Article ID: 10086
Age Group: Adult
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Posted: September 11th. 2005
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It began one afternoon, sometime in the mid 1970s, when I arrived home from school. The TV was on - as usual - and an episode of the old Phil Donahue show was playing. Phil was interviewing an Englishwoman named Sybil Leek. I don't remember any specifics about the interview; just the interviewee's bubbly charisma, and the pride she had in being a Witch.
Soon after this, I purchased a small paperback anthology of her writing; my introduction to Paganism. I suppose I was fortunate in terms of time and place. At the time, the '60s fascination with occult matters was still strong and the backlash from Christian Fundamentalists had yet to occur. And I grew up in a middle-class neighborhood where there was a diversity of people and beliefs. Notably lacking were the rigid cliques which seem so common in high schools today.
I'm also fortunate to have been brought up in a religiously tolerant family. My mother was raised Roman Catholic - and up to the fourth grade, I had gone to a Catholic school. Catholics (at least those I grew up with) had an interesting mix of fear and fascination with the unknown. When I started studying the Tarot, my mother had no interest in learning them, herself - actually not being terribly fond of holding them for any length of time - but she did often ask me to do a reading for her.
I sometimes wonder what might have happened if Paganism had been more common back during those more laid-back times. What if a few of the people I knew in high school had gotten together, having read the available literature on Wicca, and started our own group? It probably would have had a greater chance of success than a high school group starting nowadays. And at the very least, it would have been a very good way of making friends.
There seem to be two overall philosophies regarding who people consider as being friends. Some give the label to almost everyone they become acquainted with. Others are more selective; giving that label only to those with whom they've found some real common ground.
I tend to be in the second group. The problem with the first philosophy is that it diminishes the importance of friendships - a lot of superficial acquaintances, labeled as friendships. At the heart of any real relationship is mutual respect. This does not mean ignoring a friend's flaws or never being critical; rather it means accepting this person despite their flaws as they accept you despite yours.
The first thing one will notice when visiting my house (besides the clutter), is the large number of books around. Reference books, history books, classics, Bibles (of which I probably have more copies than most Christians), and quite a few books by authors with names like Waite, Regardie, Gardner, and Farrar.
I do not believe in pretense. When people meet me they are going to see the real me; a short, fat, middle-aged man who has long hair and a beard, smokes cigars, and has a tendency to go barefoot at home - even in winter. They are also going to see someone with many interests, strong opinions, and who has non-traditional religious beliefs.
This openness is even more pronounced in my conversations with people on the Internet; where I've been totally honest about some of the most intimate aspects of who I am. This has caused a few people to shy away from me - and a few to stomp away swearing under their breath. But for the most part this has been a very positive thing.
If someone rejects me because they find a deck of Tarot cards on my shelf, or because they're made uncomfortable when I mention having Pagan leanings online, that's their choice. These are almost always not people I'd choose to have as friends anyway.
It is unfair to expect the same openness from others. Everyone has their own comfort levels and different life experiences. But when others realize that most of what we fear others finding out about us is really trivial, they will themselves become more open.
Ultimately though, for an online acquaintance to become a real friendship - one that transcends the medium - it does require that sort of honesty. I treasure my online friendships as much as I do my real life ones, and feel the same sense of loss when one goes sour.
As Pagans, we have spent years exploring our psyches. We have been modest about our abilities and critical of our failings. We have - out of necessity - been more honest with ourselves than most people would care to be.
So we must ultimately be ourselves. We may scare off some people - that's their problem. Those who gravitate toward us will be the ones that matter.
Sure, there is some need for discretion - particularly when first meeting someone. That discretion should never involve out-and-out dishonesty. If a new acquaintance is so tactless as to ask you your religion, it may be best that you simply refuse to answer. This is far better than lying - which may come back to haunt you later.
If the need for selectivity and openness are important for friendships, they are absolutely vital when romance is involved. Too many people enter relationships for superficial reasons, often without really knowing the other person. This is not to say that a Pagan must only get involved with other Pagans - far from it. Many people are tolerant of other religions, and if you respect their beliefs they will respect yours.
There are a few though, who will never accept Paganism as legitimate. At best they will always see it as a phase they keep wishing you'd outgrow. At worst they will view your form of worship as evil. This is a no-win situation; one which could have been avoided if both sides had been more honest early on.
Relationships, whether friendship or romance, are one of life's most wonderful experiences. Our relationships reflect a large part of who we are. Superficial acquaintances come and go. It takes two things for a relationship to thrive: mutual respect and honesty. Be a friend and be yourself.
Copyright: Copyright 2005 Dan Mulhollen.
Location: Cleveland, Ohio
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