Last night I had a three hour argument with someone close to me about my spiritual practice. This was someone from whom I had every right to expect support, or at least tolerance. He is a lifetime Pagan, he has unusual lifestyle choices of his own and emotionally he certainly should be in my corner. And perhaps he even is--in his mind.
But what came out of his mouth was fairly outrageous. The underlying message was one of arrogance ("I am more of an authority on all things mystical and spiritual than you are even if I've never practiced shamanism in any form"), presumed authority over me ("I don't believe in X, Y or Z mystical practices and neither should you; you should follow my lead in what to believe") and dismissiveness ("No, your beliefs are wrong, because I say they are wrong"). In addition he tried to convince me that I should submit myself to the scrutiny of a professional debunker in order to "prove" my beliefs. (What the hell?)
It gets worse. He has shown an alarming disregard for my rights and boundaries in this matter--such as when I caught him fiddling with my ritual tools ("I'm just making sure you're using them correctly") and placing an image of his god on my altar ("He did it, it's not my doing"). When confronted, he became defensive and spewed even more of the above at me, ignoring completely that it is not his right to touch my power objects, any more than it is his right to try and tell me what to believe. In short, his words and behavior were toxic, and before I accepted my path wholeheartedly they would have sent me into a frenzy of self-doubt.
But that was then.
He seemed absolutely amazed when I instead stood up to him. And hurt, which is ridiculous considering how he had been treating me. We talked it out, but I honestly worry that he is too wrapped up in his cynicism and belief that He Is Right for this to end in any way but more arguments.
Ultimately, though, he could not shake my belief in my spirituality; the only thing he managed to shake was my belief in him. That also seemed to shock him; after all, I was directly challenging his presumed authority over me in this matter. But the point was not that he eventually had to back off; the point was that he could not make me doubt.
Every once in a while you will run across people who will challenge your faith, rights and boundaries. Your challengers will range from skeptics demanding undeniable proof in scientifically verifiable fashion, to the spiritually deluded ("You're going to Hell"/"You can't be a shaman without X piece of paper that you paid a pile of money for"/"You can't be a shaman because you aren't part of an indigenous culture") to the inexplicably motivated ("I know that the word "shaman" is the most widely used term for your spiritual practice, but HOW DARE YOU USE IT.") How does one handle a situation like this?
1. Take deep breaths. The calmer and more focused you can be the better.
2. Do not internalize what they are saying to you. Just because they presume authority over you and believe themselves to be right does not mean you have to buy into it.
3. Don't take it personally. Chances are that the person you're dealing with is so blinded by their own issues that they have no idea how much of a jackass they're being.
4. Remind yourself of your right to your own path, your reasons for being on the path, and the spirits who have chosen you. Do not let yourself be swayed away from these by someone else's words.
5. Choose your battles. Stand up to them verbally if you feel it is necessary. If it is possible, walk away. Remember that it is not your job to convince them of anything. It would be better to be able to have an evenhanded conversation on the subject, but some people will just not be able to give up Being Right long enough to listen to what you have to say.
6. Purify. Smudge, take a salt bath, seek out more positive company, and otherwise do your best to leave what was doubtless an uncomfortable conversation behind you.
7. Check in with Spirit. Make a small offering, go journeying, talk to your Guides. Reconnect. Get back on the horse spiritually.
A challenge to your spirituality should not be viewed as an attack where you are being victimized; that places you in a position of weakness. Instead consider the challenge as just that: something for you to rise to and overcome. You are stronger than you think. And even if you're faced with someone too egotistical and stubborn to bother arguing with, your victory in this matter does not lie in winning a verbal argument. Your victory lies in remaining steadfast in your spiritual truth.