One of the most important things I think any Pagan can do to further the aims of the Pagan community is to publicly acknowledge our religion. That’s a hard pill to swallow, for a lot of very good reasons, and it’s not something I have even been consistent about myself.
As I see it, the problems revolve around proselytizing and privacy. Anyone who was brought up in, has encountered representatives of, or even swapped jokes about people who witness their faith door-to-door should make it obvious why most Pagans don’t want to be associated with proselytizing: while the behavior is rarely more than annoying in the modern United States, it raises the specter of Indian schools and missions to “uncivilized” parts of the world, complete with the disastrous results which usually ensued. For many years I wore my pentagram under my clothes because I was wearing it for me, not to advertise. Large, flashy religious jewelry of any type is somewhat of a turnoff to me.
We who practice this group of minority religions lumped under one umbrella label tend to share a desire not to proselytize, so much so that I’ve met people who proselytize about the fact that Pagans don’t proselytize.
Privacy is about how one’s religion impacts one’s personal and professional lives. There are still parts of the country and world where one’s religion matters a great deal, and being a member of the wrong faith can bring very real risks. If you could lose your job and compromise your standing in the community because you’re Pagan, you are going to think twice before telling anyone you’re Pagan. And the more enlightened regions have their own form of discrimination, marginalizing people of faith as superstitious throwbacks in a secular world. They consider anyone who practices a religions as being just a tad nuts, be they Wiccan or Christian or Zoroastrian or Rastafarian, and really don’t want to know what you do in the privacy of your own home.
Being publicly Pagan, on the other hand, can help fix those problems in the long run. The more people who practice a spiritual, secular, or mainstream religious lifestyle encounter Pagans and find commonalities with them, the more normalized a diversity of religions becomes. That helps reduce the formal and informal discrimination that minorities, even those of choice like religious minorities, can be faced with when ignorance abounds.
But does that make me want to “wreath up” and perform a public offering to my gods? Nosiree. There is percentage of our community trained and driven to be the public face, but we do not all need to step up quite so high. Maybe it’s enough to pick “Pagan” on Facebook, or make food bank donations in the name of one’s goddess from time to time. I don’t want people to feel that I’m telling them how awesome my religion is — that’s a skill that 19-year-old me mastered and 44-year-old me is happy to discard — but it guides many of my decisions, and I’m not ashamed of that.
It’s a balance that we all have to strike, because being completely private and secretive is as problematic to the wider Pagan community as being a pushy recruiter for Thor would be. We should not be silent, nor should we be so loud that people tune us out. What balance do you strike in your life?