I recently shared a post to an online Pagan group, meant to get people thinking about their own practices. More specifically, it was a post written by a well known Pagan author that simply asked people to acknowledge historical accuracy and to examine whether certain beliefs they hold are privy to bioessentialism. The sharing of that post went, as should have been expected, a few different ways. I always hope for better from my community and yet continuously find myself disappointed by some. Thankfully, others can be counted on to make me proud again of the community. Because the group is private, I will not go into any details on the comments, but it got me thinking yet again about how toxic the Pagan community can be when left unchecked.
The Pagan community is rife with misinformation. Despite being made up of thousands of different religions, Paganism as a whole still gets painted over with Wiccan beliefs and ethics. All too common is the Wiccan Rede partially invoked and misused as an all-encompassing rule that must be followed. “Harm none”. This can feed into the problem of those who would use “intent” as an excuse to say or do anything they want, rather than holding themselves accountable for any harm they do end up causing. Because, (sarcasm ahead) there are no Pagan religions that are okay with cursing, have deities of war, etc. Nor do any place an importance on accountability. Not only are many Pagans of various religions actually cool with violence (although, as a general rule: most of us only condone it for things such as self defense), but the Wiccan Rede itself is meant to be advice rather than an actual law. It is also certainly not meant to excuse bad behavior. The erasure of the diversity of religions and traditions in favor of a single one invented in the 1950’s is just one example of misinformation that contributes to misinformation in the Pagan community.
Another common contributer is that many Pagans rely on outdated or outright incorrect information as fact. Archeological evidence changes what we know about ancient religions and cultures from time to time. Where information was once missing, new information has been brought to light. Where archeologists have historically held biases in favor of white, Christian men, more are becoming better aware. One such example is the existence of warrior women among the Scandinavian peoples (“Vikings”). Once held as myth due to lack of evidence and the biases of a patriarchal society, we now know that women did travel and fight alongside the men. This misinformation from the past has still contributed to the issue of toxic masculinity and misogyny that runs rampant in certain circles of modern Heathenry and Asatru.
In addition, authors haven’t always been truthful about the origins of the practices they write about. Authors have taken from Indigenous, African-diasporic, and other traditions originating with people of color without knowing the full context of the practices and beliefs they’re writing about; often making false claims that these practices were European or else making adaptations without distinguishing the original practice from the misappropriated one. (Note: While many practices and beliefs are similar across cultures, each will still have it’s own context that is equally important and should not be glossed over or changed by outsiders.) Not only have marginalized cultures been taken from in disrespectful ways, but misinformation pertaining to ancient European pagan religions has also been spread by authors looking to make a profit. A quick example of this is the attribution of the “Maiden, Mother, Crone” archetype to goddesses that it never historically applied to. This particular example, when used literally and harmfully toward others, has the added risk factor of leading to bioessentialism.
Much of this spread of misinformation has contributed to the issues of white supremacy, ableism, transphobia, misappropriation, and other issues within Paganism. It is unfortunate that many cling to ideas that end up causing harm to the wider community, rather than having a willingness to learn. It is a shame to Paganism as a whole, in my opinion, that so many are unwilling to strive for inclusivity and respect for others.
One of the common draws to Pagan religions is that we are free to make our own paths. We don’t have to ascribe to a single doctrine or practice how others tell us we should. “There is no wrong way to practice”. As a general rule, it’s a good one. It does, however, also act as a double edged sword. I have too often seen Pagans and witches abuse this “rule” by acting as if it means they are free from accountability when they do wrong. This can cycle back to Pagans making generalized claims that have no historical or otherwise factual basis, or that cause harm to marginalized people, then becoming upset when they are corrected. There is a clear difference between having a personal practice that involves UPG or otherwise modern beliefs, and having a dishonest practice that contributes to causing harm to the greater community. It is shocking to me that so many can fail to see that difference. The former is a sign of a healthily evolving practice, the latter is not. The misuse of our spiritual freedom as Pagans is a major contributor to many of the internal problems the community faces. We are free to do what we want, we should not be free from the consequences (such as being called out or corrected) when we contribute to misinformation or harmful ideas. There is no shame in being wrong as long as we are willing to learn from it.