“The problem is half of neo-paganism and especially occultism is a product of neocolonialism, orientalism, racism, and antisemitism. That number is more than half the second you visit any generic New Age section in a bookstore. It can’t just be a trimming of the more offensive looking branches of these groups. Folks need search for root rot.” – tumblr comment in response to “Cockroaches in Wolves Clothing”
I could probably write another long blog post just about that subject. Especially how the fetishizing of Middle Eastern mysticism (both Jewish Kabbalah and Arab traditions) by Western European occultists (while still persecuting Arabs and Jewish people, especially women) set the precedent for orientalism in the occult when Blavatsky and the Theosophists made their extremely inaccurate and very appropriative version of “Yoga” popular in the West.
I’m sure my followers are familiar with the “mysterious teacher from the Far East” trope in pop culture. (Think Doctor Strange’s “the Ancient”, the 1984 Karate Kid’s Mr. Miyagi, Batman’s Ra’s al Ghul, etc.) It is that thing where every white spiritual author conveniently has some East Asian guru who allegedly taught them everything that they wrote in whatever dubious book that sold ten million copies.
Originally in Western esoteric literature that figure was Middle/Near Eastern and either Jewish or Muslim (though the trend began before Islam). This theme actually began in Alexandrian times. The Alexandrian Empire was huge, like really huge, pretty much the entire Near-East and extending as far as India. Because of this there was a ton of ethnic and religious diversity in the city of Alexandria in Egypt. This led to a lot of mixing of religious, philosophical, and magical ideas, most notably the syncretizing of Egyptian and Greek deities. However, at least for the magicians and exorcists, there was a lot of Judaism in the mix, too. (Even well after Roman times Rabbis were regarded for their exorcism abilities.)
So when you read the Greek Magical Papyri you will, if you are familiar with semitic languages, notice a lot of Hebrew, Aramaic, and Arabic in their spells. All this was, of course, transliterated phonetically into Greek. These cosmopolitan magicians of Greek and Roman times would invoke the names of Moses, Abraham, Isaac, and many other prophets and patriarchs, they would even invoke Jesus (who, I will remind you, was Jewish).
Once militarized Christianity became a thing in Europe (you can thank the Roman emperor Constantine for that) and they laid siege to Jerusalem, antisemitism was alive and well. There were, however, still practicing magicians within the Christianity in the wealthier classes. Despite the general antisemitic sentiment in Europe, these magicians still liked to claim that they had learned Kabbalah from some rabbi, or learned conjuration of djinn from some imam. However, if you look at the spirit names in their grimoires they are clearly poorly transliterated from Hebrew into Greek, Greek into Latin, and from Latin into German, French, or English (depending on what country the Christian magician was from. High Ceremonial magic is very rooted in classism and the appropriation of Middle Eastern mysticism.
Meanwhile the biggest victims of the Inquisitions were Jewish women, from where the stereotypical image of a green-skinned witch with frizzy black hair and an exaggerated nose is from. The green-skin thing means that dark-haired, olive-skinned (light brown) women of Mediterranean descent were likely specifically targeted. (Meaning had my mother been in Europe at the time of the Inquisition I wouldn’t have been born.) It was straight-up genocide. Neo-Wiccans, of course, try to make the inquisition about themselves.
So these European Christian magicians had a love/hate relationship with Jewishness: they loved Jewish mysticism, but hated Jewish people. Fast forward to Victorian times, and the Far East was all the rage in Europe. They loved everything about Asia except the Asians. Jewish and Arab practices were no longer “exotic” enough. So Madame Blavatsky started her Theosophist movement, and a huge chunk of the very-not-Hindu and the definitely-not-buddhism stuff you see in books about “Yoga” and “Tantra” and New Age stuff is from her crew.
Yep, America and the UK are still gobbling up that horribly outdated crap, and the “teacher from the East” stereotype that gives these so-called spiritual leaders legitimacy lives on.
(This is frequently a point of contention between me and Ceremonial Magicians. All this history is important to keep in mind when reading my post about the legacy and legend of King Solomon in magic that I will hopefully publish soon.)
On a Decolonized Diet
I also spent my afternoon lecturing about the relationship between wheat (particularly america’s love affair with it) and colonialism/classism. This rant was prompted by an article titled “Wheat, one of the world’s most important crops, is being threatened by climate change“. America only grows like 3 varieties of wheat (there used to be hundreds) & these varieties have all been genetically modified to be resistant to herbicides and pesticides. This means that when you eat wheat, you also eat posion that the wheat has been drenched in. The FDA actually had to raise the “acceptable” amount of toxic chemicals in wheat. (Just like how they had to do the same with seafood after the gulf oil spill.) Several studies have concluded that this why more and more people in Western countries are developing Celiac disease. Wheat bread is a staple of the Western European diet.
Wheat based diets, especially white bread, used to be a sign of wealth. When Marie Antoinette said “let them eat cake” she was referring to white bread because she was told that the peasants were out of buckwheat (which is not actually wheat, it is gluten-free). She was too wealthy and out of touch to know peasants could not afford white wheat. Of course, now that we know white bread is terrible for you, it is a staple in the diet of poor Americans. South/Central American and Middle Eastern food has very few wheat-based dishes the way European food does. Flatbread is used as a side. Europe basically forced white wheat on the rest of the world. So the over-cultivation and potential extinction of wheat is pretty much the fault of American Big Agriculture and Western colonialism.
Also, wheat cultivation was pretty much the origin of slave labor in ancient Mesopotamia. The phrase “bread and circuses” to refer to the government using media to distract the lower classes from important events and issues originates in Ancient Rome where the empire made sure the lower and middle classes had enough bread and entertainment to distract them from the fact that their empire was collapsing and that they were in a pointless and unwinnable war. Sound familiar? Looking back on wheat’s bloodstained history it is no surprise that certain Kurdish tribes believe that wheat is literally from the devil. I’ll revisit the wheat-as-forbidden-fruit thing later.
A lot of people talk about the evils of corporate meat farming, very few people talk about the history of wheat and the damage the over-cultivation of wheat does to the environment. Looking back, history proves that reliance on a single cereal crop is always a recipe for famine. I’ll write more about the relationship between agriculture and the history of magic later, but when I do I’ll refer back to this post.