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Home > Pagan Primer > FAQ on Paganism Search

Frequently Asked Questions
for soc.religion.paganism

Usenet Newsgroup: soc.religion.paganism

Webmaster's Warning: Please note that the portions of this FAQ dealing with the rules and posting procedures of the soc.religion.paganism newsgroup are not the rules and procedures of the message board here at The Cauldron: A Pagan Forum.

Authors: Susan Harwood Kaczmarczik; Br'an Arthur Davis-Howe; T. O. Radzykewycz; Ailsa N.T. Murphy; Cecilia Henningsson; The White Bard; Bard Mithrandir; Karen Davidson; Mark SilverDragon, WildCard McCoghlan Finn

Acknowledgements to Jack Coyote, Robert Pearson, Rowanhold Bardic Circle, Ravan, Andra, and a special thanks to Janis Maria Cortese.


Throughout this FAQ you will find the words "usually," often," and other disclaimers; this is because Paganism is not a rigid, structured belief system .... it has no central authority. We have tried to present as many faces of the neopagan sub-culture as possible in the FAQ, but realize we can't possibly cover it all, and please be aware we are not some kind of "ultimate authority" on what is or is not "pagan." Many people, no doubt, will object to every part of this FAQ, but we stand by it as our best attempt.

First of all, let's start with this:

This is taken from Margot Adler's excellent book Drawing Down the Moon: Witches, Druids, Goddess-Worshippers and Other Pagans in America Today (the revised edition). If after reading this FAQ, you want to learn even more about modern paganism, we highly recommend this book. It is available in most bookstores and in many libraries.

"We are not evil. We don't harm or seduce people. We are not dangerous. We are ordinary people like you. We have families, jobs, hopes, and dreams. We are not a cult. This religion is not a joke. We are not what you think we are from looking at T.V. We are real. We laugh, we cry. We are serious. We have a sense of humor. You don't have to be afraid of us. We don't want to convert you. And please don't try to convert us. Just give us the same right we give you -- to live in peace. We are much more similar to you than you think."

-- Margot Adler, Drawing Down the Moon, p.453.


1) What is this group for?
2) Can/will you cast me a love spell/curse my enemies?
3) Why can't I fly? The old witches flew....
3a) Can you get me/where can I find a copy of the Necronomicon?
4) Hey, I heard that [insert name of famous rock singer or fantasy-novel writer here] was a witch/pagan. Is that true?
5) What is paganism/a pagan?
5a) What is Paganism? How is it different from paganism?
6) What are different types of paganism?
7) What is Witchcraft/Wicca?
7a) What is the "Wiccan Rede?"
7b) Why do some of you use the word Witch? Wiccan?
8) What are some different traditions in the Craft?
9) Are pagans Witches?
10) Are you Satanists?
10a) Is there any commonly accepted version of neoPaganism that is racist; maybe the followers of the Norse traditions?
11) What kinds of people are pagans?
11a) Do pagans and witches do drugs?
11b) What is your position on abortion/homosexuality/firearms?
11c) How do you feel about the Bible/Koran/Torah/etc?
12) What holidays do you celebrate?
12a) How do I pronounce...? What does this name/word mean?
13) What god(s) do you believe in?
14) Can one be both Christian and pagan?
15) What were the Burning Times?
16) How many pagans/Witches are there today?
17) Why is it soc.religion.paganism?
18) Is brutal honesty or polite conversation the preferred tone of conversation around here?
19) What are the related newsgroups?
20) Are there any electronic mailing lists on this subject?
21) I'm not a pagan; should I post here?
22) How does one/do I become a pagan?
23) What books/magazines should I read?
24) How do I find pagans/Witches/covens/teachers in my area?
25) What's a coven really like?
26) How do I form a coven?
27) What does Dianic mean?
28) Aren't women-only circles discriminatory?
29) Is it okay if I...? Will I still be a pagan if I...?
30) I am a pagan and I think I am being discriminated against because of my religion. What should I do?
31) What's with all this Wicca stuff? Where's the information on [name of group]?

1) What is this group for?

This newsgroup is for the discussion of paganism and Witchcraft in their various forms and traditions; for sharing ideas for ritual and completed liturgy; for networking with others of a like mind and those who are not; for answering questions and disseminating information about paganism and Witchcraft (and, occasionally, for dispelling the misconceptions about same). It's also for sharing within a larger community than one might find at home. While we are interested in traditional pagan practices, the NetPagan community is fundamentally neopagan -- our practices are modern, though they are based on ancient ideas or images.

2) Can/will you cast me a love spell/curse my enemies?

Can we? Probably. (Whether it might yield the desired result is something else.) Will we? Not on your life, bucko.

