The decision to “come out of the broom closet” (modern parlance for going public with your Paganism) is a highly personal one, and as such, a very nuanced issue. I came (most of the way) out of the broom closet a few months ago, and it was an incredibly liberating and empowering experience for me. However, it took me 15 years of being Pagan to do so. Wherever you are in your Pagan journey, public or not, I encourage you to take a look at how your share your Paganism with others, if at all. Your decision to stay in or come out of the broom closet should be a conscious one – not just a default based in fear.
Why Stay in the Broom Closet?
First, let me validate that there are some very good reasons to stay in the broom closet.
Most of these stem from the fact that, despite claiming to be a pluralistic society, religious prejudice is still very much alive and kicking. Here in the US, political polarization with the uber-Christian right wing has gone over-the-top in the past decade, creating more radical fundamentalism and even some proposed laws that would condone religious discrimination. That’s not a great climate in which to be a Pagan.
In a broader sense, the vast majority of the industrialized world has absolutely no idea what it really means to be a modern Pagan. Most people have been fed misinformation about any religion outside the mainstream, and this is doubly true for Paganism. Just look at how many horror movies where supposed “pagans” are the bad guys. Or witches. There are too many to count.
Fighting against the public perception of “paganism” is enough to make anyone balk at the idea of going public with our non-mainstream religion. Not only do you have to explain exactly what it is that you do or believe, you also have to battle against the prejudices that people already hold against words like “pagan” and “witch.” And that’s exhausting.
There are also more personal reasons for staying in the broom closet.
Maybe you grew up in an extremely religious family who would not take so kindly to your conversion to Paganism. At the least, they may try to “save your soul,” and at worst, you may be disowned. It could become the awkward thing no one brings up at your family gatherings, or your family may think it’s “just a phase” (especially if you are young or are experiencing some big life changes).
Even if your family isn’t very religious, if you rely on them in any way (financially or otherwise), you may feel some trepidation about sharing your Paganism with them. If you are unsure of how they may react, it may feel safer to keep it a secret.
Workplaces are tricky to navigate. While religious discrimination in the workplace is illegal (supposedly), that doen’t mean that it doesn’t happen. If you are thinking about coming out of the broom closet at your place of employment, proceed with caution. This can be difficult if you need special accommodations and your work isn’t particularly flexible. Taking time off for religious holidays can be tough to negotiate, especially when you have as many holidays as Paganism does. I know I got some interesting looks from my boss and coworkers when I asked off a seemingly-random Wednesday for Beltane this year. I’ll say it again: Proceed with caution at work.
I came out of the broom closet very gradually. First, only my close friends and significant other knew about my Paganism in my beginning years. As my faith began to play a larger role in my life, I decided that if any of my friends were going to treat me poorly because of my religion, then they weren’t very good friends to begin with. So I told all of my friends, and it went well. That’s where things stayed for several more years.
I’ve already talked about how a lot of things changed when I underwent my initiation for Aphrodite. One of the most salient things happened upon my re-entry into the mundane world. Namely, that it didn’t really happen. Paganism was a big, official, oathed part of my life now, and I realized that I could not separate my magickal life from my mundane life. And, most importantly, I didn’t want to anymore. It felt like trying to fit a square peg into a round hole. After my initiation, I no longer matched the roles I had carved out for myself in various aspects of my life.
This caused quite a bit of headache in the weeks following my initiation. I was squarely straddling the border between the magickal and mundane – and I couldn’t turn it off. Normally, I would enter a ritual headspace for circle, and then come back out at the end and go about my merry way. That was not the case this time. Pagan things were happening at work (not that my coworkers noticed), at the grocery store, in my personal life – everywhere!
There was a fair amount of “What the fuck is happening??” on my part, but it was beautiful and wonderful and I didn’t want it to stop. When I realized I could no longer just live in the mundane world – that I had magick and Divinity with me – I could not pretend that it wasn’t there. I knew I had to come out of the broom closet, and soon.
I was most nervous about telling my mother. I had already told my father in slightly ambiguous terms a few years before. He has always had a nature-based spirituality, though he never used the word Pagan, and balked a bit when I used that particular terminology a few conversations later. I didn’t explain exactly what I did at that time, but he was supportive and understanding. After telling him, that new information just sort of faded into the background, and we didn’t really talk about it much.
My mom was a bit of a different story. She was a wildcard. I could see her either being totally cool with it, or completely losing her shit. Either/or. My mother doesn’t do in-betweens. So, I deliberated on how to tell my parents, and more specifically, my mom. I asked all my Pagan friends for advice, and got their stories if they had come out of the broom closet with their family or others.
I decided that I would get my parents a book on Paganism – specifically Paganism: An Introduction to Earth-Centered Religions by Joyce and River Higginbotham. Both of my parents are avid readers (wonder where I get that from?), and so I thought a book about the basics of Paganism would be the best place to start. I bought the book, and I waited for the right time to bring it up.
