Coming Out Of The “Broom Closet”
I am lucky to have two parents that fully accept the fact I am a Pagan. In fact, after I converted, my mother followed; the jury is still out on my father…he would be willing to join in for ceremonies or feasts, but he still goes to church some Sundays and doesn’t really know anything about religion in general. The rest of my family was technically raised Presbyterian, they don’t go to church and we just say grace before big family meals, mostly because of my grandmother.
I doubt my family would have major issues with the fact I am a Pagan, they would probably brush it off and think it was “just a phase”, or ask me questions about what Paganism really is, but they wouldn’t disown me.
Yet, I still have found myself unable to come out of the “Broom Closet”. So, I kind of want to talk about why, or why not, to come out of the broom closet.
All of my information is taken from personal experiences of friends and of myself, and from the website Lady of the Earth, which is credited at the bottom of this essay.
Picture if you will, you’ve been studying Paganism for a while, and maybe you’ve managed to cast a couple of circles, built up a rather nice collection of oils, incense and candles, and really proud of what you’ve learned. So, now what? Are you ready to tell your friends and family?
Wait, we’ll have to consider some things first:
“In Africa today, someone may be brutally murdered because they were accused of Witchcraft. Whether or not they are or aren’t doesn’t matter. Just an accusation.
Closer to home, in America today, someone may lose his or her children because a social worker was misinformed. Children have been taken from their parents because a ‘child welfare’ worker believed they would be sacrificed at Samhain.
Very close to my home, in Canada today, someone may be forced into a mental institution for practicing Wicca. Some institutions believe that practicing modern Witchcraft is a sign of mental distress or social maladjustment.
In the world today, someone is losing a job for being Pagan; someone is losing a friend.
Someone is polishing a gun and muttering about the ‘baby killers’. Someone is holding community action meetings to deal with the ‘Wiccan threat’.”—Lady of the Earth
These may be old numbers, as many areas have repealed “anti-witch” laws, but we must always remember that people are misinformed about Pagans, and they get all their information from Hollywood or outdated sources.
When I first came out of the broom closet, my father had some misconceptions about Paganism, even though he is an educated man with a university degree in accounting, from when he was a child being raised in a very Catholic small town. In fact, when my mother and I stopped going to church because we converted, he got very defensive.
With common misconceptions dispelled, however, he now understands why we converted, and why we weren’t very happy with the Christian church. It made the relationship a bit tense at first, and he would often leave Sunday mornings to church and not tell us—we assumed he went to the office to do some filing or make some calls without bothering us—and he almost seemed ashamed to admit he was going to church. I sometimes wonder if he thought the big scary Pagan women were going to curse him!
You must always remember, coming out of the broom closet will change everything, usually for the good, but you must realize that sometimes it will be for the worst.
If any of you reading this are gay and have come out of the closet, I’m sure you’ll know how difficult it can be. I think that is why Pagans use the analogy of “coming out of the closet” to describe telling people of their religious views, and by making it a “broom closet”, Pagans give it their own twist.
This is not intended as a how-to come out, but more of an essay on what you can do to come out, and some things to consider. Everyone’s coming-out will be different and unique to the person and situation. Also, keep in mind there are different forms of being “out”. If we want to be technical, I’m very much out in the open, but at the same time I am very much in the closet.
I am out with my friends, but for my cousins wedding that happened on August 1st, I was more half in the closet. I am more out with my mother than my father. Ordering books online is more anonymous than going to your local bookstore. Do what feels comfortable for YOU. This is your life.
Paganism is about trust in yourself and the world around you. You have to trust in what you do in rituals for it to work, for example. Therefore, the basis for coming out of the broom closet is trust. So, if you want your family to trust in you after or during your coming out, you have to make sure you’re doing trustworthy things.
