Race, Shamanism, and the gifts of The Morrigan
Inspired by Raven Kaldera’s Public Horses article
So it has become apparent to me that Raven Kaldera is controversial for some reason, but a lot of his ideas resonate with me and his experiences certainly do too. I don’t claim to have read everything he’s ever done and I am sure I wouldn’t agree with all of it (and I certainly do NOT agree with all people on an ordeal path), but there’s some worth there. In fact, one of the first blogs I read waaaay back in the day was a hauntingly beautiful ordeal blog. I have also long said that i am on a shamanic path in that my core principles reflect a few core shamanic concepts: being an intermediary between spirit and mortal, the ability to take different shapes or otherwise access the spirit world, the concept of dying and being reborn many times, and working with, in my case, primarily animal spirits.
I am an animist and believe everything has a spirit, though not all spirits have the same level of sentience. Everything has a spark, though, a spark of spiritual power. This ability is not an ability or mentality that is tied to race or ethnicity per se. What trips people up in these cases is the confusion as to why we perceive, say, black people as being able to exclude others from their traditional religions whereas a white person doing the same is viewed with hostility. Well, the answer is colonialism. The nasty truth is that, in this world, if you aren’t counted among the White, you are seen as lesser. Many times, the people who have come wielding the weapons of genocide have also committed subtler atrocities, such as stealing indigenous religions or poisoning them with forced conversion to Christianity.
This has happened to many cultures now considered White, too, and I think it’s vital that we reclaim our indigenous traditions and resist being painted over with a big White brush. However the truth is White is privileged in every major society on earth and if we ignore that we’re acting in willful ignorance which is something I can’t abide. You don’t get to choose whether you receive White privilege. It’s given to you by a segregated White supremacist society. It’s on you to work against it. It’s on you, and me, to create inclusive communities that don’t perpetuate microaggressions against people with intersections of oppression. The only thing you can choose is you’re going to open your eyes to the struggles of those who don’t have as much privilege, or whether you’ll continue to let that same privilege cushion you from the hurt at work in the world.
Isfet thrives on just this sort of situation, the blind eye, the closed off heart.
To expand on that, I don’t think your race or ethnicity matters as much as some pagans seem to believe. I come from a long line of Irish priests and mystics and I think that’s fucking awesome and it really feels as if I have a connection to that, like I could look back and see all the path walking that lead me to where I am. But I believe that even if a person does NOT have mundane genetic ties to Ireland, they are no less valid in Celtic religions than I am. At that point, your ancestors become spiritual, not genetic. I would want a person coming in to the faith to research and understand the trials the Irish have gone through, but I do not question the will of the gods about who They call to Their table, Their field, Their mustering ground. Hell, I’m Kemetic as well and I am decidedly not Egyptian.
Likewise, I do think it’s very possible to be considered White by the modern definition and be called to say, Vodou. But I think it’s important to tread lightly. All too often I see White people come in to an indigenous tradition that is lead by a people of color, and immediately set themselves up as ‘experts’ mere days after going to their first fake sweat lodge or after giving thousands of dollars to some plastic ‘Native American medicine man’ or some other contrived, appropriated title. See the woman who set herself up as Masai warrior after three weeks. One of the things White people tend to internalize is a sense of inherent entitlement and self importance. That has to be broken down before a White person can truly be welcomed in to the arms of these traditions. And even then, some of them might turn a White person away. Whether we like it or not, we’ve all become symbolic of colonizers and murderers in much of the world.
That said, I’m Irish and understand very well that murderers and colonizers are not limited to White people who oppress people with dark skin. But remember, the oppressor made us in to an Other. They created a race separate from them–Irish, lesser–even though both groups have White skin. The category of Other was still required to justify the genocide visited on us. This isn’t a call for White guilt, but it is a call for White responsibility. Whether we wanted to step on to this stage of White supremacy or not, well, here we are.
To the critics therefore of people who would claim White folk can’t use the term shaman, that it is appropriative, let me post that in actuality reclaiming our pre-Christian religions, rituals. and customs is one way of dismantling privilege rather than a way of supporting it. As long as White is a generic catch all category for White skinned oppressors racial issues will be difficult to solve. Keeping Whiteness so bland is a way of keeping it in power, because it facilitates the idea that Whiteness is so bog standard because it is inherently natural and good. White is the default category and anything that deviates becomes exotic, strange, odd, Othering. As we reclaim our sense of connection to the land, to ourselves, and to each other, we should also become champions of the downtrodden. As an Irish person I can look at a number of times where Irish people chose to side with the disadvantaged. There have been glaringly awful times when the Irish turned their backs on their underprivileged brethren. I don’t for one second flinch away from that. But those who have stood with their oppressed brethren are the ones I choose to emulate. I feel they embody the true and best Irish spirit.
So back to why I personally identify as on a shamanic path, and why I’ll defend its use as a global term. It was thought in several different cultures that the shaman was a person with monstrous traits, an outsider, someone who looked in at their tribe but could never truly join in or be fully welcomed the way people who didn’t know those mysteries could be. I identify with that. I’m a lunatic, a monster, a stitched together rag person. That doesn’t mean I am monstrous in the way of say, a serial killer or other enemy to innocents. Not at all. I am Kemetic (as well as some other things, obviously) and I strongly believe in truth, order, and justice. I’ve in a way dedicated my life to those pursuits, considering I have several degrees in psychology with a focus on the legal system. Integrity is my watchword and I cultivate compassion. But I’ve been torn apart and put back together many times and that means I’m constructed differently now. In some ways, I shouldn’t be here at all.
I have heard it said that one of the Morrigan’s gifts/curses is madness; I find this to be very true. Madness, frenzy, and death. When I started out I didn’t have control over any of those things. Uncontrolled anger, or mental illness, or suicidal thoughts are not, I believe, what the Morrigan wants from Her warriors. These things are tests or, if you prefer a more chaos oriented approach, the result of a series of improbable ridiculous circumstances that somehow came together to create me and others like me. In other words, they are ordeal tests. Maybe that’s why I respond so much to that core concept, the idea that sometimes such ordeals are required to deepen spiritual understanding and simple gratitude. Just as our deities often slowly reveal Their many faces to us, ordeal reveals other parts of ourselves that we may not be able to see or incorporate without a level of intensity that crashes through barriers.
tl;dr step lightly on the earth. don’t fear the ordeal path.