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                               A LITTLE LESS MISUNDERSTANDING 
                    (What Christians Don't Understand about Neopaganism) 
                                      by J. Brad Hicks 
          Q:   Are you a witch? 
          A:   That's actually a  tricky question to  answer, so let me  go     
          about it in a round-about way.  What I am is a Neopagan.   
          Neopaganism is a beautiful, complex religion that is not in  
          opposition  to Christianity in any way - just different.  However,  
          some of the people that the Catholic church  burned  as  "witches"  
          were people who practiced the same things that I do.  In  
          identification with them and the suffering that they went through,  
          some  of us (Neopagans) call ourselves witches.    One expert,  P.E.I.
          Bonewits,  says  that there are  actually several  kinds of groups who
          call  themselves "witches." Some  are people whose  ancestors were the
          village   healers,   herbalists, midwives, and such,  many of whom had
          (or were ascribed to  have) mental, psychic, or magical  powers, which
          were passed  down through the  family in the  form of oral  tradition,
          and  Bonewits calls them "Traditional   Witches." Some  are people who
          have deliberately used the term to oppose themselves to  Christianity,
          are  practicing  "Satanists," and practice (deliberately)  most of the
          practices invented by the  Inquisitors.  Bonewits calls  them "Gothic"
          or "Neo-Gothic Witches."  Of a different kind are some radical  
          feminist groups, who call themselves witches because they believe  
          that the original Inquisition was primarily anti-female;  some of  
          these also practice magic,  many of them do not -  Bonewits  calls  
          them "Feminist Witches." But the vast majority of modern witches  
          are harmless people who worship God in many forms, including the  
          Lord of the Dance, the Lady, and the Mother Earth.  These are the  
          people that Bonewits (and I) call"Neopagan Witches" - and this  is  
          what I am.  I hope that this helps more than it confuses.   
          Q:   Are you a devil worshipper? 
          A:   I'm tempted to just say, "No!" and leave it at that, but that  
          probably isn't  enough.   Devil   worship  (including   Satanism)   is
          really a Christian heresy.  (If you don't believe me,  ask an expert -
          say,  any well-read pastor or theology professor.) In order to worship
          Satan, you  have to believe  in him - and  there are no  references to
          Satan  outside of the  Christian Bible.   So to be  a Satanist   or  a
          devil worshipper, you have to believe in the accuracy of the Christian
          Bible, then identify yourself with God's Enemy, proclaim that you  
          are "evil," and then try to "fight against Jesus" or similar  
          nonsense.  Neopagans do not accept the Christian Bible as  a source of
          truth.  As a source of some beautiful poetry,  sometimes, or as a  
          source of myth, but not as a source of truth.  Emphatically, we do  
          not believe that God has an Opposite, an evil being  trying to destroy
          God,  the world,  man, or whatever.  So it is non-sensical to say that
          Neopagans worship Satan.   Of course, many people insist  that any god
          other than JHVH/Jesus (and his other Biblical names) is a  demon or an
          illusion created by  Satan.  Well,  you're welcome to believe  that if
          you like - but over half of the world's population is going to  
          be unhappy at you.  Jews and followers of Islam are just  as confident
          that  they worship  the True God as  you are, and resent being  called
          devil worshippers.  So do I.   

                         Last amended June 11, 1989  --  Page NEXTRECORD 


          Q:   What do Neopagans believe about God? 
          A:   Neopaganism is a new religion with very, very old roots.  It  
          harks back to the first religions that man ever practiced (based  
          on the physical evidence).  Neopagans worship a variety of symbols  
          from the Old Religions - the practices of the ancient  Celts,  the  
          Greeks, the  Egyptians, the Romans -  and differ with each  other over
          what those  symbols  really represent.    What I  (and   many  others)
          believe is that they are all aspects of  God (or maybe, the  Gods)   -
          some  kind of beautiful, powerful, and loving being or force that ties
          all of life  together and is the origin of all  miracles  -  including
          miracles such as written language,  poetry, music, art ...   
          Q:   Do Neopagans have a Bible? 
          A:   Not most of us.  The closest analogue would be a witch's Book  
          of Shadows, which is a  sort of notebook of legends,  poetry, history,
          and magic ritual which is copied by every newly-initiated witch,  then
          added  to.   But on  the whole,   even  a Book  of Shadows  isn't what
          Christians think of  as a  Bible.  It's  not  infallible (couldn't be,
          they've  been brought  to  us via  hastily-copied  texts under  trying
          circumstances),   it  doesn't prescribe  a specific  code of  morality
          (except for a  few general guidelines),   and it  doesn't claim to  be
          dictated by God -  except for a  few, debatable parts.    Those of  us
          who   aren't  witches don't  even have  that much.   Neopaganism  is a
          religious  system  that  relies   more  on  the individual than on the
          Book or  the Priest.  One  of the principal beliefs  of Neopaganism is
          that no  one,   not Pope   nor  Priest   nor  Elder, has the  right to
          interfere  with your  relationship to  God.   Learn from  whomever you
          want, and pray to whatever name means the most to you.   
          Q:   Did you say magic?  Do Neopagans believe in the occult? 
          A:   Cringe.  What a badly worded question - but I hear it all the  
          time.  Neopagans as a rule don't "believe in the occult" - we  
          practice magic.  Magic is simply a way to focus the   mental abilities
          that   you   were  born  with,  and  use them  to change the  world in
          positive ways.  Magic can also be mixed with worship; in which case it
          differs very little from Christian prayer.   
          Q:   But I thought that you said that  you weren't a demon-worshipper?
          A:   That's right.  Magic and demonology are two different things.   
          Magic you also know as "psychic powers" or "mentallics" or even as  
          "the power of positive thinking" - in essence,  the magical world  
          view holds that "reality" is mostly a construct of the human mind,  
          and as such, can be altered by the human mind.  That's all  there  
          is to it.   

