let the water conjure you
digital channeling + intro to cyberwitch theory
A lot is revealed when you let the water conjure you. Oh, magnificent conduit, holder of memories, space of nourishment, I am calling you in. Oh, ocean, another space I call my home, I am calling you in. Unable to track my origins fully beyond the space where my ancestors arrived here in the so called united states, I know some made their way to the sea. and so did the underwater cables. they are swimming with the Internet. The internet keeps getting blacker and blacker because in many ways it began that way.
Some things are designated as magic because we cannot or do not fully understand their complexities, algorithms, materialities.
"As humans [we] use our tools of technology and often have no idea how they work. For example how is it that your computer understands that a particular keystroke is equivalent to a specific symbol? For a cyberwitch, this lack of direct knowledge makes the process of writing a letter on the computer a potentially magickal experience. The logic of technology has become invisible – literally, occult." - McSherry, ‘What is a Cyber Coven?’
What McSherry is describing feels troublesome to me. I’m not advocating that we must know all the ins-and-outs of all of our technological systems such as how the computer understands a particular keystroke, but it must be understood that lack of knowledge and confusion about our technology is oftentimes intentional, related to those in power purposefully excluding others from knowledge, limiting access to knowledge through gatekeeping, or perfectly obscuring access to even being able to figure out how our technology works in the first place.
Charlton D. McIlwain in “Black Software: The Internet & Racial Justice, from the AfroNet to Black Lives Matter,” spoke to how as information technologies were being developed at Universities like MIT in the 60s, they made a clear decision to limit the number of black people at the institution. They often limited the number of black students that could be admitted, and in the case of MIT, decided that a single-digit number of black students was enough. “They, like officials at most elite science and engineering institutions at the time, made the de facto decision to exclude Negroes from designing, building, or deciding what computing systems would be built.”
And then there is language, which can work in tandem with ideology to limit our understanding of systems. What we call the “cloud,” is actually a network of cables, some underwater, and a collection of servers. All material beings that are tangible and knowing and understanding that it is tangible can give us new understandings as to how we can affect change and intimately know the technological beings we frequently interact with.
And to intimately know the web, we must meet in the water and greet it as a place of memory and conduit, delivering the capabilities for me to meet and greet you today. Each time I think of these underwater cables, I imagine my ancestors swimming alongside them delivering messages energetically to be received through my digital altar.
“Our entrance to the past is through memory—either oral or written. And water. In this case salt water. Sea water. And, as the ocean appears to be the same yet is constantly in motion, affected by tidal movements, so too this memory appears stationary yet is shifting always. Repetition drives the event and the memory simultaneously, becoming a haunting, becoming spectral in nature.” - M. NourbeSe Philip
By no means do I wish to romanticize this connection between ancestors and the internet as it is one that in many ways is a haunting.
It must be said one of the earlier forms of technology was enslaved people. The Human Project split us into categories human, almost human, and sub-human and then relegated my people to that of a “machine” as a master serving as the algorithmic optimizer transmuted violence into surplus to be distributed to white people. A module in racial capitalism, these technologies are hungry for death and death only.
"black software is also a story about how computing technology was built and developed to keep black America docile and in its place— disproportionately disadvantaged, locked up, and marked for death." - Charlton D. Mcllwain, Black Software
This formulation of “humanness” enforces a mandated exclusion and isolation, which I seek to consistently check and trouble. In identifying as a “cyber witch,” I am not begging to be seen as Human but rather I am desiring to live with the animist belief that recognizes the divine in all things through the recognition of the tangibility and materiality of technology, my ancestral technologies, my indigenous technologies, and through the understanding that many of our technologies are built with the unrecognized and uncompensated contributions of black and brown people.
“Other indigenous African information technologies include computational aspects of Owari, geometric algorithms, and the codes of drums and whistle languages (Ansu-Kyeremeh 1998, Eglash 1999). Thus it is important, when examing the appropriation of technology, to consider not only the down side of appropriation - the possible disadvantages of attempting to ‘use the master's tools’ - but also the fact that Africans already had many technologies to begin with, and thus some of the supposed appropriations may have had African influences in their own histories of invention.” - Ron Eglash
This newsletter is an elongated adaption of an Instagram post I made July 6, 2021. My research and writing are made in conjunction and alongside my Processing Foundation Fellowship. I’d like to give special thanks to my mentor Johanna Hedva, my dearest friend Salem Tewelde weaving connected webs near and far, and one of my current classes “Under the Auspices of Summer,” with Weaving Earth where I log on alongside Salem Tewelde and Alyssa Denay Carter.