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The roots of Black and Indigenous spiritual practices and witchcraft carry Sabrina's narrative and many other white witch-centered narratives. 

By Briana L. Ureña-Ravelo This essay contains spoilers for “Chilling Adventures of Sabrina” When I first saw the trailer for Netflix's "Chilling Adventures of Sabrina” before it was released last week, it piqued my interest. Though I haven’t read the comics the series is based on, I grew up watching “Sabrina The Teenage Witch” and reading the Archie comics in the mid to late 90s and early 2000s. I’m not a huge fan of horror, as I find many creators in the genre cannot ultimately escape the monstrous trappings of dominant culture in their storytelling and I could tell the show was going to be a considerably darker departure from the characteristic telling, but it caught my attention nonetheless. It looked like it would deliver a more diverse cast and potentially feature smarter, more intentional, culturally, and socially rich storytelling than the high school horror/supernatural “Magical Chosen Girl” lore I had grown up with. I was also intrigued out of pure cynicism, knowing the show would do what most shows and media featuring young white female witches or even supernatural female characters do. These narratives take up the legacy of the Salem Witch Trials and other historical instances of non-European, non-Pagan, African and Indigenous spiritual practices and the religious repression and violence the practitioners experienced at the hands of European colonizers. In doing so, they falsely represent and conflate varied complex practices with “devil worship”. And “Chilling Adventures of Sabrina” does exactly this.   [caption id="attachment_50197" align="aligncenter" width="800"] Image: Netflix's "Chilling Adventures of Sabrina"[/caption] The underbelly of a lot of this misrepresentation and space-taking lies with a fundamental misunderstanding of the history that much of the story it relies upon, namely that of the Salem Witch Trials. It does so because it is easy for white storytellers to envision a descendant of European witches who fled to the new world to escape religious persecution as the champion of such a story. In reality, it was not merely witchcraft that sent the town of Salem into a Christian religious panic and doomed many of its citizens to execution by hanging, but specifically the practice of non-European, non-Christian, Black spiritual traditions. Central to this was the accusation that Tituba, an enslaved, likely Afro-Indigenous Barbadian, woman captive in Salem, was seen engaging and even teaching these practices to others. She was ultimately spared the cruel fate her enslavers and other slave-owning settlers chose to enforce on one another and sent back to the Caribbean where she was from, but only after she gave a fantastical, and likely carefully crafted, confession to satiate the rabid witch hunters. I wonder how it must have been for someone like Tituba, to have survived the bloody aftermath of the Salem Witch Trials alive, in a world where the life expectancy for enslaved people was barely three decades, if that. ...the conclusion of Tituba’s remarkable confession, marked a new chapter in the witchhunt episodes of New England…Tituba’s confession is the key to understanding why the events of 1692 took on such epic significance.” - Tituba, Reluctant Witch of Salem: Devilish Indians and Puritan Fantasies In spite of this history, time after time, in tellings of the happenings of Salem in horror and supernatural lore, this fact is obscured and writers continue engaging in the decades-long mischaracterization of the panic as merely being gendered. The panic was a both gendered and racialized product of white colonialism, but ignoring this allows white women, their experiences, and their perspectives to become the representatives for all of us. This omission plays itself out in the series over and over in the objectification and mistreatment of characters of color and the way stolen aspects of our practices are represented or used to drive plot. It continues the erasure of long histories of many communities of color, chiefly Black and Indigenous peoples of the Americas, who have had with the repression and banning of our spiritual practices, with the women in these communities experiencing the most violence and silencing of their traditional practices and ways. It deepens the painful characterization of these practices, these people, as evil, as dark, as “Bad/Black Witches”, echoing how settlers criminalized them to justify violence against them, and the policing of their bodies, communities, and cultures. While I have a literary and spiritual love and affinity for all things witchy, demonic, dark, and even heathen, I understand that the Indigenous practices of my ancestors and other communities of color were not those things, and to conflate the two is dangerous, colonial, and bigoted. Not only that, but our cultures and lore, even as we share experiences as global south people or people of color, should not be lumped together in any way. And to reduce us to mere