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A Spoonful of Sugar – Can Pagans Be Kinder?

Our intrepid Editor, Anne Newkirk Niven, once told me: “Just write what you want to write. It’s virtually impossible to figure out what will resonate with readers—or what they’re interested in reading”.

And, if you think about it, just about anyone can fill a Symbolism blog with inventories of universal signs and archetypes—and what go-to authors of symbolism books list as accepted interpretations.

I don’t want to be that kind of blogger.

I have a hard time categorizing my spiritual path. I’m a former (and formally trained) ordained Pentecostal Christian pastor. But I left that path when I realized there was no literal hell—and God was a lot bigger than the Jehovah, JC and Holy Spirit trinity. Yet, Jesus remains my main source of inspiration—with the wisdom-filled passages of the New Testament taking on a fresh, exciting, mystical and (finally!) relevant application to my personal life.

Yet, I’m also a huge fan of Ganesh, Loki, Athena and Buddha. Even Kali and The Phoenix get high fives from me in certain seasons.

But, I never really felt liked I belonged to the “Pagan” moniker—mostly because I was disheartened by witnessing the same kind of argumentative polemical nit-picking and apologetic hair-splitting that I saw in some Christian theological circles.

And while I’ve had my share of hurt within Christianity—especially with their sexism, marginalization and self-righteousness—I didn’t encounter the biting cruelty, “secret handshake” language, arrogance and “lineage” defense that I saw in online Pagan (and Tarot) circles (yes, even here at PaganSquare). I once saw a commenter trying to reach out to a blogger here, seeking common ground (and calling the other “sister”)—when the blogger got defensive and nasty, saying “You are NOT my sister because YOU do not worship my pantheon”.

In fact, after my first book Back in Time Tarot was released, several readers attacked me/it, saying I was “too Christian” in some of my commentary.



I mean, Pagans and Witches are about as on the “outside” as you can get. And we can’t even have kindness and respect among one another—grossly mimicking some of the Pharisaical posturing we say we abhor among Christians?

So what does this have to do with sugar and symbols?

As synchronicity would have it, I received my copy of the latest edition of Witches&Pagans yesterday (Issue 30: The Magickal Home). Anne wrote another fabulous editorial called One Big Pagan Family: We’re All in This Together. She notes that we can be “prickly as cacti” and “as hard-to-herd as a clowder of cats”—and goes on to list the three most important attitudes and beliefs we all share as Pagans (along with a passion for creativity):

1. We are rebels.
2. We believe that THIS world is spiritually significant.
3. We yearn for connection with like-minded souls, but don’t often find it.

Wp Magickal home 300

Under #3, Ann writes:

This makes me think that some traits we Pagans aren’t necessarily known for—hospitality, courtesy, and charity—are virtues we might want to try harder to cultivate… I do believe that we need to be more genteel, caring, and humble with each other. After all, in a world that actively disdains us, our family is often all we got. In the immortal words of George Carlin, we Pagans should strive to “be excellent to one another”.

I was quite moved by this—secretly wishing that I could find some open, welcoming, inclusive Pagans to interact with.

Then I went on to read another magazine that arrived that day: Time (June 15, 2015). One of the first features I read in that magazine, especially when I’m short on time, is 10 Questions (at the very back). This issue, Michael Duffy interviewed Barbara Bush. The last question he asked her was:

What’s the best political advice you have ever received?

She answered: Be yourself. Well, maybe someone a little nicer.

I went on to do some household chores, and my mind strayed to my Symbolically Speaking blog here at PaganSquare. Symbols is such a HUGE topic, that I sometimes grope for topics that I feel will be interesting and relevant to readers.

Then I remembered what Anne told me: “Just write what YOU want to write. What’s relevant to YOU?

I asked my husband to do a quick reading with our Snowland Deck: “How should I best approach my Symbols blog? What do I need to know?

He drew Ace Energy, our equivalent of the Ace of Wands.

Ah. “Write whatever ignites your interest, warms your heart or inflames your passion.”

