The Pagan Discrimination Survey Initial Results

Over 40% of Pagan respondents have been directly discriminated against because of their faith, whilst almost 70% of Pagan respondents know friends in the Pagan community who have suffered direct discrimination because of their faith.

Initial Results from SPF’s first Pagan Discrimination Survey

Dear friends,
We have recently carried out an initial review of some of the preliminary responses to our first Pagan Discrimination Survey, and we feel deeply sad to have to report to you that they are harrowing to read. We have had over 500 responses so far to our surveys (four surveys in total), and from the figures received we can confirm that in Scotland:

  • Over 40% (41.46%) of respondents, members of the Pagan Faith Community, stated they had been directly discriminated against because they are Pagans.
  • Over 60% (63.24%) of respondents know friends in the Pagan Faith Community who have suffered direct discrimination because of their faith.
  • Over 40% (40.86%) of respondents have felt anxious or depressed because of other people’s attitudes towards their faith.
  • Over 50% (50.67%) of respondents said they have been made to feel ashamed through people’s comments on their faith.
  • Over 40% (44.74%) of respondents fear their children would be bullied or harassed if their children’s schools knew the family were Pagans.
  • Almost 40% (39.3%) would be less likely to report incidents of discrimination in the work place because they are a Pagan, because they feel they would not be taken as seriously.
  • Over 60% (66.67%) of respondents have had members of other faith communities try to convert them.
  • Over 70% (74.62%) of respondents have been told they Worship the devil.
  • Over 60% (66.15%) of respondents have been told they will go to Hell because of their faith.
  • Over 90% (90.73%) of respondents feel that Paganism is treated less seriously than other faith traditions / religions / belief systems.
  • Over 90% (96.60%) of respondents believe that Paganism should be taught in Non-denominational Schools to help reduce this discrimination.
Note that these responses are focused on Scottish Citizens. We also have figures from England and Wales which we will be releasing shortly.

On the more positive side, almost 50% of our community are out as Pagans. However, going by initial comments received, we are now concerned that if the other 50% were out, that percentage of abuse being faced by Pagans in our society might be higher.

We think we can all agree that this level of abuse is not acceptable in modern Scotland.

We were also deeply shocked and saddened at the number of complaints coming in from High School students. Some have not only suffered bullying and harassment from fellow students, but have also reported that teachers have actually allowed this to happen; in some cases teachers have actually joined in, particularly in a Religious Education setting. The SPF cannot and will not allow this to continue.

Following on from this, we can confirm that we have formally written to the Scottish First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon. We have also written to the Scottish Minister for Justice, Humza Yousaf MSP; Secretary for Education and Skills, John Swinney MSP; Minister for Community Safety, Ash Denham MSP; Minister for Further Education, Richard Lochhead; Freedom of Religion or Belief Cross Party Group Conveyor, John Mason MSP; and the Head of Police Scotland, Chief Constable Iain Livingstone QPC, asking them all for their urgent action. We have also written a formal request to the Director of Interfaith Scotland, Executive Director of Edinburgh Interfaith Association, and the Chief Executive Officer of Interfaith Glasgow urging for their help and support in tackling these issues. We have had initial responses in earlier this week from the Scottish Government, and we can confirm that we will work together to address these issues. We aim to work with them hand-in-hand towards solutions and strengthening Pagan rights and recognition.

For too long Pagans have been an invisible faith community in Scotland. Too many of us have no choice but to simply live with the prejudice we face on a regular basis, as if it is something we just have to keep silent about and tolerate as part of everyday life: the cost for practicing our faith. This position is not acceptable, nor should it be: discrimination and prejudice should never be tolerated. We have a long journey ahead of us, but we take these first steps on that path together. We thank you for your strength, support and your membership. Without that, these advances would not be possible.

Full analysis of the surveys will be released to SPF’s membership in 2021, as well as to the Pagan organisations that were consulted with when formulating the survey.

