When I was new to Paganism, shockingly (well, it’s shocking to me) just over 20 years ago, it was the norm to be quite secretive about it. Rumours were rife at that time about people who’d been accused of ‘satanic rituals’ by social services, to devastating effect, and most books on the subject advised you to be careful about how open you chose to be, as people were liable to misunderstand. When my daughter reached the age of twelve and wanted to be Pagan too, I advised her to only answer direct questions about it from others, never to volunteer information.
The culture of secrecy among those following the old ways was, of course, a legacy from years of persecution and the lingering folk memory of a time when accusations of witchcraft were a death sentence. So it came as almost a physical shock to me the first time I ventured to an open Pagan Federation ritual, to meet fellow Pagans for the first time after over a decade of solitary practice, and was greeted at the door by a cheery chap who immediately asked ‘What path do you follow?’ I understood at that moment what writers mean when they talk about a character being ‘covered in confusion’, I had just never encountered such openness.
And yet here I am another decade later, out of the broom closet not just as a Pagan but as a Pagan priestess. And standing up to be seen in this way can be challenging. I work in a scientific field, and being open about spiritual matters at work takes a conscious effort. Self doubt creeps in, fear of ridicule or fear of being taken less seriously is certainly there in the back of my mind as I book time off to attend my priestess training weekends in Avalon, or to work as a Melissa in the Goddess Temple, openly sharing where I’m going with colleagues and bosses.
Do my colleagues think I’m a massive Pagan hippy? Yes, probably. I’ve also heard them say to each other ‘yes, but she does believe in scientific evidence’, which is something I don’t think they’d feel the need to say about a Christian, or a Buddhist. But on the other hand, they ask me about it, and I talk to them about reverence for the earth, and marking the changing of the seasons, and hopefully they realise that there’s nothing about that that is incompatible with science.
So why be so open now? Why is so important to step up and be seen? Paganism is not, and will never be, a proselytising religion – we believe in people finding their own path. But on the other hand now, in the midst of an escalating climate emergency, with over a million species at risk of extinction and desperate action needed to change the path of destruction to one of restoration, a shift in public attitudes towards the world we live in cannot come too soon.
Revolution, you must understand, is a form of magic. A sleight of hand trick, an illusion we must make real… For people to believe an illusion, someone must spin it. To make a vision real, someone must create it. For the story to unfold, someone must tell the tale.From ‘City of Refuge’ by Starhawk
So I feel that to serve the earth, people need to know that there is another way to look at this planet – not as an inanimate source of ‘resources’ to be plundered until there is nothing left, but as a sacred entity to be valued and treated with respect. And every small example people see of another way to be, challenges the prevailing story of capitalism and consumption that the mainstream media and corporations would have us believe is the only way to live.
Every time you offer someone an experience that doesn’t fit into that story, it weakens the story.From ‘The more beautiful world your heart knows is possible’ by Charles Eisenhower
And so, despite the voice of inner self doubt that asks ‘why would anyone care what you have to say?’ I’m making the effort to stand up and be visible. Writing this blog, running workshops and open rituals in London and generally stepping out of my comfort zones in the hope that even if I can only make tiny ripples in the world, those ripples are positive ones…