Bonfires and Broomsticks

By Nathan Mulcahy

As a lifelong Pagan, I have always listened to old folktales by the fire and fallen asleep to the sound of drums. Paganism has always been so joyous and inoffensive that for a number of years I couldn’t imagine anyone having a problem with it.

Then one day, I returned from school to find my mom sitting at the computer, shaking her head. A video from Fox News was on the screen, discussing how Paganism was a “threat to our nation.” They alleged that Pagans were just lazy New-Agers trying to scam extra holidays out of America.

On this occasion, Fox was immediately met with a fantastic display of support for Paganism from across the world, leading to an apology from the broadcasting company.

But the misunderstandings go far beyond those of an oft-disgraced news outlet. If my sole understanding of Pagan practices came from a Google image search of the phrase “Pagan rituals”– one in which sinister, toothed monsters and masked orgies abound – I would never let anyone I care about go near one. I would also be completely unprepared for the true horrors that lie within Pagan gatherings, involving such depraved acts as singing, holding hands, and potlucks.

You’d never slight someone by calling them a rabbi, or a nun, or a bishop. Those words simply don’t carry the negative charge that “witch” or “pagan” still do. In fact, it is strange that these words still carry these connotations, considering that groups like Catholics and Protestants attacked each other in much the same way, yet nobody would use either as an insult in our Canadian social context. While we no longer consider ourselves a religion-based society, we have continued to discriminate against witchcraft in the same way.

The word “Paganism” itself was used by the church to refer to beliefs besides Christianity, which were heavily persecuted. Long after this dark time, witches are still portrayed as cruel, sadistic crones refusing to conform to society, despite witchcraft itself originating from benevolent folk healing.

That is not to say all media portrayals of witchcraft and Paganism are bad. Most reporting on Pagan events is relatively unbiased, and upcoming events and rituals are occasionally covered by the news. In addition, movies like ParaNorman and Oz the Great and Powerful feature far more sympathetic portrayals of witches. Positive change has already begun - but there is still lots to do, and we all need to do our part if society is to truly improve.

If you hear someone refer to themselves as a witch or pagan, don’t judge too quickly. Treat them as you would a member of any other religion. If these subtle biases and stigmatizations towards less-known groups can be successfully stamped out of our society, we will be one step closer to a golden age where people aren’t attacked for their beliefs and lifestyle choices.