Sometimes, pagans are their own worst enemies. Particularly those new to the path, because they do not yet think like a pagan. What do I mean by this? Simply, a pagan is capable of accepting the idea that all the gods exist, and this by extension includes the Judeo-Christian deity. The ancient Romans accepted this idea, and referred to him as Aeo (or Ao), God of the Jews. Before the reign of Constantine forever changed the religious landscape of the empire, the ancient Romans would stop at shrines erected to Ao and make offerings, along with their offerings to their own pantheon.
But those who have newly embraced the concept of paganism assume that if one is pagan, you must by default not only reject the Christian God, but also assume he is not real. And so when confronted by a Christian, the new pagan will attempt to argue that Aeo cannot be valid, because the Bible is too full of contradictions, and because it was written by mortals, and because we know from historical and archeological evidence that much of the stories were borrowed from earlier faiths or completely fabricated. To which the Christian will completely ignore these arguments by claiming God guided the writers of the Bible, and will start quoting verses at the pagan. Inevitably, the discussion degenerates into the pagan accusing all Christians of being responsible for the witchcraft trials, and the Christian claiming all pagans are going to hell for not accepting Christ.
The whole exercise is counter-productive. And all that happens is the pagan develops a deep-rooted animosity toward Christianity, and the Christian develops a deep-rooted animosity toward paganism. And this can cause all sorts of problems when the two parties are co-workers, or family members, or otherwise must deal with each other on a regular basis.
And again, it is in this that pagans often harm their cause more than anything. Because many young pagans feel as much of a need to force Christians to accept their paganism as some Christians feel the need to convert. As annoyed as you might get at the well-meaning but misguided testifying of your church-going aunt during Thanksgiving dinner, ask yourself how annoying you are to her with your fifteen different pagan necklaces, you My Goddess Gave Birth to Your God T-shirt, and the three different sets of pentagram earrings hanging from your head!
People often ask me why I don't seem to suffer the same problems as most pagans who are open about their faith. They are amazed by the fact that not only do all of my co-workers know I am a practicing witch, but that they are accepting of it and it isn't considered a big deal.
But the fact is, it shouldn't be a big deal. Any more than someone being a Catholic should be a big deal. And this is how I present myself. I don't need to make outlandish displays of my faith to prove I am a witch. And I don't feel the need to deliberately make others uncomfortable just to force them to deal with me. And one can reduce, if not eliminate, much angst by simply changing ones own approach to the whole matter.
Yes, the Bible is full of contradictions. Yes, it was written by mortal men and translated into oblivion through dozens of languages. Yes, there are things that were added and subtracted to suit the Church Founders personal agendas. But so what? Do we really believe that Athena, Goddess of Wisdom, would have been so petty as to turn someone into a spider over a weaving contest? Doesn't this contradict how she is portrayed in other myths? We know Set was not originally considered an evil deity, and that the myths were deliberately changed later by the cult of Osiris to elevate their own god. Does that mean the entire body of mytho-poetic literature from Egypt is useless? Do you think the stories of the goddess Diana were originally written in English?
Even the ancient pagans did not take their stories as literal. They understood everything was symbolic, everything was allegory. And this is part of the change in mindset that must occur in order to effectively function as a pagan. In order for you to expect others to accept your beliefs, you must first be willing to accept theirs. Note, I didn't say you had to AGREE. You just need to allow space in your own thought processes to respect the beliefs of others.
As Joseph Campbell said, "Read other peoples' myths." We tend to look at our own beliefs in terms of fact, and it becomes difficult to conceive of other ideas because of it. But when you study mytho-poetic literature, not just as fiction, but also as part of a concerted effort to appreciate the wisdom therein, you begin to see the universal truths in all faiths. This also allows you to make comparisons between your faith and others, illustrating that your faith isn't quite as alien your opponent may think it is
My future mother-in-law is a devout Christian, and she worries immensely about her son's soul. But while she is still not pleased that I am a witch, she has learned to accept it. Though disagreements still arise, for the most part we have learned to agree to disagree. Because when she begins quoting scripture to prove a point, I can counter with a similar story from other mytho-poetic teachings. Instead of trying to argue the facts of one religion over another, I illustrate the universal nature of faith.
And this is a place where many young pagans fall short. Newly embracing paganism, they focus their study solely on their adopted pantheon. By doing so, they narrow their ability to grasp the larger, deeper meanings in the stories they read. And when finally confronted with someone want to save them, they have nothing to fall back on except for a desire to prove the other party wrong.
Realize that you do not need others to validate your beliefs for them to be true to you. There is no need to advertise that you are a pagan, because it has no impact on your own spirituality. Too often, we feel that we have to become walking billboards for paganism. This is an external distraction to your spiritual development. How often do you see a practicing Buddhists walking around wearing a Buddha tattoo, seven different pieces of Buddhist jewelry, etc? Keep it simple. I have several pagan necklaces that I often wear to work. But the key is I don't wear them all at the same time! I have a small soapstone statue of Ghanesh that sits on my desk. It's simple, tasteful, and appropriate for an office environment. What I don't have is a huge brightly colored pagan calendar hanging on the wall where everyone can see it.
Yes, the Witch Trials were a terrible thing, and it is important to build a culture of tolerance and acceptance in order to insure such things never happen again. But how does blasting all of Christianity for the actions of the medieval church several hundred years ago going to create that culture? I can't tell you how many arguments I have seen degenerate into name calling, with pagans accusing Christians of being murderers and Christians accusing pagans of being Satanists.
The fact of the matter is that the Witch Trials and Inquisition were NEVER about witches. They were about ignorance, power and money. They were started as a means of eliminating the competition (in many cases, the Cult of Diana), and spurned on by the struggling infant medical profession (competing against mid-wives and local healers), and further compounded by a general inability for people to think in a rational manner. The majority of people executed were not even actual witches, but victims of hysteria, hype, and greed.
There is a tendency in some schools of Wicca, and some pagan organizations, to claim every worshipper is in fact a priest or priestess. And there is much ado made regarding gaining ranks and such. Really, this is like all Jews claiming to be Rabbis. It makes no sense, and is counter-productive to true learning. Students get more tied up in passing some test to achieve the next rank than really delving into the true mysteries of their faith. The internet is full of 16 year old high priestesses, and his is a problem. I often read books by folks who speak as if they speak for all of paganism. I have seen a multitude of websites that present information as if it is from some Divinely inspired holy text. And I have had other pagans completely flip out on me when I question their claims, as if I should be ashamed for questioning someone who has earned Rank 5 in such-and-such Wiccan school
This attitude carries over into dealings with non-pagans. Some so-called experts have gone so far as to imply that teens should hide their practice of witchcraft from their parents because, basically, their parents are too narrow-minded to understand. That's not only counter-productive, but dangerous. I have read threads in forums where non-pagans are belittled by alleged high priests for not being educated on paganism. And how does accusing non-pagans of being stupid and narrow-minded contribute to their enlightenment?
When someone wishes me a "Merry Christmas," I don't go into a ten-minute diatribe over how Christianity stole the holiday from the pagans. I just say, "Thanks, and a Happy Solstice to you." Most of the time, they just smile and continue about their business. Occasionally, someone may ask for more information about the Solstice, because they have heard about it, but never actually had it explained to them. When someone says, "I'll pray for you," I don't fly into a rage. I normally reply with a smile, "Thanks! I'll take all the blessings from all the gods I can get!" It's a difference of attitude that changes how you are perceived.
About the author: Diane H. Wong is copywriter at DoMyWriting. Besides, she is a professional nutritionist. So she is going to start writing her own blog. It can help her share her knowledge with others.