Today could be Christmas, or Easter, Mother’s Day, or it could be any other holiday, or event, or just another get-together, and whether or not you’re a Witch, Pagan, or green-skined Fairy Godmother, your family and friends invite you home. They know how different you are and you know how much they wish you were more like them, more normal, so this makes family-time stressful. You could stay away, but that’s not fair to them, they gave you life, and despite your differences, they have loved you all your life. You could be the stubborn one first and point out that today’s holiday celebration is based upon ancient pagan origins. You could further spoil the day by proclaiming it’s all a Hallmark card creation to get consumers to buy unnecessary gifts for their loved ones. You could even delve into a philosophical discussion where you explain to everyone why what you believe and think is valid and superior, but all that will do is just demean the people who just simply want your company. But after you insist upon distancing yourself from your loved ones by being such a bore, they may regret their invitation. Nonetheless, the invitation still stands, and you could really be the shock of the party if you come dressed in your best Gothic black, yet what you think is a way to assert your independence and artistic brilliance, comes off as being disrespectful. Plus it’s just bad manners, isn’t it? Have mercy on those you love! Save the shocking outfits, the ceremonial robes, and chest-covering-Gangsta-sized silver pentagrams for rituals and festivals. Even if all your Witchy get-up is really an expression of who you are, and you insist on wearing it everywhere to show your devotion to your gods, you can always come up with a more tame version that your relatives will find more comfortable. Remember that our families are the earthly embodiment of the pantheon of gods who gave life to All. It is far better to treat your loved ones with kindness and think more about them for a change. You can still be different and be together… The key to honor is giving respect.
It’s About Family, Not Fighting
Even if they start a debate, it’s not up to you to finish it or keep it going. Whenever you are invited over to anyone’s house, it’s best to respect them, you can still disagree and quietly thank them for sharing with you their opinion, but let the time be about togetherness. My family is full of individuals who love to debate about politics and religion, perhaps this is how all families are, because when I think about it, those subjects are the two that get people most emotional. I do my best to keep politics and religion out of my conversations with my relatives. Like them, I feel it my duty to take a stand for what I feel is right and just. They taught me well! But I am much more liberal.
When a controversial subject is unavoidable, I try to steer the conversation into one where we can agree on something. I have been pleased to note each time we get together, despite us teasing each other for being on opposite sides, that even my most conservative relatives and I can find issues we mutually support. I find I don’t have to fight with them to get my points across, plus they do not have to argue with me to tell me what they think is right. I also realize that we come from different generations, we have different experiences and interests, yet when you look at us you can easily see we are related. Blood doesn’t wash off! Even if any one in my family does not like what I believe or support, they feel the same way about me. They see in me a reflection of themselves. Our differences are necessary so we can learn from one another, not so we can fight and separate from each other in disgust. To fight, instead of taking the time to listen and really appreciate where each other comes from, is to turn our backs on our ancestors and cut ourselves off from the source of our own creation. The challenge we face is to overcome our differences, not get each other to convert the other to believe and act the same. When we face this challenge, our bonds of love become stronger, and the stronger the family ties, the more respect is given and received.
Some people think it necessary to engage in heated debates in order to break common ground, but I believe such struggles are unnecessary. There are more gentle and loving ways to overcome our differences.
Try to remember this no matter who you are interacting with. If you want someone to respect you, act according to, and how you want to be treated. If someone does not treat you as well as you treat them, take it as a sign to leave them alone because any further attempts to win them over will waste your time. If family rejects you, they are hurting themselves because they are giving up the opportunity to be loved by you. The same goes the other way around, too. Of course in cases of abuse, the rule is get out and be with a family of friends who don’t hurt you.
Ways to Connect, Not Struggle, with Family
Here are some lessons I’ve learned over the last twenty years that I believe you will find helpful when you are dealing with the difficulty of relating to your family, especially in the years after you reveal to them you are a Witch (same goes for coming out of ANY closet):
- Parents often blame themselves for the way their children turned out. They wished you to grow up to be someone they wanted you to be, but you could not be that person. You are proud and confident with who you are, especially if you have finally discovered who you are and long to share it with your loved ones. But it is often very difficult for Mom and Dad to figure out how you got that way. What did they do to make you so different? If your parents are uncomfortable with what you believe in, what you do, and who you have become, it’s up to you to reassure them that you are still a good product of their upbringing, and above all, that no matter what, you love them. Visiting them is tense because, even though they know you, they do not know any details about your spiritual life, and they do not know what to expect from inviting a Witch into their home. Put them at ease with plenty of verbal reassurances. Tell them, and mean it from your heart, in your own words, that they gave you a good childhood, taught you what you needed, and that you hold them in high esteem. Don’t show up with butt-loads of over-information about your religion because this is too overwhelming. Concentrate on your relationship with your folks first.
