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:
- 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 cross. 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??”
- 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 other 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:
- 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.
- 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.
Posted on January 16, 2014, in Kemeticism, Life, Pagan Blog Project, Paganism, PBP, Religion, Spirituality and tagged B, pagan, Pagan Blog Project, paganism, PBP, religion, Spirituality. Bookmark the permalink. 16 Comments.