So Tell Me ... What's The Weather Like on YOUR Planet?

08 February, 2012

B is for Black

"The blacker the body, the whiter the light – the incandescent, active virgin heart from which all comes." - Victor Anderson

I first encountered that line in a training group run by Thorn Coyle (and in fact when I pasted it into a search engine just now the top hit was her book, Kissing the Limitless). I responded with some pretty crazed mysticism about astrophysics, which is neither here nor there.

One thing that modern pagans have to deal with is our common origins in a culture that valorises whiteness. This is not just a racial thing, but yes, racism is threaded through it. (And the question of why so much of pagandom is pale is perhaps not as unrelated as some might want to think.) Anyone who has done more than a little time in a pagan discussion board will probably have come across someone asking about the coloration of their magical work: Is this black magic? When might it be okay to do black magic? Is black magic being worked on me?

And here we come across is: Black is bad. Black is malevolent. Black is scary.

"Even semantics have conspired to make that which is black seem ugly and degrading. In Roget's Thesaurus there are 120 synonyms for blackness and at least sixty of them are offensive, as for example, blot, soot, grim, devil and foul. And there are some 134 synonyms for whiteness and all are favorable, expressed in such words as purity, cleanliness, chastity and innocence. A white lie is better than a black lie. The most degenerate member of a family is a "black sheep." Ossie Davis has suggested that maybe the English language should be reconstructed so that teachers will not be forced to teach the Negro child sixty ways to despise himself, and thereby perpetuate his false sense of inferiority, and the white child 134 ways to adore himself, and thereby perpetuate his false sense of superiority." - Martin Luther King, Jr.

Whenever someone asks me about "black magic", I reply with another Victor Anderson quote:

"White magic is poetry. Black magic is anything that actually works."

Reframe your paradigm.

What is whiteness, what is light?

Some people talk about white as a symbol of purity - talk about that.

And talk about the cruelty of concepts of purity, too.

Talk about the treatment of children with multiple ethnicities, and consider how many of them live in exile from the worlds of all their ancestors due to being insufficiently pure. Talk about the madness of ideological purity that makes those who will listen to other positions anathema and only the wildest, most outrageous, most pure positions put forth. Talk about the spectre of the Holocaust, talk about the murders of trans women who died because some man thought he would catch a contagion of gayness from them, talk about menstrual blood taboos, talk about the madonna/whore complex, and talk about which people never have a chance at being shoved into the tiny box labelled 'madonna' because they're already socially impure. Talk about the whole concept, not just the - here's that color again - whitewashed versions thereof.

Symbols are complicated. Using them is a precise and delicate art, and sometimes they say other things than one thought they meant, too.

"Apollo, the god of light, of reason, of proportion, harmony, number--Apollo blinds those who press too close in worship. Don't look straight at the sun. Go into a dark bar for a bit and have a beer with Dionysos, every now and then." - Ursula K. Le Guin

When I tell you I am Kemetic, I am aligning myself with blackness. This is what the word means, if you chase it back - an English noun form, from "Kemet", one of the Egyptian words for their nation: The Black Land. Black for night and black for death and black for the flesh of a mummy prepared for wrapping and black for resurrection and black for hands deep in the wealth of rich soil that comes like a miracle when the floodwaters part. Black for life. Black, also sometimes written in green.

And the Black Land is not opposed to Whiteness; its counterpart is the Red Land. Red for the desert, the barrenness of that space untouched by the sort of earth that can become rich with greenness, the earth which cannot be substituted one for one with green. Red for fire and blood, but blood is what unifies a body into a living thing, the pulse in every limb proof of wholeness. Red for the fire serpent that is the essence and protection of the sun.

Red for danger, anger, destruction, death, but black also for death and the night is not without its dangers. [*]

When I tell you I am Kemetic, I am telling you that I am black and red, and black means death and black means life, and red means death and red means life. I am telling you that it is not as simple as black and white thinking.

And when I tell you I am Feri, I am telling you to look to the night sky.

([*] Reference for these few paragraphs can be found in Wilkinson, Symbol & Magic in Egyptian Art, by the way, if you want to check my notes.)


Juni said...

Eloquent as always. It's sparking a variety of thoughts, but the words haven't quite solidified yet.

Tirani Starpath said...

"Walk softly my child, and fear not the night
For she comforts those that love her
And defends her children who wander forever free..."

I am a child of the night sky. Of all the many colors of the stars and of the black void of space filled with all the mysteries of the universe.

I took a course called Myth and Culture while filling elective courses for my undergraduate degree. It included a section that discussed the Big Bang as a modern myth. I reflected that I could not say if the Big Bang was a scientific explanation of the Goddess' orgasm producing all that is, or if the creation myth of my spiritual path was an explanation of the Big Bang myth. However, I was comfortable either way, because that is the nature of faith.