Paganism

Pagan (from Latin paganus for “rustic”). was used as a term of derision by city dwellers in the Roman Empire to make fun of the more superstitious version of the Greek religion practiced in rural areas.  The Christians picked up the term “pagan” and applied it to all non-Christian religions. Later, the Muslims used the term to describe al non-Muslims.

 

While some Christians continued to use “pagan” to mean any non-Christian and some Muslims continued to use “pagan” to mean any non-Muslim, the word came to mean any person who didn’t worship the “One God”, that is, everyone except for Christians, Muslims, and Jews. Today the term Pagan is used primarily to describe those non-Christian religions whose roots can be found in ancient Europe.

 

Pagans today are generally said to be what is often called "Earth Religions".    Paganism, over the centuries, has believed in just about every possible philosophy,  has indulged in just about every practice and has worshipped just about everything possible.

 

During the Middle Ages, a fear swept Europe. And this fear found a target -- those who were not Catholic, those who believed in the "Earth Religions", and those who were thought to worship false gods (the Devil).  These people were superstitiously thought to possess magical powers. Those that were not burned and jailed were forced underground to practice their beliefs.

    

 If there is one common behavior of all Pagans and neo-Pagans, it is NOT to follow a personal belief system simply because it is convenient to the King, or the Pope, or the Potentate, or even mom and dad... it is to follow a belief system that is meaningful to them, ... so, they tend to be non-confromist!

Modern Paganism as practiced in the Western world  is particular to the native peoples of Europe and the Mediterranean.  Although there are many forms claim Celtic origins. Modern Paganism or 'neo-Paganism' can be describes by the  following:

1. Paganism is a religion of nature. Pagans see the divine as manifest in the whole of nature; in every tree, plant, animal and object, man and woman - as much in death and destruction as in birth and creation.  Pagans live their lives attuned to the cycles of Nature, the seasons, life and death.

2. The divine is female as well as male and therefore there is a Goddess as well as a God. These deities are within us as well as we are manifestation from them. The non-Pagan Gods tend to be super-natural i.e. spiritual.  Pagan deities are natural, symbolizing aspects of nature or human nature. Although the older Pagan religions acknowledge that the God and Goddess are derived from the Great Spirit or Akashka which equates to the God of the patriarchal religions.  But the Pagans give the majority of their attention to those lesser deities

3. The Goddess represents all that is female and the God represents all that is male. But because nature is seen as female the Goddess has a wider meaning. Often called Mother Earth or Gaia she is seen as the creatrix and sustainer of life, the mother of us all which makes all the creatures on the planet our brothers and sisters.

4. The Pantheon of the deity is drawn from past myths and legends, for example Isis and Osiris from Egypt or Thor, Odin, Freya  from the Norse. Ancient Pagans would have worshipped the gods and goddesses of their own nation or culture, whilst still recognizing the validity of other people's deities. The concept of an overall, un-named Goddess and God, the sum totals of all the others, appears to be of ancient origin, but not of interest to the masses.

5. Paganism in the west takes a number of forms including Wicca, Druidism, and Shamanism.

6. To Pagans the four ancient elements, Earth, Air, Fire and Water have special significance. The importance of these is hard to define because they have so many correspondences, for example they are associated with the four directions, North, East, South and West. Each element is a kind of spiritual substance from which all things are made especially ourselves and at the same time are Guardians both of ourselves and of the Goddess and God, and guarding the gateways between this world and the other world.

8. Many Pagans believe in reincarnation in some form. It gives Pagans a substantially different view of life. Early Christians saw Karma as a form of punishment. But Pagans see reincarnation as, at best, a chance to improve or to continue unfinished work, and at worst just a simple re-cycling of souls.

 

Wicca and the re-emergence of Paganism 

The old religion was virtually wiped out by the church of Rome using a combination of propaganda, torture and genocide. Some people held on to the old religion. These were often the wisemen and women or Witches, the root 'wit' meaning 'wise'. The church became impatient and began a purge beginning around 1484 involving the burning of Witches and wholesale slaughter of thousands of people across Europe just on suspicion of being Witches. Not surprisingly, in the face of such oppression the old religion went 'underground' and Witches dedicated to preserving the religion formed themselves into secret groups called covens. Christianity's purge was so successful that the old religion was virtually extinct by the 1900s

The revival of Western Paganism is mainly due to the creation of Wicca. In 1899 Charles Leland published 'The Gospel of Aradia'  a book about Witches in Northern Italy who practised 'La Vecchia Religione' - the Old Religion.  In 1921 an English historian, Margaret Murray published 'The Witch Cult in Western Europe' in which she maintained that Witchcraft had been a religion. Gerald Gardner, a British ex colonial administrator attempted tp re-create the ancient pagan religion of the middle ages and called it Wicca. In 1951 the laws against Witchcraft in Britain were repealed and he published a milestone book on the subject, 'Witchcraft Today'.

Since that time Wicca has grown in popularity and has encouraged the revival of the original Pagan roots and the re-emergence of other Pagan branches such as the Northern tradition and the modern Druids. Wicca itself has become more eclectic and has absorbed elements of other systems such as the Qabala and elements of Hindu. While Wicca is relatively new, Paganism is as old as mankind and its traditions are still being rediscovered.

What do Pagans do?

Pagans revere the cycles of Nature through rituals or ceremonies of various kinds. Pagans of the western traditions celebrate up to eight festivals or Sabbats, each year (not all Pagans celebrate all the Sabbats). They comprise the four solar quarters i.e. the two solstices (longest and shortest days) and the two equinoxes (day and night are the same length) plus four Celtic 'fire' festivals. All these mark important events in the cycle of life and also symbolise changes in the Goddess and God. They are:

Samhain(pronounced "sowain")

31 October: the feast of the dead; remembrance of ancestors and people, now dead, who were important to us. It marks the end of the Celtic year and the start of the spiritual new year. Also known as All Hallows day, the night before being All Hallows Eve (Halloween) or all souls night.

Yule,

the winter solstice, approximately 21 December: rebirth of the sun and the gradual lengthening of the days towards springtime and new life.

Imbolc or Bride's day

 start of spring and the return of the Goddess to the land.

Ostara (Easter),

 the spring equinox, approximately 21 March: Return of the sun from the south, springtime proper. Some celebrate a holy union between God and Goddess.

Beltane (starting on May day):

 Summertime begins celebrating new life and the holy marriage of God and Goddess.

Midsomer (Midsummer) or Litha,

 the summer solstice, approximately 21June: Everything is green thanks to the God of nature, the Green Man.

Lughnasadh or Lammas

 end of August: the festival of the first (corn) harvest.

Mabon,

the Autumn equinox, approximately 21 September: second (fruit) harvest celebration, making plans for the winter months to come.

 

Samhain, Imbolc, Beltane and Lammas are known as fire festivals. Traditionally there was always a fire at these celebrations. These festivals were never held on exact dates for example Lammas would have been celebrated when the barleycorn was harvested.  These festivals or sabbats complete the Wheel of the Year