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We need new words for "pagan," "heathen" and even "witch."


Arania

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Yes, I know it is unlikely to happen, but still. It irks me.

 

In this modern world of supposed inclusivity and diversity, it is strange that we still use outdated and insulting words and thought concepts to refer to certain religious practices. Now, you might be thinking, "Nothing wrong with "pagan" and "heathen - they've been around forever!"

 

Firstly, there are the origins of the term "pagan." It stems from the Latin word "paganus," meaning a rustic or a country-dweller. Back in the day, when Christianity started gaining prominence, anything that deviated from their religious beliefs was considered inferior or even evil. Those who lived in the countryside were often the last to embrace Christianity, hence the derogatory term "pagan" came into existence. Now, fast forward to the present day. We live in a society that celebrates diversity and encourages individuals to embrace their own beliefs and practices. Similarly, "heathen" goes hand in hand with the derogatory image of non-Christians. Originally coined by early Christians to demean people who practiced non-Christian faiths, the term has fueled misconceptions and prejudices for centuries.

 

So, why are we still using a term with a historically negative connotation to refer to those who follow non-mainstream religions? One of the main issues with the word "pagan" is that it lumps together a wide variety of belief systems and practices under one umbrella term. Wicca, Druidism, Asatru, and many others all fall under the category of "pagan." Each of these groups have their own unique sets of beliefs, rituals, and traditions. By using one word to label them all, we fail to acknowledge their individuality and distinctiveness. Moreover, the words "pagan" and "heathen" carry a sense of mockery and ridicule, often used by those who do not understand or accept these different spiritualities. It's time to move away from this derogatory language and adopt a new term that respects and acknowledges the diverse spiritual paths people choose to follow.

 

What words should we use instead? I wish I had an answer. The community itself should decide on a word, or better yet several words, which accurately represent their beliefs and practices. It needs to be something reflecting the diversity of these belief systems while avoiding any negative or derogatory connotations.

 

The word "witch" carries similar problems. Reclamation all nice and well, but for the generation of my grandparents, a witch was still the one causing harm, often out of pure spite and envy. They would have used words like wise woman, herbal healer, magic people and a lot more to describe themselves, but never witch. The same negative associations are still present for many of the African and Asian cultures and sub cultures. A sangoma, for example is not a witch, despite some people using the derogatory term "witch doctor" for them. It leads to a plethora of misunderstandings, which I have experienced myself as the father of my son is from Nigeria. And even in our western society, a witch is what you call a usually outspoken person you don't like.

 

Also, we are all so different. My version of witch is not the same as that of a Wicca. Yet very often when people understand I am what is commonly called a witch I get "oh you are Wiccan." No! Am so not! And no, not all witches are female either, another fact that's lost on many people.

 

Why should we let a single word define us? Why should we limit ourselves to this one label that's loaded with misconceptions and prejudice? Words have power! The way we speak about something influences how we perceive it. By choosing other words for witches, we can initiate a shift in mindset. We can break away from the stereotypes and create a space for understanding.

 

Ok, I'm stepping off the soapbox. If you managed to read to here, you can keep the typos you found, there will likely be a lot despite me using a spellcheck this time.

 

 

41 Comments


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I agree with you.

Perhaps it would help to get a few good definitions to start.  What does a 'witch' actually do?  Or, conversely, what would they need to do to be thought of, or self-identify as a witch?  

Ditto a Pagan.  I reckon 'heathen' is how a Christian would describe any non-Christian belief system in a derogatory way, and is possibly best left to lie in the past.  Plenty of people who were very devoutly religious—or were atheists—have been described as heathens—including Muslims, Hindus, etc.  But Pagan is a bit different.  It implies some sort of organised, ritualised belief system based around natural phenomena ...seasons, planetary movement, natural cycles, plants, animals, etc—rather than a God or gods.

It will be fun to give these ideas some thought.

