~ Edain McCoy ~
The word "pagan" comes from the Latin word “paganus”, meaning “country dweller”, however, there is no consensus on the exact modern meaning of the word and the label of “pagan” has various meanings to different people. This causes misunderstandings whenever the word is used, as most people assume that the meaning that they have been taught, usually in the context of their religious upbringing, is universally accepted. Therefore one must judge the meaning implied within the context in which the word is used in order to guess at the intent of its usage. In common modern usage, it may be used in an attempt to stigmatize pagans as being anything from “Witches” to “Worshippers of the Devil”. However, within Western patriarchal religious societies, the most common interpretation is “heathen” and/or “heretic”.
In its essence, as practiced throughout the world, “paganism”, in its ancient and traditional sense, is a veneration of Nature. It is a spiritual way of life which has its roots in the ancient tribal beliefs of the world. Pagans celebrate the sanctity of Nature and believe in the sacredness of all things. Pagans see the divine in every object, in every tree, in every plant, in every living creature living creature and in the dark side of life as much as in the light. Pagans live their lives attuned to the cycles of Nature and of life and death.
Paganism is tribal in essence as the "old religion" or "old ways" of a local “homeland”. All pagan beliefs form a connection and reverence for their “local” natural environment. Pagans see this as their spiritual heritage and maintain the beliefs and traditions of their ancestors.
If we are to cast any light on the origins of paganism we have to go down into the darkness, deep into the ancient caves and look upon the prehistoric cave paintings. There we find recorded the images drawn by early humans. When we go down into those caves today with our floodlights we see them as works of art. But those ancient “artists”, deep in the earth, working by the dancing light of their fires, were really composing prayers.
These ancient drawings were of the animals that the early humans not only hunted as food, but also venerated as spirits, and their presence of in the land meant the difference between life and death to the people. In time these early humans came to associate the appearance of these animals with the changing of the seasons, and in time the seasons with the movements of the Sun and the Moon and with this association came the awareness of the cycles of Nature. Before long early humans began to comprehend that there was something big, something “magical” going on and with that awareness came a desire to be a part of and that magic.
In reverence of Nature’s wonders the ancients told stories and painted pictures of the strange, mystical events they experienced and they sang and danced in celebration of these wonders. More importantly, in creating this of art of myth and legend, as expressed within ritual, they were creating a “language” through which they might be able to communicate with the magical forces of Nature that they were seeking to emulate. So, for all intent and purpose, it was in these ancient deep dark caves that we find the first the first gospels of the “Old Religion”
Unlike the patriarchal religions of Christianity, Islam and Judaism, the divine is expressed in female as well as in the male. There is both the Goddess as well as the God, the Goddess represents all that is female and the God represents all that is male and these dualities are within all creation as well. Therefore, the pagan view of the universe is one of complementary opposites, of male and female, of light and dark, of yin and yang. The Gods of the major religions are above Nature, but the Pagan Gods and Goddesses are Nature.
God may be in the details, but the goddess is in the questions.
Once we begin to ask them, there's no turning back.
But within paganism the Goddess has the greater meaning. As “Mother Earth” (Gaia), the Goddess she is seen as the Creatrix and the mother of She all she creates. The Goddess is seen as the creatrix that maintains the Life Force and is worshipped as in the form of the Triple Goddess; as Maiden, Mother and Crone, as of the three faces of the Moon. Women were the Great Goddess' Earthly guardians. In the ancient Goddess Clans women were therefore the Goddesses Earthly guardians
Perhaps this is why the term pagan still brings fear to the minds of many Christians and other people in the sub-Abrahamic cultures. Within these cultures power has shifted to the male as rulers and priests, enforcing their power and eradicating the priestess and her Goddess image. The succeedance of land inheritance from the male has become the crux of man's power, whereas before the guardianship of the land had once been the role of woman. The Pagan idea threatens the basic power structure that came out of the patriarchal hegemony. Paganism was the enemy and, in the eyes of the Church, needed to be exterminated. The Church of Rome set out to eradicate paganism (and pagans themselves) by building up an image of evil around pagans so that even today ordinary people think Pagans (and/or Witches) perform evil spells and rituals in the name of a dark master, in the name of “Satan”. The Christian church developed this concept of Lucifer, the fallen angel and “Satan” was officially adopted by the Christian Church in the year 447 and the pogrom against “The Enemy of God” was legitimized and the genocide of the pagan people begun.
