So my buddy Z. and I were driving back from a Radical Faerie campout, when he mentioned that he was in the process of consecrating a broom. Brooms and Witchcraft are fairly inseparable, so I didn’t think much of it, until he laid out his full plan.
“In ancient times, when everyone worshipped the Goddess, Witches really could fly,” he said. “Eventually, enough people today will believe in the Goddess, and our full abilities will return, and we’ll be able to fly again. So I want to be ready for that.” And then he went back to singing along to the radio, while I made noncommittal noises and wondered what my chances of survival would be if I just barrel-rolled out of the car and onto the freeway.
I would’ve let the whole thing go, except for another conversation with Z. a few weeks later, in which I said something about the challenges of keeping non-Pagan housemates from handling my ritual tools. “Now, Thumper,” he said with an indulgent smile, as if I’d just expressed skepticism over my nightlight’s ability to keep the boogeyman at bay. “If you don’t believe these things, they won’t have any power over you.”
Kind of weird advice from a guy preparing to go Full Metal Elphaba, but there you have it.
I suspect that, at one point or another, we’ve all found ourselves in a situation where a fellow Pagan says or does something utterly out there, but with utmost sincerity. And it can be a struggle to respond tactfully, especially if our gut reaction is, “The person with whom I am currently interacting is clearly crazier than a football bat.” Luckily, though, I’ve got a background in performance and public speaking (both of which involve a lot of diplomatic listening), so here are my tips and tricks for making it through these encounters unscathed.
Do Not Laugh
I know this sounds like a no-brainer, but there’s really no coming back when somebody says something fantastical, and you chuckle, and they just stare at you, and then you’re like, “Oh. You’re… not joking.”
Laughter is instinctual — we hear something that amuses us, and we automatically laugh. But it can also have a devastating effect on the person we find ourselves laughing at, especially if whatever they said that set us off was a deeply-held personal belief, or an expression of vulnerability. Just do your best to wait a beat or two before giggling, and save yourself the awkward pain of apologizing.
Serenity in Three Easy Questions
This is something I picked up from 12-Step Recovery. When faced with a questionable statement to which we feel the need to respond, it’s helpful to take a moment and ask ourselves the following:
- Does it need to be said?
- Does it need to be said right now?
- Does it need to be said by me?
I was at a Pagan festival, chatting with a very nice belly dancer, and I happened to notice the Our Lady of Mount Carmel pendant she was wearing. “Oh, this is for Erzulie Freda,” she gushed, “She’s my Matron Goddess! I just love her.”
Okay. First of all, Erzulie is a Loa, not a Goddess, and Erzulie Freda is usually represented by Our Lady of Sorrows. Our Lady of Mount Carmel traditionally represents Erzulie Dantor, who is… not the same spirit. And historically, she and Erzulie Freda do not get along. Like, at all.
As much as I wanted to scream, “YOU ARE THE WRONGEST, LADY,” I asked myself the questions above instead. Did something need to be said? Yeah, probably. Did it need to be said right then and there? Nah. She was not on fire or bleeding from the eyes or anything; it could wait. Did it need to be said by me? Absolutely not. I am not an authority on Vodou — someone with more knowledge and experience on the subject should be the one to correct her. And hopefully, that’s eventually what happened.
Back Away Slowly
My friend Veles tells a story about attending a big, public Beltane ritual out in the country. The circle was in a large clearing, marked out with stakes and baling wire, and there were at least 60 people within it, standing shoulder to shoulder around the inside of the boundary.
The ritual began with the High Priest invoking Danu, and then he ad-libbed a bit about honoring the history of the land and went, “So now, to show our respect, we call upon the following Mayan Deities…” at which point Veles quietly stepped backwards out of the circle and moved to the spectator area.
I always thought that was a classy way to handle the situation — no causing a scene or interrupting the proceedings, just surreptitiously removing himself without a fuss. Plus it was neither the time nor the place to try to explain to the group leaders why a bunch of white people blithely invoking Mayan Gods as part of a Western European ritual might be a Very Bad Idea (although that’s definitely a conversation that should be had at some point).
It can be exceedingly frustrating when someone running a public event or workshop is the one saying or doing the unhinged things, but in these cases, we can pull another adage from Recovery: “Would you rather be happy, or would you rather be right?” More often than not, I choose to be happy, then nod and smile until I can make a clean escape.
When Is It Okay to Say Something?
Hate speech of any kind — racism, sexism, transphobia, etc. — should always be called out, and something should always be said if someone’s beliefs, however floofy, are actively leading them into danger.
A seeker who’d met with my coven a couple of times emailed my High Priestess one morning to announce that he’d been possessed by a demon, and to ask if we’d perform an exorcism on him. Demons were kind of above our pay grade, but the bigger issue was that he had suffered strokes in the past, and every symptom of his “possession” — sudden numbness, loss of balance, impaired vision– suggested that he was having another one.
Trothwy strongly encouraged him to call 911, even going so far as to say that we’d be happy to perform an exorcism, provided he got checked out by a medical professional first. Unfortunately, he wouldn’t be swayed, and since we didn’t immediately scramble over to his place wielding crosses and holy water, he wanted nothing more to do with us. Trothwy called him a few days later, just to confirm that he was still alive (Trowthy: “How are you feeling?” Him: “My body is controlled by an evil entity, but good otherwise.”), but we never heard from him again. And that is really for the best.
What About the Reverse? What if Someone Belittles My Beliefs?
How you choose to deal with that is entirely up to you. Personally, I work with the assumption that my beliefs and practices are mine alone, so I usually just don’t talk about them very much. But when I do talk about them, and someone like Z. wants to chortle about how superstitious I am… yeah, that simply doesn’t have an effect on me. I’m not in need of any outside validation, nor is it my job to validate anyone else.
Now, if I’m sauntering down the street one day and see Z. slathered in green face paint and climbing a bridge, then yes, I will certainly do everything in my power to stop him. But until that time, he’s free to believe whatever he’d like — and anything he chooses to believe about me is ultimately none of my business.
Hmm. From what I’ve learned over seven decades is that “Sanity” means “Crazy the same way everyone else is”. It’s a collective definition; the majority is always “Sane” regardless of their collection of Football Bats and Hockey Goal-posts.
Sanity is so very over-rated…
I like your 3 questions to ask yourself solution. Non committal noises with “interesting” works well for me. I like the tactful escapes you described as well.
Thank you, and blessed be.