Coming Out of the Boom Closet

Do you want to run through the halls at school screaming, “I’m a Witch, I’m a Witch, I’m a Witch, Witch, Witch”? Or would you rather read your Tarot cards in the dark, under the covers, with the doors locked and the curtains drawn? Maybe you fall somewhere in the middle: you want to tell your friends and family about your new found sense of Pagan pride, but you don’t want everyone at school to annoy you with incredibly lame questions. (“Hey, did you ride your broomstick to school today?”)

It’s up to you to decide how public you want to be, but you should be aware of several things before making your decision. First, please know that being “in the broom closet” does not make you less of a Witch. In fact, magick performed in secret has a particular power to it, and many Witches choose to practice in secret because they find it to be a very effective way of concentrating their energy.

Many Witches keep their pentacles under wraps for fear of persecution; while America is a free country, we are also predominantly Christian — at least in the ruling majority’s eyes. I’m not knocking Christianity, but some translations of the Bible state, “Thou shall not suffer a witch to live” (Exodus 22:18). Some argue that in this instance “witch” is a mistranslation for “poisoner,” but the idea has had an enormous impact on our culture, regardless. Many people raised in the Christian religion have a genuine fear of Witchcraft and for a Witch’s immortal soul. If you find yourself in the middle of a Christian Youth Group meeting and you feel the need to vocalize, you might try using a word other than “Witch” to describe your beliefs, like “nature worshiper.” Even then, you can expect opposition from people who want to save you from hellfire and damnation. Take a deep breath, nod in the appropriate places, and continue being exactly who you are quietly. You probably wont be well received if you stand up at midnight mass on Christmas Eve and declare that Yule was stolen from the Pagans and you want it back. If someone comes at you with a pile of sticks and a lighter, run! Run fast and far!

I was kidding with that last bit, but only partly. While Witches are no longer burned at the stake (or mutilated, tortured, drowned, and all the rest), the fear of persecution still runs deep, and with good reason. In our glorious Republic, you absolutely have the inalienable right to practice whatever religion you choose, but persecution still exists in more subtle forms. Just ask anybody who’s gay, Jewish, black, Spanish, or female. This may range anywhere from patronization (“Isn’t she cute? She’s a tree hugging hippie/misguided feminist/mentally deficient tribal throwback”), to outright fear and isolation (“Don’t cross her; she’ll put a curse on you”). Do yourself a favor and practice self-restraint when you encounter ignorance. There is very little to be gained by standing on a desk in English class and denouncing the imperialist patriarchal regime in dire tones and with performance art type drama. Besides, hardly anyone will get it.

If you feel that your community will be outright hostile to your beliefs, then it is preferable to keep quiet about your Pagan ways. If you’re only into Wicca to cast the occasional spell here and there, then it doesn’t make much sense to wear a big shiny pentacle to school. Doing so will certainly bring you plenty of attention, but you may not necessarily want to deal with the subtle (and not so subtle) prejudice that lingers around that symbol.

Philosophical debate is great, and I encourage you to engage people in discussion at every opportunity. Sharing thoughts and ideas is one way to become closer to the people in your life. However, there is a very fine line between intellectual discourse and argument. When discussing controversial issues like religion and politics, it is best to begin the discussion knowing that the person you’re talking with probably won’t agree with you on all accounts. Keep your tone pleasant, and end the discussion if you sense that it’s getting too heated.

Anonymous Acts of Pagan Mayhem for the Broom Closet Witch

  • On Ostara, write “Happy Spring Equinox” on the bulletin board in your local grocery store. (You can do this for any of the holidays!)
  • Replace “In God We Trust” with “In Goddess We Live” on a dollar bill, and leave it on the ground. (Okay, this is slightly illegal, so make a fake dollar bill and do the same!)
  • Write “Blessed Be” in chalk on a sidewalk.
  • Paint an ankh, a crescent moon, or the zodiac symbols on a big rock, and stick it somewhere public.
  • Buy a little fairy doll, tie it on a string, and hang it from a tree. Take it down after a while, so you’re not littering.

