The broom closet is how Neo-Pagans speak of hiding their beliefs. Just as in gay culture where someone’s either in or out of the closet, Neo-Pagans are either in or out of the broom closet. There’s a lot of information on the Internet about being out. Being out relieves a lot of the stress we feel in keeping something as important as our faith a secret (though of course being out has its own many stressors). It’s also good for the Neo-Pagan community as a whole because the more visible we are, the more society gets used to us. However, being out of the broom closet just isn’t a reality for some of us, so I want to discuss in this post dealing with that.

Why Be in the Broom Closet

Just in case anyone reading this is still learning about Neo-Paganism, there are many reasons why many people don’t “get” our beliefs. I’ve heard, though, that using the word Pagan rather than Wiccan or Witch can make our beliefs less threatening for some people. Perhaps this is because more people recognize that Paganism is a nature-based religion while they don’t understand that Wicca is a specific Pagan path. Witch in particular bugs a lot of people because of the association with sorcery and consorting with the devil.

In Western culture, probably the most common reaction someone’s likely to get when sharing their Neo-Paganism with family, friends, coworkers, and strangers is the assumption that they worship the devil and will go to hell. To such people, the devil and hell are a reality, and they can’t even imagine what it’s like for someone not to believe in these things. They’re therefore mostly sincere about “saving” us and just don’t get that we don’t believe there’s anything to save us from!

The media has done a lot to distort ideas about Wicca. Besides the devil worship nonsense, there’s the issue of sexuality. In my post from last week on Gerald Gardner, I included a link to a brief segment of an interview with him from 1957. The interview focused on the nude aspect of Gardnerian Wicca. In my post on Feraferia, I gave a link to an interview with Fred Adams and three other Neo-Pagans where the interviewer asked about sexuality again and again. The myth that Neo-Paganism, particularly Wicca, involves nude orgies is still alive and well today.

Some simply see Neo-Paganism as more New Age garbage that has no substance. At best, they don’t take it seriously. At worst, they see it as drawing us away from the business of real life and use all manner of ridicule to “help us see the truth.” All of this is hurtful and unfair. “Fighting the good fight” isn’t always the right answer. Many of those who face problems are young people, high school or college age, who are still dependent on their parents. Some have an unaccepting spouse and aren’t willing to consider divorce over this one thing. Still others fear for their livelihoods in an economy that’s been sinking for years now. To them, it’s just not worth being open about their beliefs at work.

“Depart pour le Sabbat” (Departure for the Sabbat) from French artist Albert Joseph Penot (1862-1930), 1910. Note the broom, the nudity, and the sinister atmosphere. In the public domain.

A Personal Note

I grew up in a home where religion and spirituality were viewed with suspicion. We did celebrate Jewish holidays, but that was just a way to spend time with family and friends. My parents saw all religion and spirituality as brainwashing. However, by the time I began following the Neo-Pagan path, I was well into adulthood and away from my oppressive abusers.

Still, growing up in an oppressive, abusive environment taught me to hide things. I know what it’s like to be attacked, either with anger or ridicule, for things that are important to you. I therefore have a lot of sympathy for people who feel the need to hide in the broom closet. Nothing causes us greater hell than an unswerving sense of righteousness. It fuels repetitive attacks and is blind to the other person’s point of view. I therefore wanted to write this post to help those who simply have no other choice but to hide in the broom closet.

Hiding But Still a Neo-Pagan

Luckily, Neo-Paganism doesn’t have to be a complex religion. Nor does it depend on demonstrative practices. Here are some ways to practice Neo-Paganism in the broom closet:

  • We can use innocent-looking, everyday objects for rituals. For instance, a letter opener can serve as our athame. A cup-shaped pencil holder can serve as our chalice, especially if it’s handmade and bears “innocent” symbols like the sun and moon. Candles can represent the Goddess and God. There’s really no limit to how clever we can get in disguising our ritual tools from judgmental eyes.
  • We can ditch the “stuff” altogether and practice silently through prayer and meditation. Religious tools can enhance worship, but it’s not absolutely necessary. The “stuff” is really just meant to help set the mood and help us concentrate. We can do the same with some quiet visualization, like imagining we’re performing a ritual in a forest or on the seashore. And prayer, which allows us to speak to deity, is silent.
  • We can spend time in nature and perform “rituals” in a park, by a body of water, in the forest, etc., where no one will disturb us. We’re constantly surrounded by the presence of the Goddess and God. Nature is all we need to connect to Spirit. This can also be combined with meditation and prayer if performing a full-blown ritual isn’t possible.
  • We can read at bookstores and libraries without taking any books home. No one can violate the knowledge within our minds. We can build up a store of ideas that contribute to our experiences of the Goddess and God and can use that later when we can practice openly.
  • We can always have some Pagan jewelry with us and wear it when we’re away from judgmental eyes. Obviously this is riskier and depends on other people in our life. If we have supportive friends or others who we can trust then this may work. Keep in mind, though, that “outing” a Neo-Pagan can be as devastating as “outing” someone who’s gay, so we may be opening ourselves up to some vindictiveness if we’re not careful.
  • We can visit forums as a guest and erase the browser’s history afterwards. If we own our computer, we can password-protect it. This is probably a good idea even if we don’t think those who threaten us are very computer-savvy. Added April 15, 2012: I was notified in the Pagan Blog Project Facebook group that there’s a site for people who are in the broom closet (Thanks Diana!). There’s a forum here where people can share their experiences. In addition, Diana reminded me of the private browsing mode. In Firefox and Internet Explorer, it’s ctrl + shift + p, and in Google Chrome it’s ctrl+ shift + n. There’s also information on private browsing in the “Preferences” or “Options” menu wherever it addresses privacy settings. She also wrote about a program called My Lockbox that lets us password-protect any files we want. This is good if our family has a shared computer and we want to download files. Unfortunately, this program is only for Windows, but there are alternatives to My Lockbox for Mac and Linux users.
  • If we have to participate in non-Pagan rituals because of family obligations then we can try to find the universal in Spirit and connect with the Goddess and God that way. For instance, holidays like Christmas and Easter can, with effort, be transformed into Yule and Ostara within our mind. The Jewish festival of Sukkot can be celebrated in our heart as a harvest festival.

None of this is ideal, but in a bad situation, we need to do the best we can. For those looking for more information on the broom closet, including coming out of it, please see the following resources:

  • PaganPerspective is a YouTube channel where various people answer questions on Paganism from commenters. Videos from April 3 to April 7, 2012, address issues of acceptance and dealing with family and friends. Videos from September 12 to September 17, 2011, also address the broom closet.
  • Seshen Wolfsong (aka WiccanTexan) is a Lycian Wiccan priestess and has been out of the broom closet since 1988. She shares her insights in a video called Being a Public Pagan.
  • There’s a nonprofit organization that established International Pagan Coming Out Day in 2011. It’s every May 2. They have a guide on coming out of the broom closet and have posted some stories from people who’ve done this.

This post is part of the Pagan Blog Project, run by Rowan Pendragon.