Bad habits are as numerous as bad country songs, but when they intrude upon other people, that’s when they become a public menace (I’m looking at you, Toby Keith). Here are eleven Pagan habits it’s time we put on our big-kid pants and squash before we pass them on to future generations.
1. Pagan standard time. Like being “born a witch” or that granny that supposedly taught her unbroken line of folkloric witchcraft, this is a myth. Nothing about becoming a Pagan makes you suddenly unable to keep to a schedule or look at a clock. This is just a rude thing that rude people do and expect others to make allowances for them. If a ritual starts at 8pm, showing up at 8:45 and expecting everyone to wait until you get there doesn’t make you cool, Marcia. It just means that people are going to be going in to work with less sleep than they should, and that next time those people probably won’t come.
2. Snobbish ritual critique. We all know that person that shows up to a ritual with a look on their face like someone shat the bed, rolls their eyes during the whole thing, does the bare minimum of participation, then goes home and submits a point-by-point analysis of what they would have done differently to the organizers. Funny thing, this person never seems to be willing or able to run a ritual of their own, much less volunteer to help someone else with theirs, and gods forbid they stick around after to help clean up or dismantle things. This person is the ultimate in entitlement, acting as if a ritual is some elaborate play meant to entertain them, and not a group experience dependent on unpaid volunteers. By all means, speak up if you think it was hard to read a chant by the single candle in the center of a circle, or if people are being expected to stand outside for hours in the cold. But try to be constructive and realistic, not full of comments about how the ritual “just didn’t move you.”
3. Pointing a weapon at people entering a circle. Yes, The Craft was an excellent movie. No, you should not model your practice on it. What exactly are you going to do with that dagger? Do you actually expect someone to stab themselves on it? Entering a ritual under an implied threat of violence is not going to put anyone at ease, and looks more like a gang initiation than it does a sacred rite. For people who have survived an attack or experienced abuse, this is going to be especially, unnecessarily traumatic.
4. Treating Paganism as a Religion. I’m guilty of this, myself (even in the context of this article…habits are hard to break). “Pagan” is used today as an umbrella term for anything not part of one of the big, mainstream religions, but that lumps a whole lot of religions together that have very little to do with one another. Not everyone casts a circle, believes in a rule of three, celebrates holidays based off a British agricultural cycle, or believes their loved ones went over a bridge made out of rainbows. There are so many people following a religion patterned off an older religion (or making a completely new one) that at this point we’d probably be better off acknowledging individual religions rather than confusing people by lumping them together. Treating everyone like they’re a form of Wiccan isn’t doing our communities any favors.
5. Neglecting the environment. There is no Pagan religion, so far as I know, that tells us that we’re supposed to dominate the earth and that one day, when it’s broken, a shiny new one is going to be created for us. So why do so many Pagans protest that their path isn’t “earth-centered” and they don’t need to fight for the planet? I suspect for many of them it’s a Christian holdover, or they think that someone else is going to worry about it for them. Wise up, folks: no god is going to give you a new toy if you break the one you have, and this is the ONLY ONE we have.
6. Expecting something for free. You want to know why you could get away with never volunteering, never donating, never buying any supplies for the mainstream religions you may have been part of growing up? Why even though they asked for donations, no one would look at you funny if you just didn’t help out? There were LOTS of them. When there’s only a small group keeping something going, everyone needs to pitch in to make it happen. Don’t complain that there are no fun Pagan events or rituals nearby for you to attend if you’ve never lifted your finger to make one happen or keep one going. When you show up to take and give nothing back, you are part of the reason these things fail. And for the love of everything, stop expecting everyone to read your tarot. Pick up a book, Marcia. Learn some skills.
7. Excuses for abuse and bad behavior. There is never any reason to keep an abuser in your group. I don’t care how much they donate. I don’t care if they’ve never done anything to you, personally. I don’t care if they volunteer all the time. We’re past the point when we should be kicking out abusers, narcissists, sociopaths, psychopaths, and ego-maniacs “for the sake of the community.” If you’re keen on enabling these people because you insist on being their friends, you should probably leave, too. Here’s hoping they don’t turn on you when they run out of unaware victims.
8. Dressing and acting like we’re going to a Ren-faire. Do you know what lords and ladies are? People who think that their position in life, their wealth, their privilege, and their power are theirs by right, simply by being born, without needing to do anything at all. Worse, they’re not elected and it’s almost impossible to get rid of them (like bedbugs). Nobody is under any obligation to pretend you’re one of these leeches, no matter how special it makes you feel. Likewise, it’s all fine and well to appreciate clothes or leathercraft, but much like plantation-era Southern U.S., these were not great times for the vast majority of people (and CERTAINLY not for Pagans). Stop dressing up as your historical kink and foisting it off on others who are trying to do spiritual/magical work.
9. Spreading “fakelore”. You know how ridiculous fundamentalists sound when they tell you the earth is 6000 years old and all of the animals in the world x2 fit snuggly on a wooden boat? You sound just as delirious when you talk about one man being the sole carrier of an unbroken magical lineage that MUST involve young, naked women, or when you share those white-hot memes about how “Easter” is really a celebration of “Ishtar” because don’t they totally sound similar? Crack a book. The Internet Sacred Text Archive is your friend, and it’s free.
10. Calling all our pets “familiars”. A familiar is a tutelary spirit that cantake a physical form in some situations, but often does not. It does not cuddle with you at night, knock over your altar while chasing dust motes, and it certainly does not get dropped off at an animal shelter because you “just don’t have time for it anymore.” Pets are absolutely wonderful and there are numerous benefits to keeping them. Do not foist your magical or spiritual progress off on them, as doing so is not any more ethical than insisting that you and your goose are in a committed, sexual relationship.
11. Stealing practices from indigenous peoples and making them marketable. Isn’t it irritating when Hollywood repackages movies from other countries with American actors and actresses? Remember how hard everyone cringed when Scarlett Johansson insisted she could play an Asian woman? Now think about how many original visions were ruined and how many people that SHOULD have gotten that work instead got cheated. Now, for extra cringe, imagine how doubly hurtful that is when your own religious beliefs are stolen from you (after everything else that’s already been stolen). Leave the stolen beliefs with the cultures they belong to or, if they’re open to it, actually learn from the people of that culture and value their work, instead of shelling out money to Urban Outfitters and Anthropologie.
[Ashley Nicole Hunter sits on the board of directors for Bibliotheca Alexandrina and has been published in a few reputable (and otherwise) publications.]