Friday, July 19, 2013

Coming Out of the Broom Closet

I am not Christian.

If you have never had to utter that phrase you probably have no idea how incredibly uncomfortable it can be. I would go so far as to say that saying such a thing can be frightening depending on the situation in which I am having to admit it.

What is harder to say than that? That one is easy: I am Pagan.

While we, as Americans, live in a society that likes to boast being founded on freedom of religion, you only have to be anything but Christian to know how that is not an accurate reflection of modern American society. If you happen to practice a faith that is not a flavor of Christianity you will be incredibly aware of how unwelcome you can be made to feel for your faith.

I am not bashing Christianity or Christians. Please let us stop that line of thought right now. I was raised Christian, Methodist to be precise. My parents are Christian, a good deal of my friends are very devout Christians, and I have no real problem with Chistians or their faith in general.

I actually think that as far as religions go, the basic ideas behind Christianity are pretty good ones. It simply is not a faith that speaks to me. As much as I wanted it to, and trust me I really wanted it to, it never has spoken to me. I mean faith should fill you, give you hope, give you meaning, it should be something that you believe in, and I just never had that with Christianity.

I searched for quite a while for something that did fulfill all the things I felt religion, and more importantly faith, should accomplish. I studied up on different branches of the Christian religion from Catholicism to Mormonism. I looked into Judaism and Islam. I moved on to Eastern philosophies such as Buddhism and Taoism. While I found good things in all of these faiths I never found my personal truth in any of them.

I found what I was looking for in college with a group of friends that identified themselves as simply being Pagan. Their individual faiths varied through different pantheons and practices, but in general it all had a feeling to it that was just right for me. I started looking into it and found suddenly that spark I had been searching for. I was filled with this feeling of peace and wholeness that had never been there before. I knew it was right.

Of course while it was right for me it was anything but easy. It is never easy to be something different from what is mainstream, but when it comes to religion, being different has historically been a bad idea. People fight wars that last hundreds and thousands of wars over faith. It is a very serious thing.

I have found generally that the only religion I could have picked that would get more of a negative response would be if I had chosen Islam as a religion. I mean at least I am not assumed to be a terrorist for my religion, which by the way I think is abhorrent behavior.

You can't judge an entire religion on a group of extremists. Well you can if you like, but I don't. If we all went around generalizing religions in such a fashion every single Christian would be no better than the members of Westboro Baptist church, and I know that not to be true.

Still, being Pagan is not an easy or comfortable thing. It was especially difficult to make this choice while attending a school deep in the piney woods of East Texas. Talk about a hostile environment. We were automatically assumed to be evil devil worshipers if we were given that much credibility. A lot of the time I got "That isn't a real religion.". I was never sure which one bothered me more.

No one wanted to take the time to even attempt to understand what it was I believed in or stood for. They simply picked an ignorant view and hatefully spewed it back at me. I do mean hatefully by the way. I have been spit on more than once and threatened on multiple occasions. 

In college I was part of the Pagan Student Alliance (PSA) and as a student organization we had to have informational tables set up in the UC for orientations and once a month. I can remember at orientation as the freshmen would flood past us no one would ever stop and take any of our pamphlets. Parents would actually grab their kids and pull them away from us as though just looking at us was going to taint them. Occasionally some kid would reach behind them and snag a pamphlet and wad it up in their pockets too afraid to show they were interested.

The monthly tables sometimes got some attention. Mostly though it was people stopping by to tell us we would burn in hell or make ignorant comments. I remember one day this girl came up and looked at the papers we had laid out and then at us. I was sitting in my pretty sundress knitting a scarf and was probably with John who was most likely reading a book. After staring for some time she looked at us blankly and asked if we ate babies.

I am not even making that up. She was not joking either. She was serious. That was sort of a normal thing for us. We just got used to it.

We did some chalk art advertising a public ritual that was coming up once that turned into a national fiasco. Every organization was allowed to do chalk advertising in front of the UC, we just happened to be the ones that were defaced when we would do it. This particular defacement was followed by one of the Christian fraternities placing a banner over the main drive and a full page add in the school paper stating 'This campus belongs to God'.

We were used to this sort of thing and were prepared to just fix our chalk art and move on. It was the rest of campus that took offense to it. After that came what became known as the 'Chalk Wars'. I would like to point out that the PSA never retaliated. Still nearly every inch of sidewalk around the UC and most of campus was suddenly covered in chalk messages pointing out how much that sort of behavior was unacceptable.

My favorites have always been 'This campus belongs to Kimmy Gibbler', 'This campus belongs to George Bush' (as it was a state school) and 'This burrito belongs to God' (which was actually a note left on a cafeteria table over a half eaten burrito).

There was news coverage over it. Members of the PSA were interviewed by national outlets. Our meetings were suddenly full of curious people who wanted to know what we were all about. It was really cool. They of course all stopped coming when they figured out we were actually just normal boring people.

