Writing about Paganism

Nimue Brown

There are a range of ways in which authors write about Paganism. Each approach has its advantages and limitations, and it pays to know what it is that you want from a book, when trying to figure out what to spend your time and money on. This is also an issue for anyone thinking about writing, because some approaches suit some authors better than others.


There is a great deal to be said about historical Paganism, what we know, and what we can infer. Some authors are more interested in guessing than in facts, but so long as you are really clear about which is which, it’s all fine. A good historical author writes about what’s known, and what might reasonably go in the gaps. Nicholas Mann’s The Avebury Cosmos, for example, talks about what’s known about the skies over ancient Avebury, and what’s known about the construction process of the site, and what we could infer from this about how people might have been living and thinking. The line between certainty and possibility is clear. Taking a somewhat different approach, Laura Perry in Ariadne’s Thread explores what’s known about Minoan religion, and how we can blend that with modern Wicca to make a practice that works – again the lines are clearly drawn.

History can tell us a lot about what ancient people did – although it usually has to rely on physical evidence. It isn’t easy inferring belief from objects, although any surviving imagery (as with the Minoans) can be a great help. For this to be of use to a modern Pagan, rather than just of interest, the author has to handle how the past relates to the present. The value in a historically orientated book can often depend on how well the author deals with issues of relevance.

Books of history written by non-Pagans are different again, because history is not generally written with an eye to modern utility, so what we take from conventional approaches to history is down to us. Ronald Hutton’s books fall into this category, for the greater part. It’s generally easy to tell whether a book assumes you are curious, or intending to work with the content in some way. If there’s an assumption that you’re working with the content, watch out for how that’s being constructed for you.

Contemporary reporting

Some writing exists largely as a survey of modern belief or practice. I’d cite James Nichol’s Contemplative Druidry as an obvious example, or Mark Townsend’s Jesus through Pagan Eyes. Both books include a lot of voices, and give an overview of how certain things are seen, understood and approached. Paganism 101 from Moon Books functions in a similar way, giving snapshots into the values, practices and beliefs of 101 contemporary Pagans.

The strength of this kind of book is its lack of dogmatism – you can see an array of possibilities and no one is held up above another – what you like best is for you to decide. Seeing this array may give you a better sense of where you fit, or may inspire you to explore new avenues. Generally this kind of reporting doesn’t go into the kind of details that would allow you to really develop a personal path off the back of it, but it can be good for opening doors.


In this kind of book, the author writes specifically about first hand experiences. Emma Restall Orr has made this form her own, and Cat Treadwell is following that same tradition. Mark Townsend’s The Gospel of Falling Down is a powerful example of someone writing from personal experience, and it’s something I’ve tended towards in books like When a Pagan Prays, andDruidry and the Ancestors.

When experiential books work, they really work – the immediacy of experience, the intensity of what’s explored, the emotional depth and the detail can make these incredibly rich reads. If the author is not dogmatic and just offers their experience as nothing more than that, such books can open up a vista of possibilities for the reader. If the author insists on the primacy of their experience, I find that annoying, and less than helpful. Not all authors recognise the limitations of their own experiences and that what happens to them may not be universal. With this kind of writing, so much depends on whether you gel with the author as a person, and whether their outlook is resonant for you.


Academic writing may draw on history, psychology, anthropological studies, religious studies, or the experiential and contemporary reporting of other writers, and more. On the whole they are more reliable sources (although I’d make an exception for Dr Anne Ross and her shamelessly circular logic) for people seeking knowledge and insight. The linguistic style is often the deal breaker for readers – either you like the language and tone of academic books, or you don’t, there’s not much room on the fence with this one.

 Academic books tend to be amazing for bringing together a lot of information, but weaker in terms of giving you something you might use for personal practice. The exception here is philosophy, which is an inherently thinky and academic sort of subject such that the act of doing it naturally engages you with other people’s thinking and writing. Brendan Myers is without a doubt the go-to academic for all things relating to Pagan philosophy. He’s also a very accessible author who does not alienate his readers with language non-experts might find impenetrable.


