In Paganism there is no such thing as the “Pagan Police” to enforce what or who is or is not Pagan.
However, there are some benchmarks to help you identify if someone is genuine, misinformed, or just otherwise larping.
Which Witch is Which
There is a common confusion in the greater societal mindset. This confusion is that Witch and Pagan are interchangeable. Not all Pagans are Witches, and not all Witches are Pagans.
A Witch can come from any or no religious or spiritual background. Simply being a Witch does not indicate or make one a Pagan. Just like one being Pagan does not indicate or make one a Witch.
This confusion stems from Abrahamism, which does use the terms interchangeably in a derogatory manner.
Dreadfully misinformed individuals comprise of a fairly large cross-section of those who claim to be Pagan.
Some may even truly believe and otherwise think they are Pagan, maybe because they are a Witch and were mislabeled by someone else or they misunderstand what Paganism is. Either way, this cross-section of individuals who identify as Pagan do a huge disservice because they perpetuate misunderstanding and ignorance while often strengthening inaccurate stereotypes.
The vast majority of the misinformed come from 1 related issue, Abrahamic notions corrupting Paganism.
One group, are honest witches, often of an Abrahamic faith, who have been called Pagan by their religious peers. Most people of an Abrahamic Faith use Pagan and Witch interchangeably, and often in a derogatory way as previously mentioned.
This issue often culminates in an individual no longer feeling welcome in their religious community, or a religious community excommunicating them for their practices. Through this perceived or actual exile, these individuals often embrace the moniker of Pagan. They begin to connect and identify with the Pagan community while maintaining their previous faith. Ultimately, the Pagan community gets flooded with individuals of non-Pagan faiths, and often Pagans are easygoing and just go with the flow, paying no mind to the overall damage being done. On this same coin, and often an evolution of the previous process, are the other related group, the self-proclaimed “Christio-Pagans”.
The benchmark we need to be aware of is that if an individual subscribes to any Abrahamic notion, they are not by literal definition or by our Sanctuary definition a Pagan. These Abrahamic Witches and self-proclaimed “Christio-Pagans” are actually “Abra-Hermetic”. They may be Universalist or Omnist, but not Pagan.
These individuals are a community upon themselves, incompatible with mainstream Abrahamic denominations and incompatible with Paganism. However, the general lack of interest to come together to form their own set of denominations, teachings, and community has resulted in the Pagan community becoming a host.
Make no mistake, such individuals are parasitic and destructive to the Pagan community and faith.
It is important to emphasize if it is Abrahamic in any way, it is an Abrahamic denomination and not Pagan.
We need to better understand our history in this regard, and how Paganism became fractured, corrupted, and even erased in the first place. Allowing “Abra-Hermetic” individuals to run freely in the Pagan community is paramount to allowing a fox in the hen house. It is welcoming the very harm into our community that has explicitly caused so much destruction and has caused a majority of Pagans to rely on reconstruction in the first place.
I am not saying to disrespect them, or their spiritual truth. Instead of the Pagan community playing host to humor these destructive ideologies, we should instead help them form their faith community and denominations apart from ours.
This way they may enjoy the company and reliability of having their foundations to teach and live by, their own religious identity.
There are enough of these individuals we have hosted in the greater Pagan community. It is time for them to part our harbors and establish themselves independently for the survival of Paganism as a whole. They need to move along to their own foundations before they cause any more corruption, convolution, or harm to ours.
The Intellectually Confused
Though the intellectually confused is not a benchmark on if one is Pagan or not, it is worth discussion.
There is a lot of individuals in the Pagan community who are seriously misinformed and love to perpetuate and teach misinformation. There is honestly no right way to be a Pagan. Pagan is Pagan. As long as someone is wholly and genuinely Pagan, that is what they are, even if they are dangerously incorrect on many things.
When one takes their first step on the spiritual journey that is Paganism, they likely know next to nothing.
On that journey, you will come across real pagans, fake pagans, and several conflicting ideas.
Many simple things get tossed around the community that can be accurate or inaccurate, and usually what you are first exposed to is what you assimilate into your spiritual truth.
Be prepared to grow spiritually when you come across new information and adapt your worldview, go with the flow. You don’t have to be bummed out or angry when presented with a more accurate teaching or source. It is an opportunity to fine-tune your spiritual journey and religious understanding. There is also a great deal of information that was once hypothetical to fill in the blanks or to put something to rest that has been commonly accepted but is incorrect due to new discoveries, often archeological. An example of information that is commonly passed around but inaccurate is how most people teach The Wheel of the Year.
