Last-modified: October 1995
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See reader questions & answers on this topic! - Help others by sharing your knowledge
This file is available via anonymous Internet FTP to the host ftp.cc.utexas.edu, in the directory pub/minerva. An HTML version is available at http://www.netspace.org/~athomps/pagan/paganres.html. FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS FOR ALT.PAGAN Authors: Susan Harwood Kaczmarczik; Br'an Arthur Davis-Howe; T. O. Radzykewycz; Ailsa N.T. Murphy; Cecilia Henningsson Acknowledgements to Jack Coyote, Robert Pearson, Chris Carlisle and Izzy, and a special thanks to Janis Maria Cortese. **Disclaimer** Throughout this FAQ you will find the words "usually," often," and other disclaimers; this is because Paganism is not a rigid, structured belief system. 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. Many people, no doubt, will object to every part of this FAQ, but we stand by it as our best attempt. *First version completed 25 January 1993* Questions: 1) What is this group for? 2) What is paganism/a pagan? 2b) What is Paganism? How is it different from paganism? 3) What are different types of paganism? 4) What is Witchcraft/Wicca? 4b) Why do some of you use the word Witch? Wiccan? 5) What are some different traditions in the Craft? 6) Are pagans Witches? 7) Are you Satanists? 8) What kinds of people are pagans? 9) What holidays do you celebrate? 9b) How do I pronounce...? What does this name mean? 10) What god(s) do you believe in? 11) Can one be both Christian and pagan? 12) What were the Burning Times? 13) How many pagans/Witches are there today? 14) Why isn't it soc.religion.paganism instead of alt.pagan? 15) Is brutal honesty or polite conversation the preferred tone of conversation around here? 16) What are the related newsgroups? 17) I'm not a pagan; should I post here? 18) How does one/do I become a pagan? 19) What books/magazines should I read? 20) How do I find pagans/Witches/covens/teachers in my area? 21) What's a coven really like? 22) How do I form a coven? 23) What does Dianic mean? 24) Aren't women-only circles discriminatory? 25) Can/will you cast me a love spell/curse my enemies? 26) Is it okay if I...? Will I still be a pagan if I...? 27) I am a pagan and I think I am being discriminated against because of my religion. What should I do? 28) Hey, I heard that [insert name of famous rock singer or famous fantasy-novel writer here] was a witch/pagan. Is that true? 29) What one thing would most pagans probably want the world to know about them? 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 alt.pagan community is fundamentally neopagan -- our practices are modern, though they are based on ancient ideas or images. 2) What is paganism/a pagan? The words paganism and pagan come from the Latin "paganus," meaning "country dweller." Neopagans hold a reverence for the Earth and all its creatures, generally see all life as interconnected, and tend to strive to attune one's self to the manifestation of this belief as seen in the cycles of nature. Pagans are usually polytheistic (believing in more than one god), and they usually believe in immanance, 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 the Great Mystery. Other pagans are simply monotheistic or polytheistic, and still others are atheistic. Some people believe paganism to be a religion within itself; others see it as a belief system (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. 2b) 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 violently disagree with that viewpoint. As with most things in this FAQ, there is no answer with which everyone can completely agree.) 3) What are different types of paganism? Paleo-paganism: the standard of paganism, a pagan culture which has not been disrupted by "civilization" 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, etc. Neopaganism: attempts of modern people to reconnect with nature, using imagery and forms from other types of pagans, but adjusting them to the needs of modern people. Since this category is the focus of alt.pagan, 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 certain people within Thelema and hedonistic Satanism some of eco-feminism and last, but not least, Paganism 4) 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 alt.pagan 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 indicates 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. 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 (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. 4b) Why do some of you use the word Witch? Wiccan? First, not everyone in alt.pagan 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 a modern Witch might see him/herself.) 5) What are some different traditions in the Craft? Different traditions in the Craft include Gardnerian Wicca, Alexandrian Wicca, Dianic Wicca, the Faery tradition, many branches of Celtic-based Wicca, and many other 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. 6) 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. 7) Are you Satanists? This is a bit of a loaded question, since there are several different conceptions of what Satanism really is. Most pagans do not worship Satan or practice Satanic rites. Some pagans practice something called Satanism, but it is a far cry from the Hollywood image of Satanism. These people tend to value pleasure as a primary motivation, or to find meaning in images which the repressive Christian churches attacked. For some of these folk, reclaiming the word "Satanist" is an act of resistance against oppression. For more information on Satanism as a religion, please check out alt.satanism. If what you're really wanting to know is do we sacrifice babies and worship evil incarnate, the answer's no. 8) 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. Many people, no matter what their mundane occupation, find solace in the life-affirming aspects of paganism. 9) 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. 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. 9b) How do I pronounce...? What does this name 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. These seem to be the names most frequently asked about in alt.pagan. Samhain (31 Oct) -- 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." 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) -- Irish Gaelic for "in the belly." Pronounce this one "IM-bullug" or "IM-bulk" with a guttural "k" on the end. Other names include Candlemas; Brighid (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) -- Irish Gaelic 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) 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 Irish Gaelic 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 Irish as opposed to old Irish) tells you all you need to know. Say "LOO-nah-sah." (Some people maintain that the Scots dialect 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. 