Column: Ancestors of Hope and Purpose in Black History

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Many people might wonder why I write so much about the cultural experiences of blackness on The Wild Hunt. Besides this helping to provide a clear understanding of my own blackness, it is also a subject that is so underrepresented within the overculture within modern Paganism and polytheist communities. Even though our circles are becoming more and more reflective of differences than years ago, there is still a huge disconnect in how people of different cultures experience our religious circles, groups, practices, and ancestral connections.

It is especially significant this month when I am attending the yearly pan-Pagan convention of PantheaCon, which happens to be on opening weekend of the groundbreaking movie Black Panther during Black History Month.

Badge from 2017 [C. Blanton].

In the community celebrations that are so significant to Pagan conventions like PantheaCon, I have come to recognize the importance of speaking power to truth concerning the significant role that my ancestors hold in my connection to spiritual practice and community. It is also important to note the current momentum of activism that has contributed to a strong and relevant shift in culture and the ways that black and brown circles are embracing generational power.

For those of us standing in both spaces of community, the relevance has a huge impact.

While black history is so often trivialized in greater society, the significance of honoring the ancestors that lived and died for freedom is so empowering and necessary. There is a lot to be said for why the contributions of black people throughout history is often separated from “American” history and how that contributes to the disconnect in our ability to see black ancestors as part of our mighty dead in current Pagan overculture.

However, there isn’t enough time in one article to truly give justice to that entangled web of cultural threads. Yet it is important to make space for the sheer significance of black history month within the interconnected communities of Paganism and how that very important concept can be pivotal in how we see people of color’s importance in our current community construct.

In previous Wild Hunt articles we have highlighted some of the magnificent voices of black people talking about the significance of Black History month in their personal practices and in their lives.  In 2015, we looked at the significance of Black History Month from a Pagan perspective.  In 2016, we “amplified voices” on the subject.

Part of the incredible story of the ancestors of African decent is the triumph of circumstances that inherently hold a spiritual message of survival, hope, heroism, strength, wisdom, vision, and ego strength. So many of these qualities are ones that we look for to gain or expand in our own walk toward personal sovereignty and self-actualization.

These many threads that come from the power of the African and black diaspora are ones that gives us many opportunities to grow, learn, and survive in today’s times.

The damage of historical oppression in black culture means that concepts of ancestral reverence are vastly different than other cultures due to the disruptions of family, traditions, cultures, and connections to native lands that held many of the stories of our people. American chattel slavery was one of the vehicles utilized to disrupt and destroy generations of black people from being able to access lineage, language, and cultures of familial ties.

Despite the ongoing challenges that black people experience in trying to identify and connect to ancestral knowledge from a land that we have been disconnected from, our ancestors reached far beyond the stories of Africa and onto the shores of America drenched in blood. The complications of celebrating black history and ancestral reverence becomes an important piece to seeing how black people conceptualize ideals of family, pride, community, and spirituality.

In reflection of these very complexities, I took the time to think through some of the black figures of history and those of my own personal lineage to honor the month of black history beyond the commercials and yearly television specials. I decided to hold space for four black women this year, all of whom hold some of the many pieces of power that makes our history a part of our spiritual lessons.

[Wikimedia Commons.]

Recy Taylor

From my family’s home town of Abbeville, Alabama, Recy Taylor was 24 years old when she was abducted and raped by six white men on her way home from church. Despite admission of guilt by at least one of the six men involved, the NAACP had to put pressure on local officials to seek criminal charges against the men.

They sent a young Rosa Parks into the community on behalf of the NAACP; this is often referred to as one of the defining moments that sparked the civil rights movement. The men who victimized Taylor were never successfully tried for the crimes they committed. Taylor finally got some recognition for the pain experienced in 2011 when she was given apologies from the mayor, county, and state government officials.

Taylor, who passed away in December 2017, exemplified the sheer concept of survival and perseverance through the worst of circumstances, isolation, and ignorance. She showed her community the power of strength and recovery despite the external forces of racism and harm.

Marsha P. Johnson

Marsha P. Johnson [Wikimedia Commons].

Johnson was an African American trans woman that fiercely advocated for the rights of trans women of color. She was  steadfast in her actions, working on behalf of LGTBQ rights. Johnson was one of the main activists that helped to ignite the movement that became Stonewall in 1969.

She went on to do amazing things within the community, including being a co-founder of the Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries (STAR) where she worked to support a wide variety of needs among the LGTBQ community. In July 1992, Johnson was tragically killed. However, through her fight for life, she exemplified the necessity of speaking truth to power despite the continuously silencing pressures of society.

