Four Principles of Pagan Public Relations
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Author: Rev Jorinx
Posted: October 18th. 2009
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Wiccans and Pagans aren't always very good at presenting their own cause to the public. Sometimes this inability is caused by fear, founded or unfounded. At other times it is caused by unnecessary secrecy: the closet mentality. When the media discover, usually around Halloween, that there are witches in the neighborhood things can sometimes get complicated. Most people, Wiccans and Pagans included, are not very skilled at public relations.
There is the stereotypical flashy media interview featuring a richly robed High Priest or Priestess in full ceremonial regalia, who brandishes his athame as he casts his circle and later explains, “We are an ancient path. We don't eat children. An' harm it none ... ”
While it may certainly capture a lot people's attention, it can actually be counterproductive. At best, the public will see a harmless kook; at worst a bold-faced, mentally unstable liar whose name will be dragged to the fore the next time a beheaded goat is found in some local farmer's cornfield. Very few people indeed will interpret what they see in that interview as a valid, empowering spiritual path.
Public relations are a sustained effort; it is about building relationships with the public. As with any kind of relationship, the efforts to build and maintain it are usually much more low key and much more sustained. Relationships are about the little things, practiced with consistency.
The basic principles of public relations are quite simple and commonsensical. Two years ago, I had the privilege of speaking with Richard Keenan, Ph. D., who teaches public relations and communications basics at Wayne State College.
Dr. Keenan maintains there are four basic principles of public relations:
1. Always tell the truth.
“Nothing will ruin your credibility faster than being caught in a lie, ” says Dr. Keenan.
And nothing will guarantee getting caught in one better than telling one. Paganism may have much common ground with Christianity, as far as ethics go, but Paganism and Christianity are not the same thing. Some Pagans seek to establish common ground by saying Jesus was a great witch. But many Christians do not find this comparison flattering. Besides, “witchcraft” has become such a vague term that it must be defined very clearly first.
Wicca and Neopaganism have so many positive qualities, however, that connections with mainstream religions do not need to be forced.
It is very important to stick to the facts, says Dr. Keenan.
“If the facts don't suit you, you need to change the facts, ” he adds.
Wicca is a very young religion. That is a fact that cannot be changed. Margraret Murray's claims that witchcraft is mankind's oldest religion is a beautiful myth, but that's all it is: a myth. All claims to Wicca's antiquity have been fully disproven decades ago.
2. Do the right thing.
Honesty, coupled with ethical behavior, is indeed the best policy. Because Wicca and Paganism share much common ground with mainstream religions, it is not difficult to do the right thing when your actions are soundly based in your faith's values. After all, who can argue with the ideas of self-accountability and stewardship?
Stewardship includes taking care of your community. Why not start a food pantry, or donate to the local no-kill animal shelter? Doing the right thing also means cultivating good relationships with your neighbors.
Specific concepts, like the practice of magic, the practice of nudity in some traditions, and the Pagan community's general acceptance of homosexuals, may present a bit of a challenge to conservative Christians. In this case, it becomes your task to establish that practicing these values is indeed the right thing, says Dr. Keenan.
Of course, it's impossible to please everyone. In general, however, people are more accepting than they are given credit for. After all, freedom is still a national value. The bigot who will not be swayed will be exposed as such, as long as you are candid, honest, and ethical in your interactions.
3. Let people know you are doing the right thing.
“People need to know you are doing the right thing, ” says Dr. Keenan.
If your group does something spectacular, like raise $1, 300 for the victims of Hurricane Katrina, you should definitely notify the media. Send them a press release, outlining what you did, who was involved, where you gathered the money, when you did it, how much money was raised, and why you did it. If your coven is operating a food pantry or a women’s shelter, that is also newsworthy.
Not every charitable action is quite so dramatic. Not everything you do needs to be publicized with a press release. But when you do something good, let the recipients know who you are and that community action is part of your religious and ethical belief system.
If gathered clothes donation or food items for a local homeless shelter, it is a very good idea to include a note that says something to the effect of, “A gift from your friends at the Starlight Coven.”
4. Be a positive presence in your community.
Your community needs to know that it's a good idea to have Pagans and Wiccans around.
“It's important to be proactive, ” Dr. Keenan says. “I've never believed in living in the broom closet.”
Most communities treasure diversity, but they dislike negative influences. A pentacle-wearing Pagan moving his lawn and fixing his front porch is a positive influence in the community. A pagan, whether he wears a pentacle or not, is a negative influence, if his front porch is in disrepair and if his lawn looks like a dandelion farm.
If your community has an interfaith council, be sure your coven is represented there. You get to help out with many worthwhile causes, add to the diversity of the council, and fellowship with people who treasure such diversity.
Keep in mind, that building relationships with the public is really a year-round task, not just a Samhain project. It requires dedication, strength and hard work on the part of those who are capable. It also requires courage and openness on the part of those who can afford to take this risk.
Interview with Dr. Richard Keenan
Copyright: (c) 2009 by Jeva Singh-Anand
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