crystal2014

Crystal Blanton [Courtesy Photo]

After Blanton’s facebook post, most of the first responses came from the blogging world. Similar to Beachy, the writers opened up discussions of the issues, as each of them personally grappled with the reality of the national crisis. Not all of these posts were specifically in response to Blanton’s challenge, but all deal with the situation head-on. Polytheist blogger Galina Krasskova  discusses her obligation, and that of other white citizens, to speak out. Drawing from her religious practice, she wrote that we have an “ancestral obligation to take a stand against racism.”

Other bloggers and writers who responded include Shauna Aura Knight, Jason Mankey, Anomalous Thracian, Sarah Sadie, John Beckett, Kathy Nance, Rhyd Wildermuth, Peter Dybing and Tim Titus. Patheos Pagan Channel has posted a static link list of all posts that reflect on Ferguson and Police Brutality.

Some of the topics raised within these varied articles include white privliege (e.g., Tim Titus and Anomalous Thracian), how it all relates to Paganism (e.g., Jason Mankey and Shauna Aura Knight), and the need for decisive action (e.g., Peter Dybing). Some bloggers, like Tom Swiss at The Zen Pagan, also incorporate a discussion of spirituality. Swiss wrote, “If you’re not outraged by all this, you’re not paying attention.” He goes on to say, “Buddhism realizes the place of wrath, and assigns significant deities to its proper function — the “wrathful deities.”

In addition to bloggers, there was a flood of solidarity statements from individuals and leaders (e.g., Ivo Dominguez, Patrick McCollum, Starhawk); from small groups (e.g., CAYA coven, Circle of Ancestral Magic, Bone and Briar, Vanic Conspiracy) and from national organizations (e.g., Covenant of Unitarian Universalist Pagans, Circle Sanctuary, Covenant of the Goddess, Ár nDraíocht Fein, Aquarian Tabernacle Church, Cherry Hill SeminaryThe Pantheon Foundation and Heathens Against Racism).

Some of these statements were specifically meant as calls-to-action in support of the public protests around the nation. The Coru Cathubodua Priesthood used powerful language saying, in part:

We are angry … We want justice … We who are the priesthood and war band dedicated to the Morrigan stand and take our place in the streets as allies to justice.”

While they used strong language in their call to action, the Priesthood also said, “We have hope.”

Similar to the Priesthood, Free Cascadia Witchcamp organizers used potent language saying, “We will not be complicit through silence.” They added, “We grieve the irretrievable loss of integrity for all those who participate in, and uphold structural opppression, and we grieve the tragedy of those impacted by it.”

Not everyone used forceful words in their calls for action. The Covenant of Unitarian Universalist Pagans (CUUPS) asked its membership and friends to “act as partners in the work to create more justice in our broader communities.” They added, “None of us can be truly safe or free when some lives have value and others don’t.” Other similar calls to action, both strongly worded or not, came from Bone & Briar in Pennsylvania, Solar Cross in California, CAYA coven, Patrick McCollum, Cherry Hill Seminary, and others.

Some goups focused their words on recognition and awareness. These statements were in direct response to Blanton’s statement “Do you see us?” In these public expressions, organizations and groups acknowledged bearing witness to injustice and are essentially saying, “We see you.”

This was well-expressed on Polytheist.com, where representatives stated, “We see the harm. We see the fear and the hatred. We see the injustice … Together, we stand for something better.” Circle of Ancestral Magic, Blanton’s own coven, wrote, “We say this most of all to the people most affected by these atrocities. We see you. We hear you, and honor your lived experiences.” Other similar treatments were made by groups such as Vanic Conspiracy and Immanion Press.

Rather than make a comment, Circle Santuary chose a different route. It opened up its regular Tuesday night Circle podcast to host a round-table discussion on racial equality. In retrospect, Rev. Selena Fox said:

Circle Sanctuary and the Lady Liberty League are committed to working for a world with freedom, equality, liberty and justice for all, and where people can live in harmony with one another and with the greater circle of nature of which we are all a part.  It is our hope that this solution-focused Pagan community conversation can enhance awareness, inspire considerate communications and encourage effective, collaborative actions to help manifest racial equality

In a statement for Ár nDraíocht Fein (ADF), Rev. Kirk Thomas ended on a spiritual note saying, “We must all look deeply inside ourselves to root out prejudices we have been raised with that linger in the dark. Only then can injustice end. Only then may we all live in peace.”

Several organizations, due to internal processes and the distance between its board members, were unable to issue their statements in time for publication, but told The Wild Hunt that they were currently working on words. These organizations included The Assembly of the Sacred Wheel, The Officers of Avalon and The Troth.

Lou Florez

Lou Florez

In response to all this activity Lou Florez, a spiritual counselor, rootworker, Orisha priest, told The Wild Hunt,

I wish I could say that these acts of violence, racism, aggression, and brutality on black bodies were rare, but unfortunately, they are not. These experiences are the lived reality for a vast majority of People of Color. While it is very touching to see the outpouring of support, discussion and commitments, I see this as just the beginning of a first step. As witches, Pagans, magicians, conjurers, and clergy we are mandated to transform the world as we transform ourselves. It’s time to awaken to the ramifications and reality of power, privilege and oppression in our circles, and communities.

Turning back to Blanton, we asked what she thought of this flurry of reaction to her Facebook comment, as well as the opening up of conversations and the calls to action. She said, with a hopeful tone, “I am so humbled to see such clear, fast and strong responses and it renews my hope that we might be able to actually do something together with that energy in our community.”

*   *   *

The following is a list of the public (only) statements, posts and articles that were issued since Dec. 4 and referenced above. This is not an exhaustive list and more statements will undoubtedly surface over the days to come.

Coru Cathubodu

Bone and Briar

Free Cascadia Witch Camp

Immanion Press

The Family of the Forge in the Forest

The Firefly House

Shauna Aura Knight

Hexenfest and Pandemonaeon

Vanic Conspiracy

Heathens United Against Racism

Polytheist.com

The Troth

CAYA Coven

Solar Cross

Anomalous Thracian

Starhawk

Pantheon

ADF

Circle Sanctuary

CUUPS

Peter Dybing

T. Thorn Coyle

Jason Mankey

Courtney Weber

Patrick McCollum

Officers of Avalon

Jenya T. Beachy

The Assembly of the Sacred Wheel

Covenant of the Goddess

Christopher Penczak

Tea & Chanting Sangha/Dharma Pagans

Lykeia

Galina Krasskova

Cherry Hill Seminary

Ivo Dominguez Jr.

Tim Titus

Lydia Crabtree

John Beckett

Rhyd Wildermuth

Kathy Nance

Tom Swiss

Circle of Ancestral Magic

Sarah Sadie

Aquarian Tabernacle Church

The Pantheon Foundation

 

Heather Greene

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Heather is a freelance writer, film historian, and journalist, living in the Deep South. She has collaborated with Lady Liberty League on religious liberty cases, and formerly served as Public Information Officer for Dogwood Local Council and Covenant of the Goddess. She has a masters degree in Film Theory, Criticism and History from Emory University with a background in the performing and visual arts. Heather's book on witches in American film and television will be published by McFarland in 2018.