Most of us believe that it is wrong to use magical power to coerce someone into doing something against his or her free will. Curses and love spells are the most prevalent examples of manipulative magic. Some Witches and pagans do believe that using one's powers in defense (say, to assure a rapist's getting caught) is all right; others do not. Those who do choose to work that kind of magic do so knowing that it will come back to them, and are making an informed choice when they decide to do so.

This makes it sound as if we spend our lives deciding whether to curse or hex someone, when that's not true. Most of the time, our spells and magical workings are for such things as healing the planet, getting a job (or otherwise bringing prosperity into our lives), healing (both ourselves and others), and spiritual empowerment. Spells are really quite similar to prayer -- they just have more Hollywood hoopla attached to them.

Besides, anything you do for yourself will work much better than a spell or working done by someone else.

And no, we can't/won't build you a transfer portal, change you to a Handsome Prince/ess, send you back to Darkover, or anything like that. That's silly.

3) Why can't I fly? The old witches flew .......

As best as can be determined, the old witches used a "flying ointment" whose principal ingredients included things like belladonna .... which would tend to induce hallucinations and a feeling of flying. We do not recommend this .... flying ointments are dangerous and possibly lethal if you're trying to mix up a batch, and therefore not a recommended activity for most amateur herbalists and would-be spacefolk. Belladona is a poisonous herb which can be absorbed into the body through the skin. Please do not try to use it unless you know precisely what you are doing.

3a) Can you get me/Where can I find a copy of the Necronomicon?

Sorry to burst your bubble, but the Necronomicon is a fictional construct. It was used as a continuing prop in the "Cthulhu mythos" stories, written by H.P. Lovecraft. It does not exist in reality.

There are several books on the market purporting to be the "real" Necronomicon, but they are fictional too. Don't waste your time and/or money.

4) Hey, I heard that [insert name of famous rock singer or fantasy- novel writer here] was a witch/pagan. Is that true?

Well, the quick and dirty answer is: we don't know; why not ask them?

Seriously, this question is asked most frequently about those artists/writers who use occult or magical imagery in their work (Stevie Nicks and Mercedes Lackey being the most commonly-asked-about people, with Cybill Shepherd having suddenly leapt to a strong third after the 1996 Golden Globe Awards). Just because artists use that imagery in their work --even if it's in a positive, pro-paganism way -- does not mean that they are pagan themselves. The vast wealth of material provided by myth, folklore and occult knowledge is a tempting and lucrative well of inspiration for creative artists. But its use does not automatically link the user to the Craft or paganism. And that's okay. They don't have to be pagans to write about pagans, or about pagan ideas. They are creating art. That is their collective job. If the art reflects your life, well and good. Just don't expect it to also be a mirror image of the artist.

In short, unless the artists in question have unequivocally stated that they are pagan (e.g., Patricia Kennealy-Morrison, a Celtic high priestess and author of the Keltiad fantasy series), you can't assume that they are pagan. (Even then, they could change their minds and convert, like Gael Baudino did, or give different answers at different times, like Marion Zimmer Bradley keeps doing.) Does it really make that book or song or painting less meaningful to you if you don't know the religion of its creator?

5) What is paganism/a pagan?

The words paganism and pagan come from the Latin "paganus," meaning "country dweller." Neopagans tend to hold a reverence for the Earth and all its creatures, generally see all life as interconnected, and tend to strive to attune themselves to the manifestations of this belief as seen in the cycles of nature. Pagans are generally polytheistic (believing in more than one god), and they usually believe in "immanence," or the concept of divinity residing in all things. Many pagans, though polytheistic, see all things as being part of one Great Mystery. The apparent contradiction of being both polytheistic and monotheistic can be resolved by seeing the God/desses as masks worn by (Aspects of) the Great Mystery. Other pagans are simply monotheistic or polytheistic, and still others are atheistic.

Some people regard paganism as a religion within itself; others see it as a belief system/mythos (such as monotheism) that can be incorporated into religions like Wicca or Druidism; others see it as a broad category including many religions. The fact that we are re-creating religion for ourselves after centuries of suppression makes us very eclectic and very concerned with the "rightness" of a particular thing for the individual. So when you see some people calling it a religion and others not, when you see it capitalized in some instances and not in others, don't be confused -- we're all still basically talking about the same thing.

5a) What is Paganism? How is it different from paganism?

Paganism (with a capital "P") is one strand of neopaganism which strives to allow each person to draw from whatever religious and cultural traditions are meaningful for the individual. The practices of Paganism derive from those of Wicca, but are not identical with those of Wicca. Some people view Paganism as a non-initiatory form of Wicca, or Wicca as an initiatory form of Paganism. Some say that Witches are the clergy of Paganism. (On the other hand, some Witches vigorously disagree with that viewpoint. As with most things in this FAQ, there is no answer with which everyone can completely agree.) You may also find this flavor being called "eclectic paganism."

6) What are different types of paganism?

