Pagan Voices: Reflections on National Day for Racial Healing

Pagan Voices is a spotlight on recent quotations from figures within the Pagan community. These voices may appear in the burgeoning Pagan media or a mainstream outlet, but all showcase our wisdom, thought processes, and evolution in the public eye. Is there a Pagan voice or artist you’d like to see highlighted? Contact us with a link to the story, post, audio, or image.

Two years ago, W.K. Kellogg Foundation launched its Truth, Racial Healing & Transformation as a “comprehensive, national and community-based process to plan for and bring about transformational and sustainable change, and to address the historic and contemporary effects of racism.” As part of the initiative, the Kellogg Foundation conceived of the National Day for Racial Healing, a day to some forward and honor three objectives:

  1. Reinforce and honor our common humanity, while celebrating the distinct differences that make our communities vibrant.
  2. Acknowledge the deep racial divisions that exist in America and must be overcome and healed.
  3. Commit to engaging people from all racial and ethnic groups in genuine efforts to increase understanding, communication, caring and respect for one another.

Today marks the third year of the project and many organizations and institutions have committed to honoring NDRH.

[Kellogg Foundation: Facebook]

Because of the deep scarring racism has done to our society and the continuing institutionalization and reinforcement of systems that keep bigotry, not only alive but also impacting daily lives and bluntly even claiming them, The Wild Hunt reached out to individual leaders and organizations across the Pagan, polytheist, and Heathen community to ask how the intent behind the National Day of Racial Healing might be being addressed by them..

Our Wild Hunt colleague Clio Ajana, an Archieria for the House of Our Lady of Celestial Fire in the Hellenic Alexandrian Witchcraft & Spiritual Tradition, who also practices Romuva (Baltic Heathenry), offered these thoughts:

As a well-known Civil Rights Movement leader, The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. helped to bring into the national consciousness a history of racism and racist culture against black people and those who differed from the dominant culture. He was one of many who challenged the then-status quo of post-Reconstructionist Jim Crow laws. The 2018 film, Green Book details one aspect of such laws in the mid-20th century. For the third annual National Day for Racial Healing, Pagans, Polytheists, Heathens and followers of similar paths can understand and pursue racial healing by first recognizing how the history and the contemporary effects of racism and overall prejudice that filter throughout the country and in our communities. Second, pursue racial healing by understanding how privilege does exist and has played a role in Pagan, Polythesist, and Heathen communities. Third, the path to understanding and racial healing requires conversations around privilege and racism that are often hard and emotional. We can start by listening those members of color who follow our paths. We continue the understanding and healing by seeing the larger issue of how whiteness and the perception of culture as seen through the lens of whiteness has shaped societal views regarding who practices, and thus, who Pagans, Polytheists, and Heathens are. We pursue healing by showing up at events that promote understanding and removal of the walls of institutional racism that only crumble with continued vigilance and self-awareness.

Our colleague Rick de Yampert, a freelance writer and musician who has been on the Pagan path since the early 1990s, commented:

“My late wife Cheryl and I used to joke that we had a mixed marriage: I’m Pagan, and she was an undeclared Unitarian Universalist. Oh – and Cheryl was African American, and I’m a white guy, a son of the South who grew up gobsmacked and befuddled by the horrific fault lines along the black-white racial divide.

One of the many reasons I fell in love with Cheryl was her passion for her people. Long before the Black Lives Matter movement, Cheryl was fervently teaching her family, sisters, co-workers, friends, me and even strangers about the history of African-Americans. Yes, she taught us about the dark and tragic times, taking lessons from both the history books and her personal experiences growing up in St. Augustine, Florida, such as the time when she was a child and the Klan rode through her black neighborhood on horseback (and yes Cheryl knew and never forgot the bastards’ names).

But Cheryl also celebrated the triumphs and the accomplishments of her people, and the joyous sides of black culture and African-American creators both famous and obscure — from painter Jacob Lawrence to poet Paul Laurence Dunbar (her favorite) to poet Sonia Sanchez and so many others. I came to see that Cheryl embodied a mantra expressed by African-American writer James Baldwin: “While the tale of how we suffer, and how we are delighted, and how we may triumph is never new, it always must be heard. There isn’t any other to tell, it’s the only light we’ve got in all this darkness . . . .”

That is one of the many things Cheryl taught me about racial healing:

Tell your stories about what you have witnessed and learned while walking the racial divide. Those stories must always be heard. There aren’t any others to tell.”

Ethan Stark, Public Relations Office for Heathens Against Hate sent us this reflection from the organization:

The National Day of Racial Healing is a time where we reflect upon the past and the progress that has been made toward human equality; however it is also a time to recognize the strides we make today, and more importantly it is the recognition that much work is yet to come.

