The Misadventures of being the only Black Witch among White Witches
By Karin Adam
It was my first year of high school at the time I was a budding young feminist growing up in a strict Muslim household and going through puberty. The library was one of the few places my strict parents allowed me to go outside of the places I had to be. That suited me fine often enough as books were my escape, they informed my dreams and gave my imagination different realities and possibilities than what my life at the time presented.
It was somewhere between 13 and 14 that I picked up a book about this woman's journey into Dianic Wicca. The idea of worshipping a Goddess was something that deeply resonated with my teen feminist self. I read all the books on Wicca I could get my hands on. I did spells and rituals late in the wee hours of the night in my family living room in the dark, the panic and the anxiety of getting caught repeating within me while I whisper-chanted incantations and invocations.
It was in this clandestine and solitary fashion that I dedicated myself at 14. And even though I was now a witch officially, I still identified as a Muslim spiritually, culturally and of course, politically. I was a solitary witch for a long time before I went out into the world in search for communities and covens.
The first public ritual I went to was in a park. I walked through a forest, through a clearing, and down a hill. I saw a group of all White people in a circle all facing the same direction with one arm out-stretched at an angle, fingers together, hand open, palm down. To me, it looked like they were doing a heil Hitler salute and they were all in Merlin robes. They then turned from the right direction they were facing and all of a sudden, every single one of them, in their Merlin robes and nazi looking salute, faced me.
I swiftly turned around and walked quickly in the direction I came from breaking into a run after a few steps all the way back to the bus stop.
Shaken by my first encounter with public Wiccan rituals, it was many years later that I tried going to another public ritual.
The second public ritual that I went to was a disarray of a disorder. There were white people in Merlin robes again (what is it with White Wiccans and Merlin robes?). It was a strange and confusing ritual where there were people getting possessed, people filming on their phones and taking pictures and ominous looking White people in Merlin robes standing in corners on the periphery of the room. I quickly left that ritual as well.
After a few years had passed, I found another Wiccan community. I attended their Wiccan classes. I attended their public rituals and the women's’ group rituals. These were exciting developments for a solitary witch. However, I was the only Black person many of the times moving through these spaces. In the women's group not only was I the only Black person, I was also the only racialized person week after week at the women's group ritual.
The white supremacy in these spaces functioned in similar ways white supremacy functions in other spaces, with whiteness being the default of understanding of everything in the world. And of course, the casual racism, anti-Black and racist micro-aggressions being a regular occurrence. Those were things I made sure to check these White witches on whenever they occurred.
The whiteness and white supremacy of these Wiccan spaces was undeniably suffocating, violent and needless to say, exhausting. Across White Wiccan spaces, there is another type of appropriation that takes place in these spaces and that is spiritual appropriation. There are elements of cultural appropriation within this, however, it goes deeper than that.
There were different Native American chants included in rituals, West African Ifa and Haitian Vodou practices completely white washed and administered by White priests and priestess to mostly White followings. Often White people taking up our ancestral African and Afro-Diasporic spiritualities that their own ancestors outlawed and were used by our peoples to resist slavery, white supremacy and colonialism. White washed Gods and Goddesses who were from many places in the world where they were Black, Indigenous and POC.
If you thought running away from a public ritual was bad enough, imagine being in a locked dark room where you’re already in the circle and the ritual starts and turns out to be a racist, white savior ritual. The rules of spiritual protection in Wicca are simple once the circle is created, it cannot be broken until the end of the ritual. This means in those racist, white savior rituals, the most I could do was pull my energy inwards and zone out completely.
There was also a dangerously foolish naivete with a lot of White Wiccans I encountered. They had a dangerous curiosity of wanting to try their hands at demonology. The type of dangerous and irresponsible things my Muslim background and Blackness kept me away from.
15 months ago, there was a witch who was stealing and selling human bones from a local cemetery in New Orleans. Though this witch identified as a person of color (however was also white passing, this is worth noting), their actions were White witch adjacent in their entitlement to those human remains.
There is also the saviourship and the total disregard and respect for what was once a whole person. When it came to light that they were helping themselves to human bones and attempting to ship them across the States, they went on a long tirade of how they “saved” those bones. This incident is an extreme example; however, it is within the spectrum of normalized violence, anti-Blackness, racism, saviourship and entitlement of White and White adjacent Wiccans/Witches.
