The Dark Side

Years ago, I was quietly told that it was a tricky thing to be a ‘public’ Pagan. You raise your head above the parapet, you’re liable to get it shot at.

This is entirely true (and not just of Pagans, of course!). When you publicly identify as anything, there are those who will take umbrage at this, whether for your perceived audacity at doing so, or just that they think you’re wrong because they don’t like what you do.

In Paganism, there’s a practice that’s come to be known as ‘Bitchcraft’. This kind be genial – gossiping around campfire, for example, tipsy joking with no real malice – or nastier, more insidious talk. Words, as we know, are powerful things.

As I’ve said before, I’ve been on the receiving end of ‘How dare you’ diatribes before, generally for the reasons above. I try to be open to discussion and comment, and so must expect the negative with the positive. The difficulty comes when the muck-thrower is more interested in the throwing of muck than discussing something with a view to resolving the issue.

Together with other public Pagans, I’ve been accused of some ridiculous things, with arguments which go around for as long as they’re sustained, because the basic premise is incorrect and the person with a chip on their shoulder doesn’t actually want to discuss matters – they want to have an argument. Because they’re right, automatically, and anyone who disagrees is wrong. There’s no debate with such an approach. This is the time to ‘not feed the trolls’ (in internet terms) and just walk away; this fire will not burn without fuel.

However, situations can become even nastier. I’ve heard of people actively persecuted by Pagan-identified groups, with physical assault and damage being caused because the recipient does not practice in a way that the attackers consider ‘right’ or ‘proper’. I recently received a letter from someone who doesn’t want to identify publicly as Pagan – she’s still finding her way – and yet her local group are sending her threats, curses, physically damaging her property and generally assaulting her… because she won’t ‘come out’ as Pagan. This is, to my mind, wholly unacceptable on many levels.

A few months ago, I was asked at a Moot about the ‘Pagan Police’, and what to do if there was information about assaults occurring within a group or coven. I’d never come across such a thing myself, but presumed that the Pagan Police were actually the same as the real Police – if someone is acting illegally, that’s true no matter what their faith. There is the Pagan Police Association in the UK, who act for Pagan Police Officers, so it’s safe to presume that you won’t get mocked if the issue is a faith-based one (but you may need to push to find a representative in your area). Groups such as the Pagan Federation also have legal representation for Pagans as needed.

But it was then suggested that a ‘Pagan Police’ is somehow formed. A group which moderates behaviour within our ‘community’. I thought about this… would such a thing not be impossible at base, and vigilanteeism at worst?

Think about it. The Pagan Community is a very amorphous thing, made up of multitudes of different views. Those in authority are often regarded with suspicion, even when they are trying to help (see the point of this post); many groups who work hard to represent Pagans tirelessly and often thanklessly (the PF, TDN, OBOD, etc) can be on the receiving end of perceived ‘power-seeking’ or accused of taking ‘authority’ positions. This can be a real no-win situation. How can we have authority if we won’t accept authority, railing against it with suspicion – even though it’s made up of folk like ourselves?

So it’s up to us, in our individual communities, to moderate behaviour. Sometimes that does mean walking away. At other times, it may mean bravely taking a stand – retorting to the gossip or slanderer. A simple ‘That’s extremely rude’ perhaps, or ‘Actually, I don’t agree.’ ‘Why do you think that?’ is a great precursor to discussion. Sometimes the person is only whinging to make noise, and quiet down once challenged – or even be inspired to think about why they’re saying what they are.

Each situation is unique, I think, because each person is. Sometimes the nay-sayer is crying out because they’re been abused themselves, and need help or support. It can be a matter of ego too, the desire to be heard. We can listen to these people, then, and respond appropriately. The challenge here is not to becomes uncaring bullies in return.

However, greater difficulty comes when boundaries need to be set and proper behaviour has to be moderated. This isn’t ‘power-gaming’ – this is polite society, with respect for others. If you speak up, you will be heard, so expect to receive a response. You might not like that, but then it’s up to you to respond in turn. This is intelligent adult discussion. Sometimes it’s not as simple as ‘I’m right/you’re wrong’ – Paganism accepts shades of grey (doesn’t it)?

