It was just supposed to be a quick stop at the convenience store to grab some drinks. I stood there juggling a wiggly, inquisitive toddler, a fountain drink, a bottle of water, phone, keys, and wallet. I smiled at the cashier and told my baby to say hi—that generally distracts them both long enough to get myself situated so we can checkout. Usually the person coos at the kiddo, she pulls out the cute and smiles, maybe offers a tentative “hi,” and we’re good.
That’s not what happened this time.
The lady was still looking at me, more specifically glaring at my chest. With a stern frown, she pulled first the bottle of water back out of reach, and then dropped the fountain drink in what I assumed was a trashcan at her feet. I could feel the eyes of the people behind me trying to bore through me, hoping to catch a glimpse of what the old woman had seen.
“This is a Christian establishment. We don’t have to serve devil worshippers here.”
I was confused for a moment. And then it hit me, in all the wrangling of items and my squirmy child, my pentacle must have fallen out of my shirt. It felt like a bucket of ice water had been dumped on me, and I couldn’t get my mouth to work. I couldn’t move. All I could do was stand there and stare in utter shock at this woman.
“That baby needs Jesus.”
I didn’t say anything. I just I turned and walked out, head held high, mind racing, heart about to burst from my chest. My hands shook as I tried to buckle my daughter into her car seat. My eyes stung, but I wouldn’t cry, not yet, not where the people still watching me from inside the store could see.
I felt like I was 16 again, and all the hurt from the year I finally decided to stop hiding who I was came flooding back. I was listening to the principal tell me my self-portrait couldn’t hang with the others, that the younger grades didn’t need to be exposed to my wicked ungodliness. I was standing in my front yard listening to a once beloved family member say the vilest things after snatching my pentacle necklace off my neck, the same one the principal told me I couldn’t wear in school anymore. I was alone and frightened, having to learn how to stand up for myself when no one else would.
But I wasn’t 16, and I certainly wasn’t alone anymore. It may not have been the first time I’d faced fear-based discrimination from people who don’t know—and don’t want to understand—what my faith means to me, but it was the first time it had happened in front of my daughter.
When I found out I was pregnant, I began to worry about raising my child in my faith. We live in rural Bible Belt, USA, and saying the area and paganism don’t go together is like saying that nitroglycerin might explode if you give it a shake.
Being different is so hard, and I wondered, Did I have the right to do expose my daughter to these difficulties?
Then I realized it’s not about being different; it’s about ignorance. If people got to know me, got to know us, they could see that we are not that different. We all are striving to be the best people we can be, and we are all worrying about raising our children to be the best they can be.
If I were to go back and speak to the woman in the store, there are a few things I would tell her about me and about my faith.
Paganism isn’t devil worship. Satan has no place in my faith. I believe in balance, in nature and in deity (a god and goddess), and I strive to find that balance in all aspects of my life every day. I believe with all my heart that each person must choose their own path to the divine, and that so long as no harm comes to those who cannot defend themselves (the innocent, the ill, the elderly), each path is as valid as the next. Pagans are not evil. We are not bad people. We are just like any other person you may know. In fact, chances are you know someone who is pagan—they just aren’t “out of the broom closet” with everyone yet.
I would also tell her I don’t think my baby needs Jesus, but if she eventually chooses to be Christian, I will support her 100%.
Being different isn’t the problem. Small towns aren’t the problem. The problem is being too frightened to rise above the ignorance and learn about people who believe differently, worship differently, pray differently, dress differently, or even speak differently. While it’s true we are shaped by where we are from and what we believe, that is not the sum of who we are. People are amazing, intricate, multifaceted beings, and by choosing to judge anyone on a single aspect of their lives, you blind yourself to the brilliance of everything else they have to offer.
I’m pagan, yes. I’m also a wife, a mother, a sister, a cousin, a niece, a friend, and even a full-time college student long after receiving my high school diploma. I’m from a small town in the South. My family is full of generations of farmers. I have more books than a small library, a craft addiction, a cat who I’m not ashamed to admit I like more than most humans, and a deep and undying love for cookie dough. I’m probably a lot like you.
That’s the thing about people. When you get to know them, you usually find you had more in common than you realized.