Guide to Paganism
What does paganism mean? This guide to paganism and Wicca will help you on your path.
The technical definition of Pagan, simply means ‘belonging to any non-Abrahamic faith’ or to put it another way: any religion that isn’t Judaism, Christianity or Islam. However, the word Pagan has come to mean something a lot more specific in the modern day, commonly being associated with things like witchcraft and ancient European religions. These days Pagan is generally used to refer to certain nature based religions and those that attempt to follow the old Gods of the ancient world.
Paganism itself is not a religion, but instead describes a great number of religions that all have different Gods, rituals and beliefs.
This isn’t an easy question to answer for a lot of us. The majority of young Pagans will start out alone on their path and literally have the world at their feet. This can be a brilliant time for young Pagans. Your journey is just beginning and you start to feel a spiritual awakening within you. The more you learn the stronger this feeling becomes and at this point in time that feeling is your best guide.
This is a time for learning and growth. The best advice that can be given to you now is to learn from as many sources as possible. Read books, search on the internet, join web forums and visit psychic fairs. As you learn, let that feeling inside you be a guide that leads you on your path. If something takes your interest, then stick with it and delve deeper!
Over time you will find your feet firmly on your path and eventually you may even feel as though the Gods themselves are calling you home.
There are a great many Pagan religions in existence today, some older than others, with more being revived as time goes on. Here are some of the most prominent religions that you may encounter in your journey, but this is by no means a complete list of all the Pagan religions out there:
Possibly the most well-known of the modern Pagan religions and undoubtedly the one that is easiest to find in book stores.
Wicca came into being around the 1950’s, created by a man named Gerald Gardner. He created Wicca based on the spiritual teachings of many other sources, some old, some new and all from different places. However, Wicca itself did not exist until Gardner brought together all these teachings and combined them into his own religion.
Wicca worships a God and Goddess, who symbolically represent the path of human life and the passage of the natural world. The religion also incorporates witchcraft into its beliefs, with the idea of magic being very important for use in rituals, as well as spells.
Wiccans celebrate eight festivals that coincide with the changing seasons. These are the four Sabbats of Samhain (31st October), Imbolc (1st February), Beltane (1st May), Lughnasadh (1st August), and also the two Equinoxes and Solstices of Yule (Winter Solstice, 22nd December), Eostra (Vernal Equinox, 22nd March), Litha (Summer Solstice, 22nd June) and Mabon (Autumn Equinox, 22nd September).
You can find out about Wicca online and in books, as a lot of its teachings have made their way into the public domain. These teachings are known as ‘Outer Court’ Material and can be accessed by anyone expressing an interest in the religion.
But Wicca is also a mystery religion, which means that to access the rest (the Inner Court Material) you must be Initiated into a Coven. However, many people are happy to just follow Wicca based on the Outer Court material available to the public.
The Druids were religious tribal leaders that can trace their lineage back for thousands of years. But unfortunately, they didn’t write anything down, so all we know of their beliefs and practices comes from archaeology and a few histories written by the Romans. As such, modern Druids do not seek to revive this ancient religion, but instead emulate it based on the stories and myths that have survived through the centuries. These myths and legends form a very important part of modern Druidry, used as teaching aids and keys to spiritual enlightenment.
Druidry doesn’t have any particular Gods, but instead its followers are free to honour whatever Gods or spirits they feel are best for them, if any.
There are very few fixed beliefs in Druidry; instead modern Druidry is more of a unified philosophy that seeks understanding through stories, divination and communing with the natural world.
Druidry is a very holistic religion that sees the natural world as sacred and to be revered. To Druids, all things in nature are equal and deserve respect as pieces of the larger whole.
The religion also has a very strong belief in the Spirit World, though each Druid may view it in their own way. They believe that when we die we go to the Spirit World prior to being reborn again, and that we may also come to know the spirit world through trance, meditation and dreams.
There are three central goals that druids seek: Creativity, Love and Wisdom.
Also known as Norse Heathenism and Odinism, Asatru is an attempt to reconstruct the ancient religion of the Germanic people. The Asatruar (followers of Asatru) worship the ancestral Gods of the Germanic people. Many of them you have probably heard of before, such as Odin, Thor and Loki. Asatru is a polytheistic religion, which means it believes in many Gods whom it views as all being separate and unique entities. However, Asatruar also commonly believe in other benigs such as spirits of nature.
