May 2nd is International Pagan Coming Out Day.
Many practising Pagans, Heathens, Witches and others continue to remain “in the broom closet”, so to speak, for a number of reasons – they may line in an area that experiences blatant discrimination against non-Christians, they may live with family member who are not supportive or are outright opposed to such practices; they may have a job in a field or with a company where it would be detrimental to their continued employment should it be found out. While discrimination in the workplace on the basis of religion is illegal in most instances, it still occurs, and finding redress when it does is often an expensive and time-consuming process.
One of example of the dangers some may face is a slew of hate crimes against Pagan children’s author Kryja Withers (ABC video at link.) In her interview, she comments, “We need to be out and say who we are.” (The Wild Hunt blog has additional information the attacks on Withers.)
To those who must remain closeted, others can show support by coming out of that broom closet, to help show society at large that when it comes right down to it, most pagans are not really that different from anybody else, especially in the areas that should matter.
As a newly minted (Beltaine 1973) Wiccan of the Georgian Tradition, I had the fervour of the “newly converted” and loudly proclaimed my paganess. I wore it like a badge of honour (and in many ways, it was and still is.) Among other things, I was interviewed for our college newspaper on the subject. Coming out to my family followed quickly, although in back then, it didn’t have the clever name attached to it, as “coming out of the closet” was a reent concept even in the Gay & Lesbian communities – Stonewall was recent news, barely history. Over the years, I rarely bothered to hide my spiritual beliefs, being largely of the opinion that if you show me yours, I can show you mine, and I will. It took me a few years to learn discretion. Oddly enough, I’ve had problems at exactly one job with that, and that was not actually related to being in the Craft, but rather being a member of another strange cult – The Society for Creative Anachronism – but the managers in question couldn’t be bothered to understand the difference.
Back in the “old days” – the 1980s – there was a push for something called “Come From the Shadows”:
Come from the Shadows
It was a chastening experience. A job transfer had moved us 1200 miles. I can always find a bookstore. We will find a new ‘favorite’ restaurant in time. The hardest thing to deal with is the isolation. No one in our home circle has contacts in the new town. Instead of lessons twice a month, circles twice a month and the loving safety net of our circle, we had each other, phone calls and homesick letters. We were suddenly involuntary Solitaries.
It was an enlightening experience. Adrift in our new town, cut loose from our circle, we had to find new ways to deal with things. Holidays once filled with an extended of twenty-five people, can seem a trifle flat when the turkey only has to feed two. So we volunteered to work at a charity dinner for senior citizens, and I wore my pentagram tucked inside my shirt. As I was pouring coffee for one of our guests my pentagram fell out:
She: “Is that what I think it is?”
Me: “Yes, ma’am.”
She: “But if you’re a… I mean …What are doing here?”
Me: “My religion teaches me to value and respect others; and the elderly are our memories.”
She nods, and goes back to her meal. The next time someone tries to tell her witches are evil, it will be my face she remembers.
It was a bittersweet experience. Finally we met another group, and shared in a circle for the first time in months. It felt like coming home. Afterwards, someone asked, “Where did you say you came from?” It turns out one of our new found friends knows of a solitaire from our home town. In the same city where we know of four covens, countless solitaires and a rich pagan social life, she is alone. She can’t find anyone in the Craft and the isolation is painful.
EXCUSE ME WHILE I GET OUT MY SOAPBOX.
This has gone on long enough. I am tired of hearing the Lady’s name spoken in whispers. I am tired of sacred songs being sung behind locked doors and shuttered windows. I am tired of pretending, I am tired of hiding, and I am tired of getting by. I am sick unto death knowing that pagan parents must teach their children how to hide. As I write this is is March 1987. I am about to put onto paper my favorite post-ritual “gee-if-only.” Indulge me. Join me. Dream along.
I have a dream, born in shadows and under hills, in groves and in suburban living rooms.
I have a dream, that one day the Craft will rise as one and say, “enough. It is time.”
Let it begin small. The first year, we will all agree on some recognition symbol: a green button perhaps. Anytime you see someone wearing a blank green button, you will know that person is a fellow pagan, and one who has read this article and shares the dream (it will be hoped that you will share the work as well.) Start by finding someone who has a button machine and become your local supplier. Anytime you see someone wearing a blank green button, get their address and give them yours. This is called “networking.” And make sure you send their address to us at ‘Come From the Shadows.’
