10 July 2020

Decolonizing Magick

On Sunday 7/5/2020 I presented an online workshop on decolonizing magick.  I've made my presentation notes available via download for attendees.  I also wanted to put them up here for anyone to reference. I hope these notes can help you spark discussion and action in your local community.

Decolonizing Magick
Sunday 7/5/2020 1-3pm
Presented by Emily Carlin

As the world around us turns its attention to anti-racism and decolonization, the magickal community must actively engage in this same work.  It is not enough to simply light a candle for black lives and declare ourselves allies.  We must look at the inherent racism that has been built into our own practices and beliefs and dismantle it.  In this workshop we will focus on exoticism, cultural appropriation, and the demonization of BIPOC practices common to mainstream magickal communities.  The goal is to engage in good faith discussion and begin the process of concrete change for the benefit of all. 

  • Land Acknowledgement
    • We acknowledge that we are on the traditional lands of the first peoples of the Puget Sound region, the Coast Salish people, the traditional home of all tribes and bands within the Duwamish, Suquamish, Tulalip and Muckleshoot nations.  We honor, with gratitude, the land itself and the traditional stewards of the land.
  • Rules of Conduct
    • Assumption of good faith - Don’t be a dick
    • No misery poker/oppression olympics.  We all have problems; we’ve all faced hardships.  Someone else’s pain does not invalidate yours, but today we’re not talking about you.
    • This is not comfortable territory, please be kind to yourself and others.
  • Scope - This is a big topic, today we’re just going to talk about systemic racism and its direct effect on our magickal practices - and what to do about it.
    • We’re not going to talk about community structures and power imbalance
    • We’re not going to talk about gender/sexuality/consent issues - this is a whole week’s worth of discussion at the very least
  • We’re all guilty of at least one of the things we’re going to talk about
    • Change is a process, not an event.  This is not about perfection, this is about doing better one step at a time.  This is about acknowledging our faults, committing to doing better, and then actually engaging in positive change.
    • You don’t get to decide if you’re being appropriative/fetishizing/demonizing (if you’ve misstepped), the culture you’ve inadvertently (I hope) offended does.  This is one area where your personal gnosis does not matter.  You don’t get to decide if you’ve hurt someone/a group - they do.
    • If they say you are: stop the appropriative practice, apologize, change/do better
  • Our history.
    • Every mainstream magickal tradition in the Western world was built by affluent white people, mostly men (early 20th century).  Even the women and queer folx were still white and mostly affluent or at least comfortable (mid-20th century). 
      • Yes, this is changing...a bit...in certain circles.  Not enough to invalidate this point.
    • No matter how good their intentions or levels of enlightenment, these people were all products of their time and environment - which was systemic white supremacy.  No “buts,” no exceptions. 
    • Our founders were problematic on a number of levels.  All of them.  That doesn’t mean we throw everything away and start from scratch - it means we need to take a critical view of our foundations and reassess what’s really important. 
    • We are not responsible for the systemic racism insidiously built into our spirituality, but we are accountable for what we do with it.  It is our duty as human beings to do better.
      • Don’t drown yourself in guilt, just shut up and do the work - then you can stop feeling bad.
  • Exoticism - “tendency to adopt what is exotic. exotic quality or character. anything exotic, as a foreign word or idiom.”
    • Just because something is new to you/from elsewhere/mysterious/hard to understand doesn’t mean it’s any better than something local and familiar.  [Quite the opposite really - why make your life difficult for no good reason?]
    • Fetishiziation - to have an excessive and irrational commitment to or obsession with (something).  To make things worse we tend to fetishize and demonize the same damned people (think Voudou or Romani).
      • “it’s Native American so it must be better than any other option” or
      • the magical negro [eg The Green Mile][this is tokenism at its finest and happens to pretty much any minority group] or
      • “why the hell does everything need a Hindu name?” - b/c Theosophists
    • Universalizing - eg “Native American” includes many incredibly diverse tribes, and includes Central and South Americans.  Dreamcatchers are Ojibwe alone.  “Smudging” is done by SW, Central, and Southern American tribes - but they all use their own special blend of plants to do so.
    • Stereotyping - e.g. African Americans can work in any tradition, not just African or diaspora ones, worship any deity.
  • Cultural appropriation - the unacknowledged or inappropriate adoption of the customs, practices, ideas, etc. of one people or society by members of another and typically more dominant people or society. (think Bindi or native headdresses at cochella - also the smudging and dreamcatchers mentioned above)