objects to summon upon or things of terror, which is exactly what three white witches do in the episode six to perform an exorcism, is a gross disservice. We call forth the witches from the shade. Those who came before us and died so that we might live,” Sabrina begins. Then, the other two join in, “Visit us, Sisters. Intercede on our behalf.” Among the names called are Tituba and Voodoo Queen Marie Laveau. But the women of color called up in this exorcism, and more “witchy” Black and Indigenous women, were just trying to exist and fight against the anti-Black system of slavery that found them or their people forcibly bound. They are not the spectors of malice or witchcraft at beck and call to be summoned by white witches. They are not Sabrina's sisters, ancestors, or foremothers. When we understand these facts about Black and Indigenous histories and experiences with racialized religious violence, witch hysteria, and demonization, we see how inextricable the story of Salem and witch panic in the West is against the backdrop of white supremacy and colonialism. We can see how the Girl Power bent of these media narratives in truth get their influence from the matriarchal practices of Black and Indigenous peoples which spit in the face of the patriarchy traditional to Christian Europeans. We can also very easily see parallels to people of color’s current experiences with these systems of oppression, cultural and religious repression, and demonization, and how this is all unfortunately mirrored and replicated throughout Sabrina.
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It is clear that the cultures of Black, Brown, and Indigenous peoples are incredibly significant because of how much white people fear them.

Throughout history, cultural traditions have been used to mobilize groups of Black and Brown people together against a common threat—white supremacy. People of color have survived centuries of endless white violence and, at many turns, have used the power and reverence for our many cultures as a means to fight back. It is crucial that we preserve our cultural roots as much as we can, especially in these times when white supremacy and nationalism are so blatantly on display. White supremacists and nationalists have historically used the concept of “culture wars” to demonize people of color and paint themselves as victims, usually of some form of the white genocide mythos. Racists and xenophobes yelling at people of color for not speaking English, even threatening to call ICE, is one of the many hills they choose to die on. Their fear of other cultures—languages, traditions, religions, ethnicities, ideologies—is apparent in their actions, on both small and large scales. During the build-up to the 2016 presidential election, National Review’s Reihan Salam described culture wars as the “fight over the future of American national identity in the face of rapid and accelerating demographic change.” Culture wars are, more or less, a seemingly endless contention over who can and who cannot be considered a “True American,” with white, cis straight, conservative, Christians being the ones with the most ability to lay claim to this title and, therefore, also the ones with the ability to determine who else has access to rights in America. In almost every case, these culture wars have been conservative projects, instigated and waged by people anxious about the loss of old orders and the emergence of new ones. Their anxiety finds expression first as a complaint about a particular policy, and second as a broader lament about how far the nation has fallen from its founding glory and how desperately we need to restore whatever is passing away.” Stephen Prothero, Washington Post It is clear that the cultures of Black, Brown, and Indigenous peoples are incredibly significant because of how much white people fear them. Therefore, we cannot forget how our ancestors have used their various cultures as weapons against white supremacy, as tools to work towards their own liberation, and as mechanisms to cope in their positions as marginalized peoples. We cannot forget how the many children of the African Diaspora have used cultural traditions to combat and subvert white supremacist violences as they waded in the devastation of the Transatlantic Slave Trade. Bois Caïman is where the seed that would grow into the 18th century Haitian Revolution and slave insurrection was planted. At this site, the organized resistance began to take form when a traditional Vodou ceremony was performed. Vodou is a religion and philosophy with deep cultural roots and significant meaning that was birthed in Haiti (once called Saint-Domingue) when an amalgam of religious beliefs were carried to the island with the ships harboring people stolen from Africa. During this time, Haiti was under French colonial rule. The island was rich in sugar, coffee, and indigo, which the enslaved were forced to harvest and maintain. Their revolution was a fight against the harsh labor, as well as the dehumanization and incremental genocide at the hands of the French colonists.
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