It took years of agnosticism before I could use the word “atheist” in front of my father, a man who couldn’t have cared less about religion until he began to face his own mortality. He was horrified at first, mostly (I think) because he was nearing the end of his life and couldn’t stand the thought of not seeing his family on the other side. When I explained to him what I believed was almost the same as what he believed, that I just labeled it differently, I eased his concerns.
I described myself as an atheist in front of my students once and disrupted the class for the rest of the hour. Later, on the last day of the semester, I asked if there was anything we discussed all term that they wanted to go over. About half of their hands shot up. It was my atheism they wanted to talk about.
Because it’s hard enough identifying as an atheist in most societies, I refrain from using the word “pagan” or “witch” unless I am in the safest of spaces. I could get all metaphorical about modern-day witch hunts, but let’s be honest, they aren’t all that metaphorical. I built a reputation as an academic, and have recently transitioned into the private sector. I don’t want to hear details about my colleague’s Sunday communion, so I am not going to share my ancestor rituals with her.