Continuing on from yesterday’s post, so you might want to check that out first.
My junior and senior years were hell.
Junior year was the year of personal life and friendship problems, school problems and the fact I was taking 8 classes while being involved in every music ensemble at the school that I was eligible for. I was in German (the “difficult” language of my school), 4 AP classes and 2 different large-group ensembles. Suffice to say that I was extremely stressed out. And me being stressed means I don’t censor what I say, not really at all, and I’m far snappier.
AP US History. Single worst class in terms of my beliefs up to that point in my life. The teacher is a life-long, card-carrying Republican, extremely conservative, Bible-thumping Christian who thinks that women should be stay-at-home mothers regardless of personal choice, thinks that Christianity is the best religion…and perhaps one of the best teachers I had in high school. Now, I disagree with almost every personal belief this man has, but I respect him. He has reasons for his beliefs and opinions, and he is respectful of others. He knew from day one that I was liberal and that I was not really going to agree with anything he said. See, I had the last period for his class, and 2 other periods of AP US came before, so they had warned him about me. Of course, with what I just said about him, you’d think that he was the one to cause me problems, but no. His strategy was, during discussions on potentially polarizing topics relating to US history, to say something extremely inflammatory and start a debate with the kids who spoke up most vehemently. He did this because when he made these comments, people reacted with their gut instincts, not some coached and sterilized answer. They said what they really thought, and the reasons why they actually thought something. It was a brilliant strategy really, because you saw what people really thought. Not to mention – he disliked any student who just parroted their parents/guardians opinions without having done research themselves or reading the news. If you agreed with your elders because of research and your own opinions, no problem, even if you were liberal. If you were a parrot, well that did annoy him.
About February of my junior year we were discussing morality. We were discussing about higher moral laws of the land, i.e. God’s law as related to the secular laws imposed by the courts, so the question came up of personal moral codes. So he asked what kind of “higher moral authority” or “morals” did people in the class hold to. Of course, three-quarters of the class all said “the Bible” or “Ten Commandments”. Others said Golden Rule, some said “good karma”, and a few just said (this is important in a moment) “treat everyone with respect”. I sat dead-center, front row due to the seating chart the teacher had implemented two months earlier, and I was in a bit of a snarky mood. I was not in the mood to listen to sanctimonious discussion about how the Bible is the greatest moral authority in our country and the arguments there. So I muttered to myself, “Wiccan Rede and Three-Fold Law of Return”. Of course he heard me, somewhat, and asked me to repeat. So I said it out loud. He asked what it meant. I’ve always believed that there’s no point in lying. I don’t cry my beliefs from the roof, but if someone asks, I’m honest. So I said that I was a witch, but that the path they would probably recognize the name Wicca.
Dead silence of course. At this time only one person in class knew I was Wiccan, a girl who had been, incidentally enough, in my freshman-year Shinto project. My teacher looked surprised, but I almost suspect he had wondered about it, since I had begun wearing a small pewter pentacle necklace during my sophomore year. One girl, one of the ones who had said not 5 minutes earlier “treat everyone with respect” immediately freaked out. She started saying that I was going to hex them all, or curse them, that I was the servant of Satan and that I couldn’t “spread [my] satanic, ungodly filth” in a “Christian classroom” and that I was going to Hell. Well of course, being the smart-ass that I was (and still am, if I’m honest) I fired back. I calmly informed her that Wiccans do not believe in Satan nor in the Christian Hell. I told her that I was not ungodly, satanic or perverse for my beliefs. I also said that as we were in a public school I had every right to share my opinions like everyone else. Whether she was comfortable with it or not was irrelevant. Here’s where the snark came in. I told her that technically her Hell was defined by Dante centuries after Christ’s death. So really, which of us was going to be in trouble? The one who believes in a place described by a man not God’s Son, the Pope or an apostle, or the person who believes in none of this and doesn’t believe that someone who is an “unbeliever” can be punished in such a way. She proceeded to say I was “delusional and seduced by Satan”, and that she would not be seen in my company…and a few other things I can’t remember anymore. I lost my temper there and actually turned to face her. I did say that I was not delusional, I was not a worshipper of Satan, and that if she disliked my religion so much, she could just ignore it like I ignored hers.
Well, my teacher told her to back off when she kept insisting that I was corrupting them all. He explained that I was correct. Public school means that I can say what I want when I’m not causing problems or being hateful. What I had said was merely my opinions, grounded in my own beliefs, and therefore was perfectly fine. As for my corrupting anyone, my teacher said that it was doubtful that just breathing the same air would do that (he was a snarky teacher, one thing I loved) if someone’s faith was strong enough. This of course resulted in everyone finding out about me being a witch. I don’t think anyone ever heard Wiccan, since “witch” was more disgusting to say. My pentacle had constantly been mistaken for a Star of David and so I was constantly explaining in the months leading up to this that it was a pentacle, a protection symbol, and no I was not Jewish. I had a teacher tell me to remove my pentacle about a month before the AP US history blow up. Substitute teacher, but she was “uncomfortable” with it. I told her no, it was not a gang symbol, it was not distracting, and it was my religious freedom to wear it. I always wore my pentacle, but 9 times out of 10 it was, because the cord was so long, tucked into my shirt. She kept telling me to, so I finally told her that I wouldn’t. If she wanted me to remove the pentacle, then every Christian girl in class had remove her cross earrings, necklace, ring…everyone had to remove any jewelry with Christian symbols, and the 3 kids wearing those “Jesus died for your sins” or “this shirt is illegal in __ countries” shirts would either have to change or flip them inside out. She dropped it then.
So junior year was no fun after those two big events.
Senior year though was where things got interesting. Since it had come out that I was a witch, I didn’t bother to hide it. I wore my necklace openly until it broke and I lost it. However, my grandma had bought me a triskele pendant the year earlier for my 16th birthday. I hadn’t worn it because I was afraid of losing it, but my mom bought me a sturdy silver chain, so I started wearing that instead. I got the comments about “hexing people” and worshiping Satan, which 99.9% of the time I just ignored. If someone kept talking and kept talking I would talk to the teacher of the class and have them get the kid to leave me alone. No one in the entirety of my class was unaware of my beliefs at this point, but I didn’t care. After all, why should I have to hide my beliefs when everyone else could crow constantly at school about how “God saved them” or “Jesus died for our sins”? So I was honest. I didn’t shout it, but I also didn’t sit back and let people say things that were insulting, rude or lies about paganism of any branch. That led to problems of course, but I was going off to college in a few months, so I figured that my peace of mind in not lying about my beliefs was more important than their comfort with my beliefs.
And it seems I need a third section. I’m sorry about that. I didn’t realize I had this much to write originally. Actually writing out the full story is a lot more intensive than just having blurbs about it. Well, Part III will be covering college up until now. That will be next.∗