Issues such as those I’ve mentioned cannot always be solved with ‘love and light’. The peaceful nature of many Pagans makes conflict hard to deal with. But sometimes we need that maturity and strength, taking a stand to remind others that they cannot always get away with acting like children – or those whom they rail against.

And taking responsibility does not mean you’re seeking power; sometimes it’s just standing up for yourself and/or others. This is needed. We walk between worlds: our own perceived ‘Pagan’ society and the ‘Muggle’ world. We’re not playing, as we see that our words and actions have consequences.

I stand up and represent my Paganism, in my Druidry. I get challenged, and I’m glad of that – often the questions inspire me to think more deeply about a matter! But my way may not be yours, and occasionally you may need to be challenged as well. Great care must be taken that passion does not turn into denigration or abuse.

What are we doing… how are we listening and responding?


  1. Helen Wood said

    As always, you make a lot of sense. Still baffles me that someone like you gets attacked.

  2. E x said

    I am sadly unsurprised to read this, and find that attitudes within our community can be so bitchy (to the point that there’s a name for it!!)!
    I was once sat with a group of pagans who clearly identified as one particular path and were merrily mocking of a different branch of paganism, which is fine to a point, but some of the comments clearly had ‘bones’ in and were just nasty…at the time I was shocked…they didnt know me, mostly ignored me and had no idea what path I indentified with. I came to realise that I wasnt going to find the beautiful inclusive community that I had expected. On a small scale I have since found that, thankfully, but I was shocked at those people and their attitude. It made me suspicious of the “general pagan community” for a long time.
    So what is my point…it would seem that the exact same human problems exist wherever you go..pagans are just humans too!
    And yes of course we all have that responsibility to stand up and support someone who is under attack.
    As always, you put things so concisely Cat xx…
    Hope that anyone struggling seeks and receives support. (And if the perpetuators are calling themselves pagan…Get A Grip on yourselves…Go back to basics…what ARE you thinking!)

  3. morna said

    I am dumbfounded that someone would get abuse for not be ready to ‘come out’. It wouldn’t surprise me getting aggression from the muggle world, as with many other misunderstood things, people are frightened of things they don’t know about or don’t feel comfortable with.
    But to hear of things happening like that within the pagan community is heartbreakingly disappointing. I guess because my own view of the community is that they tend to be made up from people who are perhaps more open to other ideas/beliefs/views/others.

  4. We certainly have no need of a Pagan Taliban. What we must do is remember that we claim strength through diversity and we should act like we actually mean it. Pagan hypocrites are just as bad as any other kind.

    Coming out of any sort has to be led to the individual because they are the one that will pay the price. Outing anyone’s religion is just as bad as outing their sexuality. Anyone that outs another should become a praia to the rest of us because trust is what builds community and lack of it destroys it.

    Anyway, that is my own personal opinion and yes you are fully entitled to have a quite different one. Goddess knows I do not need or desire adoring followers. Followers rarely make god Pagans anyway. I would make the great wonderful and saintly leader either.

    As a Wiccan, we long have suffered from the Witchier than thous. I am in the Alexandrian Tradition and we have been known for our own declarations of who is allowed to use the term Wicca. While I fully understand the argument, it is a little late to try to reclaim the word. Once the first solitaries, and the first eclectics came into being, there was no longer any possibility to squeeze the Genie back into the bottle. Religions do change and splinter, after all they are made up of imperfect people.

    As developing religions, my biggest worry is that we might not learn from the mistakes made by organized and mainstream religion, and have to make the same silly mistakes ourselves. Hopefully we might actually learn from our foolishness. But whatever we are, we are not the special people, nor our are religions protections from human stupidity. Next time we start to feel some need of Christian bashing, perhaps we should instead make sure that we are not acting the very same way that we complain about when they do it. Pagan bigotry is no better than the other kind.

    Is that Pagan over there, or that Pagan group, not being Pagan the right way. I have a big important question. Have you been keeping an eye on what you are doing, what you are saying, and how is your religious practice going? If you are busy watching others you are probably not paying enough attention to your own life your own beliefs and your own practice.

