A LITTLE LESS MISUNDERSTANDING
(what Christians don't understand about Neopaganism)
by J. Brad Hicks
Q: Are you a witch?
A: That's actually a tricky question to answer, so let me go about
it in a round-about way: what I am is a Neopagan. Neopaganism is a
beautiful, complex religion that is not in opposition to Christianity
in any way - just different. However, some of the people that the
Catholic church burned as "witches" were people who practiced
something essentially the same as what I do. In identification with
them and the suffering that they went through, some of us (Neopagans)
call ourselves witches.
One expert, P.E.I. Bonewits, says that there are actually several
kinds of groups that are called "witches." Some are people whose
ancestors were village healers, herbalists, midwives, and such - many
of whom had (or were ascribed to have) mental, or psychic, or magic
powers, which were passed down through the family in the form of oral
tradition, and Bonewits calls them "Traditional Witches." Some are
people who have deliberately used the term to oppose themselves to
Christianity, are practicing "Satanists," and practice (deliberately)
most of the practices invented by the Inquisition, and Bonewits calls
them "Gothic Witches" or "Neo-Gothic Witches." Some belong to radical
feminist groups, who use the term because they believe that the
original Inquisition was primarily anti-women; some of them practice
magic, many of them do not - Bonewits calls them "Feminist Witches."
But the vast majority (these days) are harmless people who worship God
in many forms, including the Lord and the Lady and Mother Earth.
These (including myself, and himself), Bonewits identifies as
I hope that this helps more than it confuses.
Q: Are you a devil worshipper?
A: I'm tempted to just say, "No!" and leave it at that, but that
probably isn't enough.
Devil worship (including Satanism) is really a Christian heresy.
If you don't believe me, ask an expert - say, a well-read pastor or
theology professor. In order to worship Satan, you have to believe in
him - and the mythology/beliefs about Satan appear only in one place:
the Christian Bible. So to be a Satanist or a devil worshipper, you
have to believe in the accuracy of the Christian Bible, then identify
yourself with God's Enemy, proclaim that you are "evil," and then try
to "fight against Jesus" or similar nonsense.
Neopagans do not accept the Christian Bible as a source of truth.
As a source of some beautiful poetry, sometimes, or as a source of
myth, but not as a source of truth. Emphatically, we do not believe
that God has an Opposite, an evil being trying to destroy God, the
world, man, or whatever. So it is non-sensical to say that Neopagans
Of course, many people insist that any god other than JHVH/Jesus
(and his other nom-de-plumes) is an illusion created by Satan. Well,
you're welcome to believe that if you like - but over half of the
world's population is going to be unhappy at you. Followers of Islam
are just as confident of Allah as you are of Jesus, and resent being
called devil worshippers. So do I.
Q: What do Neopagans believe about God?
A: Neopaganism is a relatively new religion with very, very old
roots. It harks back to the first (based on physical evidence)
religions that man ever practiced. Neopagans worship a variety of
symbols from the old religions - the practices of the ancient Celts,
the Greeks, the Egyptians, the Romans - and differ with each other
over what those symbols really represent. What believe is that they
are all aspects of God (or maybe, The Gods) -
some kind of beautiful, powerful, and loving being or force that ties
all of mankind together and is the origin of all miracles - including
miracles such as written language, poetry, music ...
Q: Do Neopagans have a Bible?
A: Not most of us. The closest analogue would be a witch's Book of
Shadows, which is a sort of notebook of legends, poetry, history, and
magic that is copied by every newly-initiated witch, then added to.
But on the whole, even a Book of Shadows isn't what Christians think
of as a Bible. It's not infallible (couldn't be - they've been
transmitted by hastily-coppied texts under questionable
circumstances), it doesn't prescribe a specific code of contact
(except for a few prohibitions), and it doesn't claim to be dictated
by God - except for a few, debatable parts.
Those of us who aren't witches don't even have that much.
Neopaganism is a religious system that relies more on the individual
than on the Book or the Priest. One of the principal beliefs of
Neopaganism is that no one, not Pope nor Priest nor Elder, has the
right to interfere with your relationship to God. Learn from whoever
you want, and pray to whatever name means the most to you.
Q: Did you say magic? Do Neopagans believe in the occult?
A: Cringe. What a badly worded question - but I hear it all the
time. Neopagans as a rule don't "believe in the occult" - we practice
magic. Magic is simply a way to focus the mental abilities that you
were born with, and use them to change the world in positive ways.
Magic can also be mixed with worship - in which case it differs very
little from Christian prayer.