- Never let your family think you have abandoned them. When you grow up to lead a very unique lifestyle and/or practice an alternative religion, they will expect you have done this in rejection of the background they provided for you. If your family brought you up with a very traditional religion, they won’t see it as you turning your back on God per say, but that you have broken with tradition, which seems equals rejecting family. They will wonder what made you change. Who convinced you to convert to something new and different? And what kind of person are you to have gone against your family? You haven’t changed just because you practice a different religion, you are still the person they have always known, and no matter how unique you really are, no one can completely divorce themselves from their roots. We all still carry the morals and spiritual lessons we learned. This is something to point out to your family. Share with them how you have incorporated lessons learned from the religion you grew up with with what you practice now. All ways of worship have one or several things in common. Find them! Focus on what still spiritually connects you to each other.
- Want to know one of the best ways to reconnect with your family after a long separation? Before a reunion, put together a family tree and/or research your genealogy. Discovering the deepest connections you have throughout history (if possible) teaches us all how intimate the cycles of birth, death, and rebirth are — something Pagans and Witches revere — and sharing this with our family also connects us to far more powerful and greater forces of this Universe. Remember to consistently reinforce your blood and spiritual connections by honoring, not just your ancestors, but the family you have alive today.
- Make sure to keep past hurts and unresolved conflicts away from the dinner table. It’s not only bad for digestion, it is just inappropriate. If there is still bad blood between you, save it for a time when you can talk in private. Let all talk during dinner be jovial and sympathetic, avoid controversial subjects, and even if you do not share your family’s interests, be there to listen for a change. Sometimes all it takes to make your family happy is to just show up and be there! So enjoy the free meal, sit back, and relax. It’s time to give the people you love a break. Oh, and remember to help out with the cooking and cleaning the dishes, too.
- The key to earning the respect of your relatives is to take a step back, stop yourself from dominating the conversation and demanding attention, give them your attention, listen to what they say, let them talk first, and then respond kindly to their opinions. Sometimes what they have to say will make you angry and you’ll feel the need to correct them. But wait a second. Imagine how you would feel if you were in their place. Realize how they must feel about you! No matter how much the world may change, or how much information is available out there, there are people who will never change their mind and do not want to understand what you believe as something that is normal or right. Being a Witch is still viewed as being the enemy in many people’s minds. Some people wish to cling to their fears and myths, and they will also believe you cling to the myths, too! No matter how much you strive to educate and enlighten, there will always be those who won’t like you because of what they think you represent. Some members of your family are like that. They will always dislike your religion, but if they truly love you, it won’t stop them from loving you. Remember to do unto them as you would have them do unto you… Don’t brow beat them into believing as you believe. Because it’s the same for you, isn’t it? You don’t like their religion, so why feed them the same story?
- Never laugh at the questions family ask, especially if they are silly and based on common myths. Also remember to not always be the one to initiate providing information. Acting as a lecturer will make you the poop of the party. You’re with family to have fun, not be a preacher. Last thing anyone wants is be given a guilt trip, especially during a Christian-stolen Pagan holy day. If your folks want to know, they can google it nowadays. But if they really want to know the background, they will ask you. When they ask to know what you believe and how you worship, that’s the best time to share with them your truth. Be patient with them and forgive them if they misunderstand, or even make fun of, what you practice. It is weird to them. They mean no harm. You are the only Witch they’ll ever know, and you owe it to them to act with compassion, swallow your pride, and suspend your criticism. What you do and say matters. Your example will be the one they will think of when other people speak poorly about your peers. As a result, they may even defend you!
