This is not so much an essay as simply a collection of thoughts that come from the term “broom closet”. I have tried to make this as coherent as possible. There is no central theme, no logical structure to these thoughts, no arguments or counterpoints. It is simply me taking the term “broom closet” and writing down what comes to mind when I think of it. Therefore, it skips and jumps around, like all thought does. Please forgive me if I don’t make much sense here, it’s not trying to confuse you truly.
“In the closet” is a term taken from the Homosexual community, to denote someone who is hiding or disguising their true nature, for fear of reprisal or hatred/derision due to their normal everyday nature. Because most pagans have to be witchy, “broom” was added to the front to make it Witch specific.
Understanding that most good ideas came from other places I can pass up my thoughts on how it’s terrible that we had to take a term from another oppressed/repressed group. It happens, and I’m sure that no one really minds.
Instead, I want to address some of the issues that the Broom Closet has brought up. I see more and more people who say that they have to be in the Broom Closet for this reason or that reason, mainly because they live in an area where their religious views are not welcome. I also hear of those who have come out of the Broom Closet and who have gotten slapped hard enough with various religion-related problems that they went back in.
Congratulations, you now know what it’s like to be discriminated against. This is what the Puritans went through, this is what the Jews still go through, this is what the Voodoo practitioners are still go through, this is what the American Indians still go through and went through. Doesn’t feel too good does it?
There are various stories and articles that float around the Internet, one of them by an acquaintance, which are about tolerance in which it says, “Freedom of Religion means ALL religions.” Nothing could be truer.
I would hope that a group who has been discriminated in the past would go to great lengths to make sure they didn’t discriminate against another group. But unfortunately, with people like Mark Ventimiglia and others who hate without reason, it still happens. It’s truly sad when this happens and I want to force the person in question to experience what they are doing. Or, as Abraham Lincoln said, “Whenever I hear anyone arguing for slavery, I feel a strong impulse to see it tried on him personally.” This, to my mind, is the essence of equality.
I feel that as long as the concept of the “broom closet” exists, that there will be a need for a broom closet. If someone can’t get past the feeling that they are in danger and needs someplace to hide, then the perception of being persecuted will always be with us.
For example, if I act as though I have nothing to be ashamed of, if I act as though I will get what I want in my life, then the odds increase exponentially that I will. Through my manner and demeanor and my carriage, I will bring those things I want to me. I will stand tall, walk proud, and look people in the eye when I speak to them. All these mannerisms say to the other person that I am confident and proud, a person of power and ability. It’s almost guaranteed at that point that they will then treat me as such and I will get what I want.
If, however, I slump my shoulders, walk with my eyes looking at the floor, shuffle my feet, and withdraw when spoken to, that tells others that I am a rug that can be walked upon. With that truth, it’s highly likely that the invisible “Welcome” stenciled across my back will be stepped on, frequently.
It’s the same with religion. Have pride in your faith; let it shine from your eyes as you move around and through your day. People will see that and respond to it.
One of the nicest people I know is a Christian Minister I work with. He has a pulpit in one of those really small (50 member at most) groups, and he does preach to them. I have even helped him prepare lessons for use in his services. He is always happy, he always has a smile on his face, he always greets you with a “Hey, how are you on this God-blessed day?” and it’s impossible to be offended by his manner. I even saw him upset once, and he didn’t loose that essential joy in his faith and his fellow man. THIS is the attitude I’m talking about. Heck, he knows I’m a Druid and a Witch, and, as far as I know, it never fazed him in the least.
That kind of attitude will do more to help bring Wicca into mainstream acceptance than all the witchy symbols on your car in the world. Just being happy in your path, and letting that joy infect others, and they won’t care what religion you are. Think about it for a minute; the most fundamental Christian Human Resources jerk will see that joy and that vibrancy and they will think that it’s due to (their) God’s influence in your life, and while you don’t call yourself a Christian, that’s just because you don’t know better.
The Broom Closet then becomes completely redundant and useless.
Most of us were taught while in Sunday school (and for those of you who were never Christian, Sunday School is where they segregate the children and indoctrinate them with Christianity) to never hide our light under a bushel. This means that we don’t let who we are and what we feel be hidden behind all these things that could obscure it. We are supposed to let our faith and religion and joy shine forth like a light, hopefully to convert the masses. I still hear this song that I was taught when I was about 5 or so: “This Little Light of Mine”.
As it happens in the course of the world, people believe if you have someplace to hide in that implies there are things to be hidden. If there are hidden things, they must be BAD, if it is bad, it must be destroyed. To prevent being destroyed, things must be hidden. Ergo, it’s a vicious cycle.
Most mainstream religions are open, and they share their teachings with anyone who is interested. They don’t have a “chapel closet” anymore. Granted they may have at one time had to have something like that, but they don’t now.
Now, let me address one concern that will be brought up. I am not minimizing or marginalizing the REAL cases of discrimination that are out there. I’m not trying to say that they don’t happen. Far from it, it does and has. I myself have been the victim of such a case in the past. So I understand that there are times when these kinds of discriminatory practices happen. I simply think that they are not nearly as common as some believe.
I would bet that the one being discriminated against being an asshole about his/her religion prompted 90% of the cases of “discrimination” or “religious persecution”. Being confrontational about faith is a really good way to get persecuted. In other words, slinging shit around will get some thrown back at you. This is not the way to show others that Paganism is a peaceful and inclusive faith. How you say what you say is as critical as what you said. Tone of voice, body posture, and facial expression are crucial.
Being condescending is not the way to be either. No one likes to be talked down to and have his or her intelligence insulted. That will prompt hate and anger.
