Column: Pressure is Privilege

During this year’s U.S. Open tennis championships, players walked through a tunnel at Arthur Ashe Stadium in Flushing, Queens, New York, that holds a plaque with a quote from Billie Jean King: “Pressure is a privilege.” This plaque is a visual reminder that the joy of competition is both earned and enhanced with the pressure to play at the highest level. Pressure surrounds each of us daily, whether we are serving for a win in a tennis match or simply going about our daily lives. We live and survive due to our responses to the pressures that are around us.

Like a player during a championship match, we strive every day to make choices that methodically wear down the resistance of any obstacles that come our way. In the end, it comes down to love and passion. As fans, we can admire athletes and entertainers who demonstrate clear enthusiasm for their sport or craft. Those players who remain visibly constant in the trifecta of talent, passion, and effort easily earn the admiration and devotion of many. One arena that holds similar devotion is the round of Pagan Pride festivals during the weeks before and after the autumnal equinox in the northern hemisphere.

During the time of the equinox, we celebrate the balance of night and day and give gratitude for our own harvests. Pagan Pride Day festivals primarily offer a chance for the general public to learn a bit more about the Pagans, Heathens, and polytheists who live and thrive among them. Pagan Pride Day also serves as an opportunity to give back to the larger community through a food drive or other collection for charity. For Pagans, Heathens, and Polytheists who are new to the community, Pagan Pride Day becomes a convenient way to meet others, to participate in open worship, to attend classes, to hear Pagan music, and to indulge every aspect of what it means to be a part of this community.

Pagan Pride Day logo

Pagan Pride Day logo [courtesy]

I’ve found that what we give to our communities enriches our own lives. One of the major complaints I have heard over the years from many who have just arrived in any town is difficulty in finding others who think, live, worship, and value similar things. In some areas, this may be a matter of safety; in more welcoming areas, it is a holdover from times when it was not safe to reveal any connections to the Pagan, Heathen, or polytheist communities. 

During Pagan Pride Day, we can celebrate with an attitude of gratitude for the many gifts, friends, and experiences we have had during the year.  By donating food, we help to provide for the larger community.  We demonstrate the charitable nature of our community to the general public as we work to correct stereotypes and misconceptions of those who are openly Pagan, Heathen or polytheist.

The weeks around the autumnal equinox are a time to enjoy the bountiful harvest of what we have sown literally and figuratively during the light half of the year. In the fall, Pagan Pride Day falls around the rites of passage such as the beginning of a new school year. We learn new things during each festival celebration. Although the autumnal equinox does not mark the start of a new year for most Pagans, Heathens, and polytheists, it does indicate a time for pause to review and to give thanks for what we have received. We can look around and say “these are my people”, even if we don’t know a single person’s name.

The pressure to reaffirm and to embrace one’s identity as a Pagan, Heathen, or polytheist is often internal. When we make a commitment before our gods and within our traditions, we continue a journey with an external component: how we choose to embrace our path before the general public. We can take the time around the Autumnal Equinox to do a balance check. Not every town has a Pagan Pride Day, and it is not always possible to go to the nearest Pagan Pride Day every year.

Selena Fox (with Shauna Aura Knight) at Chicago Pagan Pride.

Selena Fox and Shauna Aura Knight at Chicago Pagan Pride [courtesy]

What can be done is to bring a bit of community neighborliness to everyday life.  Each of us represents an opportunity for the general public to see how Pagans, Heathens, and polytheists live. Are we good stewards of our homes, our neighborhoods,  and our schools? To the best of our ability, do we consider our impact on the environment? Do we say “thank you” for the abundance and bounty that is around us in our everyday lives? Do we see balance in our own lives and in the larger community? Do we promote a positive representation of what it means to be Pagan, Heathen, and Polytheist?

While Pagan Pride Day is a great time to renew, refuel, and refresh our ties with our various communities, we can make every day one where we live proudly in our traditions as Pagans, Heathens, and Polytheists.  In many ways, we are the change we seek in the world without saying a word.

In our communities, we accept the privilege of pressure as we battle the obstacles of stereotyping who and what Pagans, Heathens, and polytheists are. We can extend our devotion with each successful Pagan Pride Day and each encounter with those who have positive interactions with us.  We can increase our passion for our traditions by making the effort to share knowledge and experiences with others when appropriate. We can expand our community by making effort to bring in those who might not otherwise know that there were Pagans, Heathens, and polytheists in our locale. 

Each fall, our communities rise to the challenge and the pressure to improve our presence in the community over the previous year. Each year, we succeed in gathering more food donations and in allowing the general public to know a bit more about who we are. For many of us, Pagan Pride Day is a miniature family reunion. Some may only see the rest of the community on that one day, year after year. That one day allows us to give thanks, to reap the bounty from earlier in the year, and to reaffirm our balance through ties with our community.

As Pagans, Heathens, and polytheists, we thrive when we accept and embrace the internal pressure that we have within our traditions and on our paths. An athlete savors the end of a match by soaking up the adoration of fans. We relieve our internal pressures by enjoying Pagan Pride Day however and wherever we can. Pagan Pride Day is for one and all. Pressure is a privilege, and on Pagan Pride Day,  it is a privilege to be Pagan.

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