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What Is a ‘Persecution Complex’? And Why Is it Bad for Wicca?

Updated on August 25, 2016
WiccanSage profile image

A Wiccan of 25 years, Sage likes to put her background as a writer and teacher to use by helping people learn about this NeoPagan path.

One thing that surprised me the most when I first started using the internet was that so many people—even others in the magical and Pagan community—saw Wiccans as a bunch of whiny, defensive crybabies out of touch with reality. The Wiccans I had long known in my coven and from Pagan gatherings were not like this, so I didn't understand it.

It doesn't take much looking around to figure out how this perception came about, though. It’s the result of what many of us call the “Persecution Complex”, and it's been made worse by a lot of irresponsible authors (both in print, or self-published on the internet). Not everyone has it; but those who do are a vocal minority who are damaging our community’s image in a way that embarrasses many of us.

What do you mean I can't dress like this for work?

Don't persecute me just because I'm Wiccan!
Don't persecute me just because I'm Wiccan! | Source

Wiccans With a Persecution Complex

Have ever known one?

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What Is a Persecution Complex?

Once you begin reading books and websites about Wicca, start hanging out in Wicca chat rooms and message boards, you will inevitably come across some situations like this:

  • My boss wants me to work on Yule because it’s so busy, but then he closes for Christmas! This religious discrimination in the workplace is against the law!
  • There’s a Christian church in my town that were handing out tracts saying Wicca and Pagan religions are wrong! This kind of hatred is why 13 million Wiccans were killed during the burning times! They’re still persecuting us!
  • My parents won’t let me wear a pentacle or buy Wiccan stuff for my room! They make me go to church with the family on Sundays! They’re taking away my constitutional right to freedom of religion!

Not to mention, sometimes you buy a Pagan CD thinking you might get some good music, when instead there is track after track of Pagan rebel songs talking about Christians raping and pillaging us in the past.

I can’t speak for everyone, but it’s the kind of thing that makes me totally cringe. It’s the poor, wounded, angry bird attitude, The person who is convinced the only reason he does not get his way is that there is a conspiracy against his religion. Just the act of someone disagreeing, or – Goddess forbid—disliking Wicca is seen as a universal injustice, a wrong that needs to be righted!

If You Are Wiccan...

Did you ever have a Persecution Complex?

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You Might Be a Victim When...

There have been cases of real wrongdoing. People have:

  • been singled out and banned from doing things in public places that other religions are allowed to do
  • been fired, denied a job, apartment, etc. because of their religion
  • been taken to court to have their custody of their children challenged
  • abused or thrown out of their home as children
  • been picketed or run out of town for trying to open a religious-based business
  • been jailed, tortured, put to death

These are just a few examples of very real cases of oppression, discrimination and persecution that unfortunately still occur today. So I don’t mean to say that everyone who complains of unfair treatment is just being overly-dramatic. When someone has a legitimate complaint, it’s not a Persecution Complex.

Now THIS Is Persecution

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When You’re Not Really a Victim

A Persecution Complex is when people make a stink over non-issues. It’s when someone misinterprets the reason for not getting their way as being due to their religion. It’s when a person A thinks that person B should put his own religious beliefs aside when person A is around. It’s when a person invokes things that happened a long time ago, or things that never actually happened, as ‘proof’ to make another group look bad.

For example:

  • Unless you explicitly outline it in your contract, your boss is not under law obligated to give anyone holidays off
  • It's not wrong for private business owners to decide what image they want their employees to project to their clients
  • While public schools may not be allowed to discriminate about who is allowed to wear what religious symbols (they either have to ban them all, or allow them all), private schools certainly are allowed to do so
  • people saying they don't like your religion, thinking it's wrong, thinking it's a threat to society, etc. is not discrimination; it's free speech
  • if someone doesn't feel comfortable with different religions being practiced in their own home, they have every right to ban it. Unless you legally rent a room/apartment from the person, it is their business and right to ask you to cease and desist
  • the Constitution guarantees the government can't take away your religious freedom; it does not mean your parents can't expect you to attend church or prohibit you from attending Wiccan events or reading Wiccan books

One of the worst effects of the Persecution Complex is when someone distorts history to have a chip on their shoulder and justify their own hatred and prejudices -- like when Wiccans invoke the 'burning times' to paint Christians as villains. How many Wiccans were killed during the ‘burning times’? None. Wicca didn’t even exist back then. There were not millions of Witches killed (it was around 60,000 at most). The vast majority were not Witches or even Pagans—they were mostly Christians, victims of mass hysteria. Not to mention, Pagans burned accused Witches, too. The word ‘witch’ was never associated with good people until almost the 20th century. But even if ancient Christians burned Witches-- how does that make modern-day Christians responsible for it?

Save Accusations for the Real Thing

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If You're Not Wiccan...

Have you ever known a Wiccan with a persecution complex?

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How It Hurts Our Community

A Persecution Complex makes the individual look like an uninformed, hypersensitive drama queen, but the whole attitude reflects badly on our community. Standing out there crying persecution, oppression or discrimination is self-appointing oneself a spokesperson for our entire religion. When a Wiccan accuses Christians of burning us and trying to kill us, it makes people think this is some kind of Wiccan teaching. If a Wiccan is basically the boy who cried wolf, it makes us all look bad.

