"Neo-Pagan faiths are modern-day reconstructions of ancient Pagan religions from various countries and eras. They experience a high level of discrimination and persection in North America, and are usually not practiced in public for reasons of safety." - Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Don't separate religions into Western religions and cults.
Good Morning America's Heaven's Gate episode included a segment on cults, in which they searched the web to show how easy it was to find cults online. They searched for "Satanism" (bringing up the Temple of Set web site) and then "paganism," bringing up a Pagan Network site. The correspondent commented that there are "LOTS of pagan web sites," and the anchor asked, "How do we protect our children?"
The term "cult" is ill-defined and brings up images of everything from Pat Robertson to cartoon demons. Most people think of cults as groups tightly controlled by one militaristic leader, where members are taken from their families and give the cult complete control over their lives - and, sometimes, their deaths. Even so, many journalists report on valid, non-controlling religions as cults, using the definition of a cult as a small or unusual religion. Make sure your readers know what you mean!
Don't cast doubt on the validity of someone's religious beliefs.
On CNN's coverage of the Timothy McVeigh trials, Kathleen Kennedy said several times that "...a self proclaimed, practicing Witch..." was accepted as a prospective juror in the Oklahoma Bombing Trial in Denver - Thursday, 10 April 1997.
We would never describe someone as a "self proclaimed" Jew, Christian or Muslim. Describing others as "self proclaimed" implies that there is something wrong with, or strange about, their beliefs, and is uncalled for.
Don't belittle Paganism or downplay the fact that it is a real religious path.
The San Francisco Chronicle, in describing conflict within a Unitarian Universalist church, described its pagan group's gatherings: "In a shade-drenched clearing behind the small church, seven practicing pagans, many of whom got some of their religious ideas from the Renaissance Festival, meet at the changing of the moon to pay homage to nature and a host of harvest, fertility and other gods. They sprinkle fairy dust and dance around a campfire surrounded by a terra cotta statuette of the Greek god Pan, a ceramic fairy that looks like Tinker Bell and an Oriental wise man cast in concrete."
This is the flip side of the "pagans are satanic cultists" idea. We're not evil; nor are we fluffy glitter-sprinkling secular New Agers. Paganism is an umbrella term for a variety of different religions, all of which are in their own way totally normal. All religions deserve to be reported on with respect.
Because Paganism is an umbrella term including many different paths, it's important to know who you're talking about. Below is a list of guides to some of the major religions calling themselves Pagan:
Internet resources dealing with Santeria
http://www.webspinnerspress.com/3rdstone/santero.htm http://www.artnet.net/~ifa http://www.seanet.com/Users/efunmoyiwa/welcome.html http://members.gnn.com/SBarto/olist.htm http://www.rust.net/~afolabi http://www.voiceofwomen.com/omi.html http://users.iol.it/cdi/