Do Pagans have a PR problem?
January 5, 2017 5:20 AM   Subscribe

I coordinate a Pagan student group at a university. Recently I've put up a couple of flyers in coffee shops off campus, but someone(s) keeps taking them down. Why?

I'm in Ottawa, Canada, a large, diverse, progressive, and Canadian city. The coffee shops are a local fair-trade chain which students often hang out in on their laptops. My small and inoffensive (I think) flyers said "Pagans of [University], meeting monthly on campus, for more information text or call [phonenumber]," and sported a triple-moon symbol and a small pentagram. They were posted on a community notice board in the back of the shops.

It could just be intolerant fundies, in which case whatevs, and shame on them for their un-Canadian values. But the posters for the yoga and meditation retreats and the advert for astrological readings don't get taken down. Is there any reason why progressive folk might hate Pagans?

Many people in this area seem totally unaware of the existence of [neo-]Pagan religions, so there's room for misinformation to spread around. If this is happening, we may have to try to do some community education.
posted by heatherlogan to Society & Culture (31 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Community education/outreach is always a good thing, and at a university you have resources for it, e.g. writing editorials for the student newspaper.

That said, I wouldn't draw any conclusions from what is likely the act of one or a few people who have taken a dislike to the pentagram or something, for whatever reason. Having worked in bookstores for years, I saw all kinds of books get turned around or hidden for reasons ranging from transparent to wtf.
posted by BibiRose at 5:29 AM on January 5, 2017 [5 favorites]

The pentagram in particular is often considered by certain groups of Christians to be a Satanic symbol, which might be why you're seeing the flyer removal.
posted by corb at 5:30 AM on January 5, 2017 [24 favorites]

Did you get the ok from the coffee shops to post your flyer? It could be the staff taking them down if they have an ask-first policy.
posted by headnsouth at 5:42 AM on January 5, 2017 [20 favorites]

I think you'll find that a lot of Christians have talked themselves into believing that astrology and yoga are "secular", but still enjoy working themselves up into a panic over anything involving a pentagram.
posted by a fiendish thingy at 5:50 AM on January 5, 2017 [29 favorites]

any reason why progressive folk might hate Pagans

It's been my experience as a progressive atheist that even progressives are susceptible to prejudice against minority groups with which they are unfamiliar/don't have much personal experience with. Sometimes they act on those prejudices, though of course there are any number of other reasons why the fliers might be removed as discussed above.
posted by audi alteram partem at 6:01 AM on January 5, 2017

I tend to agree with a fiendish thingy. A lot of people don't even think of Yoga as religious and astrology is often thought of as mostly harmless nonsense. That's why someone taking down pagan signs might no touch those other signs. I think intolerant fundies probably are the most likely culprits.

That said, there probably are a lot of misperceptions about paganism in your community as it is a relatively small religion (or group of somewhat related religious traditions) with lots of traditionally negative cultural associations.
posted by Alluring Mouthbreather at 6:13 AM on January 5, 2017

Could be that they take down anything they see as religious. As a progressive myself, I might consider that if I managed a community bulletin board, because there are some religious sects I'd rather not have associated with me.
posted by metasarah at 6:29 AM on January 5, 2017

I think paganism is cool. I'd wonder if someone putting up pagan meeting posters with a pentagram symbol was actually looking for people with ... other interests that weren't as friendly. I know pagans use pentagrams, but I'd wonder (vaguely, since I'm not that well-informed or interested) if it was some kind of signal that there was something else going on, _especially_ if the poster had zero additional information about the group or the positive aspects of paganism.

So, you might want to go all out and include one sentence about what paganism _is_ on the poster. It will give people some idea about the particular flavor of your meeting, which could increase interest among the people you really want.

I don't know how strongly you feel about the pentagram symbol, but maybe there's something else visual that would communicate your real values to a non-initiate, like a tree or a moon or something.

Sorry if tree/moon images are somehow stereotype rather than truthful, I'm just thinking of things that I think are meaningful and beautiful.
posted by amtho at 6:37 AM on January 5, 2017 [4 favorites]

Just because you're in a generally progressive city doesn't mean there aren't conservative religious people around. I went to a very hippy-dippy college and got the door slammed in my face by a house full of fundamentalist Christian students when I came by on behalf of the Pagan Student Union collecting canned goods for a local food pantry (a food pantry run by a church!).
posted by soren_lorensen at 6:48 AM on January 5, 2017 [1 favorite]

I've lived in Ottawa. If you didn't get the shop's permission, my guess is that's who's taking them down.

That said, in my progressive cranky Gen-X circles, pagan groups that advertise are met with comments about StarFalcon the lusty and his harem, Rayven, Raevynn and R'Vyn because...some people have had experiences.
posted by warriorqueen at 6:48 AM on January 5, 2017 [4 favorites]

I helped run an atheist group on a fairly liberal college campus, and have friends currently running a queer satanist (preformative activism?) group on that same campus, and we and them had stuff taken down or vandalized routinely, and it was universally related to random, individual conservative Christians, or later organized conservative students coordinating their actions. It's almost especially an issue in more liberal places, as the more conservative members of that community are not going to be members of the majority in the way they expect, and some of them will react to that by basically exactly this.