We are not required to hold sabbats or esbats on specific days the way Jews have to observe Rosh Hashana or shabbos. We’re not obligated to wear pentagrams the way Muslim women are obligated to wear head coverings. It’s not against our religion to sit through a Christian prayer or church service the way it might be against a Christian's religion to sit through one of ours. When a Wiccan expects special consideration at work, at school, or even in the home, when they’re not even really necessary, we look unreasonable. When Wiccans dress up, donning pentagrams the size of dinner plates and what looks like renaissance garb, don’t be surprised at the negative attention it might bring. This would be the equivalent of a Christian going to a majority-Wiccan country (if there were one) in a white loincloth while carrying a giant cross. It practically screams, “Go ahead— say something about me! I dare you!”

When someone does, crying persecution just makes you look like a fool.

Mostly, it’s just irresponsible behavior. It belittles and detracts attention from legitimate cases of discrimination and persecution. Wicca is certainly not the only religion to have members with a Persecution Complex, but no matter where it comes from it’s never a good thing. Intellectual dishonesty and false accusations are exacerbating the problems between people of different religions, not helping them. Everyone needs to think long and hard before pointing any fingers because we have a responsibility to our society and to our community to treat such accusations very seriously. That includes thinking carefully about them before making any.

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    • WiccanSage profile image
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      Mackenzie Sage Wright 3 weeks ago

      Yes, it's sad, but people still do it in this day and age. Getting people riled up by naming another group a common enemy, then slandering that enemy and fanning outrage against them, is a powerful way to control people and eliminate those who you feel threatened by. People ban together and decide they're the 'good guys' fighting the 'bad guys', and they seem to be willing to believe anything.

      Thanks so much for your input Michael.

    • profile image

      Michael Turry 4 weeks ago

      The part about the "Burning Times." reminded me how in the Gospels it depicts the Jewish Priests as evil when they were only doing what they were supposed to.

    • WiccanSage profile image
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      Mackenzie Sage Wright 3 years ago

      Thanks for your insights Righteous Atheists. I think this is a reasonable assessment of the mentality of some of the 'more persecuted than thou' attitudes. Thanks for stopping by, I appreciate your comments.

    • Righteous Atheist profile image

      Righteous Atheist 3 years ago

      The persecution culture is riddled through our society. Mostly through the cultural christian influence. In a perverted way, it gives validation to one's particular belief system. Why? There are 2 choices. 1. Your belief system is correct and being persecuted (whether actually or imagined) for it proves how threatening it is to others. 2. Your belief system is nonsense and no one takes notice of it. The entire how many billion? strong christian religion is based on this.

    • WiccanSage profile image
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      Mackenzie Sage Wright 3 years ago

      Thank you Apooch! I appreciate your comment. Thanks for stopping by.

    • APooch profile image

      APooch 3 years ago

      Very interesting stuff. Great read !

    • WiccanSage profile image
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      Mackenzie Sage Wright 3 years ago

      That is funny, most of the people I know who like to read history books enjoy his work-- not so much his writing style but his thorough coverage. Definitely there's still much to debate but I think we're getting on a better track now, too.

    • CarolynEmerick profile image

      Carolyn Emerick 3 years ago

      Which is funny because some of the history buffs I know have a real problem with him and think his theories are off base. But, people go round and round with these things. I'm reserving an opinion until I actually read him. I'll get to it eventually. There are so many fantastic authors out there now. The old ways really have a voice now. Even if we don't all always agree, it's great that there is finally an opportunity for open dialogue, and the immense availability of so many quality books on the subject.

    • WiccanSage profile image
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      Mackenzie Sage Wright 3 years ago

      Yes, Hutton. Opinions about him seem spilt. The majority do tend to respect his work and say he's really helped set the record straight. But there's still a group who rails against him, arguing that he just can't be right because essentially it contradicts all the discredited and unfounded claims they're more comfortable with. One poor guy actually wrote a self-published book disputing Hutton's Triumph of the Moon, and it was a clumsy attempt at regurgitating the circumstantial evidence. While Triumph is a good read, some of his other books are very dry and get very deep into the subjects; I suspect only real history buffs enjoy them.

    • CarolynEmerick profile image

      Carolyn Emerick 3 years ago

      You mean Ronald Hutton? He's been on my list of "need to read" for a long, long time! I just haven't gotten to him yet. I'm bingeing on old out of print folklore books at the moment. But it's funny, I linked to the same book in one of my articles too even though I haven't read it, I respect him by reputation and what I've read of him. :-)

    • WiccanSage profile image
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      Mackenzie Sage Wright 3 years ago

      Thanks Nadine May. Part of the problem is the internet as I see it; it's been ripe for people who have very little real education (in Pagan religions, in history, anthropology, etc.) to step up and regurgitate common misconceptions unchecked. Very few people really care to study Paganism from reputable scholars-- and when they do, some become outraged at claims that contradict what they've been taught from the poorer, biased, less reputable sources. I guess a lot of people like the false version of history better. Thanks for your comments.