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The concept of "gods" is also a very western one. The Egyptians thought of their gods as forces of nature, which is so different from how western tradition views the concept etc. so yeah, "pagan" could be redifined as nature-based spirituality, which would need a simpler word.

 

"Heathenry" is often meant nowadays by Asatru and other such groups to be mainly norse spirituality, which confuses things even more. Especially as, of course, there is disagreement.

 

Not all spiritually inclined are working with nature either, we now have people working with internet egregores (me included somewhat) or technology as a concept. There are practitioners,  ceremonial practitioners especially, who fall under the umbrella of Abrahamic religions.

 

Not simple to find new definitions, but so necessary.

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I have two definitions that I personally identify with (völva, fjölkunnig), but they are not English so I don’t use them often when taking to people I don’t know, because not everyone would understand what I mean. The words you mention here are ones I really only use on this forum. 

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All this is true. BUT.

 

Every time someone develops new words to solve an issue, new issues arise. Take the UK where it was decided that to avoid "stigma" for people with mental health issues, they should no longer be called patients, but "clients." Leaving aside that many of us (I was an inpatient at the time) felt that that stigmatised us even more - that we weren't seen as ill any more, which we were, just as ill as if we'd had TB or cancer- the net result was that "clients" came to mean people with mental health issues and we were back to square one.

 

The actual result in practice was that in our ward meetings - we were required to have them daily in order to be engaged in/ a part of the system treating us - we agreed unanimously that we were in future to be known as "nutters in the bin". The staff were horrified - but we had been given autonomy and we took it.

 

My point here is that it isn't the words - it's the way people choose to use them. Nothing you can do here will change anything - sorry !

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I call my religion Eclectic Personal Pantheism. I see the Divine in nature, in the celestial lights and stars, the cycles of growth and decay, but also in art, music and wherever people do good. 

 

Over the years, I have found points of connection with different traditions and goddesses, and they accompany me on my way through life. I believe in personal agency and the power of prayer, but it's never a certainty. There are witchy things I do and I've been called a witch since I was a child, or rather: a Hexe, but it's only one little part of me. 

 

Earth-based religion is also a good word but mine is rather earth-and-star-based... 

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Misterei

Posted (edited)

2 hours ago, gregory said:

Every time someone develops new words to solve an issue, new issues arise.

This strikes me as something Gurdjieff taught about the tragedy of the human condition ... every time humans try to "solve" one problem ... the "solution" somehow creates 3 more new problems.

 

I don't know if that applies to "aternative spiritualities" and the words we use to describe them them ... but yeah. Will we just end up with something worse or more confusing?

59 minutes ago, Nemia said:

I call my religion Eclectic Personal Pantheism. I see the Divine in nature, in the celestial lights and stars, the cycles of growth and decay, but also in art, music and wherever people do good ... Earth-based religion is also a good word but mine is rather earth-and-star-based... 

Yes, I too like "earth-based". The problem with Pagan and Heathen is that they exist in reference to Christianity / Islam / Judaism.

Any poly-theist religious would be called this by the mono-theists. For example Hindus are technically "pagans" but they don't get lumped-in with what we might call "NeoPagans".

 

People who follow Norse religion [asteru], or Afro-caribbean Voudou, or British Druidry , or Shinto, or whatnot ... can just name their religion.

 

But the practices of Neopaganism, Witchiness, Magick, etc. are so broad we can't have one word per se. We've also got a whole bunch of folks out there who defy definition.

 

Umbrella terms like "alternative spirituality" or earth-based religion" are all we've got for paths that defy a neat tidy description.

Edited by Misterei
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5 hours ago, gregory said:

Every time someone develops new words to solve an issue, new issues arise. Take the UK where it was decided that to avoid "stigma" for people with mental health issues, they should no longer be called patients, but "clients." Leaving aside that many of us (I was an inpatient at the time) felt that that stigmatised us even more - that we weren't seen as ill any more, which we were, just as ill as if we'd had TB or cancer- the net result was that "clients" came to mean people with mental health issues and we were back to square one.

