This article is divided into the following sections:
- Oppression Demons & Their Patterns
- Rituals to Transform Oppression Demons
I’ve been receiving visions and dreams on Oppression Demons for as long as I can remember. Starhawk’s book Truth or Dare was also very helpful in understanding how they work. Though this article completes the set of writings on demons (see “Soul Wounds & Personal Demons” and “Community Demons”), the main catalyst was community members and loved ones (including myself) who began to realize they needed communal support around healing from sexual trauma and assault.
Much of the knowledge of the behaviours and patterns of oppression demons have been done by the scholarship and teachings of many before me, especially Black writers/teachers like Eddie Ndopu, Franz Fanon, Audre Lorde, Angela Davis, bell hooks, Kimberle Crenshawe, Barnor Hesse, Alishia McCullough, Rhizome Syndigrast Coelacanth Flourishing, and Luka Roderique. Other writers that have been deeply influential are Edward Said, Jose Rizal, Dylan Rodriguez, Leny Strobel, Grace Nono, E.J.R. David, Kay Ulanday Barrett, Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha, Mia Mingus, AJ Withers, Harsha Walia, Eve Tuck, Lynn Gehl, Leanne Betasamosake Simpson, Robin Wall Kimmerer, Patty Berne, Eli Clare, and Andrea Smith. Zainab Amadahy’s Ways of Wielding the Force is particularly influential in regards to communal ritual. I’ve also recently come across the work of Tada Hozumi and dare sohei, who are adding a somatic and important depth to my understanding, and of which my understanding on oppression demons may radically change the more I become students of their work. There are so many others that I do not have time to name, but all the credit goes to my Elders and teachers. I ask for your forgiveness if I have forgotten to name you.
[This section was taken out for this excerpt.]
Oppression Demons & Their Patterns
To review, I wrote in the “Community Demons” article that oppression demons try to infiltrate different communities (groups of people that share similar values, beliefs, and customs) and imprint a specific pattern of violence through the deception that the oppression demons’ hierarchies are “natural”. Each demon has its own pattern of violence, but it relentlessly tries to force folks in communities to do it, regardless of the community.
An oppression demon’s pattern of violence attempts to target one group or community, while convincing another group or community that this scapegoating is deserved or will benefit the rest. Those who are most likely to discover the pattern of violence that an oppression demon tries to bring about, are the survivors of this violence (what we would call the “oppressed” or “marginalized”). Those who are least likely to discover or even believe that an oppression demon is working through them or is in the community are those who are “unaffected” or benefit from this violence (what we could call the “privileged”). I used quotation marks for “unaffected” because there is still a way that an oppression demon affects everyone in the community, even if a person isn’t a specific target for the pattern of violence.
Usually, the oppression demon also tries to convince the targets of violence that they deserve being treated this way too, and that setting up a “system” that perpetuates this violence is “natural”. When targets of violence from an oppression demon hurt each other because they are consciously or unconsciously convinced by the oppression demon’s violent agenda, this is usually called “lateral violence”.
When folks, both the oppressed and the privileged, are possessed by these demons, there is the argument that “this is just how it is”, that they “deserve” to be treated this way, or that the targets of violence “deserve” their treatment. This type of violent hierarchical thinking is what “affects” those that are privileged, and it disconnects them from community and each other. With a group that can be scapegoated, then that means that the privileged are “worthy” and “deserving”, and most of their identity becomes built on being at the “the top”. Thus going against the influence of oppression demons can also cause psychological suffering as they realize they are not as “worthy” or “deserving”, that the system was set up to harm others deliberately, and that they have been unknowingly complicit or deliberately responsible for violence.
Oppression demons have an added layer of complexity where some people can be privileged by one and oppressed by another. Those who are being oppressed by one or more demons tend to have trouble recognizing when and how they are privileged by another. Those who are being oppressed by multiple demons, the patterns of violence become merged most times, and are not separable– they interweave with each other. This is one of the main patterns that all oppression demons have: through setting up violent hierarchies they seek to constantly hide their existence while dividing communities from each other and feeding off the suffering of everyone involved, but especially those that are the target of violence.
