“Please remember when they start hanging people for witchcraft again the witchfinder generals are not going to be concerned with what kind of witch you identify as.” –Buckland Museum of Witchcraft and Magick
“Thumper is Chaotic. He’s a Chaotic Witch.”
As much as I love being described as a Dungeons & Dragons character, it’s surprisingly not how I prefer to be introduced to new employees. I tried to smile accessibly yet mysteriously in response, but I probably just looked like I needed to burp.
In my co-manager’s defense, I do tend to wear my extracurricular activities on my sleeve (or at least around my neck), and he’s very aware that I write a blog about Chaos Magic and Witchcraft. Plus the employee in question has an interest in the occult, so we quickly found common ground. Still, though, even if I live pretty openly as a Witch, I like to be the one to announce it, especially in situations where I’m not sure how everyone might react to the news.
I once got invited to an open Samhain ritual and potluck out in the suburbs, and, under the fairly reasonable assumption that it wasn’t any kind of a trap, I amiably attended. The ritual was a bit churchy for my tastes — everyone sat on folding chairs and observed as the High Priest and Priestess presented a service — but it wasn’t a bad experience, and the people seemed friendly and sincere.
And then the dinner portion of the evening began, at which point the High Priestess decided to make a merit badge out of me.
“This is Thumper,” she said, addressing the room. Then, leaning in towards a group of attendees who I later learned were her students: “He’s Gardnerian. And we’re very good friends.”
We honestly weren’t more than online acquaintances, but everyone was now staring at me, so I just waved awkwardly and hoped the moment would pass. And then the High Priest spoke up.
“In our tradition, we do not…” He gestured at me. “… put our students in straightjackets.” What followed was an advertorial on their tradition’s validity, with occasional pointed glances tossed in my direction to underline how things should not be done.
So yeah, that’s basically why I was invited in the first place. In their minds, my presence lent credibility, but it also gave them something handy against which to compare themselves and say to their students, “See? We’re better.”
This is why I generally don’t bound into social events like, “Gardnerian in the house, y’all.” People often have strong feelings about Wicca in general, much less the initiatory variety, and those feelings are sometimes unfavorable; unless there’s a pressing reason to bring it up when interacting with other Pagans, I almost always choose not to put that part of myself on display.
But they took that choice away from me. And because they did it in front of people they were allegedly educating, they sent the message that it was not problematic to do so.
And okay, I know this isn’t the most destructive example of getting outed. But it does hit the key qualifiers: Someone shared personal information about me without my permission in order to benefit themselves, with either a) the additional intent to cause me harm, or b) no regard to what the consequences to me might be. In this case, I don’t think anyone wanted anything bad to happen, but they definitely believed that whatever they were getting out of the situation was more important than any potential impact it might have on me.
I don’t know how open these people are about their religious beliefs in their daily lives, and I haven’t been around them in years, so there’s no real way to find out. But it’s probably for the best that I don’t have any long-term association with them. Because we’re moving into the opening stages of a new Satanic Panic, and considering the effort they put into making their brand of Paganism palatable to a mainstream audience, along with differentiating between their correct practice and my troublesome one, I can only imagine what they’d do if ever interrogated by a fascist authority:
“Oh, no, we are but humble historical reenactors. That Thumper, though, he’s a Witch. Go get him instead.”
Again, not every outing is malicious. My co-manager wasn’t trying to throw me under a bus when he told our employee that I was a Witch: It’s a nonissue to him, so he assumed it wouldn’t be an issue for anyone else. And I appreciate his faith in humanity, but anytime we share the ticklish details of someone else’s life without their consent, we risk exposing them to unpleasant developments for which they may not be physically or emotionally equipped.
During my first few months of 12 Step work, I didn’t tell many people that I’d quit drinking. Part of it was that the word “alcoholic” carried negative connotations that I didn’t want to have to circumnavigate, but it was mainly that I wasn’t sure if existence without alcohol would stick, and I didn’t want to get anyone’s hopes up. But I made it a whole year, and I went to the monthly Birthday Night held at the local LGBTQ+ recovery clubhouse to pick up a chip.
So there I was, feeling pretty darn good about myself, and then a notification sounded on my phone. Someone at the meeting had tagged me in a Facebook post:
“Congratulations to Thumper Forge on his first year of sobriety!!!”
I immediately untagged myself and made sure the post was deleted from my page, and I doublechecked to confirm that the only mutuals we had in common were recovery friends, and then I locked down my privacy settings with the virtual equivalent of wooden boards and a hammer. I knew that the person who’d tagged me wasn’t trying to get me in any kind of trouble, just like my co-manager wasn’t trying to cause problems for me. But there was also no telling how many of my friends, family, and co-workers had seen the post.
So, y’know. So much for anonymous.
I was not (and am not) ashamed to be an alcoholic. But I had a boss at the time who held a lot of resentments towards 12 Step Recovery, and learning via Facebook that her loyal assistant was trudging the road of happy destiny would’ve irrevocably damaged our professional relationship. Granted, I’m in a situation now where I could run an AA meeting in the middle of the store while sacrificing a goat, and the owner would be like, “… Just put a tarp down first.” Which is awesome. But I also live in Texas, and I’ve worked in environments where being open about my religious beliefs would’ve quickly resulted in termination at will.
And oh! Funny story about that. But first, a summary disclaimer: I firmly believe that we should all live outside of the broom closet, but I also accept that this is not possible for every Pagan and Witch in the world. So don’t out other Witches, and be very, very aware that publicly identifying as a Witch can come at a price. It’s worth it in the long run, but there’s still a price. Okay?
Okay. So. I was working at that uber-Christian financial advisory firm, took a few days off to visit family in Boston, came home, got fired. Scene. So the day after they let me go, I received a long, flustered text from my supervisor, that was like, “Hi Thumper, we got some mail for you, except we didn’t realize it was for you, and the president accidentally opened it, and we’re so sorry about that, but could we go ahead and forward it to you? We promise we didn’t do it on purpose.”
In response, I was just like, “Sure, send it over,” although I was a little weirded out by how on edge she was over the whole thing. I mean, yes, opening someone else’s mail is technically a federal offense or whatever, But I really didn’t feel like jimmying a random letter by mistake was cause for over-the-top apologies.
A couple of days later, a large, taped-up envelope landed in my mailbox. Oblivious to the contents, I took it inside, opened it up, and pulled out a sheet of card stock:
I have never been — nor will I ever be — much of a “Don’t They Know Who I Am?” kind of guy. But standing there and looking down at an embossed affirmation from the Satanic Temple with my name on it, all I could think was, “Man, they sure did find out.”
To reiterate: Outing is bad. And, relatedly, I strongly recommend not getting fired if you can avoid it. However, having lived through both, I rest easy in the knowledge that a bunch of Republicans now fully believe that by cutting me loose, they might have drawn the eternal wrath of God’s Adversary. And that just makes me openly proud to be who I am.
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