 

This is because we have moved from a "medical model" of disability in the UK from the State to a "social model" in the last ten to twenty years. Instead of just [medicine] treating the person with physical / mental disability, the problems are society and you just have to remove the obstacles. This can be terrible or freeing depending on your point of view of this. It's an improvement if you have mobility problems but I think it's terrible if you have mental health and I have personal experience in this area. It doesn't really help the person at all. So they got rid of "patient" because of this ideology. Client is a way better new term btw than the old term they had to use which was "Service User", so patronisingly awful! If someone is not a patient, they are not "ill", they just have obstacles they need to overcome 🤷‍♂️. Anyway it's going off-topic but there is a specific reason for all the language change in this area. It's also really been used to not support disability long term as a method here.

 

Back to the topic, I've noticed young Pagans use the term Wiccan or Druid or whatever these days, they never use Pagan which is interesting. I think it's like the second or third wave of neopaganism now so sort of earth magic / paganism / witchcraft would be under Wiccan and Druid something separate.

 

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9 hours ago, DanielJUK said:

If someone is not a patient, they are not "ill", they just have obstacles they need to overcome 🤷‍♂️.

 

Um - bollocks to that. I was ILL. As the psychiatrist dealing with me said - my life had been so OTT stressful that I had effectively blown a fuse. It wasn't obstacles to overcome - how do you remove the obstacles of death in the family, things like that ? Bring them back to life ? I needed time, space and medication to heal - to replace the fuse, like. And there ARE people with MH issues who ARE ill and need meds to function.

Sorry :170:

 

But the point holds - new words don't fix anything.

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I agree @Arania - but as @gregory says 🤷‍♀️

...A really complex issue.

Inclusivity and diversity - are nowhere near global and even at the highest levels of "civility" can be just lip service glossing over, what? - millenia of conditioning?  I don't know.

 

The reason I was so attracted to Egyptian Mythology in my teens, was as you describe @Arania - God is the forces of nature, something that made much more sense to me from my own mystical experience, than my Catholic upbringing stated.

 

Most people are ignorant of the plethora of "earth-based religions/spirituality" out there - and so one just has to describe in detail each time, when you say I am X and they say Oh - so you are Z!!.  Ahhh - nope.

Just like I got used to always spelling my name out in full, every single time, and correcting pronunciation every single time - as people assume all sorts of things.

In my experience here - lots of people have no idea what pagan and wiccan mean.  And if they say "Witch" - then I say - that depends on your definition as there are many...    and then we have a conversation.

For example - my name Tanga (which by-the-way is my real name) is pronounced with the "Gha" - g. It is not said like Tanya.

And I hate Tanya.  And - because this name has so many meanings - but the most common being "bikini bottoms" - I often have people look at me strangely or start laughing when I tell them my name.  I've gotten used to that.   As a cosmopolitan person I am well away how one thing in one place, can mean a million different things in other places. And - it's their ignorance. So I proceed to instruct.

(Ignorance is one of the 3 main vices in Bhuddist Theology).

 

I didn't know about the "patient" vs "client" word use. Huh...  🤔

In my world - I cannot call my health visitors "patients" because I am not working in the medical world with a medical stamp on my practice. As a complementary/alternative therapist I am "allowed" to call them "clients".

Hmmmm  🤔🤔🤔🤔🤔...    I wonder about that now.

 

 

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There is a distinct difference between enforced relabelling and what a community wants to call itself, as the example proves. If any groups of purposed experts would relabel what is now called paganism this would of course not work.

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21 minutes ago, Tanga said:

my name Tanga (which by-the-way is my real name) is pronounced with the "Gha" - g. It is not said like Tanya.

Ah yeah, everyone keeps getting my son's Nigerian name wrong, he was at a point considering legally changing it.

