One of my closest friends in the world is a fellow Pagan. There's no denying that this makes some aspects of our friendship a hell of a lot easier. For one thing, a lot of explaining time is cut out of certain conversations - we already feel the same on a myriad of subjects. Veganism, vegetarianism and animal rights are part of the path for both of us, so that's all sewn up and we both know what we're having for dinner. When we begin conversing on certain topics we're beginning from the same starting point even if we don't agree at the end. Our paths are not identical, but they merge. Most of my friends are not Pagan and in fact they cover an unusually wide spectrum of belief systems from Islam right the way through to nihilism. The most important thing for me is that when shit gets theological my friends are open and interested. That's all it takes to make me a happy bunny. And it's been strange to discover that I have more in common with dedicated atheists than I do with the majority of Pagans I've spoken to. The lines we draw with the labels we apply to ourselves are not as divisive or clean cut as we imagine.
So, it's no surprise that I've been able to get on smashingly well with my boyfriend of eighteen months who is in no way, shape or form a Pagan. I will admit that at the beginning of our relationship it was a relief to discover that he does indeed believe in something. He was raised Christian and accepted the viewpoints passed on to him by his parents until he was around seventeen. Since then he's believed in the divine but has shrugged off the original constructs he used to go by. He doesn't pray or worship in any way and has more of a contemplative, passive connection to a loose idea of divinity as 'the all'.
My attitude from day one of our relationship was to be open at all costs. After all, Paganism has been in my life a lot longer than he has. There was no theatrical moment where I leapt out of the broom closet and 'confessed' that I was Pagan. It was just something that slotted naturally into conversation. However, we started encountering a few issues a couple of months ago when I brought up certain elements of my path that he wasn't wholly comfortable with. It started when I spoke about my friend's love of performing magic and how she'd done a few spells for me in the past. This didn't sit well with him. I then mentioned that I missed having a permanent altar in my room and was sick of erecting temporary ones for the Sabbats. His response was that if I was to make a permanent altar he'd find it 'weird'.
I knew we needed to straighten a few things out. That kind of glib comment left me feeling insulted and misunderstood, especially since he'd grown up attending church services where he was surrounded by imagery being used as a focal point for worship. (So it's ok for Christians but not for Pagans?) We ended up having a long, complex discussion about my issues, his fears, our collective insecurities. I got over my bruise at having my faith belittled and managed to open the door to any questions he had. He had a lot. It turns out that being out and proud about my faith is no substitute for actually explaining it in plain words. And after I did that, he felt immediately that he'd been entertaining some misconceptions that had sorely needed a dose of clarification.
Since that night I've tried to voice more explanations and less descriptions. When an 'outsider' looks at the surface information without being offered any frame of reference, things can get misread really quickly. Some of the distaste he felt towards certain things he heard about regarding my spiritual path was quite obviously the result of the media assassination on all things Pagan. Post Judeo-Christian history has not been kind to the Old Faith and an unfortunate amount of bullshit and empty judgement has been passed down through the generations as a result. Funnily enough, it's not just fundamentalist Christians who reserve the right to recoil in horror at the word 'Pagan'. Even seasoned users of independent thought like my boyfriend have difficulty seeing Paganism as a faith that's just as legitimate as Islam, Judaism or Christianity. The texts of the Abrahamic religions are stuffed with folks rising from the dead, infatacide on the part of a vengeful god, miracles, curses, prophesies, supernatural plagues.. Yet, since those religions have thrived into widespread acceptance they're simply not considered to be as batshit insane as Paganism is. *shrug* We really are playing a losing hand.
Now, fortunately my boyfriend and I don't sit around shooting the theological shit all day every day. We have too much else we like to do. However, I do feel that lately we've managed to gain something we didn't have before when it comes to our somewhat inter-faith partnership. We actually peeled back the 'Pagan label' and took a close look at the stuff inside the jar. I can't expect someone to just swallow something before they actually know what it is.