Monday, July 6, 2020

Decolonizing Witchcraft: Racism, Whitewashing, and Cultural Appropriation in Witchcraft and How to Decolonize Your Practice

cultural appropriation, witchcraft, decolonizing, whitewashing, racism, witch, witchy, witch life, wicca, wiccan, pagan, neopagan

When it comes to racism, whitewashing, and cultural appropriation, modern witchcraft and paganism are not exempt. It's unfortunate, especially because we generally think of ourselves as more openminded and accepting than that other practices and religions. However, when a reader asked me for suggestions a couple of weeks ago on beginner witchcraft books that were decolonized so they could start off on the right foot, I was at a complete loss of what to suggest. The more I started thinking about it and digging, the more I realized there was a significant lack of resources available to witches wishing to practice in a way that did not include racism, whitewashing, and cultural appropriation. It's time that we not only address these issues (which is being done by a number of witches and pagans), but also offer practical suggestions on how to decolonize your practice.

I'd like to start off by talking a bit about myself. I am a white, heterosexual, cis-woman. I have never hidden this fact or pretended to be anything other than what I am. But because I am a white, heterosexual, cis-woman, this has tremendously influenced my practice and my experiences within witchcraft. I am the "target demographic" for companies, especially publishers, which means that I can easily relate to the information and experiences presented by major leaders within the pagan community and I have access to a variety of sources "catered to my needs." This last part isn't necessarily true, but it's what companies believe. And because I am the "target demographic" I often forget to check myself and my privilege, at least I did in the beginning. 

I have been practicing witchcraft for roughly 16 years. I started with Silver Ravenwolf's Teen Witch and moved on to Scott Cunningham's books. At first, I didn't really question the validity, history, practices, or viewpoints presented by these authors. I was just happy to have something that wasn't Christianity that I felt more connected to. During my 16 years of practicing witchcraft, I started this blog. July 2014 was the beginning of what I thought was just going to be a small blip in the blogging universe. I had no idea that it would grow to be what it is today. Needless to say, I have made a number of mistakes, mistakes that were racist, whitewashed, or appropriated from others. I have called smoke cleansing smudging, and I have encouraged the practice here on Flying the Hedge. I have used the terms black and white magic to describe magical practices that were bad versus good. I have called a person or a thing my "spirit animal." I have used the term g*psy, and I have meditated on my chakras. I am not proud of these things, but I mention them because I want my white readers to know that I have sat where they are sitting now, sometimes angry; sometimes threatened because I couldn't possibly be racist and how dare someone tell me otherwise; sometimes saddened because I didn't realize that I had done something wrong that could potentially be harmful to someone else; sometimes confused and a little fearful because I couldn't relate or didn't know where to start. I mention these mistakes so that my BIPOC readers see that I am recognizing my mistakes and making an effort to do be better. I mention them because I want everyone to hold me accountable, and call me out when I use language or practices that are not intersectional. It's hard to admit when we are wrong, and even harder to change. This is a long, difficult road to travel, but one I am happy to take. So let's put our emotions aside and get started.

Racism in Witchcraft: Black vs White Magic

Unfortunately, racism is alive and well in the witch community, some of it extremely obvious while other forms are more subtle, lurking in otherwise well-meaning practices. The obvious, overt racism has been heavily covered by the witch community and is most commonly presented in the form of white supremacy. The Atlantic wrote a wonderful article on this in 2017 in case you are unfamiliar with this particular issue. As such, this is not the particular type of racism I want to confront because I think we can all agree the obvious racism is easy to spot and confront head-on; its the subtle racism that goes unchecked because it's often hard to spot and even harder to combat. The greatest example of this is black and white magic.

When we talk about magic, we often classify the type of magic by the intent of it. Are we healing and protecting or hexing and cursing? In general, when we say "magic" the "white" is often assumed because that's the norm. It's only when we approach "bad" magic that we place the word "black" in front because the ideas of "black" and "evil" in modern terminology are so closely linked that we just go along with it. But why? Why not use baneful, negative, or harmful instead of black? Historically, this wasn't always the case. In fact, its a combination of imperialism, slavery, and science that initiated the shift.

Modern witchcraft and Wicca derive most of their practices from European occult thought which was heavily influenced by Graeco-Roman and Egyptian magical practices with a bit of Celtic flair. Within these practices, the color of "goodness" and "purity" was originally gold as this was the color of the Sun. Ancient texts confirm that our ancestors viewed the Sun as yellow or gold, and used yellow and gold to symbolize purity, not the color white. But what about black? For the Egyptians black was seen as the color of life and nourishment, as black soils were rich and fertile, bringing forth bountiful crops to feed the peoples. It was actually the color red that was believed to be "bad" as it was associated with the god Seth who ruled over the desert, an unforgiving god in an unforgiving landscape. Some of this connotation continues today, with red being associated with war, anger, and the devil, but even so red is also associated with life, lust, and love. When Europeans, specifically Greek and Roman, began heavily visiting Egypt, Kemetic practices infiltrated Graeco-Roman esoteric thought, reaffirming the association of gold and black with purity and nourishment. For a long time, these color correspondences remained unchallenged. It wasn't until the rise of Christianity and the persecution of occult practices and witchcraft that we begin to see a shift.

