Vulnerability was the Soul Matters theme the Unitarian Universalist Congregation at Montclair New Jersey focused on this month. My congregation has been following the themes for a few years now and they really make you reflect and work on the issues.
In 2023, one would think that for us, as people in general, vulnerability would not be such a problem. After all, the Salem Witch Trials were over 330 years ago and in 1865, the United States adopted the 13th Amendment abolishing slavery.
Yet, here we are, and vulnerability is problematic. Many LGBTQIA+ folks stay in the “closet” in fear of ridicule or harm. This holds especially true for those who are transgender. Drop any minority into that and the risk of harm is greater. Now, imagine adding an Earth-based path to that mix. States such as Florida, it probably is best not to even think about visiting, if you’re not in the closet.
Pagans hide in the “broom closet” for fears such as harassment, employment and losing parental rights in a divorce.
Hollywood does not help the stereotypes. After all, watching the everyday life of a real witch is not very exciting. The TV hocus-pocus is interesting though. I, too, watched “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” “Charmed” and “Supernatural.” However, mundane people can’t seem to see the difference between fake witches and real ones.
When some people hear the word witch, they see the stereotypical green disfigured image as in the “Wizard of Oz.” Generally, people laugh at us and poke fun of us, thinking this we are playing some kind of game. However, this is not role-play and we know the word, witch, actually means wise one. Still many of us hide or dumb down what we say we believe so we aren’t emotionally or physically harmed. Depending on the person, I say Pagan, Druid or Earth-based or nothing at all. Of course, the first two of those I say to Pagans or what I may believe as Pagan friendly.
I am part way in the Pagan broom closet and part way out. Majority, if not all my friends, work and my house of worship know I am a Druid Unitarian Universalist. However, my family, Roman Catholics, only know I am UU and that is as much as they could handle. It was difficult just letting my parents know that part of me. Although my parents are A&P Catholics — Ash Wednesday and Palm Sunday, they were dead set against it. They called UU a cult; I could only imagine the ridicule and arguing if I told them about this. If only they took the time to learn about this path instead of keeping the stereotype in their head.
I will never forget the time I was walking through the mall with my college friends. Talk about vulnerability, this was one for me. A new friend that I was just getting to know joined us. Her boyfriend, who is also my friend, said “Hey that’s Ann’s store.” She questioned him, “Ann’s store, how so?” It was a Pagan shop.
I was completely red and wanted to hide at that point. I was not ready to tell this person. Additionally, I was rather new to the path at that time. I took a deep breath and then explained to her that I was Pagan, hoping for the best. She asked for further explanation. Then, after I told her a bit more, she said, “Turn me into a toad.”
She was only joking and I knew it, but deep down it was, “Gee thanks for understanding who I am.” We did become good friends and now, 22 years later, I tease her about it. Just like that though, we could be ousted. I was lucky that it was innocent but depending on where and with whom, it could be a very different outcome.
My congregation asked me a few years ago to write a homily for the worship service. It was on the winter solstice and we had to create the entire service with our intern minister. While I was thrilled and honored to be asked to do this, I was frightened of being seen. I took on the task to write it out but requested that they read it for us. We really must not let vulnerability consume us though.
In fact, most of everyone in my CUUPs group, Sacred Wheel, is actually in the Pagan broom closet either partially or fully. I was glad to get my “voice” out there though even if it came from another’s mouth. However, my elder, the Rev. Foxxy Pullen, “grandmother of Sacred Wheel” as she calls herself, is very public. Someday, I would like for that myself, no fear of being me. Nobody should have to live in fear for being their true selves.
I often wonder though, if we will ever fully be safe. Even though I am female, as a white cisgender, I am not as vulnerable as those who are LGBTQ+. They face a greater risk when opening up about who they are to the world.
I want to say one day that this will change but lately it seems we are going backwards. First, Roe V. Wade overturned and now they are going after LGBTQ+ rights. It seems like it is only a matter of time and the stakes will be coming for us. Let’s hope it does not get this far.
We need to take a stand for all of the vulnerable.
See also: Don’t let Fear control you — conquer and destroy it