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Coming Out as a Witch at Work

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Coming Out as a Witch at Work

by Lauren


Are you "out" in your workplace? Do your co-workers and bosses know you’re a
Witch? Most Witches I know are very much in the broom closet in that respect.
They feel it’s better to keep their religious beliefs private for fear of
reprisal, or that it’s no one’s business how they worship. Let’s face it, there
are a lot of whackos out there, and one of them may be in the cubicle next to
you—ready to make your life a living hell if they ever found out you were
Pagan.
Or you may have a less-than-understanding boss who wouldn’t hesitate to
terminate you if he or she knew what you did on the full moon each month. In
these supposedly enlightened times, religious discrimination is alive and well
and living in
America
.



Then again, there are Witches who work in mainstream
America
who are completely
out, and have not suffered from it. I’m one of them. I was an editor at an
insurance publishing company for ten years, and for the past three years, have
worked in the legal department of Fidelity Investments. Talk about conservative
environments! Yet everyone knows about me, and it has not been detrimental in
the least to my career.

But just because I’m out and have not encountered any problems doesn’t mean
that
you won’t. Everyone’s workplace is unique and you do have to be aware of what
you could be up against if you decide to open up. Of course, there are many
workplaces where "different" lifestyles are acceptable, and you may be
fortunate
enough to work in one. But generally speaking, if you’re working in an office
environment, chances are you’ll be taking a risk in opening up. Only you can
decide what’s best for you.

In my case, I’ve never been one to hide much. I feel that being a Witch is an
important part of me and I want everyone in my life to know all about me. But I
was also well aware of my workplace environment. Fidelity may be
ultra-conservative, but I happen to work for a group of attorneys and I knew
that from a legal standpoint, even if they didn’t approve or understand my
lifestyle, they would never let me know that. And honestly, none of them even
batted an eyelash when they found out about me. Why? Because they got to know
ME
first. They know I’m not a nut. They know I’m level-headed and intelligent and
a
hard worker. If I happen to be a Witch, well…so what?? It has nothing to do
with
my abilities as an employee and does not interfere with my job. Also, I work
with highly educated people. It may not always be the case, but I have found
that the more educated and well-read a person is, the more open-minded.

On the other hand, my husband and I have a kitchen design business, which he
does full-time and I’m presently involved in part-time. Naturally, I don’t come
out to my customers. I’m in their homes to sell them their dream kitchen, not
to
discuss religion. And I wonder how many kitchens we’d sell if they knew I was a
Witch? None, probably—because they haven’t gotten to know me for who I am. All
they know is the label "Witch." And that can be a scary word to the ignorant.

My former HP has a high-level job at an engineering firm and would never
consider coming out to his co-workers. Given the environment of his company, he
would never be able to climb the corporate ladder if his bosses knew his
background. Another friend works in the computer industry. A few select friends
there are aware that he’s Pagan, but he’s very low-key about it and doesn’t
openly advertise his beliefs.

So the bottom line here is to use your judgment. There’s no right or wrong. It
would be nice to be open to everyone, but this isn’t a perfect world.

One Witch who’s been out in all her jobs is Morwynna. She lives in the
MetroWest
area and has been a Witch since the late sixties—"longer than I've been in the
labor force," she says. Solitary until 1987, she joined the Alexandrian
initiatory lineage in 1993. I asked her a few questions about her experiences
coming out as a Witch at work.

What type of work do you do?
The specific workplace environments have been crucial to my success in being
"out at work." I'm an "administrative support" person, and have held titles
ranging from "cashier" to "assistant manager" to "labor market economist" to
"administrative assistant." However, my work environments have always been
either places where eccentricity and artsy-ness is expected and people wouldn't
want to admit they were freaked out by a lifestyle choice (parts of the
restaurant business, university, Ticketron--supervising part-timers who were
rock musicians or college students) OR places where religious freedom has
already been staked out as a basic legal necessity (state government, MIT).
I'm
now working at a holistic health center where everyone is new-age-y, so in a
way
I'm almost conservative in being something so structured as Wiccan! It's
refreshing. Within two weeks of starting the job, I was asked to lead a ritual
for my boss' bridal shower, so clients and co-workers know exactly who I am and
while it's a great thing, it's so different. And I get invited to some
different kinds of rituals, too.

