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A Little Less Misunderstanding
by J. Brad Hicks
What Christians Don't Understand about Neopaganism

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 the same things that 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 who call themselves 
   "witches." Some are people whose ancestors were the village 
   healers, herbalists, midwives, and such, many of whom had (or were 
   ascribed to have) mental, psychic, or magical 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 Inquisitors.  Bonewits calls them 
   "Gothic" or "Neo-Gothic Witches."  Of a different kind are some 
   radical feminist groups, who call themselves witches because they 
   believe that the original Inquisition was primarily anti-female; 
   some of these also practice magic, many of them do not - Bonewits 
   calls them "Feminist Witches." But the vast majority of modern 
   witches are harmless people who worship God in many forms, 
   including the Lord of the Dance, the Lady, and the Mother Earth. 
   These are the people that Bonewits (and I) call"Neopagan Witches" - 
   and this is what I am.  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, any well- read pastor or theology professor.) In order to 
   worship Satan, you have to believe in him - and there are no 
   references to Satan outside of 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 worship Satan.  Of course, many 
   people insist that any god other than JHVH/Jesus (and his other 
   Biblical names) is a demon or 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.  Jews and 
   followers of Islam are just as confident that they worship the True 
   God as you are, and resent being called devil worshippers.  So do 
   I. 

Q: What do Neopagans believe about God? 
A: Neopaganism is a new religion with very, very old roots.  It harks 
   back to the first religions that man ever practiced (based on the 
   physical evidence).  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 I (and many others) 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 life together and is the origin of all miracles - including 
   miracles such as written language, poetry, music, art ... 

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 ritual which 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 brought to us via hastily-coppied texts under trying 
   circumstances), it doesn't prescribe a specific code of morality 
   (except for a few general guidelines), 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 whomever 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 fascinating.  If I had any religious beliefs as a child, is 
   wat that somewhere, there was a God, and many people worship Him, 
   but I had no idea what His name was.  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 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 self. 

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 all 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 
   precisely same sense that the 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, and it doesn't make Christians into 
   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: Some Neopagans are ex-Christians, and I'm not going to deny that 
   some of them have a grudge against the Church because of what they 
   perceived as attempts to control their minds.  Further, many 
   Neopagans 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 popular 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_ 

 
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