Living in the Broom Closet
Originally published in
Why did I become Wiccan? It's a long story, based on a number of choices I've made over the years.
Even though I was raised Protestant, I guess it never really took. In my youth, Interests in both "the unexplained" and the space program attracted me to astrology and the I Ching, and then to science fiction and fantasy. Since I'm driven more by emotion than by intellect, my reading tastes slanted towards fantasy, which is often derivative of Celtic and other pagan traditions. As the themes appeared, again and again, I began to seek out the sources of these themes in ancient mythology.
The commercialization of the holidays also influenced me. I read during my formative years how the traditions surrounding the major Christian holidays were based on old pagan festivals. My sources in fundamentalist literature disdained these, and as a "good Christian", I was led to believe them. Still, it was an education that stayed with me even after I drifted away from my church. As I began to view life as one "Hallmark occasion" after another, I started looking again for the roots.
I've always been an extremist in my beliefs. I called myself a "secular humanist" for awhile, a reaction against the Religious Right during the Reagan years, but the spiritual side of me always knew that there were things that science couldn't explain. Even quantum physics sounded suspiciously like religion.
In retrospect, I've noticed that many of the aspects of the New Age have long been practised by Wiccans and ceremonial magicians, easily for the better part of this century, and reputedly since prehistory. And unlike the New Age movement (with the exception of a few prominent Wiccans who make their livings from being who they are, as opposed to what they do), the pagan community largely (but not completely) lacks the commercialism associated with teaching its mysteries. I find it hard to have faith in a New Age guru who asks you to have your chequebook ready.
I become involved in Wicca in my thirties. With the relatively late start and consequentially having more to lose, I consider myself to be in the "broom closet". I use euphemisms or code when discussing Craft matters in public. I'm careful about what I'm seen reading, I'm vague about what I do on the weekends, and whom I do it with. The people outside of the Craft who know that I am a Wiccan are few, those I can trust not to betray my confidence, and who can at least understand, if not fully sympathize, with what I do.
Paganism in its varying degrees and under its various names (notably: witchcraft, Wicca, and the Craft, but embracing also the traditions of Druidry and of ceremonial magic) is not Satanism. Satanism is the antithesis of Christianity, operating within the same system of beliefs. Wicca is a separate system: nature-based, earth-centred, and life-affirming. It is founded on the sanctity of all things and humanity's interconnection with the earth. Like Christianity, it has its sects or denominations, called "traditions", which vary in approach from fundamentalism to political activism. Unlike the New Age, however, it accepts death and the darker side of human nature as part of the whole.
We live in a society where traditional Christianity is seen as patriarchal and sometimes misogynist. The institution of the priesthood is seen to distance the individual from the Divine; the only sacred spaces are those created by architects and sit vacant except for a few hours per week.
Paganism, on the other hand, is based on the equality of the sexes (although in the separatist-feminist sects within the Dianic tradition, the role of the masculine is diminished to the point of insignificance). Every initiated Witch is a priestess or priest, and the entire Earth is sacred. We celebrate the cycles of the seasons, following traditions agrarian in origin, but not without relevance to urban society. We also perform expressions of love and will, called "magic", not for our own aggrandizement, but to help others, and in so doing, to help ourselves.
Afterword: I wrote the above article in 1993. I'm now in my tenth year in the Craft, and involved in leadership and teaching roles within the local Craft community. As a result, I'm not as far in the broom closet now, and consider myself semi-public. I meet with seekers in public places to openly discuss Wicca, aware of the risk of being spotted by someone I know. Experience has also made me somewhat tolerant of the New Age community; people come to it with a different set of preconceptions and expectations, and if it works for them, so be it.