We hear that a lot these days. But what does it mean and specifically what does it feel like to you?
For me in this field of energy work it looked like no space for me growing up and honestly, up until quite recently, sadly, I believed I was one of the few women of color in this field of energy work and spirituality, that maybe it wasn’t for me even though the desire for understanding energy was there. The more I research magic and mysticism, of course, it becomes obvious to me how much magic there is in Native American traditions, practices that survived and transformed through colonization of the Americas, and those that came from all over the world. There are many wonderful modern day witches who grew up with their mother or grandmother teaching them the old ways and teaching them how to trust themselves and navigate the world with spirits by their side, however that was not my experience. I grew up in a small immigrant family who attempted to follow the Catholic Church for their children’s sake, some attempt at being thought of as “good parents,” but was never much connected to it or any other sense of the divine.
When I was growing up, the image of the witch was an enthralling one and one I was deeply fascinated with because I spent many hours alone in my backyard, or in the playground of my apartment complex when we lived there, dreaming up how this and that plant would combine forces and double their magical power, or how the petals of that particular flower mixed with the clay mud would create a healing mixture or potion for enhancing love.
But the only images I ever saw of witches were white and thin women, sometimes even ghostly pale as much of the witch aesthetic blended with the goth aesthetic in the media in the 1990’s. Only when they were old where they allowed to be not thin, but then they fell into the stereotype of the old, fat, ugly hag which children and adults should fear as a warning of what happens when a woman goes too wild and too off the beaten track of polite society. As a chubby child who grew into a curvaceous woman, I saw there was never any space for me, so even if I dreamed of being a good witch, I felt it was a particularly silly dream even to fantasize about because brown chubby girls weren’t included. I hid my dreams and silenced my expression and started to turn away from the belief I could ever possibly hold magic.
When I grew a bit older and the Lord of the Rings films were released, that was my first introduction to JRR Tolkien and the beautiful world of elves and hobbits. But even in that world of high and common magic, it was too far fetched for them to see black and brown folk as good people. The only time people of color are featured they are on the bad guy’s side. Whether or not this was a majorly conscious decision on the part of the film maker matters less right now than the fact it was felt deeply by me and I’m sure by many other fantasy lovers who wanted to see themselves as elves practicing high magic in harmony with nature to maintain balance over the land or as hobbits whose lives just are pure cozy magic with their homes inside hilltops and round doors and front gardens for growing their pipe weed and veggies.
But like so many times before, even this massive record-breaking cinematic trilogy had no room for folks like me. The message was reinforced that only white people could hold magic, the only ones who could hold it responsibly, rather, since the brown people in the film aligned themselves with harmful magic to have violent power over others. Once again, I was told that you might like this, but you can only ever see in from the outside and never exist within the chosen circle.
The Harry Potter books and films were breaking records all over the world around the same time and while I was already feeling burnt by the fantasy genre by the time I was a teenager and I dismissed the books at first, the first movie caught my attention and stirred something I’d ignored for a long time and brought it back to life. There in this wonderful school for witchcraft and wizardry there was a longstanding tradition of accepting students regardless of their economic or ethnic background because everyone could be born with magic and if that magic was in them, Hogwarts wanted to nurture that magic and help that individual find and hone their powers. Yes, there was some dissent on that matter even within the school’s history, but the policy remained fiercely inclusive.
Not only did this series include characters of various ethnic backgrounds in the story, they were allowed to just students at a school. They were normalized. And when the time came that a major force had to be fought, they were on the side fighting for the greater good and inclusion of all who wish to practice magic, whether or not they were “pureblood” (born of magical families) or “muggle born” (born of non-magic parents who have never heard of Hogwarts and likely didn’t believe in magic at all).
The Harry Potter series holds a very special place in my heart for many, many reasons not least of all being that JK Rowling could have not dealt with the issue of race and ignored it as many authors do, but she chose to make it a cornerstone of her rich and fantastic world through the discourse and battle between pureblood mania (followers of which were so clearly modeled after the KKK in the U.S.) and those who believed in inclusion and diversity being a strength.
It wasn’t until JK Rowling’s powerful books that I started to believe I could really hold magic and be allowed to be a witch. Harry Potter was my gateway to rediscovering the world of symbolism, mysticism, and magic. I often remember this story and the wonderful words of Clarissa Pinkola Estes in Mother Night, I’m paraphrasing here, where she says that wherever you feel you do not belong, that is where your magic is needed most, whenever I see a sea of thin, white faces taking up a lot of space in the world of spirituality. Black and brown folks need to see someone a bit more like them to remember the truth that they are also capable of holding magic and in fact were born with it already, as we all were! That you are included as well and you are most needed. So I share my face frequently as I explore my path to remind others that they are also welcome. And I share my face to make my younger self proud. See, Izzy? We can be great witches too.
First published on Clouds + Dirt, July 2019
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