Racism & Witchcraft: A Historical Perspective on the Targeting of Marginalized Groups

Racism & Witchcraft: A Historical Perspective on the Targeting of Marginalized Groups

Throughout history, people who were accused of practicing witchcraft were often targeted because of their race, ethnicity, or sex. We are going to go over some examples of this and how it relates to witchcraft in this blog. We will also discuss appropriation of sacred symbols, traditions, and cultures while comparing the negative implications of such events.

Roma & Jewish • Europe • 16th and 17th centuries

During the witch hunts of the 16th and 17th centuries in Europe, women who were accused of witchcraft were often poor and marginalized. Many of these women who were accused belonged to minority groups such as the Roma or Jewish communities. They were targeted because they were seen as outsiders who did not conform to the dominant culture and religion of their communities.

These accusations were often based on stereotypes and prejudices about these groups, such as the belief that Jewish and Roma women engaged in secret and immoral practices.

Jewish and Roma women were often more likely to be involved in trades and professions that were seen as unconventional for women, which further contributed to their marginalization and made them easy targets for accusations of witchcraft.

Once accused, Jewish and Roma women faced a high risk of conviction and execution, as they were often seen as already outside of the law and social norms.

The term "gypsy" was often used to refer to Roma women who were accused of witchcraft. This reflects the common stereotype that Roma people were associated with magic and fortune-telling. The term "gypsy" was often used in a derogatory way to perpetuate negative stereotypes and justify their persecution. This term is considered a slur by many Romani people because it has been used historically to stereotype, marginalize, and discriminate against their community. The term has been used to describe people who are perceived as being nomadic, exotic, and even criminal. Over time, the term has taken on negative connotations and has been used to perpetuate harmful stereotypes about the Romani people. Many people in the Romani community prefer to be referred to as Romani, Roma, or Romany, as these terms are considered to be more respectful and accurate.

It is important to note that not all Roma women were accused of witchcraft, and the accusation of witchcraft was not unique to the Roma community. It was a widespread phenomenon that affected many different groups of people throughout Europe.

**The  word "gypsy" comes from the Greek word "Egyptios," which means "Egyptian," as it was once believed that the Romani people originated from Egypt. However, this belief has been debunked, and the Romani people are thought to have originated from the Indian subcontinent.

The Salem Witch Trials • Salem, Massachusetts • 1692

The Salem witch trials were a series of hearings and prosecutions of people accused of witchcraft in colonial Massachusetts in 1692. The trials resulted in the execution of twenty people, fourteen of whom were women, and the imprisonment of many others.

The trials were sparked by the accusations of several young girls in the town of Salem who claimed to be possessed by witches. The accusations quickly spread, and over the course of several months, more than 200 people were accused of witchcraft.

While the vast majority of those accused were white, there were a few instances where black people were also accused of witchcraft.

One of the most well-known examples is the case of Tituba, a slave from Barbados who was one of the first people accused of witchcraft in Salem. She was initially accused of practicing voodoo and was later accused of being a witch. Tituba's race and cultural background played a significant role in the accusations against her, as she was seen as an outsider who did not conform to the dominant culture and religion of her community.

Another black woman, Mary Black, was also accused of witchcraft in Salem, although her case did not result in a conviction. Like Tituba, Mary Black was a slave, and her race and social status likely contributed to the accusations against her.

The Nazi Party • Germany • 1920s

There have been some individuals and groups who have used witchcraft and other forms of esoteric spirituality to promote racist ideologies.

Symbols and rituals associated with Nordic and Germanic paganism have been appropriated by white supremacist and neo-Nazi groups who seek to promote their belief in the superiority of the "white race." These groups often use symbols and rituals from these traditions to promote their ideology and to justify their exclusion of people of color.

The Nazis appropriated Nordic runes for their own purposes, using them as symbols of the so-called "Aryan race" and the superiority of the German people. The Nazis believed that the Nordic runes had magical properties and were sacred symbols of the ancient Germanic tribes. They used these symbols extensively in their propaganda, military regalia, and architecture, and they were often associated with the Nazi Party and its ideology.

The most famous example of the use of Nordic runes by the Nazis is the swastika, which was initially a Hindu and Buddhist symbol of good luck and prosperity before it was adopted by the Nazis as a symbol of the Aryan race. The swastika was associated with the Nordic rune "Tiwaz," which was believed to represent the god Tyr, the god of war and justice.

The swastika has been used in many different cultures throughout history, including in Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism.

The Nazi Party adopted the swastika as its official emblem in the 1920s, and it became closely associated with their ideology of white supremacy and anti-Semitism. During the Holocaust, the swastika was used as a symbol of the Nazi regime's persecution and murder of millions of Jews, as well as other groups deemed "inferior" by the Nazis.

