The Establishment (Afro-Punk) Version

When I was at the Baltimore Book Festival a couple weekends ago, I had a lovely discussion with the people at the Muslims for Peace table (I hope I have gotten their name right!) explaining Paganism and discussing how it differs or can relate to Islam. I was down with a very bad cold that weekend so I couldn’t talk very much but somewhat in that I had figured out a way to talk about my religion beyond the “nature-based belief system” tagline that I’m so used to saying (and abhor because it sounds way too PC for me). It can be difficult talking about Paganism to others because it’s such a unique religion and spirituality… with a very bad rep. Everyone is so convinced that we’re evil people or that we’re completely against Christianity it can be hard to express anything otherwise. It’s good to get out and start talking again because it has been a while for me to simply do religious talk with non-Pagans, I’ve gotten quite comfy in my social circle where everyone knows what a Sabbat is or is at least aware that Pagans and Witches aren’t wicked souls. Even though I have developed a more mature idea to express Paganism with, it still isn’t a two minute explanation, nor does it spark a two-minute only discussion (Ha, I wish. I would be grateful for both.) but instead at least it’s more informative than simply “nature-based belief system”. Nota bene: I’ll be making plenty of comparisons to Christianity because it is the norm of the Western society thus what I have to compare to.

A good way to talk about Paganism? Start from the top. A lot of what I think is good information stems from Lauren Manoy’s Where to Park your Broomstick, an amazing book with a fantastic history section. More details about the book in The Arts: Samhain Edition. Let’s begin:

Paganism holds a very animalistic view of the world, meaning everything from the trees to the streams to the bugs and the rocks we believe and see as living beings or at least beings with spirit. Starting in the Upper Paleolithic period (30,000 – 10,000 B.C.), man saw nature and the world around him as a living, breathing thing just like himself. The universe was always at work around him, bringing good, bad and the disastrous. As Ms. Manoy had said in Broomstick, “it’s only a short walk from awe to worship” and man started to develop ideas and mythos to describe the world around him – gods and goddesses, sprites, elementals and fairies – ideas molded and modified by the cultures from whence they came. This is mainly the reason why not all Pagans believe in one strict pantheon like only the Greek pantheon or the Shinto pantheon, true divinity does not have a face but different facets which man creates their own perceptions of it. Pagans generally believe in gods (plural, we’re very polytheistic) but only because they are the best expression of the universe and nature that we Pagans click with. Because of our “loose”, so to speak, associations with any particular deity (or any at all), Paganism can easily be seen as a spirituality and thus why there are some hybrid groupings such as Christian Pagans. Not as oxymoronic as you would think, a Christian Pagan is simply a Pagan that uses the Christian pantheon strictly and a Pagan Christian is a Christian with a more nature-based approach to the world and the religion.

Paganism is very basic in its ideals but that’s what I like about it. Very simplistic, not incredibly self-infused with dogma and quite easy going for me. Is my religion perfect for everyone? No. It’s not a religion that evangelizes but does that promise there’s no such thing as Pagan fundamentalists? Of course not, religious fervor can strike in any religion but I haven’t met a Pagan fundie yet…and should we cross paths, the whole experience will be documented here on this column. Paganism can be perceived as a spirituality because there’s no particular godhead and one isn’t exactly needed to practice, a Pagan can work strictly with elementals (spirits of the elements earth, fire, water and air) and be considered Pagan. I believe a fair comparison is that Buddhism can be regarded in the same fashion, there isn’t a god head at all and Buddhism is really a spirituality but it is regarded as a religion. Wicca, however, is most definitely a religion but under the wide umbrella of Paganism.

