One time in the 2000s, the Tonester and I were invited to participate in a Pagan meetup down in central Texas. We were so excited, we stayed up all night the previous evening to bake a shit-ton of chocolate chip cookies. Then we put on our best black duds and went to the meetup.
When we arrived, we found we were two of the only three men present, and that everyone else at the meetup was a Wiccan. They took one look at our black clothes and our horned pentagram necklaces and thought we were bad news. And they were really weirded out by the fact that we had made so many chocolate chip cookies. They were like, “Who the hell are these devil worshipers, and why did they bring cookies?”
We tried to make friends and explain what we were all about; but things didn’t go well. As soon as we mentioned Set’s name, we received the standard response: “Isn’t He the bad guy of the Egyptian pantheon? Why would you worship the bad guy?” And when we attempted to explain, we were chastised for “not being Pagan enough.” Everything we told them about Ma’at, isfet, and Set’s war against
Apep sounded “too Christian” to them. They seemed to think we had simply taken Christianity and replaced Jesus with an Egyptian devil-god. They didn’t believe that anything we were talking about had actually originated from Egypt.
After a while, it became clear that we just weren’t welcome (despite the fact that everyone seemed to enjoy our cookies). So we left and went home. We put so much energy into this event, and we really tried our best to be cordial and make friends. But we were treated like creeps, and it was demoralizing. We never went to another Pagan meetup again after that.
The word Pagan comes from the Latin paganus, which means “country dweller.” When the Roman Empire adopted Christianity as its official state religion, pagan was applied to virtually anyone who refused to convert—with the insinuation being that non-Christians were primitive, backward yokels. No one in history ever referred to themselves as a Pagan until after the Industrial Revolution, when artists of the Romantic movement started incorporating ancient polytheist ideas into their work. Since then, Pagan has become a “catch-all” term for various new religious movements that each take their inspiration from nature and ancient mythology in some way (e.g., Wicca, Druidism, Heathenry, Kemeticism, etc.). It does not actually denote any particular theology, philosophy, or creed; it is simply a collective “safe space” for several religious communities that just don’t feel welcome anywhere else.
So when Pagans alienate other Pagans from this “safe space,” it is especially hypocritical. Even Wiccans know what it is like to have people call Child Protection Services on you simply for identifying as a “witch.” You would think, therefore, that they would be a little more sympathetic to other Pagans who struggle with similar prejudices. But in my experience, people generally deal with persecution by trying to shift it on to somebody else. This ugly tendency is every bit as true of Pagans as it is of other religious communities.
Sometimes when people ask about my religion, they get confused because of all the different terms that can be applied to it. I prefer to identify as a Setian, but I can also be described as a Kemetic polytheist. And of course, I include myself beneath the Pagan umbrella (even though certain other Pagans would prefer that I didn’t). But really, Pagan is my least favorite self-label. It can be very useful for networking purposes; but apart from that, it is practically meaningless.