Should I tell people I’m Pagan? (And when?)

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One question that comes up for a lot of people is the question of coming out of the broom closet – when do you tell people about your change in religious interest, views, or practice?

Before I go any further, a recommendation: Dana Eilers’ book The Practical Pagan is an excellent resource on this topic, and she has a lot of great advice about how handle issues of sharing details about your religion both with family and in workplace settings. Highly recommended.

Initial exploration does not equal commitment.

It is perfectly okay to take some time to learn about a topic (including a Pagan religion), to check out some forums, and read some books, without making any commitment to it. People do this with other religions all the time: that’s what comparative religions study is all about.

You may choose to share this initial exploration with close friends and relationships, but you don’t have to. You may find it easier to wait until you’ve got at least some comfort in answering common questions about practices, beliefs, why you’re doing this, what you’re getting out of it, and so on.

Sharing with others:

I think that the point at which you should consider sharing with others in your life begins when you want to start doing anything about your exploration that they might reasonably notice – whether that’s trying out some simple meditation exercises, going to an open ritual, taking an introductory class, or whatever. For some people in your life, that might be very quickly after you started doing those things. For other people (distant family, co-workers) it might be years or never.

That’s partly for philosophical reasons, but it’s also for practical reasons. Those new things take time, and people who are used to seeing you, talking with you, and otherwise sharing time with you will start noticing that you’re available less often than you used to be. (Or at different times than you used to be.) Or that your priorities are in different places. They may interpret that as you shifting away from them, or otherwise thinking things about what’s going on that aren’t true.

If you are in a loving ongoing relationship

If you are in a loving and ongoing romantic relationship (whether that’s a marriage, domestic partnership, or long-term relationship of any other kind), I think you have an obligation to let your partner know about your exploration fairly early. Ideally, before the point when they might figure it out themselves (by your buying books, reading lots of websites about the subject all the time, or wanting some time to go to a meet-up, open ritual, or workshop.)

Yes, that’s hard and scary sometimes. But that’s part of the deal of having a long-term relationship. You’re supposed to share stuff. (Also, this is not one that gets easier: a partner who’s uncertain about your exploration is hardly going to be *more* comfortable with it if they find out you’ve also been hiding your interest for six months, right?) Plus, as above, someone who lives with you has a lot of opportunity to see small hints (like books, websites, time at different activities, a desire for quiet for meditation).

This probably also should include long-term platonic roommates. (Not people you’re living with because college threw you together, or someone you found via CraigsList for an apartment share, and are amiable but not close with, but people you’ve been friends with for years and who also see you almost every day.) Again, for practical reasons (they’ll notice change fast) as much as ethical ones.

If your relationship is already uncertain

(by which I mean you’ve been in a long-term relationship, but you’re separated, looking at separating, or seriously trying to save things.)

This one is much more variable, and it does depend a lot on other factors (how your partner feels about religion, about Paganism in particular, if there are custody or other considerations.)

In general, I’d suggest doing things privately as time allows, and waiting on a further exploration in detail until you either separated or solved the relationship issues. But I also know there are times when another choice might make sense. This might be a particularly good time to get advice and feedback from someone who has an external perspective and details about at least some of what’s going on – a therapist, if you’re already having marital counselling and can have a private session, a family friend who can keep confidences, etc.

For a teen or young adult living at home:

My own take on this is that if your parents are providing the home (you’re not paying a market rent, or the equivalent in help at home), they have a greater right to set the terms of the household. In other words, they don’t get to control what’s going on in your head, or what’s important to you – but they do have a right to set limits on what happens in the physical space they provide. If you don’t like that, you have the same choices as generations of kids who’ve disagreed with their parents: choose between agreeing to the limits, moving out, or negotiating something different (maybe by taking on extra work at home.)

If they’d be uncomfortable with your practice of Paganism at home, or you don’t want to tell them, that’s a good time not to do things at home that would affect the energy of their space. Quiet meditation, reading (though be aware of that ‘people notice stuff in their house’ note above), and picking up hobbies that are related to your interests are one thing (cooking seasonal foods, making candles or soap, gardening, etc.)

Doing a more structured ritual, inviting the presence of other deities than the ones your parents honor into a particular space, or doing magical work are things I’d avoid (and in fact, do avoid when I’m visiting my mother) in that setting.

If you can’t do things at home, you can find outside spaces, come up with alternatives for the meantime, or even see if there are community spaces that might allow you to do things. Of course, if you talk to your parents, and they’re reasonably comfortable with your path, you have a lot more options.

With children

While I generally think it’s better to share things sooner rather than later, I think that talking in detail to kids is best done only once you feel comfortable explaining what you’re doing in language they can understand. And that sometimes takes some time. For some people, this might be a few months, for others it might be a year or two.

Obviously, also pay attention to what they’ll notice – if you go out every Tuesday to a women’s ritual group, they’re probably going to ask what you’re doing, for example. Explaining it to kids can be challenging, because how they navigate change, and what it means to them can be so specific and particular to that kid, their age, your other family celebrations, and all sorts of other things.

One thing you can do, without pushing a particular religion, is to gently do some simple celebrations of seasonal festivals, talk about mythology, and other kid-friendly topics and activities. Starhawk and Anne Hill’s book Circle Round has lots of ideas, and a number of other books have come out in the past few ideas about celebrating Pagan traditions with kids of a range of ages.