There’s quite a diversity in how-to writing. This kind of book is practice orientated, and will give you information you can easily take away and apply to the doing of things. Some books can be very instructional, or actually function as courses. Melusine Draco’s witchcraft titles tend this way, with a reliable stream of exercises as part of each chapter. Some are much looser – Rachel Patterson for example tends to offer an array of things a person might do, and leaves it down to the reader to pick out what they want and how to order it. What works for you depends on whether you respond to structure, or prefer to have an array of materials to work with on your own terms.

Some how-to writing can be really vague, failing to offer enough clear steps to take the reader from where they are to where they want to be. Some can be over prescriptive, failing to recognise that readers are going to be a diverse bunch with a whole array of needs. At its best, the how-to books may be the most useful things you can possibly get your hands on, and it their worst, are useless. How the qualities of the author impact on you as a reader is critically important, and one person’s genius guru can be another person’s source of bemusement. They key is in getting a match for style.


Any kind of book can turn out to be awful. For someone new to Paganism, it can be hard to tell whether the problem is you, or the book, or just that you and the book are not suited to each other. Truly bad books can be damaging because they undermine confidence, put people off, or teach unhelpful things. It can be very hard to tell from the first few books you read whether the facts are solid or spurious. So, here are a few things to watch out for as signs that a book isn’t much good.

The author gives you a sense that they are amazing, but you never feel any closer to knowing how to be more like them. You feel unsafe reading the book. The author is pedalling a ‘one true way’ and does not allow any variations or alternatives. Circular logic is used. Sources are not mentioned. You can’t tell what is fact and what is theory. These are the books to put down and avoid.

If you don’t like the language, disagree with the author’s worldview, don’t like the teaching style, or otherwise feel unsatisfied, this is just a personality clash. We don’t all agree on everything, that’s fine, move on, learn a few things about what you do want and need in a book.

If an author makes total emotional sense to you, and you find them helpful, inspiring, encouraging and useful, keep them, but also keep looking around, because there are always more ideas to explore than any one author can give you.


South Coast Pagan Moot

 Arias Fåglar

Small towns are funny things; magical things. We all have this romanticized idea of living in a little Liewe Heksie cottage complete with white plaster walls and thick thatched roof, nestled in a grove of gnarled trees, tall grass cut only by a neat, well worn foot path that leads to a welcoming stable door.

Flip the reality switch and we find ourselves nestled between the nearby highway, the sounds of trucks breaking a tad late for the toll gate at Oribi Plaza, the screech of tyres coming from the Dezzi raceway on the hill over Drift Weekend and Harding road’s inevitable tirade of sirens between Port Shepstone and Industrial Marburg. Ah humanity. You suck buddy, big time.

Where is the sea? The Sand? The majestic beauty we go on and on about? It’s there I tell you. Being a small town transplant, it was my personal mission to find and keep these very things near and dear. I sought them out, even created a website www.southcoastlive.co.za to keep track of all that is wonderful, natural and spectacular about the KZN South coast.

Then I went looking for my fellow Pagans. The stories that came out of this search were wonderful, entertaining and frightening. Stories that included the elusive “family” of witches in Hibberdene who no-one ever seemed to have actually met in person, the obligatory “satanic” group that met on Ramsgate beach, (turned out to be local African tribal adherents with their walkie-talkie offerings and black candles) were all we could find until, long into the search, we finally managed to connect with the real people of the Pagan persuasion.

Ah there you are. The real people. Pagans at heart, working hard for their families, no time for nonsense and drama, just getting on with their lives. Not much into living in one another’s robe pocket, nor invading each other’s sacred spaces or ritual circles, but there they were. We discovered local Pagans hungry for social contact. So with the help of a few key people, we started to organize a monthly Pagan Pub Moot.

Besides the few coffee evenings at Mugg & Bean Margate, cocktails on the Umzimkhulu River and the one time Quiz team entry on Pub quiz night at the Village Tav (we were called “The Heathen Horde” if memory serves correctly, we didn’t do too badly either I will have you know), we had yet to find a way of getting a regular moot going.

So in May 2015 we all met at the local baker’s shop, Lilly’s Bread Bin, in Margate for Bunnies and Beer.  And that’s where it all started to go well for us.