I'm sorry this is a problem for you, and that my best advice is to print more posters (and yeah, also make sure the coffee shop and such places are cool with your posters first, that's the only other reason I could see it being a repeat problem) and just replace them. Once people like that start the only way to get them to stop is to be more indefatigable than them. There's no point in trying to catch them, the police will not care even if that is a crime there, and I'm guessing the coffee shop employees are not going to add "Monitor and defend these posters" to their workload.

You could attempt to change your symbology or design, but in my experience that will not help. If this is a repeat problem it is most likely not due to a number of people independently deciding to tear that poster down, it's more likely to be someone specific who goes there who has gotten it into their head that tearing those posters is their own little way to defend their faith or values or whatever.

This is just my experience, but I really doubt it's anybody but fundamentalists, and probably just one specific person.
posted by neonrev at 6:49 AM on January 5, 2017 [8 favorites]

Don't forget that it only takes one busy body to decide that it is their mission to remove such "filth" from the community, so regardless of what that person's reasons are, it's not a reflection of the wider views.

That being said, I could see someone being annoyed with the proselytizing of any religion, but I think that it is more likely to be one of the flavor of Christian who sees paganism as equivalent to satanism and both of them to somehow be grounded in hatred towards Christians.

But it only takes one.
posted by sparklemotion at 6:52 AM on January 5, 2017

Also, just one nitpick-- the belief that this is "fundamentalist" Christians seems a little unwarranted. This seems just as plausible from a C&E (Christmas and Easter) Christian who doesn't actually care about their faith as anything other than a cultural marker, but who simultaneously believes all other religions are "evil". The most "fundamentalist" Christians I know are unlikely to be freaked out by paganism, but a lot of the consumer Christians (mesh of childhood Sunday school and Oprah/GMA worldview) find it TERRIFYYYING.
posted by a fiendish thingy at 6:56 AM on January 5, 2017 [6 favorites]

One thought about busybodies: at least these are people who believe _something_ and are willing to act on that. Sometimes people like that can be toxic, but if it were possible to connect with people like that around the values that you do share (taking time to reflect on spirituality, feeling it as part of a community, caring about what words are out there, etc.), it could be really powerful. Relationships like this are rare and take time, but it's something to keep in mind if you're enough of a leader (and you are) to put up signs.

Again, sometimes people like that are too angry to connect with, but sometimes anger passes, and they're still essentially human beings who think and feel. They care enough to do that (annoying) thing, they're people who _do_ things, and that's exactly the kind of people who need to be cultivated when possible.

All I'm saying is, if you happen to figure out who's doing this, there's a reason to hold back on the angry/defensive reactions.
posted by amtho at 7:00 AM on January 5, 2017

I should have emphasized that more, but yeah it's most likely to be one specific person, not a number of them. Not representative of everyone obviously. I'd really still bet on them being of a more fundamentalist bent, but it only takes one person deciding that you are their enemy to do this.
posted by neonrev at 7:05 AM on January 5, 2017

Was it a pentacle? Or a pentagram? Many folk don't know the difference, and think its all Satanic, but I'm curious which one was on your sign.
posted by agregoli at 7:59 AM on January 5, 2017

It was a pentagram -- a five-point star (with one point at the top) surrounded by a circle. A pentacle is the same symbol done up as a physical object like a necklace pendant.
posted by heatherlogan at 8:23 AM on January 5, 2017

The point at the top reference helps. I always learned the "satanic" one has the one point at the bottom. Regardless, probably doesn't matter to people who don't even know Paganism.

I'd also like to add that while this is discouraging, ripping a sign down is a potentially impulsive act by one person, a "not much harm done" potentially from their perspective. Not fun for you, but not necessarily that malicious on their part either.
posted by agregoli at 8:28 AM on January 5, 2017

Thanks to all for the helpful advice and reassurance!

I don't want to thread-sit, but let me push on one particular question: does anyone know of any reason why progressive folk might be hating on Pagans right now? Any bad memes or narratives going around that paint Pagans as a whole as bad people? I am very unplugged from the broader internet zeitgeist.

I've seen a news article or two lately about a tiny but repulsive anti-immigrant group called "Soldiers of Odin" who are not religious Pagans, but I wonder if progressive folk who don't know any better might assume that's what Pagans are?
posted by heatherlogan at 9:17 AM on January 5, 2017

May I ask why you think someone "progressive" might be responsible for this?
posted by a fiendish thingy at 9:33 AM on January 5, 2017

Because I identify as a progressive too and would feel terrible if my people are being identified as the "bad guys". If it's just intolerant Christians, it's kind of unsettling, but I can deal with that.
posted by heatherlogan at 9:42 AM on January 5, 2017

There was just a mefi post about some white nationalist groups coopting medieval history and Celtic symbols to covertly display their "white heritage", so I guess it's possible someone knows enough about that trend but not enough about paganism that they mis-associate the two? But that doesn't seem likely.