The work toward racial healing begins in very much the same way as other curative processes; by recognizing an existing problem. In Heathenry, as well as other reconstructionist religions, the troubling issue that we are fighting today exists in the form of racism, ethnocentrism, and white supremacy. Heathens Against Hate recognizes the long and troublesome history of racism that exists within the Heathen community of the United States; often in the form of Folkish Heathenry which prescribes the Heathen faith for white heterosexual people only.

So today we observe the ways in which we can begin to journey in a better and inclusive direction.

We begin the journey of the healing process by examining ourselves and by extension – our faith.

We should start by accepting the fact that human identity is extremely complex and made out of a myriad of parts that all coalesce into who we are as individuals.

We also understand that many have found Heathenry to be their faith through discovery of heritage and ancestry. There is beauty in discovering the gods through such means; however it is very crucial to understand that the elevation of genetic lineage over any other is what creates superiority, and ultimately division across cultural and racial lines.

In order to mend such a divide, Heathens Against Hate promotes inclusive Heathenry through education and reformation. As an autonomous branch of the Troth, Heathens Against Hate commits itself to engage the greater faith community by advocating for inclusive Heathenry through education and reformation via lecturing at regional and international events, and providing local communities with a platform to discuss and address the issues of racial divide and extremism; but most importantly provide resources, fora, and the sharing of ideas that can allow for racial healing to begin and continue.

We also acknowledge the hard truth about why racism appeals to some.

We understand that some strive to have a voice and power to express their uniqueness.

We understand that racist ideology and those who promote it oftentimes sell the idea that those who are powerless or without a voice can have it; provided that voice speaks their malicious words and divisive rhetoric.

As such, Heathens Against Hate serves to work with inclusive Heathens and former-extremists in reminding ourselves that one can have a voice and expression that serves to retain their uniqueness of character and sovereignty of thought without the need to exclude or deride others in order to achieve it. Where you are able to venerate the gods, the spirits, and the ancestors in inclusive worship that brings them due honor.

Through education, we begin to understand, and through understanding, we can begin to replace some of our fears, doubts, and misconceptions with knowledge, empathy, and compassion.
So as we sit with one another, we begin to learn, discuss, and hopefully create a world of understanding; if not open a new world entirely.

To quote a portion of our lecture at the Parliament of World’s Religion:

“We are a religion of community. Where we stand by our words and our deeds which are held to the standards of fate and universal law. With them we honor the gods and the ancestors both of our blood and beyond our blood, but more importantly, we honor each other by welcoming all who welcome all.”

The Mother Grove Goddess Temple, a 501(c)3 non-denominational church, offered their thoughts:

“The Mother Grove Goddess Temple embraces all in our community and believes working to heal the wounds of racism inflicted by our society, both historic and current, is a sacred endeavor. Our society must acknowledge the pain caused by the practice of slavery and segregation. We must strive to overcome that legacy and end the discrimination that continues today. With compassion, empathy and love we look towards creating a community that embraces all of us as family, equal in respect and equal in the eyes of us all.

Canu Nodiad, First Officer of Covenant of the Goddess, shared some personal thoughts about the weight of the day:

Many modern Pagan communities pride themselves on being inclusive, tolerant, and supportive of each other as we explore both ancient and modern avenues of spirituality. We revere what we discover about the depth of human experience and the beliefs and practices of humanity’s diverse cultures. While some of those are rooted in our own ancestry, the treasures of other culture’s beliefs and practices can inspire and inform us, as well. In the United States, we’re mainly a country of immigrants, whether displaced or forcibly removed from ancestral homelands or as a part of the mainly European colonialism. Our forward-looking society has left a legacy of disconnection and fragmentation that can unconsciously inform our assumptions and choices, though, leaving a hunger for ways to reconnect with the earth and the divine. In our desire to forge connections with the past and each other, in our efforts to create better selves and communities, we still need to take note of what the National Day of Racial Healing shows us about our own community. While our Pagan community has generally tried to expand what we can include and respect in one another as we’ve grown, it has also recently run hard up against concerns about cultural appropriation, discrimination, gender, and gender expression. All of these have been raised as being points of conflict and safety as we plan events and discuss what leadership and teaching can do to better address how our own beliefs and practices reflect privilege or outright bias. As a diverse community exploring what it means to be spiritual, we can’t ignore that racial, ethnic, cultural, and other identity groups own validity and integrity have not been as respected and supported in our how we discover, share, and find ways to lead. The validity and integrity of our own beliefs and practices show call us to take stock of how we can better respect the diversity of human culture, ethnicity, gender, identity and ancestry. Our community’s ability to celebrate and uphold each other is clearly at stake.