The individuals called Playgans can either be malevolent or benevolent. In general, they hold no Pagan beliefs but enjoy the aesthetic. Much like at a renaissance faire, the people who dress up and participate do not live a medieval lifestyle. The same go for Playgans, they dress up and participate. It is not usually harmful, and it can be fun to see the creativity of these individuals. However, it can have a negative side, some do accentuate stereotypes and some use the aesthetic for shock and awe. Such as the usage of Pagan symbols in racially charged marches. These people are not Pagan, these symbols hold no religious significance to them. They make religious symbols appear to be radically motivated by the uneducated populous. This is in fact dangerous and can lead to harassment and assault of religious individuals doing nothing more than wearing symbols of their faith from the misidentification the general public has. So as Playgans can be a fun way to express creativity, they can also be individuals who are causing harm in society and disparaging the Pagan identity as a form of concealment and misleading of who they are. It is also important to consider, one should not Live Action Role Play (LARP) a sincerely held belief, faith, lifestyle, handicap, or ethnicity to name a few. Role Playing as a Pagan can be just as offensive as someone Role Playing a person of color or of the Jewish faith. It can be inappropriate. Not that we should be overly sensitive, but we should be aware when something is an act of mockery, offense, or hate.
Hate Groups Appropriating Pagan Identity
It is also notable that we discuss hate groups that appropriate pagan identity.
This can be a confusing and hard-to-grasp subject for many. These groups can simply be putting on a front in an attempt to protect their ideology from prosecution, but some of these groups actually believe in religious components to justify their hate. There are some of these groups that are genuine religious institutions, and some that are non-governmental organizations and groupings of individuals without any legal organization established. It is important to understand these differences in order to help such individuals leave behind hate if they are ready to rehabilitate from the hate they have lived.
Some individuals when they rehabilitate will need strong religious connections that are not steeped in hate but are of the faith they held as well. Such as an individual who was involved with a Heathen hate group, may desire to stay connected to their Heathen faith in constructive and healthy ways. Where someone who was from a group that only appropriated a Pagan identity without any sincere religious aspects will not really care to be rehabilitated into the Pagan community and would need help making strong relationships that are healthy and constructive in the communities they are in fact part of.
On the surface, it is always difficult to tell if such groups are a front or really have religious components. The difference honestly matters very little in the big picture. Where this matters, is on an individual basis, understanding what the needs are for an individual who seeks to leave behind that life of hate. So it should always be discussed on an individual basis if trying to help when such a person reaches out to you.
It must also be said, a great number of these hateful individuals will never change. They have no desire, and they are captive to their hate. There will never be any hope of rehabilitation for such individuals. It is best just to maintain a safe distance, even if it is a friend or family member. Those who have no interest in changing will have every interest in changing you.
The group responsible for the most harm inflicted on the Modern Pagan community as a whole is Paygans.
Paygans can be an individual, a business, or a non-profit. Usually, Paygans are individuals with a fake business, a fake organization, or just going by their own name. These individuals exploit the Pagan community for their faith in order to enrich themselves. Some examples of their activities include paid altar blessings, paid “ranks” in their “coven”(usually not even a legal fiction), divination for hire, paid admission to rituals, spiritual healing practices for hire, spell work for hire, and simple blessings for hire. This is not an exhaustive list. It almost always involves money going to the enrichment of an individual by exploiting the faith of another individual to divest them.
As an added word of caution, one should be aware of “Cold Reading” and various tactics used by Paygan cons to get you to buy their services.
Often, they will make very generalized messages, or say that someone is in danger. Maybe they will talk about someone losing their job, or someone who is being stalked. They will try to make statements that make you think they are talking about you, and have you pay them for the message or divination they have for you. It is an old trick, keep an eye out for it.
Do not confuse Paygans with Provisioners.
A Provisioner fulfills a vital role in the greater metaphysical and Pagan religious community. They may sell spell kits, they may sell herbs, they may sell crystals, they may sell books, they may sell charms, they may sell altar tools, they may sell divination tools. The list can go on and on. This is honest work, and often necessary for the modern Witch or Pagan. Some Provisioners may or may not be Pagan, and that is really irrelevant if you are getting the tangible things you need to practice your beliefs or your craft. Some provisioners may rent space to Paygans, but I advise you to ignore these offerings and focus your buying power on tangible goods, as this will improve the quantity and quality of goods an honest Provisioner can supply. Some provisioners may also embrace offering Paygan services as well, again, ignore these offerings and focus on the tangible. I would also avoid any pre-made blessing or spell, instead, opt for a kit where you do the spiritual or metaphysical work yourself.