Wicca and Paganism is not the same thing but they are related. Wicca is a Pagan religion created in 1957 by Gerald Gardener. As mentioned in Broomstick, “’Wicca’ was coined by Gerald Gardener…he might have conjured it up from the Anglo-Saxon word wician, which apparently meant ‘to practice Witchcraft,’ or he might have gotten it from the Scots-English word (wica), which meant ‘wise.’” (pg. 25) There is debate of the root word of Wicca but it is certain that not all Wiccans are Witches and not all Witches are Wiccans. Some people (such as myself) practice Witchcraft but do not like to be called Wiccans because Witchcraft isn’t a religion and while many Wiccans do call themselves Witches, not every Wiccan does simply because they don’t practice magick or spell casting.  For clarity, to call every Witch and Pagan a Wiccan, it’s like calling every Christian you meet a Catholic because Catholicism is a denomination of Christianity but not every Christian is Catholic but every Catholic is Christian. Same way with Wicca, not every Wiccan is a Witch (and not every Witch is Wiccan) but every Wiccan is Pagan because it is a denomination of Paganism. So I, Black Witch, am a Pagan Witch but I’m not at all a Wiccan. If you’re still confused, email me or submit to Ask Black Witch (actually, I think I answered that question).

Yes, Wicca is fairly young but I always wondered what other religions looked like at their starting points, such as Christianity. Wicca, because it is nature-based and does not have a solid pantheon to adhere to, does fall under Paganism. There are different sects of Wicca as well such as Dianic, Gardenerian, Alexandrian, Faerie (Fairy), eclectic, etc etc etc. Since nature is what we consider sacred, we do not have a religious book like the Bible, the Talmud or the Qur’an. However, it is wise for Pagans to read or have an understanding of holy texts enable to gather a more universal understanding. We Pagans can learn from holy texts just as equally. Despite what a Pagan’s disposition may be on holy texts such as the Bible, generally we do respect it for what it is, meaning we do not desecrate them, burn them, vandalize them or destroy them simply because we do not agree with their beliefs. It is very anti-theoretical to Paganism and our ethics to harm none. 

The only thing Satanism has to do with Paganism is be a thorn in our sides when we’re confused for them. Satanism is not under Paganism, it is under Christianity moreso for it is the perversion of the Christian rules and ideals. Again, Satanism has nothing to do with Paganism or Wicca and Witches do not summon the Devil. Pagans don’t have a focused character for evil and Satan is the bad guy in the Christian religion, not in every religion. Pagans do believe evil exist but it’s not caused by a central figure as depicted in Christianity (or in Islam or Judaism but Satanists generally are going against the Christian ideals rather than the Abrahamic.) Instead it is within balance with good. Just like everything else perceived in Paganism, it works as a duality. Satanism isn’t even as bad as it’s perceived. I’m being fairly biased here from my own experiences but Satanism seems to be the bitterness of atheists combined with a hatred of Christianity and megalomania all stirred into one pot.

If Paganism is such a harmless religion, how did it get such a bad rep? Look at Islam and ask Christianity. Islam is a very peaceful religion but if you live in the Western world, it sounds like the religion of close-minded fundamentalists, terrorists, misogynists and evil-doers all around. In Christian dominated nations like America and the UK, this is often how Islam is pictured. Paganism got the shaft the same exact way, with really nasty mudslinging and a rumor mill that can churn for a millennium or more. Christianity has always been at odds with Islam since the 14th century and at odds with Paganism basically when the holy cross became connected to the royal crown. As history has shown time and time again, when politics get involved, someone always gets hurt. Thanks to the crusades and the Dark ages, Christianity really grew but in a pretty non-Christian way. Long story short, slander and violence is nasty but a good weapon for political gain and bad news travels fast. Indeed, there was a point in time where Christians were being persecuted by bloodthirsty Pagans but again this is when politics had gotten involved with religion because when you can control the religion, you can control the thinking and if you can control the thinking, you can control the people and establish the norms and values that society will (or should) go by. Christianity has quite the PR department and are pretty good at running someone’s name into the ground – even including their own. But again, this is generally due to politics in one way or another.

Witchcraft is just that, a craft. Not dedicated to any particular religion or belief, a Witch can partake in any religion that she or he (there’s no particular word for guy witches and “wizard” certainly isn’t it.) chooses, including Christianity  (Sorry for picking on Christianity so much, it is the mainstream religion and thus the norm I usually have to compare to. It is using the influences already present in nature to create change but not every Witch has to be Pagan.  If a person claims they are a Witch, it does not mean they are Satanists or evil-doers. They simply work with the forces of nature to bring about change and to create, nothing demonic about that. It does take practice and study to do Witchcraft, especially depending on what style or tradition is followed such as high magick or ceremonial magick versus green magick (also called hedge magick, working strictly with botanicals) or simple candle magick. Some witches use wands and/or mini-cauldrons, some are hand witches, meaning they don’t use anything as the extension of the hand such as a wand. I would be considered a hand witch because I don’t use any tools like wands and chalices because they are just that, tools. They do not have power in themselves, they’re only the extension of my own power. Witches buy their supplies from metaphysical shops, online or get crafty by growing and/or making their own. Metaphysical shops sell everything from books to holy water to wands, a good shop cover all its bases. I have a few I go to and I may make it tradition to check out a metaphysical shop in the cities that I visit. It’ll give me something to do.

And about this Politian Christy O’Donnell I have been hearing recently about in the news. I’ll admit, I don’t really know much about her except that she’s running for a senate seat in Delaware, sex-negative, a tea partier, endorsed by Palin and that she mentioned she practiced Witchcraft back in 1999. Good God/dess. Okay, I finally got to see the whole Bill Maher’s Politically Incorrect clip (thank you MSNBC for chopping off parts of useful sound bytes, top notch journalism) and to be very honest, she wasn’t very bright with her answers. She sounded like the usual, ditzy, know-nothing responses I generally hear from the fairly closed minded. “Midnight picnic on a Satanic altar”? That did not make any sense to me because, well, that sounds like some dreamt up stuff a desperate tv producer would put in a teen’s show. O’Donnell claimed she was a Witch (back then, now she recants it) but didn’t join a coven. Hm, obviously she had no clue that you could be a solitary as well – I should know because I am one. All in all, it sounded like a Charmed episode mixed with a bit of Buffy, The Vampire Slayer falling out of her mouth. It’s very nice of her to say in a recent commercial that she’s not a Witch (and kind of further solidifying the fact that a Pagan couldn’t easily run for public office) but I wish she never said she was a Witch at all. Folks, if you’re going to dabble and be stupid about it, please please do not mention that you did on national television and then run for public office. It ruins your image and definitely makes my job harder.

In other Black Witch news: I made a small Black Witch PSA last week about the Lupe Fiasco protest, Fiasco Friday. It is next week and sadly I won’t be able to attend but I want to spread the word to others who may be able to. It’s going to be in NYC on October 15th, starting at 11:30 AM at Grand Army Plaza on the corner of 59th and 5th. If you would like more information about the protest and why it’s happening, read the BW PSA and visit If you can’t go, sign the petition! Already over 30,000 signatures and going strong! Even Lupe Fiasco himself will be there!

As always, if you have a question of what I am talking about or a question in general, feel free to comment, fill out the Ask Black Witch submission form on the right, email me (you’ll find the address on the About Me/Contact Me page), or even send me a tweet on Twitter to @thisblackwitch. All questions will be answered on the last Friday of the month for the Ask Black Witch installment. If you simply think that my column this week jumped around too much, feel free to check out “What is Paganism” link in “Links of Interest” on the right hand side. It’s a far better description than I ever could give. And stay tuned for The Arts!: Samhain Edition.

Don’t forget that Samhain Pickers is still going on either! If you want a divnation reading from me in the form of tarot, cartomancy (playing card divination), dream interpretation or natal chart astrology, send me an email with “Samhain Pickers” in the subject line with these details:

  • Your name
  • Divination selection (if you choose natal chart, please have your birthtime ready)
  • Email

Easy, right? I will pick three winners using on Oct 22 at the start of The Arts!: Samhain Edition and they will be announced also on the BW Twitter. Get in your entries, time is ticking!