10) 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. 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. 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. 11) 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. Many people might find it difficult to reconcile the two paths; others see a successful integration possible. It depends on what is right for the individual. 12) 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 it. During that time, many women and some men 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. 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. 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. 13) 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. 14) Why isn't it soc.religion.paganism instead of alt.pagan? Because we had a vote to create a talk.religion.paganism newsgroup back in January 1990 and it was voted down, largely because the proposed group was to be moderated and people didn't like that idea. So, when that failed, some enterprising soul took it upon himself to create alt.pagan, because you don't need approval to do that. Since then, we have discussed changing newsgroup hierarchies (usually to either soc.religion or talk.religion), but the consensus at present seems to be to keep the format we have. Being typical pagans, we like as little structure as possible. 15) 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. 16) What are some of the related newsgroups? (This list subject to change at any time) alt.religion.wicca alt.religion.druid alt.mythology alt.satanism alt.magick alt.astrology alt.divination alt.discordia talk.religion.newage 17) I'm not a pagan; should I post here? Yes, definitely -- with a couple of caveats: a) Don't come on to witness to us. We're really not interested in being converted (or worse, saved). It's not a tenet of our path to convert, and so we are particularly unhappy with the idea. Plus which, you will add unnecessarily to the noise level in this newsgroup, since most readers will feel compelled to flame you to the farthest reaches of Hell. (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.) 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. 18) How does one/do I become a pagan? Most followers of pagan beliefs feel that, if someone is meant to find the pagan path, s/he 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. 19) What books/magazines should I read? There are many, many good books on this subject (and quite a few bad ones), and different bibliographies are available on the Internet. 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. 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. They might be able to get you in touch with pagans in your area if you can't find them yourself. They also have an extensive list of available publications. For residents of the UK who are looking for contacts, try getting in touch with the Pagan Federation. Similar to Circle in intent, they publish a quarterly newsletter and provides contact information for UK pagans. Their address is Pagan Federation, BM Box 7097, London, WC1N 3XX, United Kingdom. If you start with that, then you will generally find pointers to other sources and resources. 20) 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 no one seems like someone you think you'd like to be with, then you're probably better off working solitary, at least for such time as you find no 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. 21) 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 not as serious as between coven-members. 22) 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. 23) 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, both 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. This definition is taken largely from the book _To Know_ by Jade.) 24) 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). 25) 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. Pagans and Witches usually believe in some form of what's called the Witches' Rede: "As long as you harm no one, do what you will." That isn't nearly as easy as it might sound. That means whatever action you undertake, it can't harm anyone, including yourself. Witches and pagans also believe in some form of the Law of Return: "Whatever you do magically [or otherwise] will come back to you," some say three times, some nine, some just say it will come back to you. And it does. As Ursula K. LeGuin said, "You can't light a candle without somewhere casting a shadow." 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. 26) 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 defined by you, and that is what makes it so empowering (making you 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 expressly 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 alt.pagan: Do what feels right for you. If what you really want is to hear that you are okay, please turn to alt.support. 27) 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 through Chris Carlisle at C24884@wuvmd.wustl.edu, or from addresses on several hobbyist networks including FIDONET as well. 28) 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). Just because someone uses 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 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 person in question has unequivocally stated that s/he is a pagan (e.g., Patricia Kennealy-Morrison, a Celtic high priestess and author of the _Keltiad_ series), you can't assume that s/he is a pagan. (Even then, they could change their minds, 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? 29) What one thing would most pagans probably want the world to know about them? The answer included here comes 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. AFTERWORD The creators of this FAQ want to thank the readers of alt.pagan for their input in compiling the questions. We will be more than happy to revise it to include the points of view from other readers. If you would like to add information to this FAQ, please send email to firstname.lastname@example.org with your proposed addition. Thank you and Blessed Be! **References** _Drawing Down the Moon_, Margot Adler, Beacon Press. _To Know_, Jade, Delphi Press. -- Beannachta! ---Susan Harwood Kaczmarczikemail@example.com--- "The hart he loves the high wood, the hare she loves the hill; The Knight he loves his bright sword, the Lady -- loves her will."