With the adoption of Christianity, we see a shift in the relationship between Europeans and Africans and therefore a shift in esoteric thought. As Europeans began invading civilizations around the world and working to convert the "heathens," slavery in Africa was born. It was partially through the slavery of the African peoples that black suddenly became evil, less than, and negative. I'm not going to sit here and explain how Europeans justified slavery based on skin color, but they used every method they could to say that the color of one's skin was a reflection of their worth, intelligence, and inherent goodness. As such, the traditions and religions of the African people became evil as well. By the nineteenth century, Kemetic practices were removed and replaced with the narrative that Greek and Roman civilizations rose to greatness on their own, without outside influence. When this narrative didn't stick, northern Africa, specifically Egypt, was assimilated and reclassified as part of the Mediterranean and the Egyptians were no longer viewed as black. It was during this time that witchcraft too was targetted as being evil and that any individual that believed such "nonsense" was uneducated.

In 1871, we see the first documented English use of "black magic" published in E.B. Tylor's book Primitive Culture where Tylor describes the progress of civilization in terms of spiritual beliefs. Tylor very specifically connects race and progress with the belief in magic versus religion (specifically Christianity) and states that the savages believe in magic while the advanced civilizations combat it. At one point he blames "black magic" for the hardships faced by the Wakhutu and then goes on to say, "In the 13th century, when the spirit of religious persecution had begun to possess all of Europe with a dark and cruel madness, the doctrine of witchcraft revived with all its barbaric vigour...the guilt of this bringing down Europe intellectually and morally to the level of negro Africa lies in the main upon the Roman church.." In other words, practicing witchcraft was equivalent to being as intellectually and morally inferior as being African (black). But it wasn't just inherent racism that led to this shift in color correspondences. Science too played a role, specifically in the classification of light. 

As I mentioned, gold and yellow were long associated with the Sun and light in general. In fact, when we draw light or the Sun today we still use the color yellow to do so. So why is it that we call light white instead of yellow when we perceive the color to be yellow? Because the scientist Robert Boyle, along with Sir Issac Newton, said so. Through a series of experiments, Boyle and Newton discovered that light was "white" meaning it reflected all colors while black absorbed all colors. There is a host of other amazing things these two scientists did in relation to optics and light, but this isn't the place to get into those. I am not, as a scientist, saying that Boyle and Newton were wrong. They aren't, but because of their classification of light as white and the emphasis on white as the "chief" color, we see a shift in how we view light. You don't see very many modern witches and pagans asking you to cleanse yourself with yellow or gold light. There are witches that do; I'm one of them, but most often we pick white because that's what we were told was the color of light and this shift in thought brought a shift in correspondences as well. White was now the color of purity and goodness, of healing and life. Unfortunately, Boyle used his scientific findings to justify slavery and blackness as being bad and devoid. And needless to say, the thought that black was somehow bad, less than, or wrong while white was rational, good, and right infiltrated most, if not all, of esoteric thought.

To set themselves apart from "black" and "evil" magics, The Golden Dawn adopted the term "white magic" to mean good magic. They called themselves The White Brotherhood and labeled those who dissented or practiced "selfish," "negative," or "harmful" magic as Black Brothers. I don't think I need to explain the racist undertones associated with these terms. They weren't necessarily a reference to the color of one's skin, but I can tell you there weren't any BIPOC members in those days. And don't even get me started on the racist man that is Aleister Crowley...But the problem was and is that the idea that black and darkness as bad and white and lightness as good is extremely problematic and has negative effects on BIPOC witches. 

In her article Black Magic, Black Skin: Decolonizing White Witchcraft, Shannon Barber discusses the impact these beliefs and practices had on her own identity and craft, specifically how those bits of Afro-diasporic practices she clung to couldn't be integrated into her practice because of the "rules" laid down by Europeans that darkness was bad. She isn't the only one to feel this way.

I recognize that some of you may scream that white and black magic or light has nothing to do with race, but I implore you to understand the history behind such terminology and the damning evidence that suggests otherwise. These meanings were not created in a vacuum, and while you may not be harmed by their use, it doesn't mean that others aren't. The inherent belief that white is good and black is bad subconsciously affects how we treat others and view their practices. It's work to shift away from these terms and thought processes, but doing so will create a more inclusive practice for everyone. A note: Some cultures, such as Dominican and Haitian voudou, use the terms black and white magic and this is acceptable per their culture. However, my fellow white, European witches, I would steer clear of using this terminology due to the historical connotations of the words.

Whitewashing in Witchcraft: How Colonizers Control the Narrative

Whitewashing is the tendency toward information being presented through a Eurocentric, white lens. This is easiest to spot in situations where there are visuals, such as in movies and TV shows, but it's harder to spot in literature, especially nonfiction.