Debriefing the Parental Units

For many people, the most difficult aspect of “coming out” is talking with parents and other family members, especially if they are devout in their particular religious beliefs. Gauge your family’s response before announcing your heathen heart to them. Are they strict or liberal? Do they require you to attend their own house of worship or let you do your own thing? Are they devout in their practice but open minded to other ways of life? Decide what and how much you want to tell them about your spiritual persuasion. You may be pleasantly surprised at the way your family relationships deepen when you go out on a limb and reveal your true self, or you may find that you’ll have to work at a close connection with your family. Either way, being honest feels fabulous.

If your relationship with your parents is somewhat lacking, look at the reasons why. Are you screwing up in school? If so, try to get your act together a little bit before springing the “W” word on them. This will help you to gain their confidence in your ability to make good decisions for yourself. Do you run out of the house every night to hang out with your friends, leaving them to eat dinner by themselves? Try to spend a little time with them and let them in a little; smooth the way for discussing the big issues by letting them know you better in every way. Are they the ones who don’t have time to spend? Ask them specifically for a day or night that you can get together and do something fun, like shopping or cooking dinner or anything else that you all like to do.

It’s truly grand to have a close relationship with your family that allows each family member to be respected, enjoyed, and applauded for his or her unique personality, but sometimes this just isn’t the case. If your family isn’t close, then maybe you don’t have to worry about revealing your deepest thoughts. Its unfortunate, but sometimes that’s the way life is. If that circumstance is unacceptable to you, then this is an opportunity to build that closeness. Its great to respect the Gods who made you, but your parents feed, clothe, and comfort you in everyday life. Give them a chance to show you how good they can be, and let them see how great you are.

There are a couple of different strategies for starting The Talk:

The Guerrilla Method

One night at dinner or while you’re gathered around the TV watching vapid sitcoms, spring a surprise attack on their brains, like asking them what they think God looks like, or what they think happens to us when we die. Watch the popcorn fly as they twitch! Don’t impart your views yet; listen to them first, and see what their reaction is. If they ask why you asked, then jump in and speak your piece. Be prepared for the inevitable questions, and know your subject very well. Answer to the best of your ability, offer your opinions in a pleasant way, and present your parents with a completely mature, rational, passionate yet calm, obviously well thought out explanation of your basic beliefs. Offer to let them read your books. Expect to have this conversation repeatedly as they try to understand you.

The Crafty Tactic

Leave a book on Wicca, a pack of Tarot cards, a crystal, or other witchy objects on the kitchen table, coffee table, or some other communal place. Wait for their reaction. If your parents ask what all this stuff is, give a matter-of-fact, concise, literal definition. Wait some more. If you get no further response and feel the need to push the issue, revert to the first tactic. Be ready for a million questions! Again, know your subject, and expect to have this conversation often!

Explain what you find attractive about Wicca/Paganism. Is it the Goddess? Is it the connection to Nature? Expound on your connection to Divinity as a beautiful Goddess, or your love of the Earth as a living creature. Talk about how meditation helps you to relax and stay healthy or how you find crystals and rocks interesting and beautiful. Whatever you find divine in Wicca, share that passion with your family. You may want to leave out the spellcasting bit for now, or you may want to really lay it out there.

Avoiding Social Disaster and Teenage Torture

The other arena for coming out is at school, that swarming pit of hormones, cliques, and cruelty. I don’t know why, but teenagers are often unbelievably nasty to one another, and anyone who is perceived as “different” is a target for bullying, teasing, and general mental torture. On the other hand, teens are usually willing to embrace anything that is rebellious or provocative. It’s a weird paradox. You have three choices: tell your close friends and swear them to secrecy (it’ll probably get out eventually), tell no one and be a silent Wiccan, or tell everyone and duck the fallout.