Don’t hide the fact you collect oils or incense; tell your family you are looking into aromatherapy. Aromatherapy is used in spas, so it is less suspicious than hiding about it, or arguing, or straight out lying. Saying you’re using aromatherapy is, at least, somewhat truthful. Though you could argue it is lying by omitting, it’s still a lot less risky. Think of it along the same lines as the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell”.
Safety is the next consideration. Is it safe for you to come out? If you think it is unsafe, then don’t come out, at least not yet. Safety includes protection from physical abuse, but can also include having somewhere to live, or the emotional worry of having people harass you or even attempt to convert you.
I have a friend who was unable to come out in her hometown because of an abusive situation. I doubt I could come out to some of my extended family just because they think anything outside the “norm” (in that area, Christianity) is wrong, and they already think I’m weird because of my personality.
The next step is then to try to predict how the people you are coming out to will react. Start with one group, like your parents. Will they understand? Curious? Supportive? Angry? I do suggest starting with people you live with, because you can predict their behavior best. Make note of how they act talking about religion in general. This stage might take only a few days to have a general idea of how they will react. It might take several weeks. Be patient, and keep your eyes and ears open.
I did this myself just recently, when coming out with my mother’s sister, who comes over to our house pretty much every Sunday for a visit and dinner. She is not exactly open-minded, but she’s not close-minded either: she’s more in-between. I had wanted to come out to her for quite some time, but was unsure how to mention it.
She had seen my collection of candles, incense, and admired my collection of Egyptian statues. She was there when I picked up some of my tarot decks and Pagan books, and was with me when I purchased some Aztec prints. She reacted pretty positively to the items, always commenting how much I had loved this stuff when I was younger.
Finally, just a few weeks ago, she was watching me while I was putting a few finishing touches on an entry into my Book of Shadows, and asked if the spell book I was copying from was “made up” like in Harry Potter. My mom and I gave a jumbled reply saying they were from old grimoires and such, and my aunt took it all quite well. She said it was interesting, flipped through it a bit, and then went back to what she was doing.
You may be lucky, just like I was. Your family may not need your choice explained to them, and they will support you no matter what. But, if I have learned anything, it’s that never trust luck. Always have an explanation. Make a list of what you like about paganism. Write a little paragraph or two explaining why you converted or are not impressed with more mainstream religions.
Also, be sure to plan to explain some of the common misconceptions about paganism. This can be really helpful if you would rather write a letter or e-mail to your family to come out and let them come to you.
The biggest trick will be to remain calm. Are you prone to anger very quickly? You’ll have to work on that before even considering coming out. Calmness is key. If you speak calmly and explain your points in a level voice, they will be more prone to listening. To help remain calm, you can really benefit from preparing beforehand.
Plan for EVERYTHING you can think of, because it can give you something to refer to, and it will help you keep your thoughts in order. You can even make cue-cards to refer to during your actual coming out. It may seem like over-planning, but if you are forgetful or easily frustrated, the more planning you have, the less likely you’ll lose you cool, because you probably have something written down.
Another good reason for this is, if your parents learn better by reading, you can physically give them something to read with all your points on it. My mother is like this, so when I came out, she ordered herself a book on Wicca to educate herself on my religion.
In many cases, what is known about paganism by the general public (people who haven’t studied it) are the misconceptions and rumors spread by Hollywood and religious bigots. Remember, your parents and friends love you, and want what’s best for you and want to keep you from getting hurt. Reassure them that paganism is not a cult, and that you are educating yourself on all aspects of the religion.
Please be patient with them; it may take them some time and some research of their own to fully accept your actions. Also, use common sense. If they are in a bad mood, don’t bring this up; you can wait until they are in a good and talkative mood.
It is more than likely, if you’ve explained your position well, that your family and friends will be supportive, even if they don’t agree with you. The teachers at my high school were very open-minded and prided the small pagan community we had; my friends may not agree with my beliefs, but they happily accept that it is what I believe and support me.
Who knows? Maybe you’ll really pique someone’s interest and aid him or her on his or her own spiritual journey.