Awakening – The Journey Back Home
“Of all the communities available to us, there is not one I would want to devote myself to except for the society of the true seekers, which has very few living members at any one time.” – Albert Einstein
The majority of followers of contemporary Pagan religions are not born into a Pagan path, and as such Paganism tends to be made up of individuals who have consciously decided to act on their spiritual call after coming to the self-realisation that spirituality is an individual choice.
When as a Pagan you decide to make your new spiritual path known, you are most likely to face societal problems, and as such you should know that you are taking a step which will forever change your life, and the life of people you know and love.
You should also realise that the choice to embrace a new, and at times rather innovative, spiritual and religious path is not an one-easy-step decision, it is multi-facetted, and involves much more than the coming out process.
“Happiness never decreases by being shared.” – The Buddha
While you are certainly legally protected against religious discrimination in South Africa, the fact remains that many Pagans in this country still face an uphill battle in all aspects of their new life – be it at home, at the office and even among people who you identify as friends. It is important to realise from the onset that the best any of us can hope for when “coming out” is an environment in which we find ourselves not totally cut off, and in which we are able to practise our beliefs with some understanding, acceptance and dignity.
Coming out is something each and every Pagan must decide individually – many do indeed decide against it, but personally I think that more Pagans should come out as this would ease the process for those contemplating it. However, should you decide to “announce” your spirituality, you should be equipped to meet the myriad of questions, criticism and even condemnation, which will come your way – and this only possible if you yourself feel confident within your chosen path.
And you should have no doubt that attempts will be made to erode your confidence. Been preached to is never easy for any Pagan, but it gets worse when family members do it, and your non-Pagan relatives will do their utmost to “save” you. However, never forget that as a person who has consciously picked his/her spirituality and religion, you are fully entitled to stand your ground by telling anyone who fails to understand or accept your decision that their behaviour is unacceptable and that they are in fact impairing your right to religious freedom – but always try to avoid conflict as this will only inflame matters. Also, try to recognise that their (mis)behaviour may be due to genuine concern, no matter how misplaced it is.
So, before coming out, prepare yourself (adapted from “How to Come Out of the Broom Closet” by Aislynn):
• Consider how long you have been studying. Has it been long enough that you are convinced this is the right path for you –so much so that you feel compelled to share it with your loved ones?
• Make sure you are in the right emotional state. Do not do this in anger, as revenge, or as a means to get attention.
• Find a time when you are not in public, when you parents/friends are in relatively good moods and not distracted, and when you can all sit down face-to-face and talk.
• Make sure you are ready emotionally… and yes financially. There is a chance that something major might go wrong – can you handle that psychologically and or financially?
• Make sure you have amassed information so that you will be able to accurately answer the questions people may have.
• If they do take it badly, respect their feelings. Do not be afraid to walk away if you get upset – also give them that same right. Do not push your case when they are clearly unreceptive.
• Realise this might not be the only time you come out. You will most likely have to repeat the process.
• Do not expect them to keep it a secret from others. They will need to talk to some one.
• Consider your work situation. Even if you are planning just to come out to a few people, what might happen if your employer found out?
• Have realistic expectations as coming out might not relieve any weight of feeling like you are hiding something or make you feel better.
Coming out is important and has been described as Pagans’ “commitment stage”. But coming out is in fact part two of a life-changing experience that all Pagans, especially newcomers, will undergo.
Part one is the Awakening to a new spiritual path itself.
“Change is the Essence of life… Be willing to surrender what you are for what you could become.” – Unknown
The awakening process (“conversion”) is the realisation that we all have free spiritual choice, and this process been described by many a Pagan writers as “an act of courage” – especially when it is often obvious that it may be met with opposition and even derision.
Although this decision can lead to personal freedom, it can also be traumatic, not only because of the coming process which may follow it, but because adopting a new spirituality and religion also means that Pagans have to willingly and knowingly “unlearn” years of existing religious teachings and practices.
I think that in many ways this process may be much more difficult than the coming out process itself.
To most Pagans, the realisation of free choice and spiritual awakening follows a certain pattern (adapted from “Coming Out of the Broom Closet… Again” from Witchful Thinking):
• Disillusion: A person becomes disillusioned or dissatisfied with their previous religious tradition.
• Seeking: The individual begins to actively seek a new religious experience. Still critical of their old ways they swing to the other extreme – and in an act of defiance they often try a religion that they would have defined as “sinful” in their old perspective.
• Encounter: In their exploration, the person finds a religion that truly speaks to them. There is a sense of homecoming.
• Expressions: Information is gobbled up and the individual is keen to express their new identity to others. They struggle to describe what their beliefs are.
• Immersion: Uncomfortable with their novice status, newcomers work to better themselves. Tends to suffer from a bookish know-it-all-attitude.
• Integration: The individual has learned the new ways and is integrating them into their life and comes to terms with their old religion by gaining distance from it.
• Autonomy: The individual has gained significant knowledge and has begun to apply it to their life and practice. Their identity is intertwined with the new spirituality to the point where there is little need to talk about it with outsiders.
“There are no strangers here; Only friends you haven’t yet met.” – William Butler Yeats
Those “converting” to Pagan religions also face the very strong possibility of suddenly finding themselves without any direct spiritual and religious support, and will undoubtedly at times feel cut off from the rest of the Pagan community. And because of this, we all have a responsibility towards newcomers to make them feel welcome, and to help them grow within their new spirituality.
In “Under the Ancient Oaks, the spiritual journey of a Druid, Pagan and Unitarian Universalist”, John Beckett writes that Pagans have a “sacred obligation to guide and teach and assist the next generation”.
And I fully agree, newcomers should not be left stranded, and our obligation towards them is indeed a most sacred one.
Newcomers who persist will in time come to realise that their decision to walk a Pagan path was nothing less than their journey back home.
– “Coming Out of the Broom Closet… Again” – http://www.witchful-thinking.com/2010/11/13/broom-closet-again-pagan/
– “How to Come Out of the Broom Closet” by Aislynn – http://realpagan.net/profiles/blogs/how-to-come-out-of-the-broom
– Rambo, Lewis R. Understanding Religious Conversion New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1993
– Under the Ancient Oaks, the spiritual journey of a Druid, Pagan and Unitarian Universalist by John Beckett