Saturday, July 30, 2011

The March of the Shameless Pagan

     I want to get all religious on you guys for a moment.  Yeah, I know, settle in for a rant.  You’ve seen them before—all over Witchvox and any other public Pagan forum—the ol’ “What I Think of Christians” thing.  It’s nearly as popular as “Would You Like to Hear How I Became a Pagan?”  I’ll try to keep it brief and only talk on points of ponder for the moment.  Hopefully this will be fresh news for you as well.  This is also the angriest you will probably see me in a long while, so tuck in.

     So you all (you countless throng who flock to this blog…hey—I can dream) know that I like to discuss religion and spirituality, no matter in what form it may come.  I come here and on our coven’s website (**shameless plug** to talk about magic and Paganism with as much openness and enthusiasm as our readers rightly deserve.  I tell you to be honest with yourselves and honest with others.  I give any interested party advice on handling being a happy outsider in this exclusive society.   But what I rarely do is talk about the real nuts and bolts of my beliefs.  At first it was that I figured no one would find it interesting.  Then it became that I have bigger concepts to be dealing with, and so does the reader.  Finally we arrive where I am now—it’s nobody else’s business.

     That’s right.  Just like what I do in the bedroom, who I do it with, and what tunes I sing in the shower in the morning, ain’t nobody’s business but my own.   I have found that the more I tell people about my most touching moments in the presence of the Gods, the less amazing they begin to seem.  Maybe keeping it all for myself makes me selfish but at least I’m not engaging in those boring “who’s had a cooler experience with Hecate” debates.  I don’t like one-upmanship.  So my religious sentiments, while well founded on our predecessors, are my own thing and likely will remain so.

     But one thing I feel very strongly about sharing is my right to be Pagan.  Now I don’t inject it into every conversation but it may occasionally come up in polite society.  There’s no reason that it should be a topic the equivalent to abortion or diarrhea, discussed in hushed tones out of earshot to “regular” people.  (Ha! Get it?)  It is just as worthy as talking about your grandson’s Christening or last Sunday in church.

     As an example, the local preacher struck up a conversation with me one late December: 
“Are you ready for Christmas?” he said with a big smile. 
“Not me.  There’s a lot left to do!”
“Well, you only have 12 days left!” he chided.
“Actually our family celebrates the Winter Solstice, so I only have 9.  I’d better get a move on, eh?” 

     Pretty painless, right?  Yes, his smiled sort of slid to the left as though it was melting but I think that was more shock than anything else.  Ever since we moved here I’ve been 100% genuine with my neighbors.  It hasn’t won me any popularity contests but, naturally, lies are so much more polite.  Failure to hide what makes you different around here is the same thing as blowing your nose on your shirttail.  So I’m not beloved but I’m not gossiped about either.  Before they knew me I was, of course, but now, nary a whisper.  I give them no ammo so now they can’t shoot.

     But I’ve often heard about Pagans who fear these shots so much that they construct elaborate lies to hide their core beliefs from everyone they know.  They tell the neighbors they’re “going to visit family upstate” as they pack for a festival.  They are too afraid to ask for the Sabbats off from work, lest someone should find out why.  They find a person who may or may not be “one of us” and ask a series of semi-innocent questions and look for tell-tale answers, like a secret handshake.   Seriously people!  Is this really necessary?

     Let’s go back for a sec, way back.  Christianity began as just another oddball sect in a time when oddball sects were rising up like the death toll in Deuteronomy.  Through time, promises, war, murder, money, and missionaries we arrive at the present time when this one system has gotten so big that it has branched out into dozens of smaller offshoots with their own churches, books, and leaders.  Christianity has become so big as to be considered the norm.  Now, let’s explore that for a bit.  In the area in which I live, SUV’s, acrylic nails, and Nantucket capris are the norm.  If I were to take my cues from what is most popular, I would look and act like a total douche.  So I don’t do that.  I go my own way and I have no shame for it.

     And there’s my revelation.  NO SHAME.  What do we owe big-box religion that we must tell lies and hide ourselves?  What are we so afraid of that we cannot celebrate what we like when we like?  You say that one gets treated unfairly in the community?  Brother, it’s just like high school—they’ll hate you for one thing or hate you for another; the reasons don’t matter at that point.  You say one may be in danger of losing one’s job?  I say we have laws for that, no matter where you are in America, and there are plenty of lawyers looking to snag an easy case like that.  You say that businesses have been vandalized, threats declared, and people harassed?  I say look at the facts: How many of them have been reported to the authorities?  How many victims have found hostility in their community but demanded their place in it nonetheless?  The deal is to learn the law and your place in it, speak up for yourself, and have ready a lawyer to whom you can refer if necessary.  Prepare yourself so you can go in without fear.

     And here comes fear again.  What makes one faith so grand that it is automatically larger than all others, larger than the law?  Now, I’m not one to run to the police for anything.  I take the same stance on police as I do doctors and dentists.  I’d better be bleeding or decomposing in no less than two places before I’ll submit to going there.  But the police can be a real asset—when you know your rights.  Don’t let them write you off as too much paperwork.  Demand to be heard.  You have nothing to fear.    

     My neighbor from Texas says “It just ain’t safe in Texas.  If we’d met in Waco, instead of here, I would have lived next door for months before ever finding out you were Pagan.”  That’s where I said “No way, because that’s not how I am.”  You see, the place is irrelevant.  The situation is irrelevant.  The Bible may be popular but it doesn’t own the Bible Belt.  Zip codes change but I am the same wherever I go.  And, as an aside, Texas seems to have more Pagan/occult shops than any other state in the US.  The listing in Witches and Pagans Magazine (issue #22, “Southern, Pagan & Proud” ) was quite impressive.

     I’ve always seen Atheists as a kindred spirit though, admittedly, they might not see it that way (being that I am far from God-free, having way more Gods than Christians, who are their main combatant.)  When I hear Athiests speak, though, I hear rationality and pride.  They take what they see, what they’ve learned, and what they feel and assemble it in a way that is separate, but just as heartfelt, as any other worldview.  As Pagans we should take a leaf from their book: learn how to debate sanely, how to stick up for your right to be different, and how to live free without shame.  With no secret handshakes.

     We all deserve that.

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