Coming "out of the closet" is a big deal, and anyone who has experienced it, will agree. It is the moment in one's life when they feel the most comfortable with themselves, that they want to celebrate who they are, and shout their happiness to the world and all who will listen. So they burst through that closet door, putting themselves out there for the world to recognize and acknowledged.
And many of them are judged for it. Persecuted for it. They are judged by peers, by friends, by family, by strangers. They are put on a metaphorical stage for everyone to gawk at. Everyone will either say "its ok, you're still a good person," or, "what is wrong with you!?" More often than not, it's the latter.
It's a wonder anyone comes "out of the closet."
But this blog isn't about sexuality. To each their own, in my opinion, and let that be the end of it here.
I want to talk about the "broom closet."
It's the "closet" for pagans. When a pagan is not publicly pagan, and their practices and beliefs are secretive, they are in a metaphorical "broom closet." Brooms are a common tool in pagan practices, so it seems only fitting that the closet be a "broom closet."
Pagans have the same fear of judgment and persecution as those of alternative sexualities. Throughout history, pagans have been persecuted for being who they are. There are thousands of years worth of death and destruction to those who identified as "pagan." Even now, though our society is a bit more open and accepting to multiple faiths, these same horrors still exist.
Last year, Fox News attacked and stereotyped Wiccans and Pagans. You can watch the video below:
In response to this attack, the Wiccan writer and blogger, Loretta posted a video response, which you can watch below. Her response is a wonderful one. I honestly couldn't expect anything less after avidly reading and rereading her blog Witchy Words. Loretta describes herself as having "one foot in the broom closet" when it comes to her family. I'm in the same boat. She also explains that being in the broom closet says "I'm afraid of who I am, and I am afraid of what other think of me." She also says that by staying in the broom closet "we're condoning in an uneducated ideal that pagan religions are something to be ashamed of. Staying in the closet leaves people uneducated and they start to believe the stereotypes and the rumors that other people are passing around because they don't know anything else about it." Again, I agree.
But there is so much pain and suffering and terror that one experiences when they take the giant step out of that dusty broom closet.
Last year, two women were stripped naked, tortured, and burned for witchcraft in New Guinea. Read more in this blog post.
The year prior, another woman was killed for witchcraft in Columbia, Santa Barbara. Read more at FoxNews.
In 2010, a 72 year old woman was burned to death fro witchcraft in Ghana. Read more about it in this article from The Guardian.
There are at LEAST seven countries that still kill witches. My guess is that there are many more than that:
- Saudi Arabia - has an official Anti-Witchcraft Unit
- Tanzania - over 600 elderly women were killed for witchcraft in 2011 and 2012
- Gambia - dictator Yahya Jamme tortures and kills citizens he believes are witches
- Nepal - mobs burn those they deem as witches
- India - more mobs killing witches
- Papua New Guinea - mobs torture and burn witches, and go as far as chasing police away
- Uganda - mobs behead those they believe are witches
You can read more on these countries and their crimes in this online blog post.
Yeah, now you try coming out of the "broom closet!" I wouldn't either! I prefer keeping my head attached thank you.
So why am I scaring you senseless about witches? So you understand why many of us prefer to go unnoticed. Does it make sense?
Yes I am lucky to live in America, where we have freedom of religion ("just not your's" they say...), and witchcraft hasn't been listed as a capital crime since 1750. However, witches are still persecuted in our oh-so-free country.
Persecution isn't just physical torture and murder. Persecution is defined as hostility and ill-treatment. Persecution can include bullying in school or work, lack of pay raises, being fired, not promoted, or not getting a job - all because of WHAT YOU BELIEVE. Persecution includes hate groups online, and verbal attacks and slurs. Threats, physical harm, harassment, it's all persecution.
High School Horrors
When I was in high school, I started at a Catholic high school. My freshman year, I stayed pretty low key when it came to my beliefs. It wasn't until my sophomore year, that I attempted to come out of the broom closet. I started questioning the Catholic beliefs in class, instead of sitting idly by. My attire became a bit darker (despite wearing a school uniform). I wore darker make-up, and had more alternative jewelry. For Samhain, I wore a set of vampire fangs. It was Samhain, and I was in the spirit of the times.
That's when the persecution began. People verbally harassed me inside and outside of the classroom. Classmates crossed their fingers in the shape of a cross as I passed. They would go so far as to point and scream "AHHH! WITCH!" or "VAMPIRE!"
I had a small group of eclectic outsiders for friends. We were all strange in our own way. There was a group within that circle of friends who were a bit closer knit than the rest. They would get together on weekends and write/perform their own plays - most of them mockery but in good humor. I was the link between them and the rest of the group (the rest were ones I brought into their already made group). The guy I was closest to of that small group, and even very briefly dated, had compared Hitler and Jesus in one of his religion classes...yeah, that'll get you some negative attention in a Catholic school. The others in our eclectic circle consisted of a promiscuous, bipolar, bisexual girl, a transgender, a "vampire" goth, a short, pudgy, autistic boy, another bipolar, more confused than anything else, red-head girl, a gay (whom is still very close to me) who did his best to pretend he didn't know us, and a suicidal bipolar girl. These were on top of the already formed group consisting of, the Hitler/Jesus comparer, an in-the-closet gay, a promiscuous would-do-anything-she-could-catch girl, an animal loving hippie, a Sheldon from Big Bang Theory nerd, a black jazz musician, a class clown (may he rest in peace), and a roll-with-the-punches funny man.
