Is the term black magic racist?

White light is good. Black magic is evil. We use these terms routinely in everyday language and in our magical work too. What do we mean by them? Is it racist to assign “black” to the idea “evil” and use “white” as a synonym for “good”?

Aleister Crowley used the term “Black Brother” to mean someone who has fallen off the path in a specific way (by failing to surrender all of himself to the abyss). Members of Ordo Templi Orientis refer to each other as “brother” and “sister”. I have brothers and sisters in the order who are white and sisters and brothers who are black. Obviously my black brother is not automatically a Black Brother any more than every white brother is a member of the Great White Brotherhood. But why do we use “black” to mean “failed magician” and “white” to mean “teacher”? What does that say about the way we think about black and white people in the world?

I work for a volunteer program which was recently asked to start identifying the ethnicity of the people we serve. Are they white, black, Hispanic, Pacific Islander? As I talked other volunteers about this requirement I often heard the objection “I don’t see color”. Well-meaning white parents taught their children to try to treat every person in the same way in an effort to build an equitable world.

People of color respond If you don’t see color you don’t see me. Even though we may be committed to building an equitable world this is not the world we live in now. People of color are treated differently than white people. Making that inequity right starts with listening to people of color about their experiences.

Eula Bliss said something interesting in her 2015 essay White Debt. She was reflecting on the Charleston massacre in which a self-professed white supremacist killed nine black people attending church Bliss said:

Hearing the term ‘‘white supremacist’’ in the wake of that shooting had given me another occasion to wonder whether white supremacists are any more dangerous than regular white people, who tend to enjoy supremacy without believing in it.

I’ve written a lot about how the experience of women, my sisters, differs from the experience of my brothers, in ways that our brothers are still learning to recognize. When a system fits you because it was built to fit you it takes an act of conscious will to recognize that. This is also true for myself as a white person; I recognize that esoteric language authorizes my experience at the expense of people of color.

How did we come to use “black” to mean “evil”? When we use the term “Black Brother” are we perpetuating that connection? Was the term racist in origin, and is it racist to use it now? If we genuinely ask ourselves this question we already know the answer. I wrote a lengthy essay White Light, Black Magic: Racism in Esoteric Thought to document the origin of these terms and suggest new ways of talking about good, evil, and the multicultural experience of magical people.

The pioneering scientists of the Age of Enlightenment created the idea that light is white. Robert Boyle, John Locke and Isaac Newton were friends, men of substance, and alchemists. They believed their experiments and observations uncovered something fundamental about the nature of white and black as substances. White skin color designated people who could think, who bore the true religion, and who had the right to own people with black skin. This mixing of empiricism with colonial exploitation and religious conquest stripped racism into both scientific and esoteric thought.
White settlers in America lacked medical knowledge; black and indigenous medicine saved lives. Black slaves used more than medicine, they used magical knowledge to protect themselves and heal their families. Contemporary black root workers critique white appropriation of this knowledge both in the past and in the present. Shannon Barber writes movingly in Black Magic, Black Skin: Decolonizing White Witchcraft about how “the idea that darkness = badness” delayed the development of their own magical viewpoint.

Even today groups who identify as “The Great White Brotherhood” offer themselves as teachers, “masters”, to the esoteric community, while standing against the errors and bad judgement of hypothetical “Black Brothers”. The terms are cringe-worthy and call up the worst racist stereotypes. There isn’t a lot of discussion or awareness of this yet, but there should be. True teachers don’t have enemies, and none of us need “masters”.

Our challenge is to correct the impact of racism in our thought and practice by creating an accurate, honest, inclusive language. We can re-frame our white light visualizations to use color, explore the positive aspects of darkness, and actively interrogate our use of color terms to create hierarchies and judgements.

After all, since light contains all the colors of the rainbow, why limit ourselves to thinking in black and white?

Ecstatic Ritual typo correction

Ecstatic Ritual

In the second edition of Ecstatic Ritual published by Immanion Press, page 115, paragraph: “It’s possible to shape an image of a lover, if you joke, to call one to you.” Replace “joke” with “like”.

Feminist Thelema

I presented on “Feminist Thelema” at NOTOCON VI: Beauty and Strength. I’ve made the final version of my paper available as a free download here: Feminist Thelema. Enjoy it!

,

Resources to study racism in esoteric thought


These will eventually inform an essay. If you are following along in your reading ping me! Would love to discuss.

