Witchcraft and Paganism do not go hand-and-hand

Jason Cominetto ('10)/Eastside Underground Editor

J = Jason Cominetto    P = Jennifer Lane                   

Mention a witch and one will probably think of a pointy hat, broomstick and bubbling cauldrons. The truth is that while witches, or those with other spiritual beliefs, exist in modern day, this portrayal of horrored-up ridiculousness is far from the image and lifestyle of real witches. Though she doesn’t believe in witchcraft, I had the opportunity to talk over the phone with Jennifer Lane, a Paganist. Paganism has a bad reputation for being home to Satanists and violence, but after speaking with Jennifer it becomes apparent that this could not be farther from the truth.

J: Hello, Jennifer, how are you doing?

P: I’m swell, and you?

J: I’m doing fine. Now what exactly is the terminology for your lifestyle?

P: Well different people give it different names, but the broad scope of it would be Pagan. Under that umbrella it is a multitude of different sub-sects. It’s kind of like Christianity, which has Catholics, Protestants, and underneath the Protestant umbrella are Lutherans and Baptists. That’s where it sub-sects and there’s different schools of thought with every belief.

J: Now how long have you been Pagan?

P: About fourteen years.

J: What drew you into it and what did you find interesting about it?

P: When I was a kid I was always fascinated with different mythologies and different cultures. I was raised Christian, my father is a Catholic and my mother was a Protestant and I tried both. I tried both philosophies and nothing really seemed to fit. When I met up with some friends that were practicing [Paganism] they turned me in and it felt more comfortable. 

J: What exactly does being a Pagan pertain to and what exactly do you do that is different from other religions?

P: The main difference is that we are a more nature based religion; it tends to be more earth based and spiritual where we know there is an external force that is all around us as opposed to necessarily one infinite being. It also tends to focus on a duality; there’s a goddess and a god, as opposed to one god. That’s generally the common thread, whether it’s polytheistic or ditheistic, that depends on the person and the school of practice.

J: So it’s more spiritual then other beliefs or practices? 

P: I wouldn’t say that. Every religion has its own level of spirituality, and from what I’ve seen with Christianity most people believe that god is this person or this one deity, where as Pagans tend to believe that the god and goddess are in everything. They’re in leaves, they’re in animals, they’re in the ground, they’re everywhere.

J: From my knowledge of Paganism it doesn’t seem like it has a good reputation among popular audiences. How do you respond if anybody criticizes you because of your beliefs?

P: At this point I’ve gotten used to it. Most of the time if [others] are willing to sit down with me without the stuff where they are trying to “save me,” I’m usually pretty open to it. When people get on me and try to question my belief or make it sound like it’s dark and it’s bad I just tell them that’s not how I am, and that if [they] saw how I lived my life [they] wouldn’t say that. Most of the people that know me don’t know [about my beliefs]; I don’t make it a big stink or go around talking about my spiritual beliefs with anybody, but when they ask I tell them I don’t necessarily believe in Christianity. When people start going onto the negative on it with the devil, murder, Satanism and the occult I say there is no devil to believe in. And a lot of the fundamentals of Pagan beliefs are par none, we believe in the comic law that whatever you send out is gonna come back to you.

J: So that whole stereotype about being witches will spells and stuff is completely incorrect?

P: Well there is a difference between Wicca and witchcraft. Wicca is a belief based on older beliefs of midwifery and herbalism and that’s basically what witchcraft is [based around]. Witchcraft is like the magic philosophy behind the whole thing. You can practice spells, you can be a polytheist, you can be a witch and be a Christian and you can be a witch and be an atheist. Wicca tends to be more of the actual religion side of it.

J: So do you practice Wicca?

P: I do not practice Wicca. I tend to be more agnostic in my beliefs; I believe in external forces and I balance in duality between the goddess and the god. I don’t necessarily believe in a straight religion, I’ve never been like that, but I do study up on the different mythologies and belief systems of other cultures. I tend to sway toward Celtic practices and the Celtic belief system. It’s like when you went to school and learned about the many Egyptian gods; Celtic mythology has their own as well.

J: Are there any tips or advice that you would give to anybody trying to become a Pagan?

P: First would be to read up. Follow your own heart and that’s gonna lead you to where you want to be. It’s not going to be what somebody else tells you because that’s what it really comes down to and that’s what put me off of other belief practices. I don’t like people telling me what I should think and how I should feel and what I should believe and following your own heart and doing your own thing tends to create a more open bond with you and nature. Once you figure that out, do your homework and find what best suits you, then go with it. As long as you don’t hurt anybody and don’t push your beliefs on anybody else then that’s generally my basic philosophy on it.

J: Is there a Pagan community in the area?

P: Absolutely, it’s the Universalist Church on Kings Highway in Cherry Hill near Church Road. They have a Pagan group there and they have full moon rituals and it’s free and open to the public and they welcome new people all the time.

J: Are there any stereotypes about your belief that you would like to call off as completely ridiculous?
P: The devil worshipping gets to me sometimes. I get that a lot, especially because we live in a society of fear. I’m not trying to belittle anybody’s belief system but I know that generally a lot of Christianity and Catholicism intimidate through fear and tend to guide people by fear. Saying that if you don’t do this you’re going to hell and if you don’t believe this you’re going to hell, and that instills fear and mistrust in a lot of people that don’t believe the same things that they believe. With that, anybody that’s different automatically shut off. I’ve been on the receiving end of religious intolerance in my workplace and in my life and it’s not fun.

J: Do you ever have any regrets on your decision to practice Paganism because of the stereotypes that you have been succumbed to.

P: No, not at all. It’s not for anybody else to judge. I shouldn’t change the way I feel and live my life because they should feel differently.

J: With Halloween right around the corner I have to know, is there any significance of Halloween night?

P: Oh absolutely. Just so you are aware a lot of the popular holidays that we have today are based off of Pagan old way ceremonies, religions and celebrations. Even Christmas has its ties to the winter solstice, which is around the 21st and 22nd of December, and Christmas is three days after it. As for Halloween, it is known as Samhain and is really about celebrating our ancestry and celebrating the dead. The people that have passed on that are no longer with us. When we have our meals we set out a place for that person, we have the meal with them. The Mexicans also do it, el Dia de los Muertos, the Day of the Dead, they do that as well. They entice the dead with candy and flowers and welcome them into their home and that’s where it comes from. The masks and the darkness of all of it is to keep the bad spirits away and the good spirits in.

J: So do you guys celebrate the popular type of Halloween, like dressing up and having candy and all that?

P: Oh yeah, I still do all of that, I love it, I’m a big kid at heart. My family doesn’t celebrate that the way that I celebrate it, so to help with their uncomfortableness of all of it I still do what I do with them. I take my nephew trick or treating, we carve Jack-O-Lanterns and I got them into the Great Pumpkin and it’s a hoot, I love it. But when all is said and done I still have my time for me when I take all my time and reflect on people that left this world that I was close to.

J: Are there any final things you would like to say?

P: Just that everybody needs to open their minds a little bit and know that not everybody is going to think the same way. Don’t judge any people on what they believe because that’s going to come back on you too.