Monday, January 16, 2012

interview with Khi: artist, shaman, hoodoo rootworker (part 1)

I've gotten several requests to profile a hoodoo practitioner here on blackpagan.com, so here it is. I'm very excited to present artist and shaman/hoodoo rootworker Khi Armand, who offers spiritual services through his Brooklyn-based business Conjure in the City. Khi is a very talented, soulful, intelligent -- and busy! -- brotha, and this is a great frickin' interview, so without further ado: 

What is your name, age, what do you do for a living?
My preferred name in this lifetime is Khi Armand. Khi is a riff on "Chiron," the Greek centaur of mythology who provides the Western world with a glimpse of the Wounded Healer archetype. Armand was gifted to me by an actor I was working with in a show I wrote and directed during undergrad. 


I'm 25 years old and am the sole proprietor of Conjure in the City via which I offer services as a Psychic Intuitive, an Urban Shaman, and a Hoodoo Rootworker. I'm also an interdisciplinary artist, am the associate editor of Hoodoo & Conjure Quarterly, and am an MA candidate in Performance Studies at New York University.
What is your spiritual path and how did you get into it? What are some of your influences, how long have you been a pagan (if that is how you self-identify)?
I definitely find affinity with the Pagan community and publicly identify as such quite often. I think a more accurate term to describe my spiritual path would be Shamanic, which I consider to be somewhat pre-Pagan, less Eurocentric, and more indicative of my role in this lifetime.


Can you describe the evolution of your spirituality, briefly (for instance, I went from secular>atheist>Christian>dabbled in Rasta>Vedanta/Buddhism>Christian>now pagan eclectic with elements of all the previous).
Evangelical Christian > Christian > Spiritual > Atheist > Spiritual > Wiccan > Eclectic Pagan > Shamanic with numerous elements of Eclectic Paganism. It gets a little tricky because I'm a professional Hoodoo Rootworker who works with a number of different Spirits (including some little known ones from the Unnamed Path, the Shamanic tradition I'm an initiate in). I work with them magickally but the magick is devotion as well. 


I think that modern Paganism as it is known in the West is still hung up on whether or not magick is religion as we are conditioned toward the Christian binary of separating the physical from the spiritual. Magical practice is indeed religious / spiritual - it is communication. Finding out what your needs and wants really are and finding out how to get them met is highly spiritual work that may seem simple at first, but actually brings up so many questions of desire, entitlement, longing, passion, disappointment, and fulfillment. 


Getting laid, having money, reaching for success - these aren't just ego-driven. These are parts of soul work - our desire for them, our paths toward getting them, what we do with them when we have them, and whether or not they are actually fulfilling for us in the long run.


Which gods do you work with/worship/honor? And can you describe some of your practices?


I work first and foremost with my Ancestors. I refresh their altar once a week with fresh water, whiskey, a new candle, and hot sweet coffee. Everything - I mean everything - changed about a month or two after I started honoring my ancestors. If you're looking to be more in the groove of life, if you're looking to increase your intuitive abilities, and you want more support as you move toward your life's purpose, start an Ancestor altar. I can't suggest it highly enough.
In the Unnamed Path, a Men-Who-Love-Men shamanic tradition, I'm an initiated priest of the Dark Goddess. I perform devotions to her regularly and she's a major part of my life. I work with the three other deities of the tradition as well.
I work with Maximon (San Simon), a Guatemalan deity, everyday. He gets a cigarette, fresh water, incense, and a lit candle. Once a week he gets the works - candy, tortillas, etc. He's a badass.
I also work with Elegua, Ogun, and Yemaya of the Orisha tradition and a host of Saints and Spirit Guides. When you're doing this work for a long enough time, you can really cultivate a whole family on the other side. It's kind of out of crazy, but it's really awesome too.

Do you follow the wheel of the year?
LOL, in my heart, yes. It's been a long time since I've celebrated a Sabbat of my own accord, but I fantasize a lot about doing so again. I really like attending public rituals though and I think that when I move into a larger space I might begin to host them again.
How do you incorporate your spirituality into your every day life? For instance, I meditate each morning, I go into the woods at least once a week, I have ritual during the moon cycles, etc. What do you do?
I honor Maximon, pour my heart out to / pray for / pray with my Ancestors, and bathe with spiritual cleansing elements like Uncrossing oil that I've added to my shower gel. I say affirmations, give offerings to different Spirits depending on the day, and anoint myself with oils and intake herbal medicines that correspond to my own goals. I maintain a meditation practice and go to the park as often as possible.
Do you have folks that you circle, practice ritual with? 
I don't right now but I absolutely will very soon. I can feel it coming. With a cat. That's coming soon too.


