Planning to be Pagan in Public|
Author: Kerr Cuhulain
Posted: December 5th. 2004
Times Viewed: 11,902
You've discovered a Pagan spiritual path that brings you joy and fulfils your needs. Yet you're anxious: During your spiritual search you became aware of some of the misinformation, misinterpretations and hate literature concerning things Pagan in circulation. You'd like to publicly practice your Pagan beliefs, but you're concerned about the reaction of your family/friends/co-workers to your spiritual interests. What to do?
The primary obstacle that you have to overcome is fear. I'm not referring to your fear, though trying to educate those around you concerning your Neo-Pagan beliefs may be a daunting task sometimes. Witch hunts are primarily about fear. There are people out there who, for a number of reasons that will become apparent later, are working very hard to make anyone who they can get to listen to them to fear anything different and to fear you in particular.
In the decades that I've devoted to anti-defamation work I've discovered that the attitude that underlies most of the hateful activities that I've had to deal with was the idea that religion is a "one size fits all" proposition. The people behind Witch hunts believe that their beliefs are the one true faith. Their attitude can be summed up by the statement: If you are not with us, then you must be against us. They try to create the perception that there is an imminent and serious threat to society out there and that the only solution is to join their religion. They use fear to drive people into the pews of their church. Everything other than their chosen faith is described as a "cult". There are several motivations behind such behaviour: Financial gain, power, attention and prestige are some of the more common motivating factors. These fear mongers want the public to equate the word "different" with the word "enemy".
This being the case the most important thing that you can do as a Pagan just "coming out of the closet " is to reassure your family, friends and co-workers that you aren't opposed to Christianity in particular and society in general. Convince them that you are simply different and that different isn't dangerous. It doesn't matter to me if a person disagrees with my religion, so long as they understand what they are disagreeing with. Wiccans don't proselytise. I don't expect everyone else in the world to do religion exactly the way that I do. All religious paths lead to the same place. We are all looking at the same thing, yet because we come from differing social, cultural and educational backgrounds we perceive it differently.
Christianity is an excellent example of this phenomenon: Witness the countless different denominations of Christianity in the world today. Some of them openly war with one another. Stop ten people of the same Christian denomination on the street and ask them to define Christianity and I guarantee you'll get ten different answers. Some of the fundamentalist fanatics that I've researched through my anti-defamation work are aware of this problem. They often attempt to get around it by making the argument that their particular denomination of Christianity isn't a religion at all: Such people use the word religion to describe anything that they are opposed to.
Fear tends to polarize people. Groups tend to view outsiders with suspicion. People are more comfortable when everyone in the group believes the same things. The fear mongers take advantage of these tendencies. They try to convince the public that Pagans (and all other religions besides their own) operate outside of society's norms. In extreme cases I've seen concerned but misguided families and/or friends try to force their friends or siblings back into the fold with kidnappings and "deprogramming" attempts by church groups. This by no means a common occurrence. If you are going out of town to confront potentially hostile family members it is a good idea to leave your travel plans with trusted Pagan friends. That way they can call the authorities to investigate if you don't return on schedule.
Part of the problem that you may encounter in trying to make others understand Pagan spirituality is that it isn't structured like most religions in the Western world today. People have difficulty grasping religions that are outside of the terms of reference that they are familiar with. They can't figure out how to take a group like Wiccans that don't have churches, organized hierarchy or scriptures. I've found that it is helpful to compare Wicca to a religion that the person that you are speaking to has some experience with. In most cases in Western society this means Christianity. I use a comparison table between Wicca and Christianity in my presentations to law enforcement personnel that I have found useful for this purpose.
One of the most common arguments used by anti-Pagans in an attempt to discredit Wiccans is the claim that Wiccans have no moral or ethical guidelines. They try to convince the public that as Wiccans don't have commandments like they do we have no moral guidelines. Very often evangelists present us with partial quote from of Aleister Crowley's Liber Legis and try to convince their audience that this represents the Wiccan Rede. The line that they usually present is "Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law." This is out of context, as the entire passage actually reads: "Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law. Love is the law, love under will".
Of course it isn't the Wiccan Rede either, which states: As long as it harms no one, do what you will. This ethical question is one very often asked of me when I do public presentations. The last time that this happened was at a presentation to over two hundred police officers at a police academy. This is how I handled it: I asked for a show of hands from the audience. "Put up your hand if the only reason that you don't steal is because there is a law somewhere that says that you should not." Of course not one of the police officers present put up their hand. I told them that the true reason that they did not steal was because they knew that such activity harmed other people, not because there was a statute somewhere prohibiting such behaviour. This is exactly how the Wiccan Rede works. Wiccans replace "thou shalt not" with "I will not".
