An Introduction to Paganism
Welcome to the world of Paganism! This fascinating and diverse spiritual path has been gaining popularity in recent years, with about one million pagans in the US alone. If you're new to Paganism, you're in the right place! In this article, we'll explore the history of Paganism, its modern revival, core beliefs, different types, and how to start your own path and learn more.
The History of Paganism
Paganism has a complex history, and the term's meaning has evolved over time. Originally derived from the Latin word paganus, which means 'rural' or 'rustic,' it was used by early Christians to describe people in the Roman Empire who lived in the countryside and practiced polytheistic or animistic religions outside Judeo-Christianity.
During and after the Middle Ages, the word became more associated with religion and was used to describe anyone who didn't practice Christianity - from Scandinavian people who worshipped the Norse gods to the indigenous people of the Americas.
As Christianity spread worldwide, many pagans were persecuted for their beliefs. However, some missionaries found that they could increase conversion to Christianity by incorporating elements of local beliefs and practices into their teachings. Many Christian holidays, such as Christmas, Easter, and All Saints' Day, are based on ancient pagan celebrations and traditions.
Modern Revival of Paganism
The modern revival of Paganism dates back to the 19th century, during a cultural movement called Romanticism, which valued emotion, spirituality, and nature. Artists and intellectuals looked to pagan folklore and mythology for inspiration, and a growing interest in occult and spiritual matters continued into the 20th century.
Modern Paganism - or Neopaganism as it is sometimes called - began in the 1950s with Gerald Gardner. His book, "Witchcraft Today," published in 1954, presented a vision of a pre-Christian tradition where people worshipped both a God and a Goddess and lived in harmony with nature using magic and ritual.
It was a controversial book, since witchcraft was still associated with devil worship. However, the Neopagan movement grew in popularity in the 1960s and 1970s, especially with the advent of the modern religion Wicca (an interesting note - Gardner is commonly known as the father of Wicca, although he didn't use that term, and it came into popularity only after his death).
Beliefs of Modern Pagans
Since Paganism is a faith that values individuality and personal choice, there are numerous branches. However, most modern pagans share a few common beliefs regardless of their path.
- Nature-based spirituality: The connection to nature is central to most pagan religions. Pagan deities are often connected to natural phenomena, and pagan holidays and celebrations are based on the rhythm of the changing seasons. The Earth is considered sacred, and pagans strive to live harmoniously with nature.
- Polytheism and Animism: Polytheism is a belief system where multiple gods and goddesses are worshipped, while animism is a belief system where non-human entities such as animals, plants, and even inanimate objects are thought to possess a spiritual essence. Pagans are often polytheistic, animistic, or both.
- The importance of personal connection to the spiritual world: Paganism is based on intuition and personal choice. There are no official pagan holy books that dictate how you should live your life. Pagans are encouraged to form their own connection to the spiritual world while adhering to the ethical code of doing no harm.
- Divination and magick accepted as a normal part of life: While not all pagans practice witchcraft, it's generally accepted that ritual can be used to commune with the divine and affect change in the physical world, as the spiritual and physical realms are interconnected.
Different Types of Paganism
There are countless pagan religions, but we'll list a few of the most popular ones below:
- Wicca - This is the most popular modern pagan religion today. Wicca draws on various pre-Christian beliefs (primarily Celtic) and emphasizes the worship of the Goddess as well as the God.
- Druidry - A modern revival of the ancient Celtic religion of the druids. Druidry places great importance on the worship of nature.
- Germanic Paganism (Asatru or Heathenry) - A modern revival of Norse religions, with the worship of gods such as Odin, Freya, and Thor.
- Hellenism - A pagan religion based on the veneration of Ancient Greek gods such as Aphrodite, Apollo, and Athena
- Kemetism - A modern revival of ancient Egyptian religions, with the worship of gods and goddesses such as Horus, Osiris, and Isis.
- Shamanism - Although not technically one distinct path, shamanism is a spiritual practice found in many cultures worldwide that emphasizes communication with the spiritual world through trance or altered states of consciousness.
- Eclectic Paganism - A path that draws on many different traditions and beliefs, incorporating elements of other religions and spiritual practices based on personal intuition.
How to Start Your Path and Learn More
If you're interested in crafting your own practice in Paganism, here are our top tips for you:
- Self-reflection: As you study and learn more about Paganism, be sure to explore your beliefs and values and ask yourself what resonates with you personally. Figure out what you hope to gain from your practice and what feels right.
- Consider possible obstacles: Unfortunately, Paganism is still considered evil by some. Remember that your family and community may lack knowledge about your new path, and some may even worry or be concerned. Be patient and open-minded, but stand firm in your beliefs. It's also ok to keep your spiritual practices private if that makes you more comfortable!
- Consideration for other cultures: When drawing from the traditions and practices of different pagan cultures, it's essential to be respectful and culturally sensitive. Take time to learn about their significance and history, and avoid appropriating elements you don't fully understand.
- Connect with nature: Getting outside and connecting with nature is an important element of pagan practice. As you do so, take time to think about how you can practice sustainability and reduce your impact on the environment. When you care for the environment, you are honoring the Divine.
- Build relationships with deities, ancestors, and guides: Take time to learn about the deities that resonate with you. Ancestor veneration is also a central aspect of many pagan cultures and is a helpful way to maintain continuity and connection with the past. Many pagans also form close relationships with their spiritual guides. Whoever you choose to build a relationship with, an easy way to begin is to make a simple shrine where you can give offerings such as food, water, and little gifts, and communicate with these entities often.
- Personal rituals: Develop rituals and practices which feel authentic to you. These can include spells, meditation, or even journaling - anything that helps you feel more connected to the spiritual side of life.
In conclusion, Paganism is a diverse, multifaceted path with a long and complex history. Pagan beliefs vary from person to person, and you should figure out what resonates with you and forge your own connection with the spiritual world. As you continue your journey, you'll see that the pagan path offers a fascinating and rewarding way to connect with nature and the spiritual world.
References and further reading: