A response to Keziah Thomas’ What Pagans Believe page.
When I originally wrote my response to Keziah Thomas’ “Ex-Pagan 4 Christ” site, I thought I had found nothing particularly offensive or wrong about her “What Pagans Believe” page. Upon revisiting, I have found many errors. The following are my responses to the entire article, here printed in full for ease of reference, in the hopes that Christians would stop being so sloppy with their research. As a practitioner of Neo-Paganism for several years, I feel it is important to counter such pages and publications as these with the facts. Enough is enough. Some of us Pagans are getting tired of the prejudices of those certain very vocal fundamentalist Christians who exhibit abject discomforts over the idea that other religions and ways of thought exist. To those types of Christian, I can only say that I hope you take your own moral injunctions seriously and stop bearing false witness against your neighbor.
Ex-Pagan 4 Christ
What Pagans BelievePagans subscribe to a vast number of different beliefs, and Christians should not assume that all pagans believe the same things. Pagans even argue among themselves about what the definition of “pagan” is so it is hard to catalogue what they all believe.
This is good advice. The Pagan, or Neo-Pagan (which is a more exact term), family of religions is not united by any common sets of beliefs. In fact what can be said to unite them, if anything at all, is the focus on experiential knowledge as opposed to dogma or belief.
While it is true that we often argue about the term “Pagan,” we usually tend to agree on a set of meanings. Also, the term “Neo-Pagan” which first gained popularity in the 1970’s clears up a lot of the former arguments. Many of us have spent much time and research to adequately resolve definition issues such as these. Nowadays, most of the argument and debate centers around the terms “witch,” “witchcraft,” and other such words. The problem with these words is not in the way we Pagans use them or choose to define them. The problem is in the fact these terms are defined in varying ways depending on the preconceptions of many people. When Pagans say the word “Pagan,” Witch,” or “Witchcraft,” we tend to know what they mean for ourselves. But others may get differing meanings. For instance, many Christians use the term “Pagan” to refer to people who are “ungodly” or who practice certain activities deemed immoral. To these same people a “Witch” is someone who practices malignant sorcery and worships the Christian Devil. These are unfortunate misunderstandings of the words themselves, since most of the old pre-Christian forms of Paganism had strict systems of morality. Most of the modern Neo-Paganism also has a strong morality as a foundation. The only major difference being that we feel that ethics/morals can only come from within a life lived with the fonts of wisdom and insight.
It is not hard to catalogue what all Pagans believe. It just takes a lot of work and research. Writers like Isaac Bonewits (Neo-Paganism: A Concise Guide, and Witchcraft: A Concise Guide) have done a good job of doing so. Margot Adler’s book Drawing Down the Moon also does an adequate job. Another author who has defined Paganism for Christians to understand is Gus diZerega, Ph.D., in his Pagans & Christians
There are three major types of paganism today. These are:
- Wicca – a formalised religion invented in the 1950s by Gerald Gardner (with input from Alister Crowley and others) following the repeal of the English anti-witchcraft laws. Gardner originally claimed that this was a pre-Christian religion handed down his family line. He assumed that the theories of Margaret Murray (who believed there was a formal religion being persecuted during the witch mania) and Sir James Frazer (who saw remnants of ancient religions in folklore) were correct, however both have since been debunked with Murray in particular no longer considered a serious scholar in this area. Wicca is a structured religion based ideally around a coven, and which worshipped the horned man Cernunnos (or Herne the Hunter) and the “witch goddess” Aradia. Their statement of ethics is the Wiccan Rede, whose most famous portion says “An thee harm none, do as ye will”. A new form of Wicca has been developing in recent years to cater to modern tastes. This form is extremely eclectic, disregarding or changing the format of Wicca at will, bringing in new gods and generally rejecting the coven format. There is some dislike of that form of Wicca among traditional Wiccans – as exemplified by the Wiccan website Why Wiccans Suck.
This is mostly accurate, except for the Horned Man/Aradia contention. The Wicca theology actually revolves around a triple aspected Goddess (Maiden/Mother/Crone) and a double aspected God who yearly dies and is reborn. These symbolize natural cycles that can be clearly observed and experienced. It is my understanding that Wicca always allowed practicioners to call upon whatever forms of deity they wished, so long as they fit into the theology. Cernunnos was chosen in the beginning of the religion’s existence because of the way Celtic art depicted him. Many assumed that he represented vegetative life forms. Aradia came from Leland’s well known book of the same name. She is described as the daughter of Diana, who was a popular Goddess during the Roman period in Italy.