  • PALEO-PAGANISM: the cultural/mythological progenitor of neopaganism; a pagan culture which has not been disrupted by being "civilized" by another culture - -Australian Bushmen modern (who are probably becoming meso-pagans), ancient Celtic religion (Druidism), the religions of the pre-"patriarchal" cultures of Old Europe, Norse religion, pre-Columbian Native American religions, etc.
  • CIVILO-PAGANISM: the religions of "civilized" communities which evolved in paleo-pagan cultures -- Classical Greco-Roman religion, Egyptian religion, Middle-Eastern paganism, Aztec religion, etc.
  • MESO-PAGANISM: a group, which may or may not still constitute a separate culture, which has been influenced by a conquering culture, but has been able to maintain an independence of religious practice -- many Native American nations, etc.
  • SYNCRETO-PAGANISM: similar to meso-pagan, but having had to submerge itself into the dominant culture, and adopt the external practices and symbols of the other religion -- the various Afro-diasporic traditions (Voudoun, Santeria, etc.), Culdee Christianity, what "Fam-Trads" (Family Tradition that has been passed down) might still exist, etc.
  • NEO-PAGANISM: attempts of modern people to reconnect with nature, using imagery and forms from other types of pagans, but adjusting them (in a synthesis) to the needs of modern people. Since this category is the primary focus of s.r.p., the listing here is more comprehensive (though no listing could be completely comprehensive):

    • Wicca -- in all its many forms
    • neo-Shamanism
    • neo-Druidism
    • Asatru and other forms of Norse neopaganism
    • neo-Native American practices
    • the range of things labeled "Women's Spirituality"
    • the Sabaean Religious Order
    • Church of All Worlds
    • Discordianism
    • Radical Faeries and other "Men's Spirituality" movements
    • some of eco-feminism
    • and last, but not least, Paganism

We have not defined many of these groups due to space limitations. You can find more information about them either on the Net, or at your local new age or pagan bookstore, or in the new age section of most major booksellers. Check the references in the resources FAQ.

7) What is Witchcraft/Wicca?

Wicca was the first (or at least one of the first) of the neopagan religions. As a result, it is the best known, and tends to overshadow its younger, smaller siblings. This bias appears in the postings in s.r.p. and in this FAQ. This does not mean that Wicca is more valid than other neopagan religions -- just larger and louder.

Wicca, however, is only one of the things called W/witchcraft (or sometimes, the Craft, a term also applied to Masonry). There are a whole range of styles of folk-magic around the world which are called witchcraft in English. If the word Witch is capitalized, it usually tends to indicate that it is being used to refer to a member of a pagan religion, not just to a practitioner of folk- magic. There are also Witches who practice religions called Witchcraft which are not Wicca. These religions tend to be more folk-pagan than Wicca, drawing on the heritage of a specific culture or region.

Wicca itself is a new religion, drawing strongly on the practices of Ceremonial Magic. While there are claims that Wicca goes back into the mists of pre-history, honest examination of the practices and history of the Wicca will make it clear that Wicca is new. (Actually, the word "Wicca" itself is recently coined, at least in its present usage. The OE "wicca" was pronounced "witch-ah" and meant male magician. The new word "Wicca" is pronounced "wick- uh", capitalized as a religion, and means a religion, not a person.) However, Wicca has developed in many directions and should not be seen as a unified whole, even though it is fairly new. Rituals and beliefs vary widely among Witches; there is no single governing body of Wicca.

Unlike most of the neopagan religions, Wicca is an initiatory religion, that is, people who choose to practice Wicca believe that the commitment to this path set changes in motion in their lives. Many Traditions (aka "Trads," or sects) of Wicca formalize this with a ritual (or series of rituals) of initiation. Others, especially Solitary Witches, trust that the Gods will do the initiating of the Witch.

7a) What is the "Wiccan Rede?"

The Wiccan Rede says "An (If) ye (you) harm none, do as you will."

Thus, our emphasis tends to be on personal ethics as opposed to a culturally imposed morality. The Rede is a workable expression of this, and is used by many, but not all, pagan groups. (Go back to the Index)

7b) Why do some of you use the word Witch? Wiccan?

First, not everyone in s.r.p. is Wiccan/Witchy, so this question only applies to some of the people.

Witch is a very old word meaning "magic-maker", from a root which meant "bending" and "shaping". For many of us, the word Witch is a powerful reclaiming of that inherent human power to make changes around us. For others, including some of the people within Wicca, that word is not their word. Some people within Wicca take the adjective "Wiccan" and use it as a noun.

(Some people question the authenticity of the etymology that says "witch" means "to bend or shape." They believe that the word is simply from the Old English for "wise one" and has no relation to the root mentioned above -- which gives us the modern word "wicker," for instance. However, this definition is a good way to think of how modern Witches might see themselves.)

8) What are some different traditions in the Craft?

