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~ "How do I Tell People I'm Pagan?" ~

(c) 1999 Spirit Online, May not be reproduced without permission first.

One of the most difficult struggles for a pagan is telling your family and friends about your beliefs. The majority of wiccans and pagans today practice their faith in secrecy. But it's a great burden to keep such an important secret from those close to you. Once you feel you are ready, how do you tell them? How will they react?

Well, knowing how people are likely to react before hand is the most important factor in how you should handle "coming out" about your beliefs. There are three basic levels of reactions. By understanding these, you should be able to estimate what reaction you will get from whom. This chart will help you prepare to deal with these various levels of reactions:

Level 1: Acceptance. This person will not discriminate against you or change their opinion of you when you tell them about your faith. The level 1 person will probably show an interest in understanding your beliefs. They will not try to change or judge you.

Level 2: Conflict. This person is more difficult. Their initial response will probably be denial. ("This is just a stage, you'll get past it.") If you do not show signs of "getting past it", they will attempt to persuade you to change your mind. They'll do things like invite you to church, bring up religion often, give you pamphlets relating to the religion they think you should belong to, or try to "witness" to you. Parents will probably "forbid" you to practice paganism if you are a minor.

The best way to handle a level 2 response is to tell them about your beliefs. Try to clear away the misconceptions and create an understanding. Let them ask you questions. If it's a family member, make a compromise- for example, if they will listen to your side and try to accept and show tolerance, you will join them for their holidays and religious celebrations as a family. But let them know that if they care about you, they won't try to change you.

Level 3: Persecution. The most difficult struggle is with a level 3 person. Generally, they are very conservative and religiously zealous. Worst of all, they are probably hugely misinformed about paganism. Their initial reaction, like level 2, will be denial. They might just make jokes at your expense to try to degrade and weaken you or change your mind. They will proceed to argue and debate with you about your decision. Eventually, if they are not satisfied, some level of discrimination will come in. Friends will avoid you, or family members will give you the "silent treatment" to try to convince you to conform. Some might even do something extremely drastic. Parents have been known to take their children to be exorcised of evil, or tell them they are mentally ill and get them therapy. This is the extreme, but it has happened before.

A group of level 3 people can be dangerous. They might try to get you out of the community (neighborhood or city) by scaring you. This is rare, but may occur in conservative Christian communities.

How do you handle a level 3 reaction? The best idea is to avoid it altogether if you can predict it and fear for your safety. If you are uncomfortable in your community, move. If you are a minor and live with your parents, and they are likely to react this way, you should wait until adulthood to "come out". Until you are an adult, your parents dominate you. It is better to avoid persecution and tension within the home if you can.

This article is not intended to scare you, but to prepare you. You should consider and analyse those you wish to tell. Based on what they have said in the past, what they think about certain social groups, and what they say about people who are "different" than them, you can make an estimation of what level they might be. From there, build a plan. Decide what you will say, and be ready to answer any questions they would want to ask.

If you wish to publically "come out", realize that you will be dealing with people from all three levels. Make sure you are really ready and feel you can trust the community fairly well. Most of all, be prepared for any level of response!

I hope this has helped you to at least begin mapping out how you wish to tell others about your spirituality. Remember that those who truly care about you will understand. Give people awhile to adjust to the news, but don't let them bring you down. Be proud of who you are, and let your gods give you strength. Good luck to you. Blessed be!