I’ve been practicing witchcraft for almost twenty years at this point. My entire adult life, and most of my adolescence. In all that time, I’ve never been closeted. I think most Pagans could recognize me as One Of Us, with a careful consideration of my jewelry, my open manner of speaking, and the sassy t-shirt I’m probably wearing. Other folks usually just take me for a bit of a weirdo, though they mostly just end up making assumptions about my sexuality (I like sports, can change a tire, and am competent with an assortment of weapons, which—if you ask my hunting club buddies—is the real indicator of lesbianism). Stand still long enough, and I’ll probably just tell you, especially if you ask, “So what do you do for a living?” or “What church do you belong to?” (which people are wont to do here in North Carolina). I’m perfectly capable of discretion—I can “pass” as Christian in mixed company, especially since I spent graduate school writing about evangelicals and developed an impressive level of fluency for someone who wasn’t raised around them—but most of the time I just don’t care enough to do so. I’m not particularly shy, and there’s usually not enough at stake to justify lying about it.
“Actually, my household isn’t Christian, but thank you for the invitation!”
“Oh, I teach in the religious studies department. I specialize in contemporary Paganism, witchcraft, and American religious history.”
“Yes, I am a writer! No, pretty much just non-fiction. Currently? Oh, this is an article about Wicca in the American South.”
“Yes, I am Wiccan.”
And people usually just nod politely and change the subject. Every now and then I get a dry chuckle or some surprised questions, but mostly we revert to an awkward sort of silence while I continue on about my business.
My parents, on the other hand, tell all sorts of teeny, tiny lies:
“Oh, yeah, she’s a writer. All kinds of things. Lots of short stories.” (False)
“Yep, she majored in English. Now she’s an English teacher.” (Half-truth. Six years unaccounted for.)
“Oh, yeah. You know how some people are just really into collecting Christmas ornaments? It’s like that but with Halloween.” (Um.)
It’s more nuanced than religious bigotry. My parents, after all, are pretty secular. They have Catholic and Baptist backgrounds, but were never emotionally invested, and were much more concerned about my SAT scores and GPA than anything to do with religion. My father was estranged from his Baptist family, so I was spared their religiosity. My mother’s Irish Catholicism has more to do with the culture of the industrialized Midwest than it does with sincere commitment to the Papacy. I was raised in the DC Metro area. None of my friends were religious. No one was an atheist, per se, which would have entailed at least having an opinion. Religion just wasn’t a subject that anyone discussed. Dinner conversations revolved around politics, the military (both of my parents were soldiers), or what I was doing at school.
They want me to be hirable, to always make good professional impressions, and to someday marry a nice accountant.
Witchcraft is a problem, not because it’s witchcraft, but because it’s a poor subject for conversation during functions at the Club. Which is true about pretty much all religion, if you ask my parents.
We have a bizarre, silent agreement in place where, when we visit with each other, I don’t bring up witch stuff, and they don’t draw attention to it when it appears anyway. My father will come over and remark on my failure to hang the wall art along a stud. He will say nothing about the fact that the art involves sexually explicit depictions of the Devil. My mother will scold me about the organization of the downstairs book case. She will not comment on the fact that many of these books are about cursing livestock and harvesting souls.
I once heard her tell a realtor that my interest in animal parts stems from a fascination with the presidency of Theodore Roosevelt.
Just today, I went antiquing with my mom and found a big deer skull, with a six-point rack still intact. I gave the clerk the $10 she wanted, and my mother refrained from saying, “So, what are you going to do with that?” She knows perfectly well that, in a few short hours, he’s going to be set up on the altar in my room. But we do not speak the thing aloud, and she’ll pretend it’s invisible when she sees it later.
When I can’t attend something or can’t accommodate a visit because I have coven obligations, I say, “I have another engagement.” And my mother will explain to my father that I routinely host dinner parties, like I’m over here running a reception hall for my fellow yuppies. Afterwards, we’re going yachting.
My trip to PantheaCon was, according to my father, about “professional development.”
What am I doing here on Patheos? Portfolio building. Yeah.
I’m not complaining. My relationship with my parents is a good one, and I’m grateful that they’ve mostly let me go my own way, with little more than exasperated sighs and resigned jaw clenching. What’s hilarious is the magical thinking at play: if we don’t speak the thing, the thing can never be real.
But I’ve also caught my mom talking to my fox skins the way she talks to her cats.
So who can recommend a good Gardnerian accountant?