Now I am not saying there is anything inherently wrong with a Eurocentric viewpoint, but when all information you receive is filtered through this lens, you develop a very narrowminded view of the world that is not shared by the majority of it. Unfortunately, the vast majority of people in the United States, Canada, Europe, New Zealand, and Australia (places where almost all of my readers are from) have a Eurocentric viewpoint, and this view of the world has become institutionalized in the way our schools are run. In history class, we learn about Africa as if its one large country, except for Egypt because they are "white enough." In English, we focus almost entirely on European authors. Guess how many non-white English classes my college offered when I attended. That's right...none. But I could take Brit Lit I, Brit Lit II, Shakespearean Lit, Victorian Lit, Romantic Lit, and I did. We offer AP European History, AP American History, and AP World History, but there is no AP African History. In fact, AP World almost entirely focuses on Europe and the United States. Yeah, they recently added more history on India and cover China and Japan fairly well, but if you look at the content, it's still Eurocentric. But it's not just in our schools that we see this trend, it's in all of the books published in the United States, including books from our top pagan publishers. And unfortunately, our Eurocentric education makes it nearly impossible to spot the flaws because we were taught to have a Eurocentric view.

While working on this post, Fire Lyte beat me to the punch on pagan publishers in their amazing post Yes, This is Our Paganism: Llewellyn, Weiser, and White Supremacy. As such, I am only going to briefly touch on this subject because Fire Lyte did such a good job on what I was already working on, but I want to make something very clear: I support the work these publishers have done for our community overall. They have made witchcraft accessible to everyone through their work and have published books written by amazing people on amazing topics. I want to be published by one of them one day! This isn't to bash them, but to point out flaws in the system and what we can do to overcome them.

The witchcraft narrative is controlled by a few publishers, almost entirely Llewellyn. In fact, if you were to walk into any bookstore right now and pick up a book in the New Age section, you're most likely going to be picking up a book published by Llewellyn. The next largest is Weiser Books, followed by a number of smaller New Age publishers such as Troy Books, Moon Books, and Three Hands Press. If you do any research on these publishers, you will find one thing they all have in common: their editing staff and acquisition departments are almost entirely white. This means that every single potential book on witchcraft and paganism is passed through a white, Eurocentric lens before being published, if the book even gets that far. There are a number of reports that many BIPOC authors have given up trying to publish with large New Age publishers because it's too difficult. This is extremely sad, and honestly, infuriating. To add salt to the wound, Llewellyn and Weiser have books on BIPOC practices such as Santaria, Voudou, Hawaiian spiritualism, Hinduism, and Native American spiritual practices, that are written by white people who are not part of the closed culture. This is obviously problematic and again, filters the practice through a Eurocentric lens. As such, the colonizers aka white people, are controlling the witchcraft narrative. 

In recent years, only a handful of books from Llewellyn and Weiser have been published on topics that are not European witchcraft and Wicca. Now I get it, Wicca sells. European witchcraft sells. These are often the same forms of witchcraft presented in a positive light on TV (this is another loaded topic) so everyone comes running to it, at least at first. If you are BIPOC, this can be extremely frustrating, discouraging, and uninviting, and if you are not, it's hindering your world view of magic and its history.

You see, by filtering these books through mostly white people and writing about Eurocentric witchcraft practices, our books on witchcraft become heavily whitewashed, from the history to the practices themselves. The entire Love and Light movement and the Three-Fold Law are practices started by white people to set their witchcraft apart from the "bad" magics such as Voudou and Santaria. They inherently discredit practices such as cursing, hexing, and animal sacrifice, which were a large part of how the slaves fought back at their white oppressors and how modern BIPOC witches are still fighting against oppression and racism. Furthermore, the history of witchcraft in every beginner book covers the same two major topics: the Witch Trials and Greek/Roman/Celtic spiritualism. There is often no mention of magical practices from other cultures and their influence on modern witchcraft. The colonizers begged, borrowed, and stole a lot of occult practices so many modern witches turn to and we don't even question it. We don't even look at where these practices arose and whether or not we should be doing them. And the biggest reason for this is because we weren't taught otherwise. We were raised in school systems that still teach us what to think not how to think and present everything through that same Eurocentric lens, meaning we don't see the other side. We were the victors, right? So our version has to be correct! Wrong. And unfortunately, this whitewashing has led to another major problem: cultural appropriation.

Cultural Appropriation in Witchcraft: Smudging, Chakras, and Spirit Animals, Oh My!

Cultural appropriation is "taking or using from a culture that is not your own, especially without showing you understand or respect this culture." However, in order for something to be considered cultural appropriation, at least one of three things must occur: the person using from another culture is in a position of power; the appropriation is done without the consent of the culture being appropriated; the appropriation harms the group in some way. Ultimately, cultural appropriation is about picking things from cultures that aren't yours and utilizing them because you can. This is very different from cultural diffusion which is the natural flow of ideas between cultures without one culture exercising dominance over the other. Chinese food in the United States is cultural diffusion. Dressing up as a Native American on Halloween is cultural appropriation.

There are a number of practices in witchcraft that are the result of cultural diffusion, such as the use of crystals for healing and the following the moon phases and cycles of the year. However, there are several practices that have made it into the witchcraft community that are blatant cultural appropriation. I am going to break down each of these, briefly explain why it's cultural appropriation, and suggest alternatives to the practices. One thing must be made clear, however: white people do not get to determine what is cultural appropriation and what isn't. This list is composed of only items that have been designated by those BIPOC cultures as cultural appropriation. At the end of this reading is a list of articles supporting each of these.

