A talk about Pagan Discrimination

This talk was originally given to Glasgow Interfaith’s online event “Anti-Pagan Prejudice: the Untold Story” on Sunday 18th April 2021

Hello everyone, I’ve been invited here to today to speak with you about Pagan discrimination – a subject that is very close to my heart as a Pagan myself, having faced discrimination because of my beliefs over the course of my life.

My own set of beliefs are very personal to me, just as every other Pagan I know would say of themselves. I’m what many in the Pagan world would call an eclectic witch and healer. That means I don’t follow one particular tradition as some do. Instead, I take time to study the things that speak to my soul and to my core beliefs. I found Wicca first, then left that behind to explore Celtic traditions, esotericism, Norse Heathenry and now Shamanism. I bring aspects from all of those explorations that make sense to me into my witchcraft practice and also into my work as a healer, which is where I use the things that I’ve learned to help bring spiritual peace to others.

During the almost 25 years I’ve been following a Pagan path, I’ve been mocked, teased, picked on and been scared and worried to reveal my beliefs to others for fear of me or my children suffering in some way. My own mother, who was a practising Pagan witch in the early 1970’s, has suffered all of that and at one point had a brick thrown through her window in the middle of the night with a threat of physical harm attached to it in a note. She struggled to find mentors and friends for help and support in her beliefs until the mid to late 1990’s because everyone who followed a Pagan path hid themselves from the world due to the fear of suffering the same. Even now, at her job she feels she can’t be open about her beliefs because she might lose her position though she is relieved to have a community that she can connect with at last.

The stories I’ve heard while working with the Pagan Federation mirror my own experiences and worse. In the last year alone, we’ve dealt with 23 advocacy cases and that’s only the ones we know about – there are bound to be many more than that. Those cases included everything from a workplace blocking access to the Pagan Federation website because it was deemed unsafe despite websites such as the church of England’s remaining easily accessible to social services still using Pagan beliefs as the sole reason to attempt to remove children from their parents care despite no other evidence that they are unsuitable caregivers.

It’s not just this kind of discrimination that we have to fight either. The press and media at the very least mock us and at the worst, accuse us of the worst kind of crimes despite the fact that we’re generally a good bunch of people. I myself have dealt with at least half a dozen problematic publications over the last six months alone and that doesn’t begin to touch on what goes on in film and tv.

I would like to say the results of the Scottish Pagan Federation’s survey are a surprise to me, but I honestly can’t. What they do is confirm that we still have a long way to go in changing the misconceptions and stereotypes that are held by large numbers of people in the general population. This isn’t something that is limited to England and Scotland either. The UN is currently working on a project aimed at stopping a range of horrendous crimes that are committed in the name of stopping witchcraft. This is a worldwide problem in which Pagans and witches are always the bad guys despite them often being valuable and willing contributors to their communities and working in some of the most caring professions.

I know we’re not alone in this kind of discrimination, there are plenty of other faiths and beliefs out there that are just as misunderstood and feared as Paganism – if not more so in some cases. I know that all religions and faiths have their extremists but whether they call themselves Pagan, Heathen, Muslim, Christian or anything else matters not, they are extremists and not true followers or seekers. Unfortunately whole communities of people get tarred with the same brush when these extremists talk about their religious causes. I wholeheartedly wish that I could wave a magic wand and solve the problem overnight for all of us – but in reality that’s not possible.

What it will take is a lot more years of hard work, talking to people, educating them so that they can understand our beliefs and practices instead of misunderstanding and fearing them. It will be a shorter journey though if we can come together with people of other faiths who are willing to listen and learn. And hands up, we can as a community be just as bad at that as others are – I believe we need to get better at that too. The real solution lies in finding our similarities as human beings and being there for each other despite the different paths we walk. We have to find ways to be allies, to find the things that we share in common so that we can navigate our differences. That is the road to ending discrimination.

Sarah Kerr
Pagan Federation President