In the past few months I’ve found that a number of my commenters/readers don’t know very much about Wicca, or Paganism as a whole.
Not knowing isn’t nearly as bad as having misconceptions about a topic though, especially as some people hold strange beliefs about Pagans that are, for the most part, unfounded and blatantly intolerant. Thus, today I’m going to go over some of the “complaints” or uneducated notions I’ve heard/been told about the Pagan religious path.
*Please note that this is not a catch-all, and if I miss a unique belief it doesn’t mean that I think it’s unworthy of mention. Also, feel free to add more information, clarifications, or links in the comments so long as they don’t go against my Comments Policy.*
Paganism isn’t a real religion.
This is untrue, and is usually an argument used by fundamentalists of other faiths to attack the fact that the US allows citizens to be of any religion (or not) as they see fit. Such statements have been used to deny Pagans the use of buildings/parks for religious services, to have pentacles/other religious symbols engraved on their tombstones, to remove Pagan symbols from otherwise inclusive holiday dioramas, or to create unnecessary tension when Pagan children request religious days off from school. People who attempt to use this argument should be aware that the federal government of the US has at least recognized Wicca as a valid religion since 1986, in the case of Dettmer v Landon.
Paganism is too new to be a proper faith.
This is a statement that was said to me personally in a theology class in college by a fellow student. He was of the opinion that a religious belief system can only be counted as “real” if it’s been in existence for X number of years…in his definition, 500. Not only is this a completely arbitrary amount of time, but it just seems odd. So Hinduism and Zoroastrianism are more of a religion than Christianity or Islam, simply because they are older? I can think of many followers who would be angered by this assumption. The truth is that modern day Paganism is a relatively new religion that borrows from a significant number of previous religious practices and concepts, even ones that are commonly thought of as “extinct”.
Paganism is a cult.
Also untrue. A cult is “a religion or religious sect generally considered to be extremist or false, with its followers often living in an unconventional manner under the guidance of an authoritarian, charismatic leader”.
Not only are there too many sects of Paganism for it to have one leader, but as a whole we have no central hierarchy or dogma. Many of our traditions adopt specific beliefs and rituals or have an internal structure, but you’d be hard pressed to find a Pagan group that believes it has some special knowledge or is “the one way”. Indeed, most of us think that there are many paths to the divine and no single one is better than the other. Spirituality, after all, is a very personal thing and what fulfills one person shouldn’t be expected to fulfill everyone.
Pagans have no rules/Pagans only do what “feels good”/Pagans have no moral compass
I usually see these opinions on evangelical or fundamentalist Christian websites, though every once in a while they’ll be found on “family centered” sites as well. The truth is that Paganism does have rules and ethics such as the Three Fold law or the Wiccan Rede, but they do not come from a belief in sin or that humans are inherently flawed and must subscribe to a certain religious system in order to be fixed or “saved”. To us, the concept of a Fallen humanity is purely a mythological one…we typically give the story of Eden the same weight as that of Pandora’s Box. They are tales told in ancient times as an honest attempt to explain various aspects of the world, but are not to be taken literally or as factual history. However, most Pagans do have a moral code of ethics for the same reason most atheists do: Morality doesn’t come from one’s deity, but from society as a whole. Hence why Hammurabi’s Code (and other laws) were able to be written before Judaism, Christianity, Islam, or most other modern religions were even a twinkle in their founders eyes.
Pagans worship Satan/Lucifer.
Oldest accusation in the book, but also the one that makes the least sense. Pagans have our own mythos and Gods, why would we need to borrow from anyone else’s? We cannot worship something we don’t believe in, and Pagans do not have a singularly evil god in any pantheon I can think of. Some, like myself, don’t even subscribe to a set of gods…we believe in the Goddess and the God, no others. The concept of le-satan-lo, as it’s known in Hebrew is that of an Adversary who initially works for Yahweh (as in the story of Balaam and his donkey) but then changes in the New Testament to someone who actively works against Yahweh/Jehovah. This is actually quite a fascinating topic unto itself, and more information can be found at one of the links at the bottom. As it stands, Pagans view Satan/Lucifer as a made-up character with many mythological roles including that of a trickster, a principal of opposition, a questioner of strict authority, or even a suffering “hero” (similar to the story of Prometheus). While members of the Church of Satan and the Temple of Set are entirely free to call themselves Pagans if they wish, the few I’ve had a chance to speak to do not. The Satanists that most people immediately think of don’t even actually belong to either of these groups…they are more accurately defined as a renegade Christian who worships the concept of evil as portrayed in his/her myths.
Pagans perform weird rituals.
This one always makes me chuckle a bit. It’s odd to think that our forms of ritual and prayer are any more “weird” than anyone else’s. If you’re a follower of any religion, try this next time you attend a service: Imagine you’ve never set foot there before, and have no idea what any of the tools are that your fellow worshippers are using. Why are you praying in a certain direction? Why did you take a sip of wine? Why are you going into an ornate closet to talk to a man? Why did you eat a piece of bread just now? Why did you dab your fingers in that bowl of water? Why are you kneeling on a rug? See…anything can be strange if you have no context.
Pagans are all New Age.
No. Just no. Various ones certainly are. My mother is, much to my chagrin. There’s this constant undercurrent of belief…not helped at all by Hollywood…that all Pagans are into tarot card readings, crystals, homeopathy, seances, etc. Sorry, but we are not all like that and as far as I know there are 0 sects that would ever require their coven/grove/group to dabble in such things. It is safe to assume that if you know a Pagan who enjoys such activities, it is completely independent from their faith. Just as a bye-and-bye, I’ve yet to meet any Pagan who doesn’t believe in the Theory of Evolution or other scientifically proven answers for the multitude of questions people usually have about our universe. The issue is that pseudo-science is sometimes accepted more readily in Pagan circles than it should be.
Paganism is a feminist religion.
Quite a number of people tend to believe this, but I see no reason to. Just because a religion worships the Divine Feminine doesn’t mean they forget about or deny the Divine Masculine. There are sects such as the Dianics who often only worship a Goddess, or Strega which tends to be more matriarchal in practice, but these are exceptions, not the rule. Just as the chalice or bowl is often found on a Pagan altar to represent the female presence, so too is the wand indicative of the need for male presence. I myself use a golden tapered candle to represent the Divine Masculine and a silver one for the Divine Feminine. Both the Lady/Goddesses and Lord/Gods required to have balanced energies for proper spellwork and prayer, and just as women turn through Maiden-Mother-Crone, so to do men become Youth-Father-Elder. The cycle of life for most fauna and a significant number of flora relies on “women” and “men” to continue. Given that ours is a nature-based path, why wouldn’t it be a faith of equality?
Hopefully this post has been educational and thought provoking, but if any readers want more information I’ve put some links below. Of course, anyone is free to ask questions here too.