When this story broke, it was mostly outrage and some marginal amusement by ways of memes and reactions all over tumblr. Some even argued about the race of the graverobber themselves as being POC; however, the racial dynamics that were ignored entirely were that the cemetery this witch was stealing bones from was a mostly African-American cemetery in the South.
Dead Black people's body parts being on an altar of a white/white passing witch and being exploited, desecrated and labored long after these people have passed was a part of this story I did not miss or conveniently ignore. The graverobbers actions being the epitome of White Wicca and witchcraft and the extreme anti-Blackness where Black people are not just reduced to body parts when we are living, but those very body parts of ours also being something to be exploited, laboured, abused and desecrated long after we die.
The problem with Wicca perhaps being in its origins.
Wicca, modern European witchcraft, and paganism didn’t come in a vacuum.
The foundations were laid in Imperial Britain in the late 1800s, at the height of the Victorian era.
The predecessors to Wicca come from England, specifically Aleister Crowley and the Golden Dawn in the late 1800s. The foundations to Wicca-- rituals of circles drawn, ceremonial magic, modern reconstruction and remixing of Ancient Egyptian, Greek and Roman from a limited modern understanding with new additions-- all come from the height of British Imperialism and Victorian fascination with the occult, specifically Hellenistic and Ancient Egyptian speculations of ritual and magic. Where and what time Wicca came from and how it operates today are a direct result of one another. They cannot be separated.
When Wicca and paganism start to emerge as themselves in the 1930s with no official name, they were still in England with several groups across the country on the heels of the popularized witch-cult hypothesis by Mauray. The early nameless Wiccans bring us the hodgepodge that is Wicca (ceremonial magic, golden dawn, folk magic, European recreationists, freemasonry, Greek and Roman mythology and lots of spiritual appropriation from African and Asian religions and spiritualities).
By the time modern European witchcraft became Wicca, it was between the 1940s and the 1960s. Between Gerald Gardner in the 1940s and Alex Sanders in the 1960s. It was in the 60s that Wicca reached North America more largely and entered into small subgroups and subcultures of White folks. These rises cannot be separated from the time contexts in which they emerge and increase, and more importantly, they cannot be separated from where they emerge each time.
Today Wiccan/Pagan spaces are overwhelmingly White and White supremacist, which is no surprise considering the origins and the places it spread to and where it came from more pointedly. There are Black and POC Wiccans/Pagans, however, in the majority of Wiccan/Pagan spaces, our numbers are small to nonexistent. The African American Wiccan Society, solitary Black witches and pagans, as well as a sizable enough Black witches community on various social medias and other online spaces are not only a beacon of radiant Blackness amidst a sea of White witches and white supremacy, but a community many of us weren’t able to make with other Black witches in our cities or the Wiccan communities we passed through as we were often the only ones.
The numbers of Black people are most often higher in African and African Diasporic spiritualities such as Ifa, Vodou/Vodoun, Hoodoo, Candomble, Lacumi, and Obeah, however finding a physical community in a lot of North American cities is challenging if you don’t know where to begin to look. And something else to consider is that you often have to watch out for all White communities and leaders that practice African and African diasporic spiritualities. Because it’s one thing to be the only Black witch amongst White Wiccans, however, being the only Black person amongst a group of non-Black people (often mostly White), practicing an African and Afro-diasporic spirituality is a bigger shock and spiritual appropriation.
This also gets back into White supremacy with how they can easily access the very spiritualities their ancestors denied ours, while simultaneously a lot of us new and not so new Black witches still can’t even access our own ancestral spiritualities. This is also a wonderful example of anti-Blackness, that everything Black people the world over create for ourselves are for any and all non-Black people.
That every part of us is consumable our bodies (living or dead), cultures, our spiritualities and faiths, everything.
We shouldn't have to endure these acts of violence from White Wiccans and non-Black POC witches when we are just looking for a community of Black practitioners of African and Afro-Diasporic spiritualities.
Karin Adam is a Black Muslim femme witch and a scorpio who eats too much junk food and
spends too much time on the internet looking at memes and pictures and videos of cats.