CW’s “Reign” Misrepresenting Pagans

It may surprise some people to know that I have been enjoying CW’s new series “Reign.” It’s a historical (I use that term lightly) drama about the life of Mary Queen of Scots. Although false history is usually a pet peeve of mine, it was obvious from the get-go that this was not going to be a scrupulously accurate re-telling of history. So, I took it with a grain of salt and just enjoyed the drama, the foofy dresses, and looked forward to it as nothing more than light-hearted (and not very well-written) entertainment. A guilty pleasure, if you will.

But, then they started messing with Pagans. And now Aelfie is a little peeved. (Yes, sometimes Aelfwynne likes to speak in the third person.)

*edit* Shouldn’t have to pander to crusty old fuddy duddy haters. But I will clarify, as if that wasn’t clear enough, that the reason the lack of historical accuracy wasn’t bugging me is because the show is so OBVIOUSLY not even TRYING.  If it was playing itself off as a true representation, then the inaccuracies would be insulting. But, it isn’t.  It’s not pretending to be something that it’s not. Therefore, I look at it as a form of mindless entertainment to “zone out to” after a long day. We all have them. End of disclaimer. *

ImageAny series needs conflict, and therefore a nemesis. This series started by using the English as the “bad guys.”  Ok, that makes sense considering the period and history of Queen Mary of Scots.  Then there was court intrigue, double agents, hidden agendas, the usual thing you imagine in a late Medieval court. But, apparently when that got old, the writers decided to fall back on the old “demonize the pagans” trick.

That the series’ writers would have no interest in historical accuracy was demonstrated from the first episode. They certainly make no effort what so ever to get their costumes remotely period accurate!  So, I wasn’t really surprised to see Pagans depicted inaccurately. But, what did surprise me as the viciousness with which Pagans are attacked in their representation.

Reign writers would have us believe that the 16th century saw rogue bands of pagans committing “Heathen” human sacrifice in the woods, using their own symbol rendered as a pewter stag’s head pendant left as a “calling card” to identify their next victim, the pendant is “dipped in poisonous oil” in order to burn an imprint of the stag on the skin of the targeted victim, and then terrorizing said victim by hanging a still bleeding head of an actual stag above the bed of said victim Godfather style.  Apparently Early Modern Pagans were masters of “the Sicilian message!”


And, it’s not just the way the Pagans are depicted in the show that is so outrageous. It’s the way they are discussed.  The word “Heathen” is spewed forth with disgust.  They are discussed by the shows protagonists as if they are the most morally reprobate people on the face of the Earth and referred to as “savages.”

Did “Heathens” perform human sacrifice? Yes. But, did they during this period? Unlikely. Most of Europe, and certainly Western, Central, and Northern Europe was long converted by this time (barring the Saami in the remote far North).  Many modern neo-Pagans like to fantasize about witch trials being a purging of Paganism. But, the truth is the surviving remnants of paganism in the 16th century were usually folk beliefs.  In fact, “folk religion” is a term used to describe the fusion of old beliefs with new. Usually, practitioners are completely unaware that their traditions are, in fact, pagan.  They usually view themselves purely through a Christian lens.  (This obviously didn’t save them from the flames of the stake, but that’s another story). So, the witch trials were a purging of Paganism, but not in the way that they’re thinking of it.  There may have been pockets of agrarian “witch cults” surviving in secret. But the evidence is not yet overwhelming.

Secondly, we know that the practice of human sacrifice often involved the killing of prisoners of war and criminals.  In other words, people who typically would be executed anyway.  They just happened to prescribe a religious meaning to their executions. There are some very unpleasant accounts of Celtic human sacrifice by flame. But, this was during late Antiquity, and we can’t be certain how much of the account was exaggerated for the sake of propaganda. (Although it has been pointed out there are separate accounts which corroborate each other).

However, let us not forget to point out that the Ancient, Medieval, and Early Modern worlds were violent times! Abhorrent violence and killing was also committed under the Christian banner, even by groups who seem quite mild mannered today such as the Lutherans.


Now, I’m not the type of person to falsify history to make our religion more palatable to a modern audience.  But, the fact of the matter is that Paganism is not well understood by the general public today.  There is still much discrimination against Pagans, especially in areas like the “Bible Belt.”  There is still a mistaken belief that Pagans are Satan worshiping practitioners of black magic.  And, there is also the annoying assumption that Paganism means Wicca, and that all Pagans identify as “witches.” Sadly, many uninformed neo-Pagans who have no knowledge of the numerous reconstructionist forms of Pagan revival even think that!