Often ignored in historical accounts of the times, Johnson’s story continues to demonstrate that, when you work for the good of other marginalized people, one’s contributions cannot be whitewashed in society despite the best efforts. Her fierce and unrelenting black womanhood will stand the test of times as one of the pioneers of civil rights and an extension of love in action.

Fannie Lou Hamer

Civil rights organizer, voting rights activist, and community organizer are just a few of the titles that Fannie Lou Hamer held in her 59 years of life. As one of the organizers of Freedom Summer, co-founder and vice-chair of the Freedom Democratic Party, and co-founder of the National Women’s Political Caucus, she was one of the movers and shakers of the liberation movement during the civil rights movement.

Fannie Lou Famer [Wikimedia Commons].

Hamer was most known for her speech at the 1964 Democratic National Convention. It was in her testimony that she talked about being arrested and beaten severely after attending a voting workshop. The incident left her with kidney damage, a limp, and damage eye.

“All of this is on account of we want to register, to become first-class citizens,” she said, “and if the Freedom Democratic Party is not seated now, I question America. Is this America, the land of the free and the home of the brave, where we have to sleep with our telephones off the hooks because our lives be threatened daily, because we want to live as decent human beings, in America?”

Fannie Lou Hamer died in 1977 from cancer at the age of 59. She electrified her audience with the sheer weight of her experience, passion, and dedication to the human rights of black people.

Billie Holiday [Wikimedia]

Billy Holiday

Iconic, majestic, beautiful and talented Billy Holiday is one of the most brilliant black entertainers in history. Through a traumatic childhood and an adulthood filled with turmoil and sadness, Billy Holiday was still able to create some of the most memorable songs in music. Her career spanned 30 years, starting as a teenager in local clubs. After falling victim to abusive relationships, drugs, and alcohol, Holiday’s career and voice began to fizzle. She died in July 1959 from cirrhosis of the liver.

In 1972, Lady Sings the Blues, a movie about her life, was released and has since become a classic. A year later, in 1973, she was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame.

Despite the ongoing tragedies and experiences of her life, Holiday was able to gain even more recognition for her work after death and exemplifies the power of redemption. She continues to show us that, regardless of talent and beauty, our powers are limited when we do not care for ourselves as needed.

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The lessons we learn from our connection to ancestors are vast and ever changing. There is so much to explore and so much that we will never be able to conceptualize within the limitations of our own humanity, but seeking ongoing connections to the lessons of our people are always necessary.

The significance of celebrations like black history month will always have a different importance to different people inside and outside of the black community. Opening a dialogue about how the Pagan community can make space for the ancestors of black people can add to the ever-growing understanding of the mighty dead in general.

I was recently able to offer devotional that honors the ancestors of black history month for Solar Cross Temple’s newsletter. I share this devotional here for those who are looking for ways to honor, hold space, acknowledge, and celebrate the contributions of Black people during February, this month of power.

In Remembrance during Black History Month
by Crystal Blanton

Standing in the present, on the ground of history, I hold the significance of this time in my heart and my mind.
To be a part of the change and our future, I acknowledge the size of the step before me, and shine a light to see the path forward.
As my past is as important as my future, the ancestors are as relevant to my story as my children will be.

I light this candle in remembrance of the souls that died in physical, spiritual, social and mental pain.
I light this candle in remembrance of the children who watched the horror of slavery become their future.
I light this candle for the black women who were taken again and again.
I light this candle for the black men that were broken time after time.
I light this candle for the generations of black people that have carried this pain in their psyche, a part of their unconscious schema.

I light the candle for those who fought and died before tasting freedom.
I light this candle for those who still fight.
I light this candle for all that experience the horror of history manifest throughout time, and through generations.
I light this candle for the awakening of all people who are fighting today for our collective liberation.
I light this candle for the black who are fighting through a whitewashed world to find the root of their souls.
I light this candle to honor the beauty, sacrifice, contributions, culture, love and joy of the black people throughout time and space.

I light this candle for justice.
I light this candle for truth.
I like this candle for liberation.
I light this candle for the revolutionary then and now.
I light this candle for them.
I light this candle for you.
I light this candle for our children.
I light this candle for me.
I light this candle for healing.

And so it is, and it shall be.
All power to the people
So mote it be

* * *

May we all continue to expand our ability to honor the people in history who have contributed to the liberation of power, equality, and love throughout time and space. Through these connections may we experience a change to heal ourselves, our futures and our pasts individually, as a community, and as a society.

As we honor the ancestors of our fellow and past communities within every convention and space, we should truly consider the impact of the celebration of those ancestors of the African diaspora and their contribution to the liberation of all people.

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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.