A Love Story At Three

What you say
Runs through my body for days
Which is why

May our mouths be curious to see you
Wrapping wet tongues around barbed wire
I guess I know how to proceed

Sometimes I’m angry
A-light but all right
Crying on the fire in my heart

I want to unpack the situation
Look the things like gifts in the mouth
I had a break

Lonely mountain forests
In deep snow, in your hand
My body

I’m nervous about grief
Why does my name sound unfamiliar to them?

I need to say that
Send that foulness back into rivers
Raging with our own
I could be a kind of me: so wash me clean

Tonight if you
Anyone else heard how you can inhabit other galaxies?

Like, I want to immigrate to that land of my body where I’m feeling love
The consequences will be in a while
Because it’s not to break my heart

Corazoncito…
Corona de rosas, cabeza rodeada
I wanted to burn something

Perhaps it was myself.

Fire is cleansing but I prefer water
In the word for a foreign river be your maps

(You know when you stay up real late worrying that you’re going to die before you can finish all the work you need to do?)

Ignore that stone in your heart
Take me in your mouth
Turn and turn again,

Be free.

spidersweb-unsplashcom

I See All The Things You Didn’t Say

Whether or not you know that words are things
I’ve got my crystal ball and a knife that sings

Haunting me well after midnight,
Seeking peace (or pieces) despite

These pains that ache me
So who does that make me?

I see all the things you didn’t say
Pieces of coriander, cascara and bay

Mashing up
Mashed-up heart

I wish you could see me in the dark
I see all the things you didn’t say

How I wish this weight would go away

Mortar and pestle,
Yearning, churning until

Success:
The mirror sways
Showing you some new ways

But today’s mantra:
Perhaps cliché,
I see all the things you didn’t say

Lovingly weaved spells to ensnare,
Perhaps the activist’s pain is more aware?

So I’ll wait…
Until I meet you there.


Simcha Bensefis

DSCN3620Simcha is a rad non-binary QPOC brujx, community activist & voodoo devotee living on occupied Kalapuya & Chinook territory. By day they work in community mental health & by night they can be found spinning in circles & dreaming of faraway desert lands.

We Need To Talk

Dearest pagan community, we need to have a conversation about cultural appropriation. I know; I can already imagine the sighs and the eye-rolls. “This again?” you may grumble. However in the interest of intersectional witchcraft, it’s a very damn important conversation, and one that I do not think is had enough in our circles.

Recently I got into an argument with a friend of mine in the community who posted a link to this Upworthy article about cultural appropriation on her Facebook feed and asked for our opinions about it. The summation of the article and video is that cultural appropriation is okay if your intention is good.

Um, what?

I screenshot the responses, but I’m not going to include them because they were terrible. Most of the respondents jumped on what I like to call the “anti-PC brigade” in which the excuse for whatever behavior someone is calling out is that people (specifically minorities) are being too sensitive about issues of oppression. I wish I had a dollar for every time I’ve heard that one! See the 7 Myths video (listed at the end of this piece).

Someone shared that they thought goth culture was being appropriated, something which while I can see how they would believe that, is not the same as ethnic or religious minorities having their sacred symbols stolen, commodified and de-contextualized.

Another person started talking about how the Irish were enslaved (another popular response) and I’m still not sure what that had to do with the conversation, other than an attempt at trying to say that Saint Patrick’s Day is an example of how cultures blend. It was a mess.

Anyway, attempted to call out my friend and was met with dismissal, tone-policing and personal attacks. I wish I could say that was new for me. I’m disappointed but not surprised.

Here’s the thing: cultural appropriation is wrong. I’ve heard every argument from “isn’t everything appropriated from something else” to “but I’m just appreciating the culture”. They’re all wrong.

I’m not going get into the details and nuances of why it is wrong; there are TONS of articles, videos and personal accounts as to why this is an oppressive behavior. It’s not up to minorities to educate you, please look them up yourself.
I will try to explain this once as simply as I can, because I want to go into what cultural appropriation means for our communities and why cultural appropriation is something radical pagans should stand against and call out.