It is appropriate, at this point, to note the great hypocrisy of the early Christian Church at the time of this “demonization” of the pagan religion. Though the Church was willing to expunge the concepts of nature and the Goddess from the minds of Man, it was not going to throw out the baby with the bathwater and it incorporated vast elements of the pagan religion within its own ritual structure.
The Christian fear of the pagan outlook
has damaged the whole consciousness of man.
Anyone brought up in the Roman Catholic structure would immediately recognize the ritual items of the Catholic Church upon observing Pagan ceremonies. The vestments, the chalice and the censer are all derived from ancient pagan rituals and even the folk traditions of everything from the Christmas tree to the Easter Bunny come from pagan folklore long before the time of Christ. The church also absorbed the pagan celebrations and disguised them as there own. For example Jesus was not born on the 25th December, but was probably born in the Spring of 7 BCE, which would coincide with the time of the Roman census as related in the biblical account of his birth. The Council of Nicaea in 325 moved the celebration of the birth of Jesus to that of the pagan celebration of the return of the Sun “Yule” , the Winter Solstice.
But, as to the accusation of pagans worshipping Satan it has no basis in fact within the concept of the pagan religion. The pagan view of the universe is one of complementary opposites, of yin and yang, of the male and female. The major patriarchal religions have a view of antagonistic opposites, of good and evil, of God and Satan. Pagans have no concept of the intrinsic sinful nature of Man and therefore Satan to tempt Man to sin. Therefore, the pagan religions have no such concept of Satan. Satan is a Judeo-Christian Christian belief system because it is an anti-God (or anti-Christ) figure of that system. Therefore, Satanist would be in a sense followers of the Judeo/Christian belief system because they worship an anti-god figure which belongs to that system and not of pagan belief system at all.
So, what then are the basic beliefs of the pagans? Like the name pagan itself, there is no consensus on the exact practice of the pagan lifestyle and unlike the patriarchal religions of Christianity, Islam and Judaism there is no one set universal dogma that attaches itself to the pagan religion.
There is a great variety of traditions within the practice of paganism throughout the world. To the pagans, everyone is unique and each person’s spirituality comes from an equally unique experience and that each person should find their spirituality according to the dictates of their own soul. Pagan’s celebrate their diversity and for this reason respect all sincere beliefs, and do not proselytize or seek converts, from other faiths and from society in general. Their practice in general, has an essence of only tolerance. Pagans respect the rights of every living soul, whether human, animal, plant or rock and are ever mindful of the actions of cause and effect, by thought or deed, upon the creatures of the Earth.
Some Pagans may worship a pantheon of polytheistic Gods and Goddesses of Nature, drawn from the folklore and mythology of their native lands, while others may focus on an all encompassing Life Force of no specific gender. Some pagans see life in terms of animism, the belief that all natural objects and the universe itself have souls. Their beliefs are based upon direct perception of the forces of nature and their beliefs and practices convey respect for these forces and beings. What most pagans share in common is an abiding respect for Nature, a respect for the traditions of their ancestral heritage and there is a strong sense of community and guardianship for the care of the Earth. Children are loved and honored and children and encouraged to celebrate the natural cycles of Nature throughout the year.
The nature of Paganism is that of exploring, evolution, and opening up.”
~ Gede Parma ~
To the traditional pagan there is no “one right way” to believe, at the core of paganism there are four basic beliefs that Pagans share.
1) The Divine Principle is within allliving things and each is an important, integral part of the universe and has made itself manifest in different ways, in differentplaces and at different times and no one manifestation can express the totality of theall encompassing whole.
