A reader asks, “I’m someone who’s fairly new to Paganism, and I haven’t really come out of the broom closet yet. I will eventually, but for now I’m still trying to figure out how my family will react. I’m wondering what the general consensus is, though, among non-Pagans as to how they see us. Do all non-Pagans think we’re evil?”
Well, no, because people are people and their opinions are as varied as they are. Your questions got me wondering, though -- do people of different backgrounds have differing opinions on what Paganism actually is? I sent out a brief email to a few people, all from different backgrounds, and asked them what they thought Paganism was, and how their own religious or spiritual belief might influence their opinions. The answers were pretty interesting.
Keep in mind that these are people who are not Pagan and (with the exception of one respondent) do not have any Pagan family members. Although you may not agree with their answers, they do have a right to their opinions.
Thomas, age 43, Rhode Island (Catholic)
My family is Catholic, and I know that there are a lot of people who see Pagan rituals in some of our ceremonies, particularly masses. In general, I don’t think of Paganism as something awful or Satanic, I just think of it as something that’s not Christian at all. In my church, our Catholic faith is rooted in good works and our faith in God. I tend to not spend a lot of our time judging other people for not being Catholic, because we’re too busy focusing on what we can do that will honor God. We’re also not interested in converting you, because you don’t just become Catholic by announcing you’ve been saved. You have to make a lifelong commitment, attend classes, and declare yourself part of the Catholic community - we’re just too busy doing other stuff to try to draw you in to our church.
Obviously, while Thomas doesn’t agree with the tenets of Paganism, it’s not something he gives a lot of thought to. He’s more concerned with his own faith than with getting into other peoples’ business.
Sandra, age 37, Missouri (Baptist)
I'm a Southern Baptist, and I don't really know a lot of people who call themselves Pagans. In my town everyone is Christian. I've always been told that Pagans are devil worshipers, but lately I've been reading that isn't true. I honestly don't know what to think because in my church, if you're not following the God of the Bible, you're going to Hell. If I had a family member or a friend who decided to be Pagan I think I'd have a really hard time with that. I know it sounds bad but it's the way I've been raised, and I can't just start believing that it's okay to reject God. I'd probably pray for them and hope that they found their way back, even though everyone has to make their own choices.
Sandra lives in a small conservative town in the south, and has some difficulty putting aside the beliefs she was raised with. She genuinely feels that by encouraging someone to reject a Pagan faith, she'd be helping them.
Wayne, age 39, Arizona (Atheist)
I’m an atheist so I don’t even have a dog in this hunt. I think if someone can make themselves feel better by believing in a bunch of gods, it’s no different to me than if they believe in just one god. Just don’t expect me to be all supportive just because you’re a non-Christian. To me, Paganism is just as silly as Christianity, and the only difference is that Pagans seem to be less interested in convincing me that they’re right.
Wayne is pretty much indifferent to the idea of religion. He knows that he’s not religious, and figures that anyone who is, is probably wasting their time, whether they’re Pagan or Christian.
Tasha, age 22, Ohio (Jewish)
As a Jewish college student, and someone who’s active in the Interfaith campus group at my school, I’ve had the privilege of meeting a lot of people from different backgrounds. I don’t see the Pagans as anything bad. To me, there are Jews, and non-Jews. If you’re not Jewish, then you can be anything you like. We don’t judge you because our religious tenets apply only to us, and not to people who aren’t Jewish.
Tasha has a fairly open approach to different religions, because although she follows her own faith strongly, she also respects that people who are not Jewish should not be held to the same standards as those who are.
Jack, age 53 (Christian)
I’m a military veteran who has served in combat in two wars and one thing I’ve learned in my twenty-five years in the Air Force is that it doesn’t matter to me one bit what god someone prays to. Personally, I’m a Christian and I have a strong and undying faith in God, and I know that when I die I will meet my fellow Christians in heaven. But some of the best and bravest people I’ve known have not been Christians at all - a couple were Pagans and one was Wiccan. They are strong and brave people who I am honored to consider brothers, and I don’t care at all what gods they pray to. They want to dance around under a tree or worship a rock, that’s fine. I’d still have them by my side any time. And who knows? I’d like to hope maybe I’ll see them in heaven too, even if we believe in different gods.
As a Christian, Jack has a strong faith in God. However, his world experiences have allowed him to see past religious labels and shown him that if he respects someone as a person, it doesn’t matter to him if they’re not Christian. He’s even willing to acknowledge that he may be reunited with his non-Christian friends in the afterlife.
Amy, age 35, South Carolina (Christian)
I was raised Baptist and went to a Christian college. I knew that Pagans were supposed to be bad, but had never met any. When I graduated college and began interacting with people in the real world, I met people who said they were Pagans, and I couldn’t believe it. How could that nice lady at work or the guy in the next apartment be a Pagan? They seemed so normal and pleasant! And it was that experience of actually meeting Pagans and interacting with them as people instead of as a label that totally changed my perspective. I came to realize that it’s not my place to judge anyone for their beliefs. Believe it or not, I ended up marrying a guy who is a Norse Heathen, and he’s pretty great.
Like Jack, Amy’s experiences have shown her that religious labels don’t matter. She has chosen to reject the “Pagans are bad” ideal that she was raised with, and instead rely on her interaction with others as her basis for relationships - including a loving one with a man who is of a Pagan faith.
Don't Make Assumptions
Obviously, how a person views Paganism is going to be influenced by their own personal religious beliefs, their background, and how much interaction they’ve had with actual Pagans. Don’t ever assume that someone will automatically judge you negatively just because they’re not Pagan. You may be pleasantly surprised!
Note: To protect the privacy of respondents, all photos used are stock photos and are not images of the actual respondents to these questions.