That Baffled Look – Your Paganism Is Showing

I work in a fairly conservative place in the southern part of the United States.  We like to joke that we’re part of the Bible Belt.  When I was growing up, I use to give directions using church descriptions or names.  To some extent, I still do; however, it’s not nearly as bad as it use to be.  I know most street names these days.

I also epitomize just about everything the South really dislikes: non-gender-conforming woman, career-and-family oriented, homosexual, and pagan.

Let me give you two examples:

  1. I’m Kemetic, so I wear an ankh as a symbol of my faith.  If you aren’t sure what it looks like, here’s mine.  To most of the people that I’ve encountered that don’t what what an ankh is, they’ve mistaken it for a IMG_6503cross.  The very first day of work on my very first year of ever having this job, I struck up a conversation with the teacher across from me.  She was new too.  After a friendly hello and a joke, she locked eyes with the ankh and very excitedly asked me, “Do you follow Jesus Christ??”
  2. I told a friend of mine at work about religion last year.  He told me he didn’t judge and started to call me “witchy-poo.”  He’d make jokes about my broom stick, and I’d make jokes right back.  It was all in good humor.  Our other, very Christian, coworker-friend would joke a long with us, and I didn’t mind.  We made jokes just the same.  I assumed she knew, since she was joking.  Recently, I made some changes to my jewelry to add IMG_4107other pieces that I’ve found have deep meaning to me.  Now, the cross looks like a cross until you’re right up on it, but most people will recognize the pentagram (whether or not their thoughts behind it see it as good or bad).

My coworker saw them as bad.  She asked me why I wore it, and I responded honestly.  She said, “What?  You really are?!  I thought it was all just jokes!”

Each time, the person I spoke to gave me this wide-eyed look of shock like I had just destroyed every image they ever had of me.  And each time, I’m sure I had a similar look mixed with the fear of the responses.

To the first girl, I gave a vague response about believing in a higher power.  It was very Unitarian Universalist of me.  I didn’t know this woman well, and I didn’t have a continuing teaching contract yet with the district, so I wasn’t sure what to say.  I professed my faith without naming names and getting specific.  The second time, I gave her the Gods’ honest truth.  I had my contract, and this woman was my friend.  I figured she could handle it.

Fellow Pagan blogger, Cicadinae, wrote  a fairly awesome blog about Anonymity.

Cicadinae, at one point states:

From time to time I see people start on lectures to those who keep their beliefs a secret, saying things like “you shouldn’t deny your gods” or “if they won’t accept you for being pagan, you shouldn’t have them in your life anyway.”

That’s a fat sack of crap.  There are many reasons why it may be wiser (and more spiritually fulfilling) to not rub your beliefs in everyone else’s face.

I commented on the blog and said that sometimes it’s just safer to be anonymous and that roots of anonymity run deep in pagan traditions, especially more “modern” ones.  After thinking about it, I feel that anonymity can have benefits beyond just safety precautions.  Cicadinae goes into some examples as well, but the big one that’s sticking out in my head is image.

Look at all the images of Pagans in the news, television and literature: The Craft, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Charmed, The Cruible to name a few.  If you type “Pagan” into Google, the first result that isn’t a definition or Wikipedia is the CATHOLIC ENCYCLOPEDIA.  The King James Version of the Bible has 6 hits on the word “witchcraft,” and none of them are nice.  People say that those who follow a non-mainstream religion should be gunned down, and that’s recent.

There’s fear built up around the unknown.  People fear Paganism and Witchcraft.  This is the image they see when they search witchcraft (burning women, working with the devil), pagans (I particularly like the one where the woman has a sword to her neck… and the ones where everyone is running naked with fire), and satanism.  And I have safe search on for work purposes, so who knows what they look like without that activated.

When the only image of modern day witches looks like The Craft or women who stare almost menacingly, it’s understandable why people don’t understand the Pagan faith and will jump to calling it evil.  (As a side note: it’s the same reason that some uninformed people believe that homosexuality is all about sex.  The most some people ever see are people in bikini thongs shaking their junk and grinding on others as they travel down rainbow colored floats in a gay pride parade).

Don’t get me wrong: I believe we should be proud of our faith and way of life, but I also believe that hundreds of years of fear and misunderstanding isn’t going to go away by shouting about discrimination and hate-mongering to people who are only going to think you’re exactly they think you are in your anger.

When you are part of a minority, you become a representative of that minority whether you want to or not.  People are going to judge everyone of “your people” on your behavior.  That really sucks.  It’s a lot of pressure, and it’s definitely not okay, but it happens.

In a fight against institutionalized discrimination, I’ve noticed two types of people who work to correct it:

  1. The In-Your-Face Corrector – I don’t mean this person is actually in your face.  What I mean is, there are people who are open about who they are and they don’t care if you know them as a person or not.  They are people who you see and automatically just know whether it’s the pentacle around their neck, the “my other vehicle is a broomstick” bumper sticker, the long flowing robes, the “Happy (insert commonly known Pagan holiday of choice here,” or the “Blessed Be!”  Maybe this person is active in the public pagan community, maybe this person is active in politics, maybe this person is just active and out there in their neighborhood.  Whatever it is, this person is Pagan and Proud and they don’t care who knows.  And they’ll be vocal about correcting your misconceptions.  These are the “active” correctors.
  2. The Oh-Wow-I-Didn’t-Know Corrector – These are the people who wear their pentacle or pagan jewelry under their clothes.  They may not necessarily live in the proverbial broom closet, but they aren’t going to wish you a Happy Wep Ronpet or Samhain either.  They don’t have the bumper stickers or an active place in the public eye.  These are the people you might think are Pagan, but you question it OR you have absolutely NO idea about their faith practice.  These are the people who, when they “come out,” you say something along the lines of, “Oh my gosh!  Really?”  There’s a sense of surprise.  These are the “passive” correctors.