College was not the end of it though. I actually think it was better. I mean I wasn't going to be thrown out of school for my faith. They had already accepted me to the school, they were stuck with me. My teachers were more concerned with what my work was not my faith. Unfortunately my real world work hasn't always been that way.

I have worked at more than one job where I was more than a little terrified that they would find out what my faith was. These were companies that touted being Christian companies. I would walk by peoples cubes where they would have bible verses posted on the walls next to pictures of Jesus and a bible sitting out on their desk. They had bible study in the break room. I was invited to join a book club where they would only read faith based books and actually said they couldn't read science fiction because it promoted devil worship.

I didn't point out how ignorant or insulting I thought any of that was because I like getting a pay check. Texas is a right to work state people. Yes they can fire me because they assume I am worshiping the devil and eating babies. They don't have to say that is why, but you know when things like that happen.

The husbeast actually was told at one of these companies that if he would cut his hair and join the CFO's church that he would be a VP within 6  months.  It was in a very unofficial unverifiable situation, but it was said. It was said in all seriousness.

This is pretty common though. I won't even wear my pentacle in public. I grow very weary of the negative comments it earns me. At the faire I work in the fall I work for a shop that sells, among other things, pagan jewelry. I had a police officer come in looking for a pentacle that was on a long enough chain and small enough that it would not be noticed and could be hidden under a flack jacket. It also had to be very sturdy and not have a raised jump ring so it wouldn't bruise his chest.

How sad is it that he had to go to such extreme lengths to hide his faith?  He told me he didn't like knowing he was going to be shot at without a pentacle on him. His fellow officers who were Christian could wear a cross that they could grab and pray over in a tense or bad situation, but he was left with no such comfort.

I hear all the time that there is a war on Christianity, and I just think if you stopped and looked at it from my point of view you would realize that it isn't really that. It isn't wanting to silence Christians, it is wanting equality for all the other religions out there.

When I say Happy  Holidays I am not disrespecting you as a Christian, it is me being respectful of the fact that you may not actually celebrate Christmas. I don't. I celebrate Yule. I don't expect you to know that, but I would like it if you were respectful of that. I mean come on, no one is ever going to give me any of my Sabbaths off from work for free. They are never going to commercialize anything I celebrate (because I celebrate Samhain which is similar to but not actually Halloween).

I was reading this article and it really did speak to me. A lot of those things, most of them, are completely true. It makes me a little sad. It makes me sad that I would never even consider asking off for a Sabbath, and if I did I would never tell my bosses why. I will have to raise my children and have no real positive public influence for our faith.

I just would like to be able to practice my faith without fear. I am not going to judge you on what you believe in. I am not going to try and force you to believe what I believe. I will be happy to explain it to you as best I can but I am not going to expect you to believe what I do. I will happily let you tell me about what you believe in as long as you don't expect me to change my views. I don't want to be told I am going to hell for being a devil worshiper (which I don't even believe in the devil).

I honestly believe no faith is wrong. I believe that whatever you believe, if it is what speaks to you, then it is right. I believe that as long as you don't try and force your beliefs on others and as long as you do not harm others, that you should be allowed to worship however and whatever you like. It is only when you start being hateful, violent, and ugly that I have a problem with it. If you think I am going to burn in your hell for not believing, well first off I think you might have missed some of the texts in your book of faith, but that is your prerogative. Believe it all you like, just keep it to yourself please. 

I love Christians and think they have a great faith that is not for me. I am saddened by the angry ugly members of any faith that give others bad names. I am angered by people of my own faith that make other Pagans look bad. Every faith has bad apples in it, but sadly it is the rotten ones that are the easiest to spot.

What is the point of all of this? Well if you have made it this far (which is really far and I am sorry I didn't mean to be this long winded and rambly) the point is that if I don't say it, who will? If I don't stop being afraid and say it, how can I ever expect this world to be a world where anyone can say it? How can I expect to someday raise children to believe what they want to and be proud of it if I can't?

So there you have it.

I am not Christian.

I am Pagan, and I am not ashamed of it, or afraid of what you think of it.


  1. Still living in the place, knowing how hard it was, and still is, and raising 2 children to be themselves, I empathize. This area is given to bouts of religious fervor, yet something has changed over the years. It's almost imperceptible unless you know what you are looking for, but it does have moments of clear, un-obscured enlightenment. There are more of US than they think. We may be quiet, because we do not wish to interfere. I like quoting scripture back at those that do accost me or my family. Nothing says it quite as well as a Pagan who knows their dogma better than they do. Much Love and respect to you and Jesse!

  2. It is nice to know things can start to change. There always was a large, yet quiet, Pagan community out there. Are the rumors of the 'Witches of Pecan Park' still circulating. I remember we used to hear that we were out there 'sacrificing animals' and 'worshiping the devil naked under the full moon', which were such absurd assumptions. The funny thing is that they were probably seeing drunk college kids sneaking through the park to have sex back on the walking trail.