And that time didn’t come. I didn’t know how to start the conversation. It would be easier if they just asked me about it, so I started leaving my altar set up in the living room when they would come over to visit. To my surprise, neither of them asked questions. After some grumbling (“The one time I want you to be nosey, and you aren’t, Mom??”), I decided I needed to be a bit more deliberate about it.
So, for my birthday this summer, I decided to give them a present – the Paganism book. I even wrapped it in wrapping paper, and enclosed a personal note as a bookmark. They were a little surprised that I got them a present for my birthday. When they unwrapped it, I started out with what a big part of my life Paganism is, that it is really important to me, and that I wanted to share it with them. I kind of babbled a bit, because at first, neither of them said anything. When I stopped to take a breath, they both told me, individually, that as long as it made me happy and it wasn’t hurting people, they didn’t really care.
I was a little shocked, but mostly relieved. No big lecture, nothing about how I’m going to burn in hell, no “I’m a failure as a parent.” In fact, it was all a bit anticlimactic. I was so nervous for so many years, and all (seemingly) for naught. (Though one could rightfully argue that things may have played out differently if I had come out of the broom closet earlier, as we have all evolved and personally grown over the years.) I told my parents I would be happy to answer any questions, and it’s been several months now and they haven’t asked any. It went as well as I could have possibly hoped, and I am so grateful for that.
After that, I really started testing the waters at work. In fact, I had already laid a little groundwork for that before my initiation. During the last holiday season, I had told my coworkers that I wasn’t Christian (as part of an explanation as to why I wasn’t taking time off around Christmas). Then I took time off this July to go to Mystic South, which I called a “new-age spiritual conference” to my boss (which wasn’t entirely untrue.) I’ve told one of my coworkers that I’m Pagan, and hinted to the others that I celebrate the Wheel of the Year. If anyone asks, I’ll be honest, but I don’t see the sense in waving my religion around at work.
My extended family doesn’t know, and honestly that’s probably for the best. My mom’s side is super Baptist, and my dad’s side is super Presbyterian. I don’t see my extended family that much anyway, and I can imagine the flack my parents might get if they were to know. We’re already the black sheep in the family, on both sides. In a cost-benefit analysis, there’s not much benefit in telling them, and quite a bit of cost involved.
Why Come Out of the Broom Closet?
There were many factors in my ultimate decision to come out of the broom closet, though these were the main ones:
The Union of Personal Identity and Spiritual Identity
When I returned from my initiation weekend, I had to reconcile my Pagan self with my everyday life and how I portrayed myself to other people. In most aspects of my life, I am a very frank and genuine person. If you ask me a question, I will probably tell you more than you wanted to know, and no subject is off-limits. It’s very easy to get to know me, but my Paganism was the one thing that I didn’t talk much about – at least not at first.
The dichotomy between how important it was in my life and how little I talked about it with others who aren’t Pagan struck a chord in me – a chord I didn’t like. It seemed disingenuous to me to leave out this major part of my identity. My spiritual identity isn’t separate from who I am as a person – It’s a really big part of me! So, honoring the union between my personal and spiritual identity was a major part of coming out of the broom closet.
I Was Tired of Making Shit Up
Like I mentioned before, it’s a commitment to even casually mention that you’re Pagan to someone. You’re pretty much immediately committing yourself to overhauling their preconceptions and giving them correct information, which means you are in for a long conversation. Sometimes, I just didn’t want to do that. Or it wasn’t the time to go into it. So I didn’t.
Eventually, I reached the point where I was more annoyed at the casual assumption that I was a generic Christian than I would be actually explaining Paganism. I was tired of packing up my altar and various Pagan accoutrements every time my parents came to visit. I was fed up with inventing plausible ways for me to have “met” the people in my Pagan group, when I mentioned my friends in casual conversation. In short, I was tired of making shit up.
Visibility is Important
Another message I kept getting hit over the head was that Visibility is important. If you can be public and Pagan, please do it. Do it to be true to yourself. Do it so that the misinformed masses know that we aren’t actually scary, and we don’t summon demons in our living rooms in the middle of a pentacle drawn in blood. We aren’t here to steal your soul and most of us don’t even believe in Satan. We aren’t even trying to convert you (despite how much I think the world might be a better place if everyone were Pagan), and one of the few beliefs that pretty much all Pagans can get behind is a belief in personal sovereignty.
The many flavors of Paganism are also serious religions – not just a new-age fad or trendy autumn witchiness. We take our spiritual practices seriously. We believe in compassion for others and treating others with respect. We have morals and values – some of which are informed by our spiritual practice, and some of which exist independently. We have holy days, too, and rarely are they recognized.
More people sharing their stories makes the world a safer and more welcoming place for us all to share our stories, Pagan or not. So if you can, I encourage you to consider coming out of the broom closet and being publicly Pagan. Everyone’s situation is different, and I’m sure sharing your religion won’t be without controversy. Sometimes the risks are too great, and we must honor that. Religion is a deeply personal thing, and there is no shame in keeping it to yourself. But, if you are willing and able, share that beautiful part of yourself with the world. We will all be better for it.