Review by Mike Gleason
Shades of Faith Minority Voices in Paganism by Crystal Blanton (Editor) © 2011
Twenty-six essays covering a variety of topics, each of which is a minority within the Pagan community, which is itself a minority with the larger religious community comprising our society; this is a book which has needed to be written for a long time. Written from the point of view of individuals of color in a dominantly white sub-culture, these are voices which often have a hard time being heard. There are some actions and attitudes which, while not acceptable, are at least understandable in the newcomer to Paganism and which are neither in the case of those who consider themselves to be functioning as priest or priestess.
Quick, look around your next “public ritual”. How many non-white faces do you see? Assuming there are a few, what is your first reaction to seeing them there? Do you make an effort to get to know who they are and what they believe, or do you just kind of tune them out? If you hear the words “Voudun,” “Santeria,” or “conjure magic” do you immediately think of blood sacrifice and move to distance yourself (physically and emotionally) from those practitioners? WHY?
Conversely, if you are a person of color and follow one of those paths, what is your reaction to seeing a white face at one of “your” gatherings? Do you assume they are consciously “slumming”? Or do you consider that their interest might be sincere?
If you stand on either side of the “color line” do you automatically assume that those opposite you cannot possibly understand your beliefs? Do you automatically assume that your way is superior? WHY?
The authors of these essays represent a fairly diverse segment of the minority population within the Pagan community. I wouldn’t say that they represent the full spectrum, but by including those of mixed African, Latino, and Native American ancestry (in any and all combinations) they are able to convey experiences which the majority of Pagans will never encounter. Along the way, they hold up a mirror so that we, the majority of this minority religion, are able to see some of our own unconscious expectations and reactions when they enter our stores, circles, grove, and open rituals.
This is an eye-opening book and one which EVERYONE can benefit from reading. Forget the objections which naturally come to the forefront (“We only have Caucasians in our group,” “They’re happier among others who believe as they do,” “They’re of African descent, so their ways aren’t ours.” and any others). Expose yourself to a very different point of view.