Besides raising a multicultural family of four children with her husband, she has passion for social justice and is an advocate for expanding the common understanding of privilege, race relations, the use of restorative justice practices and cultural empathy; furthering constructive discussions that are often taboo and misunderstood in society. She is both a thinker and dedicated to creating that better society that we all claim to want. She was also kind enough to accept my request for an interview.
Christopher: What kind of background did you grow up in?
Crystal: I was born and raised in the San Francisco Bay Area and raised by a single mother who was self employed. Growing up 5 minutes away from Berkeley, I have always been around a lot of different types of people and different kinds of diversity.
Christopher: You describe yourself as a woman and a person of color. What does that mean to you? How does that affect you?
Crystal: The inter-sectional position of being a woman of color gives me a lot to contemplate about who I am in the world, and what success looks like. My mother raised me to be a strong black woman, despite the challenges and messages I might get from society saying that I am not strong enough, pretty enough, or presentable enough to fill the expectations that greater society might have. To be successful has always meant the ability to embrace who I am and what I am as a black woman. From there all things are possible.
So finding ways to grow within my understanding of where I stand as a marginalized person, and learning how to use the social and cultural capital I have in my intersecting communities has taught me how to be fierce within any environment. From writing books, to raising my children, to social work in the inner city, embracing the strength of who I am has been a life-long lesson.
Christopher: What drives you? How does that affect your choices in education and your career choice?
Crystal: Passion drives me. I have always felt a strong commitment to justice and equity work, and worked in clinical services before I became a part of the Pagan community. Being a part of a marginalized ethnic community has given me first hand knowledge of what it means to work within systems that are designed without a sense of equality for all people. It has always been important to me that everyone has a choice to thrive, and becoming a social worker was the best path I could work in to be a part of manifesting this change.
Christopher: How did you become Pagan and what path do you follow?
Crystal: I came to this path in 2002 when I was prompted to do some research after meeting someone who was also interested in the path. I joined my first coven in 2003, and have continued to work in covens since that time. I trained with several traditions and became initiated with Family Wiccan Tradition International, which is no longer around.
I am a very eclectic Witch and incorporate several different aspects of my culture and my spirituality together. For the most part I still work within a Wiccan framework but have expanded that in many ways to accommodate some of my ethnic culture and ancestral culture.
Christopher: You are a high priestess in your tradition. Do you have a coven?
Crystal: I do not run a coven but I am a part of a small local coven. I have chosen not to have a coven that was specifically under my leadership because I am putting my energy towards completing my graduate degree and my social justice work.
Christopher: Could you tell us a bit about the Solar Cross Temple?
Crystal: Solar Cross Temple is a pan-magical temple that works with people from many different magical paths. The temple offers monthly devotionals, educational classes, outreach, interfaith and numerous social justice related projects. Some of our most recent justice projects have included contributing to the Pagans Against Racism website, facilitating justice programming at PantheaCon and collaborating with other organizations to support local actions.
Solar Cross is also kick-starting their new project called Turning the Wheel. Turning the Wheel is a project that will support collaboration and networking for young leaders and emerging leaders.
I have been a Board Member for Solar Cross since 2012, working alongside T. Thorn Coyle, Jason Thomas Pitzl, Jonathan Korman, Robert Russell and Elena Rose. I enjoy the work that we do as an organization and focusing a lot on using our magic, education and resources to fight for equity in our communities.
Christopher: How does all the above affect your chosen purpose and responsibility in the Pagan community?
Crystal: Being a part of the Solar Cross team just solidifies the intersection that exists between my spiritual and social work worlds. Priestessing often looks like social action for me, and this is an important marriage of principles that I embrace as a part of who I am today. I engage in activism within the Pagan community, as well as in larger society, as a commitment to justice and equity. One of the vows I made to Yemaya encompasses this work, and the fight for the protection of all her children.
Christopher: You often mention bringing up taboo and uncomfortable subjects in the Pagan community? Why are those subjects important? What must happen once the problems are identified?
Crystal: I often talk about topics around issues of race, privilege and other concerns of social justice. As a social worker, these topics are very normal conversation for me and yet they are not often the conversations that are comfortable to have in general society. We are taught not to talk about things that make us uncomfortable or that are challenging topics in public environments. Race, privilege and other justice related issues often fall into that categorization.
Yet these subjects are important in our society as a whole and within the Pagan community. In order for us to change some of the dynamics that traditionally keep marginalized people out of our circles, we have to be willing to delve into the issues that are existing around us.
So part of what I think is important for us all to do is to talk about these things, engage with one another on the challenging topics and find collective community minded solutions that support healing and growth.
Christopher: How do you explain something that your audience has no personal experience with? How do you get past ignorance denial, defensiveness to start working on the problem and encourage cooperation? Do you suggest possible solutions?
Crystal: All that I can do is tell my personal truth to others and share the information that I have from my studies and professional work. I do my best to be open and genuine in my communication, sharing in a way that allows people to hear and experience some of the true reflections of emotions. There is no way to make someone understand, I can only be present in the moment.
I do not also think it is my job to help someone get past the ignorance, denial or resistance. I think I get the option to engage with people who I feel are wanting to work towards understanding and true equity. If someone wants to live in their denial, it is not my obligation to change them. Instead I feel it is important to give resources, options and opportunities to those who are truly present in this struggle and want to learn and grow. I need that in my own process of growth and I find this is often a reciprocal process.
The best solution for addressing denial and resistance is education and engagement with others. Learning to understand topics of oppression is a responsibility that each of us has to own and learn about. Do the research, speak to those who do this work, talk to marginalized people and build meaningful relationships, be present and stay engaged. There is no crash course, it is about the willingness to learn and challenge one’s personal biases and conditioning.
Christopher: What are some of the uncomfortable subjects that you have written about and given workshops on? What about books you have written and anthologies that you have edited and co-edited?
Crystal: I have been on numerous panels at PantheaCon that discuss the topics of race, cultural appropriation, privilege and sacrifice. I have also done workshops at other festivals and conventions around cultural empathy, restorative justice and the use of cultural archetypes. These are all incredibly important topics within our community that I enjoy sharing.
I have written several books on related topics. I wrote Bridging the Gap: Working with the Dynamics of Pagan Groups and Society, and Pain and Faith in a Wiccan World. Both books address topics related to the myriad of community or personal issues that come up within our lives or our community and the infusion of counseling techniques to address them.
I have been the editor for Shades of Faith: Minority Voices in Paganism, and Shades of Ritual: Minority Voices in Practice. Both of these anthologies highlight the voices of people of color within our community and their experiences, practices and stories within the Pagan community. The newest anthology, Bringing Race to the Table, was co-edited by Taylor Ellwood, Brandy Williams and myself; it addresses the very topics of race, appropriation, privilege and ally-ship. All of the anthologies have very talented writers and incredibly moving pieces.
Christopher: How can people learn more about what we have talked about?
Crystal: There are always great resources to read that can support people with a better understanding of any topic that they want to learn about. Some of the resources we are putting together currently include the Pagans Against Racism website. This site has a host of links and information about several of the topics I have mentioned. I also have a lot of information and resources listed in the archives for the 30 Day Real Black History Challenge that are currently on the Daughters of Eve blog, hosted by Patheos. This year the 30 Day Real Black History Challenge will have it’s own website and there will be a lot of upcoming announcements to stay tuned for.
This interview was first published in ACTION.