Culture Blogs

Wiccan essentials for beginning your path or getting back to basics.

  • Home
    Home This is where you can find all the blog posts throughout the site.
  • Tags
    Tags Displays a list of tags that have been used in the blog.
  • Bloggers
    Bloggers Search for your favorite blogger from this site.
  • Login
    Login Login form

Thoughts on the Broom Closet

Posted by on in Culture Blogs

For as long as I can remember, Witches and Pagans have talked about whether or not they are in the “broom closet,” meaning whether or not they’re out about their religion publicly. Whether to be in or out and who to come out to (if anyone) are huge decisions for many Wiccans and Pagans, or at least they have been historically. Last month something happened to me that made me think long and hard about the broom closet, so I'm abandoning my usual question-and-answer format in this post to ramble a bit about my experience. 

The Broom Closet in the 1980s

When I first started getting into Wicca in the 1980s, we heard stories about people losing their jobs when their employers found out they were Wiccan, Wiccans being disowned by their families because of their religion, and Wiccans losing their children in custody battles against a parent who wasn’t Wiccan. It was considered unwise by many Wiccans to be out of the closet to anyone but close friends and family, and the general notion was even those people had to be chosen carefully.

A close friend of mine died toward the beginning of October, and something happened afterward that got me thinking about the broom closet again. My husband and I interacted a lot with our friend’s grieving family and friends, many of whom we’d never met before. His memorial was held in his living room, and friends and family crammed in, sitting knee-to-knee on chairs and pillows to tell stories about his life.

My friend had been a member so many communities—he’d been fluent in several languages, especially Swedish, played violin in a major symphony orchestra, had been an astonishing singer, had earned a Ph.D. and taught at the college level, had been a consummate ritualist, and had been an initiate of a Wiccan tradition, a Pagan tradition, and Tibetan Buddhism. There was at least one person from most of those groups present to talk about the impact he’d had on them. As each person spoke, I was surprised by how many things my friend had done that I had no idea about before he died. Afterward, I talked with several of the people present, and most had come to the same realization I did. His family members, his language students, and the academics either hadn’t known about his Paganism and Buddhism at all, or hadn’t known the full extent of it. Many of the Pagans hadn’t known about his music, and some didn’t know about his academic career.

Two things struck me about this. One was that our friend had compartmentalized his life to the point where every single person in the room except his husband—even people who knew him very, very well—was surprised by something they learned about him. He’d had about eight closets, not just one. I knew why he wasn’t out as a Pagan to the academics. His dissertation was on folk magic, and, as he put it, the academics “respect researchers, but not practitioners.” He was extremely afraid that if his review board found out he was Pagan, they’d think his dissertation work was compromised, since it was about Paganism. As for the other closets, he’d come into Paganism at roughly the same time I did, and I can only assume he’d heard the same cautionary tales about being out that I had, not to mention ones from the 1970s and 1980s LGBT community.

The second thing that struck me was the level of acceptance of his many worlds by the people at the memorial, including his family. The family members sought me out after the memorial because I had said I knew my friend from his writings long before I met him in person, and they were curious about what writings I meant. When I explained about his Pagan and Wiccan writing, their response was not critical or judgmental at all. They were just fascinated by a facet of him they hadn’t known.

My Choice

Personally, I’m only selectively “out,” but my choice not to be out to everyone is more about privacy than fear of reprisal. My friends know I’m Wiccan, but I’ve chosen to tell only select professional colleagues. I work in education, and I believe very strongly that religion—mine or anyone else’s—has absolutely no place in public schools or the workplace. I’m also a private person. I love and use social media, but I just don’t have the urge to splatter my personal life all over Facebook.

As for my family, my husband and I aren’t quite as lucky as our friend was when it comes to family support of our religion. In fact, we felt sad that he never told his family, and so he never knew that they would have supported and loved him regardless of his religion. In contrast, the story of my attempt to come out to my mother has become semi-legendary in certain circles. I had just taken a deep breath and opened my mouth to tell her when she interrupted with a long story about her friend Mary Lou (in a thick, Frances McDormand “Fargo” accent): “You know Mary Lou just went to that Salem Massachusetts, and she said it was so DARK and creepy there and there and everyone was a Witch, and they were all running around in black with those penta-thingies around their necks. I know I’m never going to go there. Gives me the shivers. Now what were you going to tell me, honey?” It was her way of telling me she didn’t want to know.

