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. Even opponents
of neopagan religions acknowledge that they are the fastest-growing
religions in North America.
14) What are some of the related newsgroups? (This list subject to
change at any time)
15) Two pagan newsgroups? Why soc.religion.paganism *and* alt.pagan?
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 back then. So,
when that failed, some enterprising soul took it upon himself to create
alt.pagan, because you don't need approval to do that.
Over the ensuing years, we discussed changing newsgroup hierarchies
(usually to either soc.religion or talk.religion), but the consensus for
a long while was to leave things as they were. Being typical pagans, we
like as little structure as possible (or at least we like to believe we
In 1996, in a response to continued inundation by spammers of the
electronic and evangelical sort, the moderated soc.religion.paganism was
proposed, voted on and created. Although many people still didn't like
the idea of a moderated newsgroup, enough people thought it was time to
create a spam-free environment. However, alt.pagan is still very active
and many people spend their time on both newsgroups.
16) 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.
And a brief lecture: There's really no need, honestly there isn't,
to flame someone who posts the nth money-making scam you've seen this
week, or who cross-posts to every newsgroup imaginable. This mostly
leads to more wasted bandwidth, especially since the resulting flames
often end up cross-posted as well. Just ignore them. Start a new
relevant topic instead. It's better for the continued survival and
usefulness of the newsgroup anyway. (End of lecture.)
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
(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
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* 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
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. Remember that words like "witchcraft","pagan" and "coven" mean
many different things to many different people.
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
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"
(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
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
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
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) Sometimes I see "magic" spelled with a "k". Do real pagans spell it
a certain way?
"Magick" is a spelling used by some pagans and magicians (yes, you
can practice magic and not be pagan) to differentiate from
sleight-of-hand, rabbit-out-of-the-hat stuff. Although it used to be a
standard spelling (if anything before the last 200 years or so can be
called that), its use in this century by pagans and witches can be
traced to people like Aleister Crowley and Dion Fortune -- people who
were primarily ceremonial magicians. Many practitioners of magic have
begun using this spelling. Many others still do not. (Then there are
folks who use other such creative spellings as "majic" and "majik".)
Any of these is fine. The "k" on the end -- or lack thereof -- does
not designate you or anyone else as either "in the know" or "without a
clue". How you spell the word does not affect your efficacy as a
magical practitioner one whit. Anyone who tells you otherwise is being,
in this author's humble opinion, silly.
27) 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
28) 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
C24...@wuvmd.wustl.edu, or from addresses on several hobbyist networks
including FIDONET as well.
29) 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, Loreena McKennitt and Mercedes Lackey being the most
commonly-asked-about people, with Cybill Shepherd having suddenly gained
great frequency after the 1996 Golden Globes). 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 practicing
witch and 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 kept 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?
30) What one thing would most pagans probably want the world to know
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
"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. If you would like
to distribute this document, or quote portions from it, for educational
purposes, permission from the authors is hereby given, under the
condition that any such distribution must include the authors names in
their entirety. Portions of this document may not be used without
proper credit to all authors. Thank you and Blessed Be!
_Drawing Down the Moon_, Margot Adler, Beacon Press.
_To Know_, Jade, Delphi Press.
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