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Paganism, Witchcraft, and Misconceptions

Updated on May 26, 2010

Which Witch is Which?

Paganism (from Latin paganus, meaning "country dweller", "rustic") is a blanket term used to refer to various polytheistic, non-Abrahamic religious traditions. Its exact definition may vary.

What a tricky spirituality. Broad too. Broad and misunderstood by many; on occasion, even by its own practitioners. So, lets get the confusing labeling bits out of the way fist.

All Pagans are not Wiccans.

"Witch" has no clear meaning within the Pagan community. Some practitioners may .call themselves "witch", some may not. Some may even claim Witchcraft as their religion.

One does not need to be a member of a lineaged coven in order to be a Pagan.

Pagans are a lot like opinionated snowflakes. We all look the same from a distance, but get a little closer you'll find that a lot of us don't believe in the same system of ethics or even the same gods. We're all different, and an umbrella term like "Pagan" suits us just fine.

All Pagans Worship Satan

Not true. Much of the confusion actually stems from the horned Celtic god Cernunnos. Early Christian writers and artists had a tendency to present Satan as the popular deity Cernunnos. Most individuals who call themselves Pagan don't even believe in Satan.

On the other hand, many Pagans do recognize the need for balance. Without evil there could not be good. I'm not about to wax philosophic, but the gods and goddesses that compose Pagan pantheons are considerably more humanized than abstract concepts like God or Satan. A lot of us worship more in shades of metaphoric gray, dismissing labels like white witchcraft/black witchcraft, good witch/bad witch.

Which brings me to a personal pet peeve: Non-Pagan folks, I know you're trying to be PC, but stop referring to/introducing your Pagan pals as "a white witch". I realize a lot of people are very uncomfortable with the word "witch" and tacking "white" to the beginning clears up any confusion about us potentially sacrificing their cat and eating their baby, but... stop it.

All Pagans are Atheists

Believe it or not, I actually get this one a lot. It's right up there with having the pentagram charm on my necklace mistaken for a Star of David.

Pagans worship many gods and goddesses. More than most. We're polytheists, which also deserves a quick explanation. Within Paganism, here are typically two sorts of polytheists:

Soft-core polytheists. These Pagans believe in many gods, but only as aspects of a greater Divinity. Divinity is much like the Christian concept of God; massive, omnipotent, incomprehensible. The gods and goddesses are facets of Divinity; female and masculine entities that make the incomprehensible more approachable. Some Pagans even believe that humans are fragments of this same Divinity as well.

Hard-core polytheists. These Pagans believe that the gods are honest-to-goodness individuals. They may or may not believe in their mythology literally, but like soft-core polytheists, show respect for the deities by studying it. Hard-core polytheists are also more likely to choose one pantheon to follow rather than mixing and matching various gods they feel a connection with.

All Pagans Follow the Rede

An' it harm none, Do what ye will.

Those eight little words are so overused - and misused for that matter. They come from the Wiccan Rede. Wicca is a modern and relatively new religion. These words were first published in a poem in 1974, and somehow still seem to be thrown around like the official Pagan mantra.

I'm not Wiccan, so I really don't have much to say on the subject. The Rede isn't representative of Pagan ethics. To a lot of us it's just a poem. A pretty poem. But just a poem.

All Pagans Worship the Earth

I eat off styrofoam plates and order fast food hamburgers. To be fair, I feel moderately guilty about it. But I don't own a dishwasher, and I like a nice hamburger every now and then. I try to buy free-range products and use reusable grocery bags, but the environment isn't one of my big concerns.

The Earth is a large part of many Pagan traditions, but to call the whole of Paganism an "Earth-based faith" seems unfair.Depending on an individual's pantheon and personal beliefs, nature may not play a role at all.

And the List Goes On

Paganism means a lot of different things to a lot of different people. Some use it merely as a fashion accessory or as a means to rebel. Some see such a broad umbrella term as freeing, a chance to explore their spirituality. Some even find structure in it; a particular tradition or path that they feel comfortable in.

There are plenty more misconceptions to clear up, and I may address them at a later point in time. For now, just remember that we're not all Wiccans and we don't typically eat babies. Paganism is not easily defined. It's no surprise that it's not easily understood either.


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    • profile image

      HeatherDRoberts 5 years ago

      Actually one can argue that everyone who is not a Christian is a pagan (like Jews vs. Gentiles). Since in the Dictionary pagans can be defined to have little or no religion and are hedonists. Be careful when someone whips out a Dictionary at you. Other than that, I like your post only, you fail to mention some pagan paths, like say the Druids, or any other polytheistic pagan sect. That would be interesting.

    • Shawn May Scott profile image

      Shawn May Scott 5 years ago

      Thanks for clearing up a few misconceptions about Pagans. It is about time that the myths are cleared and we are accepted as human beings not the creatures from the black lagoon!!!

    • secretmemoir profile image

      secretmemoir 7 years ago from Australia

      interesting hub. I had no idea about what pagan believe. Helping clear up misconceptions about what people believe has to be a good thing

    • John B Badd profile image

      John B Badd 7 years ago from Saint Louis, MO

      Cool hub Kelley. I like to see pagans break down the facts without getting all emotional and disrespectful towards the Abraham religions. The truth is there are many paths on this earth and we are all walking somewhere.

      I am pretty sure that Wiccan Creed came for the magician Aliester Crowley's "do what thou will shall be the whole of the law" but i am not positive about that.

      If you want to read about my path check out my post on shamanism.

      Keep up the good hubs.

      John B