There will always be assholes out there who are going to hate for no reason and who will be confrontational simply because they can. I bet, however, that they don’t deliberately go out of their way to accost random people on the street to do some soul saving. So simply being low key about everything will probably allow you to avoid problems.
Don’t wear plate-sized pentacles, don’t run around saying “Oh Goddess!” every five minutes, don’t get huffy when someone says “God bless you” when you sneeze, take it in the spirit it is intended.
Part of being “out of the broom closet” is being open to questions, and not denying anything when asked. If someone asks “What religion are you?” in the course of a conversation, instead of refusing to answer, be open and up front about it. If they persist about asking what you believe, THEN tell them. Don’t teach unprompted. If they ask, say, “I’m a druid” and shut up. If they ask follow up questions, then and ONLY then, do you start telling them about the Romans and Celtic society.
I work in a place where 90% of the workforce is very open about their beliefs, with signs and stickers of biblical passages, “letters from God”, statuary of Jesus and so on. The Hindus are just as open, with one gentleman having an altar to Ganesh in his cubicle. I bring my witchy books to work, and leave them around and no one has said anything about it. I had one confrontation that could have turned ugly, and it was mostly because the person in question didn’t want to listen and took offense to a signature quote I had, I changed the quote, explained what the quote meant in simple terms, and that was it. One other guy made a veiled reference to my going to hell for being a pagan, and I ignored it instead of getting huffy, and that was it. End of “my persecution by the evil X-Tians”.
Heck, being out of the Broom Closet has had some good effects too. One lady trusts me as a professional and she has seen my personal honor and integrity. Her daughter got involved in a Wiccan Coven in the area, and she came to me to ask about Wicca. I gave her some good references, gave her Wiccan beliefs in brief and answered her questions. So now, instead of a hysterical mom frantic about Wiccans and not trusting her daughter or her teacher, she is calm about it and participating in what her daughter is learning, and actively supporting her faith path.
In social situations, why would the subject ever come up? I’m at a club, you are at a club, lots of other people are at a club, why in the world would the topic of religion come up? I have absolutely no reason to tell anyone what religion I am, it doesn’t affect my ability to dance. The only time that religion would affect social situations is when the social situation IS religious in nature, such as a Church picnic, a Church social, Easter Egg hunting with the Church and so on.
“Oh but they persecute us with their holidays!” So? They have holidays that are celebrated on their calendar. Looked at most modern calendars lately? They correctly put Yule on COMMERCIAL calendars these days, not just pagan ones. And most of those holidays that are celebrated are National holidays, which will be celebrated anyhow, secular or religious. Heck, there is the potential for more persecution from not celebrating than there is for celebrating another holiday.
None of this is stopping you from celebrating your holidays at all. Just accept that someone is saying “Merry Christmas” to you instead of “Happy Yule” and that your New Year actually started three months earlier and take it in the spirit it was intended, a blessing and a greeting.
Think about how much of a problem we would have in the United States if EVERY religion got in a huff on EVERY holiday. What with the Islamic followers, the African Spirituality people, the Voodoun practitioners, the Hindus, the Jews and so on, we wouldn’t have a day where there wasn’t some sort of controversy.
Stop talking about getting Wicca recognized as a religion in the United States. That’s already been done. There are multiple court cases and a whole body of legal precedent that make Wicca a religion in the eyes of the law and the nation. All you have to do is to point to that and say “we are a religion, treat us that way.” Want to get the faith-based initiative money? Cite the legal cases involved and claim it, but be prepared to have to toe the line as far as the Government is concerned; they like to have oversight and track this stuff. Upset that so-and-so said that Wicca isn’t a religion? Get him fired with a letter pointing out to his boss that Wicca is, cite case law, and threaten to sue if this discriminatory practice doesn’t stop. The government is really good about not discriminating on the basis of religion, so long as you can prove your side of the argument. A REALLY good book that talks about this specifically is “Pagans and the Law” by Dana Eilers.
When someone makes a joke about “How many Witches does it take to screw in a light bulb,” for the sake of ALL the Gods, have a sense of humor. Pagans have been making fun of their own religion for a long time, Christians have been making fun of their own religion for a lot longer, blondes have been known to collect blonde jokes and so on. It’s not trying to belittle Wicca and paganism; it’s sharing laughter from one person to another, in the hopes that what one person finds funny another will as well.
We need to dispense with the concept of a broom closet entirely since that only promotes suspicion and hatred. One favorite story I have that touches this subject is about gaming, but it’s applicable here too.
Once upon a time there was a gaming group that met every Friday and Saturday night above the local gamer’s shop. We got together and played AD&D, Battletech and many other paper games. The SCA met there too, but that was on Wednesday.
After a while a couple girls from the local high school told their parents that they were members of this gaming group and that they had satanic rituals in that room above the shop. The missing cats? Well that was because they were helping us sacrifice them to Satan. Now, mind you, these girls had stood in the shop once and run in fear, but because that upstairs room wasn’t open to the public, these stories were believed.
Five months of constant persecution resulted from this, even when the girls recanted their stories, admitted that they lied for attention and the upstairs room was opened to the general public. Police followed those of us who were members, the undercover officers started coming around and joined (we knew because one of our members was a police lieutenant from another county). The owner of the store became the acme of evil seductresses, a satanic high priestess. We had picketers for the God’s sakes. People marching around with signs and harassing the customers saying we would all go to hell for coming there.
All this is because of a secret and two girl’s lies. So secrets can damage more than anything else.
I hope this collection of thoughts have helped highlight a problem and some solutions. I also hope it has made you stop and reconsider for a while some ingrained thoughts and feelings, taught to us by those who came before and had good reason to be paranoid. It is time for this to go away.