Here are some of the more harrowing responses from our surveys:

My family was very aggressive against me when I came out of the broom closet and when that didn't turn me back, they mocked me instead. They still mock me.
I have to keep my faith hidden as it would affect my job prospects.
The level of ignorance surrounding pagan beliefs was surprising. Some suggesting animal sacrifice, rape, devil worship etc.
I have been verbally abused because of my faith, it seems worse now than it was 60 years ago.
There is still a perception that Pagans are evil. No wonder when you think of the films and programs that portray us that way.
I work for the Police, and if I revealed my faith it would make my position untenable.
[Paganism]'s generally not taken seriously and you can be seen as a crank, eccentric or worse. There is also a certain amount of stigma attached to it.
My 6 year old child was told her god's don't exist, only one Abrahamic god exists.
I am grateful that I have not been hurt because of my beliefs, but I know others have and we should not have to live in fear.
In high school, pupils and students would tease me and mock me because of my faith and the teachers would allow it to happen.
I would face open discrimination, mockery, labelled a loon. Treated with distrust and ignorance, terms such as devil worshipper or goat shagger are terms I’ve heard at work and social occasions.
I am a teacher in a faith school, and if I revealed my faith it would affect my position.
I was an adult at this time and my son's RE teacher told my boys I would go to hell when I died and she would not acknowledge me if I spoke to her at parents evenings, she acted as if I didn't exist. Due to this I had to explain to two very traumatised little boys that I wouldn't go to hell and it would be ok.
I was out picking litter near my flat, and I was screamed at for 15-20 minutes by a Christian neighbour and called a sinner and Devil Worshipper.
Colleagues have already been mocking about others who are Pagan and some immediate colleagues have mocked me to friends albeit not to my face.
In college I was told that my pentacle caused distress to other students. I was told I could still wear it, but would have to work in another room away from the class room.
My colleagues would throw me on a fire and light it, if they knew my faith.
I have been purposely excluded from conferences for being Pagan.
I had to leave a job because of accusations of witchcraft.
My daughter was badly verbally abused over a period of time by her RE teacher at school.
Earlier this year my new neighbour looked me up online and [...] insulted me and called me names and told me she also told my other neighbours about me being a Pagan and a witch.
I've been told I am not normal and need fixed.
Last summer I was attacked verbally for being Pagan. I was shaken and had a panic attack because of it. THIS NEEDS TO STOP!! As no one in modern 21st century Scotland should experience this!

In general, responders recognise that education and awareness-raising of the sort that SPF are actively engaged in is the key to banishing discrimination against Pagans and Paganism:

I think that a lot has changed for the better over the last 30 years in terms of officialdom accepting our religion. The last barrier, I feel, is the one created by the religious views of politicians (mostly Christian) which colour the responses of the executive branches but are, in themselves, at odds with the stated views on acceptance of Paganism of the leaders of their faiths.
I wish Pagans were more normalised by government and public institutions. If it was normalised at school and included in the curriculum other children would understand [there] is nothing wrong with being a Pagan and accept Paganism since early age… That's the way to normalise Paganism: education and recognition. We need it urgently actually. We can't continue to live in some kind of fear and fear for our children.
I feel that until Paganism is brought entirely out into the open in every aspect of life then prejudice will continue, most people see it as secretive and dangerous etc. and have preconceived notions about it; until there is better education and understanding across all aspects of life then nothing will change.

And although some responses have suggested ways in which our survey could be improved, our personal favourite responses were these:

This is a great survey and I am hoping that the results will be made public.
Good luck and thanks for doing this.