Different traditions in the Craft include Gardnerian Wicca, Alexandrian Wicca, Dianic Wicca, the Faerie tradition, many branches of Celtic-based Wicca, and those forms of Wicca often called eclectic, since they draw their practices and liturgy from many different sources. There is no way to include all traditions because new ones are being created every day by the practitioners themselves.

9) Are pagans Witches?

We've mentioned that even among pagans and Witches, there is dispute about just how specific these terms are. But the majority opinion seems to be that the question, "Are pagans Witches?" is about the same as the question, "Are Christians Catholics?" (or Methodists, Baptists or whatever). Most Witches are pagans, but not all pagans are Witches.

10) Are you Satanists?

This is a bit of a loaded question, since there are several different conceptions of what Satanism really is.

The "classic" form of it requires an acceptance of the Christian mythos (to a greater or lesser degree) and a belief in, and worship of, Satan as the Adversary of the Judeo-Christian God. Thus, it seems to be more of a Christian heresy than neopaganism.

Most pagans do not worship Satan or practice Satanic rites, and most pagans react very strongly against association with "Satanists." As a whole, we do not believe in, worship or honor the Christian anti-god.

Some pagans practice something that might be seen as Satanism, but it is a far cry from the Hollywood image. These people tend to value pleasure as a primary motivation, or to find meaning in images which the Christian churches attacked.

For more information on Satanism as a religion, please go to alt.satanism.

If what you're really wanting to know is do we sacrifice babies and worship evil incarnate, the answer's "No."

10a) Is there any commonly accepted version of neoPaganism that is racist; maybe the followers of the Norse traditions?

No. There are a number of neoFascists and other hatemongers, both on and off the net, who try to assert this, a view which is vigorously opposed by the vast majority of those following that family of traditions. A look at the FAQ from alt.religion.asatru might be suggested.

11) What kinds of people are pagans?

People from all walks of life are pagans -- computer programmers, artists, police officers, journalists, university professors -- the list is endless. Some are liberal in their politics, others are conservative or even libertarian. Some are pacifists, others are not. Many kinds of people, no matter what their mundane lifestyle, find solace and meaning in the life- affirming aspects of paganism.

11a) Do pagans and witches do drugs?

Some do. Most don't. It is not a requirement of paganism, and, given the emphasis on personal responsibility in neopaganism, and the evident results of their misuse, and their illegality in some jurisdictions, we caution you not to. And yes, this includes alcohol and tobacco. Ultimately, it's your call and your Karma.

11b) What is your position on abortion/homosexuality/firearms?

It has been said that if you get three neopagans together, you'll have four different opinions on any subject.

Generally, homosexuals are accepted within neopaganism. As for the other buzzwords, that remains an individual matter of concience. We tend to believe in freedom of choice as much as possible for as many as possible and by as many as possible. We also believe in individual responsibility. Once again, it's your call and your Karma.

11c) How do you feel about the Bible/Koran/Torah/Baghavad-Gita, etc?

Good books, with much wisdom. Many of us have read them and value them in mytho/poetic and ethical rather than in literal terms.

12) What holidays do you celebrate?

Because neopaganism follows so many traditions from many different parts of the world, there is no single set of holidays that all neopagans celebrate. Several calendars are available which list many different holidays, one or more for every day of the year (e.g. Wise Woman's Wheel of the Year calendar from SageWoman Magazine). Most of these holidays are either dedicated to particular deities (e.g. Brighid, Diana, Thor), or mark seasonal changes in the environment (e.g. the solstices and equinoxes). What specific holidays are celebrated is something decided within a certain tradition, or by the individual.

12a) How do I pronounce...? What does this name/word mean?

The names that are generally used to denote the Wiccan sabbats (as well as festivals of many pagan traditions) come from Gaelic (both Scots and Irish), Welsh, Norse, and Anglo-Saxon. There are variations of pronunciations for each one. We are not trying to say that if you don't say it like we tell you to, that you'll be wrong or anything like that. But since so many people have asked, here is a list that can give you a good start in trying to sound like the languages from which these words came.

Just remember, this is not some kind of Sekrit Pagan Language (TM); many of these words are in use in Europe today by pagans and non-pagans alike to denote these days. And yes, this shows a European bias, but then so do the commonly-used names for Wiccan holy days. Wicca is, after all, Western European based. These seem to be the names most frequently asked about:

