The rain falls with a steady hiss. It makes distant objects and people indistinct, isolating us, driving us into our own little worlds that extend no further than the reach of our fingers. The rain thunders around us, drowning out every other sound but its own relentless drumming. The drops sting our skin where they strikes us, pelting down from on high, driving us to seek shelter wherever we may find it.
Once, a long time ago, I was just this weird kid who believed in the gods that everyone else had forgotten.
I did most of my growing up in a small rural town where difference was not readily tolerated. The rain there, the disapproval and scorn for thoughts and feelings outside the norm, seemed constant and brutal. Like any child caught in a downpour, I found myself running from place to place, seeking refuge from the torrent.
I might have found sanctuary in droning confidence of The Church. The rites and rituals certainly carried a comforting familiarity with them. Yet, as I huddled there with so many others, I chanced to look upward and noticed that the roof, a patchwork of borrowed traditions and beliefs, was leaking. The rain still pattered down around us in those cloistered halls, and I knew I could not hide from the truth inside someone else’s lie.
And so I ran instead, to the Halls of Science. If I was not allowed to believe in the Many, and could not convince myself to believe in the One, I would have to settle for None at all. I closed the door against the questions of Why, and busied myself instead with the business of How. But the rain, which I had thought so safely locked outside, came running in through the gaps under the door. The more I tried to convince myself that the water wasn’t there, the more I slipped and fell on the cold wet floor of spiritual experience.
And finally, as I left small-town life behind, I began to meet others who believed as I did. Time passed, and the internet came along, opening all corners of the world for us, and more and more we spread the word about the shelter we had found beneath the Pagan Umbrella.
The Pagan Umbrella has become one of the first things we explain when we speak to newcomers, or interested outsiders. “Paganism is an umbrella that includes many different faiths and traditions,” we like to say, “now please, won’t you join us and come in out of the rain.”
And I did.
Of course I did.
It seemed like the smart thing to do.
Standing together under an umbrella has distinct advantages.
Together we stay dry, and warm, and safe.
Isn’t that what we have been told that we need, again and again? A place of safety, away from the dangers of a society that does not approve? A place where we can be what we want to be and say what we want to say, without judgement from outsiders?
There is a comfort and a power in numbers, and while standing together the strong can better safeguard the weak. We have stood together for many years under that ever-expanding canvas, while the rain beat down around us.
Sounds nice, doesn’t it. And a bit more fuzzy and romantic than the reality, I think.
The truth is never as pretty as we might like it to be, and if you crowd enough people into one small space, there is going to be conflict. Usually, the arguments come from differences over just how big the Umbrella is, and who gets included within its reach.
But lately, my questions have begun to run deeper.
I’ve been wondering if maybe the Umbrella isn’t the worst possible metaphor we could have come up with?
What does an Umbrella do?
It shelters us from the elements, yes?
So here we are…,
However many thousands of us, crammed under a single Umbrella, unable to move in any decisive way unless the entire group wills it, unable to see where we might be headed if we did move, and unable to decide if we even approve of the company we find ourselves standing in.
So the only thing that the Umbrella is really good for…,
And here we are, cowering in fear of the deluge of criticism and disapproval which we imagine society will rain down upon us. We stand here, arguing about who gets to be under the Umbrella, and who doesn’t, all the while hiding our faces and our beliefs from those around us.
Oh sure, we talk about how we want to be accepted by the world around us. We prattle on about how we want to make things better. And we never bother to ask how we can hope to accomplish anything at all, if we’re so very afraid of getting a little wet in the process.
We’ve allowed Paganism to become a safe-house for the spiritually damaged instead making it a force for change in a world which almost all of us agree has gone terribly wrong. We bring no honor to the gods by hiding ourselves away from the world.
I understand the impulse to seek shelter. I remember well my own struggle to find a place of refuge. I only wish that, instead of reinforcing the impression that we must hide ourselves away, our time under the Umbrella was used instead to build people up and send them out again into the rain, to face the challenges that rise before us.
We have cowered for long enough, don’t you think?
It is time to come out from under the Umbrella.
Come out and let the world see us for who we are! Let it judge us! Let it rain its objections down upon us! Let us stand together, facing the storm, where everyone can see us and know who we are.
We will…, we must, shout and chant and pray and work our collective will upon this world. Only then will the rain finally pass. We will never see the sky, our children will never feel the sun on their cheeks, if we do not first stand and face the rain.