When I was new in the Craft I frequently encountered evangelists that tried to convert me by endlessly throwing Biblical scripture at me. This usually consisted of passages from Exodus, Revelations or Deuteronomy that evangelists commonly use to condemn Witchcraft. In the beginning I threw back samples of the many Biblical passages that contradict the very image of morality that such people are trying to prevent. I quickly discovered, however, that entering into arguments over Biblical interpretation presented me with two problems: First of all it gave the evangelists that I was engaging the impression that I took their Bible seriously. Indirectly this provided them with validation. Secondly it invariably turned into seemingly endless exchanges. For every passage I quoted they'd come up with at least one more to counter it.
I'm older and hopefully wiser now and I don't waste my time with Biblical arguments any more. When evangelicals start to quote scripture I shut them down very quickly by informing them that if they want to make a point with me they'd better find a way to do it without their Bible, as I don't recognize the Bible. Since these evangelicals normally rely almost exclusively on scripture to make their arguments, this approach quite often renders them speechless. Without their Biblical quotes they've no coherent arguments to offer you. They've not been encouraged to think, only to quote. Of course they'll try to make you accept their Bible, calling it the "word of God". I tell them that the Bible is the creation of a collection of men. It is the words of men compiled over several centuries who mythologized a carpenter. I remind them that there are literally hundreds of different versions. I tell them that I follow an entirely different mythological system. It is hard for them to argue that you oppose scripture when you don't even acknowledge it.
Of course, one of the most common tactics used by fanatics hoping to discredit Pagans is to claim that Pagans worship Satan. Of course they make similar claims concerning any other religion besides their version of Christianity. I tell people that I find using this tactic that Satan is a bogey man: A personification of evil created by Christians to scare people into the pews. I tell them that I don't believe in bogey men. Satan is a personification of evil in a mythology that I don't endorse.
There is only one Biblical passage that you need know how to respond to: Deuteronomy 18 in the King James translation of the Bible. This passage reads: "Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live." What the people that throw this about usually don't realise is that King James's translators were using an old Greek translation of the Bible as the basis for their work. In this Greek version the original line read: Thou shalt not suffer a venefica to live. Venefica translates as "poisoner" not "witch". These are two quite different things. However the translator of the KJV Bible decided to interpret it this way and people have had to live with the consequences for centuries.
One of the tactics of the anti-Pagans that I've dealt with over the years is to try to convince the public that Pagan religions like Wicca aren't recognized religions at all. Here are some statistics that you can use to refute this:
- There are between 250,000 and 1 million Wiccans in North America today. A census by Covenant of the Goddess in 2000 came up with a figure of 768,400.
- The US Armed Forces recognizes Wicca as a religion which may be listed on a serviceman's dog tags. Wicca has been recognized in the chaplain's manual for the US Army since 1975.
- Nearly every state in the US and province in Canada has Wiccan clergy that can legally perform weddings (or, to use our terminology, hand-fastings).
- There are now professional organizations representing Wiccans in emergency services professions such as police, fire-fighters and paramedics (Officers of Avalon), nursing (Pagan Alliance of Nurses), law (Pagan Bar Association) and the military (Pagan Military Alliance).
- Most major Universities these days have Pagan Student Associations and many have Wiccan chaplains.
- Wicca is recognized by most correctional institutions in the US and by all correctional institutions in Canada. Many prisons have active Wiccan chaplains.
I'm not going to attempt in a short article to list all of the possible variations of misinformation and urban legends that you may encounter. Those of you familiar with my Witch Hunts series on the Witches Voice web site will realize that in the first year I devoted over a half million words to this subject. Instead I'd like to simplify and condense this into some general tips that you may find useful.
Some of the anti-Pagan fanatics that I've studied over the years have gone to great lengths to convince law enforcement officers that Pagans are something to be feared. Quote from Alford about dangers of police approaching coven: They often counsel law enforcement agencies to treat people involved in Neo-Pagan religions as dangerous to the public and police officers in particular. Herold's manual concludes with the warning:
"As law enforcement officers and agents, you frequently face danger from all kinds of people-- drug addicts, pushers, prostitutes, pimps, the emotionally unstable, the mentally deranged--in short, the killers, rapists, and abusers of our society. Now, it is time for you to add occultists, witches, and satanists to your list of armed and dangerous characters.
"For example, you might encounter a coven that is protected by an armed sentinel. (Those members with psychic abilities are preferred so they can 'see' you coming and 'know' your intentions.) These devoted guardians will not hesitate to attack an invader, be he an innocent trespasser, adventurous curiosity-seeker, or a peace officer. Here are some points to remember:
"1) If a suicidal practitioner thinks you are a threat to his desire to die and reincarnate or resurrect, for example, he/she might very well kill you or hurt you in his defence.
"2) Covens (and individual, solitary practitioners) are equipped with knives as ritual and ceremonial tools. Therefore, consider each group or individual as armed and potentially dangerous.
"3) You might encounter an occultist who seems to possess 'superhuman' strength. Be on guard.
"4) Drug induced occultism, witchcraft, and satanism pose a double threat: the unpredictable effects of the drugs mixed with the deviations of the practices.
"In conclusion, it is my hope that the information contained in this Guide will prevent not only personal harm to you, but also will serve to preserve and protect the general public. If just one, innocent child is saved from being used as a human sacrifice-- if just one, careless adult is spared the agony of physical and psychological destruction-- if just one police officer or law enforcement agent returns to his or her family following a confrontation that otherwise would have resulted in injury or death-- then my purpose will have been accomplished."
Another example of this may be found in Clifford Alford's Occult Crimes Investigations:
"Perhaps the greatest consideration for a police officer is the fact that these people are totally given over to a spirit of rebellion and anarchy... these occultists have a great liking for edged weapons which they constantly practice the use of. Both small children and the elderly, if involved in Satanism, Voodoo or neo-paganism, will probably attack you when confronted as you represent law and order, the right hand path, or God's way. Those who are teenagers or young/middle aged adults should only be approached with the most extreme caution, and always with a back up.
"Remember that you are dealing with people whose words are totally divergent to those of normal people in our society. What they say, and what you say to them, is often perceived from a totally different view of reality. 'Good is evil and evil is good.' What is normally a non-threatening attitude, may just as easily be a prelude to a violent confrontation.
"Still another consideration is that the occultist is practicing a form of religion which is as important to them as that of any Christian, and there is no scriptural constraint here to 'love your enemies' or 'do good to them who spitefully use you'. Many Satanists will defend their ritual sights [sic] to the death, and those of the larger, better organized groups will have three perimeter defences. Anyone who dies (whether and attacker or defender) at their ritual sight [sic] is considered a sacrifice to Satan" .
"We have all heard of suspects being considered 'armed and dangerous' and have received the admonition to 'use extreme caution'. Nowhere is that more true than with suspects in occult related crimes. Everything symbolized by your shield and uniform is something that they hate... This is a hard fact of life, but this is also the result of a strong psychological warfare program. This is what you need to realize: We are engaged in a war within society... When you approach an occult crime suspect, always have your holster strap or flap undone and your hand around the grip with your thumb over the hammer ready to draw and fire".
"Police officers and ministers represent authority, the law, the right-hand path of God, etc., and, therefore, you can expect [Satanists] to attack without warning, just to show others how 'cool' they think they are. Its like Vietnam; even the kids will try to take you out".
And here is another example from Alan Herbert Peterson's American Focus on Satanic Crime, Volume II:
"FACT: Satanic Cultists are turning parks and other wooded areas into virtual death traps. They are not only sacrificing animals and children, but have `booby-trapped' trails with `Vietnam-like' pungi stakes. And they won't hesitate to kill innocent bystanders who happen to wander in on the gory trails. `Cult cop' Craig Tisdale of the Winnetka (IL) Police department, who specializes in the Investigation of Cult Activities in Parks and Forests, recently warned law enforcement officers...`If you ever do walk into a Cult ceremony, you'll never get your gun out of your holster...you'll be dead.'"
In Occult Crime Control, Dubois states that law enforcement officers investigating occult crime "should also be aware that satanic worshippers regard the breaking of a magick circle as highly dangerous to their magickal operation. A magickal circle can be broken by simply walking across its boundary. They believe that the only way to repair the damage is to eliminate the individual that violated the circle." In Occult Crime, Dubois tells us that there are two perimeter layers of watchers around ritual sites and that: "Inner perimeter watchers are said to be armed with fully automatic weapons. Their orders are to kill anyone who by passes the watchers on the outer perimeter."