What is it?

I like this definition best:

“Cultural appropriation is the process by which a member of a dominant culture takes or uses (appropriates) aspects of another culture (often a colonised culture) without that culture’s permission and/or without any understanding of the deeper cultural meanings behind the appropriated item.” (source)

Cultural appropriation is, at its core, about power. When one group has structural power over another and takes aspects, symbols or objects of a marginalized group without permission and erases the meaning behind them, something is lost or destroyed in the process. In a capitalist framework, the appropriated items may also be commodified as they are de-contextualized and sold for profit. It’s perverted, oppressive and wrong. Cecil Joy Willowe calls cultural appropriation:

“the power to steal, misrepresent, and/or corrupt cultural items from an oppressed cultural group.” (Bringing Race to the Table, pp. 68)

Some of the most popular examples of cultural appropriation include the bindi and the Native American (Plains) headdress or war bonnet. From my own culture I would also include the hamsa or Hand of Miriam/Fatima as a currently popular appropriated item.

Why is this important to discuss in Pagan communities?

In many ways, we are microcosms of the larger majority culture. For the purposes of this discussion I’m only going to talk about the context I know which is that of pagan communities in the United States, so when I refer to the majority culture I’m talking about the White Supremacist Capitalist Hetero-patriarchy in the United States. Due to a lack of racial and ethnic diversity in pagan communities, cultural appropriation is especially problematic.

It seems like everybody wants to be a shaman! Does anyone even know where the word comes from? Janet Callahan (Oglala Sioux) elaborates:

“The word shaman is particular to the Evenk and Buryat peoples of Siberia. Their practices are decidedly different than the practices of the tribes of North America. And yet, the same word was used by anthropologists to describe the spiritual leaders of Native Americans. This does a disservice to both the native Siberians and the Native Americans, all because English didn’t have good words to talk about this sort of thing. In either case, these spiritual folks were part of their community, and the community recognize them for their skills and gifts. Now there are Pagans using that word to describe their own practices with no links to any of the original cultures is involved.” (Bringing Race to the Table, pp. 44)

Anecdotally at a variety of pagan events I’ve seen White folks with dreadlocs, wearing bindis, mistakenly blending the imagery of Día de Muertos and Halloween, appropriating the word “g*psy”, and generally using sacred imagery from cultures that they do not understand. Another common practice I witness is White folks taking names that sound Native American or claiming Native ancestry to give them some sort of spiritual street cred. Not cool!

As a person of color I find this makes me uncomfortable and at times I find it highly egregious. When culture is appropriated, it is disfigured and stolen. In a way, the people who it comes from are erased. When cultural erasure happens, we lose something valuable. In the interest of intersectionality, I say again that pagan communities should not be a party to this!

Fortunately the conversation is starting. Many pagans have begun to write about cultural appropriation. Luminaries of our circles including Sable Aradia, Lupa Greenwolf and Crystal Blanton, among others, have all written excellent responses to cultural appropriation in pagan communities (please see the resources section at the end of the essay).

So what are our options? Let’s vision a little bit. How about true cultural exchange and cultural appreciation? I envision pagan communities alive with a plethora of people in all shapes, sizes, colors, of all sexualities, genders and abilities. I envision class lines dissolving. I envision respect for indigenous peoples of the lands we occupy. I envision a place for all people at the table and in the circle. Thank you for listening.

In solidarity and love, S.

Resources


Simcha Bensefis

DSCN3620Simcha is a rad non-binary QPOC brujx, community activist & voodoo devotee living on occupied Kalapuya & Chinook territory. By day they work in community mental health & by night they can be found spinning in circles & dreaming of faraway desert lands.

 

A Witch’s Reflections on “Self-Care” Under Capitalism

by Simcha Bensefis

Full disclosure: I absolutely loathe the phrase “self-care”. I also deeply dislike the way we talk about the concept, especially without deconstructing the social class privilege that comes with it. B. Loewe wrote a great piece about this and many other problems in the cultural construct of self-care. I believe its important to re-define what we mean by self-care that does not come with capitalist or Middle-Class assumptions about accessibility and productivity. In a nutshell: not everyone can afford a spa day nor should be driven into the dirt by the capitalist boot heel.