So, in a time when we are fighting for equality, fighting for acceptance, and suffer prejudice based on misunderstanding and confusion, it is highly IRRESPONSIBLE of CW and the writers of Reign to be so ridiculously biased in their interpretation of a living modern religion.

If anyone out there knows of a petition floating around demanding that CW apologize for their portrayal of Pagans, please link it in the comments below, and we will share it around on the FB page.  I would link you to their “Contact Us” form, but that part of their website appears to be down.  If anyone would volunteer to create such a petition, it would be much appreciated 🙂

~ Aelfwynne ~

11 thoughts on “CW’s “Reign” Misrepresenting Pagans

  1. Pingback: CW’s “Reign” Misrepresenting Pagans | A Heathen's Path

  2. Bonnie

    From the opening shot, this show was drivel, playing to the followers of so many of the CW shows. It’s as though truth of the brutal conditions of the time AND the historical accuracies were not enough! Fluff and crap such as this is yet another kind of revisionist history which may serve the fantasies of young adults and fill the pockets of merchandisers but does nothing to further the knowledge or education from which the generations may learn. The fact that you are only “upset” with the depictions of pagans highlights your fascination with the fantasy despite the regurgitation of the facts, and that’s a shame.

    1. northerngrove Post author

      Honey, as I said, I took it at it’s face value. As a drama not intended to be taken seriously. If you knew most of my writing, you would know I am typically a stickler for accuracy, and immediately wrote this off as “not that.”

      Your need to condescend a stranger and turn a comment on a television show into a personal attack is quite a shame and a reflection on your character more than on mine.

      1. northerngrove Post author

        Thank you James. Strikes me as odd someone would be that bitter that they need to put down someone for simply enjoying a silly television series… But, whatever. Putting yourself out there on the internet means making yourself a target for crusty old curmudgeons who make themselves feel good by putting other people down. – Aelfie

  3. Cobalt-Blue

    Then don’t watch this past week’s episode of Agent’s of S.H.I.E.L.D. The villains was a “Norse Pagan Hate Group.” Marvel and Joss Wheadon just guaranteed they’ll never see another dime from me.

    1. Leif

      yup that pissed me off two but Marvel Thor is a loaded subject when it comes to those that follow a Pagan/Heathen faith. Marvel cant win since they will piss off someone with anything they do

  4. Leif

    I got it Reign is juke food TV and it never said it was anything else and it shouldn’t be taken as anything else but the writer using a Pagan group as the latest villains is frustrating and insulting and shows poor writing skills on the part of the writers of the show to fall back on old hashed themes since you can make whole sessions out of court intrigue

  5. Sam MacKenzie

    How can they have a CW show set in the 17th century. There were no nightclubs back then for the 20 something actors to hang out in and give stilted dialogue…

    1. northerngrove Post author

      I have no doubt they will find a way to incorporate it. There was an interview with the costumers who said they decided not to make any dresses “above the knee” as “that would not be period accurate.” And in one of the first episodes there’s a girl walking around in a knee length dress with legwarmers on! Oh, I’m sure Queen Mary’s ladies dressed like that! 😛 – Aelfie

  6. TJ

    You should continue to watch the show. The CW actually does a good job at portraying categories of people as heterogeneous and complex. As with any group of people, be it religious, or political, or even football, you always have your jerks and your saints. It just so happened that the producers of Reign decided to show the Pagan jerks before the Pagan saints. As to historical accuracy, I thought they made a really good decision by making the costumes a mesh between contemporary styles and those of the Elizabethan era. You can focus more on being entertained then ridiculous hairdos. They also have made a cute little effort to self correct their historical inaccuracies with minor references in the form of widespread rumors or public (rather than private) knowledge of events. Example: Francis being short. It’s one of the best renditions of historical portrayals, erring on the side of getting costumes wrong, but getting the culture and many personalities and their relationships surprisingly right (Example: the Henry, Catherine and Diane love triangle; Catherine De Medici’s ruthlessness; Catherine de Medici’s patronage of Nostradamus and his work in the occult; etc.) Except of course the whole Bash and Mary thing…


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