Pagan Coming Out Day: Living My Truth

Today, May 2, is International Pagan Coming Out Day. It is a day for those of us who are willing and able to be open about our practice of Pagan traditions and spirituality. This event increases Pagan visibility, highlights the strength of our diversity, shows many of us we are not alone, and gives us a common moment of collectivity across borders for the sake of mutual empowerment.

Some people do not want to Come Out, appreciating the practical introversion or glamorous illusion of a mysterious path. Some people cannot Come Out due to jobs, custody situations, local violence, challenges around losing family relationships, and other reasons. Fear, in general, is the biggest of these reasons.

And some of us cannot help but be Out all the time, like me. When you are the co-owner of a Pagan/Metaphysical store, read Tarot for a living, and are the High Priestess of a large, public Coven with an active, visible community ministry, it's kind of like wearing a sign on your forehead that lights up and screams "Pagan" to some, "Witch" to some, and "Weirdo" to others. Being Out is not always easy. In order to actualize my longtime dream of living a seamless life, where I could be who I truly am everywhere I go, without exception, I had to face my own fears and Come Out...about a lot of things.

In becoming forcibly and essentially aware of my mortality, and of what I wished and wanted for my life, however short it might be, priorities and omissions became strongly etched in a merciless light, and what I most regretted were my silences. Of what had I ever been afraid? To question or to speak as I believed could have meant pain, or death. But we all hurt in so many different ways, all the time, and pain will either change or end. Death, on the other hand, is the final silence. And that might be coming quickly, now, without regard for whether I had ever spoken what needed to be said, or had only betrayed myself into small silences, while I planned someday to speak, or waited for someone else's words. And I began to recognize a source of power within myself that comes from the knowledge that while it is most desirable not to be afraid, learning to put fear into perspective gave me a great strength. I was going to die, if not sooner then later, whether or not I had ever spoken myself. My silences had not protected me. Your silence will not protect you. - Audre Lorde, "Transformation of Silence"
I read these words and I hear the voice of a Dakini.

Living a seamless and truthful life has been my goal since childhood. Children are often unabashed truth tellers, because they have not yet been conditioned to employ the tiny lies that thread through the fabric of social congress. Ask most children how they are feeling, and they will not politely say "Fine," and continue suffering in silence like so many adults do. They will often tell you in detail how they are doing, up to and including offering to peel back their band-aids and show you their wounds, speaking explicitly of body functions, or reporting about life as it truly is, in all its raw reality. As a former school teacher, I readily came to recognize the signs that a child had been beaten, bullied, or threatened into silence, because they carried a profound discomfort about them, as if they were itching under the skin with pain and isolation. I learned to be careful when dealing with these children, because their fear was so palpable that it was sometimes literally driving them crazy. I know many of my readers can identify with that feeling in some way, either as survivors of abuse, or being forced into an ashamed silence in some other way in your lives. While self-chosen privacy, Trad secrets, and other personal mysteries empower us, being pressured into silence irritates us, grates at us, and burns at our hearts. Shamed silence can also steal our life force, leaving us hollow and grey because we have had our full-color truth stripped from us. Without the truth of who you are, who are you? Without freedom to express yourself (or not) as you choose, at such a fundamental level as WHO YOU ARE, what other freedoms really matter? It's as though, in not talking about "it" (whatever "it" is), we can find nothing else to really talk about in a satisfying way. And the silence closes in, snuffing our divine spark. When we banish a core truth into shameful silence, we spiritually suffocate ourselves.

As a child, I witnessed and carried many private sufferings, within my own life, my family's lives, and the lives of my friends. I carry some of them still, because they belong to others and I have been entrusted and enlisted to help bear some very sacred, painful burdens. In fact, I knew at a very young age that I was a story keeper--someone people randomly spill their hearts out to. Being a story keeper is a job I am grateful for as an aware adult, but it was not so easy as a child. In fact, downright confusing. There grew, over time, so many things that I was not supposed to talk about, that keeping all the secondary stories/sanitized stories/replacement stories clear in my mind became exhausting and impossible. Mark Twain gave us a saying about this, "When you tell the truth, you don't have to remember anything." Folk wisdom. Simple-yet-difficult wisdom.

At the same time, the truth need not necessarily be confrontational. Sometimes yes, sometimes no. Some truths are going to be painful no matter what, and therefore need to be very gently delivered. Other truths can occasionally be lightly held as common knowledge, without requiring endless discussion, analysis, or even common agreement. Other truths need to be a quick, clean knife, regardless of how much one's lesser self wants to hack with a dull blade or retreat from the sight of blood. Knowing which truths are worth battles, which truths are burdens, which truths will require kid gloves, and which truths will just surface naturally in their own ways requires discernment, courage, compassion, and awareness. Thus, today is an invitation for you to discern whether or not you want to Come Out as Pagan, whether that will be the needed courageous, compassionate, or awareness-building act for you today. For some of you, it will be. And you might feel afraid. That's OK.

