It often said that “a rose by any other name would smell just as sweet” and while it’s a lovely, romantic notion, it’s hardly practical. The words we use carry over many pre-concieved notions and we’re responsible for considering that as we communicate. In the light of Kathy Lee Gifford’s’s gaffe, I think it’s time for us to examine the words we use. By we, I mean we “pagans”.

Take the word pagan, which many of us use to describe ourselves. We really aren’t pagans. The word has always distinctly refered to the uncivilized, the barbaric and the un-Christian. It’s been used to refer to “nasty, bad” people for ages. The people who call themselves Pagan today are actually Neo-Pagan.

With this in mind, we cannot be getting defensive when people use the word ‘Pagan’ in a less-than-positive way. It seem’s everyone is jumping down Gifford’s throat and I’m incredibly dissappointed. A two-second comment has turned people into raging teenagers!

Some people were less appalled by the comment itself than by her ignorance towards neo-paganism itself. Believe it or not, many people have no idea what Wicca or neo-paganism or reconstructionism is! No, this isn’t a shame, it’s an opportunity to educate. Plenty of people also don’t know about Jainism, Seventh-Day-Adventists, that there is more than one war happening in Iraq and that Gandhi was sexist by Western standards (including mine.) We can’t flip-out every time someone doesn’t know what we think they should. If so, we’d find a lot of people to be angry at us.

Someone simply needs to politely inform Gifford that there is now a very large number of people who consider themselves “pagan” and that many felt insulted by her outdated use of the word. That’s it.

Pagan is a reclaimed term so it is perfectly understandable that, by using it, you’re going to get less than pleasant reactions. The same goes for the word Witch.

Why do we call ourselves Witches and Pagans – which I do, I might add – when those words in no way explain what we are to people who don’t know any better?

Raven Grimassi uses the term “strega” – Italian for Witch – to refer to practitioners of his brand of Italian Witchcraft, Stregheria. Italians have never called themselves “streghe”. As far as Italians were concerned, Witches were evil, “nasty, bad!” things who only did harm. Yet there were many folk healers, mediums and spiritual counselors who were sought out for they’re services. To this day, Italians and Italian-Noth-Americans still seek out healers who can remove the evil-eye, and they definitely aren’t Witches as far as they’re concerned.

So why not, instead, call ourselves herbal healers, spiritual journeyers, honourers of the land, ancestor worshippers, energy crafters, followers of the Old Gods, mystics, nature meditators… Are we not all of those things, and more?

The pagan reaction to Gifford was tactless and is comically turning into a witch hunt, something that those involved should be ashamed of. Please, when dealing with those who aren’t aware of your religion, be patient.


See also: Daven. On Picking Your Battles. Daven’s Journal.