To Keep Silent?

How much of our religion should we share? When should we talk about our spiritual practices and when should we keep silent? What is helpful to discuss and what is not?

Via Chas Clifton’s Letter From Hardscrabble Creek comes this from Sarah Lawless, the “Witch of Forest Grove” who complains about “Oversharing Witches.” Recalling a recent dinner discussion with other Pagans, she says:

We were all flabbergasted by oversharing witches who feel the need to tell everyone who their gods are, what their totems are, and what tradition they are. I was taught not to share … to only talk about my tradition when asked … and never say more than the absolute least I possibly can.

In fairness to Sarah, it should be emphasized she’s a witch and witchcraft has a long tradition of secrecy. Even if some of that tradition is much newer than originally thought, witchcraft was illegal in Britain until 1951 and the last prosecution was in 1944. There are still plenty of people who think what we do isn’t a “real” religion deserving of legal recognition and protection – and by “we” I mean anyone who isn’t a Christian or maybe a Jew.

By contrast, Druidry has always been a public path – and by “always” I mean since the Druid revival began in the early 18th century. Of course, most of the early revival Druid organizations were cultural or fraternal orders and not religious or magical groups – they had less to fear from being open than did the witches.

Regardless of tradition, though, Sarah’s complaints are completely legitimate – oversharing is a symptom of “look at me” syndrome that is too common in Pagan circles. Beyond that there are some things which are simply too sacred to share with people who either don’t understand them or who haven’t experienced them for themselves. And magic works better when you do it, release it, and then let it work in its own way. I could offer some pseudo-psychological rationalization for why that is, but I prefer to simply say “that’s the way magic works!”

In the wider world we see many people with an attitude of “keep your religion to yourself.” Again, this is understandable – we’ve all been accosted by Jehovah’s Witnesses, had friends or relatives who insisted we needed to convert to their religion, or had to deal with politicians who want to make their religion the law of the land. We don’t want to be “those people.” Plus few of us are knowledgeable enough and confident enough to be able to articulate our beliefs and practices in a way that really comes off well – and that applies to garden-variety UUs as well as to those of us whose practices are a bit more esoteric.

But taking “keep silent” to extremes has costs. When we stay in the broom closet (or, in some environments, the “liberal closet”) we deprive others of a chance to connect an unknown and maybe mysterious practice with a real person they already know and respect. Most of us know people who used to be homophobic bigots until a close friend or relative came out. “The Other” is scary – the nice guy or girl in the cubicle down the hall isn’t.

Beyond that, those of us who have some experience have an obligation to help newcomers. That means answering questions in as much detail as the newcomer can appreciate. And it means being “out” enough (or at least, “out” in the right settings) that the newcomers know we’re here and available.

If you’re looking for a black and white answer you’re on the wrong blog. There are times to keep silent and times to preach from the rooftops. There are times to guard your traditions carefully and times to explain them in the most minute detail. There are times to hold a ritual at noon in a city park and times to hold a ritual in your living room with the curtains closed and the doors locked.

With practice and mindfulness – and a few social skills – you’ll know which is which.

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  • Bravo, this perfectly sums up my thoughts on the matter! Lovely post.