Perceptions of Pagans: What Are People Afraid Of?
Author: Ares Hearthfire
It is amazing to me that 30-plus years after the late Dr. Leo Martello won his right to hold a ritual in Central Park we still have to come back to discussing how we are perceived. The public at large is not afraid of our religion. No, most of them tend to let us be and mind their own business. I say that with certainty since that is human nature. However, there are still those that fear…or do they?
It seems that every few weeks there are more stories mentioning Witches, Wiccans or Pagans in general. While most of the articles are now positive and informative, there are still those that report that so and so of blah blah blah church held a meeting that people are going to the devil. In listening to them talk we find that they really do not fear us. They fear the loss of their own voice.
One reason why many see the Christian extremists in this country demanding that laws be made to support the Judeo-Christian belief system is that they can feel the changes coming. Just like us, they open the same papers and do the same Internet searches and find so many articles and sites discussing Pagans. We are all humans after all; it is not like we have different sources of news and information!
They, like us, can plainly see that there has been a rise in articles and hence, a rise in the amount of Pagans there must be. While many complain that these people see the devil in all things not Christian, I feel that is very much another reason that they perceive us differently. They do not care about reading what Pagans believe. What we believe does not matter. It is not our beliefs that bother these extremists. It is the fact that we exist and breathe. There really is no logic in this.
The goal of these groups and people is not to slander our paths. That actually is just a means to an end. They simply want to make sure that people keep following their ideas. They have been brought up in regions where there has been nothing more than pure homogeneity. Almost everyone in their communities was the same in terms of race and religion. In reality, they simply fear change. For some reason they are just resisting the tides of change that are happening in the communities. It is the change that they truly fear, not us.
In general, most people are very accepting of our beliefs. There have been Pagans serving with and even as heads of interfaith organizations for over ten years. The organizations that they have sat with and chaired accepted their membership. From this it can be implied that clergy of many other religions have absolutely no problem with the Pagan path. Indeed, many are intrigued and want to learn more about it themselves. This type of inclusion would have been impossible to dream of several decades ago. This shows a great deal of progress. After all, if you can gain acceptance of some shepherds you also gain the acceptance of their flocks.
During Samhain season, it seems that almost every newspaper in America interviews a Witch. Most of these reports are positive. While some still include words like “warlock” and may describe some practices as “hokey,” we cannot let that blind us as to what is truly being said. Since many of the journalists do not read books on Witches or Wicca they would not know what “warlock” means to us. Since they do not tell us every word they are using, we cannot correct them ahead of time.
Behind the semantics, they still report normal people doing things a little differently. They may seem hokey to those that do not practice our faiths, but they do see that we are not harming anything and have fun doing what we do. That is the point! The general public is not stupid. They do not care what we do, as long as they see we are open to people watching and reporting they will begin to trust us.
In some parts of the country being a Wiccan is not even a big deal. Here in New York the Covenant of the Goddess used to have a local council, however the “Gotham” council was disbanded. Simply put, the community here is accepting of us already so the need is not there. Pagan shops operate without opposition, festivals happen in major parks with no protestors showing up at all. While this may not be the case in some areas, things do take time!
Remember, a long time ago it was the cities that converted to a new faith and the country dwellers were slow to follow. Now times are changing, history is repeating. The cities are becoming more accepting of their Pagan residents and the rural folk are coming around, but slower. We can see plainly through the media and the interviews in these more rural locations that the general consensus is favoring acceptance. The majority will only grow larger over time.
All we need is to do what we are currently doing and a lot more of it. We need to take ourselves seriously. We should indicate our religion when the census is taken. We should take part in political campaigns and send letters to the elected officials. Whenever we see an article that is not positive, we should send letters to the paper…even if it is not a local one! More than everything else we should make Pagan Pride Day every day of the year. Always be proud of who you are as a person and as a Pagan. For every voice that is willing to speak there is always a larger audience of people that are willing to hear.
In conclusion, the people that fear us do not fear us for what we believe or how we practice. This information is readily available to anyone that wants to read it. The general populace is becoming more and more accepting of our beliefs. Interfaith groups are accepting Pagans as members and leaders. We as Pagans always talk about the past; we remember the burning times and the witch-hunts. We should also remember that those in the country come around slower to new ideas, but after a time they will begin to accept them.