Keziah’s description of Gardner and of where many now debunked ideas come from is largely true, if a bit too sparse. Her quote of that part of the Rede is wrong and grammatically incorrect…the word “thee” is a dative case form of “you” and thus can only follow prepositions like “to.” Her mention of the nascent fluffy bunny phenomenon is interesting.
There are more than three major streams or trends of Paganism today. Despite this diversity, it is Wicca and its derivatives which make up the majority of the Neo-Pagan movement.
- Eclectic Paganism – This may be the most popular form of paganism. This is an extremely diverse religion, with adherents picking and choosing from a range of ancient beliefs and mythologies to create their own religion. For that reason most eclectics are solitary (do not belong to a coven). They may or may not practise sorcery, though most do.
Actually, this is not true. While eclecticism is one of the mainstays of most Pagan practitioners, the majority of Pagans follow some sort of framework or tradition. Those who call themselves ‘eclectic’ have usually had experience in one or more traditions and paths. The writer also has failed to account for the presence of eclectic covens and some of the recent traditions based originally on eclectic experimentation. Also, for many eclectic Pagans, one of the reasons for being so has to do with their solitary practice and not vice versa. Why the practice of sorcery is mentioned here is sort of a puzzlement…Keziah suddenly mentions it as an off the cuff remark in an attempt to raise people’s suspicions.
- Reconstructionism – This is a comparatively small section of paganism. Adherents claim to practise ancient religions exactly as they once were and stick strictly to one pantheon and one set of beliefs. In practise this does not happen – in the case of ancient Egyptian religion, with no mummification and no king, the religion does not work. They also ignore the cross-fertilisation of different religions which saw semitic gods entering Greek pantheons (Bacchus being the main example of that) and Egyptian gods entering the Greek/Roman ones (Serapis & Isis). Also, most ancient religions practised animal or humans sacrifice – but modern reconstructionists claim they do not do this.
Keziah is wrong here. Reconstructionists do not claim to be practicing exactly the way the ancients did. They only assert that they try to research what the ancients did and then base their own practices from a mixture of both the ancient and the modern. Many reconstructionists do stick to certain pantheons from within their chosen cultures. Some others do not. Her contention about Egyptian religion is absurd and false. It displays a complete ignorance of ancient Egyptian beliefs and practices. (Perhaps she should study up on her ancient and classical history to learn the permutations of Egyptian religion and the many aspects it took as parts of it were adopted by the Greeks, among others.)
Reconstructionists, contrary to what Keziah asserts, do not ignore the cross-fertilization of different religions. Some reconstructionists simply decide to stick to certain local or ethnic strands of religion as practiced by groups like the Celts, or the Norse, or even the native Greek pantheons, as opposed to the more universal religious groups like the Isis-worshippers, or the Mithraists. However, reconstructionism is an approach to Paganism and can not be equated with ethnic Paganism. What if some reconstructionists decided to revive the religion of Isis-worship? (There is ample enough evidence to do so.)
Actually, most ancient religions may or may not have practiced animal sacrifice. The majority of them did not engage in human sacrifice. Pagan accounts of their own religions, of which there are plenty surviving from classical times, mention no human sacrifice. Archeological evidence also does not support the oft repeated contentions that groups like the Celts practiced human sacrifice. But that is not the issue. The issue is what sort of practices were going on right before the expansion and dominance of Christianity, since Christians like to repeat the claims that Pagans practiced all sorts of nefarious rituals. In terms of the Romans and the Greeks, they felt that human sacrifice was disgusting. They claimed that the ‘barbarian’ Celts were engaged in it. The Celts themselves denied it and claimed that sacrifice itself was an offense to the gods since humans could do nothing to increase the gods’ concern for us, considering all that the gods do for us already. But we are not here concerned with a well researched discussion about human sacrifice and who, if anyone, actually practiced it. (Many scholars think that most accounts of human sacrifice were urban myths propagated by competing religious and cultural groups.)
The main issue here is that Keziah says “Also, most ancient religions practised animal or humans sacrifice – but modern reconstructionists claim they do not do this.” [Emphasis added.] By this she is trying to give the impression that reconstructionists engage in this sort of behaviour, while they claim otherwise. It is a subtle trick which involves the word “claim.” To understand this, think about the impression I have created about Christians if I say “Despite the evidence of their tortured Christ iconography, Christians claim to not engage in any human sacrifice whatsoever.” Do you see how this sort of thought works now?
