Pagan Pride… or really, Pagan Presence

I’ll be an official SpokesPagan for Twin Cities Pagan Pride on September 10th.  Essentially, I answer questions from passerby about what we are, what we’re doing, why their children, cats and goats are perfectly safe, and the question that’s not really a question but a demand for justification that lingers underneath: “Why aren’t you my religion?”

I know some people get nervous about this, but I don’t. I’m sure one idiot will use their own approach and inquiry as an excuse to witness to me – and since we live in a Christian dominated culture that continues to dominate with a small subsect of that absolute majority making itself out to be a persecuted minority in a tactic known and loved by abusive mothers worldwide – I’m sure I’ll have to work up a few methods to shut it down, politely and effectively. I think that equating attempts to convert people to your religion to seduction and/or rape is still true, but given the current Pagan Pride staff I should probably add a soft but still-firm handle of another phrase. I think I may go with, “Sir, Ma’am, you asked about my religion. I already know quite a bit about yours, thanks.” Or perhaps I’ll just say, “Have you tried the Etouffe’ at the Sea Salt Cafe’? You will SEE GOD!”

I’ve had hundreds of these conversations over the years, so many, so often, so cyclical that I just got tired of doing it.

I go back a long way with Pagan Pride. The first year it came into being, I organized the Mankato State Pagan Pride. A TV crew showed up. Reporters were very confused, and I wound up roasting the ass of a producer at KEYC for cutting in scenes from The Craft (after we recorded my interview ourselves, making convenient “edits” impossible) and for using phrases like “self-appointed” “so called” and “alleged” in front of “witch.” The reporter also called it Wicker instead of Wicca, despite being presented with the ever-handy Usenet FAQ that made such style points and pronunciation quite clear.

There are people within and without the Pagan community that do not want to give up the concept of witches as somehow supernatural – and therefore imaginary.  If we’re real, then magic might be real, and it creates the impression that there’s something new and dangerous in the world. Point of fact, if all that is real, it’s always been there. The world is no more or less dangerous than it ever was. Perhaps that’s why I adore both the Sookie Stackhouse novels and the UK version of Being Human. Both ask what else is out there, and why do we think it means anything different when it clearly doesn’t?

I’m looking forward to doing this. I’ll be outside on a beautiful fall day, in a gorgeous park, doing Pagan Pride according to its original intention. It was intended originally as a food drive and while we use the term Pagan “Pride” I really think of it more as Pagan “Presence.” I think we are no longer served by cultivating a “fringes of society” outlook, and in fact, we are hurting ourselves by doing so. We operate on the supposition that all our neighbors are inclined towards intolerance, and because Pagans themselves have created their own “us versus them” we actually project a lot of unwarranted crap onto those who just might turn out to be our allies.

How do I know this?

Because I masquerade without masquerading as a “normal.” I look like any other fat, middle class woman approaching middle age. I’m nothing special. I almost never wear a pentacle a person could immediately recognize as such. Oh yes, I wear religious symbols – but you REALLY have to think laterally to recognize them.

When I cross paths with people my age or a bit younger who do the punk/goth/fringe thing, I smile, I say hello, I don’t bat an eye.

About 95% of the time, the response to my friendliness is outright hostility.

Why?

Because I’m a normal. A mundane.

A muggle.

This is part of the reason I refuse to use words like “mundane” and “muggle” in my casual speech. I’ve also started to recognize that the ever-popular term “tribe” is really just “clique” for the hippy set, and too much association with like-minded people is just as bad as excess association with people that outright hate you. I don’t think this idea of ourselves as one family, identified by our religious fringe-ness, is healthy, positive or good.

My next door neighbor is Muslim. He is not a friend, but he is an ally. We have living space in common, and similar day-to-day needs. If he were in need of assistance, I’m not about to deny him aid just because I object to the tenets of Islam. His humanity, and our relationship over the years means more to me than his religious identity.

I don’t glare at the woman in the grocery store who smiles at me because she isn’t wearing a pentacle.

When Jehovah’s Witnesses finagle their way into my building and ring the doorbell, I simply don’t open the door. If I know what the conversation is going to be, and I know it will be useless on both sides, I prove nothing by being unpleasant – and if I open the door, at some point, I will have to choose rudeness.

If I do a ritual in a heavily traveled area, in broad daylight, as one girl did last month, greeting the full moon in obvious robes and regalia, I expect to have people talk to me. (She was quite snappish and rude in response to hello.)  I may refuse to justify my actions – but I save rudeness for when it’s called for. Her reason for snappishness? In part, no obvious Pagan jewelry, and because I didn’t react with fear, shock or awe.

Why the hell would I? If there was something to fear, I would have felt it. As it was, I wondered absently why I am missing the gene that makes me feel more spiritual while wearing silly robes, and my attention went back to my gelato and the lovely women I walked with.

I have done ritual in public spaces – sat down in the middle of campus and lit a candle, led people on a lawn, guided meditations in front of Minneapolis City hall.

The response from casual passerby is either mild curiosity, friendliness, selectively ignoring – and once in a great while, someone asks to join in.  When I make my intentions clear, and ask directly for concerns, I’ve always wound up, if not supported, then tolerated as harmless, usually accepting a small dose of amusement.

After all, I take my faith seriously, but I certainly do not take my faith practices seriously – and that attitude really reduces the sense of threat “outsiders” feel about it.

There are taboos that merit talking about – like the reaction of immediate fear when a person tries to understand hoodoo, or the generic refusal to acknowledge that Wiccans aren’t always nice and high-minded and a select few do cast curses, consequences be damned. But for right now, I want to say this, based on my years of experience “representing:”

We are all human. We eat, sleep, reproduce, and have the basic human needs revolving around food, health, shelter and a sense of safety.

Pagan Pride above all addresses our own sense of safety, and the safety needs of those that practice other faiths or non-faiths.

It is a two way communication of a select type: the message we send is that we are real, we have always been here, and we have the same rights and responsibilities as any other human.

The message we receive is that our enemies are far fewer than we think, and that perhaps in some cases making enemies is our own doing because we project an opposition instead of listening for what that other “non-tribe” member really has to say.