PAGANISM – THE NEXT GENERATION

5

by Robyn Banks

I’m a pagan.

You’re probably thinking of Satan worship or Ouija boards right now, right? Or figuring I must just be really in to Marilyn Manson. What if I told you I was a witch? Would you think of Hogwarts and broomsticks? Are you laughing yet? If you’re a Dawkins loving new atheist, fair enough. But if you’d defend anybody else’s right to their faith, you’re probably a hypocrite.

it’s often assumed to be some kind of rebellion at best, and attention seeking bordering on unhinged at worst

I was actually raised in Wicca. There’s an underlying assumption that people who identify with one of the many strands of pagan faith must have converted, even from those who respect the faith and its oppositional position to the mainstream. It’s often assumed to be some kind of rebellion at best, and attention seeking bordering on unhinged at worst. And in some ways, that’s true- paganism is understood to have had a large boom in popularity in the 1950s and 60s. Many people link it to the hippy movements emphasis on spirituality, but when you consider that the witchcraft act was only repealed in 1951 there remains the possibility that many of these strands of ‘new pagans’ were not converts after all- but I’ll leave that to scholars in the field of pagan studies, who exist, by the way.

So, in 1951 the witchcraft act is repealed, there’s a boom in paganism in the 50s and 60s, and paganism gets a reputation for being ‘new age’ and oppositional. But by now it’s 2016, and there are many, many people like me for whom paganism is not a novelty, a choice or a whim, but the basic way we were taught to see the world from childhood. Just as people raised to believe in God often return to prayer in times of stress, however alienated they may be from their parent faith, a pantheistic and nature-oriented view of the world is the default belief system of many young people raised in pagan families. And the problem is, it’s really funny.

there are many, many people like me for whom paganism is not a novelty, a choice or a whim, but the basic way we were taught to see the world from childhood.

Apparently.

I learned this in primary school, when my dad was invited to do a talk on paganism in an RE class and I was bullied for the rest of my time there. I learned this in high school, where I learned to hide it from my friends and make jokes about it when they saw pentagrams and the like in my house after school. I even learned this at university, where even my closest friends and self-professed social justice enthusiasts would persuade me to open up about my beliefs in the healing properties of certain herbs and practices and secretly record me on SnapChat, and send it to other people with derogatory captions. And as an adult, as I slowly begin to realise how much paganism has shaped my view of the world and how deep my desire is to defend it, I realised this shit was fucked up.

Recently, the word Pagan has become an insult. Grime artists such as Dizzee Rascal have formalised this and the word can be found on online grime dictionaries described as ‘a snake/not a cool person’. As language does, slowly this seems to have filtered in to the language of many of my online friends. Suddenly, Pagan is the new basic. Well, I’m not having it.

Dizzee Rascal

I shouldn’t have had to accentuate the fact that this was the faith I was born and raised in to- people should have their beliefs respected however long they have had them- but, bizarrely, it seems that many progressive people require that I validate my faith with reference to history, a rather conservative mode of thought. I posted on to my Facebook page that I felt put out by people using Pagan as an insult and asked how people would feel if I used any other religion as an insult- ‘Jew’, for example. But rather than just respect the fact that it makes some people feel bad, the first responses were from people on the social justice scene or people from other minority faiths asking me to ‘prove’ my oppression somehow. I could sum up the responses as “Yeah but prove that your faith is widespread enough and persecuted enough and serious enough to deserve me caring about it by providing a complete history of your faith which I am sure is made up.” What they didn’t see were the many pagan people who private messaged me, saying that they liked my status but were too scared to ‘out’ themselves as pagan by commenting.

I shouldn’t have to provide evidence to other people who care about equality, as though I’m applying for an equality certificate

Has there been recent oppression of paganism? I think my experiences growing up in Paganism, having to hide it from my friends and being laughed at for it from Primary School all the way to social justice oriented feminism, speak for themselves. So, too, do the people who wrote to me who were scared to identify themselves. It was only legalised in 1951, and although the situation is calmer here in the UK, in the US many pagan families still fear losing their children to social services if their faith is made public. In the south, violent crime against Pagans is a real possibility. Pagans who hide their faith are referred to as being in the ‘broom closet’, and most of us are assumed to worship Satan (the Abrahamic concept which arrived a long time after Paganism was established). It all sounds like garden variety ignorance based oppression to me.

But I shouldn’t have to claim any oppression to be respected, it’s not a race to the bottom. I shouldn’t have to provide evidence to other people who care about equality, as though I’m applying for an equality certificate. My faith is ancient, established and legitimate, and if you haven’t heard much about it before maybe you now have a better understanding of why. For all the people who messaged me in private, too afraid to ‘out’ themselves as pagans, I’m not going to be quiet about this anymore. A new generation of Pagans are growing up in to a socially aware and respectful culture, and it’s time we staked our place in it.