You do hoodoo magick, both personally and for a living. How is that related/intertwined with your spirituality?
It's all related. It's a life of devotion, paying attention, trusting, and applying my will and intention to my life and the lives of those that come to me for assistance. It's literally my job to remain connected and to combine my craftsmanship with a submission to the answers that I'm being given by my Spirits and the tools I work with. 


Often, when I begin a work, I'm transported into a trance state in which I'm told everything that needs to happen. Next thing I know, candles are burning and things are poppin'! The Spirits are incredible, real, and necessary. I'm working on a mojo hand, a type of talisman, for a client who wants business success, and I'm being told that Angelica Root needs to go in it because she currently lacks the sense of self-empowerment that will be crucial in her reaching this goal. A gay man is looking for love and affection and I'm being told that Mastery Root's perspective is needed here because his head is not in alignment with his heart and he needs to cultivate self-love in this process. Neither of these are correspondences you'll find under the respective headers of financial success or love drawing, but they provide the medicine - the perspective - that is necessary for the situation. I don't know the difference between magick and spirituality - I simply don't.


In your hoodoo work, you help people manifest the things they want in life whether that’s a job, a new relationship, ways of getting unstuck. Can you talk about how you’ve personally benefited from rootwork?


My Spirits urged me to do a spell on myself for peace and calmness a few weeks ago, though I couldn't really understand why. I think it's the main reason I'm surviving the crunch time of finals right now, lol. But yeah, rootwork / magick attracts money and opportunity to me on a regular basis, has unblocked my life when its felt incredibly stuck (you can read an article about that in Issue 3 of Hoodoo & Conjure Quarterly) and has been a major part of my healing old emotional wounds. 


I've gotten jobs, apartments, sweetened employers to increase my pay, and more. Hoodoo and magick can be applied to any situation. The trick is to apply the right amount of energy at the right time to the right spot. Like a ninja.
Hoodoo makes use of Christian symbolism. Can you explain how someone can work within this system of magick and not be a Christian?


I know tons of Hoodoos who don't use Christian symbolism. Hoodoo is derived from Congo magick and religion and is not Christian in origin. Colonized people do lots of things to survive and perform their practices with dignity, syncretism not the least of them. Hoodoo spells can be rich in their use of Psalms (which I personally find to be beautiful and powerful incantations) and Christian symbolism, but they also draw on Jewish and American Indian influences. Hoodoo is more characterized by its emphasis on odd numbers, its use of personal concerns and foot track magick, repetition within a spell, and other elements. You can alter your Hoodoo spells to suit your religious practices, no problem. They'll still work. I do and I don't - depends on how I feel and the working I'm doing. I might be a queer shamanic healer but Jesus is still alright with me. Wait -- wasn't he all those things too? ;-)


You mentioned how growing up in the Protestant church you were surrounded by “elements of conjure.” Can you tell me a bit about that, and about how your religious upbringing informs your work and spirituality today?


Oh, the anointing of heads with olive oil, the fervent praying, the speaking in tongues. All of these have carried over into my work today, though now I'm more inclined to use a Crown of Success or Blessing oil blend when anointing someone's head. Speaking in tongues, or glossolalia, can be an excellent way to build up power with the voice without having to focus on the words you're saying - you're being guided by Spirit and can focus instead on seeing "those things that be not as though they were." (Romans 4:17)


Is your family accepting of your being pagan?


I think at this point my family is accepting of me being "me." My parents say that they always saw great things for me and I think now they've settled into the fact that the life I'm living now is part of that road. They just didn't think it was going to look this way, I'm sure. They're very proud of me as a person and are incredibly supportive and available.


Is it possible to learn witchcraft from a book or is it necessary to learn from someone personally?


You can learn to be a good magician from books, but it will take many years of fun hard work and trial and error. I'm still learning and will never ever stop. It's a life long journey. Hands-on apprenticing can be an awesome shortcut, but you'll still need to find your own style.


What advice would you have for that kid in Iowa, living in their fundamentalist Christian parents’ home who wants to get into magick or some alternative belief tradition but doesn’t know anybody where he or she lives and needs to keep it a secret?


That's a tricky one - the rebel in me says to learn all you can via the internet and try to cover your tracks, but I don't know what's at stake. For some it could be a small punishment but, for others, it could mean being shipped off to a brainwashing camp. The truth is that the Spirits call who they call and it would be up to this individual to weigh how much they feel the need to learn and participate in Earth-centered practices and be honest. 


Can they wait until adulthood? I was in a similar predicament and I couldn't wait. This was the path for me, I needed it like air, and I hid my witchcraft books under bushes at the local park in grocery bags. I couldn't wait and it cost me - and it was worth it.


