A Simple Truth
“[The] truth is incontrovertible. Panic may resent it, ignorance may deride it, malice may distort it, but there it is.” Winston Churchill, Speech in The House of Commons, May 17, 1916
Never was a truer word spoken. Truth is fact; it is a reality that cannot be destroyed or twisted, and without it, trust could never flourish. Truth and trust are cornerstones of Paganism- we see it in Wicca’s, “In perfect love and perfect trust”, in Asatru’s Nine Noble Virtues, in Ár nDraíocht Féin’s virtue of Integrity, and in the general Pagan ethic of valuing the pursuit of inner truth.
Truth is a virtue that, within my own core ethics, goes hand in hand with respect, honor and the pursuit of knowledge. However, I am realizing that the concept of truth does not hold the same level of importance to all in the Pagan community.
Take history for example. The study of history and archaeology are not something that appeals to everyone, but no one can refute the effect they have had on modern Paganism. Whether you’re a die-hard recontructionist or Wiccan, there is no denying that without the work of historians and archaeologists we would have no information on the Gods, mythology and lore, ritual elements or traditional practices. History is the core truth of modern Paganism. And yet there are some within the Pagan community who claim history is of little importance to modern Pagans as they should be focused on founding their future. To those that adhere to this belief I ask, what foundation would they have in the present or future without the truth of history?
And further than that belief, there are some in our community who, although they claim to teach history, pass on ‘history’ that is incredibly inaccurate. If a colour is truth, then the mental imagery and emotional reaction it evokes would be personal interpretation. An emerging problem in the Pagan community is where historical fact (truth) is tainted by personal gnosis (personal interpretation) and the latter is presented and taught to others as fact, as truth. A Pagan teacher, or any teacher for that matter, cannot change the dates of periods in history like the Iron or Bronze Ages or teach that Paleolithic man celebrated the Wiccan Wheel of the Year.
Perhaps even more troubling is the growing habit of plagiarism. I remember when I first started my Pagan journey, just as with my journey into writing, there was the motto of, ‘always credit your source’. However it appears that it is a motto that is falling out of fashion. Now we have some Pagan teachers who knowingly plagiarize the hard work of others and teach it as their own epiphanies. It is not only dishonest, but disrespectful to the original author to copy their work verbatim, and worse still if you then claim that work is of ‘ancient origin’ in a bid to support your beliefs.
An even more grievous offence, in my opinion, is the way in which historical texts are sometimes ‘adapted’ to suit the tastes of a Pagan teacher. Take Charles Godfrey Leland’s Aradia, the Gospel of the Witches in which Leland recounts the story of How Diana made The Stars and The Rain; a story which features Diana and Lucifer. While it is disputable as to how historically accurate this work is, it was still influential on Wicca’s founder, Gerald Gardner, and is still studied by Pagans today. However, there are some Pagan teachers who have changed the exampled story, substituting all references to ‘Lucifer’ to the Wiccan Deity referred to as ‘The God’, and then teaching their adapted, abridged version as the original.
And then there are the Pagan teachers who just concoct information and pass it off as fact for a profit. This may not seem like such an issue, but if a lie is repeated often enough, it soon becomes accepted and perpetuated as ‘fact’ by the majority. Who can forget Edain McCoy’s invention of an ‘Ancient Irish Potato Goddess’?
Unscrupulous Pagan teachers take advantage of their student’s trust in their ‘knowledge’, and especially the trust of students new to Paganism. In addition, sometimes their students are so enamored with the glamour their teacher casts, that they make the mistake of not questioning what they are taught and instead accept it as truth. In my opinion Pagan teachers who are guilty of any of the above are not teachers at all and are poor examples of the Pagan community to both Pagans and the general public alike.
Teaching within the Pagan community is more than just passing on what you know- when you teach you accept a responsibility for the spiritual well-being of your students and play a pivotal role in molding their spirituality. In a spiritual setting, teaching is not for everyone and it certainly isn’t to be used to seek profit or fame. It takes a true calling from the Divine to selflessly pass on knowledge in the spirit of truth and be fully aware of the responsibility it carries.
Pagan teachers, as described in this article, are thankfully in the minority but even if they are it doesn’t mean they pose less of a threat to our community as a whole. If you are ever in doubt as to the intentions of a Pagan teacher, just remember that a true teacher makes the lessons and experiences about the student and not about boosting the teacher’s ego or social standing. There is also never any harm in questioning something and double checking facts. I salute those in our community who selflessly pass on their wisdom to others.