5 thoughts on “PAGANISM – THE NEXT GENERATION

  1. I started on in the early Eighties, in the midst of the whole Satanic Child Abuse scare, when most Pagans were rather in the closet. Still I was pretty noisy about my beliefs, almost as bad as a born again Christian, which is a bit embarrassing looking back. But after coming out as a gay man, it was not big problem to come out as a Wiccan. Plus in my late 30s then I had more confidence and less fear than say in my twenties. I often refer to my thirties as my delayed Teenager rebellion. [Grin]

    Yes there is still persecution, and I have known people harassed, who have lost their children, or their jobs. So coming out, or being private has to be left tot he person. However one can make it worse going about it in the wrong way, trying to be shocking, or scary, sets you up for attack. Getting known as a regular person, taking part in your overall community, getting known as a hard worker, and honest person, and one willing to take responsibility is sometimes the wise first step. Once you are accepted in a community there are less people who will freak out when they find out you are Pagan. Hiding out, or withdrawing from community will get you seen as weird and perhaps dangerous.

    Meanwhile as a second or third generation Pagan some of your problems may come from first generation. Sometimes they are reluctant to give you your head and let you make mistakes, learn, and find yourself. Leaders have to be created by giving them a chance to lead and to shine. Many older Pagans still want to run everything, and do not give younger Pagans a chance to learn by doing, even as they learned. Time for us older generation Pagans to start encouraging and giving the younger generation to try some serious stuff and realize that mistakes are part of the learning process. After all Paganism survived our many past mistakes and we really should have faith it will survived the younger generation’s mistakes as well.

    Last but hardly least. You younger Pagans, as this is not odd but what you grew up with, are going to want to take Paganism in new directions. Some directions which may be better, some directions that may be worse. But it has to be done for Paganism is not standing still, it has to change as needs change, or it will die out. What you don’t need is us the older generation constantly carping on it was not how we were taught. Paganism changed before as mankind left hunting and gathering, for farming and cattle herding, later for city and city state development, and now countries and world connected societies. It will change again as we head out off planet, it has to. So we elders may disagree, that is allowable, but we basically need to get out of the way, and let the younger generation try out their ideas. How else will Paganism develop? At age seventy, my job is to become the elder that I wish I had had when I was younger, to encourage and give respect to those younger people struggling to become whatever they will become. It requires that I remember that stage in my own life and that I understand.

    So do what you must do young man, learn what you can, then when it is your turn to become an elder, remember what helped you, pass it on those behind you and get out of their way. Best of luck young man, for you are our future.

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  2. In the 90s and 0Os I knew so many Pagans in Manchester UK, my best friend had been Wiccan for years, and I even tried Paganism out for a while too myself, and it never seemed to be either a secret or a problem for anyone, and, was okay for me. However, I used to chat online to a Pagan guy in Suffolk at the time, and he was bullied for it regularly, although perhaps that was more to do with the unusual way he dressed. It is probably worse in some areas than others, so that in some places like a Cosmopolitan city, on the surface it seems a non prejudice suffering religion, and is actually there accepted by a lot of people. I think everywhere there’s always a minority of people who take major issue with anything non mainstream.

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  3. Im a little surprised by your post, Im 55 and a grandmother. I have known a sizeable amount of Pagans some who are Wiccans some who are not, and a fair few that have bought up their children Pagan. I wonder if the reception of these practices/religion depends on where you were brought up? Im not saying it was common in Norfolk/North Suffolk in the 90s onwards but ancedotedly I certainly knew of children who were designated Pagan as their religion at school. It met with some surprise but not derision..I cant remember it it ever came up s to whether Pagansim was a new thing adopted by the arents or older child themselves or whether it was generational.

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    • I lived in the central Texas area for 10 years (1999-2009), and during that time at least, designating one’s children as “Pagan” in school was simply not an option. It would have opened the children up not only to derision but to bullying and perhaps even violence. I am, of course, talking about a state that tried to ban the teaching of evolution and/or include biblical Creationism in public science classrooms well into the 2010s. So yes, I would agree that systemic derision against Pagans is much stronger in certain areas than it is in others. However, it still exists, and it does occur even in the most liberal and progressive of areas. There are numerous Pagan scholars seeking degrees in archaeology and anthropology, for instance, who feel they must keep their beliefs a secret from their colleagues since anthropologists and archaeologists “aren’t supposed to actually believe” in the things they study. (The fact that no one accuses scholars of Christian history of being “biased” if they happen to actually be Christian is a serious double standard in this context.)

      Of course, systemic derision and actual persecution or oppression are not the same things. When I hear the word “persecution” I think of people being jailed or (Gods forbid) martyred, and that’s clearly not the case for most Pagans (who live in post-Industrial Western countries, at least). But your mileage may vary. Either way, I can strongly identify with this post and I too am seriously distressed by how non-Pagans will so often trivialize our experiences.

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