This is an essay for my Personal Development class. I thought about it, and decided to post it here.:
I am an intensely private person, although I have not always been. It has taken me many years to reach this point, the point when I hesitate to relate anything I’ve thought or done to another person, convinced that somebody else wouldn’t understand. Years of conditioning have brought me to this point; acclaiming myself to be a Pagan to my third-grade classmates when asked had them calling me a ‘penguin’ for the rest of the year. If growing up has taught me anything, it is that people who will surround me on a daily basis are essentially stupid and will misconstrue, misunderstand, and use anything I say against me out of malice or ignorance if I give them any chance to do so at all. So, please forgive me if I hesitate to be forthcoming with many of the experiences of my youth. It is merely because my experiences as a child are so far outside the realm of ‘normal’ that anyonewould be hard-pressed to empathize with anything I might have felt on the matter. Still, in terms of persecution, perhaps others would understand the impotent fury that I still feel over what I would relate now.
My community had been holding gatherings for several years on a piece of property in New Richmond, Ohio, called Trusty Pines. We held them during the festivals that coincided with the times of the year that were considered very powerful and holy by the ancient druids: the First of May, the Summer Solstice, the Vernal Equinox, or as close as we could get to them on a weekend. During these festivals, we would camp, tell stories around the fire, have a feast, and at night, we would drum and dance in the larger fire circle that sat far back on the property. Bardic circle was my favorite: each person who sat around the fire was encouraged to perform or share something to entertain those assembled and would be showered with the applause of “Stone the Bard,” and would partake of a mead horn, in the Viking tradition. I love mead. It’s made from honey and often other spices, and it’s sweeter and more poignant than anything else I’ve ever tasted.
Bardic circle would generally happen on Friday night, right after most people finished setting up camp. Saturday morning would dawn, and people would come straggling out of their tents to attend workshops, cook lunch over fires, or begin preparation for the main ritual that would happen that night. There was always an air of anticipation that would begin as a low hum, and finally grow to a frantic buzz of excitement for the main event. We’d make our way to the main circle either in a procession, or some other manner. We’d hold the ritual—the invocation or evocations, the working, the banishment—and then we’d party until dawn. When I say ‘party,’ I mean that the drummers would pound on their congas and their djimbes, and the dancers would dance in a circle around the fire.
If you’ve ever danced around a fire, you would know that between the radiant heat of the flames and the heat your own body produces from frenetic movement, you would become quite uncomfortable quickly. In my community, nudity doesn’t hold any of the same social outrage as a sexually repressed society. It is absolutely nothing to us if a woman walks around topless, or even completely nude. It loses its shock value when no one takes the slightest offense to the sight of naked people. It is the same in nudist colonies, where clothing is the exception and nudity is the rule.
Well, these gatherings had been going on for a few years, on private property, far away from the sightlines of the neighbors or the road, when a few of the locals decided that we were Godless Satanists and had to be stopped. It started one night when a ‘concerned’ neighbor called 911, and supposedly told the police that we were sacrificing babies on a bloodstained altar or some nonsense like that. The cops showed up en force, drove up to our back circle, demanded the women put their shirts back on, shined their flashlights into the fire (where some KFC bones had been tossed) and held my family at gunpoint until they ascertained that they had been called out, essentially, to bust up a party of hippies. All of the kids were already in bed, snug in their tents. The police had no reason to be there, so feeling quite chagrined, they left.
This didn’t stop the neighbors. They then tried to bring us up on charges of ‘noise pollution,’ which sparked an investigation with decibel meters and lawyers’ and the whole nine yards, because, even though we weren’t Satanists, and we weren’t hurting anyone, it still got their goat that our right to practice a religion different from theirs was being legally protected. Eventually, having no other recourse, they had to give up. That didn’t stop the chain-saw guy from revving his chainsaw at 5 a.m. the Sunday after. Also, there were rumors that we worshipped Colonel Sanders that circulated for years afterward. The bigotry and ignorance of these people were astounding, and I see this echoed to this very day in the behavior of the willfully ignorant and the obstinately bigoted people I have the misfortune of meeting. Over the years, I’ve had to water down the strangeness just to get through daily life without hearing something that makes me cringe.
It is a lonely existence, feeling distanced from an entire population by nothing more concrete than a conviction, reinforced over a few decades, that the real me has little to offer the majority that rules this country. I have learned to hide behind a mask of banal respectability until the mask became indistinguishable from the person I am inside. I find myself coming to the conclusion that survival in a social environ hinges entirely on the ability to conform—to compromise—oneself so that a common ideal or experience may be shared with a wide cross-section of society. It is not pretty. It stinks to high heaven of the death of personal conviction, but this, too, is how one grows up. Dreams die. Idealism gives way to practicality. Naivety becomes jaded mistrust. We build up armors and behaviors that get us where we need to go and keep us intact in the process, safe from ridicule, from persecution, and from the pain of disillusionment.