I was considered the black sheep of the family. Neighbors didn’t want their kids playing with me. Michelle Pfeiffer
We speak figuratively of the one black sheep that is the cause of sorrow in a family; but in its reality it is regarded by the Sussex shepherd as an omen of good luck to his flock.
The Folk-Lore Record, 1878
The rest of the family cannot allow the role of scapegoat to go unfulfilled, because it serves an important purpose — it gives them a place to toss their unwanted psychological garbage. If they did relinquish the need for the role, they would have to face reality — there are problems they have found impossible to accept and address.
O, ye villain! you – you – you are a black sheep; and I’ll mark you.
Charles Macklin’s The Man of the World, a Comedy, 1786
This one’s gonna hurt.
Recently, I’ve been the soothing end of many a cast-out Pagan from their blood family roots. Seems to be the case that either 1. Pagans are terrified that this will happen to them and therefore keep silent and a bit alienated from their kin OR 2. They come out and get confused but solid support from their families OR 3. Come out/get found out and are yet again knighted as the Black Sheep OR 4. Come out and get promptly ejected from the hearth and home of their Christian kin. What’s wrong with this picture?
Oh, just about everything. Pixelations are all off and blurry. Let’s start at the start and work our way through this clusterfuck. Let me tell you a story.
Susan has been the black sheep of her family her whole life. As a teen, she worked to earn the title a bit: played with drugs, ran away, stole cars and variously acted a hormonal asshat. Now, even though all of the counselors told her Parental Structure that she had all of the symptoms of sexual abuse, she was still dressed up in the Black Sheep t-shirt, special edition circa the Eighties, and was promptly pranced about in times of familial distress as the reason for a lack of general happiness and contentment for the family as a whole. A myriad of fun ensues: jail, suicide attempts, dismissal of education, rape, abortion . . . you get the idea. All against a Christian backdrop, Susan is hung up to dry on the cross of the family Tree of Dysfunction as the reason for their malaise. Shockingly, Susan does not find comfort in the cross–nor its benefactor. And time marches on.
Three failed marriages later, Susan stands up and does the unthinkable: She goes to college. Graduates with honors. Becomes a teacher. Supports herself, raises her children and finds true love . . . and a path that tells her that she is not put together in bones of sin and the blood of sorrow. It was a path that she had as a child–a hidden one–and one that her mother knew all too well, but it was a “family secret,” tightly hidden (with all of its casting magic) in Sunday pantyhose and the Lord’s Prayer. (Confused yet? Imagine how Susan feels.) No longer bound for hell, Susan “publicly” outs herself under a pseudonym . . . and gets fundamentally disowned by her family. Wait . . .
Then we have “Rose.” Rose was raised by missionaries, taught to love Jesus, fairies, trees and mysticism and . . . magic. (Imagine her confusion.) Brought up on an island fraught with magical lineage, raised on songs like “Puff the Magic Dragon,” Rose (much like Susan) has a strong ethical core and still holds the firm position of Black Sheep for her family. While her brother and sisters flounder, she graduates college, supports herself and, inevitably, “comes out” of the closet as a pagan. And: her family quietly, but purposefully, re-knights her the Black Sheep of the Family.
Both were taught that forgiveness was key to an afterlife in heaven. Both are the eldest of their siblings. Both have worked harder, and gone farther, than their family unit ever dreamed of doing. And both are unequivocally denounced as worthy by their blood kin.
Because they are Pagan.
But wait! There are other stories.
“James” is raised by educated, devote Christian parents. As he grows towards adulthood, he realizes that his path is an ancient one, speaks to his mother and is told that she supports him in his spirituality. No condemnation, rather, she joins his Pagan church (while remaining a member in her own), attends his holiday ceremonies and becomes a warm beacon of hope for his kindred.
“Mike” is raised by a devoted Christian mother. She remains Christian, attends his church, offers love and words of wisdom to his kindred and understands that “there are many paths up the mountain.” (And ye gods, do I love her. I call her “momma.”)
RB has had a long, sustained and healthy relationship with Susan while maintaining a membership in her Presbyterian Church. They have long talks about their similarities, the nature of “god,” the importance of growing an ethics of responsibility . . . and supports Susan fully in all that she does on her Pagan path. RB has even considered joining Susan’s church–out of solidarity.