2) The Divine Principle is present in Nature and in each one of us. Pagans are very concerned about the state of Mother Earth and consider themselves Her guardians and protectors. They honor the life forms which lived with them on the planet, take only what they need and pay homage to the Earth for providing for them by giving back to the Earth.
3) The Divine Principle is represented as both female and male, the Goddess and God, the yin and yang. Pagans believe strongly in the balance and harmony of these dualities and that they must address theimbalances encountered and bring them into balance.
4) The Basic Pagan Ethic is “do no harm”. This means a Pagan cannot cause harm to anyone or anything and they must give back in some way to counteract anything taken or abused.
Like most religions, pagans celebrate rituals marking changes and events in life. Rituals can be ceremonies of celebration or a way of honoring the Deities and thanking them for their blessings. In the pagan calendar there are usually eight major holy days, or Sabbats relating to the cycles of Nature. The major pagan Sabbats or Festivals are determined by the position of the Sun and Moon within the agricultural year which ordained the days when one should plant or harvest crops, breed animals, or kill livestock and decreed the times when the Gods should be worshipped. These Sabbats were usually celebrated on the evening preceding the festival day, for the night was seen as belonging to the next day. The day was traversed from sunset to sunset.
To most people unfamiliar with the subject the words “paganism” and “witchcraft” are synonymous. However, while some Pagans are Witches, most are not. Witches, like shamans are practitioners of specific rituals and traditions within the general framework of the tribal pagan experience.
Witchcraft is the name that was used by the Christian Church to stigmatize the practitioners of "The Old Religions". It is the continuation of the practices of the native spiritual and cultural beliefs of Europeans and others that existed prior to the advent of Christianity. The witch is a practitioner of a paganistic lifestyle, but the paths (traditions) that individual witches follow often vary widely. A witch will follow the principles and beliefs of the pagan philosophy, but not according to any set of parochial dogmas. A witch's individual path comes from the epiphany of their own individual experience and the exercise of their own given talents. Witchcraft is a considered a religion; however that classification is more a legal label rather than a definition of witchcraft as a congregational approach to spirituality.
To become a witch, one must become a practitioner of the “Old Ways”. Different traditions have different methodology for becoming a part of their tradition. For most, this involves some form of self-dedication to the Gods and Goddesses of the Earth. Even for those born into a family tradition, a conscious decision to follow the "Old Ways" must be made.
A spiritual organization with a hierarchical structure can convey
only the consciousness of estrangement, regardless of what teachings
or deep inspirations are at its root.The structure itself reinforces the idea
that some people are inherently more worthy than others.”
Neo-paganism is an umbrella term used to describe a wide variety of modern religious movements that profess to a revival of ancient mostly European and mostly pre-Christian religions and the term provides a means of distinguishing between historical pagans of ancient cultures and the adherents of modern religious movements. As the name implies, these religions are paganistic in nature, but their t relationship to older forms of Paganism is the source of much controversy.
Many neo-pagans practice a spirituality that is entirely modern in origin and found almost exclusively in the industrialized Western countries where tribal connections have been severed. While some neo-pagans attempt to accurately reconstruct or revive indigenous, ethnic religions as found in historical and folkloric sources. However, while neo-pagans draw from old religious traditions, most claims of continuity between neo-paganism and older forms of Paganism have been shown to be spurious and often outright forgeries. While ancient traditional paganism tends to represent the local tribal beliefs and customs of the indigenous people, neo-paganism is often an agglomeration of historical and practices of divergent paganistic traditions attempting a reconstructionist approach to legitimizing modern and dogmatic religions. It is this attempt to establish universal set dogma to the pagan ideal, along with a hegemony of priests, priestesses and adepts that is the main conflict between pagans and neo-pagans as the idea of a hierarchical body that claims to be hold the power to sanctify any individual’s spiritual path and growth is anathema to the basic core of traditional pagan beliefs. It is also unnerving to many pagans, especially those who consider themselves "Traditional Witches", that Wicca’s objective of attempting to establish an authoritarian hegemony of Witchcraft is eerily similar to the early Roman Christian Churches usurpation of Christianity into dictative body which eventually tolerated no dissent from its dogmatic proclamations and met any free thinking opposition with merciless oppression
Wicca: Founded by Gerald Gardner in the 1950's is the most well known and popular of the neo-pagan religions. Wicca (, is comprised of western European folk traditions, Eastern philosophy, and Qabbalistic mysticism. Although initially Wicca was based more in magickal pursuits, it has since developed into more of a New Age spiritual movement. As a movement, Wicca can be seen as an eclectic system of beliefs with an underlying static ritual and a shifting ethics base.
