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Author Topic: Paganism: It's Not Just for White People Anymore  (Read 2042 times)

Altair

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Paganism: It's Not Just for White People Anymore
« on: October 16, 2019, 10:19:04 pm »
A deliberately provocative title that glosses over a lot, so let me clarify:

Paganism, in its broadest definition, has been practiced for millennia by non-European peoples, and thrives among us to this day (for example, in the syncretic religions of the African diaspora in the Americas). But in the mainstream neopagan movement in the North of the world--North America, Europe--with its focus on Greco-Roman, Celtic, and Norse/Germanic pantheons,* I've never sensed a participation commensurate to our population among us folks of African descent born and raised in the North. Maybe I'm wrong about that, but that's my impression.

(*Kemeticism would be the fourth widespread pantheon, and that one, grounded in the continent of Africa--if not its sub-Saharan peoples--at least offered some connection to black folk, and seemed to be where the few of us tended to land. Asatru, on the other hand, with its folkish and outright white supermacist brands that have been discussed ad infinitum, can be especially unwelcoming.)

Lots of reasons for this, I think, among them the strength of the black Protestant church in the U.S.; rightly or wrongly (and there are big historical reasons for it), those churches have outsize influence on African American culture...which would make it harder, it would seem, for folks to explore something so exotic as neopaganism.

Yet at Pagan Pride here in NYC, for 2 years in a row now, I've been startled by how many black people participated. I'm probably overestimating, but it felt like our presence began to approach the 1 in 4 mark...which would match our proportion of the NYC population. (New York is about 25% black.)

When did this happen? What's going on? Or have I been wrong all along, and black people have always participated in pagan events at the same rate as everyone else? Since, aside from NYC Pagan Pride, I don't have much live interaction with other pagans--no circles, no covens, no retreats or gatherings in my life--I don't have much to go on.

So I'd like to hear from everyone who's willing to share their experiences--not just the other black folks here at The Cauldron (yes, we have a few...though I'm not sure how active they've been lately), but anybody--what your experiences are:

--In your pagan activities, do you encounter may pagans of African descent?
--When you have met us, what were the circumstances, and what pagan path did they adhere to?
--Have you noticed any trends over time in black participation in paganism?
The first song sets the wheel in motion / The second is a song of love / The third song tells of Her devotion / The fourth cries joy from the sky above
The fifth song binds our fate to silence / and bids us live each moment well / The sixth unleashes rage and violence / The seventh song has truth to tell
The last song echoes through the ages / to ask its question all night long / And close the circle on these pages / These, the metamythos songs

Castus

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Re: Paganism: It's Not Just for White People Anymore
« Reply #1 on: October 17, 2019, 12:36:53 am »
A deliberately provocative title that glosses over a lot, so let me clarify:

Paganism, in its broadest definition, has been practiced for millennia by non-European peoples, and thrives among us to this day (for example, in the syncretic religions of the African diaspora in the Americas). But in the mainstream neopagan movement in the North of the world--North America, Europe--with its focus on Greco-Roman, Celtic, and Norse/Germanic pantheons,* I've never sensed a participation commensurate to our population among us folks of African descent born and raised in the North. Maybe I'm wrong about that, but that's my impression.

(*Kemeticism would be the fourth widespread pantheon, and that one, grounded in the continent of Africa--if not its sub-Saharan peoples--at least offered some connection to black folk, and seemed to be where the few of us tended to land. Asatru, on the other hand, with its folkish and outright white supermacist brands that have been discussed ad infinitum, can be especially unwelcoming.)

Lots of reasons for this, I think, among them the strength of the black Protestant church in the U.S.; rightly or wrongly (and there are big historical reasons for it), those churches have outsize influence on African American culture...which would make it harder, it would seem, for folks to explore something so exotic as neopaganism.

Yet at Pagan Pride here in NYC, for 2 years in a row now, I've been startled by how many black people participated. I'm probably overestimating, but it felt like our presence began to approach the 1 in 4 mark...which would match our proportion of the NYC population. (New York is about 25% black.)

When did this happen? What's going on? Or have I been wrong all along, and black people have always participated in pagan events at the same rate as everyone else? Since, aside from NYC Pagan Pride, I don't have much live interaction with other pagans--no circles, no covens, no retreats or gatherings in my life--I don't have much to go on.

So I'd like to hear from everyone who's willing to share their experiences--not just the other black folks here at The Cauldron (yes, we have a few...though I'm not sure how active they've been lately), but anybody--what your experiences are:

--In your pagan activities, do you encounter may pagans of African descent?
--When you have met us, what were the circumstances, and what pagan path did they adhere to?
--Have you noticed any trends over time in black participation in paganism?

