When You Might Not Want to Come Out of the Broom Closet

Author: Bronwen Forbes

A great deal has been written about the benefits and advantages of coming out as Pagan to your family, friends and co-workers, both here on Witchvox and in other places. Living an honest life, helping Paganism be more accepted as more people say “I know a Pagan, ” and taking pride in who and what you are – these are all excellent reasons to be open about your faith. However, as a friend of mine reminded me recently, coming out is never something you do just once. You continue to choose with every new day, every new situation and every new person you meet whether or not to say anything about your spiritual path.

Which means, of course, that there are some valid reasons to never come out to anyone, or only to a select few in specific situations. For example (obvious as it is) , if you’ve recently begun the process of legally severing your marital bonds with someone and, before the divorce is final and all child and property custody disputes have been resolved, and you realize in the middle of all this that you’re Pagan, it would probably be in your best interests not to announce your new path until after the dust has settled.

Another obvious example is on the job. I hate to sound like an alarmist, but in this economy, just because you think it’s safe to be openly Pagan at work doesn’t mean it *is* safe. I lived for years in the Baltimore-Washington DC area where no one, not even my employers, cared if I was Pagan or not.

I left DC for a Midwest town that had a university – and a very prominent journalism school. As leaders of a training coven (consisting mostly of college students including one journalism major) , my husband and I were pretty good candidates for “interview a witch for the Halloween edition of the school paper.” It happened every year. While I wasn’t exactly out at work, between my regular appearance in the university’s school newspaper and occasional mentions in the city’s paper for being on various Pagan-related discussion panels, I wasn’t exactly hiding my religion, either. Five minutes on Google would have told my employers everything they wanted to know about it. I don’t think it even occurred to them to check.

Unfortunately, I took this lack of interest in my religious affairs for granted when we moved to a tiny town in New Mexico and I got a job at the local (much smaller) university in the admissions office. We also tried to help revive the campus Pagan student group which had been prominently featured in the local paper a year earlier, when every Baptist minister in the county denounced its existence (which should have been a clue to me to keep my flapping mouth shut) . Connections were made among the students, and next thing I knew it was two weeks before Samhain and the editor of the school paper was interviewing me. It was a good, well-written article, and no one in my office said a word about the fact that I’d just outed myself to the entire campus. I didn’t think any more about it.

Until I realized that my immediate supervisor was quietly and subtly going out of her way to make my workday a living hell – and had been since the article appeared in the paper.

For example, whatever I did wrong was discussed loudly and in public, while my co-worker, a Catholic, got a bit of quiet privacy when her errors were pointed out (We started the same day and did the exact same job) . I mentioned it to my boss and was told it was all my imagination and that I was “too sensitive.”

Eventually I quit; I’m convinced that if I hadn’t, I would have been fired. Was it because of the article? I’ll never know for sure, but in retrospect my decision to come out of the broom closet was, in this instance, a pretty poor one.

Sometimes, though, the decision of whether or not to come out as Pagan is not so obvious. Family and close friends, for example, are the people you most want to accept this part of you, and as a result your prediction of their reaction to your news may be skewed; you so very much need them to be happy for you that you could project the reaction you want onto them.

I’ve asked around, and a lot of my friends suggest telling a close sibling, aunt or uncle and see how they react before having the “Big Talk” with Mom and Dad. But – and this is hard – telling your nearest and dearest may not only be a bad idea, you may not know it’s a bad idea until it’s too late.

Back in the mid 1980s when I first realized I was Pagan, I told my parents. I had plenty of solid, valid reasons for doing so: 1) I was about to be divorced by my first husband over my Paganism and I thought they deserved to know the truth. 2) I had a strong feeling, even in the early days, that my spiritual path was going to be a major part of my life (turns out I was right) and I couldn’t see cutting my parents out of that much of my world (we were a lot closer back then) . 3) My parents are highly educated people with five college degrees between the two of them, have been professional performers most their lives (i.e. used to odd, artistic, fringe folk) , and are reasonably liberal in their personal and political views. In other words, if there are (or were) two Christians (Episcopalians) more likely to accept their daughter’s new spiritual path with open-mindedness and grace, I don’t know them.

At first it looked like I made a good decision to come out to my folks. My father, a college librarian, found a copy of Starhawk’s The Spiral Dance on my recommendation and read it. He said that while he’d never be a Pagan, he was struck by how “poetic it is.”

Fast forward a decade or so. In the intervening years my religion has been referred to as “that Pagan b*llsh*t” more than once. I’ve been told, “We’re just so relieved you’ve managed to stay away from the drugs” (What drugs? Did I miss the memo on rampant drug use in the Pagan community?) , and treated to this day like a not-quite-bright teenager by – you guessed it – my intellectual, liberal parents.

Was coming out to my parents a good idea? Probably not.

Knowing what I know now, would I do it today? No.

The decision to tell or not to tell someone you’re Pagan is a deeply personal one, and not in any way something you should be pressured into. Coming out as Pagan is not “cool” or something to do for the shock it might cause the listener. Although it’s true that the more of a presence we are in society the less “other” we become, and the more our faith is accepted in the world.

But we need to be aware that sharing our religious choice with anyone or everyone is not always the best solution. We no longer need to worry about witchfinders, hangings and other historically dire consequences for openly celebrating our faith, but we do need to think very hard about our livelihoods, our children and the feelings of the one we’re outing ourselves to before we choose to share this most personal information.

Coming Out Of The “Broom Closet”

Coming Out Of The “Broom Closet”

Author: Lea

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.