‘Pagan’ Safer Than ‘Wiccan’?
So I’m up at the student union at my campus, watching from the sidewalk as our local fundamentalist group is preaching in lieu of Mardi Gras. While I’m there, my friend from high school, Adam, comes up to me. We were never really tight, but still, we were pretty good friends. One thing that he didn’t know about me until that moment was that I was Wiccan (I wasn’t exactly out of the broom closet in high school).
Now on campus, I’m pretty much open about my Wiccan beliefs. Generally, nobody asks, even when they see me wearing my pentacle – it’s simply implied, and nobody cares. This time, however, Adam gave an exasperated sigh and asked what I was wearing. “Um, a pentacle.” I responded. He began to laugh. When he asked why, he said something to the effect of Wicca being a fad. Needless to say, that struck a chord in me.
What’d I say? “Actually, I Pagan.”
He didn’t know what being Pagan entailed, so I explained my beliefs a bit. I did say that my practices and beliefs were influenced by Wicca, but that I dealt more with the Egyptian deities, and I believed that all religions were right in their own way. He took this definition more seriously than Wicca, and moved on.
Unfortunately, now I felt bad, because I felt like I was denying something I felt so passionately about. I love the Wiccan religion, and am glad to be a part of it. Yet when Wicca is put in a bad light by someone I know, I’ve been finding myself reverting to saying I’m just Pagan, instead of defending my choice of faith.
In my experience, this doesn’t just happen with non-Pagans, although those who do find fault with Wicca tend to be more vicious or mean about it than Pagans who look poorly at Wicca. In part this is because of my age – teenagers like me who are serious about Wicca are nonetheless almost always perceived, especially at first impressions, as fluffy bunny, angst-driven teens using Wicca for attention.
But this can be compounded by non-Pagans who don’t think of Wicca as being a real religion. They see the vast number of people who follow this path (in their eyes, predominantly teenagers) as being part of a hippie fad. In most of their eyes, they see Wicca equated with Witchcraft, and since most of them don’t believe Witchcraft to be real, they seem to dismiss Wicca as being a fantasy in and of itself.
When it comes to these people, I do tend to be quieter about my beliefs. As with Adam, I just say I’m Pagan, explain a little bit about what that is, and go about my regular business. And for the most part they tend to accept my being Pagan more than my being Wiccan. Why? In my opinion, it’s because Paganism hasn’t received as much media hype as Wicca has. Wicca has been played up in our modern pop-culture, whereas Paganism is resigned to just being a real religion. Simply put, Paganism sounds more real than Wicca to those who think Wicca is a fad religion.
This problem isn’t resigned to just non-Pagans. I know some Pagans who feel that Wicca has indeed been far too hyped in our culture, having overshadowed other Pagan religions such as Asatru, Reconstructionist religions, Afro-Caribbean religions, etc. In this case, they see new Wiccans as being part of that hype. And the general attitude is that Wicca has indeed become a fad and as such needs to be ignored.
Then there are the elitist and fundamentalist Pagans – yes, such Pagans, and even Wiccans, exist. As with the above groups, I can’t speak accurately for everyone, but the general consensus of this group of Pagans is that most people who call themselves Wiccan are in fact fooling themselves, because most of them are not a part of the original Wiccan traditions, such as Gardnerian and Alexandrian. If not this, then it’s because they’re solitary practitioners, or because they’re eclectic in their practices, or, heaven forbid, they’re publicly open about their beliefs. Woe be to the Wiccan who fulfills these criteria, for in the eyes of the elitist, they are regarded with great contempt.
Truthfully, all these negative attitudes towards Wicca, at least in my experience, have been minimal. But when faced with such adversity, is it any wonder I wouldn’t want to say that I’m Wiccan? I know it sounds like a cop-out, but I’m not the kind of person who likes to make waves. I’m a pacifist at heart who looks for ways to avoid conflict. And it is my belief that if someone truly has a problem with my Wiccan beliefs, then it’s none of their business, and they’ll just have to live with what I tell them. In these cases, it’s a matter of peacemaking and protection as opposed to stirring up arguments and hurting feelings.
Still, no matter how much I justify my lying, it doesn’t erase what I feel inside – that I’m not being true to myself. Anybody who lives a life hiding a secret about themselves knows what I’m talking about, and I’m sure many of you in the broom closet know this feeling all too well.
And at times this conflict has made me question my commitment to Wicca. While I’m completely in love with the religion and the philosophy behind it, what does it say about me when I deny loving it? Is it a sign of shame? In the eyes of the above groups, yes, because let’s face it – Wicca holds a stigma about it that other Pagan religions don’t. Otherwise it’s just a matter of safety, in which case I’m not ashamed. As far as I’m concerned, I’m not in a place where I can be proudly open about being Wiccan with everyone.
But it is a growing problem when saying you’re Pagan is more appropriate than saying you’re Wiccan. It’s a sign that we’re willing to let ourselves be ignored, that we’re willing to hide ourselves under the umbrella of Paganism. In short, when we allow this, we’re turning into doormats, letting everyone walk all over us. I for one no longer wish to be a doormat. I’m working very hard to stand firm in my Wiccan beliefs, not just hiding behind being Pagan. I’m careful about who knows, obviously, but I am making a commitment to not be afraid of being Wiccan. After all, those who matter won’t care, and those that care won’t matter, right?