I have met and known exactly one black pagan, who used to go by ‘dionysiandame’ on this forum. She was great. We met online over WitchVox (L O L) and she was a Hellenic Pagan at the time; we also met in actual 3d space a few times — usually for her abortive MeetUp group designed for serious discussion and therefore inevitably plagued with crystal-slinging idiots.

Other than that, bupkes. I mayyyyybe see pagans in the flesh at PPD events but that’s once a year + possibly not reflective of the wider demographic landscape of contemporary paganism.

(also has anyone else ever noticed a disproportionate number of big-boned women in paganism? Like I know it’s OT but it can’t possibly be just me who has noticed this, if my local PPD is in any way representative of broader paganry)
“Castus, meanwhile, goes straight for the bad theology like one of those creepy fish that swims up streams of pee.” — Darkhawk

Altair

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Re: Paganism: It's Not Just for White People Anymore
« Reply #2 on: October 17, 2019, 05:38:23 am »
I have met and known exactly one black pagan, who used to go by ‘dionysiandame’ on this forum. She was great.

Yes, I remember dionysiandame; I hope she wanders back here someday.

So she was one out of how many pagans you've encountered? And how does that proportion compare to the percentage of black people in your area?
The first song sets the wheel in motion / The second is a song of love / The third song tells of Her devotion / The fourth cries joy from the sky above
The fifth song binds our fate to silence / and bids us live each moment well / The sixth unleashes rage and violence / The seventh song has truth to tell
The last song echoes through the ages / to ask its question all night long / And close the circle on these pages / These, the metamythos songs

Eklyps

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Re: Paganism: It's Not Just for White People Anymore
« Reply #3 on: October 17, 2019, 06:43:01 am »
what your experiences are:

--In your pagan activities, do you encounter may pagans of African descent?
--When you have met us, what were the circumstances, and what pagan path did they adhere to?
--Have you noticed any trends over time in black participation in paganism?

Hi Altair,

I've lived in two different western Europe countries (South and North-West of France + West, South East and East of Belgium). I attended several pagan/spiritual events in both countries since 2007 and I realized, while I was reading your original post, that I never met anyone of African descent at any of those events.

I don't really know why...  (or what does it mean/imply) ??? because, even if some of those events were "specific faith oriented" (ex: celticism or hellenism only), they were mostly eclectic pagan interfaith events.
English isn't my first language, so please excuse any mistakes.

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Re: Paganism: It's Not Just for White People Anymore
« Reply #4 on: October 17, 2019, 02:26:26 pm »
So I'd like to hear from everyone who's willing to share their experiences--not just the other black folks here at The Cauldron (yes, we have a few...though I'm not sure how active they've been lately), but anybody--what your experiences are:

--In your pagan activities, do you encounter may pagans of African descent?
--When you have met us, what were the circumstances, and what pagan path did they adhere to?
--Have you noticed any trends over time in black participation in paganism?

I have been a practicing Pagan for about 22 years now, and while I've known (in person) probably about 100 or so Pagans, I can think of only 2 who were of African descent.  Now, I should also say that out of that 22 years, I have spent all but like 3 of them in very white-dominated places.  I was in Hawaii for the first bit, where there were many non-white people, but not many African Americans (who weren't tourists...I didn't know any Pagan tourists lol).  Then I lived in Indianapolis, which was the most melting pot of the places we've lived.  Then we moved to rural Kentucky, and there aren't that many non-white people in the towns we have lived in.  In my online Pagan friends (that I have seen pictures of) I can add in a couple more, but the number is still really low for me.

For paths, I know one was a neo-Wiccan with a special interest in tarot/divination (of course this was in the 90's so almost everyone was neo-Wiccan).  Another is more crystal/lightworker.  Interestingly, all of the people I know who work with African deities are white.

I definitely think my experience is skewed by the populations I've lived in.  When I was in middle school (before I knew what Paganism was) I lived near D.C., and I think if I'd have stayed in that area I might have a different perspective (or I might have noticed the differences earlier).

It's a really interesting question though!  And I wonder if maybe some people of African decent don't consider themselves Pagan, but consider their faith to be that of their Ancestors (the same way, for example, people who are Chinese and work with Chinese deities and faith might not call themselves Pagan).
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Dynes Hysbys

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Re: Paganism: It's Not Just for White People Anymore
« Reply #5 on: October 17, 2019, 02:30:57 pm »

--In your pagan activities, do you encounter may pagans of African descent?
--When you have met us, what were the circumstances, and what pagan path did they adhere to?
--Have you noticed any trends over time in black participation in paganism?

I know 2. One is a member of my own  tradition and I'm not sure about the other.  We . first  met at an open ritual and although our paths cross semi regularly we have always found other things to talk about!

My area is very multicultural and I could name a dozen or more different nationalities who are actively involved in paganism but I have to say the black community is very under represented in my local pagan community. 

My only faith based contact with the black community is with the occasionally interfaith work I do.

