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 Out of the Broom Closet, into the Cauldron?
by Lyon

©December 2002

A while back, TWV had a global notice about a handfasting party inNashville, Tennessee being detained at gunpoint by park rangers. The Pagans involved were able to get the situation resolved to their satisfaction later, but the event was ruined by this blatant show of hostility. While occurrences like these do happen, luckily they are less frequent than in the past. Unfortunately, when a Pagan ďgoes publicĒ with his or her faith, similar situations can happen. 

There you are, newly on your Path, excited at the spiritual world that this new religion has brought to your life. You want to share your newfound joy with your best friend, your sister, and the whole wide world. Thatís great, but are you really prepared for the reactions youmay ormay not receive? 

When I was a child, I was brought up in aminority religion; there were only a few children inmy school who followed the same spiritual path asmy family. I learned then that it was sometimes just easier not to tell people anything aboutmy religion. It just didnít come up very often. When the subject did come up, all I volunteered was that I wasnít Christian. Most people didnít push beyond that tidbit of information. As an adult who follows a Pagan path, I keep the same habits. I am not openly Pagan. On the other hand, I donít go out ofmy way to hide the fact that I follow a different spiritual choice thanmost ofmy community or co-workers. Frankly, I donít seemy religious preference as anymore of their business than whomm sleeping with. Tome they are both personal, privatematters, best kept that way. 

Even still, within the limited scope ofmy one foot out of the broom closet, I have experienced discrimination and ignorance. Should I become openly Pagan, Iím sure there will bemore such occurrences. Iím coming to a point inmy life where being hidden is no longer an option. My sweet, little girl had ďoutedĒ us to her classmates and teachers at preschool when we lived in the Northeast. In that community we weremet with curiosity and even genuine welcome. I sharedmusical scores with the
elementary schoolmusic teacher. He was thrilled to have newmusic for the kids. There were a dozen Pagan families within a short drive from our home. With such strong presence in the area, we were just onemore of themelting pot of religions that are whatmakes the Untied States the joy to live in that it is. 

By the time my daughter entered first grade, we hadmoved to theMidwest. Big billboards with large letters proclaim ďJesusĒ on highways and localmain drags. People have little placards of the Ten Commandments on their front lawns and the Pagan population is sparser. My daughter learned fast that not everyone was happy tomeet someone different than they are. During her first fewmonths in day-care, a little boy got in her face telling her she would go to hell because she didnít believe in God. Last Halloween;my husbandís car was soaped with the word ďwitchĒ from front to back. My little girl was the one to discover it. I was hard pressed to explain why someone we didnít even know could be somean. 

Whenmy husband and I had our handfasting ceremony,my aunt, who has knownme since I was a wee child, askedme if we worshipped the devil. I was so taken aback by being questioned that by someone who has knownmemy whole life thatmy
immediate response was to ask her how she could think such a thing ofme. 

Iíve had people stop speaking tome upon finding outmy religion. (Losing friends after they find out our religion is not
uncommon formany Pagans.) All this and I am not even openly Pagan. What can an openly Pagan person expect? 

As little as five years ago, the answermight have been different than it is today. In spite of our current presidentís position that Wicca isnít a ďrealĒ religion, there are people in places of power in government and the court system who aremore willing to be educated about who we are and what we do. 

The Lady Liberty League ( and the Earth Religions Legal Assistance Network provide information to Pagans for their lawyers to counter anti-Pagan attacks in child custody and other hearings in which their Paganism may become an issue. In a majority of these cases, the anti-Pagan offensives are thrown out as inadmissible in court. Pagan parents are no longer automatically losing custody of their children because of their Paganism. It is not uncommon for Paganism to be brought up in custody cases, but when the Pagan parent's attorney is prepared, it is usually (but not always) thrown out by the Judge as an issue. 

The rights of Pagan inmates to practice their religions in prison remains amajor problem, but Pagan High Priests and Priestess who provide chaplain service are increasingly networking with each other on the Internet and with Pagan rights groups, and are becoming better able to help or locate help. 

The ignorance and discrimination still exist. The events at the handfasting in a public parkmake that abundantly clear. I have friends who have lost their employment because they are openly Pagan, and because firing someone on religious grounds is illegal, other reasons are often cited. 

