Modern Pagan Persecutions

Jonathan Hutchins

I wonder about this whole big deal of how unrealistically paranoid people can get about Paganism. I live here in the real Bible Belt. People get pretty extreme here about religion, although there are places where it's worse. They even refused to install the statue of Ceres that was commissioned for the Kansas State Capitol building because she was a Pagan Goddess. (There followed the three worst grain harvests since the dust bowl.)

Still, we have a thriving Pagan community, and not a small share of misguided fundamentalist teenagers rebelling into Hollywood Satanism.

We have had a lot of trouble with cases of religious persecution - but not the kind you might think. What has happened has been that a borderline Pagan has imagined or misunderstood something, and started telling all their friends that somebody was being hassled for being a Witch.

We have a Renaissance Festival here, and the rumor mill there is boringly predictable. Every year, two stories are guaranteed to make the rounds:

One goes that a knife was stolen from a participant, and used by a patron to stab someone. Therefore you can't carry live steel. Funny thing, no one ever seems to actually know either the participant, the patron, or the victim. And responsible people still carry their knives.

The other story varies a little; either the administration is hassling participants for wearing pagan jewelry (ridiculous - 1/3 of the jewelry sold out there is "pagan"), or someone was planning a circle on the grounds and got hassled about it, or someone actually had a circle and was raided. (How do you do a circle of 100 or so people, and get raided, within 200 yards of all the people camping on site, and not make a single noise?)

We've had problems with the Heartland Pagan Festival too. One year, someone started a rumor that there was an objection to our beliefs and practices on the part of the people who owned the camp we'd used. One of the people who was peripherally involved with the planning group took it upon himself to do something. Unfortunately, that something didn't involve checking out the rumor first - he just called the Camp offices and gave everybody who would listen to him holy hell <sorry> for being religious bigots.

Fortunately we were able to explain that he was not an official of the organization, and we were able to mend things sufficiently that we were allowed to use the camp until it was sold last year. Unfortunately, we were never quite as well trusted as we had been, and the camp staff lost their new found belief that we weren't all just a bunch of nuts.

Why does this happen with so often with Pagans?

Those of us who've studied the history of the Christian Church may be aware of the power the church found in being persecuted. It gave them a binding common enemy. It gave them a reason for extremism. It gave their persecutions of heretics legitimacy. It made people willing to sacrifice everything for the church.

When true persecution ended, they found goals for the Crusades that carried on the tradition of holy war. Even today, if you watch Fun-D-TV, you will find that they use the false story that the church is a persecuted minority to drum up support and contributions, and to justify their actions.

Is this what we're after? Do those of us who come from these traditions find it so hard to leave the old habits behind, even when we've dressed them in new forms? Do some of us even see this kind of activity as legitimate?

Gods save us from Jehovah in drag.

We do ourselves more damage with false, imagined, and exaggerated claims of persecution than is done against us by all the fundies combined.

If we are to be credible, if we are to be taken seriously by the mundane world, if we are ever to be able to mount a real defense against those who would persecute us because of our beliefs, we must refrain from crying wolf.

We must be vigilant to apply our critical minds to the accounts we hear, to track them down, and to explain to the people who start and spread them that we are held to a higher standard of truth because we are in the minority.


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