Not all pagans are witches, and not all witches are pagans. Some people practise magic without the religious element while some pagans practise their religion without magic.
Most pagans will claim they only use magic for “good” purposes, but in practise this is an ambiguous concept at best.
There is disagreement among pagans as to how and if magic works. Some claim that it is merely their equivalent of prayer, whereas others say magic works in just the same way it claims to do. As I can testify, magic does work when Satan wants it to, but cannot be used against Christians.
Okay. Here is a problem. She has confused magical practitioners with Pagans while attempting to do just the opposite. While her assertions about small ‘w’ witches is correct, I fail to see how she could get this right and yet fail miserably with the construction “Some people practise magic without the religious element while some pagans practise their religion without magic.” Those people who practice magic without any religious element are simply ‘magical practitioners’ or whatever other name they might be known by. Pagans are Pagan because of the religious elements and the rituals they practice. Keziah seems a bit confused here. She seems to be saying that magical practitioners are all Pagans, which of course is absurd. Magical practitioners exist in every religious group, even Christianity. Some of them are not religious at all, approaching magic from a modern scientific-style. The only difference is that Pagans are open to magical practices, whereas many other religious groups tend to try to repress them.
Again she uses a “claim” statement. I could say the same thing about Christians. “Most Christians claim to only use prayer for ‘good’ purposes.” Do you see the problem with this sort of statment? Also, doing anything for “good” purposes is ambiguous, but only when there is a failure to provide any contextual examples. Within Pagan religions, magical practices are to be explicitly used for the benefit of oneself and others. But magic, like every other thing, is neutral. The intentions of the user are what could be considered ‘good’ or ‘evil.’ And again, it is important to realize that just because Pagans are more open to magical practices does not mean that they all practice them. Nor are some of them even interested in magic. Keziah needs to study the differing opinions and practices of Paganism more closely. Otherwise her contentions seem quite childish and overgeneralized.
There is much disagreement over magic and how it works. But then again, it depends on the beliefs of the actual practitioner of magic. Pagans tend to agree on many basic aspects of magical operation simply because of their religious similarities. Usually much of the disagreement occurs in the more hard Occult/Magical subcultures, which sometimes overlaps with Paganism due to some Pagans being interested in the Occult. From a magical point of view, prayer is magic. It is in fact one of the oldest enduring magical operations stemming from a time when people believed they must appeal to other beings for help. There are a few magical paradigms dealing with attempts to explain the ‘mechanics’ of magic. Perhaps Keziah should research this a bit before she makes naive statements.
As to Keziah’s testifying, who really cares? She should just admit that that is her opinion and it is based upon her own belief system more than any reality. Although this may be hard for her to do since she is quite thoroughly convinced that her Christian ideas are the one-and-only-truth. As to Satan, he has nothing to do with 99.9% of the magical operations going on in the world. Most magical operators either credit their own talents/gifts or they credit God, or one or more of the Gods if they are Pagan. Usually magic works because it was done right, much like any other human activity. It really is as basic as that. Anything else is just speculation. As to her assertion that magic can’t be used against Christians: Why not? Christian literature is filled with examples of successful magic being carried out against Christians, either by other Christians or by those from other faiths. Also, most magical operators, especially if they are Pagan, really have better things to do than go around using magic against Christians. So why even bring up this absurd notion? Magic is much more than just going around casting spells on others, despite what some close-minded or mislead people may think. But even so… Christians do not have any special immunity from magic, any more than any other group. I can testify to that fact.
ConclusionIn conclusion, I can only say that Keziah Thomas needs to do a little bit more research and she needs to support her contentions with examples. We can not just be expected to take her word for it, especially since we do not even know if she has any real experience with Paganism. She has shown that she has either read or talked with people. But she needs to go further, or just point people to the more excellent sources, published both by Pagans and non-Pagans. However, this page and its naivety is not surprising in light of the “Ex-Pagan 4 Christ” site which it is a part of. I would wish that certain of these Christians who like to lie or pass information which they can not confirm could become more truthful. But I know that wishing that way is a delusional waste of my time. So it is better that we Pagans simply carry on as we always do and laugh ourselves to pieces at such trash.
This page on Chaos 34th, 3171, by the DSSS/PMM.
Permission secured by Daven’s Journal to reproduce these articles here.
Originally posted 2009-11-10 14:41:56. Republished by Blog Post Promoter