 

I am often explaining, or trying to, my set of spirituality, but I prefer to avoid the topic by now as I am really not one thing. So I often just say I am Buddhist, which is definitely true. I don't feel the need to specify my specific set of buddhism, mainly because not coming from a traditionally Buddhist country, we are still building our own version of Buddhism anyway.

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22 minutes ago, Arania said:

Ah yeah, everyone keeps getting my son's Nigerian name wrong, he was at a point considering legally changing it.

 

I am often explaining, or trying to, my set of spirituality, but I prefer to avoid the topic by now as I am really not one thing. So I often just say I am Buddhist, which is definitely true. I don't feel the need to specify my specific set of buddhism, mainly because not coming from a traditionally Buddhist country, we are still building our own version of Buddhism anyway.

Nigerian names are challenging for most people - especially when they are long 🙂.

I personally take time to get peoples names right, and I tend to not like calling people by their "nick" names.

 

When a friend of mine said "you can call me Nessi" - I was like NO WAY. That is NOT your name!  (He had a really long name).

 

Another friend of mine legally changed her name (Hindu) - because everyone's contraction of it, ended up with it being a swear word 😑.

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1 hour ago, Tanga said:

For example - my name Tanga (which by-the-way is my real name) is pronounced with the "Gha" - g. It is not said like Tanya.

It never occurred to me that anyone would pronounce it like Tanya, but I guess that native English speakers might be inclined to do that.
 

I have yet to meet a single person outside of my country that can pronounce my real name correctly. But it’s fun to hear them try 😁

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I don't think of myself as a witch, more as a Wise Woman constantly in training 🙂    I think people should define THEMSELVES however they wish.  And yes, certain words or terms conjure up images that may not be particularly flattering.   

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5 hours ago, Tanga said:

because everyone's contraction of it, ended up with it being a swear word 

Oh my goddess, that' funny when it is not yourself having this problem.

 

My son's name is rather easy, but there is a very close Italian name popular in Germany so it always gets spelled wrong.

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17 hours ago, Raggydoll said:

It never occurred to me that anyone would pronounce it like Tanya, but I guess that native English speakers might be inclined to do that.
 

I have yet to meet a single person outside of my country that can pronounce my real name correctly. But it’s fun to hear them try 😁

In truth - because I do not speak my father's native tongue - I cannot pronounce my own name correctly.  Lol.

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fire cat pickles

Posted

17 hours ago, Raggydoll said:

It never occurred to me that anyone would pronounce it like Tanya, but I guess that native English speakers might be inclined to do that.
 

I have yet to meet a single person outside of my country that can pronounce my real name correctly. But it’s fun to hear them try 😁

 I've always thought "Tanga" with the hard "G" when I saw your name @Tanga 😉 

 

But.... We do have this thread:

 Shameless self-promotion, I know! For those who may be interested.

 

 

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3 minutes ago, fire cat pickles said:

 

But.... We do have this thread:

 Shameless self-promotion, I know! For those who may be interested.

 

 

🙂🙂

Try again - whatever thread that is, I don't have permission to see it.

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fire cat pickles

Posted

15 minutes ago, Tanga said:

🙂🙂

Try again - whatever thread that is, I don't have permission to see it.

Dang, it's in the Chatter Room--Subscribers only...

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18 hours ago, Raggydoll said:

It never occurred to me that anyone would pronounce it like Tanya, but I guess that native English speakers might be inclined to do that.
😁

 

On the contrary - native English speakers would see t as a hard G. Like Tanga briefs, Tango the drink, and so on. As pickles says.

 

47 minutes ago, fire cat pickles said:

 I've always thought "Tanga" with the hard "G" when I saw your name @Tanga 😉 

 

What he said.

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I'm curious about 'witch.'  There are umpteen 'witch' tarots out there, but what is a witch in that context?  After all the Halloween hee-haw, I'm inclined to believe that most people still see 'witch' and 'wicked' to still be connected. Witches are supposed to be on the move on Halloween, and that's considered something to avoid.

