(What Christians Don't Understand about Neopaganism)


          (What Christians Don't Understand about Neopaganism)

                            by J. Brad Hicks

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 
          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 
          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 
          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 

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_.