Sometimes, you may encounter spell powders and no proxy for a kit to make it yourself, use them at your own discretion. The functional use of the powder is still done by you and some formulas are simply guarded secrets. Much like oil for blessing, ritual soap, incense for a ritual, or intent-imbued altar tools. It is more of a tool.
It is important to understand, with the intangible services provided by someone who is a Paygan, there are also genuine Pagans and Witches who provide the same services at no cost, donation optional to a legitimate 501(c)3, or as a fundraiser for a legitimate 501(c)3. These services are of a deeply religious nature for a great majority of Pagans. Due to the religious nature of these services, we should not charge for them, and especially not charge for them for self-enrichment. We should also be cautious that any claims to support a charity are genuine and that the charities are verifiably genuine and in good standing. There are many scams out there under the guise of a charity, and that is too far beyond the scope of this article to cover them all, so just do your footwork. If the suspected charity is in the USA, you can search by the name of the charity on the IRS website to validate whether they are indeed a charity in good standing or not. If the name does not appear, they are obviously not a charity. https://apps.irs.gov/app/eos/
This same tool can be used to validate the legitimacy of a properly formed Sanctuary/Temple/Coven.
Now that we have discussed some of the aspects to be watchful of, we should consider what kinds of individuals we generally consider Pagan.
First, they hold no Abrahamic faith, leanings, beliefs, or notions. While this alone does not make one Pagan, it sets the right environment where one could genuinely be.
Next, an individual may follow a path, or a mix of paths, or their own spiritual truth in a manner consistent with what is understood as Paganism.
For example, they may believe in a Goddess, in many Gods and Goddesses, they may believe in nature as a deity, or have no deity, they may call themselves a Wiccan or a Heathen, or a number of other path identifiers.
They may, or may not, employ witchcraft. They may practice with a coven, a sanctuary, a temple, or be a solitary practitioner.
Generally, most people who claim they are Pagan, really are.
There is no real set constant as to who is or is not a Pagan in honesty. It is a Label, and we go by a more honest and academic definition in our Sanctuary. Just as the other sections of this article are what we look at in order to determine if one is genuine. In our community, we welcome people from various walks. In our coven and clergy, is where these things really begin to matter. There are just respects we maintain in our community to make sure what goes on within is in harmony with our spiritual mission.
As I mentioned at the beginning of this article, there is no such thing as the Pagan Police.
Even within the greater Pagan and Witch community is the debate on if rules should or should not be followed.
Some Pagans have no need for organized religion and prefer to practice alone, even in secret.
This article is to give some surface-level advice as you navigate this larger community sphere, to help build some common sense and an understanding that not everyone is who they claim to be.
The very definition of Pagan is debated from person to person and group to group. If you ask 10 Pagans the right way to do anything you shall receive 10 answers. Many answers may be similar, and many may be unique, but all of them are different. The generally accepted definition of what a “Pagan” is in a modern context, is one who has rejected, or not accepted Abrahamic Faith. If you go back to the etymology, Pagan simply meant a country dweller, one who did not reside in a city. Either way, no matter if one is a solitary believer, or in a coven, legitimacy is important. Our spiritual truth is not a joke, or a notion to bend into ignorance or hate. Our moral compass is in our hearts, not explicitly in any theology, though some Sanctuaries do impart values in their doctrines. The theology of a Pagan is natural, and the teachings of Paganism, much like any other faith, help us better understand right and wrong. It also imparts natural order and cycles of nature. Our ways, are often humble and giving. It is important to protect what we are in our respective Paths of Paganism. It is important to make a presence that is not open to mockery, especially from within.
Being able to identify harm, understand why it is harmful, call it out, and adapt is one of the many reforms we are going to have to undergo to be a valid and respectable grouping of faiths to the world. I am sure at the time I am writing this, many of those who are now Pagan were not always, and there are often deeply personal reasons often related to some form of harm they had received in some Abrahamic faith or incompatibility with their spiritual views as to why they have come to this spiritual truth for themselves. Abrahamic faiths are in decline because of the unwillingness to correct harmful practices, and Paganism is in no way immune from this truth. It is also true that Paganism has been in a growing phase these past 40 years, with teachings being created and reformed and paths being reconstructed from what we can discern from ancient sources. Once, all faith in the world was Pagan, and Paganism as a whole was nearly eradicated by genocidal and ethnocidal conquests of Abrahamic faiths. Paganism has a chance these days to become as mainstream as Abrahamism, even bringing respect and validity to those who are on their own solitary path and practicing alone. We have a chance of ridding the misconception that Pagans hold convoluted spiritualities and spawn con artists. We just have to choose to take the higher road and no longer humor harms.