Who are you, anyway?

People fascinate me. We have a social habit of constructing ourselves according to who we are with. Our professional at-work persona may be very different from who we are with mummy, and who we are in the dungeon – to offer a possible array. For many Pagans, the spiritual self is held separate to the everyday self, as a necessity. Being at odds with the mainstream, we often find it essential to lay that bit aside for many activities. We all hold our social groups separately. We do not want the boss to meet mummy and we sure as hell don’t want mummy to know about the dungeon… It makes the idea underpinning facebook’s ‘real name’ policy’ seem rather childish. Of course many of us have multiple identities. Of course we don’t want to make everything we are available to everyone. Life would be miserable for a lot of people were that to be forced upon us.

Even in close knit communities where there is an appearance of everyone knowing everyone else rather well, we do not always share our secret selves. The intimacy of our spiritual experiences, the privacy we build around our sexual lives, our darkest fears and most treasured hopes are not available to everyone all of the time. Rightly so. No one should be obliged to share anything. There is power in both the sharing and the withholding, and the right to choose how we do that is of great importance.

Sometimes we wear masks, and sometimes we are soul-naked honest with each other. Sometimes what personality we express is part of a complex, even contradictory character. Sometimes it’s what we did because we thought it was expected. Acting roles or baring hearts, we construct ourselves from moment to moment, scene to scene. Often we do that based around habits and notions of normality, and without much thought. At the same time, we’re trying to decode what everyone else is doing, trying to figure out what they meant, if they were truthful, if that whole encounter was real.

No wonder we get so tangled up and confused sometimes!

If someone shows you an array of faces, it raises interesting questions about which ones are ‘real’. What of that was meaningful? What of it should inform all future interactions, and what should be disregarded as white noise or conformity to expectation? In Pagan contexts we may be tempted to big up our Pagan qualities. If everyone else apparently has a spirit guide, totem animal, deity spouse, angelic guardian, witchy granny et al it’s tempting to re-craft what we have in order that we might fit in. Humans are predisposed to wanting to fit in. I have argued before that our most authentic self is the one we aspire to be, but we have to watch out for the person we want people to think we are – which may not be the same at all.

Working out who ‘the real me’ is in all of that can be difficult and confusing. Working out the reality of anyone else is nigh on impossible. And yet it is from these shifting sands that we try to build relationships and communities. It probably explains rather a lot.


About Nimue Brown

Druid, author, dreamer, folk enthusiast, parent, wife to the most amazing artist -Tom Brown. Drinker of coffee, maker of puddings. Exploring life as a Pagan, seeking good and meaningful ways to be, struggling with mental health issues and worried about many things. View all posts by Nimue Brown

6 responses to “Who are you, anyway?

  • angharadlois

    This is really interesting stuff to consider. As I started typing this answer, I noticed your bio (“druid, author, dreamer…”) and remembered how difficult I’ve found it to write one of my own! I love the idea that our most authentic selves are the people we aspire to be. One of my big problems is that I find it quite easy to be who people want me to be, which often leads to problems later on when I start figuring out how much of that chimes with who *I* want to be – helped recently by the realisation that I am already viewed as a bit of an oddity anyway and yet people still like and respect me, so there is no need for me to be quite so timid and reticent about my oddness!

    My desk at work has gradually acquired a sort of shrine-space at the base of the computer, currently consisting of a magpie tail feather, a hop flower and a shiny conker – all of which were picked up from the ground around our office block. I’ve noticed that people like to loiter around it, and often open up much more in conversations after seeing this little representation of my pagan-ness – which is also their pagan-ness, too, because we all feel the pull of the seasons and the beauty of the world around us at times.

  • Blodeuwedd

    I wonder how true it is that there is a “real’ you underneath all the masks. It is true that there are personas that we adopt to “fit in” where it is necessary to do so (it was such a relief when I gave up teaching to stop having to try to dress, talk and behave like a teacher. The actual teaching I miss.) but I think there are several things I call “me” all of which are genuine and authentic. An interesting thing to ponder!

  • Éilis Niamh

    I don’t think our authentic self is what we aspire to be. That is our ideal self. Our authentic self is who we are, period. Who we are is enough. We are light, beneath the complexities of personality. Unless a person is narcissistic and hides behind a permanent mask because that is all that is left, at the heart of us we are free persons, and shine through the trappings and functions of a social world.

    • Nimue Brown

      We are made by our genes, our family backgrounds, our cultures, by what we learn accidentally, what we absorb unconsciously – I have spent years delicately unpicking things I had become… and I’ve seen others do the same. I cannot, for my own sanity, accept the crushed, ill, demoralised dysfunctional person I was a few years ago as my most authentic self, even if it was the sum of my life experience to that point. We all acquire things, through normalising, conditioning and the such, is that who we are? I choose to believe differently. I recognise it is a choice and might be wrong, but the idea that the consciously chosen self is the most authentic helps me to function.

  • greycatsidhe

    Something I’ve been thinking a lot about recently…

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