I was reading the excellent blog by Taylor Ellwood which carries a great article ‘Why I’m out of the Broom Closet’. Like Taylor I’m someone who is fairly ‘out’ (at least in terms of my involvement in occultism 🙂 ) to both family, friends and work colleagues and I’m really pleased I’m able to do this. There have been slightly nerve wracking moments in my past, such as when the boss says ‘I put your name into Google…’ but luckily I’ve never been subject to any direct prejudice for being a Pagan, dabbling with the dark forces, or even my views on the use of drugs. Obviously others are not so lucky. People can and do lose their jobs over being occultists, though it’s now many years since the famed Gerald Suster vs The News of The World case. In Britain our employment and other laws should, in theory, preclude prejudice in the workplace but for those of us who choose to stick our necks out there’s always some risk. Sure we can talk about ‘keeping silence’ as being one of the powers of the magician but I reckon that this injunction is probably more about the importance of not-acting and mindfulness in ones practice than it is about not letting on about your spiritual path.
There are obvious dangers to going public, but I feel that it’s important for those who are able to, to take these risks. Changes in legislation concerning male homosexuality, for instance, would never have come about were it not for those brave souls who admitted to ‘the love that dare not speak its name’. So even in situations where dominant culture and the law says one thing (eg ‘drugs are bad’ or ‘women cannot vote’) it’s important to stand-up and be counted, to put other opinions forward and make our demands. Part of the Great Work of magick is the transformation of the universe around us. This can be imagined in lots of different ways; the re-enchantment of the world, conjuring for the sustainable integration of technology and biology, the immanentization of the eschaton or whatever. But for a social species like us humans it must also mean the transformation of public opinion. Coming out is one tactic in this social transformation and I salute those people who are ready, able and willing to embrace that process.
I sometimes think that for occultists our obsession with secrecy (hey it’s ‘the occult’ after all) does us a disservice. Making us feel weirder than we actually are. As an example many years ago I approached the priest of the local Unitarian Church in Brighton where I was living at the time, to see if it would be possible to use their space for our chaos magick group to meet. I explained to the priest that we were ‘an ecumenical group of friends exploring spirituality together’ which I figured would make sense to her, and was of course, quite true. However even allowing for the liberal stance of the Unitarians in that most liberal of British cities I was taken aback later in our discussion. Showing me the room that she proposed we hire she enquired, ‘will you be drawing and circles or sigils on the floor?’ I made some non-committal noises but she rapidly followed it up by saying ‘…it’s just that there is a mop, bucket and broom in the cupboard in case you need to clean up afterwards’. The fact that we were chaos magicians was, at least for this priest, no big deal. And
for me the fact that the priest was a woman was something I hardly noticed as unusual (except as a Wiccan I think priestess sounds better). That incident was almost 20 years ago and increasingly I’ve seen chaos magick, shamanic and other groups being able to be much more open about who they are when booking venues. And of course the Pagan community as a whole has made great strides in terms of social recognition and integration.
How else do we change public opinion? Well in the words of Bill & Ted we can ‘be excellent to each other’. Each time we used the Unitarian building we’d make sure we left the room not only tidier than when we found it but we’d usually leave the flowers from our altar too. I like to imagine the conversation the next day; “those black magicians are sweet really. Everything is spotless after they’ve used the room, and look at these lovely roses they’ve left us!’ Creating allies, as every
shaman knows, is a powerful magick.
On the downside of being open – becoming a scapegoat, especially in times of social stress, is a real possibility. And it’s fair to say that members of minority religions and folk with left-field beliefs are frequently the targets of the proverbial angry mob. It’s also true that in these days of Google and Facebook Timeline discovering who thinks what, and where they live, is dead easy. Stirring up serious trouble may be only a few mouse clicks away. But standing up for ourselves is important not just in terms of our own project, but because it gives us insight into the position of others who are scapegoated. Perhaps if we admit our own beliefs and acknowledge our inherent vulnerability, we’re also more likely to oppose the scapegoating of others. I’m reminded of an interview I heard recently with activist Peter Tatchell in which he said that lesbian and gay liberation was about more than just equal rights for homosexuals. It was about working to create a tolerant, open and free culture in which a range of sexualities and identities could flourish. Like Buddha says, liberation isn’t really liberation unless it’s liberation for all. And that’s the world that I’m enchanting for too.