You know that bumpersticker, "Sorry I missed Church. I was busy practicing witchcraft and becoming a lesbian"? That's kind of how it happened for me. My parents, who are neither liberal nor conservative Roman Catholics, really struggled with my truths of sexuality and religion. (People ask or assume: Am I heterosexual, lesbian, bi-sexual? For the record: I am sexual.) We went through a very, very rough time after it became clear to them that I was not actually the person they had hoped I would become. I was disavowed, yelled at, accused, made to feel very guilty about not living up to their expectations, and told that I was just being selfish and trying to hurt them.

I was so angry. I felt so heartbroken and rejected. So did they. I was afraid that I had lost my family. They were afraid they had lost me. We barely spoke for well over a year. It was so strained after that for a long while. Some of the tension still surfaces to this day, a decade later. No one said this was going to be quick or easy, though it doesn't have to be long and difficult, either. It just is what it is and your journey is your journey. For me, it basically came down (and still comes down) to saying to my family, "This is who I am and who I choose to be. I am aware that you might be disappointed with who I am and how I turned out. I don't want to hurt you, but I will not hurt myself, either, by living a lie with you, because I think that lie hurts us both. You are the ones who taught me that love is what makes a family, and I will love you even if you decide you can't accept me for who I am. I accept that you have choices to make and I support you in making those choices, even if they are painful for all of us." And then, I leave them to it. So far, they keep coming back and trying with me, just as I keep coming back and trying with them. And it is working. There is a lot of healing and purging of old hurts. My parents are still young-ish, but getting older. We appear to have a mutual-yet-unspoken commitment to getting in right relation on all levels, or as many as possible, together, in this lifetime. We work at it every time we speak, visit, connect. We are all committed to the work of it. However, even if they were not committed, I would still love them from afar and keep living my life as my honest self, because I, personally, could not live with myself otherwise. I'd always be trying to jump out of my own skin.

We have so many powerful Coming Out days. Maybe we need some powerful Coming Back days. 

This time last year, my parents and our family's best friends Joan and Denny came to visit me. They made this sign and enlisted astrobarry (ghostly in the background) to put it in the window of The Sacred Well so that it would be there when I showed up to work. Laughter, we have found, is the best medicine for healing from the conflicts under which we have all suffered. So, when in doubt, we choose to laugh. It's powerful.

Dakinis know this.

Coming Out as Pagan is not only a matter of visibility and our rightful exercise of Freedom of Religion, though that is arguably the most important part.

Coming Out as Pagan, for many, often means Coming Out on a variety of other things:
-that I am willing to question the status quo
-that I am willing to think for myself without apologizing for it or denying my own truth
-that I am willing to accept responsibility for my choice to live my life authentically, out loud
-that I will not allow fear or external pressure to dominate me
-that I love the path I have chosen, and celebrate it
-that I accept responsibility for employing my Will and spiritual technologies to shape the currents of my experience, surroundings, and perceptions

As I've mentioned before, not everyone wants to or can Come Out, as Pagan or anything else, today. But that is OK--I still hope you have enjoyed reading my personal story and found something useful in it.

Should you choose to Come Out today, or any time, about being Pagan or any other truth you carry, consider why you are doing it, how you are doing it, and what your motivations are. How can you Come Out from, and remain secure in, your joy and compassion, knowing that others might have a hard time with your truth? How can you treat yourself and others with compassion even if others do not return the favor? Who are your cheerleaders and supports that will give you a boost? What is your plan if things change after this truth is revealed? What is the best way to approach the topic so that you are treating yourself and all others with a lot of care? How will you reward yourself for living your truth? What other permissions might you give yourself once you have revealed your truth? If you are ready to reveal big truth in your life, are you ready to release feelings of isolation and re-enter a sense of belonging to a body larger than yourself? To see yourself as not alone, but one of many wonderful, fascinating, smart, passionate, curious, deliberate people in this Pagan world (and I'm including all that this term might mean to many people)?

Come As You Are Coven derives our name from an adaptation of a Rumi poem that we sing at all of our big rituals:

Come, come, whoever you are
even if you've broken your vows 10,000 times.
Come, come again.
Journeyers, wanderers, lovers of life
come, come, come.
This caravan has love to spare.
Come, come, come.

We keep Coming Out and Coming Back.  It's not only about telling the truth about who we are. It's about living the truth of who we are and allowing others their own truths as well. Again and again and again. It's how we choose to be family together, from our places of truth, no matter where we came from or how different we might all be.

Happy Pagan Coming Out Day!