Due to its association with the Nazi Party and the Holocaust, the swastika is condemned by many as a symbol of hatred and racism. It is illegal to display the swastika in many countries, including Germany, Austria, and France, and it is widely considered to be a symbol of hate speech and intolerance.

While the swastika has a long history and cultural significance in many different traditions, its appropriation by the Nazi Party and other white supremacist groups has forever tarnished its meaning and made it a symbol of hate and oppression.

Other Nordic runes that were used by the Nazis included the "Odal" rune, which was used as a symbol of racial purity and the "Sowilo" rune, which was used as a symbol of victory and power. The Nazis also created their own runic system, known as the "Armanen runes," which was based on ancient runic alphabets but modified to fit Nazi ideology.

The Valknut symbol is an ancient Norse symbol that consists of three interlocking triangles. It is also known as the "Knot of the Slain" or the "Hrungnir's Heart." The exact meaning and significance of the symbol are unknown, but it is believed to have been associated with the worship of Odin, the god of war in Norse mythology.

They also used it in their propaganda and military regalia. They associated the symbol with the idea of the "Aryan race" and the superiority of the German people. In particular, they linked the Valknut symbol with the concept of "heroic death" and used it to glorify their soldiers who died in battle.

The Nazis also used the symbol as part of their cult of personality surrounding Adolf Hitler. They claimed that Hitler was a modern-day incarnation of Odin and used the Valknut symbol in conjunction with other symbols and rituals to promote this idea.

Today, the Valknut symbol is often associated with white supremacist and neo-Nazi groups. However, it is important to remember that the symbol has a long and complex history that predates the Nazi regime. The appropriation of the symbol by the Nazis is an example of how symbols can be used to promote hateful ideologies and should serve as a warning against the misuse of symbols for political purposes.

These appropriations of symbols and rituals from Nordic and Germanic paganism are particularly concerning, as they contribute to the perpetuation of harmful and exclusionary beliefs about race and ethnicity. They also undermine the true spiritual meaning and historical context of these symbols and rituals, which have been important parts of many different cultural and spiritual traditions throughout history.

Modern Times:

In more recent times, some practitioners of witchcraft have been accused of promoting racist and white supremacist beliefs. This has led to a debate within the witchcraft community about how to address these issues and ensure that the practice of witchcraft is inclusive and welcoming to people of all races and backgrounds.

The vast majority of modern-day practitioners of witchcraft do not promote racist or white supremacist beliefs.

Cultural Appropriation from White Practitioners:

Another way that racism has been promoted in witchcraft is through the concept of "cultural appropriation," which refers to the adoption of cultural elements from another group without proper respect or understanding. Some white practitioners of witchcraft have been accused of appropriating practices and beliefs from other cultures, such as African or Native American spirituality, without acknowledging or respecting their origins.

These actions can be harmful and exclusionary to members of those cultures, and can perpetuate harmful stereotypes and power imbalances. It's important for practitioners of witchcraft and other spiritual practices to be aware of the potential for cultural appropriation and to approach other cultures with respect and understanding.

There are several ways that white practitioners can avoid promoting racism in their practice of witchcraft. Here are a few suggestions:

1. Educate yourself: Take the time to learn about the cultural origins of the practices and beliefs you are interested in. Read books, attend workshops, and seek out information from people who belong to those cultures. Approach this learning with humility and an open mind, and be willing to confront any biases or assumptions you may hold.

2. Practice inclusivity: Make a conscious effort to be welcoming and inclusive to people of all races and backgrounds in your practice. Consider how your language, actions, and symbols might be interpreted by people from different cultures, and strive to avoid anything that could be seen as exclusionary or appropriative.

3. Respect cultural boundaries: Be mindful of the cultural boundaries of the practices and beliefs you are interested in. If you are interested in incorporating elements from another culture into your practice, seek permission and guidance from members of that culture, and approach it with respect and sensitivity.

4. Challenge racism: Speak out against racism and white supremacy whenever you encounter it, both within and outside of the witchcraft community. Use your privilege as a white person to amplify the voices of people of color and promote greater inclusivity and equity.

5. Practice self-reflection: Regularly examine your own beliefs and assumptions about race and identity, and be willing to confront any biases or prejudices you may hold. This can be uncomfortable, but it is an important step towards becoming a more inclusive and anti-racist practitioner.

An Important Reminder:

It is important to note that cultural appropriation today covers a much wider frame, and that not every indigenous or African American person feels similarly about it. Due to the varying consensus between the witchcraft community, it’s important to open the dialogue and promote more inclusivity. 

An important first step to ending the damaging stereotypes is to learn about them so we do not repeat them. At Kay’s Magic, we aim to educate everyone on the historical significance of magical traditions and cultures. 


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