That's it for now, and I hope you all enjoyed the reading. Thanks for stopping by, and do come back next week for part two of the interview, in which Khi talks about race and paganism, and the practice of earth-centered religions in urban environments, among other topics. Meanwhile, here's his facebook.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

interview with Black Witch

This week I'm very happy to present the Black Witch, aka Olivia, a 24-year-old librarian-in-training from Baltimore, MD. The original black pagan blogger, Olivia writes the popular Black Witch blog (also located at Afropunk.com) with corresponding  FacebookTwitter and Ustream Webcast. Ever busy, Black Witch is coming out with an anthology of her blog posts in Februray, so stay tuned to her site for upcoming details. 

Olivia has been a practicing witch since her teen years and her blog contains a lot of insight and wisdom into the Craft. Her most recent post, The Invisibility Cloak: Race and the Pagan, was nothing short of brilliant so you should definitely check that out if you haven't already. Okay, no more delay, here we go:
How and when did you get started in the Craft?
It’s a very long and winding story that’s nearly fit for a B to C-rate movie but the nutshell version is that I started being interested in magick and psionics when I was in middle school, if not younger, and started pursuing the Craft in earnest at around 15 or 16. 
What was your upbringing like in terms of religion?
Just like most Black kids: Christian. My parents weren’t Bible thumpers but they’re pretty firm in their beliefs, especially my mother’s side.
As a child, did you notice that you had psychic abilities? If so, was there any channel for them, a way you could develop and talk about them?
Did I ever! That’s also part of the long and winding story but a nutshell version of that is that I always had weird or odd things happening to me but once I was informed that, hey, this is devil worship, I got temporarily scared out of it until I came to my senses and slowly started practicing again, doing energy manipulation, telekinesis – that mention always cocks eyebrows – etc etc. I have gotten mad rusty, I can’t even move a pin without headache! I do want to get back into it though. I learned to do it, also kind of harness and learn more about myself as well, through meditation and study. 

Plus, I found through some digging some message boards of people who practiced and felt the same that I did and I would say that did help a lot because mention psionics to the average person and they’ll think you watched too much X-Men growing up.
How would you label your path (are you Wiccan, eclectic, etc.?)
I’m a Pagan Witch, plain and simple. Although, I can bet good money someone will call me Wiccan after I thoroughly explain myself, has called me Black Wiccan and not Black Witch, or will simply assume that I am an active practitioner of Wicca. If not Voudon. I should know because all of the above has happened before and it’s a little vexing because it’s like, “literacy, do you understand it?”
I like your blog because it really focuses on the nuts and bolts of magick. So I find myself wondering, what are your spiritual beliefs, if any? Do you work with specific deities, do you observe the esbats, etc.?
I’m basic Pagan in that I believe in nature and that spirit moves throughout nature and the universe within itself and as an expression of a greater life-force, better known as deities and spirits. I don’t always work with deities unless it’s for something pretty important. Instead, I work with the elements themselves usually. When it comes to deities, I work within a male/female duality but I have also worked with the Christian pantheon and any gods that I have extensively researched to make sure I’m not screwing up.
How and when did you get started doing spiritual work for other people (tarot, dream interpretation)?
That started in 2004, so I was about 16 or 17-ish. I was doing divination for myself and then when I felt confident, I started doing it for others, I would do cartomancy – playing card divination – and expand to other forms such as dream interpretation and tarot because I noticed a lot of people sometimes need help and I figured that I could do that and not be some wicked person with a parlor out to take someone’s money. I also was convinced to do so because I would hang out in my neighborhood metaphysical shop and would watch my mentors do it and the good that they were doing so, y’know, monkey see, monkey do. I saw them helping people, I wanted to do it too. 
What are some of the challenges of being a black witch in a culture where black folks are mostly identified with Christianity?
To be brief, dealing with Bible-thumping morons. It can be incredibly annoying dealing with people who don’t entirely understand it’s okay to be Black and practice a different religion. I am told, “You know that’s devil worship, right?” No, it’s not. “Christ will come and get you, He’s not happy.” 

I’m sure there’s a very long line of Christians who are doing things far worse than practicing a different religion he’s going to have to get through first. It can be massively annoying. I understand that people fear what they don’t understand but that fear would make me careworn. I’m glad my column/blog exists because it cuts down my explanation time by a lot but if people are scared to even look at it, what good is that? I don’t feel that I should tone down my practices in my usual day-to-day life constantly if others feel a god-given right to actually impose their beliefs onto mine. I don’t mind working on Yule but ask a Christian to work on Christmas? Blasphemy! 
Then there are people who will be sorta-friends with me for the handbag friend/glass menagerie feel. That being friends with me is their “totally not a bigot” badge or their “I’m so cool” badge, which leads them to be pretty insulting because they’re not friends with me because of me but because I say I cast spells and then their feelings are hurt when I bring that issue to light. I don’t exist as someone’s walking life-lesson, I like having a regular life just like everyone else. 

