Reposted from my Quora blog. Original date: Yuletide 2016
Hello, All. I hope that this post finds you snug and warm, as this Yuletide has been a chilly one for those of us in the American Midwest. While sitting here in my warm, witchy kitchen, I find myself musing about the recent news that an American Pagan Priest won the right to wear his horns for his driver’s license picture. Now, I am a strong believer in fighting for freedoms and in the right to self express in authentic fashion. Weirdos are my people. I encourage folks to fly their freak flags with gusto. But there’s a bit of the clown in people’s ideas about who Wiccans and Pagans are, and while most of us can be described as being somewhere on the flamboyant side of things, there’s a part of me that winces when I notice that most of the news stories and representations of Wiccans and Pagans seem to focus on those who tend to a) be more fluff than substance, and b) dripping with silver pentacles and ritual robes.
The Pagan Priest in question argued in court that he wears his horns on a daily basis and he feels that they are part of him, so he should be able to wear them in his ID photos. OK, point taken. But at the same time, this doesn’t really help us look particularly sane to the masses, and we have a hard enough time being taken seriously without stories like this being the only real mention of us in the media. Combine that with the very real expectation that people have that you can tell a Wiccan by how they look, which is ridiculous, when you think about it. Only real noobs or those who have a financial investment in playing the part (think Laurie Cabot and Oberon Zell-Ravenheart) actually “look like witches” according to what your average muggle on the street thinks we look like. Sure, there’s nothing wrong with having Pagan tattoos (I do) and wearing your pentagram necklace and such, but really, it doesn’t help us attract intelligent seekers nor does it help us deal with negative stereotypes to play into these expectations. I have shown up at professional clearings and public rituals wearing my jeans and my soccer mom hair and been told by people who are quite serious that I can’t be a Wiccan High Priestess because I don’t have (insert dumb expectation here). This is not where we want to be, people.
I am reminded of the time that my coven was interviewed for a “reality TV show about Wiccans,” and we were passed over because we weren’t weird enough. I was excited about portraying Wicca as it really is, with its intensely academic training and its high ethical expectations for priesthood. But they didn’t want that. They wanted us to be clowns instead. They kept asking leading questions about rituals that made it clear that we should be naked and entwined with live boa constrictors, drinking out of chalices made of the skulls of our ancestors and crap in order to be worthy of being selected for the show. I ended up telling the producer that she didn’t want to do a show about Wicca. She wanted a circus. She cast those who had no real training and were borderline mentally unstable so the show could be “interesting.” And that, my friends, is crap. No wonder people think Wiccans are whackos.
The real fact is that most of us dress like everyone else, lead very normal lives, and are intensely committed to our practices and our Gods, holding solemn, private rituals that are as beautiful as they are spiritually complex. We pay our taxes, we lead scouting troops, we attend neighborhood watch meetings, and order the same pizza that everyone else does. So the only Wiccans anyone actually notices are the whack jobs who feel the need to paint heir houses black and say “Blessed Be” constantly in public. No, I don’t wear black all the time. No, I don’t drip with patchouli oil and read the cashier’s aura at the grocery store. And the sooner the rest of the world sees us as just being one religion of many, the more understanding we will enjoy. I encourage folks who can be out to let people know that they probably know several Wiccans. We are accountants, librarians, scientists, doctors, botanists and call center operators. We live alongside you without notice, because we just aren’t that different from everyone else. Sure, we get excited about sticks and rocks and water and we tend to hold hands and hug a lot. Yeah, we wear more than our share of amber jewelry and might be a bit anachronistic. But we aren’t “fringe” and we aren’t that small in number. We are hundreds of thousands, if not millions strong.
If you can, I encourage Wiccans to participate in #whatawitchlookslike. Maybe we should do the same thing the Mormons did. Launch a TV campaign that says, “I’m a school teacher and I’m Wiccan. I’m a tax attorney and I’m Wiccan.” Who’s with me?