    • WiccanSage profile image
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      Mackenzie Sage Wright 3 years ago

      Carolyn, thanks so much for the book recommendation! I'm going to be on that one. The book I recommend here (above) is by a Professor and historian who was raised Pagan; he set out to write true histories and to his dismay his research contradicted just about everything he was taught about Wicca and Paganism growing up, so he's another well-respected scholar who tries to get the records straight about our modern NeoPagan religions. It's good to see professionals who are Pagan stepping up and trying to correct the misinformation that pop authors have spread for the last 2 decades.

    • WiccanSage profile image
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      Mackenzie Sage Wright 3 years ago

      Thank you Mystic; that is the highest complement, to say that I get you thinking, as that's my main goal is to get people thinking or re-thinking things. As usual it's always a pleasure to see you stopping by a hub and commenting.

    • WiccanSage profile image
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      Mackenzie Sage Wright 3 years ago

      Thank you Billybuc; it's true, I even mention, Wicca is certainly not the only religion with a population of people who have a persecution complex. I think for any religion it's a problem; but in a minority religion like ours, when someone doesn't really know any other Wiccans, the impressions can leave an indelible mark. Thanks for your comments!

    • WiccanSage profile image
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      Mackenzie Sage Wright 3 years ago

      Hi Lily Luna! I agree, propaganda against any religion just saddens me and there is still a lot of misinformation and rude treatment. My only issue is that we can't go overboard when treated rudely or when our religion is disrespected and cry that we're being persecuted. Playing the victim when we're not really a victim just isn't something that will gain any respect for our religion or community. I really appreciate your comments, thanks for stopping by!

    • Nadine May profile image

      Nadine May 3 years ago from Cape Town, Western Cape, South Africa

      This is indeed a great article, very informative about Wicca. I thought that today this persecution complex would have been far less, now that people can read everything about Wicca on the internet. Well done.

    • CarolynEmerick profile image

      Carolyn Emerick 3 years ago

      I'm glad you wrote this. I identify as Pagan but not Wiccan. I'm more along the lines of reconstructed paganism based on historical research, such as Asatru, Romuva, and Rodnovery. However, I don't follow any one branch "religiously" (ha, no pun intended), and sort of do my own thing. That said, I am an avid history reader and a stickler for portraying history as accurately as possible. Which is where my criticism of the Wiccan "persecution complex" begins.

      My opinion of Wicca keeps evolving. I read a wonderful book which you would probably really enjoy called "Witching Culture" by Sabina Magliocco who is both a practicing Wiccan and an Anthropologist with a PhD. Her book allowed me to understand the development of Wicca better, and learn respect for it as a legitimate modern religion. But, in her own book she complains about "the dumbing down of paganism." And how many Wiccans spread completely false information and erroneous history.

      One big part of the "persecution complex" is the belief in blatantly false history. Such as Saint Patrick being a massive Druid Slayer (not true, and I will do my best to write a hub on that if time permits this spring!).

      They also cling to the myth of "the Burning Times." They totally confuse the conversion period with the witch hunt period. They completely misunderstand how conversion happened and are really just as bad as Christians with this. Christians claim conversion happened peacefully, Wiccans claim it was all bloody and forced (and blame Patrick). The truth is somewhere in between. Ireland was converted gradually and peacefully. England was much the same. It was Germany, Scandinavia, the Baltic, and Slavic areas that were really bloody and violent.

      So, anyway, yes the persecution complex also drives me nuts! But for reasons other than what you said :-) PS, I really can't recommend that book enough. I think all Wiccans and non-Wiccan pagans should read it! http://www.amazon.com/Witching-Culture-Neo-Paganis...

    • profile image

      MysticMoonlight 3 years ago

      Great and interesting points here, Sage. It does look poorly upon the whole group, no matter what group it is, when there are those that cry wolf at any little thing. There is a lot of this complex in today's society as you mentioned and billybuc said, it's not just Wiccans. Perhaps no religion will ever be fully exempt from it.

      Great article as always. As usual, your Hubs give me much to think about.

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Well the first thing that popped into my mind was that it's not just Wiccans who feel persecuted. :) I had to look no further than my own family to see evidence of this complex. Anyway, great points of truth and well-worth remembering, Wiccan or not.

    • Lily Luna profile image

      Lorri Woodmansee 3 years ago from Mesa, Arizona

      Great article. While I agree with your statement about dressing 'up' and not expecting looks, I have to say I still get very disgusted when I run onto a pamphlet or other publication citing negative pagan propaganda. It's still out there but no more than propaganda about other religions. You're right, most of the people persecuted for being Witch's were Christian and today we have no business wearing a chip on our shoulders for persecution from history. I have lost relationships due to the fact that I am Wiccan, however. While that isn't necessarily persecution in the literal sense it can still feel that way. I have been told not to tell many people that I am Wiccan in the workplace but that was for my own protection. It's about perception and experience. If you've never experienced being shunned for being Wiccan it is easy to assume it doesn't happen.