An inside look into Paganism, that actually has depth and not just flashy photos…even though the photos are amazing.
Ellie Smart didn’t just want to go in and take pictures of Paganism and leave like most people would. She wanted to learn and understand what they believe and practice, and in the process learned that a lot of the stigmas surrounding Paganism aren’t actually true.
What is Paganism for people who don’t know?
Paganism is a nature-based spirituality/religion. It’s very complex and has many components. There is no set of ‘Rules’ as such, but each individual has their own path to follow. They may follow the path of Shamanism, Goddess, Druidry, Wiccan path or Witchcraft (this is just to name a few) or it could even be a mix of all of them. The main focus tends to be around the land and the showing of respect to nature, the common phrase cited by most pagans is ‘Do as you will, as long as it harms none (including yourself).
How did you get started with this project?
I started the project after discussing Druidry with my Nan, it inspired me and my Dad to go to the Winter Solstice (one of the 8 Sabbats) at Stonehenge. It was an amazing morning, we came away feeling totally shocked and amazed by it all, so I guess it all took off from there really. I became fascinated and wanted to understand what I had seen; particularly as certain news outlets were portraying these people as ‘Crazy’, when really, they’re some of the most sensible and kind people I’ve met.
What do you want people to know about Paganism?
I want people to understand that Pagans aren’t crazy and they don’t sacrifice babies!!! They generally want to help and do good in the world.
There is more to their complex way of life than elaborate clothes and rituals.
What was it like being on this journey and discovering their faith?
It was both fascinating and also nerve-racking, as I’m still learning about Paganism (and think I forever will be), it was hard to know what to say. I wasn’t sure what questions to ask and I really didn’t want to offend anyone, however, it turned out there was no need to be worried, everyone was extremely open and helped me to understand. The deeper I delve into the project, the more I learn.
As I mentioned previously, there is no set path, therefore everyone you meet believes in something different, so it’s simply looking at many different points of view and understanding that.
How welcomed were you by the communities you followed?
To begin with, it was understandably quite difficult. Paganism comes with a lot of stigmatism attached to it, many people don’t want to be identified in case their work colleagues etc. found out. The other obstacle was the fact that many people come to just take photos and leave without understanding, simply showing off pagans for the amazing clothes and delicate rituals, they are often attached to very negative stereotypes. This wasn’t the project I wanted to do. I wanted to learn from it and use my photography to teach others about what is really happening. I spent a good few months with a lot of different people learning about what they do and why before I began to take any photos, I wanted them to trust me and understand I don’t mean harm to their lovely community and I want to help them express their way of life.
What do you think about Paganism?
Personally, I think being on Pagan pathway is an amazing way of life. You become more in tune with nature and the seasons. You respect the earth and things that are important. I’ve definitely connected with the religion/way of life and really hope to inspire a few others to look into it too.
What is with the outfits? Do they mean something?
Some Pagans choose to dress up around different sabbats and rituals. Some of this is because they can feel the presence of a goddess or god within them and the clothing helps them express this. It can be due to tradition; or because it helps them in ritual, and sometimes because well… why not!
What was the biggest takeaway about exploring a religion that you weren’t involved in?
The biggest thing I think I’ve learnt is probably to be open-minded, to ask questions and get involved.
For me, a lot of the fun came from joining in and getting to experience amazing things like rituals and traditional events that otherwise I wouldn’t have. Don’t be afraid to just go for it or worry that you’re not taking pictures, as long as you’re learning it’ll help inform your work later on!
So moral of the story is not to judge a book by its cover, cheesy I know but true nonetheless. If you have questions do some research and go and ask someone who is involved in that faith or religion. If anything they will be happy to put to rest any stigmas or rumours about their practice. And hey you might love it so much you start to practice it yourself. If you want to see Ellie’s full project you can find it here http://www.elliesmart.co.uk/gaea#0 or order her book you can email her at firstname.lastname@example.org