How long have you been "out" in your workplace?
I was never not "out."

How did you go about letting your co-workers know?
I waited until they asked "What religion are you?" or until it came up some
other way (i.e., "What did you do this weekend?" "I went to a celebration of
the
Spring Equinox." "I wrote an article about the Keltic holidays I celebrate.")
It was a very individual thing, each person hearing as much as they were ready
to hear and not more.

What types of reactions did you receive?
Often a blank stare, which is an encouraging sign because it's an opportunity
for education. I find the attempts to be friendly more interesting than any
hostile responses (which, if I ever got one, I ignored). Like people going out
of their way to mention that they went to
Salem (I have no interest in Salem
)
or
assuming that all Wiccans know each other. Or that I want to spend my lunch
breaks giving free tarot readings.

Any funny or interesting stories?
One of my co-workers at the state agency was very cool and sympathetic; his
wife's an astrologer. He was excited about my coming to work there, and one
day
a regular contact called him and said, "I called yesterday and spoke with a
nice
woman, is she new there?" and Ed said, "yes, she's our new Witch." And the guy
said, "oh no, she was really quite pleasant!"

A the state agency, there were rules that "holiday decorations" could have no
"religious content." We giggled as we hung up our holly & mistletoe which were
religious for us but quite approved-of. However, one Victorian holly wreath
cutout had a baby new year cherub sitting in it and someone threatened to make
an issue of it, but christian fundamentalists came to my defense and said I
should be allowed my "angel."

Have you been treated differently since you came out?
Again, I was never not out; but also it didn't usually "come up" until people
had already decided that they liked me, after it was clear that I was doing a
good job, and after it was very clear that I wasn't going to fit the cultural
mainstream mold in any case. So when the occasional person was visibly
uncomfortable, it was a little late for them to totally change their minds
about
me as a person; they'd have to change their minds about spiritual diversity
instead. There was only one time that I let it be one of the first things
someone knew about me. That was a job interview! I was explaining why I was
looking for something with flexible hours, and I used the word "clergy". I got
the job.

Do you have any advice for someone who would like to come out but is still a
little nervous?
Be matter-of-fact and nonchalant. Don't act like you have something "big" to
tell them. If you act like it's no big deal, they are much more likely to
also feel that it's no big deal. Sometimes even make your explanations dry and
boring
when they're expecting (hoping for) something lurid. Remember, many will
already think you're way too "colorful," so make sure to present yourself as
"serious" if you want to be taken seriously in the workplace. If you sound
like
an anthropologist, they may be disappointed but they will consider you brainy
and respectable rather than flaky. Then, if someone is excited and really
WANTS
to know more, you can try to convey the spirit of what we do! But that
shouldn't be the first approach. Some of my co-workers knew for a couple of
years that I attended a weeklong spiritual retreat every august, before getting
around to asking any more detail about my spirituality. I use the words
"meditation" and "mythology" a lot until people begin to ask more specific
questions.

Don't belittle other paths after you're out. Perhaps your co-workers would
like to kvetch about their bad church experiences, but let them bring it up
first.
Don't preach or recruit. Treat others as you would like to be treated. Be
prepared to answer clueless questions patiently. If folk are hinting about
learning more, recommend a couple of books that you think that individual would
be able to relate to. (I used to keep on hand a really old copy of Circle
Network News that was an issue on "celebrating the seasons." I found it pretty
vanilla and accessible but containing a lot of info, including academic
references.)

Most of all, have a confident attitude. Don't treat it like a "naughty
secret."
Look people warmly and directly in the eye with the certain knowledge that your
path is every bit as respectable as theirs.

