Pagan Swears

Swearing is an interesting concept.  In the old-school sense of the word, swearing was pledging loyalty, honesty, fidelity, etc. by invoking a deity to hold the individual accountable to an action.  An example from mythology include Helen of Sparta’s suitors, who pledged to defend the interests of her husband in exchange for a chance at her hand (all of whom became actors in the Trojan War).   Now at least in the United States, swearing has expanded to include scatological insults and sexual innuendos.

What does any of this have to do with Paganism?  Let me share a bit of a conversation between me and a friend last night:

Me (responding to a sarcastic comment): Oh for the love of God.

My friend: Don’t you mean Goddess?

Me: Uhh, what?

My friend: I mean isn’t your patron Persephone?  So shouldn’t you invoke her to hear your frustration?

I have never thought of that before.  Yes, this particular friend is a smart ass, but he makes an interesting observation.  For Pagans, Wiccans, and Witches who respond to the Goddess more than the God (or equally), then in expressing a swear in any capacity has a bigger punch when you exclaim “Oh Goddess!”

So why don’t most Pagans, Wiccans, and Witches adjust their swears to meet their gods?  Part of it is most of use did not grow up Pagans, etc., and come from different backgrounds.  For me, I grew up Methodist and the biggest two curses you could throw at someone were “God damn it” and “Oh Jesus Christ.”   I have retained these after converting.  Another reason why is the tech-driven, second wave Pagan movement generation does not want to conform to the more abstract ideas of the first-wavers.  The first generation, i.e. the Gardner era to the mid Eighties, pioneered the religion.  Some of the practices they experimented with have stayed with us. Some, such as the attitude toward military Pagans, have shifted to be more inclusive to more people.  And some concepts have been completely rejected by the broad community, for example the Frosts’ ideas about parental initiation of children into sexual activities.  For some reason, the only Pagans, etc.  that I know that commonly use phrases like “Oh my Goddess” in everyday speech tend to hail from the older, closer to or past Croning generation of Pagans (although this is not a rule, just an observation from personal experience).  Perhaps using Goddess as a swear is one thing that did not translate to the new generation of witches.

Here’s my point of view on the subject.  When it comes to making vows or promising honesty, I invoke my gods and goddesses.  But when it comes to casual cursing, I tend to stick to my old habits.  

© Ariadne Woods

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5 thoughts on “Pagan Swears

  1. We don’t adjust our swearing because swearing is just as much cultural as it is religious (if those are even distinct categories). And overwhelmingly people don’t convey any kind of entrenched religious convictions when they swear (I grew up in a secular household and most of my friends are atheists, but every single one of us says “Jesus Christ” when we’re pissed). It might also be significant to note that very religious people often don’t swear at all, as this might be blasphemous (so, if we want to follow that line of reasoning–not that I personally do–then it might even make sense to swear using other people’s gods).

    “Oh my goddess” sounds weak because it doesn’t have any real cultural weight. It’d be like randomly deciding that “banana” was now a curse word or something. Maybe over time, but for now…it just doesn’t convey my rage to the degree that I sometimes require. But a solidly delivered “Mother of Christ” (my personal fav) gets my point across perfectly. Plus, when I swear, I’m usually consciously trying to offend or at least surprise those within earshot. I can only do that if I say something meaningful to listeners.

  2. Oh, I do. Took me some time to break the habit of using others “saviors” and what not, but I often say “By the Gods”, “Oh, my God”, and “Good Lord!”, although the second and third aren’t really breaking, so to speak. But by “God” and “Lord” (although I rarely identify him as such) I’m talking about my Father God, the Sun.

    I’ve been yelled at by older Christian women about using the “Lord’s name in vain”, which I shoot back, “How do you know I’m talking about your God?”

    Every once in a while, I slip up and use “Jesus Christ” or “For Christ’s sake”, old habits die hard, right? I usually apologize under my breath, because some of my friends do take offense to it. Not because it’s a Pagan saying it, but because they don’t use their lord/saviors name in vain. It happens less and less nowadays. In terms of Hestia, my patron, sometimes I’ll say, “For the Love of Hestia’s Flame!” or “Hestia, are you seeing this shit?!”

    Good post, food for thought.

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