That being said, praxis of self-care may be useful. Also, what is self-care? A general definition of self-care that I have found useful is, self-care is any sort of action you do to take care of your health in various its domains (physical, mental, emotional) with an emphasis on intentionality. It is intentional actions to care for yourself. This can be as basic as making a meal for oneself or having a good cry.

In each of our worlds, we face difficult challenges. Many of us also face structural challenges that have immediate harm for us or may include long-term effects on our physical and mental health. Not only is this a compelling acknowledgement for self care in general, I believe that this highlights the need for self-care on a deeper, spiritual level. A lot of talk about self-care emphasises tripartite model of mind-body-emotions, but I see many other domains of our lives that could benefit from self-care. How about the health of our families, our communities and our spiritual selves?

What can spiritual self-care look like? Some immediate ideas are energetic or chakric cleaning. Many of us have practices to cleanse our spiritual body through different means. Washing with agua florida, smoke cleansing, balancing chakras with stones, casting circles are all some examples of this psychic cleansing.

I would also argue that the structure of ritual or following seasonal patterns, and celebrations etc. could provide a meaningful experience in connecting to the spirit world and validating our spiritual selves. This may also include connecting with other pagans, witches and wyrd folk: social connection as self-care.

Connecting to creativity is something that many practice as a self-care activity. Being creative doesn’t have to mean artistic production; you can get creative with some kitchen witchery or try your hand at spell craft. I’ve found anti-anxiety spells on Tumblr and Deborah Blake provided a great “chill out” spell in this years Llewellyn’s Witches’ Datebook that I like to think of as an anger management self-hex!

To personalize this essay, I want to reflect on how gentrification has affected my mental health and how I am combating it through spiritual self-care. My city has changed a lot. Many times I do not even feel that it belongs to me anymore. Many of the places I used to frequent no longer exist. Many of my friends are moving away because they cannot afford to live here. I fear the time when I too, will not be able to remain in this place. This city had been un refugio for me for so long but that has changed.

I have worked in mental health and community organizing for over a decade and now more than ever I am hearing from people about the depression and anxiety that comes with income inequality and gentrification. I feel it in my bones as well. I absolutely believe that gentrification has mental health consequences. A quick internet search finds articles from the CDC, academic journals and even Everyday Feminism talking about the negative health outcomes that are being discovered as cities gentrify (please see the further reading section).

What can we do about it? I was heartened to read about the collective WITCH in Chicago, who perform ritual/art to protest housing inequality and it galvanized me to organize something similar here in the Northwest. I’ve had friends gather at my home to make hex bottles for combating neighborhood gentrification; we attend hearings on housing and post fliers warning neighbors of impending construction of luxury condos. Perhaps a more visible action is warranted.

For me the creation of hex bottles taps into both my creative side as well as my empowered, brujx identity. I feel as though I am fighting back. It’s like creating war water, I am going into battle for the soul of the place I reside in. It’s my town, it’s my home and I have a duty to protect it. Spending all my time complaining about gentrification only gets me so far, it doesn’t make me feel better in the way that action does.

To wrap up this essay, I want to touch on a recent discovery of mine and how it can help human beings (and perhaps especially pagans) in times of suffering or mental health distress. I came across the biophilia hypothesis in my professional work and it totally connected to my worldview as a pagan and a person coming from a subaltern cultural experience. The biophilia hypothesis was posited by Edward O. Wilson and proposes that human beings have an intrinsic need to seek out connection with the natural world. This idea of interconnectedness has been a focal point of indigenous cultures the world over.

Perhaps with the advent of capitalism, industry and colonialism, many cultures and peoples have been torn away from this connection. Perhaps reconnected with naturaleza is a way to heal from these wounds. When we talk about gentrification and the way that cities are constructed, I think the biophilia hypothesis has great implications for how we cope with the negative mental health effects (as well as physiological problems) that are associated with displacement and gentrification.