                         Last amended June 11, 1989  --  Page NEXTRECORD 


          Q:   How do you become a Neopagan? 
          A:   In  a  very  real  sense,  nobody every "becomes" a Neopagan.   
          There are no converts, as no conversion is necessary.  Neopaganism  
          is  an attitude towards worship, and either you have it or you don't. 
          My case  is not atypical.  All  of my life, I  have been fascinated by
          the  old mythologies.   I have always found  descriptions of the Greek
          Gods fascinating.  If I had  any religious beliefs as a child, it  was
          that somewhere,  there was a God,  and many people worship  Him, but I
          had no idea what His name was.   I set out to find Him, and through an
          odd  combination  of circumstances,  I because convinced that his Name
          was Jesus.   But   seven years  later, I had  to admit to  myself that
          Whoever  God  is, he answers  non-Christians' prayers as well as those
          in the name of  Jesus.  In  either  case, true miracles are rare.   In
          both  cases, the one praying has a  devout experience with God.  After
          searching my soul, I  admitted that I could not tell that I was better
          off than when I believed in the Old Gods.  And in the mean time, I had
          found out that other people also loved the Old Gods -  and  that  they
          call  themselves  Neopagans.  When I realized that what I believed was
          little  or no  different that  what they believed,  I called  myself a
          Neopagan, too.  The common element for nearly all of us is that nearly
          all of  us already believed  these things,   before we found  out that
          anyone else  did.  "Becoming"  a pagan  is never a  conversion.   It's
          usually  a   home-coming.  No  one ever  "brainwashed" me.   I finally
          relaxed, and stopped struggling against my own self.   
          Q:   I've heard about witches holding orgies and such.  Do you? 
          A:   No, that sort of thing doesn't appeal to  me.  Most  of  the  
          crap that you've heard about "witch orgies" is nonsense made up by  
          the National Enquirer to sell magazines.  But I shouldn't  be flippant
          about this,   because it underlies  a serious question -  what kind of
          morality do Neopagans hold to?   
                           "Eight words the Wiccan Rede fulfill: 
                            An it harm none, do what thou will!" 
                                        from an old Book of Shadows 
          That about sums it all up.  Neopaganism teaches that it is  
          harmful  to  yourself  (and  dangerous)  to  harm others.  It also  
          teaches that trying to impose your  moral  standards  on  somebody  
          else's behavior is (at least) foolish - and probably dangerous,  
          as you run some serious chance of hurting that person.  Perhaps in  
          a sense Neopagans don't have morality, for as R.  A.  Wilson said,  
          "There   are   no  commandments  because  there  is  no  Commander  
          anywhere," but Neopagans do have ethics - standards for  behavior  
          based on honor and mutual benefit.   

                         Last amended June 11, 1989  --  Page NEXTRECORD 


          Q:   I saw on the news that Neopagans use a star in a circle as their 
              emblem.  Isn't that a Satanic symbol?   
          A:   A pentacle (that's what it's called) is a Satanic symbol in  
          precisely same sense that the cross is a Nazi symbol.  The German  
          National Socialist Party used an equal-armed cross with four flags  
          attached to it as their emblem.  (Yes, I know - that's a swastika.   
          Well, before the Nazis made the word common knowledge, people just  
          called  it  a  "bent cross" - it's an old heraldic symbol,  and it  
          means the same thing that a normal cross does).  That doesn't make  
          the Nazis good Christians, and it doesn't  make  Christians  into  
          Nazis.  In the same sense, Satanists (and some rock groups) use a  
          type  of pentacle as their emblem.   That doesn't make them Neopagans,
          nor   does   it  mean   that   Neopagans   are  Satanists   (or   even
          Q:   Are Neopagans opposed to Christianity? 
          A:   Some Neopagans are ex-Christians, and I'm not going to deny  
          that some of them have a grudge against the Church because of what  
          they perceived as attempts to control their minds.  Further,  many  
          Neopagans are suspicious of the Church, because it was in the name  
          of Jesus Christ that nine million of our kind were murdered.   
          Neopagans are opposed to anyone who uses force to control the  
          minds of others.  Does that include you?  If not,  then  it  means  
          that Neopagans as  such are not opposed to  you.  Do you work  for the
          benefit of mankind, are you  respectful to the  Earth?  Then  it makes
          us allies,  whether or not either of us wants to admit it.   
                                    - - - - - - - - - - 
                    There  are manyother misconceptions in the popularmind about
          the Neopagan religion.  Unless  you've   studied  it,  read  about  it
          from sympathetic sources,  then you really  don't know anything  about
          Neopagan history,  beliefs, practices, customs, art, science, culture,
          or  magic.  But it would take several entire books to teach you, and I
          already  fear  that I  will  be accused  of  trying to  win   converts
          (despite   what I've said  above).  If you  are curious and willing to
          learn,  try some of the following books:  
                            Margot Adler, _Drawing Down the Moon_ 
                                 Starhawk, _The Spiral Dance_ 
                                P.E.I. Bonewits, _Real Magic_ 
                              Stewart Farrar, _What Witches Do_. 

                         Last amended June 11, 1989  --  Page NEXTRECORD 


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