In North America and the UK the “Satanic” moral panics of the 1980s and 1990s are seen as an unfortunate rement of the recent past. A time when fear of secret “occult” and “Satanic” forces led innocent men and women to be accused of, and sometimes imprisoned for, imagined ghastly crimes against children. Sadly, these panics are not a remnant of the past, they continue to flare up across the world, and now that modern Pagan religions are truly global in scope, we are increasingly involved in, or endangered by, these panics.
- In South Africa, a country with a small but thriving Pagan community, religious organizations and government education officials are teaming up to combat “the growing problem of Satanism and occult practices.” Quote: “The MEC also said that Satanism and occultism were being dealt with “when they arise and get reported.” The department said the MoU will also help in tackling issues such as school discipline, teenage pregnancy and spiritual disturbances including Satanism at schools.” This comes after the death of Keamogetswe Sefularo, who allegedly was killed in a “Satanist” attack.
- Witch-hunts and witch-killings have been an ongoing issue in parts of India, and Ipsita Roy Chakraverti, India’s most famous Wiccan adherent, believes the religion can be a beneficial influence in these cases. Chakraverti also believes that Wicca can have an affect on the treatment of women in India, especially after a violent gang-rape that gained international attention. Quote: “The Delhi gang-rape was a turning point. Women need to speak out and after the incident, we have seen how they have spoken up. In a small way, Wicca can give women that confidence and ability to speak out. It is a strong woman’s craft. Every strong woman is a witch.”
- In the African nation of Gabon, an adherent of the UFO religion Raelism has been arrested and accused of “witchcraft,” despite the fact that Raelian’s don’t believe in, or practice, magic. Quote: “Raelian Guide Jean Rene Ogoula Ale has been sitting in jail for over 2 weeks on the absurd charge of witchcraft,” said Brigitte Boisselier, Ph.D, spokesperson for the International Raelian Movement (IRM) in a statement released today. “It’s outrageous beyond belief that this could happen in 2013. Ale is an engineer and a spiritual guide, but he’s in jail because the judicial system of Gabon operates as though sorcery really exists.” Leaving aside one’s personal feelings about Raelians for a moment, the implications of this arrest should not be lost on other religious minorities that are starting to have a global presence.
I think it is imperative that we start thinking of ourselves as a global movement. We aren’t just in Europe and the West, modern Pagans are endangered in Syria and Egypt, and the surviving Pagan religions of Russia (and their modern cousins) are increasingly threatened by draconian laws against “extremism.” We are in Africa and India, we are global in scope, we are no longer a handful of visionaries in England, New York, and California. This does not mean we should improperly claim innocent victims of witch-hunts as “ours,” but we should recognize that we can’t ignore the ramifications of ongoing attacks on “witchcraft,” “sorcery,” and the “occult” in nations across this planet. The boundaries are now getting too blurry to pretend it won’t become a major issue for us in the decades to come.
It is for this reason, among others, that I think Pagan involvement with the global-scale interfaith movement is vital. As these issues intensify, it is imperative that Pagan voices are in a place where we can be heard. Where we can connect with influential men and women in positions to help us. Individuals like Don Frew, Patrick McCollum, Andras Corban Arthen, Phyllis Curott, Gus diZerega, or Angie Buchanan are going to be increasingly vital to how we are perceived outside our most populous strongholds. We have to move beyond the romantic ideas about who we are, and were, and work harder on pragmatic advances that will help all Pagans (and our allies). In addition, here in North America, the UK, Australia, and other places where being an out Pagan is (relatively) safer, we need to continue our outreach and dialog with African Traditional Religions, African Diasporic faiths, and other traditions who are experiencing the brunt of ill-informed and discriminatory beliefs about their practices.
Modern Paganism has been more successful than I think many people could have anticipated, and with that success comes new and greater challenges as we move forward. I think we are able to overcome these obstacles, but only if we are ready to take a clear-eyed view of what is happening in the world.