“Coming Out,” two simple words; words which can be more life-changing than anyone might possibly think. For decades, coming out was a reference to an individual proudly sharing with the world that they were homosexual. Over time, the definition widened to include much more, including associations with emerging gender roles and what society has deemed, “alternative lifestyles.” Today, the impact of making the announcement has lessened, and many people are taking that brave step with a higher level of confidence. So much has changed that it’s progressed to the point that the definition of what’s a “traditional” lifestyle has become blurred and soon to be non-existent. Many people who have undergone the “coming-out” experience describe it as enlightening or freeing; by having an invisible burden lifted from their backs. Regardless of the emotions felt, coming to terms with who you really are, deep down inside, is nothing short of life-changing.
Yet, coming out, isn’t reserved solely for gender or sexual identity anymore. The term has become synonymous with many other things, including, but not exclusive to paganism, witchcraft, Wiccan and other earth-based beliefs. For the remainder of this piece, the term pagan will be used to include all of these different beliefs. The “broom closet” is a playful reference on witchcraft, and symbolizes the feeling of being trapped and unable to be true to oneself. With the majority of America being aligned with Christianity or another organized religion, there is usually serious opposition to anyone daring, publically, to come out of the broom closet.
Many families and clergy will immediately try to convince those who dare to open that door, that they are flat out wrong, and their souls in immortal peril for even thinking such things. This likely will come with a healthy dose of, “you’re going to burn in hell,” “you’re young and it will pass,” or “we better get you to church for corrective actions.” Much of this hype is because organized religions, especially Christianity, hate competition. Remember that Christianity was the main reason why most of these practices were demonized in the first place so many centuries ago. A small sample of families and friends will be accepting of the person finding their true self, but most won’t.
The fear of potential shaming, poor treatment, and possible disownment or worse action by families or religious zealots, holds many people back from taking that life-changing step. The pagan community is powerless to stop the potential abuse, but they can step up to offer support those who take that precarious first step. Those who have already embraced their true selves have a responsibility to mentor and guide those who are new to the many different paths that can be trod as a pagan. This doesn’t mean indoctrination, or forcing yet another agenda on them; those actions are reserved for the organized religions who survive by controlling people. Instead it means opening their hearts, their homes, and the hidden histories which have been suppressed for far too long. It’s about showing them how to self-educate, where to look for legitimate sources of direction, what to avoid, and more importantly how to talk to their families and friends about what they’ve just announced.
I’m a Pagan….So Now What Do I Do?
Once that first huge step has been taken, many people feel like it’s all downhill from there. Yet, there are challenges ahead of them which can seem just as daunting. The biggest thing openly pagan people are challenged with, is how to communicate to their families and friends once that black cat is out of the gunny sack (sorry, but I couldn’t resist.) Some of the topics that will likely surface in the first year or less of coming out of the broom closet are challenging, while others can possibly start World War III within very religious families. Without guidance, the new pagan is on their own in hostile territory; they have no ammunition for counter-attacks due to their inexperience, no reinforcements, and unless they are strong-willed are likely to be pulled back into a world which they don’t really belong to.
Hopefully, anyone who has come to terms with their inner self, will have their pagan “compass” working and will seek out like-minded others for some help. Luckily, the pagan community is so welcoming. Some first contact place that these people often seek out are metaphysical stores, palm readers, psychics, and tarot card readers. These purveyors of the “supernatural arts,” are visible and legitimate businesses in most cases. The proprietors are very willing to share valuable links that will help open doors for the new folks to access the local pagan community plus they can offer a brief introduction to what life as a pagan can be; it’s awesome and non-judgemental and there are candles…lots of candles.
Major Changes, Conflicts, and Behaviors
One of the first areas that the pagan community can offer new members is help in transitioning from their old set of beliefs to their new set (if they’ve chosen a path.) As each person and each case differs, there is no exact way to advise people on how to handle things. There may also be some “buyer’s remorse” when the new folks learn everything about their new path. Here are some topics which are high on the “likely-to-cause-a problem” list.
Leaving an established religion, such as Christianity, is more than they might realize. It’s not just skipping church or communion. Major holiday’s such as Easter and Christmas won’t mean the same thing; especially when the new pagan learns of how most Christian holidays were actually stolen from ancient pagan beliefs.
