trigger warning for the inclusion of racial/ethnic slurs in a deconstructionalist manner, and short discussion and links of hate crimes.
EXTERNAL LINKS ARE NOT SAFE SPACES, DO NOT READ THE COMMENTS
i used to consider myself a part of the pagan community. i admit, i was originally one of those obnoxious teens that read generic ‘paganism 101′ books and called myself wiccan without actually understanding the depth and complexity of religion and spirituality as a whole. i felt out of place with the christianity that i grew up with, my mother recognized this (and also wanted to expose me to other options instead of just the majority) and gave me books to read (that were probably published by the company Llewellyn, which is full of bullshit – but that’s for later). it took me several years to start looking into various religions in a more in-depth fashion, learning the various perspectives, traditions, beliefs and structures of branches of christianity, various pagan and other non-christian paths. and most importantly, i started to learn about their origins and history.
and that’s when i learned that a lot of it is fucking bullshit.
now, this is not to say that the beliefs are bullshit – religious and spiritual beliefs of various sorts can be completely valid and an intricate part of a person’s life and identity. but the problem starts when those beliefs are derived from culture appropriation, unethical tactics and exploitation.
the thing that i want to target specifically, and one of the things that bothers me the most personally, is the use of the concept of ‘gypsy magic’ or ‘gypsy tarot’ in pagan practices.
first, what many people don’t realize (especially when they’re in positions of privilege, such as living in western countries and being a part of the dominant culture and/or society) is that the term ‘gypsy’ is a racial/ethnic slur. as i mentioned in a previous post, the term is used to both target and represent traveler peoples, of which are frequently stereotyped based on society’s perception of the romani and dom. it is based on a misconception that they originated from egypt, hence the ‘gyp’ portion. while the term can be reclaimed by individual people as a form of personal empowerment against racism and other forms of institutionalized oppression, it is widely regarded as a slur when used by folks of privilege who are not themselves traveler peoples (ex: the majority of white people throughout europe, where the slur is most widely used). in such a case, calling something ‘gypsy magic’ is blatantly offensive when used by those from a position of privilege, and stems from racism.
second, it is not possible for romani or dom traditions to be taught and practiced by outsiders of the culture. these traditions are passed down through family and community. and people are only considered part of these communities if they adhere to various traditional connections to their ethnic communities. just throwing things together and calling them ‘gypsy traditions’ doesn’t work – the community has to welcome you and feel that connection between you and their culture. otherwise, you are gadje - an outsider. even those brought into the community through marriage or birth may not be considered part of the culture if they are detached from various aspects that make up that culture. yes, even with romani or dom heritage, you can be gadje. on top of that, the majority of romani and dom are christian because of the (white, christian, often focusing on conversion) dominant cultures they live in. so some of the folk traditions and beliefs are beginning to slowly die out, only maintained by the few. painting all romani and dom with these traditions and beliefs ignores the slow erasure of folklore and culture through cultural assimilation.
third, the distribution of traditions painted as ‘gypsy magic’ to outside audiences en masse is a form of culture appropriation. as mentioned in the previous paragraph, the cultures of the romani and dom people are closed to those they do not welcome. taking these traditions, or even things that one labels as ‘gypsy traditions’ (even if they have no actual relation and are thus compromised of stereotypical bullshit), is appropriation of their culture for one’s own personal gain. that is stealing. and feeling entitled to doing so through excuses of ‘how do we learn about other cultures if we segregate them?’, ‘no one owns beliefs’, ‘i have a right to my beliefs’, et al, is derailing privileged bullshit. they are attempts to excuse one’s problematic behaviors, or behaviors/beliefs that stem from the problematic behaviors of others (i’m looking at you, scott cunningham and raymond buckland), and they are used to silence and destroy the voices of people calling them out or those directly affected, namely people of color (romani and dom in this case). such excuses contribute to the overall oppression of people of minorities by adding to the bullshit of the majority, while dismissing both the identities and experiences of minorities. and people believe it, because that’s what they’re told, that’s what they’re never told to question, and that’s what ‘everyone’ (see: those they’re actually exposed to) says.
and it’s fucking bullshit.
fourth, many of the traditions of ‘gypsy magic’ or tarot is based off of ethnic stereotypes, romanticizing images and ideas that are far from representative of the people these stereotypes are attached to. after all, many of those that are slandered as ‘gypsies’ aren’t even romani! folks like the pavee may even be white and have their own traditions, thus hardly the depiction of dark skinned ethnic beauties in their golden jewelry and brightly colored clothes. what’s worse, these popular depictions of ‘gypsies’ in fantasy worlds such as games, books and movies suggest that they don’t even exist anymore! like they’re some sort of magical fairies that add color and excitement (or theft and deception, like that’s so much better!) to such environments and then magically disappear from the world during the medieval times. yeah, the folks that are suffering from racial, class and cultural oppression throughout europe and various other locations throughout the world? don’t exist, apparently. those molotov cocktails being thrown into their homes and fascist organizations terrorizing entire communities just for existing? fiction, apparently. and their voices shouting at the world to stop these assaults on their peoples? just whispers in the wind.
and i am reminded of all of this every time i participate in pagan communities and someone brings up their association to ‘gypsy’ bullshit of whatever sort, when they’re first world white middle class privileged asshats filled with a personal sense of entitlement.
it’s no wonder i stopped. so many of us are unwelcome, even in communities that parade themselves as welcoming to people of all beliefs and cultures. because so often, that really means people who agree with them, and who will share their privilege and entitlement in such environments. so often, if someone speaks up about problematic appropriation or stereotyping, their voices are drowned out by excuses from positions of power.
i don’t bother arguing anymore. so i speak up in environments where words will be heard for what they are, and identity and heritage can be respected. because maybe then people will listen and respect those that are being harmed.