For many Pagans working with other spiritual paths is perceived as being fraught with problems. Sometimes this is based on one or two ‘bad experiences’ but, more often, just on stories passed on through word of mouth or click of computer. I seem to have had few problems, mainly because I listen to what the other person has to say and can empathise with why they have a particular attitude. Most of the negative attitudes I have heard about and experienced are based on incorrect perceptions of what the Pagan path entails, or a personal problem that has somehow been attached to a religious viewpoint.
Back in the early 90’s I was camping at a campground near Sidmouth in the county of Devon (UK) with some friends. This particular day we had all split up to pursue our different interests and planned to meet up back at the tent at the end of the day. I went into Sidmouth and found a New Age shop that I had been intending to visit when I had the chance. I was looking through a selection of incenses and essential oils when I noticed the person next to me was wearing a pentagram with the point symbolising spirituality pointing down instead of being the uppermost one.
“Excuse me” I said politely “Does the inverted pentagram you’re wearing have any special meaning?”
“Yes” He replied “I’m a Satanist”
“Oh, right” I said “Could you explain that? I’ve heard lots of differing stories and it would be nice to hear about Satanism first hand from someone who practices it”
He must have seen I was sincere about wanting to know because he began explaining about the style of Satanism he followed. He was a member of the First Church of Satan (FCS) founded by Anton LaVey, in this worldview Satan is seen as an anthropomorphic principle rather than an actual Deity. Early in our conversation we adjourned to the local teashop where we could talk undisturbed. I learned a lot –as is only to be expected if you talk to someone who practices an art. One major thing I was glad to hear of is that animals and children are held in high regard by FCS practitioners and are never intentionally harmed by them.
The chat lasted several hours and by the time we parted not only had I learned about Satanism but the Satanist had a bit more regard for Pagans. Apparently Satanists consider Pagans, as a group, a bit ‘fluffy bunny’ and ‘light and love’ thinking that all turns out for the best and ignoring the darker side of nature and humanity. Pagans tend (especially in the ‘80s and 90’s) to avoid Satanists as they remind them too much of their ignored Jungian "Shadow". The result tends to be that both groups think badly of, and avoid, each other.
By just sitting, listening, and showing that I knew some of the less well known aspects of Neopagan history- such as significant portions of the Gardnarian ‘Book of Shadows’ being written by the Ritual Magician Alistair Crowley. The Satanist I was talking to had come to realise that some Pagans were happy to sit down and listen to their worldview and share the Pagan one. Which, in some cases, is closer than either party might expect.
Personally I have only had two clashes with Followers of other spiritual paths. One was with the leader of a Baha'i hi group on the Isle of Wight. For some reason she could not comprehend the Divine as having female aspects – despite being female herself. I did point out that the aspect of the Divine that she followed (Allah) has a feminine ending in Arabic but that didn’t seem to help. The other time was with a Buddhist who reacted badly to my suggestion that Siddhatha (the first Buddha) might have just been talking metaphorically about reincarnation, or conforming to the culture of the time. On further discussion it turned out he had a terrible fear of death and had become a Buddhist because of this paths’ belief in corporeal reincarnation.
Fear is one of the major reasons many people cling to the religion of the area in which they grow up, or that their culture or family follow. This is something to consider when talking with followers of different faiths- particularly the monotheistic ones. Their view of the Divine tends to be that there is only one right way, and one Deity, to worship and any other way or system would bring Divine wrath and social exclusion. Experienced Pagans accept that Gods and Goddesses have good and bad aspects, hence the importance of getting to know them. Equally true is the importance of self-knowledge and self-development as part of magickal and spiritual development to avoid becoming detached from shared reality.
Where I worked there was a multifatith group that ran for about eighteen months before budget cuts and mass redundancies meant that the participants had to leave, or had too much work to be able to attend. I was able to make most of the meetings while it was running and it was fascinating to see how many people had followed their religion for years, and in some cases a lifetime, yet not explored it fully or looked into its history and cultural context. Some of them had very strange ideas of what Pagans did and had ‘filled in the blanks’ with bits of old horror films, TV programs, and equally unreliable sources. They were pleasantly surprised to learn about the Pagan worldview free of all the misinformation from the media and fiction.
The best way to work with people who follow other spiritual paths that I have found is to have people who know you first as yourself and then, if they ask or find out you are a Pagan, explain what that means to you*. If they want further explanations you can refer them to websites sites such as this, or the spiritual section of the local library or bookshop. If you have friends or acquaintances of other faiths it is useful to know who in your personal network follows what spiritual path and be aware of any items that might be of interest to them.
For example I listen to BBC Radio 4 when I am travelling between jobs as a Safety Officer. When I hear items on there that I can pass on to my fellow ‘Religion and Spiritually’ editors I do so. I also try to pass any medallions, talismans, and other items specific to other spiritual paths on to practitioners of that path. Showing this sort of respect tends to result in positive reciprocation enabling mutual reverence.
*As outlined earlier in the article