By now, most of us have heard about the Panera Bread incident in which a pagan employee was harassed and then fired for her religious (in this case, Pagan) beliefs. For most of us, this happens all too often and usually goes unreported and swept under the rug.
What makes people feel so confident that they can elevate themselves above others whose religious practices differ from theirs? Many Pagans hide their religious practices for fear of discrimination. When people meet me, they automatically assume that I am a Bible-thumping Black Baptist and, for a few years, I was. Sometimes It doesn’t help much that I am an ordained minister and when some see “Reverend” in front of my name, they think I am a Christian minister when, in fact, that I am a Spiritualist and Metaphysical Minister under the International Metaphysical Churches and a Healing Minister under the Church of Humanism. I also have incorporated my ancestral African practices into my spirituality. When I try to explain this to those who inquire, I can see them withdrawing. I have been told, “I’ll pray for you”, “You’re going to Hell” and “You’re a witch”. I am so accustomed to a good deal of discrimination, that I don’t let it bother me.
It has been hard to find a community in which I will fit nicely, so I have chosen to self-isolate. I choose not to anchor myself fully to one practice or church/temple, but embrace all practices that support who I am. I live by the quote: “Nature is my church. Love is my religion”.
Businesses like Chick-fil-A and Hobby Lobby require their employees to follow certain Christian standards, including no alcohol consumption or use of contraceptives. I used to shop at Hobby Lobby when I was a member of a Christian Mom’s group (I stayed in it until I was driven out by some of the leaders in the group who didn’t agree with my being a Yoga instructor). When I left the Christian Mom’s group, shopping at Hobby Lobby felt wrong, as though I wasn’t being true to myself. I felt as though people were watching me and were aware of my secret, my unacceptable and “sinful” religious practices. The Christians, especially the Right-Wing Conservative Christians, have a large presence and support in the United States, making non-Christians often feel that they have to be silent or secretive about their non-Christian practices.
Another news-related event deals with the use of the word “witch” and glorifying historical persecution of pagans. This incident took place in Michigan when GOP party leader Ron Weiser referred to Michigan Gov.Gretchen Whitman and two other top Democratic leaders as witches, adding that the GOP wants “to soften them up” for a “burning at the stake”. When called out on his comments, he said that his comments were “taken out of context” and he later begrudgingly apologized. How is this acceptable? Just because a certain religious group has dominance doesn’t mean they can just stomp on others in a country whose laws allow and protect religious freedom. This is violence and this is prejudice. Adding racism and gender identity to this ugly cake only makes matters worse for those involved in minority religious practices.
What is the solution? It helps that there are more pagans and eclectic religious groups emerging and showing themselves so they can attract and support those who need them. Online groups, solstice celebrations and other ceremonies bring the members of these communities together, thus creating a greater voice and presence and, hopefully, protection from those who seek to eliminate, dominate and silence them.
What we can do is gather together and be aware of any prejudices of discrimination that possibly exist within our own religious and spiritual communities. We in the Pagan community need to offer assistance and support for one another. We need to not hide. We need to wear our “gear”, our pagan jewelry, shirts, etc. and showcase ourselves! The more it is seen, the more normalized it will eventually become. Christians can have crosses or Mary and Jesus statues outside their homes and not be harassed, so why not everyone else? It’s like a domino effect: one pagan person stands proudly and shows who they are, then others will see that and follow that example. Of course, there will be fear and possibly hateful incidents, but it only takes one brave person to lead the way for others to follow.