May Moot with the South Coast Pagans at Lilly’s Bread Bin, Margate

July we decided to try a different venue. Treetops café in Sebenza Village was suggested; key deciding factors were affordability and a valid liquor license. (lol) Up up up in the tree tops we went, picked a table right in the very top of the trees for a big coffee and homemade lemon meringue pie.

July Moot with the South Coast Pagans at Treetops Café, Sebenza Village, Ramsgate

Moots are always interesting. A chance for us to reconnect with our Pagan friends and sometimes, we get to meet new ones too. At the Treetops moot, Turu and I arrived early (as usual), and on getting out of the car, discovered a brand new gift shop decorated with pixies, dragons and other bright and shiny things that caught my Pagan eye. Wouldn’t you know it, owned and run by a Pagan, recently transplanted to the coast from Gauteng. Welcome to the South Coast Mel! Hoping your new venture, Dragonfly Gifts does really well.

I’m not sure if it’s the same in other places, but South Coast Pagans are pretty private and we can go for MONTHS knowing a Pagan online without actually meeting in person. Yvonne from Tree Huggerz Silversmith https://www.facebook.com/pages/Tree-Huggerz-Silversmith/433785620085947  was just such a person. So nice to finally meet you in person Yvonne.

For those of you who are on holiday on the KZN South Coast, you are also more than welcome to join us for a Moot if you are in the area at the time. We are happy to welcome all “friendlies” of any path, however we insist on everyone being nice to one another.

Quite simple really. So far we have been blessed with some awesome meet-ups and hope to have many more in future.

South Coast Pagans meet once a month (usually the first Saturday of the month). Notices are usually posted on KZN Pagan Network or you can email me directly for info info@vuya.net

Bring some money for whatever you order.

So you see, we discovered our own bit of magic. The Sun, the sea and the awesome natural beauty of the South Coast  existing side-by-side with the little bustling CBDs and industrials while finding our Pagan selves and connecting with kindred spirits two. I think we may be close to having it all.


KZN Pagan Network Facebook group (admin checks that requests are from people who actually live in the KZN province) https://www.facebook.com/groups/391398317563607/

South Coast Pagan Social Facebook group (admin checks that requests are from people who actually live in the South Coast area, Amanzimtoti to Port Edward and inland Oribi & Paddock areas). https://www.facebook.com/groups/240746572682214/


Charlie Charlie

There should be no excuse for spiritual, emotional and psychological abuse committed by well-meaning educators
against pupils of public schools. [1]

Learners have been warned not to play a harmless game of chance called Charlie Charlie [2] because, in the words of exorcist Moulana Nazeem Salie, who was invited by Prince George Primary School to assist educators in preventing the game from being played, “The game you are playing is making deals with the devil and we do not belong to evil, we belong to God.”

Despite the Western Cape Education Department’s public discouragement of “any activity that vulnerable children may find psychologically disturbing” [3], pastors and exorcists have joined a small gullible chorus of believing educators and parents fearful of the game’s alleged harmful spiritual influence on their learners and children. [4]

I asked Educator Tercia Coetzee du Plessis how she thought teachers should be handling the Charlie panic.

“Public schools should handle this matter rationally. This means they should use it as an opportunity to teach learners critical thinking skills. One good way is to use the Socratic method. Don’t start by telling learners what to do, but how to handle this. Ask questions like “What do we know about the origins of the game”? “If Charlie is real, by what mechanism does he operate in the physical world?” “If Charlie can do harm, for example by causing children to bleed to death internally, how is this done?”

My own son of 13 years, was scared because “4 children bled to death internally after playing Charlie Charlie.” I started by asking him where this happened and what the names of the children were. We tried to find the information online and established that there was no such story in the news. I then explained to him what happens when someone dies – that a death certificate is issued, and that if a (more so if there are four cases from one school), healthy young person just dies from unexplained internal bleeding there is sure to be major investigations by doctors and the police. This is a very good opportunity to teach children research skills and how to use the internet. The internet is a double edged sword; lots of good information, but also loads of nonsense. Without critical thinking skills the internet is probably a great danger.”

I asked her if she thought exorcists should be invited to speak to learners about the believed dangers of the Occult?

