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So what IS Pagan Awareness?
Well, simply put, it's common knowledge about Pagan beliefs, traditions and practices. But it's really much more than that. There are so many misconceptions and myths out there about Pagans, Witches and the like. These misconceptions cause individuals and families huge amounts of difficulties, strife and pain each year. Pagan workers need fear loss of jobs, Pagan parents need fear their children will be removed and I've heard of more than one case where Pagan homes or businesses were targeted for vandalism and even arson, simply because neighbors were afraid of what was - or could have been - going on inside. However, the more people know, the more these misconceptions are dispelled in the public eye, the less common these issues become.
Pagans are the fastest growing religious group in the US. Just 20 years ago there was less than 1% of the population identified as some form of Pagan. But as of a survey in 2001, over 400,000 individuals (adults) identified themselves as Wiccan. - Extending this to include all forms of Pagan and that number could have been as high as a quarter million, or more. If we take in to account that this survey was taken over 10 years ago, today's numbers are no doubt much much higher - some estimates place the Pagan community as 10% or more of the population in the US. This growth has prompted many "mainstream" religious groups to take notice and action! The "Anti-Pagan" groups have become larger and louder from coast to coast and their presence affects us all! -- While it's a rather mild example, I find the example of "Focus On Family" attempting to get Harry Potter books banned from public libraries and schools because it "encourages the exploration of demonic forces and witchcraft" to be one that just about everyone has heard of. Most of these "movements" are small and largely unpublicized among secular media, but just because you don't hear on Channel 4, doesn't mean it's not going on.
Personally I feel the majority of people involved with "Anti-Pagan" movements, media reports or otherwise, do what they do mostly out of fear. Many mainstream faiths teach fear of the unknown. I know when we were always taught there were only two forms of "super natural" either Perfect - meaning God, Jesus and their Angels - or Pure Evil - meaning the Devil and demons. There was NO room in what we were taught for anything else. We were taught that Witches, Pagans and even other Christians were in "cahoots" with Satan and were being tricked in to believing that they were doing good or being good people by the devil and his minions. We were taught if you weren't a part of that specific faith that you were being mislead by evil. It was that simple - Black or White, Good or Evil. There was nothing else. There was no room for tolerance or understanding, you either followed what they told you, or you were evil. And these types of teachings aren't limited to that faith. These types or similar types of teachings are rather common among mainstream faiths - although most are not as rigid.
While I obviously didn't agree with that type of thinking, I can understand how people get caught up in that type of teaching. They are simply to afraid to follow other paths, or even to support other people's choices to follow other paths. I suppose if I believed my loved ones were damning themselves simply for being outside of my path I would want them - and everyone else - to be on my path too. It does make sense that people who believe this way would be "anti" anything else, because they don't have any real understanding of anything else - because they've been taught these paths are evil. - Again, if I believed something was evil, and I believed that the information I had was accurate, I wouldn't go looking any deeper either. So it's easy to see why and how people become Anti-Pagan or even Anti-Tolerance in general.
But it's important for us to remember that these extreme Anti-Tolerance or Anti-Pagan beliefs and individuals are NOT the majority! But, they do tend to be rather loud about their beliefs! The organization "One Million Moms" is made up of only around 40,000 individuals, but have made national news lately with their stance against homosexuality, witchcraft, paranormal and other things they deem to be "evil" or "satanic." And unfortunately, even though they have a relatively small membership, their techniques DO get noticed and they "win" their causes more than not. Why? How? Well, it's very simple - they are organized, "we" are not. When groups like OMM have a cause they ALL bombard companies, advertizes and elected officials with thousands of emails, phone calls and letters in a matter of days or even hours. The rest of us, well, we simply don't. And you can imagine, if you were the person getting 40,000+ phone calls, emails or letters in a single day, you would break and give them what they wanted too. It's not that they are the majority, it's that they speak the loudest.
