Recently I was exposed to some very disturbing views about pagans/witches from people who were connected to the local metaphysical community. The comments I saw were incredibly derogatory, stating that pagans/witches routinely interfered with the free will of others, were directing negative energy towards others, were “ungodly”, and “dumb”, among many other insults. I was taken aback to see such venom towards people who ironically provide many of the same services as the metaphysical practitioners they themselves frequented, such as healings, tarot readings, and psychic medium services. These were supposedly open-minded people, and people who paid to have services performed that are part of both communities. I have taken part in both communities, and I was deeply shaken by the depth of misinformation and hate I saw in those posts.
I wondered how many of those people understood the history of their own religion, which most were claiming was Christianity. I wonder if they knew that many of the holidays they celebrate are based on Pagan celebrations and were based on the cycles of the seasons. I wondered if they knew that this was a deliberate effort made by the church to make converting to Christianity more appealing to pagans by appropriating their own religious celebrations and renaming/repurposing them. Winter Solstice and Saturnalia became Christmas, although scholars have indicated that the birth date of the historical Christ is not known. Easter was based on a pagan spring celebration called Ostara, the spring equinox. Halloween is based on a pagan holiday called Samhain, when it was believed that the veil between the living and the dead was the most permeable. Catholics celebrate All Saint’s Day on November 1st, and the Day of the Dead is celebrated in Mexico on November 2nd. There are many articles online about this issue that go into more detail about how each of these holidays are celebrated and the pagan roots of many of these holidays.
I wondered how many of those supposedly enlightened people knew that their chosen faith had participated in murdering thousands of people that were labeled “witches”, largely older women, many of whom were healers, herbalists, and midwives, as well as some men. The number of people murdered is not known, but the estimates range from 50-100,000 to up to nine million. Many of the women murdered were either poor and considered to be a “burden”, or well off and others were interested in gaining their property and possessions. Some were simply assertive women who were not well liked.
The history of Christianity also includes the genocide directed towards native Americans. The Public Broadcasting System stated in 2005 that “within just a few generations, the continents of the Americas were virtually emptied of their inhabitants- some academics estimate that approximately 20 million people may have died following the European invasion- up to 95 percent of the population”. A CNN article entitled “European Colonizers killed so many Native Americans that it changed the global climate, researchers say” by Lauren Kent in 2019 indicated that “Europeans settlers killed 56 million indigenous people over 100 years in South, Central, and North America”. Organizations largely tied to Christian churches forced Native American children into “boarding schools” where they were abused and neglected. According to an ABC News article written by Deena Zaru on May 12, 2022, “Native Nations scholars estimate that almost 40,000 children have died in Indigenous boarding schools”. According to the Native American Boarding School Healing Coalition, by 1900 there were 20,000 children in these schools; by 1925 that number had reportedly tripled. Many children were beaten, starved, and sexually abused. The goal was to “kill the Indian, save the man”, and children were not allowed to speak their native language, have contact with their families, or follow their native cultural practices, often based on natural phenomena and the seasons.
Christianity has historically been used to justify human rights abuses such as the ones listed above and was used to justify the enslavement of African people for hundreds of years. These slaves were also not allowed to practice their traditional non-Christian religions, many of which, like paganism, were based on nature and the season. There is still significant racism and sexism directed at all of these groups to this day.
Ironically, the historical Christ treated women and those from other cultures with respect. He often stood up for those who were being abused, stopping a woman from being stoned, (“He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her” – John 8:7 in the King James Bible) standing up for the poor and the widows, feeding the hungry. One of his most trusted advisors was a woman, a woman many believe may have been his life partner, Mary Magdalene. Christ was also a healer, who actively used his gift to help others and was very open about his healing abilities. In one study completed at the University of Hawaii in 2005 by James Hanson, the behavior of Jesus was described as being similar to that of a Buddhist: “many textual analyses indicate striking similarities between what was said by Jesus and the Buddha and between the prophetic legend of Jesus and Buddhist texts”.
I have been Wiccan for thirty years. The pagans I know are kind, loving, giving people often involved in the helping professions as social workers, hospice workers, or pagan clergy. Some are involved in the creative fields and are artists or writers; some make their living using their intuitive gifts as healers, readers, or mediums. I can’t speak for all Wiccans, or all pagans. Everyone has their own teachers and their own paths. But in my case, I was taught early about the ethics involved in paganism. About having boundaries, not harming others. The Wiccan Rede is “An it Harm None, Do What You Will” and any ethical teacher will instruct students about not doing any form of deliberate harm to another person. The “Rule of Three” is another idea routinely taught in Wicca, that basically means anything a person puts out into the Universe comes back to the person sending it three times. If what a person is putting out into the Universe is negative, it is believed that negative consequences will come back to the person. Some people call this natural consequences or karma.
The Britannica Dictionary definition of pagan is “a person who worships many gods or goddesses the earth or nature; a person whose religion is paganism”. This dictionary defines witch as “a women who is thought to have magic powers; a person who practices magic as part of a religion such as Wicca”. It does not mean that pagans worship the devil, have anything to do with demons, or in any way attempt to harm others or direct negative energy towards others. Ironically, what I experienced this week was very deliberate negative stereotypes presented as facts- a form of sending out negative energy to others.
I hope that knowing more about what paganism is, and is not, will help to dispel some of this bias towards pagans. We are your neighbors, your coworkers, and maybe the person in the booth next to you waiting for a healing or reading client. See us as people.