A New Zealander's View On Open Pagan Culture
Article ID: 10445
Age Group: Adult
Days Up: 2,881
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Author: Mike Buckley
Posted: January 22nd. 2006
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A woman stared in an almost frightened way at my pentacle.
"Are you a Satanist?" she asked.
"A Satanist?Ē I replied "I donít even know who Satan is. Isnít he some sort of Christian god?"
The frightened look was instantly replaced by a shocked indignation
"He certainly is not!" she stated, turning on her heel.
"Well he isnít one of mine," I told her retreating back.
This encounter, one of many Iíve had over the past few years, highlights one of the biggest problems facing the Pagan community in New Zealand today. The perception of who we are and what we do has led to people both here and overseas losing jobs, losing families and children, becoming the targets of hate crime and the victims of prejudice, vandalism or malicious gossip.
These incidents happen more frequently overseas where there is a more organized and vocal Pagan community than they do in New Zealand, but the fact that they happen at all scares many New Zealand Pagans, especially those who are 'coming out of the broom closet'.
For many Pagans, and especially older Pagans, coming out publicly is one of the hardest decisions they will ever make. Not because they are ashamed of anything to do with their religion but rather are worried how the world will view them in light of the misconceptions about the Pagan religions. Many will never come out fully and only trust friends or family with knowledge of their beliefs. Others, once their decision is made, will drop it like an atom bomb on all and sundry with a Ďtake or leave, deal with it and I know my rightsí attitude. Most fall into a category somewhere between these two extremes.
There are many reasons to come out, and just as many to stay in the broom closet. You have to consider the reactions of people to you, your family (especially children) in both private and professional settings. While New Zealand offers its citizens (on paper) excellent protection under human rights laws, you will find that often these laws offer little if any protection at all. Some of the examples I have come across in my time in the New Zealand Pagan community are people who have lost their flat after living there on good terms with the landlords for years once the landlords found out they were Pagan. However the landlords stated this was a coincidence and they just wanted to end the tenancy for other reasons. The end result was that despite evidence in the form of emails voicing a 'we donít want Pagans at our house' mentality, the human rights commissioner couldnít or wouldnít act to protect the rights of the Pagan tenant.
Another was a person who found their job as a teacher under fire from senior staff, resulting not only with a confrontation between school and the teacher that involved the union, (fortunately for the Pagan teacher he was a member), but potentially could have ended his career and resulted with him being black-listed by the teacherís council. The incidents for which he was Ďfiredí, (he eventually got paid out of his contract with no record of these events on his teaching file), were manufactured after he initially questioned his dismissal and brought the union in to help him. He could have easily lost his career and been put on a sex offenders watch list, simply because of a letter he wrote to a paper in which he described himself as Pagan.
While I respect the decision of people to remain secret about their faith I donít personally agree with it. I feel itís important to be, on the outside, who you are on the inside; many people suffer stress and aguish attempting to maintain a facade for public acceptance. I am not comfortable with the keeping of secrets as it tends to imply what youíre doing is wrong or youíre ashamed of it. I see this reflected in the wearing or not of religious symbols, most commonly the pentacle. Many donít wear one, or wear it hidden under clothing for fear of public perception. Others wear theirs openly like the many crucifixes to be seen around other peopleís necks; itís not a statement as such, just a personal religious symbol. Still a third group delight in making others squirm by wearing pentacles the size of a dinner plate, like some super-charged hip hop starís bling. Loud, proud, in your face and they generally end up wondering why people avoid them.
However people in New Zealand are generally not comfortable dealing with others religions; we tend to think, and rightly so, that itís a personal thing and none of our business. I donít know how it goes in other countries around the world but the Christian groups who go around on missions are generally given the cold shoulder because itís just rude. In this country we donít discuss politics or religion outside of close friends and family and even then only in the vaguest of ways. Unfortunately this tends to go hand in hand with the idea everyone must be Christian and the dangerous assumption that this is a Christian country, as the majority seek to reassure themselves that everyone is really just like them.
All things considered I believe the way in which you approach becoming public about your faith will determine the reaction you will receive from the public at large. There is no need or indeed point to thrusting your faith down the throats of others, like some other groups do. Youíre not on a crusade to convert the Christian masses or to attempt to bring down the Church for its crimes against your faith during the Dark and Middle Ages. Olaf Tyverggson will one day have to face his ancestors at Ragnorak; the crimes he committed against his people will be accounted for then. No point in attempting to even the score now. The Christians today didnít murder Pagans, they didnít commit acts of genocide against non-Christians, so what would you hope to gain by bringing those events up?
When you are demanding your rights also consider the rights of others. Standing on othersí rights to get yours is neither honourable nor likely to endear you to others. Be prepared to give and take, work things out, etc. I want Samhain off work, but I worked Christmas - meaning someone else who holds that day as special got to spend it with their family.
Donít expect everyone to be happy about your decision. Some may be shocked despite the fact they walk past your altar every time they visit and you invite them to winter solstice feasts. Some will think youíre being brainwashed into a cult or your soul is now lost, etc - give them time. The longer you go on being you as youíve always been they will, if they are reasonable people, come to realize what your faith means to you.
Answer questions honestly and be prepared to say "I donít know"; people will ask questions because this is something they donít know about outside of weird religious groups propaganda and Hollywood films.
Finally, even when faced with people who are bigoted and unreasonable, act with honour and within the law. Be prepared to find legal help if you need it, (unions are good at this if itís work related), or support from other Pagans. But donít start Ragnorak early. As a friend of mine once said, whatever you do think how it will look in the paper with the word Pagan - good advice. It always looks worse; it always gets the bigger headline. A 70-something-year-old Witch here had her pet birds killed by decapitation, the bodies laid out in a crude pentagram on her lawn for her to find. Police were involved and did a damn fine job but the only reason any other Pagans heard of it was the Pagan network. Local papers didnít touch the story at all (and this is a small country where that is almost guaranteed coverage). Compare this to a Pagan coffee meet that received national news coverage after the mother of one of the university age girls complained to the police that her daughter was being brain washed. A reporter crashed the meeting (at a public cafť) and reported that at one state one of the Pagans spilt sugar on the table and then drew weird designs in it. (If anyone knows the sugar spell, itíd be sweet if you let everyone else in on it). This received somewhat limited by still national exposure. Why? Words like Witch sell papers, simple. Reporting Witches in a good light tends to bring the wrath of right wing Christians down upon you.
Location: Hamilton, New Zealand
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