“An exorcist is the last person to visit any school. Unless the school uses the opportunity to debunk their practices. Regrettably the school my children attend follow the “warning, dangerous game” approach. The letter they sent out did encourage parents to read online, but that is not much use unless one includes a list of reputable websites.”

Trauma counsellor and director of the South African Pagan Rights Alliance, Retha van Niekerk, concured with du

“The Social Media hype surrounding this game has been blown out of proportion by fanatical individuals without facts. The reference in the media about a Mexican demon called Charlie that the youth are supposedly communing with, does not exist. There is no Mexican demon called Charlie.”

“There’s no demon called ‘Charlie’ in Mexico,” says Maria Elena Navez of BBC Mundo. “Mexican legends often come from ancient Aztec and Maya history, or from the many beliefs that began circulating during the Spanish conquest. In Mexican mythology you can find gods with names like ‘Tlaltecuhtli’ or ‘Tezcatlipoca’ in the Nahuatl language. But if this legend began after the Spanish conquest, I’m sure it would’ve been called ‘Carlitos’ (Charlie in Spanish).” “Mexican demons are usually American inventions” . [5]

Van Niekerk called for a more rational approach to understanding the game and the consequences of stereotyping it as dangerous.

“The facts are that with the slightest movement of air, the pencils move with a combination of gravity, friction and the position of the balanced pencil, according to a British Newspaper “The Independent”. What is more alarming than this innocent ‘party-trick’ game is being used by fanatics as a way to promote Christianity while discriminating against minority religious in schools. This opens the door to all sorts of discrimination and intimidation against innocent victims. The psychological damage discrimination and intimidation has on a developing child is very alarming, but no attention is being paid to this. No child has been harmed through
playing this game. Yet again, no attention is being paid to this.”

Van Niekerk says real divination games are a part of any Pagan household.

“Games of divination should be strictly supervised by informed Pagan parents, and never forced on a child, especially when they are not ready to participate. It is very difficult to set an age or family norm for this.”

Should children be exposed to games of divination?

Francisco Fumarola, an Occultist and executive member of SAPRA, feels that educators do not understand the esoteric rationale for acts of divination which employ random chance, such as the fall of runes or selection of tarot cards.

“We live in a divine universe and in a divinely ordered universe there is little room for chance. Any random event can have meaning attached to it by us and can become an act of communication between the divine universe and the human soul. Why does one pick that particular tarot card and not another? Then one can find a message and a meaning which provides illumination on a personal level, sort of like Jung’s Synchronicity. The random selection can become a tool of self-reflection and personal illumination. Divination games where the movement of the tool is dependent on subtle muscular movements of the one using the tool can be effective in tapping into ones own unconscious.”

I asked a Satanist, Octavius Drake, what he thought of Charlie Charlie.

“First, I wanted to play the game to see what happens, but it isn’t clear if I need to ask the question out loud or not. I think this is pretty much crucial to understand because if you don’t want anyone to know you’re playing the game, you probably don’t want to be shouting out weird questions and hoping a pencil moves. How long do you have to wait for an answer? I’ve just tried – I asked the question under my breath and I hope Charlie doesn’t have any hearing impairments – and nothing happened. Second, I’ve never in all my studies ever heard of a demon named Charlie. That tells me that, with regard to Satanic belief, it isn’t a demon. In my studies I learned that if you ask a demon his name, he will always tell you his true name. Charlie doesn’t sound like a legitimate name to me. I consider this nothing more than legend tripping nonsense. I think the kids want to have a bit of fun and if they can do it while upsetting some authority figures in the school, then why not?!

Christopher West, a Satanist and founding member of Satanic Freedom South Africa, agreed with Drake’s position on the non-existence of Charlie, and calls for real religious freedom to include Satanism and Satanists, who are often targeted through the media by pseudo-Occult experts as the cause for unexplained crimes in which occult influences are alleged as possible motive.

