Trigger Warning: imagined threats of kidnap, abuse, and murder involving both adults and children

In the course of my interview with her, Vanessa asked me more than once why I think Pagan oppression occurs. I gave answers that I think are pretty common: ignorance, fear of the unknown, fear of the other. But I also felt it was vital to point out that people aren’t just misinformed about Paganism because they haven’t had reason to look it up, people are ill informed about Paganism because of campaigns of active mis-information, dis-information, and outright defamation.

I try to be hopeful about these things. I want to think that the Satanic Panics of the ’80s and ’90s won’t recur; I want to think that the freeing of the West Memphis 3 shows that our society is starting to recognize what went wrong and move to correct it; I want to think that if Pagans continue to present themselves to the world as reasonable people, these outrageous, ridiculous, and deeply insulting myths will fade away.

But they don’t. I was reminded of this by a couple of things that popped up in my social media. Jason at the Wild Hunt carefully explained that he has no plans to kidnap your man, and Star found yet another list of dangerous “holy days” promulgated by people who are still talking about Satanic Ritual Abuse as if it was more than an imagined boogeyman. Let’s face it: these things keep having currency in part because there are still people who are profiting from peddling this defamatory nonsense. But the peddlers are only a small part of the problem.

Fred Clark explained part of the phenomenon as the Bad Jackie problem: basically, when confronted with evidence or testimony that such-and-such fantastical weird or evil thing doesn’t exist, some people somehow choose to go on believing in it. So we don’t just have the people who are peddling hateful lies for profit – although they’re enough of a problem – we have the people who actively partake of those lies in the face of the truth and by so doing propagate them.

For Pagans, the fact that the world has so very many Bad Jackies who continue to cling to the blood libel of Paganism has very real consequences. Many of these urban myths don’t: if a thousand Jackies want to check the gas pump handle for HIV-tainted needles before filling up their car, fine; they waste 10 seconds of their own time. Usually, the consequences rebound upon themselves or will make no noticeable difference in the overall state of things.

But believing that a certain group of people are actively dangerous leads others to treat those people – me! – differently.

I’m glad Fred is talking about this. I think I disagree with him about the extent to which these kinds of choices are conscious, but it’s important to identify them as choices. A lot of this conversation comes out of his subculture, and he can address that better than I can, and he has more interesting posts about how people prefer to believe in a world with such monsters in it. Sometimes sitting back and analyzing these things, especially arguing about it over a beverage, can be fascinating.

But I don’t always have the luxury of simply trying to understand the phenomenon because I have to live with the results. Part of processing how I have experienced and coped with anti-Pagan prejudice – whether it results directly from the Pagan blood libel or not – has made me want to translate some of those feelings into action.

On a personal level, no more jokes. It’s not funny to joke about whether I use my ritual knife for such-and-such a nefarious purpose, or whether my Sabbat will endanger any animals. I’m not going to pretend that it is any more. Social considerations of politeness will no longer stop me from calling people on that kind of crap, because it’s outrageous, and hurtful, and it needs to stop. If that makes me the kind of humorless bore who doesn’t want to be the butt of offensive jokes about horrific crimes, well, then I’m that kind of humorless bore.

On a broader level, it means things like pushing back against the “demonic possession narrative” as Jason points out. It may mean pushing back against misperceptions about divination, about symbols, about wearing black and going to the woods at night.

But I don’t know very much about how to do that well. This is a place where I would really like to get more advice from people who have experience countering this kind of defamation.

What I do know is that if you pay attention to Hecate’s rules on framing, this is the one time you should talk about what Pagans are not. But it still means you shouldn’t pile on other examples in an attempt to debunk as much as possible at one time; Pagans get so little media exposure that we need to counter the specific problem at hand and make a positive statement. In speaking to the public, the point is to challenge the frame and try to reframe, rather than accepting the frame and debating around it.

This is where I think the Bad Jackie idea comes in. When you work to counter the frame, put it in terms that highlight exactly how ridiculous and contrived the libel or defamation is. “You believe what?” Make it dismissible: how can you believe that in the face of an official FBI debunking? In the face of common sense? In the face of reality?

If you can’t change the minds of the Bad Jackies, at least make it obvious that they’re the ones who are out of touch with reality and at some level choose to stay there.

What do you think? Is that a helpful way to think about this? Is it a good place to start? And how else should we do anti-defamation work well?

5 thoughts on “The Pagan Blood Libel and the Bad Jackie test

  1. Interesting post and a lot to think about.

    I have a Bad Jack in my family tree and still have no way of getting him to see the absurdity of what he espouses as truth (and where when it comes to history he’s categorically misrepresenting things). I think you’re right, though, reframing the discussion and pointing out the absurdity of those beliefs may not change the mind of Bad Jackie, but it might just help inform the rest of folks out there.

  2. There is no point in attempting to convince the Bad Jackies of anything. They don’t get it, and they won’t get it, because they don’t want to get it. It is possible, however, to diminish the slanderers’ ability to poison the well of broader public discourse.

    It might be interesting to study the approaches used by the Jewish people to counter the virulent antisemitism that prevailed in the U.S. around the turn of the 20th century: a combination of education, political activism, and building of relationships with people of good will in other religious groups, among other avenues. Your local office of the Anti-Defamation League may be able to direct you to some resources.

  3. My response has generally been along the lines of, “What? No,” in a tone of seriously that is so ridiculous, I have no idea what you got that, followed by an explanation of whatever it really is.

    “I heard Sam Hain is a god Pagans worship who commands demons and demands ritual sacrifice!”

    “What? No. Where on earth did you hear that? No. It’s a Gaelic word, pronounced sowen, that means end of summer. It’s not a god at all, it’s a holiday. They used to slaughter cows then, because that was the time of year to slaughter cows, so they had meat for the winter. They threw a big party for it, and counted it as New Year’s.”

    It’s not necessarily a good way to convince a Bad Jackie, but then I’ve never found a good way to convince a Bad Jackie at all. That’s what makes them a Bad Jackie, is the refusal to be convinced. It’s a technique I started using in high school when I first started practicing Wicca and being open about it. Other kids at school would say the most incredibly stupid things, but they generally actually wanted to hear what I had to say about it, and they really didn’t want to look ridiculous, so I made it plain that while I understood they were just repeating what they had heard, what they had heard was ridiculous, and they would look ridiculous if they kept repeating it, and fed them some better information. Worked through college, too. And then I was hanging out mostly with SCA types, who are reasonably knowledgable about Paganism, by and large, and then I moved to Seattle, where it hardly ever comes up. Most of the misconceptions I end up encountering are from asshole-type atheists who think all religion is stupid and all theists delusional and want to tell us about it at length, rather than the really dangerous blood-libel-type stuff. The approach doesn’t work any better on them, typically, but I keep doing it anyway, until I lose my temper, because that’s all I can figure to do.

    1. Sounds good to me. Way to leverage peer pressure to your advantage!

      Obviously I need to work on my “that’s so ridiculous” tone. I’m such an academic at heart, plus I have been unfortunately blind-sided by these things when they come up, so I’ve usually been too stunned to have an appropriately snappy comeback to that. I’ll practice my adolescent eye-roll; maybe that will help.

      1. Heh. It helps to have gotten in all that practice while actually an adolescent.

        A tone of “I can’t believe you’d say that because you’re obviously too smart for that bullshit, you must have been listening to the wrong people,” can also be useful. Makes it clear that it’s the idea that’s ridiculous, not the person.

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