We spend a lot of our time in The Realm talking about Pagan interactions in the real world, and I have, in the past, encouraged people who are able without intense repercussions to come out of the broom closet. My convictions tell me that being open about who I am and what I believe is the best route to encourage a more general acceptance of Paganism (or “Pagan legitimacy” as GG put it). Sometimes, life likes to challenge our convictions and see if we can walk the talk.
Last Tuesday TheScott and I had our home study, where our caseworkers for the adoption process came to our house to check it out and to talk to us about how we’re going to raise our children. Of course religion came up. Now, Scott and I specifically chose an adoption agency that wasn’t affiliated with a church – not because we have a problem with religion based agencies, but because we wanted to minimize the potential our agency might have problems with us being a mixed-religious household.* Before the home study I’d already told our agency that I am Pagan and TheScott is Catholic, so if that was going to be a big deal, it probably would have come up much sooner than the home study. Basically, we’d done our best so far to make sure the subject wouldn’t be the source of any problems, delays, or, gods forbid, rejection by the agency.
I can’t tell you how many stories I’ve been told since we started this process detailing how any adoption seekers who aren’t a heterosexual, married, Christian family won’t make it through the system or at least won’t be given the same consideration as families who are. We were even told by the caseworkers during adoption classes there are a lot of judges in West Texas who refuse to place children in a non-Christian family (any form of non-Christian) and judges in Houston who prevent children in their system from being adopted by gay couples.
I knew the things I said to my caseworkers about faith would have real implications for my very near future. I admit, I was nervous about this conversation. It’s easy(ish) to come out strong and proud on the Internet, but speaking out loud about my faith in person to somebody who will have a big impact on my future is a lot harder for me than writing about it here. So when the caseworker asked me to explain what I believe, I took a deep breath and did my best to define Heathenry out loud. (It helped tremendously that both our caseworkers came across as interested in learning something new and not as if they were testing us.)
I started by explaining there are different types of Paganism. Despite the numerous divisions that can be found, I personally divide Paganism into two groups – Syncretic and Traditional (under which I include Reconstructionist, as we Recons are trying to piece together a Traditional faith, although most people seem to pull out Recon as its own type). In an earlier article I labeled these “Neo-Pagan” and “Retro-Pagan.” I explained that I am a Reconstructionist, someone reclaiming a faith that was alive before The Conversion. I talked briefly about wyrd and ancestor veneration and pointed out my ancestor altar. Finally I said I am a polytheist (the hardest part to talk about for me!), named some of the gods, and gave an example of our interaction with them by explaining how I might say a prayer to Bragi, the poet of the gods, when I have writer’s block.**
They then, of course, asked how TheScott and I, as people of different faiths, planned to raise our children. Both of us said we want to include our kids in our practice, but not force it on them. TheScott explained that, to him, all faiths (or most, anyway) are different expressions of the same thing, so which path a person follows doesn’t matter to him. I explained that a basic tenet of Paganism is finding your personal faith path and letting other people do the same.
The caseworkers smiled and nodded and seemed completely satisfied, and it made me wonder what I had been so nervous about.
Granted, I live in a liberal town (in a conservative state), but I have found over and over that people are far more open-minded than I’ve been warned they’re going to be. I’m not saying prejudice doesn’t exist – it does, and that’s why we chose an agency we felt was unlikely to exhibit prejudice – but if I am not surrounding myself with a crowd I already know is oppositional (say, walking into an New Apostolic Reformation affiliated church), people are consistently very cool.
I do want to give thanks to the Pagans before me who have come out of the broom closet. I know it was much harder ten, twenty, thirty years ago than it is now, and it is the bravery of past generations that has paved such a smooth road for us in the 21st century. I will do my best to carry that torch you passed with pride and make it even smoother for future generations to do the same. The more we all, Pagans and non-Pagans alike, spread understanding and love the more we chip away the pain and fear that keeps people from living full lives.
A huge thanks as well to you, dearest Realm, for reading and engaging in conversation with us this past year and a half. I answered our caseworkers’ questions more eloquently and confidently than I ever would have before my experiences as a Pagan Princess!
I’d love to hear your stories about walking your talk (they don’t have to be about religious faith – we walk our talk in all kinds of ways). These stories are always interesting and, at least in my experience, more often than not turn out surprisingly pleasant, too!
* Our agency is one of the few we talked to who not only works with mixed religious couples (several agencies would do that) but will also work with gay couples, single mothers, and other “non-traditional” families. Our agency will reject people they believe, in their best professional judgement, wouldn’t make good foster parents, but they take each couple (or single) individually instead of wiping out swaths of the population based on application checkboxes.TheScott and I felt their open door policy best matched our own beliefs about family, so choosing them for our agency felt like a good fit.
**GG wanted to know if they asked TheScott to explain his faith as well, and other than to ask how our differing faiths worked together in the same household, they didn’t. I got the impression they just didn’t know what I meant when I defined my faith as “Pagan” and needed to be able to explain it to (or possibly soothe any ignorant concerns of) a family or CPS caseworker in case religion got brought up. I also got the impression the caseworkers were simply curious, the way I would be if I went to somebody’s house who practiced a faith I didn’t know much about!
+ Featured Image: Interfaith Group at Occupy Oakland, by Adam Katz