M is for Misconceptions about Pagans
There are many misconceptions, assumptions and misunderstandings about Pagans, Wiccans and Heathens. Some are rooted in age old myth and others are rooted in ignorance and fear. Whatever the case may be, there are several things that I would like to address. Here are some of the questions we are often asked:
No actually, we don’t. The “devil” is a Christian construct and not something/someone that Pagans, Wiccans or witches believe exists, much less worships. The Pagan Gods and Goddesses are in no way related to the devil or Satan although many depictions of the devil and/or Satan closely resemble the God Pan, who is guardian of the forest, the wild parts of nature and known for playing a wooden flute.
“Aren’t you afraid of going to Hell?”
Again, no. Like the “devil” is a Christian construct so is “Hell”. I personally am not concerned about damnation or Hell and neither are any of the other Pagans I know because it’s not a place that exists in our beliefs. I do believe in an Underworld, but it’s not somewhere that fire and brimstone, gnashing of teeth or torture and torment exists. It’s simply the land of the dead. A place that isn’t feared by most Pagans because we see death simply as part of the cycle of life, not something to be feared.
“Isn’t Paganism like a cult?”
No, it’s not. Not any more than any other religion, anyhow. Paganism is an umbrella term that includes many different recognized religious groups including Wicca, Santeria, Voodoo, Asatru, Druidism and many other earth-based and re-constructionist focused belief systems. The definition can seem a bit vague though. If you look it up in Merriam-Webster it defines a cult as: 1.”a small religious group that is not part of a larger and more accepted religion and that has beliefs regarded by many people as extreme or dangerous”. 2.”a situation in which people admire and care about something or someone very much or too much”. and 3.”a small group of very devoted supporters or fans”. Many Christians may argue that many of the rituals, practices and beliefs shared by Pagans seem “extreme and dangerous” to them, but that doesn’t make it true. There are rituals in every religion, some are unique to that faith and others are shared. For instance, lighting of candles and incense… Christians and Pagans share this ritual. Chants and spoken prayers… Buddhists, Christians and Pagans all share this ritual. Sacrament/Cakes and Ale/ Eucharist/Communion… shared ritual that Christians and Pagans both share.
I believe that the more common understanding of a cult is where a small group of people become isolated from the general public and are brainwashed into believing a certain set of extreme or fringe beliefs perpetuated by a single charismatic leader who uses his/her influence to control, manipulate and monitor their followers every move with fear/intimidation, guilt, seizing their money, relationships and time. Often times the leader claims to either be God or have a direct line to God where they insinuate their instructions, beliefs and requirements are inspired by God and failure to comply will result in damnation.
This is not something that Pagan groups do. Most operate transparently and although some covens or circles are secretive and limit those involved, they do not try to consume someones entire life or impose restrictions on who they can interact with, how they spend their money or where they can go.
“Do Pagans perform human or animal sacrifices?”
The short answer is no. I don’t know of any Pagans who believe in human sacrifices or of any tradition that promotes or condones human sacrifice. In ancient times, many cultures are believed to have participated in human sacrifice. This sacrifice of life was considered to be the ultimate offering to appease the Gods. The most well known culture to engage in human sacrifice are the Mayans. However, human sacrifice is not a practice that is accepted among civilized cultures in 2016. With the establishment of law and order, human sacrifice would be considered murder. So no, Pagans don’t sacrifice humans.
What about animals? Well, not as a universal belief or practice. However, there are many Pagans that are involved in animal husbandry and farming. Some of those Pagans may consider the slaughtering of their animals as a ritual sacrifice and offer some of the meat rendered as a gift to the Gods. As a universal practice though? No. Most Pagans do not practice animal sacrifice.
“Why don’t Pagans believe in God?”
Well, we do actually, just not in the Abrahamic God worshiped by Christians, Jews and Muslims. In fact, most Pagans are polytheistic, meaning that we believe in the existence of many Gods, but typically honor the Gods of our individual traditions. Others who identify as eclectic, like me, honor the Gods of many traditions depending on which Gods we are working with at the time.
“Do you guys have orgies in your rituals?”
Nope. While many Pagans do prefer to participate in ritual skyclad (naked), ritual orgies aren’t typically something that happens at public or private rituals. However, there is a sacred ritual called The Great Rite that is observed both symbolically (through the use of an athame and chalice) and literally (through the joining of two individuals in sexual union) by some Pagans. It’s not observed by everyone and those who do observe it generally do not consider it casual sex or an orgy, as it’s carried out with either their spouse/mate or close coven/circle mates, not usually strangers and is considered sacred in nature. This particular ritual is often carried out around Beltane, during the Spring Equinox, as a fertility ritual in honor of the God and Goddess and their sacred union.
“Do Pagans, Wiccans and/or witches cast spells or hex people?”
Yes. Many Pagans, Wiccans and witches use spell casting the same as others use prayer. Magic is considered part of the natural world. Many Pagans, Wiccans and witches believe that they are able to tap into the energy around them and through spellcasting, using their will and intent bring something they desire to fruition. Spellwork is often part of ritual and devotionals used for healing, prosperity, protection, clarity, fertility, luck and other intent. Spellcrafting can be charged and cast alone or as a group.
As for hexing, Wiccans follow the Wiccan Rede and the Rule of Three which essentially says “An ye harm none, do as ye will.” and “Whatever you put out will come back to you threefold.” So Wiccans do not hex. As for other witches and Pagans, I believe that there are some who do. Many will say “A witch who cannot hex, cannot heal.” and I believe in that adage. The way that I personally use hex spells and symbols is to ward off negative energy, not send it to someone else. Rather than try to reinvent the wheel, I’ve found that using the hex symbols used by the Pennsylvania Dutch work well for my purposes. I suppose whether one chooses to use magic with the intent to hex or harm is up to the individual. So to answer the question, yes, some do hex. Those who do, understand the risk of using this kind of magic and generally do so very judiciously.
“What kind of people believe in witchcraft and the occult? Should we be afraid of them?”
All kinds of people from all walks of life. We’re every day normal people, with normal jobs and families who happen to believe in something outside of the mainstream religious ideologies of Christianity, Judaism or Islam. We are teachers, doctors, lawyers, engineers, clerks, writers, police officers, accountants, nurses and in all other fields of work. We’re parents and grandparents. We’re sisters, brothers, cousins, aunts and uncles. We’re business owners. We’re land owners. We’re straight, gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender. We’re Asian, Hispanic, Caucasian, African-American, Native American, Pacific Islanders and every other race, color and creed. We’re your neighbors. We’re your friends. We’re people you see and speak to on a daily basis. Some are quite overt about their beliefs and some are discreet. Not all remain hidden or afraid anymore. We aren’t looking to recruit your children or convert you. We just want to live, work, raise our families and practice our constitutionally protected right to believe in the God or Gods of our choosing. You shouldn’t be afraid of us, but you should be mindful of us. We’re everyday people and we’re everywhere.