Smudging/White Sage
This has been a pretty hot topic in the witch/pagan community, so if you haven't heard it yet I am going to assume you have been living under a rock. Smudging is a Native American ceremony involving very specific rituals and herbs, the likes of which are a secret to those outside the culture. It's not simply lighting up some sage and walking around your house as most witches do. Furthermore, the appropriation of white sage for "smudging" and smoke cleansing has resulted in a depletion of wild white sage. No, white sage is not endangered, but the commercial use of white sage has caused wild white sage, which many tribes rely on, to diminish in a number of areas.

It was illegal for Native Americans to practice their religion/spiritualism until 1978. Prior to 1978, many were jailed or killed for attempting to keep their heritage and practices alive. So you can see where colonizers taking the practices, including spirit animals mentioned below, is a slap in the face to indigenous peoples. It wasn't okay for them to do it, but because we suddenly find it cool, mystical, or witchy, it's okay. That's not how this works, and I am guilty of this one and still have white sage I have been using to cleanse. To be honest, though, I have never bought white sage myself. It has always been given to me as a gift or in subscription boxes. I believe it would be more disrespectful to throw the sage away than to use what has been given to me.

However, this doesn't mean you can't smoke cleanse in other ways. Heck, you don't even need smoke to cleanse a space. Check out my 13 Smoke-Free Ways to Cleanse for some ideas that don't use smoke. If you continue to choose to use smoke to cleanse, try using a different type of sage such as black sage or culinary sage, or another herb such as rosemary, lavender, pine, cedar, juniper, mugwort, or cinnamon, paying attention to the effects on animals if you have pets. Some people argue that the use of cedar also falls under cultural appropriation, but cedar was also used in the British Isles for smoke cleansing so it is generally regarded as safe.

Spirit Animal
This is another super hot topic in the witch community. A spirit animal is another Native American practice of select groups that has been appropriated. In these select indigenous groups that have spirit animals, it is an animal spirit that watches over an individual, family, or entire group. They are not an animal one identifies with and most often they are not discussed openly, as personal spirit animals are scared.

There are many people that claim the Celts, Vikings, and other groups have spirit animals, but this is not true. Yes, the Celts, Vikings, Finnish, and other cultures around the world have animal spirits that guide them, protect them, or that one associates with. Totemism is found in lots of cultures but is not the same thing as Native American spirit animals. Furthermore, if you are using this argument in favor of using the term "spirit animal" you need to check your privilege. I refer to my guides that take an animal form as my animal guide, but there are a host of other terms you can use including fylgjur (Norse/Germanic), familiar (English), animal companion, or voimaeläin (Finnish). Some people have suggested the Celtic/Irish term fetch, but this referred to a spirit double and is usually seen as an omen of death.

Again, this belongs to Native Americans. If you are looking for an alternative, create a nightmare charm or place some amethyst next to your bed or under your pillow. There is some debate about buying them from indigenous peoples, but from what I have seen, even then indigenous peoples are saying you shouldn't. 

Palo Santo
Palo Santo, like white sage, is used by indigenous peoples in Central and South America in purification rituals. The word "palo santo" means "holy" or "sacred," meaning the tree itself is sacred and holy and therefore the smoke as well when the wood is burned. The tree is also used for medicinal and healing purposes, but to get the full benefits, both medicinally and spiritually, the tree must first die naturally and be allowed to rest on the forest floor for four to ten years. The commodification of palo santo has not only taken away this sacred tree from indigenous peoples, but also caused it to become endangered. There are roughly 250 adult palo santo trees left in the wild and its continued use in popular neopagan practices will continue to lead to decreased numbers and the eventual extinction of this sacred tree if we are not careful.

As with white sage, use a smoke-less method or pick a different herb.

Hindu traditions, including deities, chakras, karma, and bindis, are part of closed or semi-closed in that they require initiation. In most cases, initiation also requires cultural heritage, usually through ancestry. Needless to say, these practices are not open to everyone and therefore should not be used. The Westernized version of karma is a bastardization of what karma actually is, which is related to your spiritual transcendence, caste, and reincarnation. It is not a non-Wiccan version of the Three-Fold Law. Yoga is also often argued as cultural appropriation as there is much more to yoga than just mindful movements. How White Yoga Harms Hindu People & Culture is a great article addressing this topic in greater detail. Needless to say, all of these practices marginalize Hindus, treats them as something exotic, and capitalizes monetarily on Hindu practices without giving credit where credit is due.

Stick to deities and practices from open cultures and religions. If you are looking to replace chakras, think about the major centers of the body. I work with my head, third eye, heart, stomach, loins, and feet. These are major areas of the body and the colors I see do not align with traditional chakras. Spend time getting to know your body and where energy centers within you. You will likely notice they have different colors or no color at all. When mine are not functioning correctly, I often see them covered in a think oil-like goo. I "clean" them by envisioning a golden orb washing away the goo.

This is a closed religion of Afro-Cuban origins which requires ancestry and initiation. Again, avoid closed religions.

These are also closed religions with ties to slavery and require ancestry and invitation. Without the understanding of ancestral slavery, these Western versions of these religions and practices do not hold the same meaning. While there are traditions willing to initiate non-black people, but in general, I would avoid these practices. Many forms of voudou are also still practiced throughout Africa and are not open to people outside the culture.

Again, avoid closed religions and practices. Conjure, rootwork, voodoo dolls, voodoo/hoodoo bone throwing (different from bone divination used in other cultures), and hoodoo/voodoo spells are off-limits to those outside the culture. There are plenty of alternatives to each of these. Use the alternatives instead.