I think it's far more likely that it's a religious person (or group of people) responding to the pentagram than a progressive person tearing down the signs for political reasons.
posted by lilac girl at 9:43 AM on January 5, 2017 [1 favorite]

Sorry, to clarify, I think it's unlikely that it's a progressive person, but am asking specifically to see if there's a narrative going around that I'm not aware of.
posted by heatherlogan at 9:44 AM on January 5, 2017

"Progressive" isn't really a guarantee of any particular set of beliefs so I'd be careful about feeling like all progressives are (or aren't) your people. If they're ripping down signs, they're not people you should care about anyway because seriously.

That said, my tongue-in-cheek comment above is somewhat true for my particular group of 40-something friends that are all relatively progressively aligned. (Except the Wiccan. :))

The narrative goes, basically, that some pagan groups are really more about a particular type of interacting where romantic involvements get tied up in concepts of spiritual power and naturalism in a way that encourages a kind of...predation, maybe, although that seems a bit strong. Creating an easily accessible dating pool.

For me personally I was involved with some abuse survivor groups that took on a lot of earth goddess/pagan overtones, partly in response to many people escaping strict religious communities and partly as a way to regain an appreciation for the feminine. But then there were a couple of people who...used that confusion to kind of...create a dynamic where there was what I would characterize as a narcissistic connection between self-appointed pagan 'leaders' and people who were for whatever reason attracted to spiritual/mind/body connections. Those of us who watched the latest Aleister Crowley expert work his (usually) way through susceptible women, pretending that it was all about spiritual exploration and respect for the feminine when it was really a form of bs just got tired of it bluntly. It's similar to what goes on in poly circles sometimes, where there's that One Guy.

But this is nothing to do with you and your group, really...I just bring it up because it definitely is a narrative out there and you asked. It's probably outdated for your purposes.
posted by warriorqueen at 10:14 AM on January 5, 2017 [6 favorites]

Many people in this area seem totally unaware of the existence of [neo-]Pagan religions, so there's room for misinformation to spread around.

This plus the vague language in the flyer with a call/text to a phone number makes me wonder if people though the flyer was a fake. If people don't know these groups exist and there's a flyer with a pentagram and a phone number and no other info... well, I wouldn't be surprised if they didn't think it was a legit thing.

Do you guys have a group Facebook page or a room you meet in or a name of a person or and email address or a blog anything more "legitimate" seeming? What do the other flyers on the board for similar groups look like? Can you mimic the info on there? Can you explain it a bit more as to why people might want to join or a website to have people get some info?

I also would make sure it's okay to put up fliers in the first place for sure.

I went to school for marketing and I can't even tell you the amount of times I saw fake, joke fliers out there on these sorts of boards. So I wonder if someone's "this is fake" radar is a bit to high and the lack of info triggered them to take it down.

Of course that doesn't rule out other reasons, but it may be a reason.
posted by Crystalinne at 10:16 AM on January 5, 2017 [3 favorites]

Some Pagans are closely linked to White Supremacy - see for example the Asatru Folk Assembly and their claims to "Kennewick Man" (who is now definitively proven to be closely related to the local Five Confederated Tribes, and not a wayward Aryan from the distant past). As a "Progressive" I wouldn't take down a generic Pagan flyer but if I saw an AFA one I would consider it a hate group. Others might not be so discriminating.
posted by Rumple at 11:30 AM on January 5, 2017

I know a number of people who aren't really religious, but are just ignorant, and would immediately associate any pentagram type of symbol with satan/evil, and might tear it down. They're just not very bright people.

As far as wider stereotypes, I don't think there much of anything going on, besides a kind of gentle mockery in some circles, like warriorqueen mentions. I think it is either people ignorantly reacting to the pentagram, or the above mentioned ideas that the staff or someone is taking it down either because of lack of permission or because they think it's fake.

I think redoing the poster with a little more info, and no pentagram - or maybe with a pentagram, and an explanation of its meaning- will solve the problem.
posted by catatethebird at 11:59 AM on January 5, 2017 [2 favorites]

Depends on what you mean by "progressive", but the signs could easily be being torn down by an atheist who believes that religion is the opiate of the masses, etc. as by someone who specifically dislikes paganism because of their own religious beliefs.
posted by phoenixy at 12:16 PM on January 5, 2017

You can be ignorant and also bright. As I mentioned above, I'm rather ignorant about paganism. I'm not calling myself stupid.
posted by amtho at 12:16 PM on January 5, 2017

(I don't disagree. Ignorance and stupidity are distinct circumstances. But the people I'm talking about are also just not intelligent people. There's also something to be said for being able to recognize one's own ignorance.)
posted by catatethebird at 12:39 PM on January 5, 2017

Try it without the pentagram. I went to college in two of the most progressive communities in the world, and I have beloved pagan relatives, but I don't know much about their symbology and my first association with any kind of pentagram would still be some sort of Satanic/ dark forces thing. Like even if I saw it on a yoga flyer I would be like huh? Satanic yoga?

I'm not surprised that a flyer with a pentagram is getting torn down, is what I'm saying.
posted by fingersandtoes at 12:56 PM on January 5, 2017 [1 favorite]

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