The Broom Closet Now

Things have changed a lot since I was new to Wicca. Wicca has grown exponentially, and it’s far more well-known and accepted—or at least tolerated—than it was thirty years ago. Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Charmed, American Horror Story, Sleepy Hollow, and the (abominable) Witches of East End have brought Witches and Wiccans back into the greater public consciousness, if not always in a positive or accurate way. Where we once had about ten reliable Wicca books, a few newsletters, and bootleg videos of Simon: King of the Witches, people coming into Wicca now have hundreds of books and websites, and Wiccans can network and buy supplies online from almost anywhere.

So many of the barriers my friends and I faced two decades ago when we started a college Wicca group—having to convince the university we weren’t Satanists, having to find other Wiccans with no Internet, posting flyers across campus and in co-ops and other “hippy hangouts” and hoping someone would actually see them, Christian groups taking down our flyers and picketing our group meetings—are either gone or are far less common because of changes in technology and public awareness. Obviously, some parts of the country are more accepting than others, and some people are more accepting than others, but the public’s exposure to Wicca seems to have created a more open environment, where many Wiccans can be more honest about who they are. In fact, recently I’ve talked to several Wiccans who hadn’t even considered being in the closet. The fact that they never felt the need to hide says to me the paradigm has changed a lot, and that is awesome.

If You’re on the Fence

There is no right or wrong answer to the question of whether you should be out. The more non-Wiccans interact with Wiccans, the less threatening and marginalized we will be, so if you feel safe coming out—either fully or partially—I hope you will, when you’re ready. However, if you’re apprehensive about coming out, you don’t have to do it. It’s important that you do what feels right—and safe–to you. You may choose never to come out, or you might find a time later in your life that’s more appropriate.

There are only two taboos here: you should never out another person, and you should never pressure another person to come out. This is a very personal choice, and each person needs the space to make it for him- or herself. 

Last modified on
Thea Sabin is a writer/editor whose professional work currently focuses on web content management, curriculum development, and instructional design. She has taught a variety of subjects—including editing, high school English and theater, gardening, crafts, Wicca, and astrology—off and on for more than two decades. A practicing Wiccan since her teens, she first started teaching Wicca—very, very badly and long before she was ready—in college. She wrote her book Teaching Wicca and Paganism in the hope that it would help other teachers get a better start than she did. Her first book, Wicca for Beginners, was designed to help seekers new to Wicca build a foundation for Wiccan practice. Find Thea on Facebook or at


  • Carol P. Christ
    Carol P. Christ Wednesday, 12 November 2014

    I prefer to call myself a "Goddess feminist" in terms of my spirituality. I don't always offer either of those terms in everyday conversations. But when I am not ready to use those terms because I don't feel like "getting into it" with someone, I will often say that I am an "environmentalist" and my spirituality is rooted in "mother earth" This is also true and people are more likely to get the general idea.

    I would say your friend was right about academia's prejudices, which are legion.

  • Thea Sabin
    Thea Sabin Saturday, 15 November 2014

    Yes, I've experienced the academic bias, too. It's wrong in so many ways, but it doesn't seem likely to change soon.

  • Amber Manuel
    Amber Manuel Thursday, 13 November 2014

    I agree that no one should out another or pressure them to come out. I am very new to Wicca and was outed recently by a family member who figured it out. My family is all Christian and I have received weird looks from everyone another family member told. It's awkward to say the least because I was not - am not - ready for them to know. My journey is a very personal one, and I would have preferred privacy in from certain circles.

  • Thea Sabin
    Thea Sabin Saturday, 15 November 2014

    I'm so sorry someone outed you. That's just plain wrong. Have you heard Dar Williams' song "The Christians and the Pagans"? It's the story of Pagans visiting Christian family members for Christmas. The situation described might feel familiar to you.

  • Anne Newkirk Niven
    Anne Newkirk Niven Thursday, 13 November 2014

    Since you are now "out of the closet" (albeit unwillingly) this book might help you with your Christian relatives:
    (I don't have a commercial interest in this book's sale, btw.)

  • Linette
    Linette Sunday, 16 November 2014

    Was married to an academic for 25 years, they look down on everyone for everything. I think it's the reason that they only talk about academia 99% of the time, it's too risky to talk about anything else, even amongst themselves.

    That being said, I've run into a surprising amount of that withing the pagan community as well. We can talk generally about paganism, and how everyone else disses on us...but often it's risky to expose our own trad to other pagans.

  • Please login first in order for you to submit comments

Additional information