You may notice there are things I did not discuss in this post that may or may not be cultural appropriation. One of these is Brujeria. After reading multiple brujos and brujas address this issue, I realized that many of them find it offensive that we think what they are doing is witchcraft or mystical or pagan. For that reason, and because I could not find articles from the Latinx community addressing this issue, I left it off the list. There are tons of practices that are off-limits to those outside the culture, especially white people. When in doubt, research.

Decolonizing Your Practice

Decolonization is...
"the process of deconstructing colonial ideologies of the superiority and privilege of Western thought and approaches. On the one hand, decolonization involves dismantling structures that perpetuate the status quo and addressing unbalanced power dynamics. On the other hand, decolonization involves valuing and revitalizing Indigenous knowledge and approaches and weeding out settler biases or assumptions that have impacted Indigenous ways of being. For non-Indigenous people, decolonization is the process of examining your beliefs about Indigenous Peoples and culture by learning about yourself in relationship to the communities where you live and the people with whom you interact." (source)
In simpler terms, it is moving away from colonialist language, like black and white magic, and cultural appropriation and returning back to our "roots." For me, that means focusing on my family's heritage and their religious and spiritual practices instead of practices I may like from other religions. I am certainly fascinated by other cultures and talk about them here on my blog, but those practices are not available for me or many of my readers to use. I only mention them to show my readers the diversity of ideas around the world.

So what should we do? 

First, its time to retire the terms black and white magic, plain and simple. Magic is magic is magic. It has no color and therefore should not be associated with either black or white. It just is. If you must classify good versus bad magic, call them as such. Use the terms positive, negative, baneful, selfish, good, or bad if you absolutely must ascribe morality to the magic being practiced. Otherwise, let's just call it magic. A note: Some cultures, such as Dominican and Haitian voudou, use the terms black and white magic and this is acceptable per their culture. However, my fellow white, European witches, I would steer clear of using this terminology due to the historical connotations of the words.

Second, we need to move away from thinking of darkness as bad and light as good. Neither is better than the other, and we need both to live whole, healthy lives. It is in darkness that our bodies are nourished with rest and healing can begin. It is in darkness that our mind's problem-solve and receive divine messages through dreams. Both black and white light can be used to purify, cleanse, and heal. Of course, golden and yellow can as well. Work toward consciously changing your thoughts and checking yourself when you want to associate darkness with bad.

Read critically. This is the biggest defense against misinformation, one-sided stories, and cultural appropriation. I always gloss over the history in most introductory witchcraft books because its a repeat of the same, often flawed, information. The Burning Times was not a mass witch genocide. Easter is not Ostara. Wicca has not been around for thousands or even hundreds of years. There was not some huge Goddess cult in Europe. Read through spell ingredients and double-check their uses with scientific evidence and whether or not it's safe to bury them, throw them in water, or otherwise leave them in Mother Nature. Marietta, from Witchy Words, has an excellent post on how to read pagan literature critically called 13 Critical Readings Tips for Pagans, Wiccans, and Witches.

Research authors. What is their background? What is their experience? Look them up online and do a little digging. I always dig into the authors of the books I read as I like learning a bit about the person before reading their book. This also gives me some great insights into what to expect from their writing and also gives me some clues about potential problematic language and practices I may need to look out for. I am not condemning my fellow witches for such things as we all make mistakes, but knowing a bit about the authors allows me to check the author's bias.

Avoid using practices from closed cultures or that are harming indigenous peoples and our Earth. You don't need white sage or palo santo. You don't need chakras, voodoo dolls, or spirit animals to be a witch. Find practices from open cultures and "dead" religions to use, such as Greek, Roman, or Mesopotamian. There are so many other options available for us to use that appropriation shouldn't be occurring. Furthermore, the best way to avoid this is to stick to your ancestry. I am Scottish, Irish, and Swedish, with a bit of Viking on my dad's side. I identify heavily with Celtic and Norse traditions, as well as English because this is the religion of my ancestors, which should be pretty evident from this blog. These also feel natural to me. If I tried to practice something different, such as voudou or Santaria, I know I would be forcing it; that I would feel out of place. I don't understand how a white person can feel welcome and natural in such a setting because we don't have the historical trauma to fully comprehend the magic and customs in these cultures. They aren't ours.

Whew...That was a lot to say and I by no means covered everything. As a white witch, it is important that I check my privilege and practices and it's important that I use my platform to elevate the voices of the BIPOC community. If you are a member of the BIPOC community and I have missed something you feel is important or misrepresented something, please let me know. Reach out to me in the comments, send me an email, or message me on Facebook or Instagram. I'm on both of those often. 

I fully expect this to ruffle some feathers and that's fine. No one said fighting the good fight was going to be easy, and I am prepared for the backlash I may receive. In all honesty though, if you are white and have a problem with this article, kindly fuck right the hell off. You don't get a say in this. I don't get a say in this. I am simply relaying the message BIPOC people have been trying to get us to hear. It isn't about my feelings or yours; it's about theirs. End of story.

I hope that at the end of the day this will be a valuable resource to all. I have included a vast number of articles supporting everything here and encourage you to read them as well. This list is by no means complete, but it's pretty comprehensive enough to get you started.