The main belief of Asatru is that the Gods can and do interact with mortals and that through ritual and devotion people can form a relationship with the Gods.
The height of Asatru beliefs rest around the concepts of fairness and honour, disallowing the discrimination of anyone based on race, gender, age, nationality, etc. Family and community are also very important in Asatru and each person is expected to act well and live up to their responsibilities.
There are Nine Noble Virtues in Asatru: Courage, Truth, Honor, Fidelity, Discipline, Hospitality, Industriousness, Self-Reliance and Perseverance
Asatru also make use of magic, most often through the use of Runes.
Another polytheistic religion, Hellenism seeks to reconstruct the religious practices of the ancient Greeks. Hellenists believe in the Greek Gods, such as Zeus, Athena and Dionysus, whom they worship by making offerings and prayers in exchange for the blessings of the Gods.
Many Hellenists also enact the festivals that were celebrated by the classical Greeks.
Hellenism has a lot of benefits in its attempts to reconstruct these ancient practices because they were so well recorded. Scholars have uncovered a lot of details about the religious practices of these people and followers can also draw on literary sources such as Homer and Hesiod.
Hellenism has several large organisations, including the Supreme Council of Ethnikoi Hellenes, who hold large festivals for followers of the religion and are petitioning to gain access to worship in the traditional temple sites of the faith.
A new religion based on old ideas. Celtic Reconstructionism uses surviving information from folklore and mythology to recreate the various religious practices of the Celtic people.
The Celts cover a wide variety of European people, who share similar yet unique cultures. Each has their own Gods, practices and beliefs, but there is very often an overlap in certain concepts. Celtic beliefs hail from the ancient religions of Britain, Ireland and Gaul (European continent).
Most Celtic people tend to have a variety of Gods, a reverence for the spirits of Ancestors and a belief in the existence of other spiritual beings associated with certain places or things, such as the spirits of rivers or Guardian spirits to certain sacred places.
Many Celtic people believe in reincarnation, though some also believe in specific afterlife realms where followers of the Gods may go to when they die.
Many Celtic Reconstructionists celebrate seasonal festivals in a similar style to Wicca, but some also have unique rituals based on the specific Gods that they follow.
Some common Celtic deities are The Dagda, who is the supreme defender of the Tribe, Lugh the Irish multi-skilled hero-God, Danu the mother Goddess, Cernunnos the horned God, and Abnoba the Goddess of forests and rivers.
Kemeticism is a revivalist religion that attempts to bring to life the traditional religious ways of ancient Egypt. Kemetics follow the Egyptian Gods, whom they view like parents that can guide us in our lives. While many see these Gods as individual deities, many Kemetics view each God as a manifestation of the greater divine power of the universe.
One of the most important beliefs in Kemeticism is the existence of Ma’at. Ma’at is seen as the natural way of creation. It is a force of balance that maintains the workings of the universe and keeps them running smoothly. It is a state of order within nature and society that must be maintained through righteous law, justice and truth.
Followers of Kemeticism attempt to uphold the ideals of the Declaration of Innocence, which is an ancient text that lists all the things a soul should be innocent of when they come into the afterlife.
Mortals that have been deemed worthy in the afterlife go on to reside in Duat, the land of the dead. Some Kemetics also believe that humans have the option to reincarnate, also.
Kemeticism potentially has the most celebrations out of all the Pagan religions, almost all of which are unique to this religion. There are several festivals per month, with some months having almost one a day; however it is usually left up to the individual to decide which festivals are relevant to them.
Of course, you don’t need to follow any one religion to be Pagan. In fact, a great number of Pagans choose not to. These Pagans either possess their own beliefs that are utterly unique to them, or create their own path by taking different things from several religions and combining them together in a way that suites them best. This is known as Eclectic Paganism.
A lot of people find this the easier road to travel, as it is completely freeform, giving you the power to sculpt your faith into something that truly represents what you believe. Of course this also has the potential downside that you’re pretty much destined to remain solitary in your practices, so it can be a rather lonely path. However, that doesn’t mean that you won’t find people who share your beliefs. Paganism attracts an extremely diverse group and you will always be able to find people that are open to your beliefs and just as willing to share their own. Just check a few Pagan forums on the internet and I am sure you will make a few friends.
