Being Black And Pagan
Last night, my partner and I were watching one of my favorite shows on Hulu, the instant classic Black-ish. It’s a show that stars Tracee Ellis Ross and Anthony Anderson as a mother and father of four children living in an affluent, predominately white neighborhood. While the show is filled with hilarious jokes and ridiculous situations, it also provides valuable teaching moments in every episode.
At one point, they present an episode in which one of the main characters reveals that they don’t believe in the Christian concept of God. Unsurprisingly, this causes a huge upset with the lead character, Andre—which he laments at length to his free-spirited wife, Rainbow. As he states it, black people are supposed to be Christian. Why does he make this claim? According to him, it’s “what we do.”
Being that this is a family sitcom, the situation is resolved in a very sweet, believable way. The purpose of that episode, I believe, was to show why American black people have relied on their Christian faith for so many generations, as well as to show how important it is that our community become a little more open-minded and accepting of other walks of faith.
Unfortunately, for some of us, it isn’t always easy in the real world to admit that you aren’t Christian. It’s especially difficult to come out as Pagan or Wiccan. Of course, I acknowledge that, depending on where you live, coming out of the broom closet can be tough for anyone. However, the idea that Christianity is “what we do” is disturbingly and consistently present among black Americans.
It’s this pervasive idea that makes every interaction I have with an elder a little more charged; so much so that, as much as I love talking about my path, I tend to avoid the subject of religion entirely when I’m in their presence. I won’t deny my beliefs if asked, but it’s impossible not to cringe when, after explaining I’m not Christian, the questions are followed by a lecture on why I should be—or remarks that make it clear exactly what they think of me and my blasphemous ways.
These may be entirely unique experiences, but considering that Black-ish is but one of many sources in media that restate that stereotype of black people only being Christian, it’s easier to believe that this is a common occurrence for many of us in the Pagan community.
In addition to the pressure we get from media and black Christians who believe such things, it seems that the overall Pagan community is suffering from an imbalance when it comes to visibility and representation of people of color. I’m fortunate enough to live in one of the most diverse cities in the country, and I think that’s accurately demonstrated during large Pagan gatherings (like New York’s Annual Witchsfest).
The same can’t necessarily be said for the smaller groups I attend, in which I am often the only person of color. I’m not saying this to be disparaging towards those groups—they’re wonderful and I genuinely appreciate everyone I’ve met and the beautiful ceremonies they provide. Still, I get a bit like a kid seeing a unicorn whenever I see another black person at ritual.
While there may be fewer black Pagans in America, which I’m not so sure is still true, I think the cause of this imbalance goes a bit deeper. In fact, the topic of race relations throughout the Wiccan and Pagan community is wrought with tension and disagreements. Saying that racism is still a huge problem in the community tends to push against some people’s core beliefs. They often believe that, because Wicca is such an encompassing religion, that Wiccan groups are inherently free of hatred.
This is a clear disconnect from the reality that all Wiccans/Pagans/and literally everyone else is a human with their own personalities and beliefs. When you factor in that racist terrorist groups are still allowed to operate and that there is a volatile political atmosphere currently at play, you have to acknowledge that the likelihood of every single Pagan group being intersectional and welcoming of the perceived other is extremely low.
The fact is, I would be naive to assume that just because a group is Pagan or Wiccan, they’re going to welcome me with open arms. Before I attend a group, I have to do my research. I have to ask how they’ve treated people who don’t fit into the mainstream standard Wiccan box in past. This includes how they treat black people, but I also have to know how comfortable of an environment they provide for people in the LGBTQ community, how women are treated within their internal structure, and how they treat people who don’t necessarily agree with everything they have to say.
I never recommend anyone join a group without first understanding that group’s core beliefs. That said, I want to encourage other Pagans of color to reach out more. I do think part of the reason we’re so nearly invisible in the community is because we’re still entrenched in this old idea that if we aren’t Christian, we’re doing something wrong, so we hesitate reach out.
I’ve been Wiccan for a decade and a half but, even now, I sometimes think, “What if?” What if—despite all my studies and experiences—there is a Hell and I’m going there for my beliefs? I feel deep in my heart that this isn’t true. But because of the pressure I grew up under to be Christian, and because of the scare tactics that were used in the churches my family attended, I believe these thoughts are echoes of my childhood fear. I also believe I’m not alone in having them.
The seeds of fear that my religious environment planted in my childhood are like deadly weeds in my spiritual garden. When those thoughts crop up, I’m usually in a place of depression. Sometimes depression just happens and, when it does, it somehow manages to make me believe that all the good in my life is a lie. Luckily, my faith is strong enough to stamp down those dangerous, fear-based thoughts.
It’s that faith that inspired me to look for and connect with other Pagans, even in a place as religiously strict as the town in which I grew up. By that point, I was already an outcast for a whole list of other reasons, so I didn’t have much to lose by stepping out into the light.
I realize this isn’t the case for everyone. Many black Pagans have a lot more to lose than I did. The fear of being ostracized, disowned, and becoming the subject of the family rumor mill is powerful. That said, I want to urge my fellow black Pagans to act against these fears and make a real effort to not only become part of the current community, but to come together and create groups in our own communities, which typically don’t get much Pagan exposure.
It’s not solely up to the majority to create space for people of color, it’s our duty to create our own facilities. I could be biased because I’ve always been the kind of person who, if I see something I want but don’t have a route to it, I tend to try to forge my own way. This means I have to be flexible with my goals and the way I achieve them, while still maintaining a clear objective.
Some day, I’d like to see Pagan schools that are just as common as Catholic schools. I don’t know the exact steps I’ll take to get there, but I do know that my goal influences how I choose to run my business and my life. I want this because I want to send my future little witchlings to such a place. However, dreams like that can’t be achieved by just one person. My goals ultimately affect the Wiccan community, and therefore it’s essential that I try to be an active and helpful member.
Whatever your goals are, you’re going to need a support system. No one exists in a vacuum. If your Wiccan or otherwise Pagan faith is important to who you are, then be willing to step forward so that you can find and create your tribe. We’re doing no favors by remaining in the shadows. Too many little black kids are raised with no choice in what they believe, no other visible options, and the lesson that our religion is evil. I think it’s time for that to change.
I’m Pagan. I’m black. I’m proud.
What are your experiences concerning diversity and representation in the Pagan community? If you’re a person of color, what is your experience being Pagan in your community?
Thank you and with love from the moon and back,
Lady Morgana Brighid HP MCCA
I’m not a very political person, but I do think this is an issue that should be discussed. If you’re interested in my less witchy, more creative work, go ahead and sign up for my author newsletter here!