Blog Post 90 – The Popular Pagan

J Peterman Fall 2010 Catalog

Yesterday, when I went to the mailbox, I pulled from amidst the circulars and credit card pre-approvals the always-entertaining J. Peterman Catalog.  For those who don’t know anything about this catalog, it’s basically a clothing and accessories shop with its ad copy in the form of mini-travelogues.  The company’s charismatic founder, J. Peterman, allegedly visits exotic locales and has wonderful adventures, then brings back inspirations for different lines of shirts, dresses, hats, and fragrances.  He’ll spend a summer evening in Chile camped out in the Andes and come back with a rugged but stylish belt.  He’ll recall a wonderful oyster dinner at a café in Paris and design a dress after his dinner companion’s outfit that night.  And so on.  The company is also fairly famous for being Elaine’s job on Seinfeld for a few TV seasons.

The clothing is expensive, though it certainly looks nice and has an air of romance about it.  But that’s not really what I’ll get into here today.  As I walked up my driveway, I flipped open the catalog to a random page, and found an interesting womens’ top with the following description:

The Crystals of the Sabbat are being polished.

The cry for more myrrh is heard.

An open call for fire dancers is taking place.

The healing masters are calling their travel agents.

They’ll be outdoing themselves at the Mabon Pagan Autumn Festival this year.

So what are you wearing?

Something exotic from India perhaps?

Vintage Pagan Embroidered Jacket (No. 2803).  Tie front closure.  Which means you can keep it tied or, depending on what the ceremony calls for, open.  Embroidery continues along front, short sleeves, shoulder, yoke, and hem.  Black piping on sleeves and around neckline.  Very casual and easy.  You can wear long sleeves under it.

And you know how good pagan looks with jeans.  Imported.

Hopefully the scan of the catalog page above will let you see this advert in all its glory, but I think you get the gist.

I’m not going to get on any high horse here.  I’m not offended by the catalog or the company.  In fact, I am pretty tickled by it.  Fire Lyte posted a blog entry yesterday about fear-mongering in the Pagan community, and I thought that this ad was a rather serendipitous arrival as I pondered on his points.  While I don’t take a hard stance on Jason Pitzl-Waters’ Wild Hunt Blog (I’ve never noticed the paranoia Fire Lyte mentioned myself, but that certainly doesn’t mean it’s not there as an undercurrent).  Fire Lyte’s broader point about the persecution complex prevalent in some Pagan circles seems valid to me, though.  If I’m being honest, I experience almost no persecution, despite being in the Bible belt and regularly attending a church with people who know I’m not Christian and have magic books.  Sure, hot button issues flare up from time to time, but they mostly tend to be ideological (such as the Creation vs. Evolution debate) rather than religious (though I readily admit that one of the first five questions a new acquaintance asks is “So where do you go to church?” in this part of the country).  But I just don’t see the witch-hunting that seems to be implied in many cases.

That’s not to say there aren’t a number of folks genuinely experiencing some kind of enforced closeting or living in a state of anxiety over their belief system.  I know there are.  But I don’t know anyone who’s lost a job due to religion, myself, unless they made a big deal out of it and generally became a pest or nuisance.  I’ve visited federal prisons (not as an inmate, if you’re wondering) and generally seen a very pluralistic attitude toward religion.  In fact, it appeared as though religion was encouraged no matter which branch or denomination it was—copies of the Quran, the Bible, the Talmud, Buddhist texts, and even a “new age” book or two all sat on the rolling library cart.

What I’m really getting at is the other side of this particular coin.  While there are plenty of folks upset over being hounded by Christians and conservative groups and bemoaning the presentation of witchcraft on “Bones” as a bleak cult phenomenon, I think there are ever more positive images of Pagans, witches, and magical folk surfacing in the world.  The J. Peterman catalog is one example of someone taking the stereotype of the “hippie witch” and playing with it to create a little romance and allure—all in the name of capitalism, of course.  I’m sure some would accuse this catalog (or me even) of “Uncle Tom” passivity over the commercialization of sacred traditions, but honestly I’m just pleased as punch that they referenced one of the much-less discussed holidays on the general Pagan calendar (though it’s not on my personal calendar, but that’s beside the point).  Anyone will mention witches and Pagans at Halloween—who talks about Mabon, though?

I’ve noticed that this sort of “popular Paganism” has been surfacing more and more, which is rather heartening to me.  On a Simpsons episode recently, Lisa temporarily joins a Wiccan coven, then stops the town from engaging in a full-on witch-hunt.  An episode of Futurama from a few years ago showed main character Leela wishing to be a witch, but only “As long as I get to hurt people and not just dance around at the equinox.”  I even seem to recall an episode of the animated Batman series from the 90’s where Batman needed the help of a Wiccan coven to solve a case (why is it that cartoons are so dang progressive?).  I’m not saying that I think all of these portrayals are accurate, but they are all positive (Leela’s desire to be a “wicked witch” notwithstanding—she does portray non-wicked witches in fairly benign terms).

