Khi Armand is an NYC-based shaman and hoodoo rootdoctor who aims to live as if every day is spa day. Proprietor of Conjure in the City and founder of San Simón Indigenous Spiritual Temple, he's pretty sure that engaged animism is key to our overcoming the ravages wrought by industrial society and objective empiricism. A priest in the Unnamed Path contemporary queer tradition and a devoted spiritworker with affiliations in African diasporic traditions, he is especially committed to indigenous rights advocacy and LGBTQI re-membrance and visibility. He blogs regularly at cityconjure.wordpress.com and eats regularly at a pretty decent Dominican place a few blocks from home.
Hearts of Fire
With the altar ablaze in our kitchen and offerings set before the mask he’d crafted when she’d first revealed her countenance to his seeking eyes those many years ago, we set about to honor Hekate, Queen of Witches, on this her noted feast day.
We sang. We chanted. We prayed for ourselves and we prayed for our friends. We prayed for her help to do that which we’d come here to do.
“And Hekate,” my partner pleaded, “please help the people in Ferguson who are being tear-gassed while exercising their right to protest. Go there, Hekate, and protect your children.”
*insert sound of record needle scratching*
Call me unimaginative.
But black people? Hekate’s children? Low-to-median income dark-skinned folks living in the Midwest?
I’m all for ascribing an unconditional love sentiment to the Universe / Great Oneness / Great Goddess and what have you. It’s commonplace as we try to make sense of the world modern multicultural interfaith Golden Rule standpoint. I frankly don’t know if this trickles down to the many gods of our world with their many mysterious agendas, not to mention having risen out of specific cultural contexts that may indeed speak to specific ethnic and political affiliations despite worldwide globalization.
At this very unique time in human history, who are we to say what’s important or not to the gods except that which they’ve revealed to us?
Still, despite my partner following up with appropriate epithets and prayers – “Hekate, You who care for the marginalized and oppressed. Hekate Brimo, You who tend and avenge the restless dead, keeper of the roads, nurse of the young” – it was not a connection I would have made.
Call me bitter.
I wasn’t so into “African stuff” back in 2006, but my Cuban boyfriend’s love of Florida Water had definitely rubbed off on me and was a mainstay on my solitary Neo-Wiccan altar. I mean, I’d heard of the orishas and knew basic things about them, but I hadn’t felt any connection and generally blamed it on the climate.
Of course, the reason was a mixture of internalized Afro-phobia and Them not having introduced themselves to me as of yet. But in the meantime, truth be told, that Celtic-American-Loreena-McKennit-type shit? I was *alI* about that life. I saw myself reflected in those images of windswept red-haired girls gracing the covers of books written by the likes of Scott Cunningham, and I felt a stirring in my heart knowing that I, too, could wield the power of the olde ways to cast a spell calling back my black kitten like the one so courageously provided by Ellen Dugan in her Elements of Witchcraft were I to someday adopt such a familiar. (Never again the burning times, kitty.)
Now, I knew those girls didn’t look like me just as well as I knew Dugan’s Garden Witchery wasn’t written for city-dwellers. But I knew I was a witch even when other Long Island witches couldn’t conceive of me as such and needed me to bring the Starhawk-heavy jargon before accepting me into their fold.
After years of scholarly research, I have new words in my vocabulary that speak more closely to what someone who looks like me, has the powers and obligations I have, and has energy that runs the way that mine does would have been called in times past, and might still be called in faraway places. Nadleeh. Ganga. Shaman. In fact, these aren’t new words at all, but this body exists in a new world, so my ability to directly identify with them is fraught with complications despite the lack of mirrors afforded me by my current context.
Coming into an understanding of who I am, what I am, and what I actually look and smell like in the face of the gods is a daily unfolding discovery as they know things about me that I do not at the place where myth and history intersect with my soul.
(But perhaps they, too, watch Cops and have been influenced thusly.)
No matter what we’re talking about – gods, traditions, politics – at the end of the day, we’re talking about their implications on bodies, with varying degrees of inclusion.
Many gods. Many bodies. Many centuries. Many needs.
Call me naïve.
I believe we’re ready to ask the deeper questions.
In a globalized world, what does a polytheism arising out of both a highly privileged and painfully ignorant Western worldview value? Where do our beliefs and practices as self-proclaimed animists remain in service to a system hell-bent on destruction and erasure of our kin? Of our selves?
What prayers to make? To whom and on whose behalf?
What are we taking for granted within our worldview?
At a time when notable pagan authors have to actively ban racists from their Facebook pages while raising awareness of the prison industrial complex, practitioners of African-American folk magic are caught in debates about whether or not to call it what it is, and light-skinned members of African Traditional Religions tell their darker-skinned friends that institutionalized racism is all in their head– things do seem rather grim.
But then there’s Alley Valkyrie and her bee project, not to mention her inspiring article on race, class, gentrification, and the lwa.
And there’s Rhyd Wildermuth’s continued deconstruction of capitalism from an animistic perspective.
And Courtney Weber’s multi-year anti-fracking efforts and Climate March endeavors.
And me? I’m actively forgiving a world that drank the Kool-Aid – a 400-year old agenda to eradicate the brand of Afro-indigenous-faggotry that I came into this world to embody.
My polytheism is rooted in a journey of picking up the pieces, like bodily limbs, scattered and dismissed along the margins but all too easily assumed as included within Eurocentric universalist narratives. Because, as my gods have told me, I matter, and I need some ground to stand on.
My polytheism is messy. My polytheism is month-long internal debates. My polytheism is an altar-shaking, art-making, selfie-terrorizing conundrum.
So, for now, I say prayers to ancient gods native to countries that are foreign to me, and I send up prayers on behalf of the indio and pre-white European fighting dead via which I could come to know these magnificent entities. I send up prayers for the living priests, whose names we might not see on the labels of our botanica candles, though they remain the wisdom-keepers. I send up prayers to my gods on behalf of my loved ones, and, perhaps, on behalf of my gods’ peoples too.
Editor’s note:Alley Valkyrie’s “An Outsider at the Crossroads” can be found at The Wild Hunt. Rhyd Wildermuth’s writing is featured here, Courtney Weber blogs about her work here.