(Blegh. I’ve had a cold, and trying to write coherently through a head full of phlegm was just not working. Feeling a little better today, so I’ll give it a try.)
My biggest personal obstacle is the lack of well-defined traditions, structures, and organizations. My first few years in Paganism were a struggle against my envy of more well-defined traditions. I have never liked the loose and unstructured approach common in Paganism, and for my first few years I kept longing to run off and join the Benedictine monastery that is a few towns away from me. (“But Josh,” my friends said, “You aren’t Catholic. You aren’t even Christian.” and I’d say, “Well… yes, I know. But…”) I was longing for a tradition polished over many generations, perhaps changed by time, but essentially unbroken. The “broken-ness” of our Pagan traditions is still very hard for me to look at.
The other big obstacle for me is having a theology that so many people in my culture consider ridiculous. I know some people consider all religion ridiculous (like most of my family), but my theology is even considered ridiculous by the majority of Pagans and nearly all non-Pagans in this culture. I think I’d find it a little easier if they considered it blasphemous or evil, but most often the response is more like, “Wait, for real? You actually believe that? But… really?” and often they decide that since I’m clearly not a raving lunatic, I must actually mean something different than what I seem to be saying.
This keeps me from discussing my religion in any kind of genuine detail with nearly anyone, because some of the fundamental concepts are just complete conversation-killers. I can discuss some things, in general terms, but it is a very careful and selective process, and one that always makes me uncomfortable. Even in very open-minded interfaith contexts, I’m holding my breath, waiting for them to decide I’m too weird to be taken seriously. It comes up a lot in my yoga program, in discussions about spirituality or personal growth or what constitutes “right living”. A lot of the Hindu/Vedanta-based “theology” they use has multiple distinct points of incompatibility with my beliefs and practices, and I’ve got to choose between trying to join the discussion across this huge gap of understanding, or keeping quiet while they discuss how these principles are “universal to every spiritual tradition”.
I’ve not been in a position to personally experience much serious discrimination due do being a Pagan polytheist. Some ignorance, sure, and some hateful comments, but not any notable situations of someone in a position of power acting with clear bias against me due to my religion. To be fair, it doesn’t come up often, but when it has come up it has been more of a “people look at me funny” thing rather than a “people harass me or deny me services” thing.
Locally we’ve had more problems due to being open about the fact we eat our livestock (*SEE NOTE*) than we have about religious stuff. (For instance, some guy drives past our house a few times a month, late at night, blasting his horn and yelling, “DON’T KILL GOATS!”) There is a big overlap though – people who are upset that we keep livestock and do our own butchering often put some weird religious slant on things. (Our dog got a discarded duck head after butchering, hopped the fence, and left it in the dirt along the road in front of our house. A neighbor decided this was related to some sort of creepy religious activity. Nope.)
Nothing generally comes of it. Just gossip. This is New England, and most people, if they think what you are doing is awful, they go out of their way to ignore you. Thankfully, the local authorities are sick of people who move to a rural area and then pitch a fit about people doing things that are considered perfectly normal here, so the livestock-related stuff is a non-issue with them. If someone complains they saw us killing a goat in our backyard, the cops are likely to say, “Was it your goat? No? Then why are you calling us?” All of the official folks with power to do anything to us don’t seem to care at all what sort of bizarre religious practices we engage in, just so long as we’ve got our camping permit and our guests don’t park in the road.