Separating fact from fiction will often be troublesome. Popular television shows such as Supernatural or Grimm don’t always depict pagan beliefs in a positive light and their use of symbolism and other magickal tools often are fabricated for entertainment sake.
Their coming out announcement might have been partial; maybe their friends know but mom and dad don’t, or maybe mom and dad know but the other relatives don’t. This can be very complicated and likely will see the new person doing a lot of juggling, hiding, and avoidance. They’ll likely take longer to develop.
Some people will go overboard; often without enough knowledge to really understand what they are saying or doing. This can lead to unwanted attention to themselves; thus making the transition tough. They may even try to recruit others to join their new “religion” or pathway. Keep a close eye out for this; often times the recruits are less committed and may even be a source of uncertainty.
There can be lots and lots of frustration for many reasons. There are no guidebooks or instruction manuals to refer back to. Many of the ancient sects never wrote anything down, so they may be confusing. Many people find it hard to choose their path and its highly likely that during the first year that their path will change and change again.
Expect a radical change in vocabulary, actions, activities (especially at night,) and possibly a “casting” off of their former religion; meaning they might decide to burn their bible or something similar.
The debate over whether a path is a religion or not.
If they are young, then there is a high likelihood of being burned by people who want to humiliate them, make jokes at their expense, and ridicule them. Like any other period of high school angst, the mentor will hopefully be able to talk them down from stressful situations due to this type of bullying.
The “dark side” of paganism is always lurking to taint the newly minted. Some get enamored with the symbolism or perceived power of the dark side. Without someone showing them the greater gloriousness of the good side of paganism, then they may be lost.
Possible moments of weakness where they question the choice they just made. Mentors can discuss it with them, but ultimately they will have to decide what works best for them in the long-run.
Not everyone is cut out to be a full-fledged mentor to a young pagan or anyone else. It’s a commitment of time, resources, and potentially much more. There is often a feeling of inadequacy in being able to give all the answers people are searching for. And, it’s difficult to gauge progress. Even though the challenges may seem tough, its something that needs to happen, else the knowledge base will become lost, distorted, or worse.
There was a time, long ago, when most of us were in a similar position as many of the new pagans. Except for the lucky few which are born into practicing pagan families, most of us started out lost, confused, and had more questions than we had answers. Try to recall those days and the methods you used to educate yourself and how you gained confidence along the way. The books you read, and the websites you knew provided good information are likely still your favorites. Which people taught you and helped guide you to finding your path. How about the first ritual you attended, or the first one you participated in, or for some of us, the first one you led; the nervous energy churning inside of you and the relief you felt once the ritual had passed without messing up.
Remember when you first started really learning about herbs, plants, crystals, and stones. Remember the first pentagram or pagan symbol you found yourself attracted to. Look at your altar or sacred space and the memories associated with each item found there. Keep remembering until your head is full of all the wonderful things you’ve experienced over the course of your pagan life.
Now, with everything fresh in your mind, ask yourself how things would have been different, or quicker, or better, if you had someone like yourself today, helping yourself in the beginning. If you are smiling like a Cheshire cat or lost in a blissful moment of history, then you likely have the “stuff” to be the light in someone’s life as a witch or a pagan. Most new pagans won’t survive a year unless someone helps them – not tells them who to be or how to practice, but only to assure them that they made the right choice and that the future is filled with the beautiful light of inner peace.
Some Links That Might Be Worth Looking At
If anyone else has resources they’d like to share, please list them in the comments of e-mail them to me at firstname.lastname@example.org
This article was inspired by many things. Mostly because I have personally travelled the pagan pathway and have been faced with those moments where I had to figure things out on my own. Fortunately now, I’m in a position to be someone who is trying to give back to my local pagan community. Me, my amazing wife (who happens to be a palmist,) and our children are part of an ever-growing group of like-minded people who refuse to allow the centuries of lies and misinformation to taint our beliefs. We are still learning and likely will never stop, but that isn’t keeping us from offering help to those who are just finding themselves.
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-R. J. Schwartz…thegypsy
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