On the other hand: a handshake

As I said before, my (relatively light) encounters with anti-Pagan and anti-Wiccan prejudice really make me want to take action. Sometimes I can, and sometimes it even goes well, even if it’s just a small thing. This was one of those times.

After one of the recent mass shootings, I was in the lobby of our apartment building picking up mail. Someone else was talking with the person at the front desk and I half-heard some mournful laments about the lack of “traditional values” and how that contributed to these kinds of shootings. (I’m not sure whether I actually heard the person say “kids these days” or my mind supplied that as part of the same trope, but you get the idea.)

I have to admit that made me a little uncomfortable; nearly anyone who talks about being sorry to see the departure of “traditional values” defines those values as excluding me, and is probably more than willing to identify things like Wicca – or whatever they think is associated with Wicca – as examples of the problem, or even the root of the moral decay.

But some impulse caused me to think of this as an opening; while I didn’t want to try to engage a total stranger in conversation, I knew the person who was working the front desk, and he had always been kind and considerate to me.

When I passed the desk again after getting my mail, I stopped to say hello to him. I commented that I’d heard just a bit of the previous conversation, and we exchanged laments about the tragedy of the shooting. Then I said something along the following lines:

I don’t know if traditional values or their lack had anything to do with the shooting, but that phrase always makes me nervous. Most people who use it don’t think very much of me. You see, I’m a member of a minority religion; I follow an earth-based path, and some people don’t like that. But you’ve always treated me just the same as anyone else, and always been kind to me, and I want to thank you for that.

I don’t know if he’d ever heard of earth-based religion before, and I don’t know if he knew what I was talking about. He realized, though, that I sometimes felt excluded, and that sometimes I was afraid, or had been treated badly, and that it meant a lot to me that he didn’t do that.

When I shook his hand, he knew I was thankful for him and how he treated me. That was one of the best handshakes I’ve ever had.

I didn’t make a big deal about “coming out,” and I didn’t try to do any Paganism 101. But somehow, I hope things like this might make a difference. This is one of the ways that people who are “out” can help forge a path towards acceptance. It’s not about making a big deal of being Publicly Pagan everywhere I go; on the contrary, I only mentioned it to this person because we were already acquainted. He knows I’m not an axe murderer or a wild-eyed fanatic; and if someone so, well, normal can be a member of a minority religion…maybe we’re not so bad after all.

This isn’t going to change the Bad Jackies of the world. Indeed, making this move runs a serious risk that the person I out myself to will turn out to be a Bad Jackie. There’s a risk she’ll refuse to reevaluate her beliefs about my religion in light of what she knows about me and will instead reevaluate me in light of what she thinks she knows about my religion.

But this time, it worked, and I hope it did just a tiny bit of good. I certainly wasn’t left with the gnawing feeling of being marginalized in space that should have been safe for me that I had after my experience of friendly fire. And I think that gentleman appreciated being thanked for his kindness. He certainly deserves it.

Taken together, these are just a tiny slice of what it’s like to be Wiccan. It’s not just about the question of whether to out oneself, or doing 101 education, or the black and white of absolute hatred or acceptance. It’s full of dangerous pitfalls and surprisingly uplifting moments of hope; it’s full of uncertainty and paradox whether one is around friends or strangers; and it’s always, always about trying to live in relationship in the midst of a culture that may or may not allow for the possibility.

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About Literata

Literata is a Wiccan priestess and writer. She edited Crossing the River: An Anthology in Honor of Sacred Journeys, and her poetry, rituals, and nonfiction have appeared in works such as Mandragora, Unto Herself, and Anointed as well as multiple periodicals. Literata has presented rituals and workshops at Sacred Space conference, Fertile Ground Gathering, and other mid-Atlantic venues. Literata offers healing and divination services as well as customized life-cycle rituals. She is currently completing her doctoral dissertation in history with the support of her husband and four cats.
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