  • SAMHAIN (31 Oct) -- Erse (Irish Gaelic) for "summer's end." The standard Irish pronunciation is "sow-in" with the "ow" like in "cow." Other pronunciations that follow with the many Gaelic dialects include "sow-een" "shahvin" "sowin" (with "ow" like in "glow"). The Scots Gaelic spelling is "Samhuin" or "Samhuinn," and has been pronounced there as "SAHV-im." There is no linguistic foundation for saying this word "samhane" the way it might look if it were English. When in doubt, just say "Hallows" or even "Hallowe'en."
  • YULE (21 Dec) -- Norse for "wheel." It's pretty much pronounced just like it looks, although if you want to make a stab at a Scandinavian sound, it'll be more like "yool" and less like "yewl." This is the winter solstice.
  • IMBOLG/IMBOLC (1 Feb) -- Erse for "in the belly." Pronounce this one "IM- bullug" or "IM-bulk" with a guttural "k" on the end. Other names include Candlemas; Brighid (Erse "Bride" - pronounced "breed"), who is the Irish goddess whose festival this is; and Oimelc (pronounced EE-mulk), which means "ewe's milk" in Scots Gaelic.
  • OSTARA (21 Mar) -- Saxon name for a maiden goddess of spring, loosely connected to Astarte and Ishtar. This one's easy --"o-STAHR-uh." Other names include Eostre (say "OHS-truh" or "EST-truh"). This is the spring equinox.
  • BELTANE/BEALTAINE (30 April) -- Erse for either "fires of Bel" or "bright fires." If you want to try it in Gaelic, you can say "bee-YAWL-tinnuh" or "BELL-tinnuh." Unlike Samhain, this word can within the linguistic structure of its language of origin be pronounced like it looks -- "BELL-tane" -- without totally abandoning its original construction. Other names are Walpurgisnacht (vawl-PUR-gis-nahkt) (though this might have connotations of a more satanic orientation in the minds of some .... it is quite non-satanic as used in Asatru) and May Day.
  • LITHA (21 Jun) -- Norse or Anglo-Saxon for "longest day." You can say this one just like it looks, or you can try for a Scandinavian sound and say "leetha" with the "th" more like a "t." This is the summer solstice.
  • LUGHNASADH/LUNASA or LAMMAS (1 Aug) -- The first is Erse for "festival of Lugh" (a major Irish deity); the second is Anglo-Saxon for "festival of the loaves" ("hlaf-mass"). Don't panic at that spelling; the second (which is modern Erse as opposed to old Erse) tells you all you need to know. Say "LOO- nah-sah." (Some people maintain that the Scots Gaelic says it "LOO-nah-soo.") Lammas is just like it looks, "LAH-mus."
  • MABON (21 Sep) -- This is believed to be a form of the Welsh word for "son." Therefore, it would probably be pronounced "MA-bon" with the "a" like in "mass." However, most Wiccans and pagans say "MAY-bon." This is the autumn equinox.

There are some other terms in common use that you should know about:

  • TRAD: Shorthand for "tradition," as in "Faerie-trad" or "Fam-trad."
  • HP/HPS: "HP" is shorthand for "high priest," while "HPS" is shorthand for "high priestess." One can perform these functions either semi-permanently as the titular leader of a coven/circle, or temporarily in a specific ritual.
  • SKYCLAD: Ritual nudity. Note that this is not required in all Trads. We don't go naked a lot.
  • ATHAME: (AH-tha-may) A ritual knife used in many Trads.
  • OATHBOUND: Something that is considered "secret" to a greater or lesser degree within the Trad. Not all Trads do it.
  • COWAN: An oathbreaker; a non-pagan [varies by group, unfortunately]
  • MUNDANE: a non-pagan
  • FUNDIE: Usually means a Christian Fundamentalist. There are neopagan Fundies, too.
  • XIAN/XTIAN: Shorthand for Christian. Some feel this is defamatory.
  • BTW: Shorthand for "by the way." This is common net usage. NB: it can also mean "British Tradition Wicca." You should be able to tell which is which from the context.
  • IMHO: Shorthand for "in my humble opinion." Also common net usage.
  • YMMV: Shorthand for "your mileage may vary," meaning the writer does not expect you to agree with their statement. Also common net usage.

13) What god(s) do you believe in?

Neopagans believe in a great many goddesses and gods. However, not all neopagans believe in the same ones, or even in any at all. Many neopagans believe in a Goddess and a God that are manifest in all things, while some may be monotheistic. Some follow particular pantheons (e.g. Greek, Irish, Norse, Yoruban, Welsh), others don't stick to any one culture, and still others see the Divine in more symbolic terms. Many ascribe certain qualities to different goddesses, such as Athena as the goddess of wisdom; Aphrodite as the goddess of love; Artemis as the goddess of the hunt, and so on. Many pagans and Witches see the Goddess in three aspects, those of Maiden, Mother and Crone; and the God in two, the Young God and the Old God, or in three, adding the Child. Some add a third major Aspect, that of the Holy Fool, while other pagans do not believe in any gods at all, but instead honor spirits and/or totems in various forms such as animals or trees, as in many of the native American religions. As is usually the case, defining "God" is a very slippery idea. But these are some of the more common among modern pagans.

14) Can one be both Christian and pagan?

