In our community we have a number of inaccuracies, untruths and misunderstandings in circulation. Some of them have been in passed around for awhile, much like urban legends, and would seem almost truth to the unwary. The handful of which I list are but a few within the community. Please feel free to amend to the list and discuss the ones already mentioned. Without further ado, then, let me present the bad, the ugly and the LOL:Come On Baby Light My Fire:
"The Burning Times" has been kicked around since modern paganism arose out of the shadows and was propagated by early Craft authors such as Starhawk (until her 10th Anniversary edition of "The Spiral Dance") and even more modern characters such as SRW. A synopsis of the idea is that there was some vast plot by the Church to specifically target and eradicate witches and, successfully doing so, murdered/martyred some numbers leading up to NINE MILLION people-- and almost entirely women, of course. These ungodly numbers come largely from the research of a 19th century feminist, Matilda Gage, and repeated in a film (also called "The Burning Times") in 1990 which also propagated the theme as a "woman's holocaust". Marget Murray invested some of her own research into it, and while most of her material regarding underground European witchcults have been discredited (due to verifiability), her numbers, estimated around 60,000, seem to be far more plausible.
The fact is that it wasn't specifically aimed at females, nor were such people murdered necessarily witches. The Inquisitions, in general, had the primary objective of land acquisition and the conversion of neighboring peoples (whom were largely Jewish and Muslim) under the justification of the "Great Commission". While it's verified that the Malleus Maleficarum,
the Witches Hammer, was a text used by a number of Church officials to "test" for Witchcraft, such copies were proliferated throughout the entirety of the Church and therefore the period was not quite the pandemic of Witch-craze as often envisioned by those whom are thrilled in justifying a persecution complex. Oh, and for the record, the Salem Witch Trials were not part of the so-called "Burning Times". No witches were burned to the stake in Massachusetts-- ever-- and, in fact, burning was seldom used as the primary form of execution. It was more often by choking, drowning, bludgeoning and other forms of execution, and any burning of a person was post-mortem, following a choking. Live burnings likely did not occur too often and, if they did, they were usually by enraged villagers who took law into their own hands. While the Church was despicable enough in some
towns, it was the townsfolks themselves that were often the most savage.
One Rede To Rule Them All
- The Old Religion is REALLY OLD: Although thankfully dying in popularity, the idea of underground witchcults having existed as far back as 25,000 years was largely proliferated by Murray and one not entirely indifferent to Gardner whose New Forest coven took up the same idea. Although excusable for the early 20th Century due to the lack of further investigation, it's now known that due to the lack of ANY historical data and the fact that civilization wasn't quite cohesive to that era. It's quite a large stretch to imagine that such traditions flourished purely by word of mouth for the next 10,000-ish years that it would take before writing became of use. The fact of the matter is that there's little solid evidence to suggest that there's been any unbroken tradition pre-19th century.
Insofar as the craft of the Wica would go, there's enough evidence to prove the practice was flourishing when Gardner entered the New Forest coven and therefore, as a legend buster to the side, Gardner wasn't the inventor of this practice of Witchcraft. The information that he acquired from the coven was believed to be partially fragmented and he added in a few elements to fill in the "gaps", therefore it would only be accurate to say that Gardner founded his Tradition of Witchcraft, much as Alex Sanders founded the Alexandrian Tradition, however he didn't simply create it all on his own in the 1950s. Other initiates existed in the New Forest coven, too, one of which made it to California in the late 50s and initiated the collective traditions that came to be known as Central Valley Wicca. To what extent Dafo had influence or if Clutterbuck existed (of if they were one and the same) bears little relevance to the fact that he wasn't the only coven member.
: It's called "The Wiccan Rede" and not "The Pagan Rede", for a reason that it specifically applies to Wicca, rather than every person that identifies with a pagan religion. To suggest it should apply to everyone because it's a good idea is no different than Christianity propagating the same idea with the 10 Commandments. Although I am not Wiccan, I will say that the heart of it IS a pretty fine idea. The Rede only states that all harmless activity is permissible. It does not
say that you should always live without an action that causes harm, it only speaks of self-responsibility should you invoke such an action. I agree with it, personally, however that does not mean that all pagans accept or practice the suggestion-- and that is what it is, not an edict carved in stone. Some traditions may seek to harm others without care of concern of the outcome, or for other reasons justified by their practice, and that is upon them. They should not be judged or held to the Rede because it is irrelevant to their ideology.
