Paganism: The Maligned Belief

Disclaimer: I will not be talking about practising Paganism, or what it means to be a pagan, for I am in no way qualified to write anything about that topic – especially as Paganism is by its very nature a personal and unique belief system. I am simply here to write about how it’s much maligned in society, and unjustly so. 

In 2003, Cardinal Cormac Murphy-o’Connor said that “Britain [had] become a Pagan country… [and] people will believe anything and everything.” He went on to claim that Britain was suffering from a religious vacuum and people were turning to any philosophy, degrading the Christian makeup of the land, and he was not alone in his opinions. In 2013 there were some 80,000 pagans in the UK, less than 0.15% of the population of the UK at the time, yet no other native religion has such a stigma about it, apparently haunting the British Religious subconsciousness. The fear that Cardinal Murphy-o’Connor has about Paganism is typical of those who don’t understand the message core to the religion. Plus, if it was all that bad a philosophy, Cornwall would be forever on fire. 

In this short post, I will be looking at what the current situation is; the view of Paganism within society, the stereotypes, before looking at the truth about the practitioners, and then looking at why the religion deserves a greater level of respect than it does currently, with the freedom that it allows and how it is so open in its fluidity.

There is a simple reason why I am putting these words down on a blog, and it is thus: People give pagans an unfair disadvantage, and I have no idea why. In a world with thousands of distinct religions, all borrowing each other’s mythos, characters, and in some cases entire parables and festivals, why is Paganism still treated as this exotic and barbaric belief system? I am no expert on the religious aspect of Paganism, the practices and beliefs, but what I do know, by talking to a close friend who identifies as Pagan, is that few people are willing to give the religion the time of day and respect that seems reserved only for the Abrahamic faiths.

The public image of Pagans is rife with stereotypes. Satanic worshipping, sacrifice, mass hedonism and rebellion follow the term Paganism around wherever it goes, from the television, to cinema, to BBC Radio comedies, and all this despite a constant fascination with Paganism, even from the Anglican church who even tried to recruit Pagans to bolster their own faltering ranks. If you Google ‘Pagans’ you get results for The Wicker Man, men with beards, Stonehenge, Satanic imagery, and the poster to the movie Fury of the Pagans, a terrible Italian horror exploitation film that ends with a mass burning of innocent women. But, what did I expect? In Hollywood, Pagans were the stock villains of dozens of cheap horror films, and in Britain they’re the confused old men with long beards and a nudity fixation, and millennial rich-kids who litter Stonehenge twice a year. It’s as if the Hellfire club’s use of Pagan rituals nearly 200 years ago as an excuse for extreme debauchery has utterly stained the term. Oh wait, that makes sense.

I’ll google Pagan instead, and hopefully we’ll see what society thinks of the religion itself, as those who normally shout the loudest about a religion or belief are by no means the best representation of the group. And lo and behold, searching directly for Pagan you get little more than historical images, green man masks, and only the one image of people being burnt at the stake. Progress.

On TV, the portrayal of Paganism has got better over the years, the rather superb Vikings being a good depiction of it as a legitimate and valid series of religious beliefs and a source of power, even if a large number of the media instead purely focussed on how it was being used as a justification for their bloodthirsty violence, despite the fact that the whole of Europe was a violent cesspit and the time, even the “civilised but boring, cowardly” Christians. There is an attempt for shows to introduce people of alternative religions, but whenever a Pagan or Wiccan turns up they are spiritual, slightly ethereal, or often, an out and out witch. And when Pagan imagery turns up, it’s usually used wrong or just made up, or attributed to Satanism, as has happened to the Pentagram, because obviously the Baphomet Pentagram just isn’t evil looking enough. And if they’re not doing evil things, Pagans are just the weird, loner girls who join the school after moving across the country, wear all black and refuse to talk to people. Shows like Paranormal State helps perpetuate this. The show itself, a Christian heavy Paranormal Exploration show, was sordid and exploitative, but would regularly get their resident Pagan to turn up to talk to the dead, because pagans are weird and can do that. When she’d leave, they’d mock her lack of organised faith and mock her whole belief system and how she’s yet to find God. Because that will help.

I asked a practising Pagan why they thought Paganism got such a hard time in Western Society. “Entertainment shows and Christianity propaganda”. Simple. But why would the Christian churches have such an issue with Paganism, especially when so many Christian festivals are based on Pagan rituals. I reckon it’s more out of misunderstanding and predetermined notions, than a reluctance to accept the idea and pure malice, at least in the minds of most Christians. The Catholic Church has made repeated attempts to ridicule the legitimacy of Paganism, citing it as a force that shall bring down civilisation itself, and the Catholic group Youth 2000 went so far as to attack Pagans in Glastonbury of all places, claiming that they were going to ‘cleansing [the town] of Paganism’.

So, what is the truth? As if you need that answering. Paganism is a belief system, based more upon nature and the ancient Gods. That is specific I can be, as it is such a melting pot of beliefs and origins. So, how will you know if you stumble across one of these weird, freakish individuals who have so clearly turned their backs on the light? Well, just like with a people of any other faith; you won’t, unless they happen to tell you. They may be dressed in a ceremonial dress, in which case it’s bit of an easier guess, but apart from that, you’ll have to ask. They are normal people. Like you, and me Well, okay, maybe not me, I’m a terrible example, but like you. There isn’t a single sign to show a person’s belief, just like with everything else in life.

There is a new wave of criticism of this action, especially the picking and choosing from other, unrelated faiths, with people believing that it is appropriating the best bits and having qualms with the practice, especially with those who are profiting from doing so, see the New Wave movement and their fascination with Dreamcatchers.

But are they Satanists? Do they worship the devil and burn people alive? Nope. At least, not the ones that I’ve met and that my friends have interviewed. They have a series of beliefs, most of them have a link to a natural force, or celestial entity, whatever makes them feel secure and gives the strength, with beliefs and ideas that they’ve borrowed or salvaged from other religions, modern and ancient. In many ways, it’s a Religious group free of restriction based purely upon personal freedoms. If you identify with aspects of Buddhism, Hinduism, the teachings of some Greek Gods and the Celtic Lore, that’s completely fine. You are a Christian but have a connection to the Moon? Sure, be my guest.

It’s a true boiling pot of ideas and thoughts, constantly evolving and forever individual. What this means is you don’t get the awkward moments that the Abrahamic paths suffer from; a written, rigid text with rules that look more and more outdated as we become a more progressive society. The Bible has some very nice rules about how to be nice to your fellow man, but only if you forget the passages about how women are inferior, and shellfish is bad.

Not only does this boiling pot mean that Paganism in unique, but it’s unashamed in what it is. It doesn’t pretend that it hasn’t taken festivals and ideas from other religions, nor do they mind. Other faiths seem desperate to hide the history of their traditions and festivals, especially Christianity, which seems to be built wholesale upon Pagan festivals, and even the idea of eating the blood of Christ can trace its roots in Northern European Paganism. Constantly adapting older religious ideas and festivals to suit their own religious views. This is not an attempt to attack the Abrahamic faiths, but merely highlight their lack of transparency.

So why, if Paganism if a religion of specific, meaningful beliefs, unique to each practitioner, all of whom have a different exact system of beliefs and thinking, does our society continue to be bemused and critical of one of the most flexible, personal, and adaptable religions in the world. Because people are cautious and wary of what they don’t know.

I know literally nothing about Paganism, except for the bare basics. Everything I have learnt is through talking to people who practise and watching about an hours’ worth of YouTube videos. It took barely no time at all to realise that it wasn’t anything to fear, but was instead a fascinating mishmash of ideologies and philosophies, and something worthy of respect, regardless of how unkempt some of the beards can be.

Final message – Educate yourself, spot the obvious lies perpetuated by the media and by those who don’t know what they’re talking about, and talk to people about what they believe and why. You might just find yourself nodding more than you’d think.



Published by Adam Unwin

Yeah, I write stuff occasionally, make things up on stage, and like saying words other people have written in a dramatic way.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: