This past Saturday evening my sister and I attended an open forum board meeting at The Enchanted Tree regarding the treatment and experiences of pagans of color as well as the backlash over the Spirituality and Social Justice workshops that the organizers had moved out of the space citing hostility from the rest of the members of ETO.
I walked in to a haze of sage smoke and the president beating a drum in the class room as people were filing in. We sat down in the back with a friend who had traveled all the way from Los Angeles to attend this meeting as she had to attend the workshops every month. Everyone was given a maximum of five minutes to comment to the board and the board was only obligated to meet for an hour.
Some people stated that the workshops and articles posted online had no place in the organization and that social justice did not qualify as a spiritual practice, and how much they didn’t like stuff being posted calling all white people racist even though I couldn’t find anything on the forum stating so. One board member read a statement that explained why she had resigned her position.
One statement read during the meeting and shared online:
An Open Letter To The Membership of The Enchanted Tree,
Over the past several months a number of issues regarding the treatment of Pagans of Color at The Enchanted Tree have been brought to the forefront by several members of the board, teachers and members at large.
Several Pagans of Color and allies contend that they have been made to feel as though they are not welcome at the Enchanted Tree. This is the result of over four months of pushback against requests from PoC at the Tree for 1) more inclusive programming 2) more awareness around cultural appropriation 3) more teachers/traditions represented 4) acknowledgement of a budding path being built by an intersectional coalition group that establishes social justice as a legitimate spiritual path.
These requests have been met with a campaign by the leadership of the Enchanted Tree to have social justice issues declared “non-spiritual issues” or to have the lived issues of Pagans of Color that affect them spiritually declared “political” in nature and therefore unwelcome. This consistent politicization of the bodies of the Pagans of Color who attempted to get involved with certain Tree activities has led to a clear sense that these PoC are not welcome at the Enchanted Tree unless they are silent about their issues, their lives and their spiritual needs.
Several Pagans of Color feel they have been silenced and pushed out of a supposedly inclusive space due to the unwelcoming nature of the Enchanted Tree. Numerous attempts have been made by the facilitators of the Spirituality and Social Justice workshops, the attendees of the workshops and several board members, to reach a peaceful resolution with The Enchanted Tree Organization. These attempts have been met with hostility, defensiveness and the suggestion that the financial difficulties of the Enchanted Tree Organization are somehow linked to a decrease in membership due to the suddenly active presence of Pagans of Color and their White allies working for change.
The workshops have had to find another home, and many members, including board members, have felt that due to harassment, The Enchanted Tree is no longer a spiritual refuge of any kind. We encourage all members to reread the mission statement and see where The Enchanted Tree is but a sapling in the realms of compassion, wisdom and community building. To be unaware of the suffering of some members and to silence their voices is to be irresponsible at best and to be complicit in their pain at worst.
With this, we commit to creating spiritual sanctuary for those working for justice.
I have tried to like The Enchanted Tree as a space even though they didn’t usually offer things that interested me. I’ve been studying witchcraft and paganism since I was eleven and I’m thirty-one now. Most of the usual workshops and classes were things I already knew from books I read in high school, so when the Spirituality and Social Justice workshops were brought up I thought “Yay, something that matters!” I attended all but one of these workshops and I found solidarity, genuine healing, grief, catharsis, and empathy. At no time was I made to feel bad for being white, straight or cisgender.
Early into the board meeting I experienced what I consider my “Jump The Shark” moment. One of the problems I have observed online and in physical space is using vague and general “love and light” warm and fuzzy statements being used to shut down any serious discussion of real pain and crisis. During the meeting the mother of the board president used her comment time to sing a song. I was seriously expecting it to be Kumbaya, but she started singing “Come on people now, smile on your brother…” and things kind of went downhill from there, at least in my opinion. I don’t fault her personally because she probably really thought she was being helpful. But I sat there thinking Oh my fucking GOD, are we seriously devoting five minutes of a board meeting for the Board President’s mom to sing a little song!?
The other low point in the meeting for me was when an official sounding letter was read from a person with a lot of important sounding credentials saying that he didn’t consider ETO to be a racist organization and the people complaining about it were spreading lies.It was quickly pointed out that the writer of that letter was the Vice President’s boyfriend. They essentially said “We’re totally not racist, my black boyfriend says so!”
And when the woman who came from L.A. expressed a desire to know what lies were supposedly spread not one person on the board could give an example.
I even heard someone say they didn’t see color. And my sister later said she wanted to scream at someone “That’s NOT what White Privilege means!”
This meeting is when I decided I was done with The Enchanted Tree. Oddly enough my problem wasn’t racism. I think it’s A PROBLEM to be sure, but my problem personally was so many people so determined NOT to be made uncomfortable that they alienated anyone who was trying to make a real difference. This makes me sad because now I’m not confident that this community would support me if I tried to do anything “controversial” like a pagan prison ministry, fighting any sort of injustice or even helping the homeless.
This past weekend was not the first time I’ve been disappointed by my spiritual community center, but it was the first time I’ve been embarrassed by it.
This breaks my heart because pagans don’t have many options for community, especially if they’re brown. If I was a chistian and didn’t like the Catholic or Methodist church by my house I could go to almost any church of my choosing in any neighborhood. No so for pagans. Especially Pagans of Color. On a local pagan facebook the other day I saw a guy with a confederate flag as his profile picture asking about groups to join. Even if that person is a full blown White Supremacist he will likely have an easier time finding a community than many pagans of color will. And as a straight, white wiccan, I find that horrifying.