The Peaceful, Love-and-Light Pagans
- Wicca is Custom-Craft and Now on the Dollar Menu: One of my favorites and, unfortunately, favored highly by a lot of people, but not for the same reason... The Religion of the Wica was formed to be an initiatory, coven-oriented Mystery Tradition whose practice goes back to the New Forest coven. At no point was it intended to be practiced custom-crafted to one's own personal needs. Religion, after all, seeks to change us-- not the other way around. It wasn't until the 80s that this idea of a "Solitary Wicca" became popular. It sold books and it's becoming an increasingly popular market for a quick buck. It fed the mouths of those who hungered for a spiritual alternative from the religious norms. And while fulfilling spiritual need is a positive fruit in and of itself, and it opened the doors to some amount spiritual progression even outside the doors of Witchcraft, it also allowed foreign, detrimental concepts to develop, such as Vampires, Aliens and Ravenwolf.
When you break something out of a relatively controlled environment, it allows it to become mass-marketed and brings in individuals and over-night covens that might take advantage of the spiritual hunger and exploit, abuse and terrify newcomers. Many anti-coven rants have been developed from negative experiences that arose from such individuals and just have many are simply from fear of having a structured environment found among the practices of the Traditional Wica. This Craft is what it is, it is structured, it does require initiation and it does require lineage to the formative coven(s) from which it was born. However, that doesn't mean that one cannot enjoy the liberating experience of Witchcraft without initiation. Dedicatory Religious Witchcraft (DRW) is the solitary craft based upon Wiccan principles that allows a more free-formed expression and forms its own body of which the solitary can grow without attempting to redefine Wicca or imposing it as a McWiccan Meal, that one can customize until it's something completely different, as a BLT is not a BLT unless it has bacon, lettuce and tomato on it. But DRW also has a basic set of tenets, but allows more freedom in the practitioner to choose. Because it's not identified AS Wicca, but rather one based upon some of its ideas, it truly limits charlatons from taking advantage of others and adds more room for personal growth.
: In almost every rant about the Big Bad Church will come a comparison to the pagans that were eradicated by genocidal Rome. In such blossoms of rage comes allegations that all of our "ancestors" were peace-loving, love and light, butterfly and unicorn, prancing-in-the-bloody-woods-naked-and-carefree pagans who never did a thing wrong in the world, unjustly forced into the fire or the seas by the evil patriarchal swine. What culture? What pagans? Allow me to suggest that this legend is as equally untrue as the aforementioned, that seldom did any culture exist independent of warfare and downright cruelty at times. Some Celtic tribes would war with each other for presumably nothing better to do. The Romans were especially content with war and conquest, to spread their territory across the world. Nero burned Christians to the stake (to light his dinners) long before the Church decided to reciprocate and crucifixions extended to many a person prior to the entry of Judaism and Christianity into the culture. The Egyptians had a number of civil wars that eventually lead to uniting Upper and Lower Egypt, but not before a number of heads were rolled. There is also the Norse, that during the 8th-11th Century CE
"Viking Age", had a similar idea of war and conquest.
It's a pretty good guess that if there was a war god, it was because there was war in that culture. Even the pre-Vedic Indo-Asian tribes focused a great deal on Indra long before Hinduism, and subsequent Eastern religions, were born. We can be thrilled to say that most forms of modern paganism have no use or want for war, and the same applies to most modern religions; however, to suggest that there were vast cultures of pre-Hippies in existence is utter nonsense. The hands of the early tribes were just as bloody as any Church-centric conspiracy could have imagined.
- Hereditary, Bloodwitch and The Specials: Babies are born babies. They are not born with special powers or with any more capacity of a "gift" for witchcraft than any other individual. Your great-grandmother, oh so typical, may have been a High Witch from Timbuktu but that only means that she was a witch, not you. That doesn't mean the witchcraft genetically passed onto you through your mother and into you and therefore you were a witch from the womb and built altars with lego blocks-- before you had any clue as to what one was! Witches are made, not born. What makes a witch? Practicing Witchcraft. You cannot say you were a witch at one, eight or 10 years of age if you've never actually practiced anything like it. And while it is true that some children seem to have a natural gift for the arts that is far greater than of their peers, such as music, it's still a process of nurturing, not nature, that makes it real. A "natural" at the piano is nothing without the piano. One that is natural at singing is nothing without using his or her voice. Likewise, one that might have an environment that reaches far into Witchcraft isn't a witch until he or she takes on that craft.
These are the top six that have come to my head and seems to be still lingering around, in various amounts, within the pagan community. I believe that if we can overcome fictitious histories, used both the validate through age and to condemn other religions, that we can become a better, all around community. If we choose to live in a fairytale, as opposed to the real world, then the condemnations of our opponents-- that we're lost people-- will only be verified. I hope that newcomers to paganism have learned a thing or two to the list and that some of the older crowd can amend to the list as time passes. :)