But what does all this mean for us? Okay, these groups make a loud noise, but is the removal of a few television shows or even books really that big of a deal? YES, yes it is! It's more of a big deal than most people think! Why? Because the larger and louder groups like this become without having "counter groups" earning the same notice, the more and more power they earn as well. While they may start by having fiction books or television shows banned. They have the potential to begin movements that can truly impact the lives of Pagans, Witches and worst of all, our children.
Unfortunately, this is a realization I have come face to face with over the years. My son's are in Public School, so I never really put much thought in to them being taught religion. Then after my oldest started Kindergarten I started receiving flyers for "student blessings," "school blessings," and "prayer circles" taking place at the school. They are taking place AT the school, and while the students are there for class. So while the students are not being taught religion of any kind, they are being placed in a situation where those students - Pagan or not - who don't participate are clearly visible as "odd" or "different." The first time it happened, I was actually shocked that this was even going on at all - I mean, I would have expected this in a private or religious school, but not in a Public School - so I did nothing. But the second and third, I made a point to speak up.
I found out that the women who were pushing these things were key members of the PTA. And that because the PTA is an outside group, they are able to host religious activities on school grounds without violating any laws. Of course they can't force kids to participate, but we all know when one or two kids don't do what the rest of the kids are doing, they become a target.
So I went to the school. First I spoke with my son's teacher, then the principal. It did nothing. So I went back, and we talked again. And then a third time... It seemed like I wasn't making any headway at all. But I HAVE made my point. This year, while those things are still going on, they have been pushed to times when classes are NOT going on. This years blessings took place on non-school days and did not include on site student blessings - although an invitation was sent home for parents to take their children to a church and have it done there. They even had a 2 hour delay on the day of the "Pray at the Poles."
This is a small change. But it IS a change. But I honestly feel it wouldn't have been necessary in the first place if the principal had been more aware of the numerous non-Christian students attending his school in the first place. The principal apologized for not being more aware and stated that had he known there were people who were uncomfortable, he would have taken these steps sooner.
This is only ONE small example of why it is so important to raise awareness about Paganism! It was simply assumed that all the children in my sons' school were being raised in some form of Abrahamic path. Neither my son's teacher nor the principal had any idea what Paganism was! So just think, if the cluelessness of a school principal is affecting the children he is in charge of, how does the cluelessness of media officials, politicians or even local police affect the lives of Pagans/Witches?
Over the past few years, Pagans & Witches have made a decent amount of headway when it comes to rights overall. But there are still numerous cases each year of injustices, abuses and sometimes downright violent attacks on Pagans all across the nation. Each year I hear more and more stories. Some are relatively mild, others are more extreme. But the fact is clear, Pagans NEED to speak up!
I realize many people find it difficult to "educate" others because they feel like they're preaching. However, no one is asking you to preach. What are you being "asked" to do? How do you really raise awareness without preaching? Well, there are A LOT of options out there:
- Number 1 - VOTE! There is no better way to ensure your rights remain your rights than to vote!
- Stay in contact with local politicians. Whenever a new politician in my area is elected I send them a short letter. Basically it welcomes them in to office and thanks them for their work - but it also alerts them to the fact that there are many faiths under their keep and that as a member of one of the smaller groups, I vote! I also make a point to keep up on local issues and make a point to email them when it's appropriate.
- Create a "signature" for websites that includes a link to a Pagan Education website or blog.
- Join local Pagan groups and stay active.
- If there are no local groups to you, start one.
- Support Pagan Businesses, Charities, Groups, Websites and Blogs! The more support we get, the more we can do to speak out for us all!
- Discuss your beliefs openly with your friends and family and encourage them to ask questions.
- Wear "Pagan" related jewelry, tattoos, t-shirts or hats. Even posting a "Proud Pagan" sticker on your bike, car or laptop helps to get it out there.
The one thing I can guarantee you though is this - if you do nothing to raise awareness, you won't have anyone but yourself to blame when your rights are removed!
For some additional information and resources, visit the Awareness Page at PagansPath.com at: