Pagan Studies

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The Broom Closet in the 21st Century

When I was 18, in 1995, I was outed from the broom closet. I had kept myself in that closet, because I was afraid of how people would react if they realized I practiced magic. A friend's parents (both fundamentalist Christians) found a book I'd let my friend borrow and contacted my mom about it. She was also a fundamentalist Christian and needless to say did not approve of my spiritual choices. I was still living with her as I was in high school and I didn't have a job at the time. She told me I had a choice. I could move out or burn my books. I had a half hour to decide before she kicked me out. A half hour isn't a lot of time to make such a decision. I made a very practical choice and decided I would burn my books, because I didn't have a job and I wanted to finish high school. I hid the books I hadn't read yet and took the books I had read and told her I'd burn them. She marched me out to the back yard and I burned those books. That incident didn't discourage my practice of magic. If anything, it only made it more attractive and also made me more determined to continue learning. That incident also convinced me that staying in the broom closet wasn't going to help me, and so I decided I'd be open about my beliefs and practices, and I have been to this day.

A short time after the book burning, I was contacted by the father of my friend (I didn't know who he was at the time). He was drunk, had a cold, and told me how he was going to come kill me in 48 hours and he'd call me on the hour, each hour before he came. He started singing hymns to me. I told him if he came over I'd defend myself. I also called the police. He kept calling and eventually I disconnected the phone. The next day, in school, my friend told me that his father and step-father, in a rare moment of collaboration, had decided they were going to try and kill me. The step-father would drive the father over to do the deed. It never happened, but it illustrated to me how intolerant Christians were when it came to any religion or spirituality that wasn't of their own practice. It also illustrated what a risk it could be to be out of the broom closet.

It's 2014, 19 years after all that occurred. I've never had anything else like that happen, despite living in some fairly conservative parts of the country. I've written books on magic, using my own name purposely and not received much in the way of discriminatory attacks. I now live in Portland, Oregon, which is very liberal, and where people can openly be whatever they want to be religiously and spirituality with little fear that someone else will try and persecute them. I recognize that living where I do affords me an opportunity to be who I am spirituality, with little risk to myself or others around me.  However, although we live in the 21st century, this isn't the case for all Pagans.

For example, in Beebe, Arkansas, Pagans who are out of the closet are dealing with legal issues right now, because they were asked to move there by local Pagans, who wanted a temple of their own. The mayor of that town has chosen to discriminate against the openly Pagan family, chosen to deny them the possibility of opening their church by using zoning laws against them in a blatant violation of the separation of church and state. And it doesn't end there, but you can find out more by clicking on the link above. You can also donate to help that family in their struggle at this time: donate to PayPal accountSeekersTemple@yahoo.com or to Seekers Temple, 608 E. DeWitt Henry Dr., Beebe, AR. 72012

It takes a lot of courage to be out of the broom closet in conservative parts of the U.S. It is no easy thing to be openly Pagan in parts of the country where the expectation is that everyone is a Christian. Stories like the one I've linked to above as well as my story illustrate what can happen when you are out of the broom closet. You are taking a risk by being out of the broom closet and being openly Pagan. That risk isn't just the ire of the Christian community, but also the fear of the closeted Pagan community, which will be less likely to visit you out of fear of being outed as Pagan in a community that is hostile toward those beliefs.

There is no easy solution here either. Telling people to step out of the broom closet, for example, isn't helpful advice because you are asking them to take on the same risk you are taking and while there may be more strength as a result of doing that, there is also fear of losing jobs, friends, and potentially your life because of how people will treat you. At the same time, staying in the closet only encourages the Christians to think that they can continue to get away with such behavior, and makes it harder to change the status quo in such places. So what's a Pagan to do in such circumstances.

The only advice I can give is to follow your heart and intuition. If you can't come out of the broom closet, no one blames you for that, but if you can help, in some way or manner, those people who are out of the closet, then please do so. And if you can come out of the closet, or are already out of the closet, remember that you aren't out to pick a fight. You are out because you want to represent Pagans respectfully in your community and enter into a dialogue that promotes positive change and acceptance. It won't be easy work, but if you can help people come away with a better understanding of Paganism, without proselytizing, you can make some positive changes.

In the early 2000's I was at Clarion University, in Western Pennsylvania, which is a very conservative area of PA. Most of the students attending the school were Christian. I was openly Pagan and there was no student organization for Pagans at that school, so it was fairly lonely. Nonetheless I made some friends who were Christian and we ended up talking about Paganism and Christianity. They eventually accepted that they weren't going to convert me and instead chose to learn about what I believed. They didn't agree with it, as it related to their lives, but they did come to accept that for some people Paganism was exactly what worked.

Paganism is slowly, but surely gaining ground and acceptance. My hope is that twenty years from now such stories as I've shared here will not happen to anyone who is Pagan. Perhaps it will take longer than that, but the more we raise awareness about Paganism and help people in general understand that it's here to stay, and the more all of us contribute in our ways to supporting the community, the sooner such change can occur so that all of us can step out of the closet and be accepted without fear of discrimination.

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Taylor Ellwood is the author of Pop Culture Magick, Space/Time Magic, Magical Identity and a number of other occult books. He posts about his latest projects at Magical Experiments. He is also the managing non-fiction editor of Immanion Press. Taylor lives in Portland, Oregon with his wife and two kids, as well as 7 cats.

Comments

  • Joyce ORourke
    Joyce ORourke Saturday, 21 June 2014

    I find most Christians to be intolerant of any religion other then their own. If you want to know what a religion is like read history. Christianity does not come out looking so clean. Whatever happened to," Love thy neighbor as thyself????" This is the part that get's me, where is their Christianity values when they are planning a murder? Just because your truths are different then theirs. I do understand that there is a commandment about that. Is that what Jesus would do?" I don't think he would go killing people, tar and feathering them or being unkind. I think he would be tolerant of others ways and he was. I don't believe he want around trying to change the Gentile's way of thinking. He wanted to change the Jewish way of thinking. To fulfill their prophecy. If they want to believe that their way is the only way good for them , however please don't subjugate me to your religious point of view and I will do the same. It was the intolerance of the Puritans , Christian believers, that caused William Rodger to create Rhode Island for those people who were being persecuted by Christians. You would think after hundreds of years the Christians who had been persecuted for their belief would show tolerances for another's way.

  • Taylor Ellwood
    Taylor Ellwood Saturday, 21 June 2014

    Unfortunately many Christians are intolerant and interpret freedom of religion to only pertain to their religion. Not all of them are like that, and it's important to establish a dialogue with the ones who aren't while also recognizing that acceptance may not come from everyone.

  • Rebecca Kinney
    Rebecca Kinney Monday, 23 June 2014

    I have also found that the most intolerant and vocal of any religion are the ones with the most to hide. It is as if they use their religion as a shield, without it, they are stripped of every "redeeming" quality. Without it they are revealed to be liars, bigots, bullies, abusers, thieves, cruel and severely damaged people. At the very least being a member of one of the most successful faiths on earth makes them feel superior in a way that they would otherwise not be. Christianity makes them important. When we say that we left Christianity for something better(for us) we put a crack it the illusion that they are a part of the only "right" religion and are therefore 'safe'.
    And then there is the Christian who really is a good person who looks at someone who used to be a good Christian leave the faith for something like paganism. Because you are a good person and you chose to leave their faith they begin to worry. They worry because they used to be secure in their faith, but your leaving has raised questions. This is a really scary thing. Good people, when faced with this, can either learn from that questioning, either leaving or deepening their faith, or they turn into the epitome of the good Christian and make it their life work to bring you back into the fold. Every time you see them there will be a reference made to prayers being said on your behalf, they will be way happier to see you than they ever where when you where Christian(because if you are shown how much you are loved by the Christian community and therefore will come back), they will send you 'inspirational' messages about Christianity via email and Facebook, God will be brought up at every possible moment and scripture quoted ad nauseam.
    The former is why am careful about telling virtual strangers about my spiritual path and the latter is why I will not come out of the broom closet to any relative save my husband(supportive) and my mother, who chooses to pretend it never happened.

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