And I’m not even nicking the surface here.
Cam was raised in Texas by a war veteran/Republican Christian. She is an outed Pagan Priestess and the light of his life. He follows her blog, educates himself on her path and buys her “witch” trinkets on her birthday. And knows damn well that his grandson is being raised in that same path. And tells her every chance he gets what a wonderful mother she is . . .
So. What the hell is wrong with Susan’s and Rose’s family?
You tell me. Last week, Susan’s mother (who apparently has left her witch ways to adhere to something more *proper* in the public eye) told her daughter that she would have “rathered (Susan) had been gay. At least that wouldn’t have been a choice.” SIGH.
Where do I begin? Let’s start by dropping my dry blog voice for my Southern one, deal?
What jar of uppity nonsense has someone downed some lily-white throat to become that pretentious? At what juncture do we rip away from our beating chests that GODDESS thump and call it a choice? Why, I reckon I could “choose” to also live somewhere without fireflies and cotton fields, sweet tea and sunsets, or my soulmate and his sweet smile. I reckon I could “choose” to forgo my relationships with my own younguns when they hurt me, disappoint me or live outside of the realms of my own. I reckon I could “choose” to be gay, Republican, Christian (all at the same time would be amusing) just as easy as I could “choose” to walk away from the very path that nourished my soul and brought me back to my *right mind.* But I don’t reckon that would be healthy. Nor right. To have heard Her breathe inside of me, to have felt Her move within my flesh, to have seen Her light this dismal, technological wasteland of a second millennial world and “choose” to walk away?
I reckon I cannot “choose” to be a white sheep, either. Turns out, it’s in my skin.
Isn’t it just the cat’s pajamas to see folks who would balk at the option of choice offer it up like a dollar menu burger to their kin? Denounce my Goddess because you have walked away? Naw. My soul is not for sale, even to appease another’s discomfort, even to make Thanksgiving more Christian, even at the (chosen) loss of family and hearth.
It’s simply this: most families who desire/force a black sheep position on a member are in desperate need of a little therapy of their own. Those of us who grow up in these darker wools believe those legacies and myths of having a darker matching soul. However:
“While dysfunctional parents dance around the obvious real problems right before their eyes, they play a toxic game with the scapegoated child — the game is called, ‘You are the reason for anything and everything that is bad or wrong.’ The whipping boy cannot escape this role, which is typically assigned in early childhood, long before a child can think objectively about messages given to them.”
The problem lies where the heart begins to see such a message as a profound truth: we feel guilty, bad, sinful for our natural elemental state. Left with only two choices (sell out or stand ground), most of us become fractured in a war between our love for our birth family and our need to thrive. Healthy families never present this choice to those whom they truly accept and love. My answer to this sorted, contorted asshattery? My soul is not for sale or public consumption. I sincerely do not care the cost to others, as this is my soul. If you love me, this request would never hit the food table. I am only *perceived* to be the Black Sheep of the Family for their own amusement and need–but this is not my actual self, nor will I allow it to be. In my *real* life, I am a mother, a sister, a Priestess, a friend, a leader and a minister. We only carry the concept of sin and banishment if we choose to do so. I do not. It’s too heavy. I would rather carry the weight of Earth, karma and truth than the burden of sin, blasphemy and regret.
I hope that Rose will struggle through the mire of emotional-familial blackmail and come out just as clean. For those families who have chosen to condemn their beloveds in judgment for the Pagan path:
Re-read your Bibles. Read them closely. No reckoning is as severe as that which counters love with condemnation and pain. We will survive the loss of your arms around us, just as our LGBT brothers and sisters have done. The question remains:
Will you survive your own premises of judgement?
For my ownself:
I have no “choice.” My heart beats with an ancient thump, I hear Her voice when I close my eyes, I feel Her when I plant my okra seed in the dirt, I see Her in the ritual fire–surrounding by love and a humming older than trees and wiser than church buildings. I cannot walk away, for in doing so, I walk away from myself. I will be your Black Sheep, for as long as you need, but I will never be anything antithetical to my own truth. I am only orphaned on this plane, in this time. For you are my blood family . . .
But She is my soul. (And Her favorite color is black.)