Background to SPF’s Pagan Discrimination Survey(s):

The Pagan Discrimination Survey was originally conceived by Steffy VonScott, SPF’s current Presiding Officer. It began to take form around April 2018, at the 25th anniversary of SPF’s annual Pagan Conference. After several harrowing conversations with attendees about the discrimination they were experiencing as Pagans, alongside comments that came from our Community Discussion Panels that ran throughout the day, Steffy decided to follow this up by travelling to Moots and Pagan shops across the west of Scotland, as well as to Edinburgh. His aim was to discuss the nature and extent of discrimination against Pagans and Paganism in modern Scotland. It was from these initial meetings that the questions which would eventually form the survey began to take shape.

Later in 2018, Steffy was elected as Presiding Officer of the Scottish PF, and at that point he decided to make this survey a strategic part of his Five-Year-Plan to identify key areas where discrimination against the Pagan faith community was taking place. His longer term aim was to tackle and alleviate these issues.

In early 2019, Steffy began collaborating with Social Anthropologist Aglaja Kempinski of Edinburgh University, on an initial complete draft of the survey itself, to ensure it was fit for purpose. Next, a series of in depth consultations, to discuss the nature of the survey, took place which gathered input from prominent UK Pagan organisations, including the Pagan Federation of England and Wales, the Druid Network, and the Pagan Heathen Symposium - a collective of Pagan organisations that includes Children of Artemis, Fellowship of Isis, plus many others, on their board. These consultations, together with the input from the individual organisations, influenced Steffy’s decisions when compiling and collating those questions that would eventually be included in SPF’s survey. The intention at this stage was to ensure that the final version of the survey was as robust as possible.

Early in 2020, Steffy put a case to SPF’s Council members for a financial investment from the Scottish Pagan Federation to be able to host the survey on an online platform. SPF officers had already successfully trialled a free version of Survey Monkey when collecting and analysing feedback surveys for SPF (for 2020’s on-line conference and eSPIN/SPIN). The rationale for the purchase of a subscription to Survey Monkey was that this would provide SPF with software to easily present and evaluate the information and findings from the survey. It is also SPF’s intention to analyse the survey results in order to assess the levels of discrimination our community face here in modern Scotland. Those funds were granted and Acting Deputy Presiding Officer Helen Woodsford-Dean was tasked with launching the survey.

Over the next few months Helen Woodsford-Dean, with the support of our Community Support Officer, Jules Kelly, worked to launch the survey itself. First the survey questions had to be converted from their current fill-in a paper form format to an on-line equivalent. This involved splitting some of the original questions into several shorter questions in order to ensure clarity. Once this stage was complete it became apparent that the length of the survey was too long and complex, in its current on-line format, to be able to be launched as one single survey. Feedback from beta testing suggested that respondents lost motivation to complete surveys that took too long (10 mins seemed the maximum). Helen subsequently divided the survey into more manageable sized parts, keeping the demographic questions at the beginning of each, and finally settling on four individual surveys that tackled the key themes of:

  • General experiences of discrimination
  • Discrimination in a social context, from friends, family, and within an educational setting
  • Discrimination in the workplace
  • Pagan interactions with officialdom
The first survey on general discrimination was released on 15th November 2020 and to date has received 341 responses. The second survey on discrimination in a social context was released two weeks later on 29th November 2020 and has had 119 responses. The third survey on discrimination in the workplace was released on 20th December 2020, whilst the fourth on discrimination in official spheres was released on 15th January 2020.

No-one should face discrimination because of their faith. That is why taking part in this exercise, by responding to these surveys, is so essential. It is vital that your voices, as you relate your experiences of prejudice as Pagans, are accurately recorded. Your honest and anonymous responses will allow SPF to both understand and identify incidences of discrimination against Paganism in our modern society. SPF will use the findings from these surveys in our continuing fight to combat discrimination against Pagans and Paganism as an organisation going forward.

As the Pagan Federation moves towards its 50th Anniversary this year (and the 30th anniversary since the Scottish PF was launched in 1991), it is important now, perhaps more than ever before, that SPF shapes long term and robust strategies to better tackle these issues of continuing discrimination against all who consider themselves to be Pagan.

All four surveys remain open and can be accessed anonymously via these links: