There was a time when we were satan’s right hand...people...but atheists have since taken over that position ever since the Christians decided it was them eating all the babies instead of us. But get this! We’ll be back!
Yeah...that only works when you’ve seen the Terminator...
Anyway...besides atheists, we pagans are the favourite punching bag for the Christian prize fighters in the fight for people’s souls. Christian propagandists love to depict us as satan’s personal squad of spellcasters, wandering the shadows hexing people into our midnight orgies where we sacrifice a few children in exchange for powers from the devil. (Apparently everyone loves the taste of baby. It’s a wonder there are any left.)
There’s a lot of misinformation out there about pagans, about what we believe, what we do, and about why we are pagan. I’m going to try and dispel some of the more common misconceptions, and highlight some of the reasons we who how follow the pagan path choose to walk it.
Contrary to the popular Christian perception, we pagans do not evangelise, and we do not recruit. We don’t just suddenly wake up one morning and decide to be pagan, nor are we refugees from Christianity who thought “Geez, this god fella is such a douch. I’ll be a pagan instead.” There are pagans like that, who are simply being rebellious, who then later turn back to Christianity. It’s these “pagans” who generally end up caught in cults, who, upon their return to the fold, write their testimonials about the horrors of “the occult” and how Jesus saved them. No. You never left Jesus behind to begin with, and because of some problem with authority, ended up making some stupid decisions you now conveniently blame others for. Born-agains and the “Jesus saved me from teh ghey” brigade. But more on that later.
Those who choose the pagan path do so for a vast variety of reasons, and none does so lightly. In order to walk this path, you have to know yourself. You have to know where you’ve been, and who you are. Only then can you figure out where you want to go. You have to be honest with yourself, and most importantly, you have to own up, and then nut-up. Self-honesty is never easy, and taking ownership of mistakes even less so. When you start walking that path, you must be prepared to walk it alone. Alone in the sense that there’s no god to carry you, forgive you, save you, fix you...and no devil to blame for any mistakes. That sense of self-empowerment, of taking sole charge of your own life is one of the reasons some people choose to be pagan. It was one of the big drawing cards for me.
Another major reason is acceptance. You can come as you are. This is a big drawing card for especially the GLBT community, for whom acceptance within a more mainstream religion can be...troublesome. Paganism is very personal, so you “worship” in a way that feels right to you. There’s no right or wrong way to be pagan, and this flexibility allows individuals (or like-minded groups) to practice however they see fit.
What binds all these things together though, is a feeling that there’s more the universe than what you see, or more than your current religion offers you. For many, monotheism simply feels too constraining, too rigid. Others find explanations for their personal experiences in paganism. It just seems...like a better fit. For many pagans, the divine is all around us.
I know it all sounds very mystical and airy fairy. Perhaps it is. It’s all about your own personal instincts, intuitions, feelings and thoughts. How you reconcile them, and how they fit into a specific path is how we arrive at the tradition we follow. I started out as a Christian, but found that Christianity just didn’t make any sense. So I went looking for something that did, something that fit my spiritual side, but that wouldn’t outright clash with my rational side. A friend of mine introduced me to Wicca, and while I was initially very sceptical, I gave it a shot. What persuaded me was how Wicca invites you see if it works for you. The book I read outlined the basic theory behind it, described the model rituals, and provided a model Book of Shadows (more about this later, and NO. It is NOT an inverse bible or anything like that.) You can take the model stuff, try it out, and see if it works. If it works, then great! If not...then maybe Wicca is not your path. I liked that, so I tried it. It didn’t take me very long to realise that while the meditations worked for me, I wasn’t comfortable with the Wiccan mythology, or the ritualistic nature thereof. What I did like was how it wove the spiritual into almost everything you did, how it restored one’s natural connection to nature. Some of the herb lore worked, the cleansings made me feel better, but ultimately I found that I sucked at spellcraft. Which is probably not surprising, given that I have no real interest in it. I know Wiccans who are big on spellcraft, but I never really bothered with that aspect of it much. So don’t ask me if the spells work or not. I honestly don’t know.
