Yesterday, May 2, was International Pagan Coming Out Day. I enjoyed reading people’s coming out stories and reflections on what it means to be open about your Pagan spirituality as well as encouraging calls to come out of the broom closet. I especially liked what Peter Dybing, Yeshe Rabbit, and John Beckett had to say.
I’ve never been in the broom closet. I say that with pride and I also say it with privilege. I was very lucky to have parents who let me leave the Roman Catholic Church and explore other faiths, who didn’t mind indulging my adolescent interests in mythology, crystals, and tarot, who let me spend time with older women who taught me about mysteries, wine, and nature. I was very lucky to grow up in Miami, a city where people sing the songs of the orishas and dance to the beat of African drums, where offerings under trees and new initiates dressed in white are common sights as you walk down the street.
I know not everyone is so lucky and I am recently reminded by the harassment Florida writer Kyrja Withers has been facing. And yet there are a number of reasons I need to be out and encourage others to be as well.
Let me preface this by explaining what I think it means to be out of the broom closet. It means you are no longer actively hiding your religion. Being out doesn’t necessarily mean wearing your religion or having that be one of the first things you tell someone about yourself or perhaps even at all. For me, “actively hiding” is key. I don’t put ritual items away when guests visit. I don’t lie (explicitly or by omission) if someone asks me what I’m doing for the weekend and the answer is observing a religious holiday.
I would not be living an authentic life if I were not honest with others about my faith. It’s as much a part of me – both important and mundane – as being Cuban, preferring classic literature over contemporary fiction, and liking home design and cooking shows. My faith informs many aspects of my life from important areas such as politics and morality to my taste in fashion, jewelry, and home decor (That’s not the right table for that statue of the Minoan Snake Goddess). I cannot find balance and wholeness if I treat my spirituality like an external object and put it away when it’s inconvenient.
Beyond that, I look at people like Kyrja Withers and decide that I need to be out for people like her. There is strength in numbers and there’s a lot of hate that is driven by fear of the unknown. It is my hope that every time someone I know discovers that I’m Pagan, one more misconception is cleared up, one less person is afraid, a resource is found, and perhaps a new ally is won. The perception is different when the Pagan is a stranger versus being a brother, sister, co-worker, neighbor, or friend.
There’s a popular quote attributed to Gandhi that says, “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” I have two points about this phrase.
First, I believe the message. As a Wiccan, I believe in my power and witchcraft is my one of my tools of transformation. So is education. I’m not a passive player in my life or in this world. The world I want to live in is one that is safe for all Pagans and I take an active role in creating it.
Second, Gandhi never actually said that. Here’s what he actually said:
We but mirror the world. All the tendencies present in the outer world are to be found in the world of our body. If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him. This is the divine mystery supreme. A wonderful thing it is and the source of our happiness. We need not wait to see what others do.
Gandhi tells us that personal and social transformation go hand in hand, but Gandhi also showed us that takes great numbers of people working together with discipline and persistence to overturn injustice. Nobody can do it alone. I have to be out in solidarity with others that are out and for those who are not. My path is one of service.
I live in Melbourne, Australia now. Compared to the U.S., the Pagan pool is much smaller and I don’t know how Australia legally treats the Pagan religions. It doesn’t seem like Australia has organizations such as Lady Liberty League to support Pagans with legal issues or the Pagan Newswire Collective to reach Pagans all over the country or Circle Sanctuary and Covenant of the Goddess to help mobilize them. While the lack of familiarity makes me a little nervous, I’ll still continue to be out. I’m willing to take the risk. I always have been about this and other causes important to me.
Ultimately, coming out to someone is a decision only you can make. It is not my intention to shame anyone in the broom closet but rather to move people to reflect on the reasons they remain hidden children of the gods, to encourage coming out, and support those that do as well as those who don’t. My only wish is for an easier and happier tomorrow.