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|Practicing Your Religion in Secret
The world today is, generally speaking, rather more tolerant than it used to be. It's been some time since anyone was thrown to the lions, or since anyone has been hanged or burnt for being a witch. In short, being a Pagan today isn't as terribly life threatening as it might have been a hundred years ago (if you believe, of course, that there were practicing Pagans during that period).
In any case, it is easy for us to forget the reasons that we do have for keeping our religion secret. Work for example. Sure they shouldn't discriminate against you for religious reasons, but the last time I checked they weren't supposed to discriminate based on gender or race. People find it easy to be subtle with bigotry, it could almost be an art form.
There are, of course, also the reactions of family, friends, and the like to worry about. You probably have nothing to worry about, but there are always some of us who have a good reason to worry. I don't have anything to worry about, which I'm thankful for, but I'm still keeping quiet. I already know that when you tell someone something this big, it can change how they think of you, and a lot of us don't want that to change. I've already told my family I'm gay, and that changed things a bit. It's all fine, but I've seen the value of keeping secrets. It's to your advantage in many cases, to have people think of you whatever it makes them happy to think.
So, you want to worship your God/s/ess/esses or what have you. Or maybe you just work with them, without worshipping. Whatever, but the important thing of course is, can you worship or work secretly? Sure you can. I'll deal with a few methods you can use to combine your Path with secrecy and subtlety.
- Lie: This is an obvious one, which is why I'm covering it first. I also know a lot of people won't be comfortable with this one, which is why I'll try to supply alternatives that work better. This really is only going to become an issue if someone sees some of your personal belongings (maybe a book, Tarot deck, whatever) and gets suspicious. In which case a casual "oh, that looked quite interesting in the book shop, but it turned out to be really boring" or "That? It's just a stick, I'll get around to throwing it out later." Of course, it's best not to let it get to that stage. Besides, it's easy to get caught out in lies.
- Don't use many tools: If you have an altar, a wand, two knives, ten candles, lots of cord, statues of gods and goddesses and so forth, you're not going to find it easy to hide things. I personally don't have an altar, any knives, just books. As it is I have just enough to make hiding them difficult. At the moment I keep them hidden under some clothes, and if I have to take them anywhere, I shove them all into my rucksack so I can look after it personally. If I call quarters on a magic circle, I rarely use any tools. If I feel like using a wand or athame, I've always used a pen. (Eileen Holland allegedly has used a pen on occasion, and Starhawk has claimed to use hedge-clippers - whatever works for you is clearly the message!) The rest you can probably imagine. After all, you're already visualizing the circle aren't you?
- Trance: This is more or less an extension of the above. This way you can conduct worship or rituals entirely in your head. With flashier props too! This method will probably be of most relevance to Wiccans and others who use trance often. Reconstructionists will probably be less happy with this method, understandably. Not being a Recon myself, I'm not especially aware of the particular issues that others might experience here.
However, if you are comfortable with using trance, it is a very easy way to conduct rituals when you really need total privacy, of course, it's best not to rely on trance 100% - -it still doesn't beat carrying out a physical ritual!
- Don't keep too many books: This is something I could have stood to learn from myself, as I'm something of a book-addict. I refuse to buy anymore until I move out from home, because I now have so many it's hard to hide them. So, if you have three or more books, you would be wise to put off buying more, unless you're sure that the books are vital, and that you have enough hiding space if it should be necessary to pack them all away.
- Make your ritual/ worship appear as something else: I will describe two methods here, both of which are alternatives to using no tools. The first is that all of your tools appear mundane, and can be left lying around the house. Don't use an athame, use a kitchen knife! This is one of the nice things about kitchen magic. You might have an extraordinarily well-stocked kitchen, but that won't make someone think 'witch!' automatically.
The second might be changing your tools, so that they seem like the trappings of a 'more acceptable' religion. I've heard of some Wiccans referring to the Virgin Mary as a Goddess. While I won't comment on the validity of such suggestions, there's no reason why you can't use alternative statues/ iconography to appease those around you, while you attach alternative meanings to them. Having never tried this method (or kitchen magic, but that's not my point here), I have no idea how much it would interfere with your mind-set for a ritual.
- Keep a large bag or similar container handy: If you know someone is coming around soon, this can be handy to throw everything into until the emergency goes away. It can also be handy to keep one near by when you perform a ritual, so that anyone knocking on your door will allow you to quickly sweep everything into it in one smooth motion. And if the person who interrupts you isn't even polite enough to knock, you might as well bludgeon them with your extremely heavy bag (okay, you can't do this really, but we can dream, right?).
Those are the only suggestions I really have for the time-being… but those are the obvious ones that occur to me, newbie that I am. Of course, common sense tactics are also important. I might not have used tools, but I also made sure I was very quiet when invoking gods and goddesses. Since, until recently, I was spending a lot of time living in a university's accommodation, the ability to be quiet is useful!
Good luck to those of you who are in a situation when you need to keep utmost secrecy, and please accept my hope that you will not always be forced by circumstances to keep it quiet.
Copyright © 2002 by Everfool.
Used by permission of the author.