Racism in Aleister Crowley’s works: Catherine Yronwode, Racism, Gender-Bias, and Other Forms of Bigotry in the Writings of Aleister Crowley

Racism in Theosophy and Rosicrucianism: Karen Swartz, Views from the Great White Brotherhood

Racism in Jung: Farhad Dalal, Jung, a Racist

Racism in Enlightenment Philosophy: Professor Julie K. Ward, The Roots of Modern Racism, Early Modern Philosophers on Race

Theurgy Bibliography

By ILAOSVSen (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

By ILAOSVSen (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

A quick bibliography for the two theurgy presentations I’m making at Blazing Star Oasis on Saturday Sept. 30

  • Jean-Louis de Biasi: Rediscover the Magick of the Gods and Goddesses
  • Patrick Dunn: Practical Art of Divine Magic, Contemporary and Ancient Techniques of Theurgy
  • Jeffrey Kupperman: Living Theurgy
  • Bruce McLennan: Wisdom of HypatiaTony Mierzwicki: Graeco-Egyptian Magic
  • John Opsopaus: Omphalos
  • Richard Reidy: Eternal Egypt, Ancient Rituals for the Modern World
  • Brandy Williams: For the Love of the Gods, The History and Modern Practice of Theurgy, Our Pagan Inheritance

Babalon and Asherah presentation: bibliography and ritual notes

By unknown artist Details of artist on Google Art Project [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons


I’m filing these notes here so folk don’t need to scribble madly while I talk.

Bibliography

Ackerman, Susan. Under Every Green Tree, Popular Religion in Sixth Century Judah. Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1992.
Becking, Bob, Meindert Dijkstra, Marjo C. A. Korpel and Karel J.H. Vriezen. Only One God? Monotheism in Ancient Israel and the Veneration of the Goddess Asherah. New York: Sheffield Academic Press, 2001.
Kosnick, Darlene. History’s Vanquished Goddess, Asherah. Emergent Press LLC, 2014.
Levine, Amy-Jill, editor. A Feminist Companion to the Apocalypse of John. New York: T&T Clark International, 2009.
Long, Asphodel. . Freedom, CA: The Crossing Press, 1993.
Patai, Raphael. The Hebrew Goddess. Detroit: Wayne Street University Press, 1967, 1978.
Schipper, Kristopher. The Taoist Body. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1982.

Ritual notes

  • East – Queen of Heaven: Aleph Shin Resh Heh
  • South – The Sun/fire: Athirat
  • West – Lady of the Sea: Elat
  • North – Lady of the Steppe: Belit seri

Queen of Heaven, lady of the sun, lady of the desert, lady of the ocean, lady of the mountain, lady of the green tree, Athirat, Ashratu, Ashirtu, Ashritum, Ashrati, Asherah, Asherah, Asherah, Asherah, Asherah…

Day of Thelemic Magic Sat. Sept. 29 at Blazing Star Oasis!

I’m thrilled to be visiting the Bay Area next weekend. I’ll be presenting some of the material from my next book on theurgy! Also talking about Babalon and Asherah as Goddess of Life.

Here’s the Facebook invitation:

A Day of Thelemic Magic

Sign up here:
Public Admission: $30
Blazing Star Oasis Member/Affiliate discount: $20

Doors open at 12:30. Detailed presentation descriptions below.

Theurgy for Thelemites

“There is no part of me that is not of the gods.” What does that mean?

Thelema is a theurgic system rooted in Neo-Platonism. The Platonic philosophers explained the soul’s descent into incarnation and the path of return to the realm of the gods. Recent scholarship re-links the philosophical texts to the practical rituals preserved in medieval grimoires and rediscovered in ancient texts.

This presentation reviews Liber Astarte in the context of contemporary and ancient theurgy. Theurgic ritual offers a deeper understanding of Nuit and Hadit, Babalon and Chaos, Ra-Hoor-Khuit and Baphomet, and of ourselves.

Advanced Theurgy

We’ve offered devotional to our gods, built altars, called deities into statues, even called deity into each other. What is the final step that brings us into the presence of the gods in their own sphere? We can strengthen the soul’s body (ochema-pneuma), then bring the deity into that vehicle where we can commune with the god directly. This presentation discusses the nature of the soul’s vehicle, purification and invocation, how to rise to the presence of the gods, and our responsibilities when we return.

Babalon and Asherah

Before she was Babalon she was the Goddess of Life. In the Aeon of Isis she was Ishtar, Innana, Asherah. As Asherah she was worshipped in the Temple at Jerusalem alongside YHWH. The Aeon of Osiris rejected the Goddess and elevated the God to the status of creator. In that aeon Western religion rejected the female divine and demonized women’s sexuality.