In connecting to nature or other living beings, we reaffirm our place in the world as connected to others. If we turn towards this interconnectedness and really start caring for the land and the other beings who live with us, perhaps what we love will save us after all.

Further Reading:

Simcha Bensefis

Simcha BensefisSimcha is a rad non-binary QPOC brujx, community activist & voodoo devotee living on occupied Kalapuya & Chinook territory. By day they work in community mental health & by night they can be found spinning in circles & dreaming of faraway desert lands.


 

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On The Importance of Intersectional Witchcraft:

CC BY-ND 2.0
Fennica Protest CC BY-ND 2.0

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!

Beyond Marriage Equality

By Tomás Ben-Sefis

queer as in fuck youPride season is drawing to a close and I’m left with lots of conflicted thoughts and feelings. This essay is an attempt to organize them into some coherence.

Recently I went to the gay pride parade in downtown Portland and was struck by the overwhelming presence of corporations and big businesses. The irony of Air BNB marching by while my city struggles under the boot heel of gentrification was not lost on me. I did not cheer for their employees. I did not cheer for the sheriff’s department. I was disheartened by all those that did.

A few weeks later the SCOTUS ruling filled up my Facebook feed with rainbows and ally cookies. Again I was disheartened. While I don’t want to begrudge people who want to get married, I feel that the “Love Is Love” campaign and similar campaigns are paltry and deny the true meaning of marriage as a transfer of material benefits. Why should these benefits only exist for a privileged few? Shouldn’t every person have a right to health care, to housing and other securities that marriage brings? And why should we have to get married to receive them?

So I ask, who is this movement for? It is a movement that has largely left out, queer, trans, bisexual, poor, people of color, immigrants, and disabled people. Do not forget how the Human Rights Campaign threw trans people under the bus and removed trans protections from the ENDA. Do not forget that marriage equality means that disability recipients who marry will lose those vital benefits. The marriage equality movement does not honor the diversity of our experiences, relationships or our belief systems.

The marriage equality movement is for the gay elite, for the monied White hordes of gay men and lesbians who are “acceptable “enough to warrant the rights straight people have had for so long. Marriage equality is an insidious assimilation strategy. So what then, does this victory mean for the rest of us?

I fear that the movement for marriage equality has eclipsed other more pressing issues facing LGBTQ people from a variety of backgrounds. The LGBTQ community is not as concise, Whitewashed and upwardly mobile as the HRC and other marriage equality organizations and “activists” want the majority to believe. We are not the same. We’re different, messy, diverse, resilient, and beautiful.

So many issues affect our communities: housing discrimination, police brutality, gentrification, employment discrimination, lack of healthcare, substance abuse and addiction, teen suicides, youth homelessness, immigration, deportation, incarceration. Do not believe for a minute that the AIDS crisis is over just because some people can afford PrEP.

What does marriage equality do for these problems? Nothing. Marriage equality activists and organizations have distanced themselves from these issues in order to be more palatable for straight society and the State. One can see the change in language when we talk about the history of gay liberation vs. modern gay rights. Now we are focused on individual rights (“freedoms”) rather than the liberation of entire communities.

Another example of this change is seen in the issue of police brutality and solidarity with other minority communities. Our movement has its origins in protesting police harassment and abuses against us. It was pioneered by trans women of color, the most oft quoted are Sylvia Rivera and Marsha P. Johnson (may they rest in power), so why isn’t the LGBTQ community up in arms against police brutality? Where is LGBTQ solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement? Through all the murders of Black folks throughout this country on the part of police officers, I have seen deafening silence from the mainstream LGBTQ community.

I find this very troubling. We do not live single-issue lives, as Audre Lorde reminds us. Each person is a vast constellation of identities and we all face many different challenges. So why has our movement morphed into a single issue? I feel as though I must ask again, who is this marriage equality movement for?

I believe in more than marriage, and I will continue to work towards a more just society beyond capitalism and beyond marriage, where each person is protected and valued not for their productivity or legal status, but for their passions, their artistry, their contributions to community, their ideas, themselves.