For examples of specific demons, I refer you to some of the teaching tools I created:
- Systems that Spread Empire and Oppression
- Pillars of White Supremacy
- The Western Gender Binary
So, yes, there is a white supremacy archdemon that is composed of the anti-Blackness demon, the settler colonialism demon, the Orientalism demon, and the anti-migrant demon. There is an ageism archdemon that can be split into anti-youth and anti-elder demons. There is the gender binary archdemon that gives birth to the patriarchy demon of rape culture. I didn’t want to start off with these “isms” and these types of names because they are academic and sometimes unwieldy, and sometimes using such terms is another way to hide the demons’ existence from us.
It’s also important to understand that oppression demons don’t just possess humans individually or intergenerationally in their words and deeds, but they also possess the sacred tools and technology of humans such as how we build our dwellings, our cities, our policies, our weapons, etc., etc. This means that there are specific buildings or tools or forms of technology that are “infected” by the oppression demon so that they are deliberately created to violently target a group or community while privileging another.
An oppression demon’s reach is huge, and its form vast. I’ve found that if I’m doing work to heal from and transform a personal demon or a community demon, and it keeps coming back even when I thought the process was complete, most likely it is because it’s part of a larger oppression demon, and the oppression demon will just keep sending more and more of itself disguised as personal or community demons. So how do we stop the harm of the oppression demons?
Rituals to Transform Oppression Demons
The key that I’ve witnessed is the power of communal ritual– the bigger the oppression demon, the more people are required for the ceremony. This is to counter a lot of the oppression demons’ powers. For example, instead of being convinced that the demon doesn’t exist and that there is no harm, we are deliberately calling the demon out in ceremony and naming the harms. Instead of dividing us and obeying a violent hierarchy or supremacy, we are coming together in ceremony as equals to envision together a different world. Lastly, instead of being consumed by the fear and hatred that spurs all oppression demons, we offer them love and peace, until they too become transformed.
Another important reason, which was covered somewhat in the “Community Demons” article, is that it’s easier to not get “possessed” by a demon when in a group. For example, when in circle with community members and I hear an oppression demon begin to possess them as they start to shake and say things over and over again like they “deserved” their oppression, I can hold space for their feelings and also counter the narrative the oppression demon is implanting– even if I’ve said those things to myself. I know that same person would do the exact same thing for me, even if they just went through it yesterday. Sometimes it’s a lot easier to fight for and come to the defense of your community members than yourself, but that’s why they also come to your defense and support.
Common types of communal anti-oppression rituals are protests/direct actions, vigils, and celebrations.
Protests and direct actions channel the rage of multiple communities, and this potent energy of protection and defense can be used to dismantle or undo an oppression demon’s influence in physical areas (like taking back land, pushing downs statues, repurposing factories and police stations, etc.) or in the realm of decision-making (convincing politicians to change legislation, or CEOs to change policies).
Vigils, especially with the use of storytelling of the past and present, are an outlet of grief for multiple communities. Not only does it help to turn the restless dead into honoured ancestors, but it provides a healing space for folks to begin to come to terms with the ongoing reality of losses, of what oppression demons cost our peoples, so that folks can be moved to action. On the other hand, vigils can also be a post-protest ceremony, for coming to terms with all the grief after the angry defense work, so that more room can be made for hope and rebuilding.
Celebrations, especially paired with storytelling/visioning of the future, are not just an outlet for communities’ joys together, but also by anchoring a reality outside of the oppression demons’ narratives and violent hierarchies. Celebrations can contain the reality that our communities can be one of peace and love, and that we can relate to other groups and communities without violently placing each other in hierarchies. Celebrations can channel creation energy to (re)build the present and future through drawing, painting, sculpture, singing, dancing, chanting, playing musical instruments, and re-teaching technology spirits like buildings and tools that they can be re-oriented away from oppression and towards the ways of spiritual connection and community.
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