I asked him for a clarifying card (gotta love those clarifying cards!). He drew 8 Mental (8 of Swords), showing a marionette snowman tired up in strings, scissors in his hands. Two of his fellow wooden dolls are escaping out of the puppeteer’s shop—window open, urging him to cut his restrictions and follow them outside, into snowy freedom.

Don’t be tied down to writing what you feel you’re supposed to write—or what others have done ad infinitum. Instead, allow yourself the freedom to explore symbols, observe what you learn and then share your personal experience”.

Ace W 8 Sw 500

I went out in the kitchen to make coffee, gently asking “So, what symbol do I focus on today?

I looked down at the sugar bowl.

Notes of the song Just a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down…”  rang in my ears.

You see, our 16-year old son and his fellow students at the Center of the Performing Arts just finished starring in five shows of Mary Poppins! (Believe me, I could write a whole blog post on the symbols and life lessons I discovered in that delightful play!).


OK, I mused, What does sugar mean to me?

It’s a symbol of sweetness. I add it to my coffee, to my chili—even to my homemade spaghetti sauce.

It helps the “medicine” go down. (Meaning, if I have a hard truth to share, I can sweeten it with respect and kindness—instead of being a full-on Queen of Swords bitch).


Then I thought of the phrase: “You can draw more bees with honey than vinegar”.

Again, an admonition that it never hurts to be kind to others—and that we can, in fact, expand our reach (and palatability) by being NICE.

Anne also noted in her editorial that we Pagans are individualists.

It’s just how I am”, we often think (or say). “Deal with it”.

But can we truly “be ourselves”—perhaps having strong Warrior, Judge, Liberator, Destroyer, Trickster or Rebel archetypes—and still be polite and courteous? I think so.

Will our strong essence—“full strength” we may think with a good dose of pride—be diluted by a kind word, greeting, encouragement or public support? I don’t think so. And lest we gain a reputation as being just as exclusionary, rude and defensive as the Christians we sometimes demonize—we may consciously set an intention to be nicer…not only to our Pagan brothers and sisters, but even those we vehemently disagree with.

A few days ago, I came across a Facebook quote from TobyMac, a Christian musician, singer and producer (that used to be a part of the trio dcTalk). It said:

We don’t have to agree on anything to be kind to one another.

Tobymac 400

So simple...and so true.

And lest some of you get your hackles up, kindness doesn’t equal agreement. It doesn’t even mean condoning the behavior or beliefs of another.

It’s simply a way of being—treating a fellow Earth traveler gently, with respect. Oh, we advocate this for THE Earth—our Mother—but why not her kids, too (even the red-headed stepchildren we may wish we weren’t related to)?

What does it hurt?

Because meanness doesn’t help.

As one who has always prided herself as being honest (to a fault) and authentic—a straight shooter (and gaining the enemies to prove it)—I’m realizing that honesty is NOT always the best policy…UNLESS I can answer “yes” to these three criteria:

1. Is it true? (Gossip, rumors and second-hand information doesn’t qualify).
2. Is it kind?
3. Is it necessary?

Ah, it’s #3 that’s really the deal breaker. Do I really need to say what I’m going to say? Is it absolutely necessary? And if I’m quick to decide “yes!”, then I need to take a few more seconds to answer “Why?”.

WHY is it necessary to say?

Magick involves will and intention. Kindness isn’t always a default setting for some of us, especially if our DNA (or life experience) broadcasts a more direct, bold and/or aggressive personality.

But those of use who have been called “Bitches” or “Assholes” more than we care to admit can channel our will and intent to be more respectful and courteous. It doesn’t mean we’re not authentic or true to ourselves. It just means we’re adding a little sugar to our own strong brand of medicine.

Some ideas for how we can all be kinder Pagans:

1. Don’t discriminate. Don’t assume that because someone is a Christian or Republican or meat eater or gun owner or worshiper of a pantheon you JUST don’t get—that they have a whole list of known traits (that you detest)…and thus, are deserving of your disdain, exclusion and outright rudeness.

