[Today, the final day of 2016, we welcome guest contributor Tamilia Reed. Reed is a devotional polytheist, spirit-worker, mystic, rune reader, Witch, and traveler of the Otherworlds. Her spiritual work centers on building strong relationships with the denizens of this and other worlds, while seeking an intimate understanding of the magical ties that join all beings. You can find Reed’s writing on her personal blog at Wandering Woman Wondering, at Wayfaring Woman via Agora, or at Daughters of Eve: Pagan Women of Color Speak.]
Story is beautiful in that it grows, transforms, and evolves with us and through us, and there is great power in telling our own story on our own terms. The story of my spiritual path began in northeast Florida on a cool morning as the light of dawn rushed over my grandmother’s brown skin. I was about 8 years old.When I managed to wake up before the sun, I had the privilege of watching my grandmother raise her hands to the unfolding day and pray for the health, wealth, and wellness of her eight children and her many more grandchildren. She also prayed for safety and justice for her family in a world that had pushed our Black lives to the margins. In the early morning light, my grandmother muttered prayers from her heart, from the depths of her hope. The Christian God was the one she addressed in her prayers, night and day without cease. My mother followed in my grandmother’s way, praying regularly. It was my grandmother and then my mother who taught me that spirituality is about connection and relationship.
Both my mother and my grandmother had a meaningful relationship with the God of Christianity and I remember wanting that too. For many years I tried to feel the way that they felt about him. I attended church, read the Bible, and prayed. But none of what I felt while trying to build a relationship with the Christian God matched the wonder and magic that I felt when I was 12 years old, conjuring a summer storm with a fist full of fallen leaves and a soggy branch of pine on the very same porch where my grandmother had prayed.
It was with branch and leaf in hand literally dancing and singing up a storm that I felt plugged into the force that connects us all. While calling in the storm, not only did the numinous world unfold, but for a second or two life on the margins fell away. Needless to say, that was a tremendous feeling as a Black girl growing up within arm’s reach of the American south.
After that storm, knowledge of my inalienability dwelled within me. I knew that no matter how society tried to situate me based on my Blackness or my Womaness or my Queerness, from the perspective of the Earth and Sky, the deities and spirits, I was and would always be wholly and thoroughly integral, never marginal. Through decades of American (mis)education, I took that deep knowing with me. I let it hold me as I faced prejudice in my daily life. I allowed that knowing to carry me through the torrential downpour of teachers who couldn’t hear my ideas over the hollow echoes of those same ideas presented by my White male peers, as if they were original. I also allowed that knowing to hold me close through countless peers thundering on about affirmative action as if I’d been unfairly given my coveted seat beside them.
Who I am as a person combined with my sociopolitical situation as a Black Bisexual Woman demanded that I develop my spirituality over the years. I knew that my story had to include spirit in order to make it authentic and intelligible. In search of the next chapter in my spiritual journey, I began teaching myself about Paganism. I was in my late teens.The wonder and magic of the numinous world called to me, and Paganism seemed to understand that call. It had frameworks and ways of understanding the lightning and thunder of connection that I’d danced up in a Florida storm years prior.
And so I learned about Witchcraft, Wicca, and various reconstructionist traditions including those with Hellenic, Roman, and Germanic currents. In addition I learned what I could about African Traditional Religions, which is limited for me as a non-initiate. Each tradition that I explored offered unique knowledge and wisdom. I knew that I’d finally found a confluence of spiritual traditions that could hold more of me than any previous religious tradition to which I had been exposed.
As inclusive and dynamic as Paganism is, it is not impervious to the problems of oppression and marginalization. I found that the deep knowing that I held in my heart was closer to reality within Paganism, but still not fully manifested. In Pagan circles the Goddess rarely looked like me and when she did she was inserted into white and often heterosexual stories of beauty, strength, and empowerment that minimized or completely omitted African-American and other diasporic stories. I had to hold on to my understanding of myself as integral and never marginal as white feminism suffused my Pagan experience.I had to endure as the Pagan concept of interconnectedness was twisted into tacit support for racial color-blindness. That deep-knowing had to carry me through Pagans omitting my Blackness, preferring only the Womaness and sometimes the Queerness of me and my story. When I wasn’t being minimized categorically, I was being erased personally, but still based on race. For example, again and again, I had to politely remind my fellow white Pagans that Black Bisexual Women are not interchangeable, and, in fact, (no) I am not the other Black Bisexual Woman at the festival who looks nothing like me in countenance, body size, or body shape.