Altair

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Re: Paganism: It's Not Just for White People Anymore
« Reply #6 on: October 17, 2019, 10:56:55 pm »
the number is still really low for me.


Thanks, Kylara, and also Castus, Eklyps, & DH for the insights. This conforms with my impression, which is why I was so surprised to see so much representation at NYC Pagan Pride, not just one year, but 2 years running. It could be this black pagan surge, if it's real, is a local phenomenon.

I will say that personally, of the 3 pagans with whom I have regular in-the-flesh contact, 2 are black. Perhaps self-selecting? Though I don't generally make race-based decisions on my associations. More proof of a black pagan surge in NYC? Or fate? (They're both not only black, but like me partly of Caribbean ancestry...and queer to boot. Two lesbians, one very earth, the other very water, to my very air...we just need to find a black gay guy of part-Caribbean ancestry in NYC who's very fire, and we'll have a complete set!)
The first song sets the wheel in motion / The second is a song of love / The third song tells of Her devotion / The fourth cries joy from the sky above
The fifth song binds our fate to silence / and bids us live each moment well / The sixth unleashes rage and violence / The seventh song has truth to tell
The last song echoes through the ages / to ask its question all night long / And close the circle on these pages / These, the metamythos songs

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Re: Paganism: It's Not Just for White People Anymore
« Reply #7 on: October 22, 2019, 09:28:48 pm »
So I'd like to hear from everyone who's willing to share their experiences--not just the other black folks here at The Cauldron (yes, we have a few...though I'm not sure how active they've been lately), but anybody--what your experiences are:

--In your pagan activities, do you encounter may pagans of African descent?
--When you have met us, what were the circumstances, and what pagan path did they adhere to?
--Have you noticed any trends over time in black participation in paganism?

I will say that my experience is that more black people show up for large organized events - I've seen more at things like Paganicon than at things like local impromptu meetups and such. So I'm not surprised that a pride gathering might well have a higher density. I can't say that local pride has had a lot of diversity, but also local pride is obnoxiously inaccessible and who can be arsed to deal with it, ugh.
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TheGreenWizard

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Re: Paganism: It's Not Just for White People Anymore
« Reply #8 on: October 24, 2019, 05:55:32 am »
--In your pagan activities, do you encounter may pagans of African descent?
--When you have met us, what were the circumstances, and what pagan path did they adhere to?
--Have you noticed any trends over time in black participation in paganism?

Aside from being on the Cauldron, and meeting @Altair in real life, and going to NYPPP, I have not encountered many pagans of African descent - the main reason why for this is because of where I (who identifies as a gay, cis-gendered, white male) interact with others: Discord and mostly these forums. On these forums and Discords, I'm interacting with other Pagans across the globe, however, I do not know who is of African descent, because that doesn't come up in discussion - though, now I'm curious and will need to ask the server admins if they'd be willing to do a poll for diversity sake to get this data.

Which leads me to another point: the public events for Pagans are usually where you'll see those individuals who want to be seen or are comfortable with being seen in a pagan centric space. Thus, we're not able to see those individuals who are in the broom closet with their practice, or those who don't identify as pagan, but do have syncretic religious practices that would blend the boundary between Christianity and paganism (or whichever religion they may mostly practice, like Judaism, Islam, etc).

That said, to answer your question, @Altair, I have met practicioners of African descent, and the paths they stated they followed were varied. I've met you @Altair here, and then in real life, and we all know that you have your own practice that you built up. I have spoken with those individuals at the NY Pagan Pride Parade, and they usually fall into one of the following practices: Voodoo; Kemeticism; Wicca; Eclectic; African Diaspora Religion (I apologize, I cannot remember at this moment the name of the religion for the Orishas).

Given what I stated before - with the events, and what I've seen at these events - I'm seeing an increase in black participation (in my opinion) in paganism. But, to be fair, we're also seeing more participation over all (regardless of racial/ethnic identity) with witchcraft and paganism given our current White House.
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MadZealot

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Re: Paganism: It's Not Just for White People Anymore
« Reply #9 on: October 25, 2019, 02:35:12 am »

--In your pagan activities, do you encounter may pagans of African descent?
--When you have met us, what were the circumstances, and what pagan path did they adhere to?
--Have you noticed any trends over time in black participation in paganism?

I only recall encountering two pagans of African descent. The first, a woman, I met at a bookstore, and she was Hellenic Recon, if I recall. The second was a man I met in a Wiccan circle.

Granted, I've never travelled in really huge pagan circles, and I've only been to a couple of public events. That said, despite living in heavily diverse So Cal, most pagans I've bumped into are white.

Edit: Damn, I just remembered: one of my former coven mates was a half-Black woman. She had a Hispanic surname, and her complexion was almost as fair as mine. You wouldn't know her full heritage just by looking at her.
« Last Edit: October 25, 2019, 02:39:43 am by MadZealot »
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