I don’t usually go into posts like this here at New World Witchery, and I don’t plan to make a habit of it going forward.  I just found the lovely coincidence of the catalog arriving just as I was thinking about Fire Lyte’s post to auspicious to pass up.  But I’d love to hear your thoughts, too.  Do you see Pagans, witches, animists, and other magical folk as persecuted?  Have you experienced outright persecution in your life (not a fear of it, but actually losing custody of a child or getting fired from a job because of it)?  Do you see popular examples of paganism elsewhere?  Do you think the public perception of Pagans is going less from “scary weirdos” to “funny eccentrics” as I do?  Please leave your comments and your thoughts!

Okay, enough op-ed for the day from me!  Thanks for reading!


P.S.  To all you wonderful folks who have commented or emailed and not received responses, I promise I’ll be getting back to you soon!  Sorry for the delay!

11 thoughts on “Blog Post 90 – The Popular Pagan”

  1. Cory, like you I find the J. Peterman thing kinda delightful. I know they didn’t get the details right, but I wouldn’t expect them to and I’m not sure I’d want them to anyway. Witchcraft isn’t a religion for the masses and I like it that way. I absolutely concur that the community as a whole is paranoid about being oppressed. In my ten years working in the metaphysical store, I’ve helped a fair number of people choose a pentacle who told me they would have to wear it under their clothes so their boss/co-workers/students/housemates wouldn’t see it, but I’ve only known of a single one who lost their child because of being pagan, and none who lost their job or housing. I’ve polled my co-workers today and none of them can think of any, either. The consensus here in the belly of the beast is that, at least here in Denver, you don’t have to be oppressed as a pagan unless you don’t know how to pick your battles, and that many who come to the Craft do so in part because they’re attracted by the idea of being part of an oppressed minority. I’ve heard a lot of rants about how the Christians burned us in the millions a long time ago on another continent, but that was, well, a long time ago on another continent, and it’s doubtful that any of those burned were actually pagan in any way. There’s no doubt that people suffer some discrimination or oppression for being witches, but the degree of same isn’t nearly that which some of us would enjoy believing.

    1. Hi Nancy,

      Yes, I feel like I encounter an awful lot of folks who have a fear of persecution, but very few who experience it directly. I think for the most part, people who don’t make a show of their beliefs and practices seldom encounter any backlash. There are exceptions to that, of course, and in those instances I think it’s important to pay attention and attempt to correct the problem. Otherwise, keeping low to the ground seems to work fine in most cases. Plus, I sort of like what I do having a secretive air 🙂

      Thanks so much for a great response to this post! Excellent stuff!


  2. hehehehe in episode 5 I noted that I was confused if there really were that many “pagans” at Burning Man or if aspects of paganism were seeping into main stream new age culture!

    1. I bet there are LOTS of pagan folks (or at least pagan-friendly folks) at Burning Man! Just the fact that there’s a giant “burning man” alone seems pretty dang pagan to me 🙂

  3. Hi,

    I’m an Irish Traditional Witch who reads this blog because it’s good and interesting.

    I live in England and was brought up in Scotland.

    We keep quiet about our beliefs because a lot of us remember* when kids were taken away from their pagan parents by Social Workers in Orkney and Scarborough in the ’80’s.

    That saying, I do wear my pentacle at work and have not caught any flak for it. I temped with some Social Workers for a few months though, and I wouldn’t have (and still won’t) mention my beliefs to them for £1 million.

    I have also known some pagans who ghettoise themselves (this sort of thing has been noticed in the gay community as well) and love to tell you about X who is trying to close them down.

    I suspect that if you let people get to know you and like you first, then they’ll revise their stereotypes of pagans.

    *I was only a kid at the time and non-pagan, but this made the national news.

    1. Thanks for the response, Marguerite!

      That’s simply awful about the Orkney and Scarborough situation. I hope there has been at least some sea change in attitudes over pagan parenting in those areas.

      That’s interesting about the Social Workers…do you think they tend to be more conservative religiously as a profession, or was it just that particular office?

      And I absolutely agree about letting people get to know you before religion even comes up! That is an excellent summation of how I feel about things. So great response there!

      Thanks for writing, and be well!

      1. It wasn’t that the Social Workers were particularly conservative – I just didn’t trust them as a whole after Orkney and Scarborough.

  4. I do not know anyone, or heard of any problems where I live, which is in upper MD. And this is a fairly conservative farm country (Cory, I gotta send you mail about the “witchy” things I see up here, even though these farmers are basically conservative christians).
    Now, I do not wear my beliefs all over my sleeves, but not because I am afraid, more so, it’s just not my style. Even when I was christian (been quite a few years now!) I never wore crosses or anything. The bloody Jesus cross thing always creeped me out, even back then.
    I do have a wheel of the year on my work wall, but most folks have no idea what it is, and the one guy that ask, said “Oh, old pagan season stuff”. So that was pretty cool he found it interesting.
    So I really have no fear. It bothers me more, that alot of folks just plain don’t understand paganism and still see it as somekind of scary or even silly phase.
    Peace and Cheers,

    1. Hi Chet!

      I would LOOOOOVE to see/hear about the stuff going on around you! Maryland is rife with witchery, from the folklore I’ve read, so I bet you’ve got plenty of great magical stuff going on up there.

      And that’s neat about the fellow in your office being aware enough to recognize what the wheel of the year was about!

      Thanks for your great response!

      All the best,


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