Right now, don’t worry about it too much. You have all the time in the world to refine your beliefs and find the niche that suits you best, so don’t worry too much about slapping a label on yourself. Now isn’t really the time to be overly concerned with that. No, now is the time for you to try and get a better understanding of what you actually believe. If any of the religions mentioned appeal to you at all, then do some research on them. Trust your gut. You are the best judge to your own spirituality.
The most important thing to remember when taking your first steps into Paganism is that there is no right or wrong path. There is just the path that is right for you and that is all you really need to concern yourself with. Remember, your first step on the path begins within you. Your Pagan journey is an internal one. It is a spiritual process by which you come to learn who you are and who you want to be. It is about understanding the world around you and coming to know your position in it. Finally it is about connecting to something that is greater than you are and opening a door to allow that into your life so that you might become greater too.
Becoming a Pagan has never been easier! We are living in a Pagan revolution and more people are turning to this path every day.
Paganism is more accessible and approachable than it has been in a very long time. The shops are loaded with books and materials, meaning that not only can you get your hands on some good information, but you can also easily buy the tools of the trade. Also, it is pretty easy to find shops and stalls that specifically sell Pagan and witchcraft related goods. So whether you are looking for Tarot Cards, Runes, candles or a new chalice, you are sure to find somewhere that can accommodate you and chances are that it wont be very far away.
Most Pagan and New-Age shops will also be run by people who are more than welcome to talk to you about it all and recommend some good resources. However, try not to let any one person’s opinion be too influential, after all this is your path and not theirs. Indeed, that goes for books and websites too. When you find something you are interested in, don’t just stop there; keep digging deeper to discover more about it. No one source holds all the pieces and in this Pagan revolution there so many places to look.
Yes, there are a lot of sources out there. But are they all good? Certainly not.
Although there is a vast array of books and websites about Paganism, not all of them are as accurate as we might hope. Some are even down right wrong.
That isn’t to say that any spiritual path is necessarily worse than any other, but it does mean that sometimes people get their facts wrong. For this reason, it is probably best to take everything with a pinch of salt until you know for sure whether it is true or not.
That being said, I can provide you with a little help in that area by dispelling a few myths that you may run into in your journey:
The Burning Times
Some authors like to talk about the ‘Burning Times’. The Burning Times is a mythical time when thousands (some say millions) of witches were burned at the stake.
While it is true that witchcraft was illegal for a very long time, very few people were burned for witchcraft. The punishment for witchcraft was most often hanging and the majority of those killed were really Christians who had been falsely accused.
Of course, it was wrong to make witchcraft illegal in the first place, but let’s not disrespect the memories of those who suffered by making it into something it wasn’t.
“I’m a witch, that makes me a Wiccan”
The easiest way to put this is:
Every Wiccan is a witch, but not every witch is a Wiccan.
Wicca and witchcraft aren’t the same things. Wicca is a religion that uses witchcraft, but there are other religions and paths that also use witchcraft. Witchcraft itself is not a religion; it is exactly what it says it is: a craft.
Wicca is older than dirt
Some authors like to foster the idea that Wicca is many thousands or millions of years old, perhaps even as old as humanity itself. This is not the case.
Although some aspects of Wicca date back quite far, Wicca itself is less than 100 years old. Simply because some bits come from older sources, that doesn’t make them Wicca.
As a Wiccan once said to me, ‘Flour isn’t the same as a cake.’
Pagans and Wiccans and witches, oh my!
These words are not interchangeable. Not all Pagans are Wiccan. Not all witches are Wiccan. Not all witches are Pagan. Any author who can’t make this simple distinction isn’t likely to get much else right.
I’m not sure there is any accurate way to finish this sentence. Paganism is a collection of many different beliefs and there is no one belief that is held by all Pagans.
Religion X is keeping us down!
There are authors out there who have a real persecution complex. They seem to blame all the woes of the world on a certain religion. Sometimes this is a historical view (like the Burning Times mentioned already), other times it is an insistence that certain groups in the modern day are trying to destroy their religion. Often Christianity comes under this kind of fire, but these authors are just as willing to take pot-shots at other Pagans.
In short, these people have their own agenda. Don’t let their bias towards others affect the way that you approach other religions.
Think of these myths as warning signs that can help you to identify how good a source really is. Any book, website or person that is saying things like these probably doesn’t know as much as they think they do. Still, we are all learning, right?
But it’s not all bad news. In amongst it all there is some really good information from some really good authors. I won’t recommend any here, as all authors write on their own subjects and those areas may not be right for you. As starting Pagans, it is important to find your own way.