A guide to common myths and cliches about Pagans and Witches
Pagans, especially Wiccans and witches, are often portrayed negatively within the media. This is typically due to a lack of understanding and poor research, rather than deliberate bias.
We acknowledge that journalists are there to report the news, and are not there to be our mouthpiece. We are also aware that journalists prefer to interview Pagans who provide colourful quotes and material for ‘offbeat’ or humour articles. The Pagan Awareness Network exists to educate the broader community about Pagan beliefs and practices, not to entertain or seek attention for attention’s sake. This is the basis upon which we talk to the media.
We provide comment on current media issues relating to Pagans in Australia, and can provide information about Pagans, Paganism and the Pagan Festivals. We are also available for interviews related to pagan and interfaith topics.
Here are the top 10 issues we have with poor or inaccurate media coverage:
In stark contrast, Pagans do not have a leader or figurehead, or any central organising structure. Pagan beliefs and practices encourage people to think for themselves and do not emphasise 'right beliefs' or adherence to doctrine. Pagans live within the broader community and do not segregate themselves… and we don’t try to convert others. With this in mind Paganism can be viewed as the opposite of a cult, as the term is popularly understood.
The main reason witches are associated with the Devil in popular culture is that in the 12th Century the Catholic Church gave descriptions of Satan that closely resembled pagan nature gods such as Pan, Herne and Cernunnos – the horns, the cloven feet, etc. This was intended to (quite literally) demonise the indigenous spiritual traditions of Europe that Christianity was attempting to eradicate. These descriptions have no Biblical basis, but some churches seem happy to keep promoting them.
In fact, Paganism and Satanism are distinct and separate belief systems. It is like doing a story on Buddhism and asking a Scientologist to be involved. The concept of an evil force or presence in the world is Abrahamic (Christian/Jewish/Muslim) in origin. To most Pagans, including witches, the existence of Satan makes no sense in an earth-centred belief-system.
However we notice that the media doesn’t ordinarily invite church leaders to comment on stories about, for example, the Hindu community or Muslims, even though many good Christians and church leaders disagree with their beliefs and practices also. Paganism is a legitimate spiritual pathway, with many honest, everyday people involved in it. Why not look to members of the Pagan community for comment?
Due to public misconceptions surrounding witchcraft it has been useful for people to refer to themselves as ‘white witches’, especially those who run a business and want to engage with the general public without accusations of devil-worship. Historically, the reason witches would refer to themselves as ‘white’ was because they were advertising their services as curse-breakers and healers. Sometimes those who are very new to Paganism may identify with the ‘white witch’ stereotype until they come to understand that a person’s actions determine their character and not their spiritual beliefs.
Like the wider community, the Pagan community frowns upon inappropriate, illegal and unethical behaviours. We don’t assume someone is good just because they identify themselves as Pagan. We hope that you won’t assume someone is evil just because they identify themselves as a witch. Every individual should be judged on their own merits.
Most Pagan ceremonies are family-friendly: you could take your own child to them quite happily, and see nothing inappropriate. A few rituals are adults-only because of the overt symbolism they contain – life, love and fertility are important aspects of earth-centred spirituality.
Some adult-only groups deliberately work unclothed, as a way to be free of poor body-image and shame caused by societal pressures, and as a symbolic stripping away of false values within a sacred pace. Experienced Pagans who work in this way find nothing sexual or prurient about doing so.
Most Pagans have ritual clothes that they wear for their ceremonies, and some simply wear ordinary street clothes.
The vast majority of Pagans are monogamous, and take their intimate relationships very seriously. Many are parents themselves. Sexuality is considered sacred by nearly all Pagans, and coercion or abuse of any kind is regarded with universal revulsion.
Certain faith communities, notably evangelical Christian churches, have a vested interest in creating moral panics regarding what they call ‘the Occult’. Occult literally means “hidden” and it is the lack of knowledge about Pagan practices that create misunderstandings.
Pagans may utilise methods such as trance and meditation to enhance their understanding of the Divine. Pagans believe in personal responsibility and in living a balanced life – just as nature is balanced. If you hear about a specific Pagan practice that you believe is dangerous, then we would also like to know about it. We do not condone activities that would cause harm to any individual.
By associating Pagans with modern commercial Halloween celebrations, you are implying that we, and our beliefs and traditions, belong in the realm of costumes, monsters and make-believe, rather than being a ‘real’ religion. Come visit at winter solstice instead.
Some pagans practice new-age techniques. Some new-agers engage with earth-centred spirituality. Individuals may overlap, such as a catholic who likes Yoga or Buddhist meditation, but that doesn’t make the pathways the same thing.
Interest in survivals of indigenous European spiritual traditions can be traced in the English-speaking world to the Romantic Movement of the 19th Century, and poets such as Keats, Shelley etc. Later, authors such as Charles Godfrey Leland (Aradia, Gospel of the Witches), Sir James Frazer (The Golden Bough), Robert Graves (The White Goddess) and Jules Michelet (La Sorciere) all documented – with varying degrees of academic rigour – various aspects of Pagan folklore and spirituality known during that period.
In the non-speaking English world Asatru and other ethnic traditions were quietly practiced as folk traditions even in areas that were nominally Christian. Romuva even survived oppression during the Soviet era.
It is important to remember that the Pagan traditions are diverse in origin. Wicca was made popular in the 1950’s by Gerald Gardner, but many of the other pathways have roots in the beliefs of Germanic and Nordic peoples, Greek and Egyptian peoples, and Celts, all cultures that go back thousands of years.
Authorities disagree as to whether the word was ever used in indigenous Scottish witchcraft traditions. But in Old English the word ‘Waerloga’ meant ‘oath-breaker’ or ‘liar’. Referring to someone as a warlock is unlikely to win you friends in the Pagan community.
People who practice a nature-based religion face enough prejudice and ignorance without the media adding to it. All we ask is that you treat us with the same respect afforded to people of other more well-known faiths. Please make the effort to contact us, accurate information is just a mouse-click or a phone call away.