“From the perspective of a Satanist, I am deeply disappointed that I have to be commenting on such a childish matter. As Satanists we have NO interest in demonic possessions or inciting violence within our communities and our country as a whole. This game is no different from the origami finger toys we made in school, choosing and delighting ourselves in whomever we may marry. Let’s be realistic. Let’s focus on education, instead of the eternal damnation of innocent children. I am a father. My step-son is a Christian. Instead of shunning or brainwashing, we spend bedtimes reading the Christian Bible to him. Satanism is far too misunderstood. We are not murderous animals plotting with the Illuminati to control the world! We are mothers, fathers, doctors, police officers and even government employees.” West alluded to a new pro-active approach to challenge future discrimination against Satanists in South Africa.

Mja Principe, Pagan, founding member and Convener of the South African Pagan Council, clarified the nature of Occultism as a positive philosophical pursuit.

“Occultism is founded on the premise that divinity is imminent. It is within every living being. It is a series of disciplines that leads to an awakening of the inner divine and the attainment of wisdom. The key to every degree
of initiation is the aspiring initiate himself, and not fear of the God/s, entities or even of the “supernatural”. There is no place for ignorance on the road to enlightenment and self-realisation, and yet the way is peopled with those too keen on embracing the macabre for effect and those who are fond of exaggerating ‘happenings’; these are the tricks of their trade. They spend a lot of time trying to influence and mislead the credulous through whatever means. Panic and hysteria are tactics often resorted to. The reason for this is because it allows them to exploit the fears they sow in people’s hearts and minds to start off with, and this gives them the upper hand in being able to manipulate those they have ushered towards the corral of mind manipulation. Why not invite children to exercise critical thinking, experimentation and deduction/conclusion, instead of enabling the hysteria by bringing in the “occult experts” for exorcisms and fueling the demonic activity bit of propaganda?”

I approached Hans Pietersen, founding director of the Organisation for Religions Education and Democracy, who is currently pursuing legal challenge against 6 public schools for religious (Christian) coercion and abuse of learners’ rights in public schools [6], and asked him for comment on the way in which this recent panic has been handled by the Department of Education and school governing bodies.

“I’m astonished by the reactions at some schools. Fortunately not all; at some the Charlie Charlie game is seen for what it is – a simple prank. But for headmasters to ban the game on grounds of supernatural fears is the knee-jerk reaction that we don’t need from leaders.

A quick search of the internet to trusted sites like Wikipedia and Snopes shows that the game has no magic involved and is based on elementary physics – an inherently unstable balancing of a pencil that can easily be upset by a small tremor or puff of breath. Such a game trending on social media provides the ideal opportunity for parents and particularly science teachers to explain the primary school physics behind the trick. But some parents and schools react frantically, furthering irrational suggestions of supernatural interference by a supposed Mexican ghost with the peculiar name of Charlie. Children are by their very nature gullible and ignorant, some more so than others, and for superstitious or autocratic adults to fan irrational fears is contrary to what is expected of schools.

The phenomenon is not new, of course. I recall teachers and self-styled know-it-alls from my school years threatening us with damnation if we should listen to Rock music, many even burning their children’s music collections to destroy the Satanist backward tracks supposedly hidden in the music. More recently a harmless marketing stunt motivated paranoid parents and opportunistic journalists to warn about the imagined dangers of Stikeez. Every such instance is a case of ignorant, gullible or sly adults jumping on the supernatural bandwagon and creating fears out of thin air. Schools need to instill thinking skills in children and educate them about the silly stuff some people believe in. Banning harmless tricks from school grounds, or even pupils who participate therein, is contrary to that missive.”

Of course, the only “demons” causing demonstrable harm against children are those gullible adults seeking to justify the promotion of their own personal religious agendas in public schools. [7] The deliberate promotion of spiritual panic among children by religious leaders and educators amounts to religious abuse.


[1] Cape Flats school calls in exorcists
By Genevieve Serra | 7 September 2015
[2] Pupils banned from playing ‘demon game’
By Venecia Valentine | 2 September 2015
[3] Education department probes ‘demon’ game
IOL | 3 September 2015
[4] Schools nip ‘Charlie’ in the bud
by Earl Haupt | 8 September 2015
[5] Where did Charlie Charlie Challenge come from?
BBC | 26 May 2015
[6] Organisasie vir Godsdienste-Onderrig en Demokrasie (OGOD)
[7] Department of Education intervenes in ‘Charlie Charlie’ craze – video
Raahil Sain | 02 September, 2015