Because it is Ash Wednesday, some of my coworkers have come into work with ashes on their foreheads. The tradition of the ashes is (mostly) Catholic, and is used to symbolize the dust from which God made us. The ashes also symbolize grief, in this case grief that we have sinned and caused division from God.
This day always reminds me of what I have done to fit in at work over the years. Prior to the job I have now I worked for a much smaller company in a much smaller town in a different state. The manager of that facility was very strict Christian. In fact, during my time there he ‘invited’ all of us to be guests of his at his church to watch the Passion of the Christ, which had just recently premiered.
I knew that it was not politically correct to have this invitation sent out, but I also knew that I probably wouldn’t be keeping my job long if I declined, and probably wouldn’t find another job in said town either. So I went to the movie. And since he had opened the door on it, I kept the guise of being Catholic going by going to ash services during the work day with several other coworkers.
Now I know some people will read this and get upset. They will think, “You shouldn’t have had to do that!” or, “You should have come out as being pagan!” Others might get upset with the fact that I wasn’t Catholic, yet I received the ashes. The problem is had I come out as pagan, I probably wouldn’t have worked in the town again. And most likely, I wouldn’t have worked in that part of the state again.
There was also another benefit for not ‘coming out’. Because of my position there, I was able to get into the company I now work for, and move up in this company into the position I now have, which I like very much.
Nowadays, because I am working for a much larger company in a much larger town and in a different state, I haven’t been keeping my Catholic guise up nearly as much as I used to. If someone asks about it, I talk about being raised Catholic and try to steer the conversation to allow the person get the assumption that I am either lapsed or that I practice but I am not an avid church goer. And, if like today, someone asks about why I didn’t go get ashes, I talk about not being able to find a church that my husband and I can agree on since we are both living away from the diocese that we grew up in.
This whole thing brings up a bigger point. I don’t have a problem with people practicing their religion at work. I don’t have a problem with people having religious pictures up at their desk. But I also know that the religion I practice is one that is not mainstream, and (especially right now), brings up the association of being racist or evil. So I don’t want to bring out my heathen and pagan beliefs at my workplace. Sure I have stones at my desk and have even toyed with the idea of putting up a small, indistinguishable altar in a corner of my bookshelf. But that’s about all I would do. I just don’t talk about it.
Is this type of behavior acceptable in the scheme of things? I don’t know. Will it advance the acceptance of paganism in any form or fashion? No. However, it will keep me in a job, and more importantly, it will allow me to continue to do the work that I need to with other coworkers without dealing with any misplaced stigmas or creating a hostile work environment.
Let me point out – I don’t go out of my way to hide it. I frequently do magic at work. If someone sees me at the local pagan shop and asks about it, I tell them what I am doing there (usually it’s my time slot to read tarot). The person who asks usually then gets uncomfortable and drops the conversation, and the whole thing is forgotten. I am treated very much like the female Muslims are here at work – so they wear a headscarf. That doesn’t mean they are bad engineers. It’s forgotten, and we move on to the work at hand.
Let me also point out that in the past I have been so far out and ‘in your face’ about being pagan that I have lost jobs. I have been turned down for promotions because of it. And I also have had coworkers push and push me to change my beliefs in the guise of saving my soul, which created a hostile work environment for me and for the others that worked with me. Having been in those situations, I realize that the balance that I have created in my current work environment is what is right for me and the professional and personal goals that I have for myself.
I applaud the people who want to come out to everyone. I applaud the people that choose to come out at work. I hurt with them when they have bad things happen to them because of their choices. And I don’t think it is right that I have to downplay my religious beliefs. However, I recognize the two-way street this is. If I am allowed to walk around with my religious symbols proudly displayed, that means someone else, who dislikes my faith can also proudly display their beliefs, and will most likely harass me until they can make me change my mind in order to save my soul. In the long run, all that is going to do is to reduce productivity at work and make the entire environment hostile.
Therefore, with everything I have seen and done over the years, I have come to the conclusion that a healthy balance is what we as heathens and pagans need to have. We don’t have to be ‘out’ all the time. If we were, all it would do is cause more problem that it would be worth. Perhaps in some situations, like my own situation 12 years ago, we have to be more cautious than normal. It’s unfortunate, but it is a fact of life.
Let’s face it, as much as I would like to be a full time tarot reader and intuitive, it’s not going to pay the bills. I need another job to supplement the income to keep the things that allow me to do what I want to do with my life. And by achieving the things I have in my life, even if they are not all religious undertakings, they still honor the Gods.