Sunday, January 21, 2007

Pagan Misconception #6

With my recent readings bringing up more misconceptions of Paganism, I've decided to continue my series that I had started last summer. If you want to read the first five misconceptions I wrote about, here are the links:

Misconception #1 – Pagans worship the devil
Misconception #2 – Witches/Pagans have magical powers that normal people do not have
Misconception #3 – Paganism/Wicca can be whatever you want it to be
Misconception #4 – All Pagan rituals are full of sex rites and orgies
Misconception #5 – Pagans are trying to lure minors to Paganism through popular books such as Harry Potter

Pagan Misconception #6 - Pagan Religions are cults.

Another misconception that people use as a criticism of Paganism is that it is a cult movement. I hear this from many places: friends that know that I, students groups on campus, the internet, in books, and in comments on blogs and forums. I have noticed that this is not only because there are many different views of what Paganism is, but also because there is confusion of what a cult consists of.

Well, then, what is a cult? Most people I talk to think of a cult in a similar manner to this line from the article What is a cult?:

....groups which hypnotized or brainwashed recruits, destroyed their ability to make rational judgements and turned them into slaves of the group's leader.
Another website, Cultwatch, states:
...cults can survive because their members rarely think about what they believe...
Can Pagan religions be considered cults, then? In my opinion, no. Take the last quote from above into consideration. Followers of Pagan religions encourage others to think their beliefs through and then putting those beliefs into practice, either by themselves or within a group setting. Within many Pagan groups, the leadership of the group does not rely on just one or two people, but the whole group. Everyone has a say in what is put into practice.

Another reason why I can not consider Pagan religions a cult movement is a point that lies in the first quote above. Cults actively recruit to increase their membership. Without people actively recruiting, their movement would die. Pagans do not recruit. If you are interested in joining a Pagan group, you have to do some work to find a group to join. This is not only to find one that you are comfortable with, but also a group that feels that you are a good fit with them. One thing about cults that seems to be common is that they will take anybody into their membership - as long as they don't question the leadership, that is. Pagans are taught to ask questions and to research their questions to determine their beliefs.

Why would people spread this kind of misconception? Of course, we can all think of some reasons as there are so many of them. One is that there is quite a stigma behind the word "cult" and the type of people that follow cult movements. Because of the negative stigma on the word "cult," if people can be made to believe that Pagan religions are cults, then those religions lose their possibility of being considered valid. Paganism can not be a valid religious movement if it is considered a cult, right?

I think that most of the misconceptions of Paganism come from misunderstandings, whether they are spread out of malicious intent or not. Misconceptions do undermine the validity of a religion. That, however, will be the subject of another post.


Bernulf said...

Great article, and an awesome series!

What I think is somewhat ironic about all of this is that, when Christianity first got its start in Rome, the Pagans of the time considered it to be the cult.

Sojourner said...

That's exaclty what I was thinking as well. There are some similarities to how Christians were treated at first and how Christians are now treating Modern Pagans.

ColoradoCelt said...

Hey now, I really like and ENJOY number 4! I would not say that it is a misconception, just not at *every* ritual. ;-D

fredlet said...

Also, whenever they throw that whole "devil worshipping" angle into the argument, tell them this:
First of all, the devil is a christian concept. In fact, the name Satan isn't actually the name of the angel as they claim.. its derived from the arabic word "shitan" meaning adversary.
There is no devil in the craft... and in fact, its kind of insulting insinuating that we are stupid enough to follow some pseudo deity who professes himself to be the father of lies.

Sojourner said...

Colorado Celt - LOL (The key word was all) :)

Fredlet - Thanks for the comment, but I've gotta ask - did you read that post? I ask because I do mention that at the beginning of what I wrote regarding that misconception.

Also, with your last statement, I am afraid that you are doing what I talked about within the next paragraph - possibly misrepresenting Satanism.

While it would be okay to say that Satan has nothing to do with your beliefs, I think it is harsh to bash another's belief by saying that others are insulting Pagans by saying "we are stupid enough to follow some pseudo deity..." That is exactly how misconceptions get started.

It's one thing to disagree with someone else's beliefs but a horse of a different color to use that as a way to make a broad statement that makes another's belief look bad.

Tolerence is a good thing.