You can see how Herold, Alford, Peterson, Dubois and Sutton are trying to put fear and mistrust into the law enforcement officer's mind, leading him to possibly misinterpret the actions and intentions of a Neo-Pagan group that he may encounter, possibly with tragic results. It's ironic that Alford is accusing "occultists" of "psychological warfare". Psychological warfare is precisely what this is an example of. These manuals suggest that Pagans are crazed martial arts experts who will go berserk at the sight of a police officer. Alford repeatedly states that "occultists" love "edged weapons" in his manual in an obvious attempt to get the reader to think that Wiccan athames are weapons rather than symbolic ritual tools. Note how Dubois points out that these people are "said to be armed", a clear indication that he has no proof of this claim. Dubois doesn't tell us who makes this claim either.
This sort of hate literature doesn't prevent injuries and death. It increasesthe probability of accidental injury and death. It doesn't protect police officers. Instead it encourages them to engage in practices that will get them into needless confrontations that can bring on tragic consequences and which could get them sued. If someone approaches a Pagan group with this hair trigger mentality and misinterprets the situation in the light of the misinformation in these manuals, someone is very likely to get seriously hurt. Also, as a police officer, I wouldn't recommend walking around with your finger on the trigger and your thumb on the hammer as Alford suggests. Anyone with police experience can tell you that's a good way to accidentally shoot yourself in the foot if you are startled.
Keep this in mind if you are doing an outdoor ritual and the police show up. They may well have been exposed to this kind of hate literature. Imagine what you look like to a bunch of fearful cops: A group of people in unusual costumes armed with knives. In a situation like this it is imperative to put your athames and/or swords down. Placing them in a pile under the altar and stepping away from them is an excellent approach. Whatever you do, don't "cut" a doorway in the Circle with your athame in order to make your way out of the Circle to speak to the cops. To the uninitiated this looks like you are brandishing a knife in their faces. Just walk out of the Circle. Yes, this will disrupt the energy and require you to do some grounding later, but this is much safer than the alternative.
The best way to avoid this sort of situation altogether is to go to the local police and government authorities before you do your outdoor gathering. Get all of the necessary permits required. Take the time to introduce yourself and provide them with quality information about who you are and what you do. Invite them to attend and check your ceremony out. That way when the fundamentalist Christian out walking his dog sees your coven in the park and calls 911 to report a group of Satanists, the police dispatcher can intercept the complaint. Police appreciate it when you help them to avoid wasting their valuable time.
Fortunately, after years of education work by people such as me, many major police agencies are aware of what Neo-Pagan religions are all about. Many will support you if you encounter difficulties of this sort. Larger agencies have hate crimes units and public relations divisions that are familiar with the issues that I'm discussing here.
In going public, take your time and proceed cautiously. Know your rights and legal obligations. Start with education to reduce the impact of hate mongers who may come along and try to influence people with their own brand of "education". Remember that Sun Tzu advised us to choose the ground you fight on. As Sun Tzu told us, to win without having to fight at all is best.
 Ibid, pg 53/54.
 Alford, Dr. Clifford N. Occult Crimes Investigations, pg 8, emphasis in original.
 Ibid, pg 13.
 Alford, Dr. Clifford N. Occult Crimes Investigations, pg 13.
 Peterson, Alan Herbert. (1990). American Focus on Satanic Crime: Volume II, emphasis in original.
 Dubois, William. (1990). Occult Crime Control, pg 4.
 Dubois, William. Occult Crime , pg 49.
Article ID: 8812
Age Group: Adult
Days Up: 5,007
Times Read: 11,902
Location: Surrey, British Columbia
Bio: Kerr Cuhulain the author of this article, is known to the mundane world as Detective Constable Charles Ennis. Ennis, a former child abuse investigator, is the author of several articles on child abuse investigation that appeared in Law & Order Magazine. Better known to the Pagan community by his Wiccan name, Kerr Cuhulain, Ennis was the first Wiccan police officer to go public about his beliefs 28 years ago. Kerr is now the Preceptor General of Officers of Avalon. Kerr went on to write four books: The Law Enforcement Guide to Wicca (Horned Owl Publishing), Wiccan Warrior and Full Contact Magick: A Book of Shadows for the Wiccan Warrior. (Llewellyn Publications), as well as a book based on this series: Witch Hunts: Out of the Broom Closet (Spiral Publishing).
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