Coming out to your family can also have a less than desirable outcome. My daughter has learned not to ask Grandma and Grandpa anything about God, Goddess or religion. To her confusion, when she innocently did just that, she was treated to an evening of reasons why the only religion she has ever know is evil and she was going to die and not go to heaven. Had I been there that never would have happened, but I was out at a businessmeeting while the grandparents were babysitting. 

Others who have come out to their families have not been treated as gently. Many people still have the opinion that we are part of some cult or worship evil or worse yet, donít know that we are worshipping evil. When a Pagan comes out of the broom closet in a family such as this they are often ostracized, preached at, dragged to churches to be saved or any number of similar interventions designed for our ďown good 

Aside from legal battles, losing a job or the goodwill of family and friends, there is the kindness of strangers! 

A store owner in Florida toldme this: ďAbout two years ago, when I was actively involved in running a Pagan store in northern Florida, there was a young woman who claimed to be a Muslim, (and was, IMO, clearly psychotic, whatever her religious affiliation), who came to the store, threatened to kill the people who worked there, and tried to run over one of our card
eaders in the parking lot, apparently because we had a poster up in the store advertising a talk that Starhawk was going to be giving elsewhere in the city. The thrust of her claims involved something about all Witches being Lesbians (themen working the store withme that day found this part to be particularly surprising) who were corrupting Islam by appropriating Sufi traditions. This woman also threatened to attend the Starhawk talk and set both herself and Starhawk on fire. The nice police officer who ran the call (and helped us get a restraining order issued immediately) assured us that she wouldn't be out of her 72 hour involuntary commitment (let alone jail) before the talk, and took down contact information for the Starhawk event so he could be sure the local PD would help coordinate heightened security.

This was definitely themost danger I have ever been in that could be directly attributed to being openly Pagan - but the good news is that the authorities were clear about their duty to protect and defend us.Ē 

Another friend ofmine had a New Age supply store in downtownSt. Louis. A bunch of Fundamentalist Christians decide it was their gods-given right to warn all and sundry against the evil going on in that place of business. They picketed and used bullhorn and other aggressive tactics to discourage customers from entering the store. Eventually, the store could no longer support itself andmy friend was forced to close down. 

This same friend has an old van that looks as if it is held together by virtue of the bumper stickers adorning its back end. Many of the bumper stickers are Pagan in nature. More than oncemy friend tells of being run off the road by Fundamentalists
screaming at her or trying to throw their literature proclaiming Godís love into the driverís side window. 

A different friend went to court in a smallMidwest town to have a Christian symbol removed from the town seal. In spite of the fact that the ACLU lawyers were handling her case, she lost 3 jobs and her home. Her children couldnít live in such a hateful environment and she was forced to send them away to live with relatives so they could be safe. She won the case, the town had to remove the Christian symbolism from their town seal, but it will be years beforemy friend can rebuild her life. She has moved to another state where no one knows of her past and she hopes that neither has anyone there seen her picture in the papers or on TV. 

Are you still anxious to leave the broom closet? Unfortunately, although we have come a long way from the early history of Paganism in this country, we still have a long way to go to be accepted by the general public.  Those of us that do leave the broom closet whether by choice or accident could be the first and possibly only Pagan the people we come in contact with have evermet. Inmy experiencemost people are pretty positive in their responses, but you never know. Before you venture forth,make sure you are very sure of whom you are as a Pagan, because nomatter how you are received, you will be asked a lot of questions about your religion. Even a well-meaning questioner can ask things thatmay hurt your feelings or insult you. If you arenít ready to have your innermost beliefs brought out into the light and examined, youíd better rethink announcing, ďIím a Witch!Ē 

Lyon is an Eclectic Pagan living in Missouri. She has been following a Pagan lifestyle since the mid 1980s. An accomplished artist, she is currently in the process of locating a publisher for her illustrated Pagan childrenís book An Ordinary Girl, A Magical Child for young readers. Lyon also has several websites.  She lives with her husband, her 8 year-old daughter and two old cats of undetermined ancestry.