Q: But I thought that you said that you weren't a demon-worshipper?
A: That's right. Magic and demonology are two different things.
Magic you also know as "psychic powers" or "mentallics" or even as
"the power of positive thinking" - in essense, the magical world view
holds that "reality" is mostly a construct of the human mind, and as
such, can be altered by the human mind. That's all there is to it.
Q: How do you become a Neopagan?
A: In a very real sense, nobody every "becomes" a Neopagan. There
are no converts, as no conversion is necessary. Neopaganism is an
attitude towards worship, and either you have it or you don't.
My case is not atypical. All of my life, I have been fascinated
by the old mythologies. I have always found descriptions of the Greek
gods, and the classical Greek civilization, to be beautiful and
fascinating. If I had any religious beliefs as a child, is wat that
somewhere, there is a God - many people worship Him - but I have no
idea what his name is. I set out to find Him, and through an odd
combination of circumstances, I because convinced that his Name was
Jesus. But seven years later, I had to admit to myself that Whoever
God is, he answers non-Christians' prayers as well as those in the
name of Jesus. In either case, true miracles are rare. In both
cases, the one praying has a devout experience with God.
After searching my soul, I admitted that I could not tell that I
was better off than when I believed in the old gods. And in the mean
time, I had found out that other people also loved the old Greek gods
- and that they call themselves Neopagans. When I realized that what
I believed was little or no different that what they believed, I
called myself a Neopagan, too.
The common element for nearly all of us is that nearly all of us
already believed these things, before we found out that anyone else
did. "Becoming" a pagan is never a conversion. It's usually a home-
coming. No one ever "brainwashed" me. I finally relaxed, and stopped
struggling against my own conscience.
Q: I've heard about witches holding orgies and such. Do you?
A: No, that sort of thing doesn't appeal to me. Most of the crap
that you've heard about "witch orgies" is nonsense made up by the
National Enquirer to sell magazines.
But I shouldn't be flippant about this, because it underlies a
serious question - what kind of morality do Neopagans hold to?
"Eight words the Wiccan Rede fulfill:
An it harm none, do what thou will!"
from an old Book of Shadows
That about sums it up. Neopaganism teaches that it is harmful to
yourself (and dangerous) to harm others. It also teaches that trying
to impose your moral standards on somebody else's behaviour is (at
least) foolish - and probably dangerous, as you run some serious
chance of hurting that person. Perhaps in a sense Neopagans don't
have morality, for as R. A. Wilson said, "There are no commandments
because there is no Commander anywhere," but Neopagans do have ethics
- standards for behaviour based on honor and mutual benefit.
Q: I saw on the news that Neopagans use a star in a circle as their
emblem. Isn't that a Satanic symbol?
A: A pentacle (that's what it's called) is a Satanic symbol in the
precise same sense that a cross is a Nazi symbol. The German National
Socialist Party used an equal-armed cross with four flags attached to
it as their emblem. (Yes, I know - that's a swastika. Well, before
the Nazis made the word common knowledge, people just called it a
"bent cross" - it's an old heraldic symbol, and it means the same
thing that a normal cross does). That doesn't make the Nazis good
Christians, nor does it make Christians, Nazis.
In the same sense, Satanists (and some rock groups) use a type of
pentacle as their emblem. That doesn't make them Neopagans, nor does
it mean that Neopagans are Satanists (or even rock-and-rollers).
Q: Are Neopagans opposed to Christianity?
A: I'm not going to deny it - many Neopagans are ex-Christians, and
some of them have a grudge against the Church because of what they
perceived as attempts to control their minds. Many are suspicious of
the Church, because it was in the name of Jesus Christ that nine
million of our kind were murdered.
Neopagans are opposed to anyone who uses force to control the
minds of others. Does that include you? If not, then it means that
Neopagans as such are not opposed to you. Do you work for the benefit
of mankind, are you respectful to the Earth? Then it makes us allies,
whether or not either of us wants to admit it.
- - - - - - - - - -
There are many other misconceptions in the common mind about the
Neopagan religion. Unless you've studied it, read about it from
sympathetic sources, then you really don't know anything about Neopagan
history, beliefs, practices, customs, art, science, culture, or magic. But
it would take several entire books to teach you, and I already fear that I
will be accused of trying to win converts (despite what I've said above).
If you are curious and willing to learn, try some of the following books:
Margot Adler, Drawing Down the Moon
Starhawk, The Spiral Dance
P.E.I. Bonewits, Real Magic
Stewart Farrar, What Witches Do.