At the government job, I took full advantage of the rigidly
enforced "diversity"
of the structured holiday celebrations by joining the choir and having some
input on the performance program. It was mostly "winter" songs, with one for
chanukah, one calypso tune, one for Kwaanza and one for Chinese New Year. I
added "Deck the Hall" and gave a short talk on its origin as a Welsh Yule carol
as well as the origins of the Solstice celebration. I also joined the group
that
lobbied to include one actual christmas carol (I like singing!).

There was also a toy drive for kids in homeless shelters and if you donated
money you got to put your name on a construction paper "ornament" on a bulletin
board "tree". I always made a donation in the name of Covenant of The Goddess
and made sure it was displayed prominently.

This brings me to the tough part: Once people know about my spirituality, I'm
stuck maintaining a good reputation for ethics, integrity, and behavior. I
know
that I can't do anything that will reflect badly on the Wiccan community. It
can feel like a burden, but perhaps it's good to have a constant motivation.

Ultimately, are you glad you let your co-workers know?
I couldn't live any other way. I know some people feel differently, including
some that I highly respect, but I would never be able to take the stress of
constantly pretending to be someone other than who I am. I will not hide or
lie
about my life, because to me that would mean I am ashamed of who I am. For
this
reason, I made sure to send my child to a school where spiritual diversity is
encouraged. Yes, I would probably feel differently if i worked with a bunch of
violent rednecks (the restaurant business was pretty darn close to that, but I
was young and even more idealistic and foolishly brave). But if I worked with a
bunch of violent rednecks then I'd probably go find a different job; quality of
life matters in the workplace. It does take extra effort to educate people (if
I'm not able to truly educate them about my religion, then at least to educate
them that civilized people do not openly disrespect others' beliefs), but then
I
know I'm leaving behind a slightly more educated world.

---------------------------------

You need to think long and hard about it, but if you feel it’s time to come out
of the workplace broom closet, the following should help:

1. Know Thy Co-Workers. How do they treat "different" people? Are they
open-minded? If your boss is a born-again Christian, chances are he or she will
not be happy to learn of your religious beliefs. Then again, it may not be a
problem. There was a born-again at my previous job who did not change her
opinion towards me when she found out and even gave me a gift when I left the
company (no, it wasn’t a Bible!). But let’s face it—that’s not the norm with
fundamentalists. They can be pretty unyielding and judgmental. I was just
lucky.
So, if you need your job and there are people in control who fit this profile,
you may want to think twice about coming out.


2. Use Discretion. Don’t walk into a job interview with pentagrams blazing
(unless you’re interviewing for a position in an occult shop). You may argue
that’s if it’s OK for people to wear their crosses and Stars of David, its OK
for you to wear your pentagram. Theoretically, you’re right—but let’s face it,
unless your interviewer is Pagan, he or she will probably think you’re a devil
worshiper. Keep the pentagram under wraps until they get to know YOU. Then,
little by little, you can let your true self emerge. If you’ve been at your job
a while and feel that now is the time to come forward, do it in a subtle way.
In
my case, I hung a Witches’ calendar behind my desk. People were intrigued, and
started asking questions. It was that simple.


3. Be Prepared for Reactions. Some people may be perfectly fine with your
disclosure, others may be horrified. Either way, you will have some explaining
to do, because everyone will be curious. You’ll get a lot of facetious
questions: "Where’s your broom?" "Can you put a spell on my ex-boyfriend?" and
so on. Try to be gracious, even though it may be hard. They really don’t know
any better. It’s up to you to educate them. And the way you react could make or
break their opinions of Witches in general. I know, it’s not fair for you to
carry that burden, but let’s face it—the only Witch that most of them will ever
know is you!

Dream Catchers

An ancient Chippewa tradition
The dream net has been made
For many generations
Where spirit dreams have played.

Hung above the cradle board,
Or in the lodge up high,
The dream net catches bad dreams,
While good dreams slip on by.

Bad dreams become entangled
Among the sinew thread.
Good dreams slip through the center hole,
While you dream upon your bed.

This is an ancient legend,
Since dreams will never cease,
Hang this dream net above your bed,
Dream on, and be at peace.