I’m pushing these two questions together because they pretty much on the same track

Hello! I would like to start getting into and educating myself on African religions, spirituality, and witchcraft but I don’t know where to start. Every book or article I come across is just giving me the whitewashed versions of what I’m looking for. Honestly, idk what I’m looking for. I live in New Orleans so I have the resources that I need I just don’t know what’s the real thing and where I could get it from. Can you help me out? Thanks in advance!

– Jessica R.

So I recently decided to make the jump and start practicing Paganism, but I have absolutely no idea about how or where to start. I feel as though this (Paganism) is the path I need to take to finally come into my own. I would honestly love it if I could find some kind of person with a first hand experience with the craft to give me a better understanding of what all of this entails. Any recommendations?

– C’ara B.

Firstly, for the person who lives in New Orleans:

  1. Walk into any Black owned/Black staffed metaphysical shop.
  2. Skim the books available
  3. Bug anyone who looks like you with questions
  4. Wash, rinse, repeat

For the second one: I have quite a few books littered throughout this site, I recommend poking about.

Onwards with the rest of the answer:

Now, it comes as no surprise to pretty much anyone that Western Paganism bears a very, very White face. Even on cultures that are extremely non-White or exist as a result of the horrors of European-based colonialism (examples: Voodun and Hoodoo, Santeria and Buddhism). It’s a major problem and one that is deftly ignored or responded to with pandering, patronizing lip service – if not met with declarations that, for some stupid reason, acknowledging that division exists and is quite pervasive “is divisive”. White Pagans like to steal from other cultures for the “Otherness” and to Whitewash them as if it was always theirs. That’s going to create conflict, whether they like to note it or not , given that most people don’t like being robbed from.

Paganism encompasses “nature-based belief systems” because it is Latin for Paganus, which means “country-dweller” because of the strong connotation that the person who lives in the country participate in folk/indigenous beliefs. This includes all indigenous faiths, folk religions, etc. These faiths didn’t start out in Europe and then spread everywhere else. They are from all over the world and should reflect that. Especially since Whitewashed versions of these faiths are simply not as legitimate. For example, I would not practice with a White person claiming to be a Voodun priest/ess, a loa, unless they had sincere and extreme in-depth knowledge about Blackness as a culture and an identity, pan-African history, the fact that it was their ancestors who caused the grief and turmoil that created some of these faiths (and not regard it as a good thing), etc etc. Oh, and was deeply involved in the Black community, even to their own detriment (meaning, giving up or rejecting their White privilege at every twist and turn). White folks like that are so few and far between, it’s probably easier to say they probably don’t exist except for nanoseconds at a time. Because it is a mindset, and very self-aware one. While the faith can have room for all, you have to acknowledge invaders and colonizers*. I’ve yet to meet a White person that practices with Voodun deities who knew more than five Black people. The face of indigenous and nature-based faiths should reflect that. But it doesn’t.

I have written about the White-washed Yemaya statue, for example. And my experiences at Pagan events.

This incessant racism also dribbles down to the books, you’re hard pressed to find diversity among the diversity of subjects. Especially Llewellyn, which, I should remind, legit sent me their book about the creator of Llewellyn and somehow deliriously thought it would get any glimmer of a good review from me. Apparently the dude was supposed to be a Champion of Justice just because he had one (1) Black friend and held some Uncle Tom/White Man Burden sector of the NAACP (who has not had a glowing repertoire when it comes to dealing with “well meaning Whiteness” (read: Rachel Dolezal) nor always being for Black folks (read: dismissiveness of Black Lives Matter)). For all the wonders this Random White Guy did(n’t) do, somehow, that glory for racial equality never made it into his publishing house in how he hired or who he published. Making whatever nonsense acts he did maintaining one Negro associate and shelling out money to a Black advocacy group with a checkered scorecard pretty much phony – just like him.

The problem is also that means there are few, decent researched books about Paganism. I always recommended Lauren Manoy’s Where to Park your Broomstick because it’s a good beginner book in general and she acknowledges that prejudice exists. She a White writer but at least she’s not a stupid one, hence why I always recommend her. Can’t say the same for most of the others I come across. New Agey books are really a disservice to those who actually want to learn and gain info. Not feel like they’re doing something because they burnt a stick of sage, wear Killstar or procured a drug habit. Paganism is a lot more than acting out The Craft or American Horror Story.

But in terms of books of culture-centered practices, it’s even harder to come by. For example, because of the pop “bruja/witch” phase, it’s going to be very hard finding reputable sources in Santeria because so many are going to be whitewashed and probably by people who have only know three words of Spanish, if even that. Add in the fact a lot of these cultures are not always in English and tend to be oral traditions, that multiplies difficulties.

I’ve made do with simply researching from an academic stance and mainly, if not only, selecting non-White (and preferably female) researchers. That has probably been the best way I have learned. They have bibliographies, they are fact checked, etc. These books exist in academic libraries and even normal libraries. As far as websites go, I would very much strongly suggest to make sure you’re not getting online screed peddled as actual fact. That means knowing the difference between a fact and an opinion, when you’re getting biased information and more. This is a multi-disciplinary skill but a useful one so you don’t accidentally turn into a Hotep.

Though, have you seen the Hertep skit from The Black Lady Sketch Show? It is comedic and a buoyant display of what not to listen to:

 

* For the whiners who claim “then Black people who practice Euro-centric gods shouldn’t be there, either.” Uhhhh, Black people were forced to literally follow Euro-centric beliefs. Like, actual death held over their heads. That and it isn’t the same because of that glaring fact. No one is forcing White people to practice Hoodoo or else be brutally murdered in the worst way.