Over the past 20+ years these are all things which people have said to me. These are also all things which you should never say to anyone, whether they be Pagan, Christian, Muslim, any other religion, or atheist.
1. You don’t look Pagan.
I wasn’t aware that we had a dress code. Now, I’ll be the first to admit that I find some of the costumed people at various Pagan festivals to be a bit OTT. (Horned helmet and a kitchen tea towel as a cape? – Yes, I did see that once. On an adult.) And I have wondered many times just how many pentacle necklaces a person needs to be wearing at one time. These folk are the exception however, not the rule.
The vast majority of Pagans going about their every day lives are dressed just like everybody else walking down the street.
Some Pagans will wear specific attire, perhaps robes, when in ritual settings. With a very few exceptions, you won’t find a Pagan wearing those robes out and about in every day life. I am thinking here of a few of the many self-proclaimed “King of the Witches” to be found in the UK. They’re usually drug into the spotlight when a TV documentary wants to interview a “real witch” or when interest in Loch Ness and Nessie comes up.
What we wear is a reflection of who we are, our identity and personality, and our lives. You will find Pagans who like to wear lots of jewellery, Pagans who wear none. Pagans who dress in flowing peasant skirts and bohemian tops, and Pagans who are never out of jeans and t-shirt.
Pagans dressed in suit and ties, Pagans in jogging bottoms and trainers.
Pagans who are never out of 3 inch heeled shoes, and Pagans in Birkenstocks. Pagans in flip flops, and even Pagans who prefer being barefoot.
You’ll find Pagans with short hair, Pagans with long hair. Pagans who dye their hair, Pagans who go grey.
Pagans who never leave the house without putting on their make up, and Pagans who haven’t touched a tube of lipstick in decades.
We are a varied, wonderful, diverse bunch of people, and how wonderful is that. Wouldn’t life be boring if we all had to be the same.
2. You know too much about X religion to not practice it.
I have been told more times than I can count that I must be Christian because I know so much about the Christian Bible.
I am of the opinion that people should have an understanding and a basic knowledge of the major world religions. Not least because religion so strongly influences the culture of a group. My understanding of Christian religions tends to be better than my understanding of other religions, but that is because I grew up around it, and so much of Western European culture is based around biblical stories.
3. You are going to Hell. You will burn in Hell. I hope you have fire insurance because…
Hell is a concept found in the Abrahamic religions of Judaism, Islam, and Christianity. It doesn’t exist in any of the Pagan religions that I am aware of, except perhaps the ice and snow regions of Hel which are presided over by the Goddess Hel.
I’m reminded of a meme I came across a few months back: Telling a Pagan he’s going to Hell is like telling a Christian he’s going to Mordor.
In other words, I don’t believe in it. If you need the threat of going to a bad place to keep you from misbehaving in life, then that’s your business. But telling me I’m going to hell for not believing as you do? It’s an empty threat. I get that you’re only concerned for my immortal soul. I suggest worrying about your own and letting me worry about mine.
4. Are you a white (good) Pagan or a black (bad) Pagan.
Besides the incredibly racists message here that one colour is somehow good while another is bad, this comment shows a distinct lack of knowledge and awareness of Paganism. If I walked up to a man asked him “Are you a white (good) Christian (Muslim/Jew/Hindu/Rastafarian/Buddhist/ insert your favourite religion here) or a black (bad) Christian (Muslim/Jew/Hindu/Rastafarian/Buddhist/insert your favourite religion here)?” he would be appalled. You wouldn’t do ask it because the assumption is that a person who is a follower of one of these religions is inherently good.
There are Pagans who do bad things. There are Christians who do bad things. There are atheists who do bad things. There are Buddhists who do bad things. There are people who do what we consider to be bad things in the name of their religion. It isn’t the religion or a lack of religion that makes them do those bad things though.
5. If you are Pagan that means you have to be an activist.
Animal rights, environment, nuclear weapons/power, the list is endless. And while I have known Pagans who can be found at every protest march, I know just as many who have no desire to take part.
While I have opinions on most of these subjects you’ll not find me on any protest lines for or against because that just isn’t me.
6. Without commandments you have no morality
This statement hits not only Pagans but also atheists, agnostics, and others. Because we don’t have a list of shoulds and should nots telling us how to behave or what to eat, or when and how to worship that means we don’t have a sense of right and wrong. Because we don’t have the threat of eternal damnation, we won’t be able to refrain from committing despicable acts or engaging in sinful activities.
I would say that if the only thing keeping you from committing some despicable act is the threat of eternal damnation, that doesn’t say much for your internal sense of right and wrong.
7. What you are doing is a sin.
Sin as a concept does not exist with the Pagan religions. Many do follow some variation of the Wiccan Rede (but not all because remember, not every Pagan is a Wiccan) which tells us simply “Harm none”. It is left to the individual to define what these two words mean and how it is applied. Even if a Pagan doesn’t follow the rede of Harm None, you will find that they do carry within their beliefs the idea of personal responsibility and treating others with kindness and compassion.
My own thinking is that “Harm none” is a reminder to consider the consequences of our actions. It is impossible to go through life and never harm anything or anyone – think on that as you chow down on the veggies that were ripped from the ground to feed you. We can however look at what the consequences will be, and we can consider if we are willing to accept the consequences of our actions.
But, there is no sin. No threat of being eternally separated from God. No worries about being cast into Hell, or Mordor. There are only consequences.
8. Paganism is just a fad / a way of rebelling.
Yup, I’ve met the Pagans for whom this is a fad and a way of rebelling against their parents or other authority figures. They don’t tend to remain Pagan for very long however. Those who only became Pagan because they wanted to piss off their parents move onto the next thing when they realise that 1. Being Pagan means taking personal responsibility for your actions and 2. There’s a whole big world out there that really doesn’t care that you are rebelling against your parents or another authority figure.
And now that Paganism is gaining social acceptance the number who enter with a goal of shocking and and rebelling against the system are becoming smaller and smaller.
9. Paganism isn’t a real religion because you have no holy book/ there are no religious leaders / it isn’t old enough.
Pagans don’t have these things because they aren’t needed. Keep in mind as well that there is no single religion called Paganism. This is an umbrella term that encompasses a huge range of religious beliefs.
Each Pagan is considered to be his or her own priest. There are no intermediaries, we can commune with the Gods directly. Some people have taken on the role of elders within Pagan traditions as they grow in experience and they are valued for their wisdom but they hold no greater power than any other Pagan.
As far as longevity, even the oldest religions on this planet were once only a few years or decades old.
You’ll occasionally still come across (usually) new Pagans who try to tell you that their denomination of Paganism is hundreds (or thousands) of years old. They’re mistaken. Unless they happen to be part of an indigenous culture which has retained its Pagan roots, groups such as the Finno-Ugric Mari people of Russia.
10. There is only one true way.
When someone says this to me, it is a signal to me that they are not interested in engaging in any sort of dialogue. They will not and cannot listen to anything that threatens their limited view.
I figured out why this is many years ago.
If the entirety of my religion is based upon the idea that there is only 1 correct religion, then every other person holding a different religion threatens my belief system. Because there can only be 1 correct religion, if I cannot convince that other person they are wrong, it introduces the possibility that I am wrong. I therefore must do everything I can to convince that other person they are wrong.
But this isn’t what I think, it isn’t what I believe. There is room in my world view for alternate beliefs, alternate religions. And all of them can be right at the same time. That you think or believe differently than me in no way detracts or invalidates my own beliefs.
*This post was edited on 15 July 2015.