Sunday, September 4, 2011

Souls have Skin?

I was pondering my life in the bath, as I am wont to do, and I recalled some weird episodes in my life, where my spirituality was questioned not because it wasn't christian, but because of the color of my skin. As bizarre as this sounds, it does happen, and I got this from mostly pagan people.

I will admit, there was a time in my life, as a fairly new practicing pagan, that I thought I should follow the ancient ways that my "blood kin" followed. This meant Welsh and Irish pagan beliefs. I did try. The art is gorgeous, yes - the stories interesting, the history just spotty enough to let a curious researcher really dig in and stay interested. But, for whatever reason, it didn't spark my soul. I just wasn't moved.

So I moved on. I wandered around many pagan paths, even kept a little bit of the Celtic stuff around for the sake of my ancestors. What ended up moving me and really reaching my core was radically different, and turned out to be taboo.

I even remember the moment. I was in a religious studies class on sacrifice at college, and we were watching Maya Deren's film, The Divine Horsemen: The Living Gods of Haiti. It's a black and white film, it's a documentary, so no putting on the soft lights to attract people - but all the same, I knew that was what I was looking for. Vodou, of all things! I found Deren's book by the same title, and any other book I could find on Vodou or any other Afro-Diasporic religion. I had found my home. At the same time, I was also interested in Kemetic Orthodoxy, another African religion, but that took a while longer.

But, as it turned out, not everyone thought what I had found was the best thing for me. Oh, I expected evangelical christians to hate my religion, I had been used to that for a while, starting with Stregheria. I didn't expect other pagans to object. It was by no means a consensus, but there were a few pagans who thought it was wrong of me to practice a "black religion" as a "white person." The strongest response along these lines did come from a christian, who said something to the effect of "why are you practicing that n***** religion? It's not enough that you're not christian, you have to go do THAT??" Very sad, indeed.

I don't buy this idea in some recon pagan circles that one is obligated to follow the gods of "their blood." If a pagan is happy honoring the gods of their ancient ancestors, and feels best identifying with their own ethnic spirituality, that's great. I don't object to anyone doing what their spirit honestly calls them to do. I just don't accept or like the idea that this is the way it must be. I even heard a person visiting New Orleans say they wouldn't go see Mambo Sallie Glassman, because she couldn't be a "real" priestess, she was white. Never you mind that she has been to Haiti and was initiated there by a Haitian houngan, and has every right in the world to call herself Mambo Sallie. To this person, the color of her skin determined her spiritual pedigree. That is all kinds of wrong.

Spirit has no skin color. Race doesn't even really exist, even by scientific and anthropological standards. And if you go back in your genetic ancestry far enough, you'll end up in Africa anyway (not to say everyone should worship African deities, my faith isn't for everyone either). Christianity is semetic, when you get down to it, but people of all backgrounds are christian - same goes for Islam, and to a lesser extent, Judaism. And I've seen plenty of white Hare Krishnas. When I'm in a ceremony, or at my shrine, I don't think of my skin color - I am my soul, and my soul happens to love Africa.

Of course, practicing African religions, ancestor veneration is part of what I do - I don't eschew my heritage because I feel called to honor the loa and netjeru. I am here and who I am today because of my ancestors, and my heritage does get recognition. I just don't worship Lugh and Rhiannon because my last name is Welsh. Of course, for my immediate ancestors, being southern and poor, soul food is an offering I make, which happens to be influenced by African people.

I love that I, and my culture, is a huge mix. Makes things interesting. And if more people looked past skin color, and saw the rainbows of true culture and background, maybe these racist ideas of "proper religion" would vanish.

I know, I'm a dreamer.


  1. The most I've ever gotten is people asking if I'm Irish when I tell them about my Irish Celtic practices (which happens quite often, actually). I always found the question harmless, even if it is a bit annoying at times. I mean, it doesn't matter either way, does it?

    To me, it's absurd to think that the gods care what color anyone's skin is.

    "And if you go back in your genetic ancestry far enough, you'll end up in Africa anyway...." Very well put. :)

  2. I experienced the same thing. I found the same religion and practice it today. The thing I like about your discoveries is the integration with your ancestors and your other religions.

    I don't buy into the insistence that one must choose one thing. I am the product of all the thought, philosophies and practices that led me to where I am today.

    I find your post enlightening.

  3. And of course, there are black people who want to keep everyone else away from Kemeticism as well.

    Yet if you asked any of these people if they thought blacks have no business being Wiccan, Asatru, or whatever it would be a completely different story.

    My question is "If they are really gods, is it possible for a group of humans to "own" them?"

  4. Yes, I have gotten a bit of resistance from the black community over my Vodou and Kemetic practices - but I also remember a black girl in my college pagan group who asked if it was "ok" if she wanted to be Wiccan. I honestly laughed out loud, then assured her that skin color does not matter.
    Also, there are a tiny handful of Norse pagan groups who are basically neo-nazis, and would NEVER allow non-whites to worship with them.
    All of this makes me very sad.

  5. I really liked this post.

    A lot of people act like gods are the "cultural property" of their race, but gods are not property and can choose whom they damn well please.