We’ve all heard it. You don’t have to spend much time in the Pagan Community, either online or in real life, before you come across someone spouting half-truths and faery tales as if they were gospel.
I think perhaps the best known and most widely circulated bit of revisionist history is the notion that more than nine million Witches met a torturous, fiery end at the hands of bigoted, misogynistic Christians during a period of mass hysteria known as the Burning Times.
Now, anyone who has done any kind of historical research knows that this just isn’t the case. So, where do these radical theories come from, and why do they catch on with such fervor?
I can really only speculate at the motives of seemingly reliable scholars drawing conclusions that would be warped into such inflammatory tales. Perhaps by bolstering numbers and exaggerating details, they hoped to grab the attention of the modern public.
Perhaps they hoped to teach a lesson in tolerance by using these stories to shock and horrify. I cannot even begin to count the number of assorted “Never Again, The Burning Times” graphics that litter the Pagan web – in some sites you can find them on every single page.
But even though their intentions may have been good, many (myself included) see these stories, books and articles as doing far more damage than good. They foster a vehement animosity in new Pagans towards Christianity as a whole, and create a whole sect of self-made ever-victims who scream religious persecution at every raised eyebrow.
This adds to the belief held by much of society that none of the numerous Pagan paths are valid religions in their own rights, but are merely a rejection of the Christian church by disillusioned teenagers seeking to freak out their parents.
Paganism, Witchcraft and Wicca don’t need martyrs or to predate Christianity to be valid religious and spiritual paths. So, what’s to be done? Do we boycott every book that is factually iffy? Do we slam every Witch and/or author who has ever been taken in by these attractive fictions?
My simple answer is of course not. People live and learn, and though we may feel a little silly about believing something that seems now to be so completely unbelievable, I think that the best we can do is help get the right information out there so that there will be fewer who need to feel silly down the line.
My point is that critical thinking is essential when following a Pagan path (and in all aspects of life, if you think about it). Never take anything at face value. Just because someone can get a book on Paganism published doesn’t necessarily mean that they are an authority.
If you come across something that seems a bit outrageous, look into it. In the last few years, many theories that had previously gone unchallenged have been completely refuted by historical investigation.
Paganism and Witchcraft have no Bible (despite what you might find on the shelves of your local bookstore). There is no one set of absolute truths that every seeker can turn to. Our histories span the globe and many are forever lost in the sands of time.
When you are searching for an identity these can seem insurmountable obstacles – just remember that the past is never as important as the here and now.