For myself, my ancestry is a clear beacon, although not yet a clear path of how to address these issues. I’ve got hundreds of years ancestors that lived in the Southeastern United States. My genetics are interpreted as mostly Western European, with a high concentration of Celtic and Scandanavian, as well as an indication of Central African. At least one of my ancestors built a significant federal road with his own slave labor. While my parents made many choices to reject discrimination and raise their children with that same sensibility, I carry what is not just the violence of colonial expansion, but also the personal violence of slavery in ways that aren’t theoretical or just as a participant in my quite white privilege. During my Pagan life, I’ve had the honor to be invited to participate in Apalachicola Creek seasonal celebrations, a Lukumi (Santeria/Ocha) house, and Lakota ceremonies by members of those communities. It’s been inspiring and valuable in my development as a Pagan, in addition to the Witchcraft, Wicca, and Faery Seership.

As I go forward, though, I have to check my own senses of wonder and opportunity to include the lessons of ancestral trauma and privilege. I’ll be spending a good bit of the National Day of Racial Healing trying to see how to invite and foster respect and healing and how to better hear the diverse voices of our community and my own ancestors as fully as I can. Our Pagan community is squarely faced with how well we can respond, how we can find ways to not hurt one another as we seek to challenge the hierarchies of humanity within and without of our community. I’ll try to honor the invitation of this day, both this Tuesday and for many days to come in how I practice Paganism and how I plan for my coven and community events. As one of my elders has said, “you can’t curse the roots and bless the fruits,” and blessing the roots needs this kind of awareness to stand a chance for healing in our community as we go forward.

Rev. Selena Fox of Circle Sanctuary shared:

Know that racial healing, racial equality, and racial harmony are possible. Envision this. Connect and collaborate with others to manifest this. Celebrate human racial diversity as part of the beauty of Nature.

Examine and evolve your own thinking, feelings, identity, and understandings about race. Engage in dialog, conversations, and learning experiences.

If you are part of a Pagan church, group, network, or other type of community, help facilitate it being welcoming and supportive of racial diversity such as by crafting and implementing this as a foundational principle. An example is the Circle Sanctuary Community’s Inclusiveness Policy..

Participate in local, regional, national, and/or global projects, conferences, and initiatives that bring together people of diverse racial, ethnic, and cultural backgrounds to work together for a better world. For me, this has included participation in a variety of multiracial interfaith endeavors over the years, beginning with support for the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom held in Washington, DC in 1963, and more recently, presenting at the 2018 Parliament of the World’s Religion in Toronto.

Be informed, stay informed, and take action. Get news and information from multiple reliable and accurate sources. In elections, research candidate backgrounds and voting records, and then support and vote for candidates dedicated to racial understanding, equal rights, and social justice. Facilitate conversations, organize events, and network for racial healing. Make magic for racial healing, equality, and harmony as part of personal and community meditations, rituals, and spiritual practice.

Irene McCalphin, a practicing Witch who writes the blog MammyisDead, shared a reflection that challenges the underpinnings of NDRH, and focuses on the painful complexity of such work:

“I read the 3 Points for Kellogg’s National Day of Healing over and over again. I applied it to the open wounds on my heart and spirit but found it wanton.

The sentiments expressed in these three points take the burden of racial divide and places it equally on the shoulders of the oppressors and the oppressed. This is not an environment in which healing can be attained.

Healing has never been a gentle thing.

Anyone who has broken a bone or endured a burn knows that healing is a violent and uncomfortable act. Those who benefit from the racial divide must engage in accountability as action. They must destroy their systems and themselves with it.

We who deal in magic, in reading the lines of the world are not immune to the everyday realities of white supremacy. Being a witch or a pagan does not make you enlightened or above reproach. We see examples of the communities issues constantly with appropriation, silencing, the destruction of safe spaces. At my very first pagan convention I was asked to look into the eyes of the person next to me with love. This white man was offended when I (a Black femme) said no. His shirt read “Slaves Got Shit Done”.

Your spirituality does not equal immunity.

It does however present you with a shining mirror to see the truth, the tools to grab the poison by the root and the strength rip it out.

One day is not nearly enough.”

We close with Sangoma Oludoye, a traditional Yoruba priestess, Afin chief and member of the Egbe Moremi, National African Women’s Society in the Kingdom of Oyotunji African Village, and founder of the Kindred of Sangoma:

“To move from pain to healing, we BEcome the Bridges over the oceans of racial divides… by embodying the Truths that set us Free, rather than continue our stagnation .

We are reminded that ‘Truth, no matter the consequences… is a Breathe of Fresh air’

Cohaerie Elder

… BE sure to breathe through the pain and tears…”