Sharing with friends, more distant family, etc.:

I think that when and how you share with others is a lot more fluid. In general, I suggest the following:

Share with people who’ll notice before they notice.
If you usually saw a friend on Tuesday night, and now that’s the night you want to go to a meet-up on a regular basis, your friend may be curious about why. Being prepared with at least a simple explanation can be a good idea.

Share with people you care about once you’re pretty sure you’re making an ongoing investment in the path.
Because, again, one of the ways we show people we care is by sharing information about what’s important to us with them. For some people, this might be the point where you start actively exploring the community. For other people, it might only be when you either start working with a group, Dedicate, or even initiate.

Sharing with family of origin.
How often do you talk to them? How entangled are you in each other’s lives? If you have a very close-knit family who see each other all the time (and especially if attending religious functions is a big part of family gatherings), you want to figure out how to handle that before someone brings it up.

Some people have a quiet conversation with the parent or family elder they’re closest to, saying they’re exploring some religious options, and would like some space to do that without being obvious about it. (And in some families, that can work really well.) Some people quietly duck the religious events for a while, then tell people once they’re more sure about their new path.

If your family is widely spread out geographically, or you don’t talk very often, you’ve got a lot more in the way of options.(But see my notes below on timing and major holidays and family events.)

At work:

This is an area where it really varies hugely by area of the country, by the type of work you do, and by all the many details of your workplace, including how stable your job is.

In general, I’d suggest waiting to share with anyone at work until you’re firmly established in your new path. (Which may mean a year or two) unless you’re otherwise particularly close to them. So, you might share with your best friend, who also works in the same place, but not with other people. (Make sure you’re clear about that with your friend, though, and that you trust them to keep your confidences.)

Think about what the purpose of sharing at work is. Do other people (from a wide range of religious practices, not just the dominant one in your workplace) share their religious lives? Or do people mostly not, except a very quick “Oh, church Sunday morning, and then time with the family?”

Depending on workplace policies, you may decide to request time off for celebrations. (Personally, I’ve never bothered, except very occasionally for Samhain rituals where working a full day before hand was difficult – but then I just used one of my personal days, which didn’t need an explanation.) Again, you have to decide how this will fit with your workplace and career goals.

In general, when telling people:

Find a good time.
A good time is when both of you are relaxed and comfortable, and when sharing will not steal the spotlight from another big occasion.

Telling people over the holidays is not great. Nor at a family wedding, funeral, graduation, etc. People will already be worked up emotionally, and it’s also plain not nice to take attention from the parts of the event they value or have worked hard for. (If you live very separate places, consider a letter instead, a week or two before you’re seeing them for a less major event, so they can cool down a little, and then have time to ask questions.)

Begin by explaining why it’s important for them to know this.
For example, you might say “Joan, I’ve got something really important to me that I’d like to share with you. I want you to know this because I consider you a really close friend.”

Tell them why you want to tell them now.
For example: “I’ve been thinking about something for a while. I waited a bit to tell you this so I could learn more, and be more comfortable sharing information and answering questions.”

Tell them what you want from them.
Usually this is pretty simple – something like “I’d really like it if you’d listen to me while I explain, and then you can have time to ask whatever questions you have. I’d also appreciate it if you’d keep this to yourself until I have a chance to talk to more people.” (you may wish to mention who you’ve already told, if that’s appropriate.)

Tell them.
Keep it short and simple. They don’t care about all the details: what they care about is why this matters to you, whether any misconceptions they may have are true (and might hurt you), and what it means for stuff you’ve done together in the past or might in the future.. Practice with your mirror or someone who already knows, if you can – it really does help.

Let them ask questions.
Chances are, most of them will be pretty basic. If you and this person shared a religious path previously, they may ask what that means now in terms of that path. (Do you still believe in Jesus? What does that mean for holiday traditions? Things like that.)

Share where they can find some additional information.
If you’ve found websites you’ve found helpful, for example, you might offer to share them. Or books, especially those aimed at people who aren’t Pagan.

You might want to say “There’s a lot of people out there using the term Pagan or witch or Wiccan in a lot of ways – so please, just because you see something online or in a book, don’t assume I do that, or do things for the same reason. You can always come and ask.”

Follow up a few days later.
Don’t make a big deal out of this one – but drop them a note, or slide it into your next regular conversation, just to let them know it really is okay to bring it up. Don’t be pushy, just present.

Sharing that you’re working with a group:

One thing you will see sometimes is that some groups require that new students not mention they’re studying with a group (or with a particular group by name) for a period of time – sometimes it’s the first six months, sometimes it’s until initiation.

The reason for this is that it gives you, as a a student, a chance to say “Hey, not for me.” without having to deal with having to answer questions about the group and why you left to everyone for the next six months. Since group fit is such a nebulous thing (and takes some time to figure out), that space can be really helpful.

Generally, groups that have this restriction do have some exceptions (for example, it’d be usually okay for your spouse/partner to have a general idea where you are and how to reach you if there’s an emergency.)

You might consider this more generally, as well – waiting to tell people until you’re pretty certain, except, of course, for the people who’d notice themselves before then.

[last edited on December 26, 2016]

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