People from all walks of life, in all corners of the US tend to buy in to the same stereotypes when it comes to religious beliefs. We get them from watching TV & Movies, reading popular books and comics and from those around us. Many people grow up within strict religious beliefs, these people tend to have a stronger belief against others than those who do not grow up this way, which is easy to understand. However, because of the strong stereotypes and media propaganda which is spread throughout the US (and other similar countries) even those who do their best not to be involved with religious bigotry get sucked in to these same general beliefs. Now, what does that mean? Well, it means that when people hear words like "Christian" or "Church" the think normal, good but when they hear words like "Pagan," "Witch," "Coven" or "Wiccan" they think evil, demonic or weird.
Even many people who have or do know Pagans or Wiccans, easily buy in to the propaganda surrounding their traditions or beliefs. In the majority of these cases people simply believe what they hear or see on TV or in literature. In recent years there have been a few moives, tv shows and popular books which have shown Pagans, Witches and/or Wiccans in a better, more honest light - however these are still few and far between and are still the great minority. On the flip side of that since the early 80's popular movies like "The Witches of Eastwick" and "The Craft" have shown witches and Paganism in general in a negative, all be it entertaining, light. These movies tend not only to fall in line with what people already believe but help to reinforce old die hard stereotypes left over from more ignorant times in our history.
As a Pagan and a Witch, I strongly believe the ONLY way to counteract these beliefs is to act. We can all sit back and wine about being oppressed, abused and hated, but that does nothing to change how people perceive us. However, confronting and changing hard set beliefs is not an easy thing to do. No one of us can make so big of a difference that the world takes notice.
So what CAN we do? It's easy to look at the world and just say "it's too big, I can't make a difference!" But one thing we need to remember is that with any similar situations through history it takes a great many actions by a great many individuals to change the thinking of a generation. Lets take for example the civil rights movement in the 50's and 60's. While Martin Luther King and Malcom X were responsible for taking charge and motivating people, without those people to motivate their words and actions alone could not have made the impact they did. It took the thousands of people behind them, supporting them to make the changes which have lead to the general acceptance for African Americans which we have today... Although I will admit that the Civil Rights Fight is far from over and far from complete.
So what is the point to all this? It's easy to become involved with a movement when we have a Martin Luther King to follow behind, but what happens when you feel like you're alone in the crowd? What happens where there is no powerful speaker to back up? Is it still possible to make a change? Is it still possible to alter how people see Pagans? Witches? and other similar groups even without a big loud movement? YES - Without doubt, YES!
Now, I am in no way suggesting that you become that leader. I am in no way saying you should go out of your way to make yourself a target, as many of these Movement leaders have done... However, as with any movement it takes millions of little nudges to move a mountain... So even a small step once in a while can contribute to the bigger movement.
Starting small is easier than you may think! People tend to think change has to be hard, it has to take lots of time or money... In truth, it doesn't take either. The FIRST step is believing in what you are doing. As a Pagan, most of us do our best to live by our beliefs and love of nature... So, why not make our first steps in that direction? Every little thing we do to further our natural lifestyle helps more than us - it helps the earth, and it helps the movement. HOW? Well, we are living in a world where "green" is in. Everyone is doing their best to be green... So why not do our best to "fit in" to that movement, because it is already here and it is something that people will see! Make a point to use green products, reusable bags, recycle, re-purpose our belongings... People WILL take notice! Want to make them notice faster? Get some friends together & clean up a park or a road side. Have a study group or a coven? Why not adopt a highway? Raise money to clean up a park or playground?
The point to all this is that small steps DO make a difference and WILL make a point. People see Pagans as evil, demonic, uncaring people. The first step to proving them wrong is proving that Pagans are loving, caring and good natured. Helping our earth, helps us all... And IF you can get a group together to put their name on a project or rededicate a park to, it makes a HUGE statement to the surrounding community.
Want to make a bigger impact? Start a study group, or invite others to the one you already have. Join a local pagan group and get them involved... As with any movement, the biggest struggle is how people outside the movement see those who are in it. Give people no cause to see you as evil. Treat your beliefs as a way of life and be willing to be open to questions. DO NOT open yourself to hate, that's not what I am saying. However, acting secretive or refusing to answer questions only furthers the belief that Pagans have something to hide.
IF you're still in the closet, not a problem! You can still make a difference by supporting Pagan groups or causes. AND by doing your best to live a lifestyle which reflects your beliefs. Pagan charities are few and far between, however they DO exist, and there is a growing number of them. There are also a growing number of Pagan Civil Rights Groups which need support as well. If you aren't willing just yet to come out and be in the open with your beliefs or openly support things in public, it's not something to be ashamed of, and is completely up to you... The internet gives us access to hundreds of opportunities to make a change and support the cause without "coming out."
Change comes in small waves. FIRST we have to change how people see us an individuals. SECOND comes changing how others see us as a whole. ONLY then can there be true equality without overall prejudice.