This week I performed a trabajito in the form of sigil writing and spell casting to protect the protestors who, at the time of this writing, are dangling themselves across the St. John’s Bridge and floating in kayaks below it to stop the Shell icebreaker ship Fennica from leaving it’s port and heading to the Arctic to assist in drilling for oil.
Why did I do this? It’s because I feet obligated to be involved in the struggle to save our planet. Like I feel obligated as a person of color to march in Black Lives Matters protest. I use my education, my citizenship status, my economic privileges and my light-skin passing privileges to further various social justice causes. So why wouldn’t I use my craft?
Many people are abhorrent to getting involved in politics. This is true for pagan communities too. I don’t mean this as a call out but I know many pagans and witches who have remained silent on issues of white supremacy, racism and homophobia even when it comes from other pagan communities.
I am a witch, I am a person of color, and I am queer. I know what it feels like to be physically attacked, to be systemically oppressed, and to be silenced.
The adage rings true once again for me: the personal is political. I believe that not taking a stance actually sides with the oppressor, or the systems in place that oppress us. There is no neutral ground here. Desmond Tutu was right.
So for me, my witchcraft will be intersectional or it will be bullshit.
But what does that mean? What is intersectionality? It is a feminist sociological theory as defined first by American scholar Kimberlé Crenshaw. Intersectionality’s basic premise is that a person’s experience cannot be understood separately, each category and context must be examined together to see the interactions of different identities. Basically, intersectionality studies the intersections of forms or systems of oppression, domination and discrimination. It is a cornerstone of critical theories work.
So why is this important for pagans? Well, as a marginalized group of people we also exist along many other lines such as ability, national origin, class, sexual orientation, gender etc. Our experience as pagans intersects and is affected by our experience as other kinds of people as well. In some cases, we may reinforce dominant cultural norms within our own pagan circles.
What do we do with intersectional theory? How can we use it with our craft, within our communities? How can it help us? Well, here is how it can look. One of my first and foremost uses of intersectional theory is education. I think that through education we can create more just community. This includes not only educating others but educating ourselves too. Don’t know much about classism or ableism? Do some research. You may be surprised in the ways in which we can oppress others without this awareness! My favorite method of education is critical conversations, in which I engage my self and others in sometimes-uncomfortable dialogue about oppression, privilege and identity.
Direct action is also another way in which I use intersectionality in my life. I see my identities as an able-bodied witch as a boon to help further community justice. For me this has taken the shape of attending protests or marches and in my spiritual life through intentional ritual: I have utilized hexes to fight gentrification and created community circles to heal from the pain of systemic racism.
I think it’s important to acknowledge some of the current issues in pagan communities where intersectionality can help us.
One example is that of the Icelandic Ásatrú organization (Ásatrúarfélagið) being harassed via hate mail as well as their new temple being threatened with vandalism due to their support of LGBTQ people. This organization is acting from an intersectional center and should be lauded for their efforts.
Another current issue is the policing people of color in pagan sects like Heathenism and Wicca: many argue that these are European based religions as justification for being unwelcoming to people of color. I counter that argument because if White pagans can worship the Egyptian pantheon, become Voudoun oungans and mambos, or use Native American smudging practices, then why can’t pagans of color worship Freya or become a Wiccan high priestess?
This of course touches on the hotly debated subject of cultural appropriation in pagan communities. My take is, when in doubt (or if it definitively isn’t yours), don’t do it! For further reading I strongly suggest checking our Adrienne Keene’s blog Native Appropriations as well as the section on cultural appropriation in Bringing Race to the Table: Exploring Racism in the Pagan Community, edited by Crystal Blanton, Taylor Ellwood and Brandy Williams.
Two other pesky plagues in our communities are nationalism and gender essentialism. Nationalism is a newer phenomenon to be sure, but it is against the spirit of paganism and community. It also perpetuates things like imperialism, militarism and Islamophobia. If you use Facebook, check out Druids United Against Islamaphobia, they are doing cool work in this area.
Gender essentialism is the belief that the cisgender dichotomy (male and female) is innate and that there are intrinsic differences between the two genders. In some witchcraft schools of thought, there must be a man as priest and a woman as priestess to conduct ritual. This implies only men may invoke gods and only women may invoke goddesses. I find this limiting and I think it does not honor the diversity of gender expression. I believe gender essentialism is contrary to the spirit of paganism as well: many of our beloved gods and goddesses embody both male and female aspects, are something in between, or perhaps nothing of the sort! It is also vital to remember that throughout history transgender, third gender, gender nonconforming and queer people have been deeply involved in sacred rites.
Nationalism and gender essentialism, like racism, homophobia and other oppressive systems, are contrary to a just world. So it is very important to critically examine and dismantle our participation in systems of oppression like nationalism and gender.
If there is anything I wish for you to take from this essay, it is this: we can utilize intersectionality to create more justice within our communities. We can educate others, organize against oppression, and create new communities and ways of being. There is plenty of room at the table for all the diversity of people that exist in the world. Our communities are vast, growing and beautiful.
We should dedicate ourselves to the cause of creating this affirming and kind justice. We can start right here, in our own circles. This is why intersectionality is important to witchcraft. Many of us have rights and redes to do no harm, so I leave with the question: What about systemic harm? Let’s do something about that!