Since Wicca as a whole didn’t work for me, I kept what did work, and moved on. And that’s how I ultimately arrived at my path, through trying stuff out, discarding what didn’t work, and keeping what did. That’s basically what the Book of Shadows is. It’s nothing more than a record of your (or your group’s) growth. You record in it the basic principles of your path, and keep record of how it changes. Your insights, your speculations, your convictions...it all evolved, and it helps to record it so you know where you’ve been. You record those rituals and meditations that worked for you, the spells that worked or failed. Your experiments with new herbs or visualisations...all those things go into your Book of Shadows. It becomes the sum total of your spiritual knowledge, and no two pagans’ Books will be the same. Yes. Those websites advertising the “real book of shadows” is nothing more than a money making scheme. There is no such thing as “the one true book of shadows”. 99% of the books thus advertised will be fake. It is exceedingly rare for a pagan or pagan group to make their Book of Shadows available in any way, shape or form. The reason should be obvious: it’s intensely personal. That, and some of the spells, potions and the like can be dangerous if you don’t know what you’re doing. A lot of it is herb-craft, after all, and as such can be very dangerous. Even though the potion says to apply it on the skin, you KNOW some idiot is going to drink it. Or where it says “burn 3 grams worth”, they’ll double the dosage “because it’s a big room” or some such excuse. Like I said...dangerous, and definitely not for the consumption of idiots.
These days, my path is much closer to shamanism than Wicca, but without the “magick” element. There’s no overall mythology attached to it. I accept science’s version of how the universe began, and how life evolved. I view the spirits sort of like (scientifically) undiscovered life forms. No, I can’t provide you with any empirical evidence whatsoever, and since I’m not trying to sell paganism to you, I’m not even going to try and convince you that my own personal experiences are valid. They are to me, and that is enough for me.
Now to correct some major misinformation that exists about paganism in general.
Pagans worship the devil!
To put it in the simplest possible terms: no. We do not worship the devil. We are not an offshoot of satanism. Satanism isn’t paganism, nor is paganism in any way connected to satan. Of course, the Christians will never be convinced of this. They can’t even wrap their heads around the idea that atheists don’t believe in god, believing even them to be some sort of satanic cult.
We pagans have plenty of gods and goddesses of our own. We don’t need to pillage Christianity to find some. We also do not believe in absolute good vs. absolute evil. In fact, we don’t even believe in good and evil as Christians define it. We believe that overall, the universe is neutral. Nothing is inherently good or evil. We do, however, acknowledge light and dark. Light and dark is perceived only by self-aware beings, and we interpret actions they take as either light or dark. A serial killer’s actions would be considered dark, and we believe that he himself is entirely responsible for that. The devil didn’t make him do it, and god isn’t going to put him in hell, or save his soul, if he converts. It is up to each individual person to keep themselves balanced in whatever way they feel appropriate. Some feel they must fight the dark and embrace the light. Some believe the exact opposite. Some feel no need to strive for either state. They act as they see appropriate, in both directions. However, for those who choose to lean toward the darker side of things...beware. Negativity breeds more negativity, and the more negative actions you take, the more negativity you will attract to you. That’s karma at work.
The main purpose of paganism is to lure Christians away from god and overthrow Christianity!
Wow. Really full of yourselves, aren’t you? A whole religion existing for no other reason than to lure you from god, and people following it for the same reason. Seriously...that’s messed up. Like I said in a previous article of mine: you’re not that important. Not everything is about you. Get over yourselves. The purpose of paganism is the same as any other religion: to bring people closer to the divine. Paganism is just one of many ways this can be done. You get there by subjugating yourself to some old book; we do it through closeness to nature and understanding ourselves. Stay with your god or not – it’s no concern of ours. This is why we do not evangelise, or recruit in any way, shape or form. What would be the point? Our paths are individual, and encourages independence. To borrow and old Hopi saying – “One pagan is a good friend. Two pagans make an argument.” We’re much more likely to argue with each other than with you.
So what about morality?
I can already see the Christians triumphantly claiming that we have no morals. Nothing could be further from the truth. We have the same built-in morals that every human is born with. Just because we don’t acknowledge “good and evil” doesn’t mean we don’t know what right and wrong is. We also know the consequences. Where do you think the Rede came from: “An it harm none, do as ye will.” We know that it’s wrong to harm others. It’s not divinely inspired, or stated as a law to prevent us from harming others. It’s more of a motto, if you will. This is central to us, to our very beings. That doesn’t mean we’re incapable of doing harm. We make mistakes. We can act out of strong emotional impulse, whether right or wrong. In other words, we’re human. When we do make mistakes, we have to deal with it and find a way to make amends and forgive ourselves.
Pagans indulge in sex orgies!
Oh geez! Get a life already! What is it with you Christians and sex? I honestly don’t understand why sex scares you so badly. Seriously, everybody does it, and there’s nothing wrong with it. Yes, we pagans have sex. So does everyone else. It’s part of being human. Contrary to popular Christian propaganda, in general, pagans don’t as a rule practice group sex, wife swapping or moonlight orgies. As with everything else in life, individual people will choose for themselves. If you don’t feel comfortable with sex as an act of worship, then don’t do it. Nothing says you have to. Yes, we probably do have more sex than Christians do, and we certainly don’t do it only for procreative reasons either. Sex is life-affirming, and life is sacred. Sex is a powerful force, and we acknowledge that fully. We also tend not to hide from our sexuality. Certainly we’re not ashamed of it. That doesn’t mean we’re sex-crazed maniacs getting it on with everyone in our field of vision, nor does it mean we’re unsafe, or unfaithful. Pagans can be monogamous. I’m very strictly monogamous, because that is in my personal nature. That’s also in the nature of many other people, though not all. As with everything, as long as no harm is caused, why not? Perhaps Christians are just jealous because we’re getting more than they do.. :p
Pagans worship the moon!
Actually no, we don’t worship the moon. The moon is a symbol – read my lips here – a SYMBOL. Es Why Em Bee Oh El. Some pagans view the moon as a physical representation of the feminine power. The moon isn’t PHYSICALLY a/the goddess, it is merely a symbol of the goddess, in the same way that the cross isn’t physically Jesus Christ, but merely a symbol of Christ. We don’t worship the moon. We don’t pray to the moon. Some pagans do meet at the full moon, and the full moon is a rather special time for us, but it’s just a time DURING WHICH we have such meetings and ceremonies. It’s really no different from Christians going to church on Sundays. Going to church doesn’t mean you worship the building. It is merely the time when you have your religious ceremony. You do yours on Sunday mornings, we do ours on full moon nights. Why full moon nights? Well, because the lunar cycle is rather important to other natural cycles. Little things like the tides, our internal clocks etc. Pagans tend to be very observant where nature is concerned, and certain feminine cycles also seem to correspond to the same 28 day cycle as the moon, hence the moon’s symbolism of the feminine. It’s really not that complicated, or sinister. Except possibly to patriarchal Christians who are afraid of the feminine and who wishes to keep women in particular under their masculine thumbs.
Pagans use environmentalism to lure children into the occult!
The logic here somehow escapes me. To quote Focus On The Family, a well known Christian group: “Teens who have grown up hearing news about the rapid destruction of the environment are likely to feel compelled to do something to help stop it. Wicca seems to provide an opportunity to treat nature with great care and reverence.” Environmentalism and paganism are not synonymous. Yes, pagans do tend toward environmental responsibility, because the environment is sacred to us, but what you’re really saying here is not so much an insult to us as an indictment against Christianity. If, as you claim, paganism (wicca specifically in this case, although closeness to nature isn’t isolated to wicca) offers teens a way to “treat nature with great care and reverence”, why is it that they need to embrace paganism before they can “treat nature with great care and reverence”? Do you really need to be a pagan to do that? Can you not be Christian and treat nature with great care and reverence? Fact of the matter is...you don’t need to be religious at all – Christian or pagan – to be an environmentalist, or to treat nature with care and reverence. Many, if not most, natural scientists are not, nor do they need to be. If people turn to paganism because “we offer them a way to be kind to nature”, then maybe you should ask yourself why it is that Christianity doesn’t offer them that opportunity. “The occult” doesn’t enter into it at all. Christians conveniently forget that we pagans are not evangelical in nature. We do not actively try to convert others to our beliefs. It goes against our beliefs to convert people. We believe that everybody’s spiritual path is their own to discover and it’s not our place to try and make you follow a specific path. To do that would make the path completely devoid of meaning. The claim that we “lure” children (or anyone else for that matter) is nothing more than fear mongering.
Pagans don’t believe in absolutes!
Correct. Congratulations! You got one right. We don’t. We don’t believe in absolute good and absolute evil. We don’t believe that humanity was created perfect and then fell from grace. We therefore don’t believe in sin, and need no god to tell us what to do. We don’t believe in “the immutable laws of god” either. For us to do that, we’d have to first acknowledge your god, and for us to do that, we’d have to accept that the universe works fundamentally differently from how we observe it to work. We don’t believe in a single, male deity in whose image we were all made because no such god could possibly encompass all aspects of not only humanity, but all of creation – because presumably, god isn’t just the god of humans, but also of mice, wolves, anemones, squid, weed and E.coli. Such a god would have to be male, female, hermaphrodite, and asexual – all at once. He’d have to have PMS and menopause along with erectile dysfunction and prostate problems. What is moral for one would be immoral for another. The morality of a lion pride wouldn’t work in a wolf pack, for example – reason being wolves and lions face different challenges in their respective ecological niches. We as humans display a far greater diversity of niches simply because we alone among the animals tend to create our own habitats. We have fewer natural instincts and greater freedom to reason and choose. We can observe the truth of this in the diversity of cultures that exist today, in the diversity of opinions and political persuasions, even n differing views on economics. There’s a whole diversity of opposing points of view, all of which may be valid, and all of which requires differing views on morality. The absolutes Christians speak of simply do not exist. Those absolutes Christians speak of is merely one more iteration of this tapestry of diversity, no more valid than any other view. We therefore do not judge Christians or Muslims or Hindus (or atheists) except where they try and impose themselves on us.
