Come out, come out, whenever you can!
The statistics regarding how many Pagans choose to keep their religion a secret are difficult to obtain and any numbers that are calculated are certain to be somewhat flawed. We do tend to be a secretive bunch and we have good reason to be. Pagans have lost jobs, housing, even custody of children all because they practice an earth-based religion. People stare and shake their heads sadly while telling us we are going to hell. Even though the laws of our country clearly protect our religious freedom and our government officially recognizes Paganism as a valid religion, we still remain something that society would rather not see, something sinister to be kept hidden away behind closed doors. It is human nature to be leary of what is unknown and mysterious.
So why do we hide? The easy answer is that so many of us keep our religious choice private for fear of the consequences. Would we be fired? Would we be forced to move? Would the neighbor stop waving at us in the driveway? It is illegal to discriminate on the basis of religion and the law is on our side, but only if we use it. Those who came before us did not have it so easy. Countless brave souls have fought and died for our right to practice our faith, yet so many Pagans hide it away as if they have something to hide. Our secretiveness gives the appearance that we are hiding something dark and sinister that society would not accept, when in reality if most people understood the Pagan religion they would realize that it is not something to be feared at all. We have nothing to feel guilty for nor be ashamed of, and yet we keep it hidden. What honor do we give to those who have sacrificed for religious freedoms if we do not exercise our rights?
It is not easy to come out of the broom closet, and in many cases being totally open in all facets of your life is just not feasible. But everytime we hide, we hurt the Pagan community at large because we only strengthen society’s tendency to believe that we have something to hide, which in turn leads more Pagans to remain hidden. It is a nasty and vicious circle of prejudice that will not end until more of us are open about our faith. When more of us hold our heads up proudly and stop acting as if we have some dirty little secret, only then will society begin to accept us as a part of it.
This does not mean that all Pagans need to run out into the street shouting the word of the Goddess. This does not mean we all should start wearing huge pentacles and engaging everyone we meet in a debate on theology. But everytime one of us makes an effort to fit in with society without apology, without shame, and without a doubt that we are just as spiritually valid as anyone else, the whole Pagan community benefits. Those efforts do not have to be huge. Everyone of us can take baby steps out of the closet to shine a little light on Paganism so that society can see us for what we really are.
10 Baby Steps Out Of The Broom Closet
1. Wear a pentacle in public. It need not be huge, just visible. If you need to be careful, wear it only when you will not see anyone who knows you. Even if you only wear it to the grocery store once a month, someone will see it. If you are asked what it means, smile warmly and explain simply. If someone glares at you, smile warmly anyway.
2. Next time you are asked for a poll/survey/census what religion you are, be honest. No one will hang you.
3. If you are raising your children Pagan, talk with someone at the school so that they understand what it means. For a great article about educating educators, visit the following site. http://www.religioustolerance.org/wic_essa.htm
4. If a co-worker asks what plans you have for the weekend, don’t leave things out. You don’t have to say “I am going to go frolic naked and chant under the full moon in the forest”, but if you simply say”Some friends and I are going camping to hold a special ceremony to honor the earth”, no one will burn you at the stake, and you might be surprised at the dialogue it opens up.
5. Support Pagan businesses, especially those with an actual storefront. Pagan stores that operate only online can keep the identities of their employees a secret out in cyberland, but when a store has a building and a big sign on the street, they are very, very exposed to public scrutiny. These are brave folks who deserve the support of the Pagan community and when society sees these businesses thriving, it gives validation to Pagans everywhere. If you do not have a local Pagan store, at least try to shop with an online store that also operates a real physical shop somewhere.
6. Attend or donate to your local Pagan Pride Day. Chances are there is one within driving distance of anyone reading this. To find out when and where, visit www.paganpride.org.
7. Next time you are at a bookstore or library, march right up to the counter and ask where you can find books on Wicca and Paganism. Do not whisper.
8. Choose the most open-minded family member you can and tell them. Find out how they think other members of the family might react. For an excellent book that can help them understand, check out When Someone You Love Is Wiccan, available at Willow Grove Magickal Shoppe.
9. Read a Pagan book in public.
10. Attend local discussion groups to connect with other Pagans who struggle with hiding their faith. Can’t find one? Start one. Chances are there are other Pagans in your midst wishing there was one they could join, too.
The important thing to remember is that when you take these steps, you may be the only Pagan someone has ever come into contact with. You are representing all of us. You must be friendly, non-confrontational, and you must be able to explain what Paganism is (and is not) in clear and simple terms without being defensive. Hold your head up and know that you are within your rights to have your beliefs and should not be forced to hide it.
While it is nessecary in plenty of cases to remain secretive when you are Pagan for some very real reasons, all of us can look at this list and see at least one step we can take. Every time society sees us, really sees us, we not only honor those who have sacrificed for our freedoms, we shine a light on every Pagan everywhere, and the whole Pagan community benefits.