This weekend, as I was roaming around Facebook, I stumbled across a post on the Pagan Federation Community group. In essence, the post was looking for “debate” on how to deal with issues of negativity towards those of Pagan belief in the workplace or other Pagan Paths. As the writer noted, Pagans tend to be fairly tolerant of other beliefs, but what if the negativity continued, despite the “live and let live” perspective that usually gets shown? Perhaps, Pagans should remain in the proverbial “broom closet” and keep their practices and beliefs secreted from the public world?
Let’s Do the Time Warp
I can understand a lot of this thinking. But let me take you back in time a bit. Let’s go back to when I was in the United States Air Force, during the late 1980s and early 1990s. This was a rather difficult time for the Pagan community as a whole, particularly in north Texas, where I was stationed at Carswell Air Force Base in Fort Worth. This was a time of the ‘Satanic panic” where Christians believed there to be a massive underground network of Satanists bent on the destruction of “proper society” from within. These Satanists would look like everyone else. They could be working in the same companies, and driving their cars down the same highways as Christians. They could be scouting out your neighborhood to abduct your teenage daughter for evil, perverted Satanic rites. They could be converting your kids with masked, backward messages embedded in evil heavy metal music. And all of this hysteria was fed by books and television appearances by sensationalists such as Mike Warnke, Sean Sellers, Laurel Willson (aka Lauren Stratford), Carl Raschke, and many others.
Pagans were lumped into these groupings, simply because they were not Christians. In Texas, I am aware of several allegations of child abuse (specifically Satanic Ritual Abuse or SRA) that were leveled against Pagan parents, where Child Protective Services attempted to take the children from their families. Nearly all of the cases proved to be false, mostly hysterical accusations of the children being used as sexual altars or some other extremely imaginative perversion that never took place. The allegations did make me wonder about the sexual perversions of the accusers though.
As an open Pagan in the United States military, I was afforded a greater deal of protection than those in the civilian world. The Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ), which supersedes civilian law and even the Constitution in the governance of military personnel, had assurances that I would be treated equally to all my peers. In some aspects, supervisors found ways to make life difficult for those that they did not agree with, as I would find out when I transferred to a NATO unit in Germany, but for those most part I was treated fairly. On my shift, I had three individuals who all had aspirations to be Charismatic Pastors, so my work life was constantly peppered with statements about raping children for Satan and the such. It was these interactions that helped me grow the thicker skin I would need to survive such statements in the future. While in Germany, I was featured in an October 31st centerfold spread of the Stars and Stripes paper in article entitled “Practicing Pagans”. Though my name was misspelled, my face was easily recognized. On a late night trip to check my mail at the Sembach Allied Post Office, I was accosted by two individuals who recognized me from the article. Had another individual not walked into the Post Office lobby, I am sure I would have gotten far more than showed against the wall of mailboxes. So my waters were never truly smooth in the sailing with the United States military, despite the far better protected status.
It is through the lens of this particular period that you will find many people viewing the Pagan community through. Many of the Pastors and Preachers of today came through this time period as well, and complete believe the myths and propaganda of the time. They will then pass these “truths” on to the members of their respective congregations, and somewhere along that line will follow the inevitable embellishments. And thus these tales grow, and somewhere, someone will be brave enough to paint with that broad brush. And thus, we arrive where we are now, with the whispers and the brash, hurtful (and untrue) statements.
Come Back to the Now…We Have Cookies!
So, bringing all of this back to where we are now, how can we handle things when tolerance does not always work? Hide? Fight? Run? Convert? Well, I cannot and will not answer the question in a “we” manner. I cannot and will not speak for any other Pagan, other than myself. I run no Grove or Coven or even have super strong ties with any single group. I do my Paganism, my Druidry, my Polytheism – solo. I do have friends that are in groups, and occasionally I will gather with them – after all, Merton says no person can be an island. I do work with groups of folks, but I have absolutely no authority over any single one of them. Thus, I can only speak for myself. And with that lengthy disclaimer out of the way…
For me, running and/or hiding is not the answer. I worked too hard for the rights of other Pagans in the military to just tell the Community to hide. I spent eight years wearing a military uniform defending the Constitution of this country so that EVERYONE would have the right to follow their own beliefs without fear. And I still hold that oath of enlistment sacred to who I am. It did not end when I took off the uniform. That oath continues to this day. No, hiding in the shadows or running in fear is not the answer. For those that continue the snide comments, sarcastic remarks, and hateful un-truths about what I believe, I will not respond in kind. I walk away quietly from their attempts to bait me into a public argument or into making a public scene of anger. That plays into their strategy and allows them to use that as another dagger into the truth. Rather, I will find ways to work with others in their time of need, both publicly and privately, and display what I am as a person. When asked, I will show how my personal beliefs and the Path I follow bring me to such actions, even for those whose Path does not equate to my own.
Being a Pagan is about being the person that I am, working from the ethical perspective that I am taught through the myths and stories of my Path. Yes, I drive the same highways and streets that everyone else does. I may be in the drive-thru at the fast food restaurant that you are at. I could be employed at the company that you are at. I might be in the rental cabin just down the path at the vacation location in the Rockies. I might even be in the seat next to you on the airline. Because I am no different than anyone else. I am a citizen of this country (the United States) and a resident of this state (Texas). The same can hold true in whatever country or state that you live in. Pagans look and act no different than anyone else. I just want to be treated with the same respect and dignity that you would treat any other stranger you encounter on your daily walk through Life. I may choose to interact with those that choose to not be respectful with a measure of pacifism, but make no bones about it…you harm those I love, I will end you.