Keep it simple when you’re talking to friends who don’t know what Wicca is. Depending on the person, you may want to keep your focus on the Earth as a living being aspect, rather than the chanting/spellcasting/ astral projection part. If they’re antagonistic about your spirituality, then just don’t discuss it further. If they’re indifferent, then you haven’t lost anything, and you have gained a sense of your own integrity. If they’re intrigued, then you may have found yourself a study partner!

When you “go public,” be aware that you are taking on the responsibility of representing Wicca and Paganism with your actions and words. While you and I know that there is infinite variation within the general heading of “Wiccan” or “Pagan,” most people tend to lump us all together — usually under the heading “Satanic.” If you run around telling people that you’ll curse them for gossiping about you, not only will you lose friends, but you’ll also damage the Pagan cause (and you’ll get a dose of wretchedly stinking karmic retribution, too). Besides, if you’re looking for like-minded people to practice with, or teachers, or want to be initiated into a coven, you’ll come up against closed doors if spewing negative press tarnishes your reputation.

Decide how important it is for you to be Pagan at school. Perhaps you find the history surrounding the Salem murders truly horrifying, and you feel the need to speak out in social studies class. Saying what’s on your mind, without labeling yourself as Wiccan, is standing up for your beliefs. If you feel strong enough to take the heat, go for it and claim your heritage.

Again, it’s up to you, and, again, it’s best to really know your subject before you speak out about it. There’s nothing worse than being cross-examined by your peers and having nothing intelligent to say in return.

You don’t need to bludgeon the world with your religious viewpoint, and always keep in mind the way you feel when someone is trying to “save your soul.” It feels totally rotten to be told that your views are wrong, so don’t get zealous and go damning every other religious philosophy. Tolerance is the order of the day, and if you crave respect and open mindedness in others, then generate that by being tolerant and open minded yourself.

If religion comes up in class and you really feel the need to profess your undying love for the Great Mother, go ahead and say it. (I’m sure She appreciates being stood up for, nowadays.) If one of those narrow-minded monkey types tells you you’re stupid for thinking of God as a woman, turn around and ask: ’How many men do you know who can give birth to a seven-pound baby, much less an entire Universe?” You can also remind the instigator that many ancient cultures revered goddesses along with gods, and the title “Mother Nature” wasn’t made up by Hallmark just for laughs.

Just know that you might be harassed for it, and if you get the feeling that your fellow students are truly hostile, then I suggest that you keep it a little more vague and conversational. You certainly don’t have to proclaim yourself as Wiccan or Pagan to be Wiccan or Pagan, and nobody in the greater Pagan community wants to see you get beaten up, isolated, or otherwise disturbed for speaking out in high school. High school is a relatively small part of your entire life, and it will be over sooner than you think.

Being purposely confrontational doesn’t solve very much (although I do love the warrior spirit!), and it can cost you a great deal. Instead, when you hear somebody spouting ignorance, smile, say a little prayer under your breath, and feel good about the fact that you know better. And tell them to get off your aura.

Blatant Acts of Pagan Mayhem for the Public Witch

  • Refuse to buy products that use harmful packaging (like Styrofoam), and write to the company you have boycotted, politely expressing your dismay at the murder of your Mother. Be sure to sign the letter “Blessed Be,” and scrawl a pentacle under your name.
  • If someone tells you to be quiet, settle down, or otherwise stifle your creative flow, tell him or her it’s against your religion.
  • If somebody says “God bless you” when you sneeze, respond by saying “And Goddess bless you.”
  • Anytime you would say “Thank God,” say “Thank the Gods” instead!
  • Tell your teachers that you will be taking Halloween off for religious observance. Then do it!
  • At your class Christmas party, tell everyone that Christian holidays have their origins in Pagan festivals. Back it up by explaining the symbolism of the Yule log and decorating evergreen trees. Don’t be surprised if no one believes you.
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