The broom closet is a term, similar to the metaphor used by the gay community, that refers to someone who keeps their Pagan beliefs and practices hidden from their friends, family and the general public. The reason for the secrecy (outside early periods of spiritual adjustment) is usually fear – fear of prejudice, fear of violence, fear losing the comforts that appearing ‘normal’ can afford us.
It has been a long time since the Satanic witchcraft scare of the 80s put everyone who was even slightly outside the socially accepted ‘norm’ under a microscope. Very few of us now need fear for our lives or our safety because we are not ‘good little Christians’. The twentieth century saw many people fighting an uphill battle so that modern Pagans would feel comfortable celebrating their holy days in public, and discussing their beliefs openly.
This freedom has lead to a great many people claiming that the need for the secrecy and protection of the broom closet is gone, and that to remain hidden in plain sight is selfish and does nothing but hurt the Pagan Community as we fight the last remnants of misinformation that float around society. To me, this seems to be a rather sheltered viewpoint.
The prejudice and hate has not gone completely away. People are still living with constant harassment … they still lose their jobs, their homes, their friends and sometimes even their children to a society that seems to have a hard time accepting that anyone who has turned away from a mainstream, Abrahamic faith could be a good, competent person.
Now, granted, these things do not happen everywhere. Those of us who live on the coasts of North America seem to enjoy a little bit more freedom to express ourselves. However, even here the fear of oppression lies just beneath the surface.
Looking at any issue of controversy within the Pagan Community illustrates this vividly – dark magic, hexes, blood, sacrifices, Satanism, etc. All these topics tend to bring out the attitude that the old ways are misguided and now that we have more options and information available to us, they are unnecessary at best, immoral at worst.
This may seem like the hallmark of the fluff bunny, but they are not to blame in this instance. There seem to be far more Pagans that I realized who change and omit rites and practices for fear of causing a backslide of acceptance for the rest of the Pagan Community. They seem to believe that by watering down their faith, they can gain the ‘ok’ from mainstream society. It saddens me that otherwise rational, level headed Pagans would cower at the mysteries because they cannot be forced into neat, easily understood boxes, ready for the consumption of the masses.
When we allow ourselves to be told that our traditional practices are barbaric or evil, simply because they may not be pretty or easy, THAT is when we begin to lose the ground that our elders fought so hard for. When we would prefer to change, rather than explain, for fear that our inquisitors may just not ‘get it’, we start that trek back to the broom closet. The road of fear, secrecy, lies and outrageous rumours ends in a church pew, where pretend devotion keeps up the appearance of normality.
The trip from the broom closet needs to remain a one way street. Part of being ready to come out is that you are no longer willing to allow conventional wisdom to dictate what is and is not acceptable beliefs and behaviour.
Now, I am not saying that everyone who is ‘out’ needs to be an activist or public educator or that they cannot have private lives. What they do need to be is true to themselves, and their path. The fact that someone might see should not be a deciding factor in how your practice your craft. The fact that some may not understand should not limit the symbols you use or the deities you call to.
We all turned to this path because there was something missing in modern secular and/or Christian culture … because ‘normal’ was not good enough.
::Essay Copyright of Phae Talon 2004 – please do not reproduce without permission, but feel free to link with impunity::