Depends on who you ask. :)

There is much dissention on this particular topic, with both pagans and Christians taking both stances. There are many brands of Christian mysticism, some more similar to the aspects of paganism than others. But some pagans who dance outside to the light of the moon and praise the Goddess in Her aspect of Diana see and feel no contradiction to going inside and lighting candles to Mary, the Queen of Heaven and the Mother of God, the next day. And those same pagans see the same sacrificial king motif in Jesus as they do in Osiris. (These people are sometimes termed "Christo-pagans.") Many people might find it difficult to reconcile the two paths; others see a successful integration as being possible. It depends on what is right for the individual.

15) What were the Burning Times?

The Burning Times is the name used by many modern Witches and pagans for the era of the Inquisition, and of the other witch hunts (including Salem) which sprang from and preceded it. During that time, many people were persecuted for practices objectionable to the Church, especially witchcraft. The Malleus Maleficarum was a guide on how to torture accused witches into confessing to whatever they were accused of. At the height of the persecutions, entire towns were left with only one or two women in them, and to this day no one knows for sure how many people were brutally murdered during this craze, though the best estimate by historians puts it at not over one half million. This is still one half million too many. As is often the case, this horror sprang from fear and misinformation -- most of the people who were arrested, tortured and killed were not Witches (or witches) of any sort, but simply people who had gotten on the wrong side of someone who had the local magistrate's ear, or who somehow didn't fit in (particularly beautiful or ugly women, widows who had wealth or owned land, the handicapped and retarded, and even overly intelligent people are all examples of those who became primary targets of this persecution). Although discrimination still exists against Witches and pagans, we now enjoy comparative freedom of religious practice after those dark times (at least in more places of the world). But this time is considered a very important event by most Witches and pagans (comparable to the atrocities and devastation perpetrated during the Holocaust), one that should never be forgotten, and many do active public education work to assure as best they can that it will never happen again.

16) How many pagans/Witches are there today?

Although many people have given estimates, it's impossible to know this due to the number of people "in the broom closet." However, all branches of the neopagan movement are steadily growing.

17) Why is it soc.religion.paganism?

Alt.pagan is not a moderated newsgroup, and is in the "alt" hierarchy, and thus tends to become a target for spammers, trolls, fundamentalist and outright crazies' rantings, advertisements, and other things that are -off topic-.

Soc.religion.paganism was formed to control, as much as humanly possible, these off-topic and annoying messages.

See the charter for more details.

18) Is brutal honesty or polite conversation the preferred mode of conversation around here?

People tend to get a little rowdy around here sometimes, so don't let it get to you. One of the disadvantages to this type of communication is the increased possibility of misunderstanding due to the inability to see the person and hear his or her vocal inflections, see their facial expressions, et cetera. It's generally frowned upon to attack someone baselessly, but there is no problem with disagreeing with someone vigorously -- vociferously, even. Try being constructive rather than just loud. Remember, you catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.

19) What are the related newsgroups?

  • alt.mythology
  • alt.pagan
  • alt.religion.wicca
  • alt.religion.asatru
  • alt.magick
  • alt.astrology
  • alt.divination
  • alt.discordia

20) Are there any electronic mailing lists on this subject?

Many -- we will try to include some in our s.r.p. resources list. This list is not yet completed; we will revise the FAQ as soon as it is.

21) I'm not a pagan; should I post here?

Yes, definitely -- with a couple of caveats:

a) Don't come on to witness/proselytize to us. We're really not interested in being converted (or worse, saved). It's not a tenet of our path to proselytize, and so we are particularly unhappy with the idea. We are already aware of your theology and beliefs, since many of us came to paganism from the prevailing Judeo-Christian belief systems, and likely know just as much about your belief system as you do. Hell-fire sermons will NOT be appreciated .... they will be killed by the bot (the robot moderator) and/or the modkin (the human moderators).

(This doesn't mean we don't want to discuss aspects of other religions as they relate to paganism, however. Discussion we like. Argument, even. But not witness attempts. We don't much care for proselytutes.)

b) If you're new to News, then you might want to check out news.announce.newusers for the posting protocol. And you might want to read some articles for a while -- get the feel of things -- before you post.

And remember, Usenet and Internet provide you with (among other things) the opportunity to make a total fool of yourself in front of thousands of people worldwide, and include the bonus of having it preserved on CD-ROM for many years afterwards.

22) How does one/do I become a pagan?

Most followers of pagan beliefs feel that, if someone is meant to find the pagan path, they will eventually. Usually, it is not a case so much of "becoming" a pagan as it is of finding a vocabulary for ideas and beliefs that you have always held. Good ways of investigating if this path is for you is to frequent pagan or new age bookstores, attend open pagan gatherings when the opportunity arises, and look for contacts. Most importantly, read! Read! Read! There are plenty of good books out there, as well as periodicals. The latter especially might be useful in the way of making contacts in your area.