Further Reading:

Racism & Whitewashing in Witchcraft

Cultural Appropriation 
Saining Not Smudging by Cailleach's Herbarium
Not Your Spirit Animal by Donyae Coles
Totemism by Daniel McCoy
Is There An Inoffensive Way For Non-Natives To Own A Dream Catcher? by How Not To Travel Like A Basic Bitch (ha!)

Decolonization of Witchcraft
My Decolonization by Northwoods Witch

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Wednesday, July 1, 2020

Book Review: The 21 Divisions, Mysteries and Magic of Dominican Voodoo by Hector Salva

voudou, voodoo, 21 divisions, mysterios, book review, witchcraft, brujeria, brujo, bruja, dominican voodoo, dominican voodoo

Disclosure: Some of the links below are affiliate links, meaning, at no additional cost to you, I will earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase. I was provided a copy of this book for an honest review.

Let me begin by stating that I am not a practitioner of Dominican Voudou nor have I been initiated, but I was extremely honored when I was approached by Weiser to review a copy of The 21 Divisions: Mysteries and Magic of Dominican Voodoo by Hector Salva. I'm really glad I agreed to review this book because it certainly opened my eyes to practices that differ from my own.

Hector Salva, commonly referred to as Papa Hector, comes from a long line of brujos that practice 21 Divisions, a specific type of Dominican Voodoo or Voudou. In his first major work, Salva discusses the spiritual practices of the 21 Divisions which are a combination of Catholicism and Indigenous, African, and European occult practices.

This book was absolutely fascinating and very easy to read. Salva breaks down the history of the Dominican Republic and its neighboring country Haiti to explain how the 21 Divisions originated. It's hard to understand Dominican Voudou without historical context. You see, the Spanish worked hard to convert their slaves and indigenous peoples to Catholicism, attempting to rid the "savages" of their devil craft. While they appeared to be successful on the surface, the spiritual practices of the "savages" remained, hidden under the guise of Catholicism and saints leading to the rise of what we now call Voudou or Voodoo. I learned so much from the first half the book on how voudou arose in Hispanola and how it continues to thrive today through the work of brujos, and honestly, this was probably one of my favorite sections.

Salva goes on to explain the basic magical practices within the 21 Divisions, the role of a brujo or bruja, as well as the major groups of Misterios or Lwas that brujos commonly work with. However, he makes it very clear that he is speaking from his experience and while there are common themes within the 21 Divisions, different groups practice differently. Furthermore, the 21 Divisions has been largely an oral tradition, meaning that things change quickly and different regions have evolved very different practices from each other, but this does not negate their validity. Finally, Salva explains that some practices are a secret, revealed only to those initiated as a brujo. I deeply respect this need for secrecy. I enjoyed Salva's honesty and his stories. Within each division of Misterios, he offers tales of success in working with these spirits. Hearing about his workings and the workings of others made the book authentic and real. It is obvious from reading this text that Salva is an authority figure within the brujo community and speaks from vast experience.

While reading the sections on the different Misterios I was visited by three of them. This is one of the ways I often gage the authenticity of the author. The three that visited me did not appear to me in a traditional sense, or in a way that they often appear to brujos. I usually smell the spirits before I "hear" them. The first of the visitors, Santa Marta, was very protective of Salva's work and made it very clear to me that my skepticism was unwarranted but that she understood as I was not one of their children. However, she also explained that I would better know her as a gorgon like Medusa and that the Lwa often visit those of us in a form that we most understand and in a way we are most familiar with. This is not the first time I have heard this from a spirit. You see, we are all connected by the Collective Unconscious, so it should come as no surprise that all spirits and deities are connected throughout the world. The other two that visited me, Metresili and Anaisa, were less defensive. Metresili simply made her presence known, but my interaction with Anaisa was much more personal. In fact, she tapped me on the shoulder which scared the crap out of me if I am being honest. I have never been touched by a spirit, but she touched me and laughed when I jumped. I'm not going to divulge what she had to say to me, because it was private, but this final visit drove home the point that Salva speaks with authenticity and truth. I do want to make it known that these three Misterios were here on Salva's behalf; all three were protective of him and his book in a way that I have not quite seen before. However, they left me with a lot to think about, and to that, I am utterly thankful. Hector, if you are reading this, I hope you know they have your back far and wide.

The book finishes with how you can get started on the path. While Salva says the practice is open to everyone, you must be initiated to practice safely and successfully. This section comes with a host of warnings to those who practice without proper care, work, and initiation. I am thankful he was open and upfront about the dangers, because all too often authors make spiritual practices seem "fluffy" and light. Working with spirits of any kind is not a matter to be taken lightly or without care.

I highly recommend this book to all my readers because this is a great way to learn about a different occult practice straight from the source. It was eye-opening to me and gave me a different perspective on the world than I had previously. Expanding our worldview is a critical component of our growth, especially spiritually. You can pick up your copy of The 21 Divisions: Mysteries and Magic of Dominican Voodoo by Hector Salva now.

Note: Salva uses the terms black magic and Indian to describe indigenous peoples. There is also trans-exclusionary language in this book. However, it should be noted that this is due to cultural differences. 