The world needs both types of people.  Being either way isn’t right or wrong.  They each have their benefits and they each have their downsides.  The “active” people are going to make things happen.  They’re going to start the change that needs to happen, but in the process, they’re probably going to shut a lot of doors of conversation in people who don’t want to talk.  That’s where the “passive” people come in.

The “passive” people are going to get to know those people with their preconceived notions and their misconceptions (like my coworker).  When they do their “coming out” speech, the other person is going to start questioning their thoughts and beliefs.  Just like my coworker, “But… I don’t get it.  You’re a smart, well rounded and positive person… Isn’t all that evil?”

It opened up a door for me to explain my faith and beliefs.  She’s still not okay with it, but she realizes that it’s not the evil thing she thought it was (or at least I can hope).

There is a place on this planet for both types of people.  It’s important to remember that both are necessary to have a full conversation about change and what needs to happen.  And it isn’t something that is just going to happen.  It takes time.  Even if someone never “comes out of the broom closet,” then that is their judgment, not ours.  We have to remember that.  There’s enough derision coming at us from the outside world.  Let’s keep it away among  ourselves.

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Posted on January 16, 2014, in Kemeticism, Life, Pagan Blog Project, Paganism, PBP, Religion, Spirituality and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 16 Comments.

  1. I can’t even begin to tell you how many of those “coming out” conversations I’ve had; with my parents, my closest friends…quite a few for a person who belongs to the “The Oh-Wow-I-Didn’t-Know Corrector” group. Each time it ended in either the reaction your coworker had, or a simple “I knew you were something along those lines” followed by a sneaky look. Thankfully, I’ve had only positive reactions so far, but I think that’s because I attempted to elaborate so there wouldn’t be any misunderstandings.

    It was wonderful to read this post. Actually, this topic seems to never get old for me since being a part of a minority group doesn’t change overnight. The frustrations which are built up over time somehow just seem to diminish when I read posts such as these and reassure myself that I’m not the only one who has to stay (at least partly) anonymous about my faith.

    Anyway, cheers for the great post! 🙂

    • Thanks!

      And it’s great that you’ve had only positive reactions so far, but I’m will to bet that you’ll keep having them. 🙂 I feel like things are slowly changing (as most things usually do) for the better. 😀

  2. I really like this post. The title amused me, but the content is great. I would like to read up on Kemeticism (did I spell that right?), what would you recommend?

    Thanks again for great post.

    ~Green Owl

    • Thanks for the compliments!

      As far as reading goes, I’m a fan of Sharon LaBorde’s work. I haven’t read her books, specifically, but her YouTube channel has a lot of great work.

      Most of what I’ve read can be found online (because finding print books has proven to be difficult). Check out Kemet.org. It’s the website for the Kemetic Orthodox faith, which is where I started reading.

      I’m also a fan of reading history books. Emily Teeter wrote a book called “Religion and Ritual in Ancient Egypt.” It’s a little heavy on the history aspects (and can therefore be a little dry), but it gives you an idea about what the ancients believed and how they practiced.

      As far as mythology goes, I have a copy of “Who’s Who in Egyptian Mythology” that I use for a reference.

      Hope this helps!

  3. My friends and I definitely fall into the “in your face corrector” but without the “blessed be!” I’ve never really had to have a “coming out” speech or session. I’ve had to explain what it is I do and believe a couple of times, they’ll joke about the evil stuff (my brother jokingly asked if we were sacrificing a goat at my handfasting, which was cute) but it was never a “brace yourself, this is gonna hurt” kinda thing. Maybe because living in “we were all raised Catholic but no one practices anymore” Australia is entirely different to Bible Thumping USA, I’m not sure. Great post, though!!

    • Thanks!

      Have you had any experiences with people you just met? I wonder if your experiences with your family are because they’ve known you for awhile? I’m definitely not on the “in your face” side, so people who have those experiences always fascinate me. 🙂

      • I’m almost 30, out of the closet since I was 17. They’re happy that I’m happy!

        Just met, people are more intrigued. One intern wanted to know every.single.thing because “I’ve never met a Witch before!” One work mate did ask if I had a broomstick. I said yes, but it’s flying capabilities are currently in need of repair!

        People here are mostly like, “oh that’s cool/different…so who do you want to win the [sport]?” One of the Catholic girls at work loves it since she’s Central American and very spiritual (eg. what crystal/herb would you suggest for this situation, and vice versa) and the new girl is happy to have someone to talk to about her mother being a spiritual medium!

  4. Seeing it side by side, it’s really interesting seeing how alike coming out as a pagan and coming out as homosexual are. I really loved the “corrector” types you listed, and again they are true on both accounts.

    I have found it easier to come out as a lesbian than as a pagan, which is odd because I’m in the middle of Oklahoma. A lot of it has to do with the fact that my parents accept it and my place of work doesn’t care at all. There are too many unknowns with paganism though, as far as reactions, so I’m much more of a passive corrector in that respect.

    Great post!

  5. Great post! I have also had similar conversations with family and friends while my co-workers just know I have a different belief system and call it good LOL.

  6. Good post. Seems like there will always be questions. I tailor my answers to the person. If they genuinely interested, we have a discussion. If they are just surface friends, I merely say, it’s a different way of looking at my spirituality.

  7. hah. the glories of living in the south… good discussion!

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