Coming out of the Drum Closet

by Elizabeth Vongvisith

We who consider ourselves god-touched are often at a loss as to how to explain the peculiarities of our lives to friends, family, co-workers or maybe even co-religionists who do not share our peculiar circumstances. Fear of being criticized, mocked, dismissed or disbelieved keeps many of us from talking about our experiences. It’s easy to believe that you are the only one who hears the voice of the Holy Ones, who feels the spirits’ presence in your surroundings, who speaks to the dead, or who has those crazy dreams or weird synchroniticies, especially when you’re surrounded by other people who quite obviously don’t, or who may even sneer at those who do. This is a shame. It would be wonderful if we lived in a society where people were accepting without being judgmental about other people’s lives, but we don’t. So the question for most of us is, how open should we be about “this god-touched thing,” and how much information is too much?

It should be remembered that not everyone necessarily wants to be open. That’s a choice that ought to be respected. Keeping that aspect of your life entirely private may be an option for you, but it’s not necessarily an option for everyone. Some of us are expected by our gods to have full disclosure about everything in our lives. Some of us are expected to speak openly on only a few topics, but must be completely honest about those few. And some of us just feel obligated to tell those we care about what’s up with us, because we love them and because it could affect them in future — heck, it may be affecting them right now. Even if you can handle giving details about your life to perfect strangers in a workshop presentation or on a website, however, it’s often awkward and difficult to think about having that same level of openness with one’s family and friends because there is more at stake, emotionally speaking. So, how does a god-touched person go about coming out of the drum closet, so to speak, with people who might have known you before you were claimed by the spirits, people whom you see and interact with every day or who are otherwise in a position to be deeply affected by this circumstance?

The simple answer is to do whatever the gods or spirits tell you to do. In some ways, it’s easier if They have insisted that you be completely honest with everybody about talking to spirits and hearing them talking to you, because while it’s scary, at least you don’t have to keep track of who knows and who doesn’t—which, in a worst-case scenario, can turn into a tragicomic exercise in half-truths and lies by omission that might literally drive you mad with distraction and paranoia. If your patron deity has commanded that you will always answer when asked a direct question about your spiritual work, well, you’re probably got no choice but to do so regardless of who’s asking the question. Sometimes a certain level of disclosure will satisfy–perhaps the spirits do not care how much detail you go into so long as you’re honest about being a devotee of whatever tradition doing whatever work it is that you do. It’s largely dependent on your individual relationship with Them.

However, not all the gods care whether or not we are open with other mortals about our spiritual lives. What if you don’t get any feedback at all? What if They have purposely left it up to you to decide? This happens more often than not. I believe that people who are required to be relatively public about their lives are in a minority. Judging from the experiences of the many god-touched folks I’ve known, often the spirits are insistent about being active and visible within one’s (often tiny) religious community but leave it up to you whether or not to tell Mom and Dad you’ve become a god’s consort and that’s why you dumped your last boyfriend. So how do you handle this sort of thing? Or should you even bother?

Before you decide, consider this: in many ways, coming out as a god-touched person is a lot like coming out as gay. You’ve got some people who’re prepared to accept and love you no matter what, and some who will recoil at the news. Some people will never, ever believe that this wasn’t a choice you made. Some people will be fascinated (not always in a flattering way) and some won’t care. Some people might be disappointed but will still care about you anyway, and some will never want to speak to you again because things are just too weird. Even our various religious communities are full of in-fighting and disagreement about the proper place of “people like us,” with some arguing that it is a valid spiritual path and some saying that we’re all just a bunch of self-aggrandizing wankers who can’t be content just worshiping the gods and spirits like normal people do.

I can’t assure anybody reading this of a good response from their loved ones and friends when and if you decide to tell them about being a spirit-worker or a witch or a priest or an oracle or a shaman or a healer. But, eventually, if your connection with the spirits means that much to you and has that much of an impact on your life, you’ll have to address this, and you’ll have to think carefully about how to go about it. Will being totally public about your spiritual pursuits hinder you or help you in other areas of life? Is your family likely to disown you? What about your spouse and kids–are they likely to freak out if you appear in the living room wearing cat-skin gloves and a bag of runes at your belt on your way to a seidhr session? Do you live in an area where you are likely to be harassed and threatened for your beliefs? Would you job be in jeopardy? You have to use your best judgment in each instance, and sometimes you’ll guess wrong. You might choose to hide your spiritual experiences from someone and live to regret it, or conversely, you might choose to be honest yet meet only with rejection and anger. I wish it were otherwise. In my mind, being god-touched shouldn’t even be a matter of controversy, merely a fact of life like having a talent for art or writing, or being blessed with a cast-iron digestive system that allows you to eat whatever you want with no ill effect.