    • Who gets to say if you’ve been appropriative - members of the non-dominant culture do.
    • Appreciation (benefits all cultures) vs appropriation (disproportionately benefits only the dominant culture while giving little to nothing back and sometimes doing harm - Cinco de Mayo)
      • “The problem of cultural appropriation is not in the desire to participate in aspects of a different culture that you admire.  The problem of cultural appropriation is primarily linked to the power imbalance between the culture doing the appropriating and the culture being appropriated.  That power imbalance allows the culture being appropriated to be distorted and redefined by the dominant culture and siphons any material or financial benefit of that piece of culture away to the dominant culture, while marginalized cultures are still persecuted for living in that culture.” So you want to talk about race, Ijeoma Oluo p147.
      • Banana bread vs. Great Aunt Marge’s Banana Bread™ - or spiritual fumigation vs smudging.  You can't copyright a concept, but you can copyright a certain execution of a concept.  Anyone can smoulder herbs to impart their energy into a space, but don't call it smudging unless you're engaging in a particular Native American practice.
    • The personal gnosis problem
      • Unverified Personal Gnosis (UPG) - any spiritual beliefs, truths or revelations experienced or adhered to by an individual that is based on personal experience that differs from or does not exist in accepted lore.
      • No one can police another person’s UPG, but a member of a minority culture still gets to say it’s appropriative.  No one can regulate what you know in your heart, but they do have a say in your public behavior - particularly if it harms them.  (I don’t care if Coyote told you that you can wear feathers, maybe only do so in the privacy of your own private ritual rather than being appropriative in public - unless/until you earn that right from the local tribes you’ve offended - but dear gods don’t go barging in demanding they initiate you because your UPG said they should.)
    • Passive-aggressive overcorrection - If someone says you’re being appropriative don’t storm off in a huff whining about never being multicultural every again.
    • If you realize you’ve adopted an appropriative practice, take a look at non-appropriative practices that accomplish the same goal.  There’s always another way.
    • Closed traditions are allowed to be closed, you don’t have a right to them.
    • Conversely - don’t let this fear lead to lack of representation [overcorrection isn’t helpful either]. How are BIPOC supposed to feel comfortable in our communities if all the Gods are white.  [There is a happy middle, I swear.  It just takes mindful practice and community discussion.]
  • Demonization of indigenous or minority religions/practices - primarily motivated by fear, greed, and envy.
    • Huge media influence.  We did not come up in a vacuum.  We all watched horror movies with “evil” Romani or Bokors and no matter how “woke” we are, some of that will linger.
    • “Black” magick, “low” magick, looking down on impoverished traditions.  [If something is beneath you then you don’t have to be afraid of it.]
      • Combined with the exoticism/fetishization above we’ve got a real madonna-whore situation going on
    • Slave/indigenous/minority traditions were scary because they threatened the overlords’ power, not because they were “evil”
    • Sacrifice - animal or otherwise.  What it actually means to the community practicing it.  In context it isn’t barbaric.  You don’t get to look down your nose at poor people eating a goat after a ceremony.  It’s only barbaric when stupid edgelord practitioners do it for cruelty’s sake.
    • If you’re not comfortable with a practice don’t participate, but don’t go shouting that it’s evil.
      • Yes there’s a line to be drawn - consent, legality, minors, etc.  But make that decision very, very carefully. Don’t be the bitch that calls the cop on the black jogger for making them “uncomfortable.”  Think hard and critically about where your line is.
  • What to do moving forward
    • Do a self-assessment.  What of these things are you perpetuating?  Do you feel defensive about that, why?
      • Are you chasing authenticity and validation [imposter syndrome/feelings of inadequacy], looking to feel special, looking for power/money/influence?
    • Change your behavior.  There are always other ways of practice, so be creative.
      • Good intentions do not save harmful actions.  Change your behavior.
    • Mindfully check the behavior of groups/peers.  If someone/a group isn’t willing to discuss their behavior and change if necessary - do you really want to be a part of it?
    • Remember, this is not about you.  This is not about making yourself feel better.  This is about respecting all peoples and correcting the missteps of the past.  This is about stopping ongoing harm.  It is bigger than any one of us, but we all have our parts to play.

So You Want To Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo
How to be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi

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