2. Assume the best intentions. Especially online, it can be tricky and difficult to detect intent—especially without the benefit of facial expression and body language. And, some people have dry or sarcastic humor—which many can take for being rude (and then respond in kind, setting off a flame war). Some are even Autistic or have Aspergers—and their “people skills” may be a bit brusque and literal. So, unless someone repeatedly provides hostile, nasty commentary—with no attempt to listen closely, understand, uplift or meet in the middle—assume that a person has good intentions.

3. Be welcoming and inclusive. Even if you don’t know someone or they practice a different branch of Paganism from yours—say “hello” to them. Visit their blog to see if you can find something in common; take a moment to leave a brief comment. Greet everyone you meet with a smile (yes, it does take a lot more muscles to frown than to smile—and smiling releases feel-good hormones, to boot).

4. Don’t gossip. Spreading stories about fellow Pagans—or even trying to get them hated or excluded because YOU don’t like them—is an ugly practice. Most times, gossip is nothing but hearsay—a dangerous brush fire that spreads, often damaging or destroying reputations. Unless something has happened to you, personally, keep your mouth shut (because gossip mongers tend to have an ulterior motive—and you’ll just be their pawn). If you truly have a problem with an individual, ask them straight out, to his/her face. Paganism suffers when its adherents act like ill-mannered, narcissistic 9 year-olds on a playground.

5. Give up the nitpicking. Good God, do we really need so much hairsplitting about what a Witch IS…and isn’t? Who the hell really cares? If you like the word, feel it describes you, then own it. If you don’t, use the word Pagan. Or Earth-centric. Or Tree Hugger. Or whatever floats your boat. But denigrating those who choose a particular word to describe themselves? And arguing with 3,000 word comments, in defense of your position, filled with caustic remarks? C’mon. We’re better than that.

At least, we could be—if we marshal our will and intent—adding just a spoonful of sugar to our thoughts, reactions and interactions to fellow Pagans…and the world at large.

And next time you see a bowl, bag or packet of sugar? Intend to infuse your magickal practice, rituals, thoughts, attitudes and behavior with magnanimity. Perhaps even put a cube of sugar on your altar.

If you’d like to use a Tarot card for focus, meditation, or altar placement, try the 6 of Cups—a card often associated with kindness and simple gifts. Or, my personal favorite, the Ace of Cups (overflowing benevolence and compassion). 

UW 6 C + A C 600

-- Janet

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Janet Boyer is the author of Back in Time Tarot, Tarot in Reverse and Naked Tarot: Sassy, Stripped-Down Advice. She's the co-creator (with her husband, artist Ron Boyer) of the Snowland Deck and Coffee Tarot, and authored both companion books to those decks. Janet is a Renaissance Soul: Life Coach, Jewelry Designer, Creative Director of, Scent Alchemist ( and award-winning cook. As a respected, trusted Hall of Fame Reviewer, she's penned over 1,200 published reviews that have also been featured in print magazines and other online outlets. Next to creating, her favorite thing to do is spend time with her beloved husband, son and 4 cats at her rural home in Pennsylvania.


  • Lizann Bassham
    Lizann Bassham Wednesday, 10 June 2015

    Thank you. It is a gift to read your writing - and now I am humming Mary Poppins myself :)

  • Janet Boyer
    Janet Boyer Wednesday, 10 June 2015

    Bless your heart, Lizann. (I can't get all the Mary Poppins songs out of my head! LOL! Probably will be that way for weeks... :D )

  • Angie C
    Angie C Wednesday, 10 June 2015

    Wonderful article. Thank you so much. I hope people read it and take it to heart. And not just pagans, this is important in all areas of communication. I have to admit that I am a person who will tell you like it is but I do not say hurtful things.

  • Janet Boyer
    Janet Boyer Wednesday, 10 June 2015

    Thank you so much, Angie. :) The more I thought about, the more I, too, realized that rudeness and vitriol is a universal communication problem...

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