Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Race, Tribe, Family, Clan: the Difference between Skin and Blood

In a recent Wild Hunt, Jason Pitzl-Waters discussed white nationalism in the Heathen community.  This has long been a bugbear among American followers of the Nordic and Germanic gods.  Many of their faith's holy symbols were co-opted a few decades back by a certain Austrian failed artist, and have not yet lost that nasty tinge. (I am sure the Tibetans sympathize).  As is often the case on Wild Hunt, the comments proved illuminating, if only in illuminating the serious issues Americans have with the whole concept of race.

If it's any consolation, the Heathens aren't the only ones who suffer from this.  I have seen quite a few "Afrocentric" black Americans arrive on forums dedicated to Vodou, Lukumi and other African Diaspora/African Traditional religions and declare that no white person has a right to serve African spirits.   They are often non-plussed when their message of Black Solidarity gets a chilly reception from the Haitians and Cubans on the board.  This becomes especially galling to them when the house defends its white members despite their objections, or gives them a not so gentle tap with the Banhammer.  But I've also seen many white neophytes declare blithely that spirit has no color and that every spirit can be served by everyone: those who say otherwise are just being elitist, or maybe even "reverse racists."

The truth, as truth is wont to be, is a bit more complicated.  I can't speak to Heathen views on the subject (but I'm hoping that some of my more qualified friends will step up to the plate on that).  But I can talk about some of the ways in which this question plays out in Vodou.

Within the Vodou community, there are definitely houngans and mambos who will not initiate anyone who is not natif natal Haitian.  They feel that Vodou is a Haitian practice and should be reserved to those with verifiable Haitian ancestry.  But this has nothing to do with our modern conception of "race."  These houses are equal opportunity: they bar their doors against black and white non-Haitians alike.  (Keep in mind that in Kreyol Haitians are negs - black - while all non-Haitians, regardless of skin color or ethnic background, are blans, or white).

There are also spirits one has en sang, or "in the blood."  These are spirits served by your ancestors, passed down through familial lineage.  If you don't have these spirits in your blood, they are not interested in hearing from you.  At best they will ignore you:  at worst, they will see you as a tasty snack.  This isn't about race or even nationality: every servant of this spirit may be a black Haitian, but not every black person, or even every Haitian, can serve this spirit.

This is troubling to those who want to believe the spirit world is an egalitarian and democratic place.  Alas, it is neither.  The misté  (mysteries) work with whom they will and turn away from others.  Their decisions sometimes appear capricious, and are certainly not overly influenced by human concerns about moral or ethical behavior.   The lwa helped Papa Doc Duvalier maintain his hold on power for decades despite abundant human rights concerns: many of the country's most powerful houngans and mambos were also numbered among the most sadistic Tonton Macoutes.  We don't know how or why the spirits make their choices to accept or reject prospective servitors.   But we do know that they make those choices, and that sometimes they choose to say "no."


Mad Fishmonger said...


Mad Fishmonger said...

Didn't mean to piggyback... that article started as a comment here and just, well, sort of grew from there.

Anonymous said...

I was present for a discussion recently in which there was some spirited (as it were) debate about cross-cultural panthea, and "ownership" of various spirits/deities. Many modern Pagans (myself included) have a habit (trend?) of mixing-and-matching from various cultural groups' spirits, to honor them. It was suggested that certain cultures' spirits-- like the Lwa and the Orisha (though I've also heard it suggested by Asatruar of my acquaintance) should not be honored/worshipped/included by persons not "authorized" to do so-- whether by cultural 'ownership' or by specific training that can 'only' be offered by that specific tradition. I've heard both Diaspora adherents and Asatruar dismiss non-initiates/non-exclusive-adherents' practices as anything from "wrong" to "fake" to "dangerous."

I'd hope that any Pagan or Heathen would do an appropriate amount of research and knowledge-finding before making a particular commitment to a Spirit (of any pantheon), but we know this doesn't always happen. My observation has been that some Spirits have chosen some folks regardless of pantheon or culture, as you describe-- and that some Spirits simply ignore even the most ardent and enthusiastic folks-- for whatever reason.

Could you comment on your thoughts about cultural ownership, from the earthly side? I'm interested to learn more about your observations and experiences.

J'ai étudié le français à l'école pendant neuf ans, qui a été utile pour moi de communiquer avec les Lwa. Même si je ne parle pas le Kreyol, je semble être capable de me faire comprendre passablement bien en français, heureusement.

Mad Fishmonger said...

Well said, castalusoria!

Anonymous said...

Hi to all, this has been an ongoing conversation/debate within our pagan community for a very long time. The last conversation I had was with a Druid who maintained that we should not cross energies culturaly or otherwise. I am not a worshipper of any deity that I can put a name to. I care for and respect that energy can be manuipulated into many forms and how that is done across cultures has as much in common as it does differ. (my own humble opinion.)The energy that creates or destroys so far as I am concerned does not differetiate. Cultural traditions around the world where magic is concerned can be obstacle in the exploration of energy manipulation. Any person who dictates that because of a persons race/skin colour should or should not worship certain deities have that running through their psyche regardless of magic. Sadly like life in general there are strong hints of superiority that exists within earth and spirit based worship. Alas the issues, in my experience never lie with spirit or energy or magic it generally lies with people. Shaman, Druid, Wiccan, Hedge Rider, Heathen etc etc are human first and their social constructions leak through their attitudes towards others for better or worse.

Scylla said...

The first Spirits I ever spoke with were North African (Egyptian), shortly thereafter Papa Ghede showed up, said something obscene, and told me we were best buddies.

I also happen to be red haired, green-eyed, and pretty damned pale... in short "White". I myself remain mystified as to where that connection manifested.

I have been consistently told by white people that I am a racist (or reverse racist) and that it is totally inappropriate for me to have "kidnapped" the spirits away from the "Real Practitioners"

that ideology baffles me - I would think the Spirits get to say who is Theirs, if only in that one-on-one way...But I do, very strongly, understand that not every group would accept this "relationship" at face value. The Spirits do what they want, but to belong to a coven or house we have to fit the Family of that house, beyond just fitting right with the Spirits those houses and covens serve.

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