Article ID: 14091
Age Group: Adult
Days Up: 1,212
Times Read: 2,253
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Author: Anden Jade
Posted: August 15th. 2010
Times Viewed: 2,253
I was raised not to open doors. If it was closed, it was closed for a reason. This philosophy applied to everything from pantry doors, which were shut so the dog would stay out of the garbage, to Ouija boards, which could open doors to that scariest of scaries: the unknown. Having said that, it likely comes as no surprise that I was raised strictly Catholic. However, being constantly told not to open doors, not to question status quos, not to think for myself grated on me. I remember first questioning the Church when I was seven. I asked my Sunday School teacher why, if God had no gender, did we always say, “Father”? Her response was simply, “Because that’s the way it is.” Although I remained Catholic until high school, from that point forward I would mumble “Mother” and “Goddess” when in Church and in my head, proudly proclaim the feminine titles.
Eventually, I decided to dive in headfirst and do what felt right.
I do not write to share my path to Paganism since I imagine it’s the same story as a thousand others: disillusion with the faith of my father meets a desire to return to the faiths of my ancestors. Instead, I write to share a positive experience in tolerance from the unlikeliest of audiences. My hope is that sharing this experience will give others the courage to do as I did and shed the mask. The more of us there are that go public, the more the public will see that we’re not that different and we’re certainly not evil, devil-worshiping baby-eaters.
I am both a full time student and an active-duty member of the Military. I come from a very conservative hometown, and I attend one of the most conservative universities in the United States. I am the only Pagan I know. Most of my friends belong to one branch of Christianity or another and rarely miss a Sunday. Prior to this spring, most of them did not know I was any different (despite never seeing me at mass) . I did not called myself a Christian…I just never bothered to correct them when they did.
However, I’m not the kind of person who likes keeping secrets. I’m loud, outgoing, a ringleader, the center of attention, and the life of the party. I love to laugh and to express myself in every way possible: clothing, makeup, jewelry, art, music, writing, and dance. Within the realm of crafts and creativity... you name it, I’ve done it. While many see my personality type as fundamentally incongruent with a Military lifestyle, I promise you, it can work. Hence hiding my beliefs from my friends and family--keeping those doors closed--was not something I enjoyed. As a member of an institution that values Honor and Integrity and Personal Courage, I felt like a liar. Nevertheless, I feared my friends’ reactions if they knew I was Pagan.
I was pleasantly surprised when my cat finally jumped out of the bag and no one started building me a pyre.
After the spring semester ended, I spent a few weeks of field training with some of my classmates. We stayed out in the woods most nights, but weekends we stayed at the camp. About a month prior, I had decided to start studying tarot. With the same energy I throw into all my activities, I bought a deck and some books and dove right in. I brought my new books with me to the training and kept them in my locker. Some of my classmates, ever inquisitive, would catch me reading in our down time and ask what it was. My usual response of “a book” was rarely met with enthusiasm. However, I continued to stubbornly hide the volumes until a week in to the training, when hiding who I am became suddenly unnecessary.
We were all sitting outside, just talking and planning for the next day with some of the training staff. The humidity was bearable and for once, the evening was pleasantly cool. One of our trainers mentioned being stationed for a time at Fort Carson, Colorado, which sparked my attention. Fort Carson is one of few Army posts with a thriving Pagan community, or at least that’s what I had heard. I asked him if it was true about the Pagan population there, and he said yes, and that in fact, he was friends with quite a few Pagans and Witches and had even attended an open circle once, although it wasn’t for him. Immediately all of my classmates within earshot looked at me, and the nearest one asked, “Are you Pagan?”
Without thinking, I just shrugged and said, “Well, yeah. I am.”
I’m still not sure what I expected, but it certainly wasn’t what happened. Everyone was as friendly as ever, and beyond that, they were curious! Several asked to borrow some of my books, just to glimpse through and see what it was all about. Everyone was full of questions about what I believed and how long I believed it and why I chose Paganism and what, precisely, did I do. Did I have a Church? Could I do spells? Their endless questions were always polite, if clearly born of ignorance. They were fascinated.
One person mentioned that his mother was in a coven, although he didn’t know much else about it. Another mentioned having a Wiccan friend in high school. To most, however, I was the first and only Pagan they’d met. When they found out about my recent dabbling in tarot, a few asked if I would do a reading for them. Those first brave few who suffered my amateur readings, bless them, talked up the experience to everyone else. Soon I was reading for two and three people each evening. Some even came back for multiple readings. Every time we left for the field, my friends would insist that I bring my deck with me. By the end of our training, I had read tarot for more than thirty of my classmates. I still have to look up the meanings for many of the cards, but all that practice definitely improved my divinatory skills, which I must admit were rather lacking (and still are…but hey, small steps) .
The topic of my religious preferences dominated the conversations, at least whenever I was around, from that moment forward. Of course, a handful of less open-minded individuals did not participate in the discussions or have me read their cards, but no one was ever hostile. No one shunned me, told me I was going to Hell, or otherwise implied that I was unfit to lead Soldiers. Above all that is what I had feared, that my classmates and trainers would consider me unfit to lead because of my religion. I love what I do. I don’t want to be forced to resign.
The experience completely changed my perspective. I had never intended to tell anyone, at least not until I was in a location where I knew I wouldn’t be the only Pagan, and yet blurting out my faith was one of the best non-ideas I ever had. I’m free. I can be open about who I am, what I do, and what I believe. I don’t hide my candles from my roommate anymore. I don’t conceal my book collection with tea boxes and knick-knacks. I don’t hang a rosary from my rear-view mirror.
I’m still the only Pagan I know, but now I’m not alone. I’m a lantern, slowly illuminating the world around me, one curious acquaintance at a time. I am the face of Paganism in my community. No matter how unqualified I am to bear that responsibility, I also know that I could never choose to blend back into the shadows.
Being Pagan is a huge part of who I am, even though my professional and student-status limit the amount of time I can devote to ritual practice. However, now that I can openly practice my faith, that, too, can change. I am constantly aware now that I must live the example. Therefore, this is my call to you: throw open your doors. Be a lantern. The freedom is worth the risk.
Location: Copperas Cove, Texas
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