Since my first volunteer day at WCBN, I’ve had Buffy Sainte-Marie on my mind (it also happened to be the Sunday prior “Columbus Day”, so maybe that had something to do with it?), and as I was writing today’s adventures in freeform radio for my Tumblr diary, I happened upon her ILLUMINATIONS album, which featured one of the songs that I got one of the DJs today to play on the air, today, though the particular album he played it from was a “best of”.
I noticed that the first track on ILLUMINATIONS (which is also one of the earliest examples of a synthesiser on a pop album, and one of the earliest and *finest* fusions of psychedelic and folk music, in my opinion) is “God Is Alive / Magic is Afoot”. The track was originally a poem by Leonard Cohen, but for those of you unfamiliar with Buffy Sainte-Marie, she’s a Cree folksinger and Red Power activist, a pantheist and Baha’i supporter, and generally totally fucking amazing.
I’m having a hard time pinpointing a year for “the Goddess” version of that phrase that became the title of Cohen’s poem, but considering that Buffy Sainte-Marie was a *very* prominent figure in folk music, at the time, clearly Budapest and everyone else who has written or uttered “The Goddess is alive and magic is afoot” AND who was also aware of things happening in 1969 had to be at least passingly familiar with Buffy Sainte-Marie’s musical rendition of Cohen’s poem. While true that the music press generally ignored ILLUMINATIONS (Sainte-Marie, herself, blames this on the fact that most critics at the time were uninterested in a synth-based record from someone who they preferred to maintain was little more than a “Pocahontas with a guitar” figure —which you gotta admit, is kinda racist), it would have been hard for people involved in the folk music and alternative-religion communities to have completely ignored it.
Now, I’m unsure who first wrote or uttered “the goddess is alive…”, and maybe I’m just too-eager to paint Zsuzsana Budapest in an increasingly-negative light because I’m very well-aware that she has famously uttered it on many occasions when addressing pan-pagan audiences. Still, I can’t help but wonder if this is a way for middle-class white pagan women to subtly undermine “that uppity Native woman”.
…now, there’s a chance, even if a slight one, that “the goddess is alive…” was first written/uttered in response to Cohen’s poem with no knowledge of (or before the existence of) Buffy Sainte-Marie’s song version, meaning it would be a response to and attempt to either compliment or undermine a man of Jewish background (and apparently a convert to Buddhism). That said, if my suspicions prove correct, and “the goddess is alive…” was first said *after* Sainte-Marie’s 1969 album, then the possibility of racist overtones in that phrase simply cannot be played down because few (if any) people uttering it now have explicit animosity toward people of colours….
But let’s think about this a moment:
“The Goddess”, of Dianic and Pop-Wicca traditions, is this all-benevolent Ur-Goddess that aims to compile the “best” qualities of all goddesses of all traditions, but most people who tend to write of this all-purpose Ur-Goddess have an absurd tendency to reference only European goddesses and white-washed Mediterranean and Middle Eastern goddesses. Moreover, “positive” and “healive” magic is “light” or “white magic” to a still-too-high number of people, and “dark” or “black magic” is that which is destructive or regarded as harmful. These terms, contrary to popular assumption, are also not necessarily just benign references to certain aspects of human nature, but can be loaded with racist baggage. As these standards of “white/light magic” versus “black/dark magic” are still too-common and, indeed, a standard in the alt-religion and “magical” communities, the potential for even subtle racism and a wealth of microaggressions based on race cannot be ignored, even in “Goddess spirituality” communities.
If Buffy Sainte-Marie’s record DOES, indeed, pre-date “the goddess is alive….”, even if by only a year, then the potential for racism lining the first utterance of “the goddess is alive…” is, indeed, great. While true that, even in the 1960s, the Trail of Tears was almost a century ago, racism against indigenous people of the Americas was still rather great —and (especially in certain parts of he country) is still great, today. The possibility for even subconscious racism in that first utterance of “the goddess is alive…” as a means of undermining one of the world’s most-prominent Native voices and silencing it with more attempts at “enlightened whiteness” in the women’s and alt-religion movements becomes too great to ignore.
So who first said “the goddess is alive and magic is afoot”? When did that person say it? In what context? How can we be certain that its utterance was without the possibility of racism?