Coverage of Black Witches Convention Causes Controversy

Sean McShee —  November 21, 2018 — Leave a comment

USA. On Nov. 5, 2018, Author and journalist Sigal Samuel wrote in The Atlantic, where she serves as the Religion Editor, an article on the Third Annual Black Witches Convention. The 2018 Convention took place in Baltimore from Oct. 19 to Oct. 20, 2018. The article had the title, “The Witches of Baltimore: Young Black women are leaving Christianity and embracing African Witchcraft in digital covens.“ The title emphasizes three themes. First, it identifies the population of interest as young Black women. Second, it sets up a binary opposition between Christianity and African Witchcraft. Third, it exposes the online practice of these Black women.

On Nov. 8, 2018, Lilith Dorsey responded to the Atlantic article on the Patheos blog site. Titled, “Black Witches Talk Back: An Open Letter To Atlantic” explains her concerns about Samuel’s article. The Wild Hunt spoke with Dorsey about her criticisms of Samuel’s article. Samuel had not responded to The Wild Hunt’s requests for an interview by press time. The Wild Hunt also spoke with Iyawo Orisa Omitola of the Dawtas of the Moon who organized the Third Annual Black Witches Convention.

 

Lilith Dorsey photo by Frances F Denny [Courtesy]

The Iyawo Orisa (Omitola’s title) said that the Convention “is geared towards assisting Black women in creating sisterhood and becoming empowered.” According to the Iyawo Orisa, the Convention helps Black women find their spiritual practice. That practice could be within African Traditional Religion or not. The Iyawo Orisa continued, “We are just there to embrace our sisters and to create a collective of empowered Black women.”

Dorsey felt that a Black Witch, or a Black Journalist, should have written that article. In photographs of Samuel, she appears to be white. Dorsey added, “If they couldn’t find one, they should question both their authenticity and their inclusivity.” She felt Samuel should have interviewed staff, organizers, and participants. Only these multiple perspectives could show the complexity of the Black experience. These interviews could have brought out the hopes, fears, desires and concerns of the women at the convention. Dorsey described it as not “just about being Black, it’s about good journalism.”

Misconceptions about Black Witches

Many individuals outside the Pagan community have misconceptions about Witches in general. Given US history,  even more will likely have misconceptions about Black Witches. “For example, the related terms “white magic” and “black magic” have white supremacist values embedded within.  That is, that the adjective white and black have historically be used to imply value, familiarity or even goodness upon the noun they describe.   

According to Dorsey, some people mistakenly think that Black Witches do not differ from other Witches. This blindness to the unique situation of Black Witches constitutes a major misconception. Dorsey continued, “There are so many other complex issues that come into play when discussing Black Witchcraft.”

In her Patheos article, Dorsey quoted Christina Springer, artist and activist, “’Witch’ is a largely European construct. I’m good with Witches of any color. I’m good with people discovering spiritual practices that enrich and enliven their lives. But, get the facts straight. Celebrate our differences. Cherish our unique histories. Honor the fact that our ancestors took great personal risk to save our traditions. African Traditional Religions are not a melting pot or a buffet.”

Dorsey wrote, “While many Black Witches, myself included, practice African Traditional Religions (such as Voodoo and La Regla Lucumi) this is not the same as Witchcraft.” African Traditional Religions are living traditions that, at a minimum, have existed for centuries, if not for millennia. In contrast, many Pagans and Witches are trying to re-connect with their ancestral religious and spiritual traditions that were broken apart millennia ago. Other Pagans and Witches go for a more “Do-It-Yourself” spirituality. While that may be the most obvious difference, more subtle differences exist as well.

In her Patheos article, Dorsey wrote, “Just as some practitioners embrace both Witchcraft and African Traditional Religions, some also practice Christianity.”

The Iyawo Orisa challenged the claim in Samuel’s article “that we all practice an African Traditional Religion.” The Iyawo Orisa said that the Dawtas of the Moon welcomes all Black women. It does not matter whether Black Women practice an African Traditional Religion or not. The Iyawo Orisa continued, “We use the word ‘Witch’ because that’s the most commonly understood word.” The Dawtas want to reach as many Black women as possible. The Dawtas want them to know that “Hey, you have sisters here who are practicing forms of magic. Some of us are [practicing] African Traditional Religion. Others are not, but this is a safe haven for you to come and be with your sisters.”

African Traditional Religions can link some Black Witches with their ancestors. Dorsey said “Unfortunately many American Blacks are only now discovering their ancestral roots that were stolen from them through slavery and oppression.” Dorsey linked this discovery to advances in DNA testing. These DNA tests have contributed to an interest in African Traditional Religion. According to Dorsey, if Samuel had paid attention to these newly discovered ancestral linkages, it would have improved the article.

Dorsey felt that people could and should learn about Black Witchcraft. She hopes they will strive to learn more about those issues that interest them. Dorsey stressed the importance of credible first person sources, preferably more than one. She said “Our voices have too often been stolen from us and/or whitewashed.” Dorsey wants people to take the time to seek out women of color writers and journalists. She continued, if you want to understand women of color, talk with them, hear their voices, and read their writings.

Lilith Dorsey is a Voodoo Priestess and a woman of many talents. Her full bio and work is available online

 

Sean McShee

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Highly alienated, over-educated, and under-employed, Sean McShee is a San Francisco ex-pat currently living in Fort Lauderdale. He writes on HIV issues and health issues for South Florida Gay News, and blogs movie reviews at http://dreamingnoir.blogspot.com/. He has worked with Reclaiming, the Feri Tradition, Radical Faeries, and now is studying with ADF.