In the New Aeon the Goddess comes roaring back! New rituals envision the universe as a creation of ASRH along with YHWY. The ASHR formula offers a new way to understand the manifestation of spirit in the human body. A new Thelemic ritual, the Star Garnet, allows the spiritual body to self-regenerate.

Thelemites in this Aeon take up the task of balancing the Goddess and the God, re-sacralizing sexuality, and working as sisters and brothers with each other.

Vespers of Nuit

Soror Asherah’s beautiful ritual calls on women teachers, Goddesses and saints as we lift our hands to the evening sky. We conclude with an opportunity to commune with Nuit.

Consent Culture

The O.T.O. has strict policies prohibiting harassment. Nonetheless harassment continues around the country and around the world. Policy is important but does not in itself create cultural change. We are looking for new ways to create a magical culture in which all Thelemites can freely and safely explore our sexuality and our magic. This requires conscious effort and participation on the part of everyone in O.T.O. communities. This workshop provides information, structures discussion, and offers an opportunity to engage in a consent negotiation exercise.

, , ,

Ten Ways to Diversify Magical/Pagan Groups

Look around the room. How diverse is your group? Are there ten guys and one woman (the Wendy and the Lost Boys configuration)? Half men and half women, all white? No kids, no seniors, no one in a wheelchair?

Why does it matter if the room is filled only with our friends? It means our message is not reaching everyone who needs to hear it. Also we learn from people who are not like us, it grows our world.

The magical groups I spend most of my time with skew white/middle-aged/childless/able-bodied. Here are some starter ideas for getting more diversity in our groups.

One: Educate ourselves

The first item on any diversity agenda is learning about the experience of people not like us. There is so much information available about people of color, women, transgender and other genders, families, disabled people, seniors, veterans. In my corporation and as a human rights council member I organize lectures and panels which invite subject matter experts to share their knowledge and experience. From these events we learn that fathers need paternity leave, parents need flex time and child care, disabled people need equipment, trans people need non-gender-specific bathrooms, seniors need not to be discounted, people of color need affinity groups.

One excellent place to start is with the works of Crystal Blanton. This writer, organizer and priestess works tirelessly to bring race into the discussion and educate the magical communities.

These books written by Crystal are excellent resources for leaders:

These anthologies Crystal has edited give a platform to many diverse voices.

Two: Educate each other
The next step is to discuss these ideas within our group and communities. We need men to talk to men to get them past mansplaining to women what we already know about our own experience. We need white people talk to white people to get past the initial defensive and racist responses. (“Why are there only white people in the room?” “Don’t they have their own groups?”)

Three: Leverage the diversity already in the group

Are there any people of color, women, disabled folk, families with children in the room? Invite them to speak to the group about their experience in life and with the group. Put them on a podcast or a panel. Ask them for their suggestions about how we can be more inclusive and accepting. Use the listen-and-learn skills honed in the education phase to maximize their time and minimize their aggravation. Say thank you.

Next, implement their suggestions. Open participation for people with different abilities. Notice the needs of people who can’t stand, kneel, or hear well. Set up child care and learn to live with some chaos. Listen to the older folk when they tell stories of the times before you came. Play music that isn’t on the usual playlist. Make non-alcoholic drinks an equal option. Cut back on the hug line phenomenon – model walking in and out without having to hug everyone in passing.

The group’s culture will change and that’s uncomfortable. That’s also the inclusion part. Being open to new ideas makes diversity work.

Four: Build a program

Where diversity doesn’t exist we can go out and get it. Twenty years ago O.T.O. groups were mostly men but we have attracted more women and other genders through focused attention. Pagan groups in the Bay Area are making active efforts to include people of color – Pantheacon 2017 had a Pagans of Color hospitality suite.

In the corporate world we have a Diversity Executive, Diversity Champions and Diversity Ambassadors. If you have a large enough organization you can implement a program. If you’re a local leader you can implement in your area. Find people interested in the same subject and sign them up. You can do podcasts and conference panels, workshops, reading groups. Here’s an example: T. Thorn Coyle’s New Jim Crow study group.

Five: Get out in the community

The Showing Up For Racial Justice chapter I belong to bought a table at the annual NAACP benefit banquet. The Women’s March Huddle I belong to visits the ICE Tacoma Detention Center to bring families toys and blankets. This is different from outreach to proselytize and attract new members. It’s getting your people out to listen, learn, be observed, and contribute and support.

Six: Have interfaith conversations

Social justice work is interfaith work. The entire magical-Pagan population which makes up our friend set is one-third of one-percent of the US population. Half of the country is Christian, so if you get active in social justice you’re going to end up meeting with people in churches. Most of those folk are going to be more knowledgeable and experienced than we are. They have a vocabulary and a history. They talk about the Beloved Community.

