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Being the "Them" in an "Us" world

If you’ve been on your path for at least a little while, it will have become painfully clear to you that there are people in this world who, for whatever reasons, dislike you for the Path you are on, and the religion you practice. Dislike can be mild in many cases, but it does sometimes fester into full-blown hate and intolerance.

Sometimes this intolerance and hatred is in your own family, even in your own home. If you are a minor and have happened upon this Path in your own studies and musings, it is possible that your elders will make your life sheer living hell if they ever found you out. Same if you happen to have a spouse who is also of that sort of mind.

How do we cope? How do we deal with being the dreaded ‘them’ in a world which wants us to be part of their particular ‘us’? How can we make ourselves a lesser target for the slings and arrows of hate, intolerance, slander, and misunderstanding that are constantly fired at us? How can we manage to not only survive, but flourish in such a hostile environment?

First of all, we must understand and accept the fact that we are still very much a minority in this world. Our numbers are growing, but we have not yet reached that critical mass of ‘oh, yeah, s/he’s Pagan…next subject’ yet. Being a Pagan is still a novel thing, subject to much scrutiny, misunderstanding, and myth, and we are still in the myth busting stages in many ways.

We are well aware of the most common myths- that of the macabre Hollywood sort- that we harm others, sacrifice babies or animals, curse with impunity, etc. Many of them are finally starting to settle into that final stage of disbelief. Media people who write articles about us don’t automatically use ‘witches and warlocks’ (for female and male) any more unless they’re totally ignorant of what the word ‘warlock’ implies. If they screw up such basic background, they deserve the barrage of indignant remarks they will certainly get. If they aren’t educated before that particular bit of sloppy research, they certainly will be afterwards! (In case you’re a total newbie reading this, the word ‘warlock’ means ‘oath-breaker’ in Old English. It has never been a term for a male Witch. A Witch is a Witch, gender neutral.) The words ‘self-proclaimed’ when referring to a non-mainstream faith are also vanishing. (i.e.: ‘self-proclaimed Witch’.) Slowly, the facts about our many faceted Path are bubbling up to the mainstream’s consciousness. This is good.

But there are those whose idea of mainstream is a certain rigidly held ‘traditional’ belief that only Judeo-Christian faiths count. (And there are doubts about the ‘Judeo’ part, for some…) These are the sorts who insist, in spite of genuine documented evidence to the contrary, that the USA is a "Christian" country, founded by "Christian" people. And they want their particular strand of Christianity to be dominant, to the detriment of all other faiths. The word "God" is presumed to be YHVH, or even Christ, and no other expressions of deity are welcome.

It is these sorts who will howl with outrage when it is suggested that there may be more than one religion practiced in this country. These are the ones who the make-believe Landover Baptist Church gets its ideas from, and carries them to their logical extremes. These folks believe that the ‘end times’ are upon us, that the world we live on is a worthless rock to be burned up, and that anyone who believes otherwise is Satanic, no matter what their faith.

They firmly believe that they are the ‘us’ to our ‘them’, and act out of fear, ignorance, and hatred for that which is different. We can quote redes, oaths, and proclaim our goodness until we are out of breath, but the ears of these people are deafened, and their hearts are stone.

Worse, they believe that they have divine permission to commit criminal acts in the name of their Lord, up to and including murder. If they find a verse in their Scriptures that will condemn the ‘other’, they use it like a weapon. No logic, or thoughtful appeal will sway them. Their Scripture says it, they believe it, that’s that.

And there we stand. How do we cope? How can we transit from the shadow of their cross to the light of understanding, tolerance, and even love?

Confronting such people directly isn’t the answer. They welcome such conflicts, because they truly believe that they are fighting the Devil himself. Direct confrontation plays into their hands, amplifies their fear, and strengthens their false conviction that they’re fighting the ‘good fight’. And we run the risk of becoming as intolerantly zealous as they are- or worse.

No, direct confrontation isn’t the answer. Perhaps we can take a lesson from the gentle, but deadly martial art of Aikido, which uses the energies of the attacker to redirect them harmlessly away from their target.

This redirection can be as simple as hiding in plain sight, or as complex as legally challenging and changing laws that favor their majority. Aikido keeps the exercises deceptively simple, but elegantly complex. Everything whirls around in a circle, with the Warrior in the calm center. In deflecting attacks, the Pagan must also maintain a calm center. Not doing so will damage the progress we’ve made.

