So, you have decided that you are going to be a Pagan of some stripe or another. You are excited about this new change in your life, but how do you tell your overtly Christian family about it? Or worse yet, how do you answer your co-workers question about your religious beliefs? Being a Pagan comes with walking a fine-line through an intricate minefield, especially in a modern society that still holds tight to the conviction that those who are not Agnostic , Atheist, or a member of the “Big Five” belief systems – is automatically encased with the title of “devil worshiper” or so it seems.
So, in my mind there are a few factors that you have to consider when deciding whether to open up to the non-Pagan friends, family and co-workers. First, you will need to understand their individual character a bit. Are they the type of person that may freak out when they hear this “news” about yourself? Ar they the type of person that will use this “news” as a way to hurt your reputation with others? If, after determining that, you have a bit more to ponder for yourself. Do you really care what they think of you? Are you ready to deal with any unexpected backlash that may come from this? Making the statement of what you are and what you believe can be a complicated, and overly stressful moment. I tend to compare it in the same nature of making the statement that you are LGBTQ to your rather conservative, straight-laced (no pun intended) family. Its a difficult moment, for sure. But after you weigh those factors, have determined that you are “ok” with any repercussions (including being completely ostracized and shunned) – then you have to decide the timing and place of your declaration.
I have never really hidden who and what I am. But I also don’t shove my Paganism into peoples’ faces either. My primary reasoning is that I could care less what anyone really thinks about me – save for a handful of folks that are extremely close non-DNA family to me. But those particular folks have already accepted me for who and what I am with no reservations. but I do occasionally run into somewhat “squirmy” moments from those that do not know very much about me.
Back in the mid-1990s, I moved from Shreveport to Dallas, so that I could take a job working on a Mainframe Tape Operations floor. One weekend, one of the other tape handlers and I got into a discussion on religion. Kenny seemed like a decent enough young man. He was at least a decade younger than me, and we had very similar tastes in music. I was very straight forward about being a Pagan, which he didn’t quite understand. I tried to explain the perspective of a reverence for Nature, leaving the more complicated issue of Polytheism out of the mix. Earlier in the week, both of us had applied for the open Tape Librarian position, which I would later be promoted to. Kenny decided to utilize his knowledge of my beliefs as a means to discount my abilities to the upper management of our group. When he reported his “findings”, the group manager told him flat out that she “didn’t care if I worshiper the computers on the tape floor, so long as I did my job.” Kenny is a prime example of how someone might use your beliefs against you in the workplace. As I said, my group management folks didn’t seem to be bothered with my beliefs. The next year, I received a bonus for the hard work I put in as a Tape Librarian, which was double that of the other Librarians. I was lucky that my management team valued hard workers over the potential image that they might potentially project from their life outside of work.
My last job was almost the mirror opposite. A semi-large community college, where religion is really never meant to be any kind of an issue – it was. Upper management was overtly Southern Baptist and Charismatic Christian. I spent most of my time avoiding religious conversation, even with my direct supervisor who I consider to this day to be a friend. His overtly Charismatic Christian perspective was difficult to avoid in normal conversation. Somehow I managed, until I had made plans to attend an ADF Imbolc retreat in southern central Texas. I was asked what my plans were for that weekend. My response was that I was going to a spiritual retreat. The discussion continued – rather one-sided – until he hit on the idea that I was heading to an all-men’s retreat. He had attended several all-men retreats with people from a church he used to belong to in that area, back when he was at college in Austin. I seized on that moment to confirm that I was indeed going to just such a retreat. I never once said I was going to an all-men’s retreat. Merely that it was an exclusive event, as you had to pay to cover the costs of the location rental, and the food. I let him seize on that concept, and never tried to push him off that square. It wasn’t until three years later, during another of his prolonged religious conversations that he would hold in my office, that it dawned on him that I wasn’t a Christian. Unfortunately, that particular conversation changed both our working relationship, and our friendship. I still consider him to be a friend to this day – just not as deep a friendship as it was before I had gotten hired. My judgment of how he would react came from what I knew about his deep-seated convictions in his beliefs – as well as the manner in which he regarded anyone not in the Lamb’s Book to be sinners and headed towards Hell. I knew enough to try and conceal my beliefs from him, until he managed to deduce it on his own.
I never have told any of my DNA relatives that I am a Pagan, save one. A cousin of mine in Indiana, who is a bit more open-minded than the rest of my DNA relatives are. Outside of that, even when my parents were alive – I have never been close to any of them. I have always been considered the “odd” one in the family…and life certainly got easier when I held them at a much greater distance than the non-DNA members that I consider as my “real” family. I have never broken ties with them, though there have been times that I stopped communicating completely for a time. Its a manner of trying to keep my own sanity.
So, should you tell your family, your co-workers, and every stranger you meet that you are a Pagan? Really that is completely up to you. Like I said, I don’t hide my Paganism. I just don’t have to be blatantly overt about it. How far or how little you wish to place yourself out in the public spotlight…I cannot and will not determine that for you. All I can do is provide a couple of points of caution. There are people that will use that information to further themselves while pushing you back. Be aware of the people you open up like that to. Its not the Satanic Panic of the 1980s (I lived through that as a neophyte Pagan), but for many folks – the term Pagan can conjure some strong, visceral reactions.