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““We may not be Christian here, but we still pray,” said a woman dressed entirely in white as she addressed a large audience of African American women. Standing behind a lectern, speaking in the cadences of a preacher, she added, “I understand God more now, doing what I’m doing, than I ever did in the Church.”
The call and response that followed (“No one’s going to protect us but who?” “Us!”) was reminiscent of church—but this was no traditional sermon. The speaker, Iyawo Orisa Omitola, was giving the keynote address last month at the third annual Black Witch Convention, which brought together some 200 women in a Baltimore reception hall. The small but growing community points to the hundreds of young black women who are leaving Christianity in favor of their ancestors’ African spiritual traditions, and finding a sense of power in the process.
Over the past decade, white millennials have embraced witchcraft in droves. Now a parallel phenomenon is emerging among black millennials. While their exact numbers are difficult to gauge, it’s clear that African American pop culture has started to reflect the trend. In the music industry alone, there’s Beyoncé’s allusion to an African goddess in Lemonade and at the Grammys; Azealia Banks’s declaration that she practices brujería (a Spanish term for witchcraft); and Princess Nokia’s hit “Brujas,” in which she tells white witches, “Everything you got, you got from us.”
African American witchcraft originated in West Africa, the birthplace of Yoruba, a set of religious traditions focused on reverence for ancestors and worship of a vast pantheon of deities known as orishas. Those traditions accompanied West Africans who were brought to the Americas as slaves, and were eventually combined with Western religions, such as Catholicism, that many slaves were pushed to embrace.”
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