Pass the word. Every time you talk to a friend who is in the craft, share the dream. Make sure they get a button, too.
The second year, we change our blank buttons for ones that say “I.P.T.” That is the easy part. We also go to work.
Kindred, our neighbors are afraid of us. It is fear born out of misinformation, and it will continue only as long as we permit. The second year our network goes into high gear, raising the public awareness, challenging religious stereotypes and demonstrating our community concern. That means we all get to do our part with articles like this, and with letters to the editor politely responding to the usual silly Halloween articles and with volunteer work. We walk a Path teaches the three fold law, let’s start putting some time, energy, and love into our towns. Answer the crises phone line, visit the elderly, donate books on the Craft to the library and become an active member in the community.
And in your spare moments print and distribute the buttons for the big day. Let’s dream big, let’s plan on Winter Solstice of 1990. The buttons will be available all the preceding year at our rituals, bookstores, coffee shops, etc.
Here’s my dream, see it with me.
She’s a paralegal, and after three years of preparation, she’s still scared. Meditation helps. She pins on the button, kept on her alter for months, to her blouse. Her phone rings. A friend across the city needs encouragement. Reassuring him reassures her. She walks out to her car head held high.
He is a telephone repairman. He pins the button on his work shirt, helps his second grader pin one on as well. He says “Let’s do it,” and they smile. From the door, his wife calls, “Good luck.”
A couple exchange kisses in the driveway. The buttons clatter together. He gets into his car, headed for the shipyard. She drives the other way headed for the university.
They aren’t alone. Winter Solstice had dawned bright and clear, and across the country every pagan we could reach in three years is taking part. This is the day it all pays off, the networking, the community work, the rituals for healing and understanding.
It’s Solstice morning and they have walked out their doors to go about their daily routine wearing buttons that say:
I’M PAGAN TOO.
Come From The Shadows
How many? Estimates on the number of pagans in this country vary, but thousands at the very least. Can you see it?
The paralegal and the parking lot attendant exchange shocked glances. The telephone repairman takes a service call and the farmer who answers the door is wearing a button. His wife gives her ‘extra’ button to a woman in the grocery store. A solitaire somehow missed by the networking efforts, is close to tears when she realizes she is not alone. The shipyard engineer counts buttons in rush hour traffic, meanwhile on campus his wife loses count sometime before lunch.
The media goes crazy, interviewing people all over the place. The public is suddenly aware of the pagans in their midst, not as isolated freaks but as a group. We are not the faceless enemy– we are the little league coaches, the Red Cross volunteer. We are citizens concerned about our towns, our country, our planet. We are contributing to the care of our fellow wo/man and asking for the right to worship as we choose.
We are the children of Earth and Sky come home, reclaiming our right to walk in the sunlight. “Enough, it is time.”
Send comments, suggestions, etc. to:
Come From the Shadows
P.O. Box 27465
San Antonio, TX
This letter was written by a good friend of mine who wishes to get the word out. I was given permission to print this. I believe in her dream. I only hope this letter reaches a few like-minded folk. Weather you are into ceremonial magick or Wicca or any other non Judeo-Christian-Moslem faith this dream pertains to you. Also to the open-minded Christians (are there any left?) I hope!I have also left a message on a few of the boards. Bapho-net for one Wierdbase for another and a few others.
And that, my friends, is how International Pagan Coming Out Day had its origin. I’ve had this piece in my files for a very long time and no longer have the pagan publication noted from which I copied it; it may have been in Green Egg, Earth Religions News, Red Garters or any of dozens of other short-lived newsletters that were common at that time, research on the address provided for “Come From the Shadows” is the same as that for “SheTotem” which was distributed over the old BBS networks, so I may have received it via PODSNet or FIDO.
Reading it now as I copy the text from my file to this post and proof it for spelling and such, I am struck by how many people over the past 40 years I have known who were like that paralegal or parking lot attendant, and I have to wonder if one of my acquaintances who is no longer with us may in fact be the author, as there are parts of it that remind me of the late Bronwen Forbes, author of The Small-Town Pagan’s Survival Guide. It sounds very much like something she experienced, and very much like something she might have done.
For some additional suggestions on coming out Pagan, Patti Wigginton over at about.com has good suggestions and resources as well.