It is funny though when people bash my beliefs but they’re the first person running to me for card readings and hexes – something I definitely don’t do – despite the general Christian consensus is to not be involved with those things. I was nominated for a Black Weblog Award and though I didn’t win, I do hope there will be some change. And change doesn’t happen if someone sits around and hope only for it, there has to be movement. 
How do your family/friends/co-workers view your being a witch?
My family don’t know, my friends don’t care, my co-workers don’t mind.
What made you want to start a blog? Who is your readership?
Because there was a total and absolute lack of Black Pagan blogs to read and I got tired of waiting around and did something about it. I contacted Afro-Punk and after some fiddling about and e-pestering, I put up the Wordpress version up as well as my friend Erica suggested to me. Right around the time I launched the Wordpress version did Afro-Punk finally showcase my starting column so I’m technically an Afro-Punk columnist with the Wordpress serving as the external port but I think very few notice. 

My readership is mostly Black and Pagan, ranging in age but it turns out I also have a fairly sizable Christian readership as well, in addition to a slew of international readers. So far, judging from my Black Witch fan page on Facebook, I have just about at least one member from each of the Divine Nine, Black readers from Ivy League, business owners and things of that sort. I’m basically getting the crème de la crème du noir here and that makes me happy. I also have a sizable bit of teen readers and that’s also a great thing because I know I would have wanted something like this growing up.
Congratulations on the upcoming Black Witch anthology! Can you talk about the book? What made you decide to publish your blog posts in book form?
Thank you! I have to say though, the anthology – it’s more like a conglomeration book, it composes of all the Black Witch entries from the past year. As I mentioned prior, the book consists of all the first year of Black Witch postings in book form and possibly will have extras but I’m not too sure. I just wanted to expand my blog’s reach to get to a wider audience. 

I learned about magick and witchcraft through going to the library and reading books and not everyone has a computer so I figured that would be the best option to take. I would like to have it in e-book and audio book form as well, Braille too but that’s for the future. I plan to make these books come out yearly in volumes so this year is volume 1, next year is volume 2, so on and so forth. I really hope this will turn out well, publishing isn’t super easy!
Are you a part of any witch community (coven, circle), what have been your experiences (if any) with that?
Nope, I’m totally solitary. I’m pretty introverted so I never really seek out covens or circles to be a part of. Then there’s the fact I’m a pretty busy person so I like making my schedule to my liking rather than working my schedule around that of a group. Then there’s the potential of drama. I like to avoid drama the same way Fox News avoids genuine journalism. So I much rather keep to myself. 

If there was an all-Black coven or circle, I’d think about it but still I’m introverted and can be pretty wack around people sometimes. So yeah, rather keep to myself and participate when spiffy. 
What do you think of the representation of witches in popular culture (True Blood, the Craft, etc.)?
I don’t watch today’s shows about witches and such like True Blood – I thought that was vampires only? – and Supernatural  because there’s no major Black characters and storylines that I can actually see and I don’t think I could sit and watch those shows without raving and foaming at the mouth first about how sucky those shows are race and gender-wise. 

It was better when I was younger because I could balance shows like Charmed and Sabrina, the Teenage Witch with a slew of Black shows such as The Steve Harvey Show, The Wayans Brothers, and Living Single among others so less raving back then. 
Back on topic, I think they shouldn’t be taken seriously…at all. The Craft is one of my all time favorite movies and I have a Harry Potter mug and may debate you on Hogwarts houses (Ravensclaw!) buuuuuut they’re movies and books. Granted, the people behind The Craft and J.K. Rowling of Harry Potter have done their research and made their media both very entertaining and something that doesn’t make me want to pour bleach on my eyes – something I can’t say for movies and books such as Twilight and any Vampire stuff they’re coming out with now to hop on the bandwagon – but they are, in the end, movies and books. They are something to watch or read with soda and snacks, not with pen and paper. I can’t tell you how many Hogwarts questions I get though, they are aplenty. That was one captivating series!
It’s lovely to see that nowadays media is kind of trying to depict witches a little better, but they’re in the same vein as when it comes to depicting minorities: Hollywood is terrified of letting go its stockpile of jokes and references but they’re trying, just very little or flying off into a brick wall at the speed of light. I don’t watch a lot of movies for the same reason I don’t watch a lot of television, too White, but I can tell you, due to misrepresentation, I will get some nitwit contacting me about Inception, The Matrix or Harry Potter. I saw all three and they weren’t bad but God, do they make people foam at the mouth.