In these rooms we are the diversity people. The other folk will be curious about us. We need to have an elevator speech to explain what we do. We can also be prepared to do public ritual work. I did an impromptu invocation of Athena at an interfaith gathering that invited me to participate.

We can learn from the failures and successives of other groups. The Unitarian Universalist Church did some learning earlier this year when groups offered criticism of white privilege. The local church has responded by organizing self-education (see item one) and having hard discussions with each other. A group that has come farther along the road offers this Clergy Anti Racism Preparedness Toolkit which we can model based on our own religions and philosophies.

Seven: Be visible

  • Get out on the street with Black Lives Matter and the Women’s March and Gay Pride.
  • Wear T-shirts with your affiliation.
  • Wear clergy garb to activist events.
  • Take pictures of yourself and your group while out in the community. Post on your own internal media and on social media.

Eight: Set a policy
Stand strongly against racism and sexism and strongly for human rights. Some examples:

Statement from the U.S. Grand Lodge of O.T.O.
Solar Cross Stands for Justice
Covenant of the 9/1/2015 Statement on Black Lives Matter

Nine: Have the difficult conversation
The foundation of the welcoming community is the willingness to confront our own racism, sexism and other biases. We can start that conversation one-on-one with each other. We can bring a community leader in to do a presentation that will lead to a conversation.

It’s okay to take it slow, to make mistakes, to try it again. The important thing is to get started.

Ten. Your idea here

What has worked for your group to become more inclusive? What barriers do you experience to joining or participating in a group? What would you like to see happen? Let’s do this!

,

O.T.O. US Grand Lodge Supports Human Rights

Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law.

In the wake of the alt-right/Nazi demonstration in Charlottesville in which Heather Heyer was killed protesting the gathering, many organizations are posting statements affirming their support for universal human rights.

I am a member of Ordo Templi Orientis. Just to brief you on how it works, the Supreme Grand Council is the group within O.T.O. which can issue policy statements. The SGC has done so today. Unanimously.

I don’t sit on the SGC, I report to it. That said, I unequivocally support this statement. Fighting for universal human rights is the center of my work.

Read it here: Statement from the Supreme Grand Council

Love is the law, love under will.

Politics and Religion in Thelema – Standing Up for Freedom

On a day when many of my friends in Ordo Templi Orientis were showering each other with love at our biannual convention NOTOCON, a neo-Nazi killed protestor Heather Heyer. A day after we got home the U.S. President spoke out to defend…the neo-Nazi.

At times like this we need to stand up for each other, for ourselves, and for freedom. National Grand Master General Sabazius X’ has been a fierce champion for human rights for many years. He strongly and unequivocally declares that Thelema means freedom for everyone and it is every Thelemite’s responsibility to defend that freedom from those who would take it from anyone.

The ray of encouragement in my life in this dark week has been re-reading his last two keynote speeches. In 2015 he talked about politics and Thelema, and in 2017 he talked about religion and Thelema.

Political Thelema supports universal human rights.

Speaking of Liber Oz, I have heard some say that these are the rights we claim for ourselves as Thelemites. …Yes and no. Sure, we claim them, but that’s because we assert these rights for all humanity. It isn’t enough to enjoy and guard these rights for members of our little in-group. If we remain silent while these rights are being denied to anyone, then we are not really being true to our principles…

Opposing racial and sexual prejudice is a Thelemic value; even for white, heterosexual, middle-class men–like me. Even if we have to summon the courage confront our own fear of losing the automatic social privileges we have become accustomed to as societal insiders.

National Grand Master General Sabazius X keynote to NOTOCON X, Fire of Motion

Religious Thelema elevates the spirit.

We of Thelema desire to seize the tools of religion and employ them to liberate, awaken and challenge the human spirit by appealing to its nobility, its curiosity, its desire to understand itself, its sense of adventure, as well as its sense of humor. We want you to pursue and experience religious ecstasy. We are, therefore, committed to a spiritual struggle against those entrenched ideas and beliefs that have been spread to enslave, oppress, exploit, and divide the human spirit–against those characteristic aspects of religion that make the very word religion repulsive to many.

National Grand Master General Sabazius X keynote to NOTOCON XI, For the Chance of Union

This is as stirring a call to action as I have heard all year. This is a life work.

I would love to see someone publish a book of these keynote addresses. This is among the best new thought on Thelema and powerful statements of hope and courage in dark times. I encourage you to take the time to read through them (or read through them again). Here’s the set: Speeches given at National O.T.O. Conferences.