23) What books/magazines should I read?

There are many, many good books on this subject (and quite a few bad ones), and we will have many of them in our s.r.p. resources list when it is completed. But the best book to read is Drawing Down the Moon by Margot Adler. This is not a how-to book; it's a comprehensive study of the neopagan movement in America, and the author is a journalist, a reporter for National Public Radio, and a pagan.

A second good look would be The Pagan Path by Stewart and Janet Farrar and Gavin Bone. It is an excellent introduction to neopaganism, warts and all.

Also, to get started contacting other pagans, the best place to write is Circle Network, P.O. Box 219, Mt. Horeb, WI, 53572. Circle is the largest pagan network in the country and publishes a guide to pagan groups around the United States, Canada, and overseas, tho they tend to be Wicca-centric. They might be able to get you in touch with pagans in your area if you can't find them yourself.

If you start with that, then you will generally find pointers to other sources and resources.

If you have access to the World Wide Web, you can use one of the common search engines (Yahoo, Lycos, etc.) to find information. Good keywords are pagan, neo-pagan, neopagan, druid, wicca and asatru.

24) How do I find pagans/Witches/covens/teachers in my area? How do I evaluate them?

Some of your best contacts may come from your local new age, pagan or occult bookstores. Check their bulletin boards for notices, or ask the staff. Also, many periodicals frequently allow people to advertise for contacts in their particular area. Circle Network, based in Wisconsin, has recently come out with an updated guide to pagan groups; it is available by mail-order or through certain new age bookstores.

Don't be in a hurry to find a teacher. "When the student is ready, the teacher will appear" is a popular saying in most pagan and Craft communities. Frustrating as that may sound, it's really a sensible way to think. Neopaganism, like any esoteric movement, attracts its share of unsavory characters. When you do meet people, use your intuition. If they seem somehow "off" to you, then they're probably not for you. If they require something from you that you are uncomfortable with, leave. No reputable pagan will fault you for doing so.

If no one seems like someone you think you'd like to be with, then you're probably better off working solitary, at least until you can find compatible people.

And by no means should you infer from this that all solitaries are "pagans-in-waiting". Many people are quite happy to work alone, and in fact prefer it. There is nothing wrong with working on your own as long as you like -- even if that turns out to be a lifetime.

In fact, there are several people who highly recommend that you study on your own for a while before looking for others to work with. This gives you the chance to get started figuring out what feels right for you without having pressure from others to conform to their beliefs and dogmas.

Remember also, that one of the Good Things To Do is "Question Everything!" That includes your teachers, mentors, gurus, reading material .... everything! Even this FAQ :-)

25) What's a coven really like?

Well, if you're expecting to hear about sex and blood magic, animal sacrifice, and ritual cruelty, then you'll be disappointed. Forming or joining a coven, is a spiritual commitment (the words coven and covenant are related) that is entered into advisedly. Once that bond is made, though, you find yourself in a spiritual community of people who have roughly the same theology, getting together to celebrate the passing of the seasons and the cycles of the moon, providing support and comfort to its members -- a lot like a small spiritual community of any faith. Another common saying in the Craft is "In perfect love and perfect trust," and that sums up the relationship among coveners pretty well.

Another kind of group for like-minded pagans to gather in is called a circle. The ties between coven members are as close as those between members of a family, and in some cases, closer. A circle is similar to a group of friends -- you like to do things together, but the bonds between members are sometimes not as serious as between coven-members.

There are other names used for similar groups in the various Trads, such as "kindred" and "hof" in Asatru, "nest" in the Church of All Worlds, "grove" in ADF, and so forth.

26) How do I form a coven?

Just as you shouldn't be in a big rush to find a teacher, you probably shouldn't set right out to form a coven. Most Witches believe the coven bond to be a very intense and serious one, one that applies on the Karmic as well as mundane levels. Think of it as getting married -- you wouldn't marry the first people you met who are interested in getting married too, would you?

Forming a circle, or a magical study group, is perhaps a better first step. It can be on a relatively informal basis, and you and the other participants can get to know each other while learning about the Craft together (as a matter of fact, many covens are formed from study groups). The fun of this is that you can meet more people who are interested in what you're interested in, and you can all learn together, and maybe even develop a tradition from the results of your studies. (You can do this as a solitary, of course, but some people do take more enjoyment in working with others. Once again, do what's right for you.)

The steps for contacting people to form a coven are much the same as finding other pagans and Witches in your area. A word of advice, though: You may want to leave your last name off, or get a P.O. box. Don't give out your number (unless you have an answering machine). Advertising yourself as being interested in this sort of thing might attract, shall we say, undesirables. Try writing such a notice so that those who are probably interested in similar ideals will know what you're talking about without attracting the attention of people who aren't. Even though we know that we're perfectly ethical and legitimate, not everyone else does.

