Ever since moving to Oregon in 2008, I’ve been a mostly “out” Pagan. I have never told my family that I am Pagan, but that has had very little impact on my day-to-day life over the past decade, if only because I’ve lived far enough away from them during that time that they have come to see me very rarely. And when they do, it’s a fairly simple thing to take time the week before they visit to box up my pagan paraphernalia throughout the house and stow it someplace until they leave.
And, to be honest, I would be completely out of the Broom Closet if it was not for my mother. The rest of my immediate family are pretty much secularists these days, but my mother…she may not believe in everything the Catholic Church espouses, but she vehemently defends what she perceives to be the “real truth” beneath Rome’s teachings. And a big part of that is rejecting Satan and all his works.
Unfortunately, my mother strongly believes that anything under the occult umbrella is Satanic and that those who dabble in them are playing roulette with their mortal souls. She believes this as completely as I believe the sun will rise tomorrow morning. I was almost never disciplined as a child and teenager because I rarely did anything truly ‘bad’. In my early teens, I thought my mother was a blithering idiot and sassed off to her terribly. I usually got slapped for it, but that was about the extent of it. (I totally deserved the slaps, by the way: I said horrible things to her.) But when I was a junior in high school, she found a couple Wiccan books in my bedroom and proceeded to ransack the place looking for other paraphernalia. She then proceeded to burn everything she found and told me that if she ever saw any indication of my interest in the occult again, my family would not contribute to my college tuition.
I was furious with her. And I recall yelling a lot about how manipulative it was to threaten my future over a few books. And there was a huge part of me that wanted to have the whole “coming out” scene. I wanted to explain to her what I was beginning to practice, why it resonated with me, and why I felt it was helping me to be a better person. I wanted to show her how there was no evil in it, especially the way she understood evil. But when I looked at her, I did not see anger in her eyes. When she screamed, I did not hear rage in her voice. She was scared. Terrified. And that scared me. So I put up enough resistance to be convincing and accepted her terms. I did not stop practicing, but I made certain she would not see any indication of it.
Looking back, I think perhaps the Gods ‘engineered’ this moment with my mother. Prior to this blow up, I’d planned to properly come out of the Broom Closet to my parents. I had decided that I should probably undergo a year and a day of Wiccan study before I told them I was a Pagan. And the end of that year and a day was rapidly approaching–the whole reason I had those books in my room (and not in my stash in my school locker) so that I could have reference material to plan my solitary ritual for Samhain, which would have marked the end of that first year. My mother, not one prone to snooping in my things, only found them sandwiched between my mattress and box spring because I uncharacteristically left my bed unmade that morning, and she–equally uncharacteristically–thought she’d do me a favor by making it for me.
I had thought my parents and loved ones would have considered a year and a day of serious study enough experience for me to make an informed decision on how I wanted to continue the rest of my spiritual life, but in that moment where I saw my mother’s fear, I realized that it was not enough. It was no where near enough. If I wanted her to be able to accept this part of my life, I realized that I needed an iron-clad case. I needed to know what I was leaving–my family’s Catholicism–backwards, forwards, and upside down. I needed years of study and practice under my belt, not just one short year. And, frankly, my mother would not accept any form of solitary practice as valid because I would be ‘making it all up.’ So, at the very least, I would need to find and learn from an established community and have my personal beliefs challenged and refined by them. And even if I had an exemplary spiritual training and practice in place, there was no way my mother would accept it if my personal life was a mess. She would blame any shortfall in my personal life on God showing his displeasure with me for forsaking him.
So here I am today. I did go on to complete my church’s catechism training and was confirmed (only one of my siblings to do so, so clearly Mom got a lot more lax with the boys), and I continue to study it. In fact, I finally found some part of Catholicism I understood when I started reading Jesuit writers and I have subsequently incorporated several points of Ignatian spirituality into my Pagan ways. And those ways have now been practiced far longer than a year and a day: I’ve been a practicing Pagan for over half my life. I have been an official student of some form of British Traditional Witchcraft since 2010, and a valid Gardnerian initiate since 2015. I’m now starting to think about how I would lead a coven and the skills I need to hone to be a good Craft Elder and potential future High Priestess. In my mundane life, I graduated with Latin honors from the university my mother threatened not to pay for, and I went on to get two more graduate degrees without any financial support from the family. I have a fulfilling career (that I still find frustrating at times, particularly in how underpaid the profession is). I have no debt. Over the past decade, I might not have made much money, but I have always been able to live within my means and still afford some luxuries. I have proven to my mother so many times that I am a moral and ethical person that she now comes to me when she has an ethical problem that she’s struggling with because she knows that I will give her sound counsel.
So I began thinking…maybe its time to come out of the Broom Closet?
I think I got a nudge from the Gods recently. I began working at a new school at the end of September. I moved to the town where it is located at the start of November, and my mother came out from Pennsylvania to help me with the move. I’d done most of the major things before she’d arrived, so most of what we did was to pack up the kitchen, pick up a few pieces of furniture I’d arranged to buy through Craigslist, and tackle the job of unpacking. I’d had the movers put most of the boxes in the basement, and I’d marked each one that had something Pagan in it with a star next to a generic description of the box contents. Before my mother showed up, I set aside all the starred boxes and stacked them in a corner and lined up other ones in front of it. I figured we would just work our way down the row in unpacking, and when we got to the starred boxes, I would tell mom that they contained random ‘decor’ that I would need to sort through to see what I would keep, donate, or discard now that I was in a new space.
That plan worked freakishly well, incidentally.
Unfortunately, I had one small plastic tote that I left out of the cardboard starred boxes. It was mostly candleholders, but also had a few pagan-y items in it, so I set it on top of the starred stack. And while my mother and I were constructing storage shelves in the basement, I accidentally knocked it over and we both heard something break inside.
I told my mom to ignore it and that I would take care of it later, but while I was hammering a shelf, she thought she’d be helpful.
“What the heck is this?” she said with alarm, and I turned around to see her holding a silver goblet engraved with a pentacle.
In that moment, I realized that this could be the big moment: the big coming out. The timing was almost right, and how amazing would it be to finally have that conversation? At the same time…I was sweating in a dirty, cobwebby basement with two half-constructed storage shelves and a mountain of half-unpacked boxes. Maybe the timing was okay, but neither of us were in the best place to talk theology. So I stalled for time.
I hate to admit this, but one of the more successful strategies for deflecting my mother is perilously close to gaslighting: maintain that everything is fine and she’ll begin to doubt herself. So I shrugged and said “Looks like a wine glass with a star design. I’m pretty sure my friend Gloria gave that to me last time we met…we bonded over a night of wine and Cards Against Humanity, so wine is kind of our thing now.” I literally saw tension flow out of my mother, which broke my heart a little. She did grouse for a minute about how it looked occult and how I should get rid of it. At one point she asked me “Are you into occult stuff?” I replied “Mo-om!” just as I would have done if it was just a wine glass and asked her to help me put the next shelf on the rack. She completely dropped it. She’s probably forgotten all about that goblet by now.
My mom’s reaction was clearly not a 180-degree turn around from when I was in high school, but I can’t help but feel like these two incidents were similar. In both, my mom found an occult thing I was trying to hide while she was being helpful. In both, she had a negative reaction. But in this recent one, that deep fear was absent. She was alarmed, yes…but not terrified. I think that at the very least, a part of her recognizes that she’s not responsible for me any more.
The incident made me think that maybe at some point soon, the coming out conversation might actually be a thing we can not only do, but survive.
And now that it’s a possibility, I’m terrified to do it.