I receive email. LOTS of email. And I’m not talking about spam.
Before email became popular I received lots of regular “snail” mail. And I mean LOTS of mail. I still receive some, but nowhere near as much as during the years that were P.E. (Pre-Email). Most of the questions and comments I received were surprisingly common. I tried to answer many of them in the “F.A.Q.” section of the second edition ofÂ Modern Magick.
But some letters just stand out. One came from a young man who was fascinated by the Runes. He really wanted to study them and give divinations using them. But his teacher advised him against it. His teacher didn’t say that it wasn’t part of the system she was teaching. She didn’t say that she thought he didn’t have the ability to learn them. There was only one reason she said he shouldn’t study the runes: He was African-American.
Does this sound racist to you? I’m sure his teacher didn’t think it was racist, but I would say it is. There is, among some occultists, a notion that you should specialize in the spirituality of the country in which you were born or from which your ancestors came. Thus, if you were born in Northern Europe, you should practice the magical system of the ancient Northern European tribes; if you were born in the U.S.A. you should practice the magic of Native Americans; if you were born in Western Europe, England, Ireland, Wales, Scotland, etc., you should practice the magic of the ancient Celts. Occult authors including Dion Fortune have described this, and it is a belief that some occultists follow today. The “reason” for this belief is that your birthplace or that of your ancestors supposedly indicates your soul needs to learn about the spiritual system of that area.
And yes, it is racist.
Although people who believe this give spiritual reasons for this belief (in NLP you learn that another term for “reasons” is “excuses”), the idea actually developed in the Victorian era. Anti-Semitism and racism were considered “normal.” In Germany, the idea was born that the major civilization of Europe didn’t originate in the Middle East (and with the Jews), but with a mythic Aryan race. In Great Britain, taking over other countries and taking care of the peoples in those countries was called the “White Man’s Burden.” Aleister Crowley bought into some of these ideas. Madame Blavatsky helped promulgate them. Dion Fortune encouraged it.
I believe it’s unfair to judge people from our after-the-fact position. They were doing the best they could with their upbringing and prejudices. Still, because these beliefs were based in racism and anti-Semitism, they were wrong.
Further, science today is showing that the entire concept of “race” is absurd and has less and less value for anything. The only aspect of race that is important is that we are all part of the human race.
Fortune did practice the magick of where she was born (Wales) and lived (England), but we know from her work with the Golden Dawn and her writings that she also practiced magick from the Middle East, specifically Egyptian and Kabalistic concepts. She worked with the Tattwa symbols of ancient Tantrics of India. Even during her time the concept of race was obsolete, but she couldn’t see it. She also couldn’t see the flowering of various forms of communication, including newspapers, telegraph, telephone, radio, television, faxes, email, texting, the internet, and more. Today, our world in no longer one of vast distances. It’s what Marshall McLuhan called a “global village.”
So I wrote this back to the young man and told him it was fine for him to follow any spiritual tradition and practice any form of magick or divination that interests him.
Have you been interested in some area of magick but not practiced it or even studied it because it was not “appropriate for your race” or some other belief? Did you go ahead and study it anyway? What has been your experience with this? Do you think you should only practice the spiritual system of the area where you were born? Why?