There were and still are margins among Pagans and within Paganism. This is a frustrating but not unexpected reality. Between my educational trajectory and my experiences within Paganism, I slowly but surely learned the incredible power of story in the creation and maintenance of those central and marginal spaces. It matters exactly who tells the story, how, about whom, and why. As I moved through my twenties I was in hot pursuit of Paganism’s margins, and the spiritual potential of those spaces.
The first from among the deities to rise up to meet me on this journey was the Goddess Hekate. She emerged from the caves and crevices in Samhain 2007, and she has been with me since. Hekate was and is the lady of the crossroads, gateways, Witchcraft, and necromancy. Her might is wrapped up in liminal spaces, the margins of civilization, the restless dead, night-wandering spirits, magic, and real and perceived “others.” Hekate is the twin torch-bearing mistress of the yawning dark, as well as keen guide and ferocious warder on the way through twisted, fearsome, distant, wild, and dangerous territory.
After meeting Hekate, a number of deities and spirits with strong ties to liminality, transition, transformation, magic, ancient wisdom, subversion, and transcendence introduced themselves to me including Mercurius, Odin, Freyja, and Dionysos among others. They helped me to see what beauty and power live on the margins of “civilized” and “acceptable” and “central” spaces.
Now in my mid-thirties, the margins have become the edge. Where the margins are a place of oppression to which I’m relegated as an “other,” the edge is different in that it is a place of agency where I can learn what exists within and beyond me, a place where I can determine what matters and what works and recycle the rest, or store it for later until it makes sense to me.
The edge is a place of powerful potential from which possibilities can be birthed and things that have run their course can be intentionally laid to rest. The margins transformed into the edge are the sharp blade prepared to reshape the world, a tool for transformation and change at both the individual and collective levels. The human beings at the edge have stories and wisdom to share, as do the spiritual beings that live there, and so I call the teeming hordes there the Edge Dwellers.
As a Black Bisexual Woman who exists in a world determined to denigrate, invalidate, or altogether eliminate me, my ears were uniquely primed for the Edge Dwellers’ messages and so my work is largely with them. The Edge Dwellers possess the power of the untold story and the differing viewpoints and lessons contained therein.Within those stories, there lives the potential for wholeness and healing. They keep shadows and secrets as well as wisdom and hope. These are the beings who are poised to be wellsprings for growth and change, and that scares people who’ve built a comfortable life for themselves via the status quo. The Edge Dwellers – those who question, challenge, disturb, subvert, and sometimes topple – are my kith and kin.
Tricksters are perhaps the most familiar among the Edge Dwellers.They turn the order on its head while often also affirming it. The Edge Dwellers can and do move beyond the trickster archetype, and there is wisdom and goodness and righteousness in their stories just as much as there is in the stories of more “acceptable” divinities.
For years I shied away from the Edge Dwellers because everything from “bad” to “antisocial” to “evil” is used to describe them. Then I realized that who’s telling the story matters and the agenda that the dominant narrative edifies matters. Suddenly Loki, Lilith, and beings of all kinds including the Titans and Jotnar began to speak to me.
In my work with the Edge Dwellers I don’t see myself as someone who’s out here for “the fun of it.” There’s very little that is “fun” or even safe about this work. I am on the edge because I was pushed to the margins and rather than beg for a place at the center around the fire I put my feet up on the log at the edges of the firelight and got to know the spirits who dwell there and beyond, within the utter dark. In that way, my work is wholehearted willing choice bounded by unyielding socio-political and spiritual circumstance. Because connection is so important to me and the interconnectedness of all beings is a core value, I bring back what I learn on the edge and attempt to make it as clear and useful as possible for myself and other Pagans, while also maintaining respectful relationships with the Edge Dwellers.
Over the years society has taught me all about the crushing pain and exhaustion that emerge from the marginalizing force of multiple intersecting oppressions, but my spirit has taught me another lesson: margins are human-made and edges cut deep. Society may place us in the margins but our spirits do not have to live within that dominant narrative. Spirit is making a way out of no way – as it often does – and harnessing wellsprings of power in the places where oppressive systems and narrow traditions would have us all believe there are none.
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The views and opinions expressed by our diverse panel of columnists and guest writers represent the many diverging perspectives held within the global Pagan, Heathen and polytheist communities, but do not necessarily reflect the views of The Wild Hunt Inc. or its management.