My journey from Christianity to atheism didn’t happen in a day. I didn’t pick myself up off the street in Omagh, dust my shoulders and say ‘well, atheism’s for me!” as I clicked my heels and went on my merry way. It was a journey that took a number of years and included several pit stops. Among these were quick detours into Buddhism, deism, and even a brief look at Taoism.
My longest spiritual wayside on the road to atheism was the faith of several women in my family, most notably my grandmother. While they practised and acknowledged some Christian traditions, they were primarily what one would call animists. But it was even less than that, hardly a religion at all. My grandmother simply acknowledged and ‘worshipped’ the land. The soil, the sea, the sun and stars, the trees, she acknowledged their power and believed that certain actions under certain circumstances yielded certain results. She had learned her beliefs from her mother, who learned it from her father, all the way back to who knows how long. It’s a dying ember of pre-Christian Irish culture, and while I don’t think I ever really believed in it, I respected it as part of my people’s history.
It wasn’t until I came to America that I was exposed to the commercialised, bastarised, culture-grubbing version 9f my grandmother’s beliefs. And it took about five minutes exposure before I was deeply annoyed.
It’s called modern paganism, or neo-paganism. It encompasses all sorts of different branches like Wicca, heathenism, neo-druidism, neo-shamanism, and others. Despite what they might claim, the origins of the neo-pagan movement is actually quite recent. Starting with the renewed interest in Classical works and Greco-Roman mythology during the Renaissance period, the neo-pagan movement was truly launched with the Romantic era of the 18th and 19th centuries. Aided along by leaders like Aleister Crowley, the 1960’s and 70’s provided the final revival that created the neo-pagan movement that thrives in the alternative bookstores of today. These movements center around the beliefs that they are the heirs to pagan traditions that date back to the pre-Christian eras of antiquity. Many of them practise rites, spells, and rituals that they claim originated with the pagans of thousands of years ago. Many pagans worship the gods of ancient civilisations like Rome, Egypt, and the Celtic and Germanic tribes. You can go into any Barnes and Noble around and find shelves of books with ancient mystical practises, healing rituals, spells and incantations, and histories of the ancient pagans.
There’s only one problem. Most of the pagans left little, if any record of their religious practises. One can find the odd fragment of the Egyptian Book of the Dead, but other religious traditions left no trace of themselves in our histories. The druids of Britain and Ireland never wrote down their practises. So how do the pagans and Wiccans carry on the traditions that they claim?
Culture appropriation. And lies.
Take for example, this book about Celtic Wicca. Witta: An Irish Pagan Tradition by Edain McCoy claims to be a historical review and insight to pre-Christian Irish paganism. And, before you even open the cover, the book begins to lie.
It claims that Witta is “the Irish Gaelic term for the Anglo-Saxon word Wicca.” But the Irish language doesn’t even have a ‘w’ and the letter combinations don’t make sense in our tongue.
McCoy claims that the maypole was an old Beltane fertility dance performed by the pagans. The Maypole came to Ireland in the 18th century from Britain.
But most hilariously infuriating is this little gem. McCoy claims that the Irish Great Goddess held the potato as sacred. “Because they grew underground, potatoes were sacred to the Goddess and used in female fertility rites,” she claims.
Yes, the Irish apparently had a potato goddess. Even though potatoes originate in Peru and didn’t come to Ireland until 1,100 years after the Christian conversion of Ireland, we had an ancient potato goddess.
I can’t be as virulently angry at paganism as I am at Christianity. Wiccans never blew up streets in Ireland. Neo-pagans didn’t enslave thousands of young women in the Laundries. Instead, they have targeted something else that is very near and dear to me. The culture of my home and of my own people.
My native language has been twisted and sold as a ‘sacred tongue’ that can be used for mystical spells. The history of my home has been appropriated and changed to fit a more pagan-friendly slant. The British tried to destroy our culture by outright banning it. Our customs survived, but what the neo-pagans have done is far worse. They’ve commercialised it for money. To sell books and jewelry and masterclasses on our history.
All religions are based in deceit and lies in some capacity or another. But the Wiccans and pagans are lying about my home.
And we’re not the only culture to suffer such treatment. Not even close. Go online or to any pagan festival and you’ll find ‘authentic’ Native American shaman rituals, voodoo and hoodoo rites, Egyptian prayers for protection, and more. Languages are twisted into something that’s less than a shell of what they are meant to be. Histories are exploited and sold as religious truth. On and on it goes.
And what does it matter if we object? What does it matter of those of us born into the land, raised in these cultures, taught in these languages, object to seeing them bartered off like trinkets? My culture is part of my skin, it’s part of who I am. The neo-pagans have turned it into a second-hand sport jacket that you can get at a bargain price and dress up your spiritual heritage.