We were quite a colorful group to say the least. This what my group of friends. Most of them I've lost contact with. I am very close friends with one. Another and I go to college together, but avoid each other as much as possible due to her overbearing mother. Another passed away. Another and I had a bad falling out, and she took one of the others with her. Another moved out of state and I rarely see her. Another I only hear from when they are in a pickle. One I ran into at the mall, and it was one of the more awkward meetings I've suffered through. And the guy I dated got married, and we only recently started talking again. The rest I lost contact with when I left that school.
Only two of them knew I was a pagan.
At one point, I hung a handmade poster of a pentagram, surrounded by the phases of the moon, on my locker. After a few days it was ripped down, stomped on, and ripped into pieces by the girl who had the locker next to me. In a fit of rage, I trashed her locker in attempts to get even. Yes, I know of the threefold law (whatever you send out into the world comes back to you threefold), but in my immaturity, I justified my actions, saying I was only speeding up karma.
I ended up moving my stuff to a friend's locker, and she and I shared it for the remainder of the year.
In my third year of high school, back at the dreaded Catholic school that was home to all my persecution and depression, I decided to lay low a bit. One year of torment was enough for me. I didn't want to repeat it. Unfortunately, my persecutors were relentless. They continued their harassment, and amplified it. It came to an end when one of them pretended that I threatened her. She wrote up a fake little word document, that she claimed to have copied and pasted from an instant messenger. In it, she planted a nice little threat of bodily harm. Then she turned it in to the school authority figures. Despite the fact that she could not pull up the conversation in her messenger, despite the fact that she repeatedly spelled my messenger ID wrong, and despite the fact that my friends vouched for me, the school only saw a problem. To them, the easiest solution to regaining control over their student body was to get rid of me. Me, the innocent one. They only saw that all these problems evolved around me. They didn't see the bullying I suffered from, the harassment I endured, and the strenuous toll it took on my mental state. All they wanted was to appear flawless to outsiders, and that meant getting rid of me. They made up excuse after excuse as to why they were treating me like the criminal. The school shrink said I had no friends. The dean of students couldn't even get my name right even though I held the highest grade in his class. The vice principal said I hung with the wrong crowd. And the principal didn't even remember my name, despite his daughter having the same one! Even my adviser told me that I had to prove I was depressed before they could consider options other than expulsion.
So I did. I was admitted to a psychiatric hospital for a little over a week; Thanksgiving week. The doctors diagnosed me with clinical depression, and I was put on an antidepressant. In other words, there was nothing significantly wrong with me, and I wasn't a danger to anyone. I was simply emotionally rocky from all the persecution.
The school turned a blind eye. They suggested putting me in a windowless room during the day, sending someone else to the cafeteria to get my lunch, and completely isolate me from the rest of the student body. They wanted to turn my high school from a hell hole into a hell hole of a prison. It wasn't an option as far as my family was concerned.
But then the school quickly went back on its isolation offer, and gave the final options:
Withdraw from the school or we will expel you.
Unfair, but nonetheless a no-brainer. I quietly withdrew from the school, to keep it off of my permanent record. My parents fought for their tuition money back, as I had not even finished half the year. They also fought for their donation money back, as they had just helped pay for a new football stadium. They received all their money back, in full, after threatening to sue.
In January, that same school year, I started at a new high school. I kept to myself. I found a small group of lower classmen and slipped in with them. Otherwise, I tried to lay low. I trusted no one, and despite dating, I opened up and got close to no one. They were all acquaintances. And they remain that way.
Being a witch is difficult. Being public about being a witch is almost emotional suicide. I know that bullying happens in high school, but this wasn't about my lunch money, or wearing glasses, or being antisocial or a geek. This was about my beliefs. That's what differentiated my high school hell from normal (as unfortunately normal as it is) high school bullying. It was a whole new level with similar traits. It was persecution.
The Broom Closet At Home
I am 21 years old, and still living with my parents. My parents value a good education, so the agreement is, if I finish school (college), I can live at home, free of rent. This will only be until I graduate and find a job...er...career. Then I'll begin to pay rent.
Many think I've got it made. No only am I exempted from rent fees, but my parents were smart enough to start a college fund for me, which up until now, has paid for my education completely. Yeah, I'm lucky in that regard.
But living at home with my parents means that despite being 21 years old, a legal and capable adult in the eyes of all governments, I still abide by their rules. I get it, I do. Don't get me wrong. Their house, their rules. But it also means I abide by their rules of religious expression.
By this point in life, I've worn my parent thin, and I think they've realized that some things I just will not follow to a T.
I've managed to get out of weekly Sunday Catholic mass, although every Sunday morning they ask if I am going, in hopes that I'll say yes. Sometimes I surprise them, and attend, and I make a point to go for their holiday masses (Easter, Thanksgiving, Christmas) and on other special days (Mother's day and Father's day) as a present to them.
I've also managed to set up an inconspicuous altar in my room. I think they've recognized the fact that my room is my personal private space, which I need. I keep all my pagan things in my room, partly out of respect for them, partly out of fear that they'll throw them away if they find them. But every once in a while, just as I'm starting to entertain the thought of "coming out of the broom closet," something happens that makes me pitch that idea.
I have three dry erase stickers in my room. I had written a little pagan chant on one, asking the Goddess for her protection. My father happened to be in my room later that evening. He saw it, read it, and proceeded to give me a lecture on "one true god, and it is he...blah blah blah." We all worship the same all powerful force, we just have different ideas of what that force is. My father had me erase the chant. I was devastated.
Why can't my father just be happy that I worship something, and it brings me happiness? Goddess forbid he actually find my pagan things or realize what my altar actually is.
I have to walk on eggshells when it comes to religion in my own home. Else upsetting my parents. But they don't have any remorse on offending my beliefs.