Pagans do not have a central hierarchy and headquarters!
Correct. So what? No, we don’t have elaborate churches, or central church governments like the Vatican. No, we don’t have a central doctrine that’s enforced through said central government, or passed on though theological schools. With us, if you want to learn, you can either look for a group, or another individual...or...*gasp!* look it up on your own without the help of a central authority. Christians like to think of themselves as children who need help choosing between right and wrong, and therefore such a hierarchy is necessary for them to help them decide – or remove the necessity of deciding altogether by having the central authority tell them what is right and wrong. Pagans tend to be more self-reliant. We are our own hierarchy. If something goes wrong, we have only ourselves to blame. It’s not that we have anything to hide by not having an open hierarchy, it’s just that we don’t really need them.
Pagans hate Christians!
Wrong. We don’t hate you. It’s the other way around. Strange how many Christians believe their own propaganda, this persecution complex a lot of them seem to have. If you leave us alone, we’ll leave you alone. Cross us, however, and we may take our brooms to you. Not because we hate you, but because you’re needlessly pestering us.
There are many pagan cults!
True. There are many different pagan groups. So what? If you wanted to scare people into believing that paganism was evil, the number of pagan groups would not be the best argument you could make. If you wanted to talk numbers, we could start with the number of Christian denominations. Rather a case of the pot calling the kettle black there. A cult implies coercion and control. That is not exactly part of the pagan way, since we’re not evangelical, and have no central doctrine, or central authority to enforce it. That doesn't mean that paganism can't give rise to cults. All religions can, and do. The fanatical mind will always seek power and control, and they'll sieze on anything to get it. That is why any person MUST be careful and check things out thoroughly before joining any church or other religious group. If ANYTHING is expected of you that you don't like, WALK AWAY! There is, after all, no law that says you HAVE to be part of a group, and certainly nothing that says any one group has the real, absolute truth. Use your own judgement, and trust your instincts. This applies to all religious groups. Some are cults, so be careful. That said...I've personally never encountered a pagan cult. None of the openly practicing groups will be cults. Crying “cult” is a rather worn out scare tactic. Unfortunately still an effective if unimaginative one.
Pagans practice blood sacrifice!
No, we don’t. We’re not Aztecs. We don’t sacrifice living beings. Life is sacred to us. Sacrificing a life in order to celebrate life is rather counterproductive, don’t you think? Seriously. We only kill the cow if we plan to eat the cow, like you do. And we get our tasty cow meat the same place you do: at our local butchery. No live sacrifices, mmkay?
Pagans claim to have the oldest religion!
No, actually we don’t. We never claimed that modern paganism is the oldest religion. What we did say is that we took what remained from various ancient religions, and reconstructed it. These would include Hellenic Polytheism, Odinism, Asatru, Zoroastrianism, Rodnovery and others. Some of these can trace their histories back hundreds, even thousands of years. Modern paganism has its roots in those ancient religions, but they are still modern reconstructions. These are usually referred to as “paleopaganism”, meaning modern paganism with its roots in ancient religions. Mesopaganism tends to have oral traditions preceding written language, such as the religions practiced by native Americans and native Australians, as well as African traditional practices like voodoo, which are still practiced today. Judging the antiquity of oral traditions can be tough, so there’s no real way to know how old they are. Then we haven’t even touched on Taoism, or Confucianism, or the neo-pagan faiths of Wicca and neo-druidism. All these things seem to have been lumped together under the umbrella term “paganism”.
The pentagram is a satanic symbol!
Well...no. Not really. Christianity isn’t alone in its theft of pagan symbols and holidays. The pentagram represents the five elements: water, fire, earth, air, spirit. You could say the states of matter: liquid, plasma, solid, gas, and the one that gives them all meaning in combination: spirit.
There are of course many, many other misconceptions out there. I've only covered the ones that I personally encountered most often. They are the bane of our existence since christians in general spread this misinformation much faster than we can correct it. :P
And now, to borrow a parting greeting from my former path...Blessed be, and merry part. In other words...auf wiedersehn!