- Do not make the people who love you pay for your principles. Likewise, stop torturing yourself over choosing to practice your holy day over their holiday. Also don’t make anyone, including yourself, suffer over your religious views. Refusing to gather with your family because you reject a holiday or other tradition simply because it is not your own is one thing, but refusing to visit family because you think you will cause a problem? Then you are your own problem, not your family. No matter what the occasion, a family gathering is about togetherness, never really about the holiday itself. You can still do your own thing your own way at home or with your peers later. I have spent too many years unnecessarily alone thinking that my family did not want me around because I was a Witch. I thought my presence in their lives would just make them uncomfortable and that it would be better for me to stay away. Every holiday I would torture myself over making the decision to separate myself from them, but the truth was they did not care I was a Witch, what mattered to them was that I was still their little girl, Tina. I am Valentina the Witch to anyone, but I’ll always be Tina the Girl or Teena-Weena (my nickname from childhood) whenever I’m with them. Being present in my family’s lives wasn’t just about doing a good deed for them, it healed me. It no longer matters to me if someone wishes me a Merry Christmas or a Happy Solstice, it’s all the same to me because the season is all about being with family.
- When a relative becomes abusive towards you for what you believe in, they are out of line, not you. Do not attack them back and do your best to step away from the situation. Confronting them in a violent way will not solve anything. When they attack you violently, even if it is just verbal, it is unacceptable and you do not have to put up with that. Tell them how they make you feel and stand up for yourself, but don’t stick around to let them continue to hurt you. Something like this happened with my mother and I years ago. I found that instead of yelling back at her, it was better to step away, let things cool down, and then have a decent conversation to address what was wrong later. Most often the case was my mother’s anger was over something that had nothing to do with me, and I was a reminder of the rejection she felt when I told her I was a practicing Witch. I could be just as confrontational as she was, too. The worst thing to do is to attempt to force a loved one to accept your religion against their will. If you love someone, what should really matter to you is that they are happy. Love matters more than religion. Love serves the Gods more than the human invention of religion. How we treat each other should reflect this.
- Dealing with an especially intolerant religious relative is a special spiritual challenge that you should bravely and lovingly accept with all your heart. The more intolerant they are of you, the more they will teach you to be more tolerant of others. The more they judge you and point out all your flaws, the less likely you will be to do that to others. Or you could take the opposite route, you could take after them and become as big a bigot as they are, but hatred only begets hatred. No matter how angry and hurt they make you, first realize a few important things…
- When they fight for your attention and make it their mission to “save” you, they do so mostly out of concern for your soul. They believe you will be damned for all eternity. They love you and don’t want that to happen to you.
- They will never give up on you because they truly believe you are in danger. They are trying to rescue you. Imagine that heartache.
- Fear keeps them from understanding and accepting you are okay. Your soul is of great value, once lost it is gone forever. Since you have chosen Witchcraft, they believe you gave up your soul to the Devil. This is unacceptable to them.
- Hatred of the Devil keeps them vigilant. Anything to do with Witchcraft is of the Devil, so for you to become a Witch means you are now on the side of the enemy. Anything you say they will consider a lie.
- They cannot listen to you because they believe you have been deceived. It is as if you have become delusional — you cannot be reasoned with — and yet they love you and wish to save you. Imagine the pain and suffering they go through!
- React with empathy, thank family members who pray for you, and tell them you will pray for them, too. What? They probably didn’t know Witches pray! Now there’s an opportunity to share what you do. Remember to do this when you’re on the street and a Christian stops to witness to you. Most people who do that do so because out of concern for your soul — they really want to help. Only a rare few are truly bigots. Thank them! Don’t give anyone an excuse to dislike you and do not volunteer spiritual information about yourself. Your relationship with the Gods is personal, and just as intimate as a sexual relationship with a lover, so why give away something that is too special? Well, maybe it would be cool to share with everyone your awesome relationship, but there is a time and place for that sort of too much information exchange, right? Use commonsense.
- Fight an uncomfortable situation with good humor. Have fun! Be silly! Did your family forget who you are when you told them you became a Witch? Better go remind them how human you are. Let them see you happy. Show them how much fun being you really is. It really is awesome being a Witch, isn’t it? We get to do all kinds of interesting crafts and things. We’re not serious and spooky, well, not all the time. If you cannot be yourself around the people who changed your diapers, who can you be with? Let go of your darkest cares. Get over your ego. A Witch’s life is one of joy! This is no secret. Pass it on…
I dedicate this to my Mother, the evangelist who taught me how important religion is, and why having a personal relationship with the Divine is so essential in life.
I also wrote this in dedication to the rest of my family — the people who have seen me go through many, many, many changes and who have been there for me even when I did not know they were thinking about me. Thank you!
No matter our differences, love is all that matters.