ZooPaganism

Ever feel like you’re on display for the general public?

I went out to dinner recently with someone I’ll call Mr. August.  Over drinks, we spoke about the upcoming Christmas holiday and, since he’s a relatively good listener, he asked me if I celebrated Yule.  I have to admit that I was slightly impressed – he’s a lapsed Catholic and I happened to mention during our last dinner that I followed a pagan path, so he obviously remembered something about that first dinner beyond the blue dress I was wearing.  Anyway, I told him that Yule was not a holiday I celebrate, and went on to mention that the time from Thanksgiving to the end of the year was (mainly) filled with secular celebrations.  Mr. August asked when my religious holidays fall during the year and as I started to explain…I noticed the pricking up of ears at the surrounding tables.  Now, I don’t mind speaking about my religion with people who are genuinely interested but the middle of a restaurant is hardly the place for a public lecture.  I smiled, and gently changed the subject.  Mr. August didn’t pursue it further, and all listening ears went back to their normal, non-eavesdropping, positions.

They can’t help it, you know.  When people get a whiff of something “other”, something out-of-the-ordinary, they’re off like a prom dress.  They want details, the inside scoop.  They want to know who we are, what it involves, where we practice, when our celebrations falls and, above all, WHY ON EARTH we do what we do.  If we don’t rebuff them, well, then the how questions come out.  How did we figure things out?  How did we learn about it?  How are we not afraid of going to hell?

(The last one is mostly rhetorical and unasked.  Mostly.)

It’s human nature.  We can’t help it…and I’m not sure we should, to be honest.  As someone once said, “The one who asks the most questions learns the most.”  I’m pro-learning, so therefore I have to accept the questions…when they come from people who are honestly curious or honestly want to learn.

I’m using the word “honest” on purpose here.  I don’t think I should be put on exhibit for people who ask questions in order to tell me I’m doing things incorrectly, or tempting fate, or a sinner.  I am, however, happy to sit on my tire swing behind glass, eat mango, and display for those who really want to learn the ins-and-outs.

So, back to my original question: ever feel like you’re on display for the general public?  How do you handle it?

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5 responses to “ZooPaganism

  1. This exact situation happens to me quite a bit, actually. I tend to not change the subject. A little while ago, I met up with a foreign friend who has a completely different path from me, so we spoke English, and about pretty heavily involved subject matter like the finer points of transwork, God-bothering and daily worship. For most of this converaation, we were in a crowded restaurant, having lunch. It has also happened on public transport, simply while walking down the street, during birthdays with mixed company, during outdoor ritual, etc. etc.

    I tend not to care. I want my practice to be a normal thing in my life, and part of that is talking about it. Also, sometimes I just have a need to provoke; let them listen, who knows if they pick up on something? Exposure therapy, I guess. They look at me like I’ve just grown an extra head, but might not do the same the next time they overhear someone. One small step for Paganism, one hugely uncomfortable situation for me.

    At any rate, it does depend on the company, how I’m feeling and how many spoons I have left. Some days, I wave it off, other times, I engange in the conversation despite the audience. But as for if it has ever happened to me; at least one a month.

  2. I wish more people would ask me questions, tbh. But I think a lot of people are scared. And since most of the people I see in general are people I work with- there is that whole “no religion at work” thing. Sometimes I feel like we’re on display, specimens to poke and prod. But I keep things so well hidden, it rarely comes up anymore.
    Usually, if someone asks, I start out very broad in my answers- and see where the line of questioning goes. If the person is genuinely interested, I will give more specific, detailed answers. I figure this is the only way for people to learn and grow, and for many non-mainstream faiths to ever become ‘normal’ and not so exotic.

  3. I wish got asked questions too… because unfortunately, the alternative is people making assumptions. And unless I’m a nuage with-type, then those assumptions are going to be as off-base as intellectually possible.

    I also don’t blame people for having their interests piqued. I tend to give that kind of response the benefit of the doubt, too. I mean, most of the time it’s genuine attempt to understand something so far out of their realm of understanding that it comes across as odd to us. And if it’s not genuine, then it would take a lot of effort not to learn something new through it all, amirite?

  4. It’s a two-edged thing- if they really wanted to know, they could lift a lazy finger and look at wikipedia- at least the main pagan article would lead them to “Contemporary Paganism,” which covers a wide variety of stuff, including ‘recon.’
    At a restaurant- maybe, maybe not. Though having a table of 10 or so Kemetics chatting away in a Joliet restaurant… I wonder what the surrounding people thought?

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