The fact is that direct contact, intervention and/or being claimed by the gods and spirits happens to people regardless of who else does or does not believe in its existence. No matter what you decide to do, if you are someone who has experienced the realm of the spirits to the point where there is no doubt in your mind that These Things Exist, that is unlikely to just go away. The likelihood is that you will still be expected to do your duty by the Holy Ones and fulfill whatever tasks They may set before you. Sometimes the gods are sympathetic to our plight as people living in a largely agnostic modern Western culture, and sometimes They don’t care biddy shit how many broken friendships and cold shoulders from co-workers we have to endure. But chances are, your status as someone who is in touch with the spirit realms is not going to change just because somebody else–even one very close to you–disapproves of what you’re doing.

Whatever you decide to do, you will need to do one thing: grow a thick hide. Prepare yourself for criticism, disbelief and possibly outright condemnation. Even in a best-case scenario where you tell everyone in your life and they accept and support you, someday you will encounter someone who does not and whose opinion is not easily discounted or ignored. And, even if people are willing to accept everything now, that may change depending on how much of your life gets sucked into your spiritual calling and how badly it affects other people. It’s good to learn not to either fear disapproval or let your religious life get too wrapped up in winning approval, because then it stops being about your relationship with the Holy Ones and becomes an exercise in either showing off or placating others…and while I don’t claim to speak for any gods or spirits, I highly doubt that this is what They have in mind when They bother to intercede in our lives so directly. I have known more than one person who did one or the other (or both) and regretted it later.

Being open to whatever degree about being god-touched is not something that’s necessarily easily resolved just by sitting down and having A Talk, of course. People come and go in our lives, circumstances change, and relationships grow and develop. Sometimes it takes time for other people to accept that we are who we are, particularly when they are worried about our mental and physical health and concerned for our well-being. The best thing you can do to allay the fears of your loved ones is to prove those fears and concerns wrong: Deal with your baggage. Take responsibility for your deeds. Learn from your mistakes. Share your triumphs and let those who care about you see how your relationship with the gods and spirits can be useful and good. I strongly believe that even in the strictest god-slave relationship, the deity in question ultimately has an eye towards the personal well-being of the mortal as well as whatever Their lofty goals are otherwise. Show others how your contact with Them enhances your spirituality. Living as a functional, useful and well-rounded person vastly increases your chances of getting your loved ones to a place where they can accept and even celebrate who and what you are in life.

If they still refuse to accept it or are outright hostile about it, it may come down to cutting off contact. That’s sad, difficult, and painful, and it too must be carefully considered. For those who might think I’m being too harsh, I’d remind them that it’s likely that even if your family disowns you, the gods are unlikely to just go away once Their presence in your life becomes an inconvenience. They have a way of sticking around, I’ve noticed. But I’m not one to judge anybody for doing whatever they can to stay on good terms with their loved ones in a situation like this. If you’d rather not tell your beloved grandparents about it, ever, and let them think that you’re still going to church every Sunday, then make sure your reasons for doing so are clean and that you aren’t compromising your relationship with the spirits or avoiding your obligations. Sometimes it’s less about what we personally want or need and more about sustaining a modicum of peace and harmony within a family or among friends.

Although I am fairly public in that I use my legal name on all my writing and websites and have published some obscene poetry about my god-husband, I neglected for several years to tell my family about my contact with Loki and Hela and the strange turn my life had taken as a result. My parents especially were concerned because they saw no reason why I was unemployed and apparently at loose ends at the time. I feared that if they knew about what was going on in my life, they would think I was insane and try to convince me that I ought to be committed. I mean, how often do people tell their families that, by the way, ancient Norse deities are talking in their heads and that’s why they’ve made these inexplicable life changes? I dreaded the day when I’d have to tell everyone what was up with me.

I needn’t have worried, however. My mom was surprisingly understanding, despite being a fairly conservative Protestant. She even said that she was sorry I hadn’t told her about it before because it explained so much about me. My dad was similarly understanding, although I think he was secretly chagrined that he’d bothered to send me to an expensive private university just for me to wind up being a spirit-touched weirdo. Other family members and friends were more or less accepting, so for me it wasn’t painful or hard to tell everyone in my world about my strange life and stranger religious calling. For that, I am grateful.

Some time after, I asked my dad why he didn’t seem more curious about my religious life and he gave me a wary look. “I’m from a traditional culture and I know better than to ask,” he said. “If you talk to ghosts, I don’t want to know!” I’ve respected his wishes as well as those of others, and I don’t talk about the spooky details of my religious life with my folks or with certain old friends who knew me “before”–and that’s okay. I see it as a need-to-know subject, and, while it pains me a bit that I can’t share that aspect of my life with some people, our relationships are close enough in other ways that it’s not a big issue. And I have plenty of other friends who do know the details and aren’t afraid to discuss them.

Like I said earlier, you don’t necessarily have to talk about what the gods have done to you or for you, and it may even be better to keep silent than to be loud and proud about your religious doings. Ultimately, those of us who are god-touched aren’t as fascinating to other people as we sometimes think we are, and there are some experiences which should remain private anyway, or which simply cannot be put into words. Those of us who’ve shared them will understand, but it’s good to recognize that no amount of talking can convey the essence of the Mysteries to those who have not experienced them for themselves. It’s quite enough for most people to accept the “voices in your head” part, after all.

Originally published in 2009.

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