This week I succeeded in compelling the Virginia Dept. of Corrections to reverse its policy and allow Pagan inmates to use Tarot. Although I live in North Carolina, I'd been advocating for a VA inmate who'd contacted me for help. VA DoC's resistance to my efforts on his behalf continually stoked me and turned what should've been an easily resolved matter into a needless battle of wills. VA DoC became my personal hobby; 60+ letters later, I was thrilled to hear the goodly news.
The rush of feelings I experienced at my latest victory felt as fresh as the first time I won Wiccan religious freedoms. I felt flush with happiness; humbled that the persistence of one woman can make such a difference; and gratitude that the Gods had given me the wits to win bigots over.
My mate and I have done a lot of successful religious activism over the years. We got North Carolina's 53 year-old law forbidding fortunetelling repealed statewide in 2004. (That campaign took 6 years to come to fruition.) My tutelage of Ohio Pagan inmates helped them fight religious repression all the way to the Supreme Court, which ruled that prison officials should not impede the practice of Witchcraft (Cutter v. Wilkinson).
We never seek out the problems: The sad fact is that Paganism and Wicca are routinely persecuted faiths across all strata of society today. And the methods that bigots use are little changed from those they employed in the past — ridicule, harassment, eviction, etc.
Many who perpetuate such repression proudly proclaim themselves Christians, yet they fail to see the irony inherent in their actions. While they say they follow a lover of children, they think it fit to fire a child's mother for her faith — thereby literally starving an innocent child.
The complaints of pagan persecution that I receive daily from folks worldwide are not mere inconveniences. These experiences are no joke, some "lesson to be learned", a blessing in disguise, or an opportunity to see a silver lining in all bad things. No, these instances of institutionalized and societal bigotry are as painful as they are perpetual.
It can feel daunting at first to be relied on to solve strangers' problems that so impact and imperil their lives. What if you screw up? What if you make things worse? Let compassion be your guide — commiserate with the sufferer in one breath, and empower their Witchy backbone with the next. Research the problem if you're unfamiliar with it, and ask experts for advice when need be. The main thing is to do something to help another Witch in trouble — the more hopeless the situation seems, the more they need your calm, wise care.
I pick both battles I know I can win, and those I fear I can't. In each case I work the problem point-by-tedious-point, concomitantly helping the person going through the crisis to learn myriad ways to resist religious repression and practice Paganism with pride.
Our track record of spiritual legal successes reveals surprising truths. Contrary to Witches' penchant for secrecy and pacifism, the squeaky wheel gets the grease: Complaining mightily gets results and going public with the problem elicits popular sympathy for your plight.
Most folks raised in the U.S. are encouraged to suck it up and not rock the boat. They're not taught that effective complaining is an art form with its own language, rules (veiled threats of publicity or legal redress are fine), and brinksmanship-like maneuvers.