Wicca, (the Old English word for wizard), is primarily an organized religion that emphasizes the role of witchcraft and ritual. It is an approach to spirituality that emphasizes a doctrinal set of principles and practices promulgated by an establishedhegemony with a structured form of ritual initiation or rite of passage within the laws of the “coven” or congregation.
Wiccans practice what are a fairly fundamentalist set of rituals which are administered by a set lineage of high priests and priestesses. The Gardnerian Movement or Wicca, came out of a mass media "spiritual revival" campaign, led by founder Gerald Gardner, in Europe in the 1950s. This new religion has lost credibility amongst traditional witches who see it as promoting the idea of "weekend witchcraft" and not an absolute and unmitigated dedication to a life in "The Old Ways".
Wicca, since its inception, has broken off into several different movements.
Asatru: Asatru is frequently regarded as one of the neo-pagan family of religions, which includes Wicca, Druidism, and re-creations of Egyptian, Greek, Roman, and other ancient pagan religions. However, many Asatruers prefer the term "Heathen" or "Pagan" rather than "neopagan;" they look upon their tradition as "not just a branch on the neopagan tree" but as a separate tree. Unlike Wicca, which has gradually evolved into many different traditions, the reconstruction of Asatru has been based on the surviving historical record. Its followers have maintained it as closely as possible to the original religion of the Norse people. During the early part of the 20th Century, the National Socialist Party in Germany attempted to pervert Asatru by grafting parts of the religion onto Nazis racist beliefs. Today, some neo-Nazis groups are attempting to continue the practice.
Cunning Folk: The term "cunning man" or "cunning woman" was most widely used in southernEngland , the Midlands and in Wales. Such people were also frequently known as "wizards", "wise men" or "wise women" or "conjurers". In Cornwall they were sometimes referred to as "pellars", which originated from the term "expellers", referring to the practice of expelling evil spirits. Folklorists often used the term "white witch", though this was infrequently used amongst the ordinary folk as the term "witch" had general evil connotations. The relationship between cunning-craft and witchcraft is controversial. The original cunning folk were oftentimes witch hunters; condemning an individual as a witch responsible for some evil or affliction and cunning crafters were called upon to perform curses against the supposed offender. Today” Cornish Witches” are often mistakenly referred to as cunning folk.
Druidry: In the Celtic religion, the modern words Druid or Druidism denote the practices of the ancient Druids, the priestly class in ancient Britain and Gaul . The historical knowledge of the Druids is very limited, as no Druidic documents have survived. Julius Caesar's ‘The Gallic Wars’ gives the fullest account of the ancient Druids and he describes the Druids as the learned priestly class, who were guardians of the unwritten ancient customary law and who had the power of executing judgment. To most people today, the Druids conjure up images of a mysterious, religious sect wearing strange robes and conducting archaic ceremonies out in the open air at Stonehenge . However, archeologists have shown that Stonehenge was built, over a period of centuries, from 2800 BC to 1550 BC, long before the arrival of the ancient Celts and there is no evidence that the ancient Druids ever used Stonehenge. Modern Druidism (neo-druidism) came out of the Romanticism Movement of the 18th Century and is thought to have some, though not many, connections to the Old Religion, instead being based largely on writings produced during and after the 18th Century from second hand sources and theories.