Hiding in plain sight is the first of these things to learn. The practice and understanding of Magick does not involve the collection or wearing of tons of amulets, tattoos, odd clothing, piercings, or the accompanying hardware that graces the cover of most Llewellyn books on the subject.

Adepts know that 99.999999% of Magick takes place in that Sacred Space between one’s ears. Yes, it takes time and practice to get to that point, but it isn’t necessary to acquire every pointy blade, expensive crystal tipped wand, Goddess statue, or book to get to that point. Instead, inner discipline is the key. Every book is a teacher- even the Bible. There is no law that says that Pagans can’t ‘thump’ back- in fact it is a point of pride for many older Pagans that we know more about Christianity (and related faiths) than most Christians. Hoisting your zealous adversary by their own petard is a time honored sport among the more learned of us. (In case you don’t know what a petard is, the best equivalent is the Bible Thumper getting thumped in return. Hoisting by ones own petard means being blown up by one’s own bomb.)

It is difficult if you are in the Accumulative Stage of your life to realize that all the goodies you want are basically future dust collectors, and the call of your Inner Magpie can be deafening. But I say again that all the toys aren’t necessary. They are training aids only, and many other things can be substituted. Another fact of Magickal understanding is that the more powerful your imagination and intellect are, the more powerful the results of your Workings will be. If you are a wet-eared newbie, it might be discouraging to realize that the Best Stuff won’t be yours to work with until you have around 20 years of practice under your belt, but our Paths aren’t meant for babies. This is a Path for genuine adults.

So, forget about that fancy pentacle embossed ‘book of shadows’. A nice spiral bound notebook will work just fine. An encrypted file hidden on your computer will work even better, especially if you are currently in a Pagan-hostile environment. Just don’t forget to back it up and store the disc in a safe place.

You don’t have to have a fancy altar- any arrangement of innocuous objects- photos, stones, bric-a-brac- can become an altar. Celtic knotwork can substitute for pentacles, or even Celtic crosses (even armed, circled crosses) can be worn if you’re in an especially difficult place. Ankhs are not scrutinized much- mine frequently gets mistaken for a Christian cross. Just don’t wear a monster sized one with all sorts of dubious hieroglyphics all over it. Plain, small and simple is best. If you’re wearing a pentacle the size of a manhole cover, you’re asking for trouble.

I am not going to go into great detail about hiding in plain sight- suffice it to say that I trust that you have the imagination and intelligence and courage to make your path work for you no matter how ‘closeted’ you are. Today’s Pagans have more resources than ever. And since we are now ‘out of the closet’ media wise, we have more recourse when we are mistreated. Use them wisely and well.

It is sometimes possible to snap an adversarial person out of his or her zealous haze by asking them if they’d feel differently if the tables were reversed. After all, the Christians were heavily persecuted in the first days of their existence. Don’t automatically treat an adversary like a rabid dog- fear can be dissolved by education and understanding. You must accept the likelihood that you will never be fully understood, but if a cushion of tolerance can be created and built, we will all be the better for it.

Whatever you do, don’t succumb to the temptation to play tit for tat. Yes, frightened people will say and do outrageous, and even dangerous things. Make sure that you work from a position of strength, intelligence and understanding. And make sure that you have friends who do understand you, and recourse if things go awry. Seek out and cultivate friendships with tolerant and understanding members of Christian laity and clergy. Understand that there are many times the number of tolerant and quietly indifferent Christians as there are the rabid zealots. They are just as annoyed (and embarrassed) by their rabidly zealous kin as we are. Many of them wish to demonstrate that not all Christians are zealots, and are excellent friends. Don’t let the word ‘Christian’ be a red flag- get to know the individual. If they can get to know you as a person first rather than a Pagan, you will have a valuable ally if things get stupid. You (and they) cease to be ‘them’, and become ‘us’. This is the goal, in the long run. After all, we all live on the same planet. Even in the heat of disagreement, we should remember that.

It can be difficult to be the ‘them’ in an ‘us’ sort of world. But consider this- we are all ‘us’. Even ‘them’.

Copyright, Sunfell October, 2002

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