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Monday, June 29, 2020

July Buck Moon Worksheet

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July's Full Moon is most commonly referred to as the Buck Moon, but also goes by Blessing Moon, Thunder Moon, Wort Moon, and Hay Moon. It gets its name from the fresh antlers appearing on the heads of male deer, the thunderstorms that often roll in, and the hay being collected to feed livestock through the winter months. As the temperatures continue to rise, you'll likely notice you slow down. This is a great time for divination and dreamwork, especially scrying. If you haven't already, this is a great time to create a dream journal as well.

This month's Full Moon worksheet contains the usuals of my past Full Moon worksheets, including a to release and cleanse section, a box for your intuition, and a tarot spread. Unlike past worksheets, however, this one can be used every July, as it is based on the correspondences of the moon itself and not other astrological events. The tarot spread for this month features 5 cards to help you interpret your dreams this month.

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Looking for more free worksheets? Why not get your free copy of my spell/ritual worksheet to write your best spells and rituals yet?

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Thursday, June 25, 2020

Elemental Magic: Connecting with Fire Ritual

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Now that we have covered Fire folklore and correspondences, its time to actually start working with Earth! Today I share a ritual to help you connect with Fire more intimately and start building the foundation for change, creativity, and new beginnings. There are several tasks in this post and I encourage you to perform each of them with fidelity. Before we get started, however, I'd like to discuss what I put together for the first Fire task presented a week ago.

The first task for Fire was to trace how the Sun travels around your home, both inside and outside. This is something I did shortly after moving into my house almost 5 years ago for gardening purposes. The front of my house faces almost directly East, meaning the Sun rises in front of my house, reaches its peak at noon right above my house, then sets at the back out of the house. As such, I get morning Sun on the front and evening Sun on the back. This leaves my kitchen and bedroom to get full evening Sun, while my library, office, and guest room receive morning Sun.

Property wise, there isn't much shade. Yes, I have trees, but my property is mostly open. Apart from a few pockets, the majority of my yard receives Sun about 8 or more hours a day. In the morning, my house casts a long shadow on the backyard, but by noon it's fully engulfed in light. The front, however, receives very little shade, even when the sun begins to set. My house is "taller" in the back than the front as the front basement is built into the land, but not on the backside. This creates a small shadow, about 6-8 feet on the front of the house in the evening, significantly shorter than that of the shadow in the back in the morning. Needless to say, all of my plants are full sun plants. Haha! 

I recognize tracing the movement of the Sun around your property may not seem very magical, but doing so helps you connect to the element Fire by connecting with its most significant source, our Sun. Again, we are going to combine all of these tasks at the end of the series to develop a local, elemental practice, so I hope you guys have been keeping up with the tasks.

What did you learn about the movement of the Sun around your home?

There are a number of ways you can connect with the element Fire, but one of the best ways is to go outside and feel the warmth of the Sun directly. However, I recognize not everyone can do that, so I have designed a ritual that can take place indoors or outdoors depending on your needs.

  • Quiet place outside in direct sunlight or a candle
  • Carnelian, red agate, or fire agate
Begin by either going outside, somewhere quiet in direct sunlight, or light the candle. If you are working indoors, this is best performed on your altar, especially if you have already dedicated your altar to Fire (see below).

For those of you outside, stand comfortably yet straight, and close your eyes. Raise your face toward the Sun and feel the warmth on your face. Take a deep breath in and breathe out slowly. Relax, continuing to breathe deeply until you reach a light meditative state. When ready, slowly raise your arms, palms facing up toward the sky. Feel the sunlight on your palms, the Sun's rays slowly warming them and traveling through your body. Soak in the light, allowing the warmth and golden light to fill your entire being. Visualize in your mind's eye your body glowing bright and golden, radiating the Sun's energy outward. Continue soaking in sunlight while continuing to meditate until you feel absolutely full of energy. If you like, continue to hold this energy throughout the day. If you notice it makes you too jittery or agitated, allow some of the energy to soak into the Earth through your feet until you feel better. Remember, the Earth is a great absorber.

If you are doing this ritual inside, follow the same outline above using the candle flame as your energy source. It can be completed whether you are standing or sitting, and instead of turning your face and hands upwards, direct them towards the candle flame.

No matter which ritual you perform, they accomplish the same thing, connecting you more deeply with Fire. As always, jot down your experiences in your BOS, Grimoire, or journal. You may experience visions, hear voices, or be overcome with certain emotions. These are important messages, likely in regards to your relationship with Fire and should be analyzed for deeper understanding.

Once you have established a connection with Fire through the ritual above, you need to continue to nurture it so it may grow and one of the best ways to do that is with an altar dedicated just to Fire.

Plan to have your altar dedicated to fire for the next couple of weeks, to Lammas if you can or at least through the last couple of posts in the Fire series. How you set up your altar is completely up to you, but I encourage you to place at least one candle on your altar as well as other symbols associated with Fire. Below are some ideas of items to include:
  • candles, especially red, orange, yellow, or gold. lanterns, or lamps
  • red agate, fire agate, carnelian, lava stone, pyrite, gold, citrine, or amber
  • sunflowers, goldenrod, or St. John's Wort
  • athame, knife, or wand (depending on your personal correspondences)
  • cinnamon, cloves, chilis, or oranges
  • Sun Wheel (or God's Eye)
  • silky fabrics in rich, warm colors such as orange, red, and yellow
Once you have set up your altar, spend about 15 minutes a day lightly meditating about Fire and the ritual experience you had. Light the candle(s) daily and stare deeply into the flames, feeling your connection to Fire deepen. Place your hands near the flame and feel the warmth of Fire enter your body, filling you with its energy. Draw a right-side-up triangle in the air with the flame and visualize it entering into your body through your chest.