And remember, they will also be evaluating you. You may end up having to go out for coffee with rather a lot of people before you get any more esoteric invitations.

27) What does Dianic mean?

Like everything else in neopaganism and the Craft, the term Dianic is one that has several meanings. A majority of those who call themselves Dianic are women that choose not to work with male energy in their ritual, magic, or universe. They feel that they need spiritual and psychic space filled with only women's energy.

Some Dianics are feminist Witches, bisexual, lesbian and heterosexual, who often come to the Craft through feminism. Although these women may be involved with men in one way or another, they agree that religion has over- emphasized the male for the last several thousand years, and therefore want to share their women's energy in women's circles. They may or may not also be involved with the mainstream pagan community, and they may or may not participate in magic and ritual with men.

The most visible groups of Dianics are those who are lesbian Dianics. They are generally not interested in revering any sort of male deity or in working with men in circle. They choose to limit their dependence on and acceptance of the male-defined world as much as possible, and they do so not to exclude men but rather to celebrate women and the feminine. For that reason many of them do not interact much with the "mainstream" pagan community.

(There are also those who call themselves Dianic and who are not like those described above, but who practice Witchcraft based on the traditions found books like those of anthropologist Margaret Murray. However, the term is more often meant to designate those practitioners described in the first two paragraphs.)

28) Aren't women-only circles discriminatory?

Yes, women-only circles are discriminatory. So what? all circles are somewhat discriminatory, even if the only discrimination is that they'll evict preachers who disrupt the proceedings of the circle.

If you're worried about being discriminatory in your own circle, simply look at the circle as a group of friends. Then, the discrimination is simply a limit on who you'll have as your friends, which is undeniably a good thing.

If you're worried about being discriminated against, then you can form your own circle, and you have the option to make it a men-only circle. Why do you want to intrude into a social space where you're not wanted?

If the participants are discussing business-related things affecting you during their circle, then you have legal rights to be allowed to participate, regardless of whether the discrimination is gender-related or not. It would be good advice to avoid such topics during circle. If you're worried that a circle from which you're excluded is doing so, you can talk to a lawyer to find out what those rights are and whether it will be wise and useful to pursue them.

Ultimately, though, you need to remember that some people feel strongly that some mysteries are gender-related and therefore it is not appropriate to have men (or women, depending) in attendance. It's not a plot to keep you out or to make you feel bad, but rather quite an ancient method of exploring certain mysteries that only apply to one sex (e.g. menstruation).

29) Is it okay if I...? Will I still be a pagan if I...?

Yes. Most pagans take a clearly anti-authorative (no one is your superior) stance when it comes to other pagans' religious practices. Ideally, we try to remember the relativity of our values.

One of the major advantages of neopaganism, is that it is ultimately defined by you, and that is what makes it so empowering (enabling you to feel your own power). Nobody can tell you that you aren't a true neopagan, because you decide what's right for you. There are no dogmas (truth defined by an expert) in neopaganism, simply because there couldn't possibly be any expert who knows better than you what feels right for you. Many pagans also appreciate the Discordian catma (related to dog-ma :) "Any Discordian is expressedly forbidden to believe what she reads." We also like the paradox in this cuddly catma.

You are encouraged to share your new ideas and inventions with us, but a statement along with a request for comments will probably give you more informative replies than asking your fellow netters for permission to do what is right for you. A "Am I still okay if I..." question will probably leave you with dozens of responses containing the most frequently given piece of advice on s.r.p.: Do what feels right for you. If what you really want is to hear that you are okay, please turn to

30) I am a pagan and I think I am being discriminated against because of my religion. What should I do?

First of all, don't panic. Are you really being discriminated against, or are things happening to you that would happen no matter what your religious beliefs were? Not to belittle religious discrimination because of course it happens, but you want to be sure that's what is going on before you take measures based on that assumption.

If, after looking at the situation objectively, you feel that you are being treated the way you are specifically because of your religion, then there are groups you can contact who specialize in giving assistance in just this very thing. One is Circle Network, whose address is given above. Another is AMER (Alliance of Magical and Earth Religions), and they can be reached at or from addresses on several hobbyist networks including FidoNet as well.

31) What's with all this Wicca stuff? Where's the information on [name of group]?

Like we said, the pagan community is a many and varied one. Wicca is certainly not the be-all and end all of it, despite appearances. Some of the non-Wiccan paths have their own newsgroups. For others, mailing lists are the way to go. Please check our resource list. It should help.


  • Drawing Down the Moon, Margot Adler, Beacon Press.
  • The Pagan Path, Stewart and Janet Farrar and Gavin Bone, Phoenix Press.
  • Teutonic Religion, Kveldulf Gundarson, Llewellyn.
  • To Know, Jade, Delphi Press.

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