    Now I best get back to checking on what I am doing starting with how my spelling is doing. [Grin]

  5. Yes – we must certainly not confuse passion with behavioural attitudes that cause suffering; we can be both passionate and honourable in our selves! Too often, when in a debate, or even a “discussion”, we have already made up our minds as to what we are going to say, and in doing so, never really hear what others are actually saying. We may agree or disagree, but we must first listen to try to understand their point of view. In understanding, or at least the attempt to understand, we are acting with compassion. Thankfully, I’ve never had to experience the terrible behaviour described above – the occasional internet trolls on my blog and Facebook groups, but that’s it. It’s really sad to hear of some of these experiences, but we cannot ignore them either. We have to stand up when we see bad behaviour, people inflicting suffering upon others. It is our response-ability. What is most important though is that we do not have to react in the same manner as those who are causing the suffering – we can act with intention instead of reacting unconsciously to a situation. I would hate to see Pagan policing – it may absolve the need for individual responsibility.

    • E x said

      “Response-ability” Love it! πŸ™‚

    • There comes a time when we do have to call people out for what they are doing on our forums. I tend to side with the underdog and want to help someone who does not quite know how to handle a attack. But I also have to know when to back out once I have sad my piece, least I become part of a troll based witch war. A dispute between two people is just a personal dispute until people line up to take sides the it becomes something far worse.

      It is much like a school yard fight, if it is just the two, it may not be much more than some pushing and shoving and a bit of name calling. But if a crowd begins to form around it, to egg, it on it can become quite dangerous business. So we who watch have to watch how we get involved that we don’t make it far worse that it needs be.

      But what I can do on a forum is call the attacker out and make myself his target, as I can deal with that perhaps better than his intended victim. Getting the target shifted may save the victim. I am not likely to be much hurt by the attack. But again it is important to know when to back out and leave the attacker sputtering.

      • Yes indeed – I totally agree. I work with the concepts of engaged Buddhism, as described by Vietnemese monk Thich Nhat Hanh in his book, Interbeing. We stand up for what we think is right, and try to alleviate suffering wherever possible. x

  6. Pamela said

    And this is why I am a Solitary, and only very trusted family members are aware of my Path.

    • You are the only one to determine what is right for you. There can be real danger so it must be your choice. Later as you gain more confidence or you have become better known as a good person it will be harder to harm you.

      So I would never think to introduce myself as the neighborhood witch first off. No I must get known ad a decent and helpful person, perhaps with a slightly odd sense of hour. Once people have invested a bit to time having me around, my being a witch will not be so scary.

      I too am a solitary. I am not good with dealing with group politics and there seems to be a certain amount of that in every groups. Now I may accept an invitation to work with a group from time to time, but afterward I need the time to myself to recharge. I like getting to meet new people, it is getting to know too much about them of things that I would rather not learn about that keeps me solitary. In reverse it keeps them from learning anything about me that they would prefer not to know, as I can be a strange one in some things. [Grin]

  7. Over the years, I’ve come in for a lot of ‘stick’ sometimes unwarranted. I join a group and get called names like ‘pompous’ or ‘self-angradising’ tw*t and get asked to go away little man…

    I reared my head above the parapet in 1976 when I wrote to the then (new) magazine, “The Cauldron”, administered by Michael Howard – and got shot at by ‘Lugh’ (E.R.Liddell – from New Zealand)! And as a Local Co-ordinator and Regional Co-ordinator the frequency increased somewhat -because my profile was greater. As District Manager of the prestigious Pagan Federation North East (PFNE), I got hammered by my own pagans in my own area – because I quipped at a fellow pagan who said she was drunk – I’ve since learned to keep my trap shut when feelings get taut – and leave.

    Sometimes its more graceful to leave a conversation at half-tilt when people make it plain that they are ‘out to get you’ because you claim to be either a Hereditary or Traditional Witch and most times you have to understand that because of past arguments from other areas of the field you claim to be a part of (but might not agree with how you view Gardnerians, Eclectic or otherwise) you attract a lot of flack. Then there are the members of my own group who having stirred the pot and tried to raise as much enmity as they can in your coven – they move on and get upset when they get banished and call you some names you cannot defend yourself agfainst. You just have to put it down to the ‘Human Condition’ and move on as best you can. Your own actions are the best way to show you are true – not the words you speak. Jeremy Crawford

  8. Laetitia Latham said

    Reblogged this on Sea Enchantment and commented:
    This article is very thought provoking and has given me some ideas to put my book A Dream Of Living In Cornwall back into the Draft stage to make some alterations to before re-publishing it πŸ™‚

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