And there you have it! Let me know how things went in the comments below.

Interest in the rest of the series? Here's what's to come!

Elemental Magic Series

Introduction to the Elements
Water Folklore & Correspondences
Connecting With Water Ritual
Tools of Water
Water Spells and Rituals
Earth Folklore & Correspondences
Connecting With Earth Ritual
Tools of Earth
Earth Spells and Rituals
Fire Folklore & Correspondences
Connecting With Fire Ritual
Tools of Fire
Fire Spells and Rituals
Air Folklore & Correspondences
Connecting With Air Ritual
Tools of Air
Air Spells and Rituals
Spirit Folklore & Correspondences
Connecting with Spirit Ritual
Tools of Spirit
Spirit Spells and Rituals
Putting It All Together

Looking for more information on the elements? Check out my posts on the topic:

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Monday, June 22, 2020

Litha/Midsummer Solstice Altar 2020

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Litha, or the Summer Solstice, takes place on the longest day of the year. It is a celebration of the Sun, in all his glory as he fertilizers the Earth with his brilliant rays. From this point on, the Sun begins to wane in the sky, sinking lower on the horizon with each passing day. This is also the time with the Oak King wanes in power. Depending on the story you follow, the Oak King is defeated on Litha or Mabon (I personally follow the Mabon story), which gives way to the Holly King reigning. Despite his defeat and gradual decline, summer is not over yet. It will take several months for the heat of the Sun's rays to dissipate, giving way to winter. Because Midsummer is a celebration of the Sun and Oak King/Holly King, I went with Fire and solar correspondences for my altar.

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1. Sun Wheel- My beautiful Sun Wheel! It represents the Sun, which is most prominent on the Summer Solstice, masculine energy, light, and fertility. I made this and I am so happy to pull it out again to display. It doesn't get to be displayed very long each year. Sun Wheels were commonly created by our ancestors as a form of sympathetic magic. They were thought to help the Sun remain strong through the rest of the growing season, as well as call the Sun to return. (Where did I get it: I made it; Cost: Under $5)

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2. Candles in Holders-  There are three candles on this altar, all representing the Sun and the element Fire. You can't have a Summer Solstice altar without candles, right? Balefires were not only common at Beltane, but Litha as well. Unlike Beltane, the fires of Litha were for dancing, merrymaking, and cooking, not purifying. Since I can't put a balefire on my altar, candles are the next best thing. The white candles represent fidelity and purity while the central orange bee's wax candle represents strength, vitality, and prosperity. (Where did I get it: Dollar Tree 2020 or Subscription Box; Cost: $3 for cup holders and white candles, $5 for orange candle and holder)

3. Ivy and Silk Sunflowers- The silk ivy represents wealth, abundance, and fertility, as well as the Sun (Horned God) who is strongest on the Solstice. Furthermore, it is an ode to the Holly King who is growing in strength and will bring about Winter in the coming months. The sunflowers, on the other hand, are a representation of the Sun, hence the name. They represent joy, fertility, and good luck. Furthermore, the sunflowers are there to attract the fae and gift us with faerie sight. Faeries are plenty active on the Summer Solstice and should be honored as well. (Where did I get it: Dollar Tree; Cost: $2, $1 each)

Litha, altar, witch, witchcraft, Midsummer, Midsummer Solstice, Summer Solstice, witchy

4. Sun Plaque- Being the longest day of the year and a celebration of the Sun, it only makes sense to include my sun plaque. I think the representation here is pretty obvious, that this plaque is on my altar to honor the Sun on the solstice, encourage His vitality, and bring continued fertility of the land so our crops many finish growing. (Where did I get it: Dollar Tree 2017; Cost: $1)

Litha, altar, witch, witchcraft, Midsummer, Midsummer Solstice, Summer Solstice, witchy

5. Carnelian, Quartz, and Bloodstone- The three crystals I picked correspond with the energy of the sabbat. Carnelian represents the Sun, strength, and vitality, the quartz amplifies the power of the altar and represents change, while the bloodstone represents health and vitality. Together they work to give the Sun continued strength through the remainder of the growing season (Where did I get it: Metaphysical Stores; Cost: ~6)

6. Wooden Acorn- Flanking either side of the altar are two wooden acorns. These acorns are an ode to the Oak King and represent protection, good luck, prosperity, and wisdom. From Midsummer to winter, acorns were commonly worn as amulets. Furthermore, acorns are one of the life-sustaining nuts of summer and fall that will get wildlife through the long winter months, thus they represent the continued prosperity of our crops so that we too may have plenty of food to last through winter. (Where did I get it: Gifted; Cost: Free)

Litha, altar, witch, witchcraft, Midsummer, Midsummer Solstice, Summer Solstice, witchy


Like my other altars, most of the items I use are found, made, or purchased for around $1, although if the items must be purchased by you, then the cost will be higher. I hope you find this sort of break down helpful, especially those of you looking to create Instagram perfect altars on a budget!

How did you celebrate Litha this year?

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