But people who identify as witches these days ...what do they do?  What powers do they have?  What powers are they attempting to cultivate?  What role do they see themselves as having?

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And that's different for everyone who is seen as or thinks of themself as witch. I think the witch tarots are all so different, too, reflecting different modern traditions. But they are all, in the end, based on western esoteric ideas and not on older traditions.

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1 hour ago, Chariot said:

I'm curious about 'witch.'  There are umpteen 'witch' tarots out there, but what is a witch in that context?  After all the Halloween hee-haw, I'm inclined to believe that most people still see 'witch' and 'wicked' to still be connected. Witches are supposed to be on the move on Halloween, and that's considered something to avoid.

But people who identify as witches these days ...what do they do?  What powers do they have?  What powers are they attempting to cultivate?  What role do they see themselves as having?

Alla Wikipeidia @Chariot:

 

"Neopagan witchcraft, sometimes referred to as The Craft, is an umbrella term for some neo-pagan traditions that include the attempted practice of magic[1] (also spelled 'magick').[2] These traditions began in the mid-20th century, and many were influenced by the witch-cult hypothesis; a now-rejected theory that persecuted witches in Europe had actually been followers of a surviving pagan religion. The largest and most influential of these movements was Wicca. Some other groups and movements describe themselves as "Traditional Witchcraft" to distinguish themselves from Wicca. 

In contemporary Western culture, some adherents of these religions, as well as some followers of New Age belief systems, may self-identify as "witches", and use the term "witchcraft" for their self-help, healing, or divination rituals.[3] Others avoid the term due to its negative connotationsReligious studies scholars class the various neopagan witchcraft traditions under the broad category of 'Wicca',[4][5] although many within Traditional Witchcraft do not accept that title.[6]

These Neopagans use definitions of witchcraft which are distinct from those used by many anthropologists and from some historic understandings of witchcraft, such as that of pagan Rome, which had laws against harmful magic.[7]"

 

 

As has been brushed upon - this is a huge and emotive topic. And so, you need to ask each self-professed witch what their definition of witch is - and NOT expect it to fit into the "main stream socio-cultural" category of: "old ladies with warts on their noses skulking about deliberately planning to do ill by supernatural means or otherwise".  Also probably an amount of reading around the subject would help.

 

Samhain (Halloween) - is the New Year for neopagan witches, the time of year when they honour their dead - like a number of other Spiritual practices both Pagan and not. And the time of year that is believed to be particularly "magical"  (veils between worlds being thin,

& therefore communication with the dead/ancestors/other is easier) - significant as neopagan witches practice magic.  Magic here (sometimes spelled magick - more reading here, this was from Aleister Crowley) is the practice of using ones will to influence the material world.

If you are thinking "say what?" - then I'll describe it like this - magic, is a bit like when someone gets on their knees to pray to God for a change of some sort. The prayee is using their will in a deferent manner, asking the power they believe in, to influence an outcome.

Only, how this is done takes a different form - or can often take a different form.

 

So - All those 'Witch' Tarot decks out there - the best person to answer what sort of witch they are depicting would be the authors of those decks.

 

Others can add more input here I'm sure.  

 

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Huh - seems I can't edit immediately after I have posted anymore...  so just adding this:

 

"Witchcraft: (in a modern context) is a religious practice involving magic and affinity with nature, usually within a pagan tradition."

However - you don't have to be pagan to practice witchcraft. And you don't have to practice witchcraft to be pagan.

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So true, Tanga.  And recently I was thinking about other things associated with witches.  I have seen SO many films where witches are into tarot.  Not saying someone who identifies as a witch or anything like a witch can't be, but not all witches are readers, just like all readers aren't witches, but the two seem to go hand in hand in the media, films, books.

So I totally get what you're saying about things being lumped together.  

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