Paganism is a broad, eclectic modern religious movement that encompasses shamanistic, ecstatic, polytheistic,
and magical religions. Most of the religions termed Pagan are characterized by nature-centered spirituality, honoring of pre-Christian
deities, dynamic, personal belief systems, lack of institutionalization, a quest to develop the self, and acceptance and encouragement
of diversity. Paganism is sometimes referred to as Neo-Paganism to emphasize its connections to as well as difference from
religions. Paganism is worldwide and includes revived and updated ancient European practices and religions,
feminist Goddess-worship,and religions inspired by science-fiction writings. For their inspiration, Pagans look to non-Abrahamic,
ecstatic, and mystery religions of Europe as well as indigenous and magic-using traditions from around the world. Modern Paganism
is interwoven with artistic,
visionary, and libertarian traditions and emphasizes the free will of the individual. Many
traditions celebrate rituals to mark transitions in the natural world (such as solstices, lunar phases, or a birth) as well
as in a person's life (such as marriage or moving to a new
While the largest segment of the Pagan population
is white and middle class, Paganism cuts across all lines, whether racial, occupational,or class- or gender-based. Most Pagans,
however, are avid readers with interests in ecology, creativity, and personal growth. Many come from the scientific, computer,
and technical fields. Since it is not an organized movement, it is very difficult to determine the number of its practitioners,
but it is estimated that there are perhaps 100,000 in the U.S. alone. Some have termed Paganism the fastest growing religion
in the West.
History & Structure
Wicca as a movement grew out of the growing environmental awareness
in the 1960s, though it encompasses some traditions from the Middle Ages and earlier. Since most Pagan religions are nature-centered,
Pagans rethink the way in which we relate to the Earth. Rather than seek dominance over the environment, Pagans work to live
a part of Nature, finding a balance between the self, the biosphere, and society. Part of this rethinking goes along with
the resurgence of Goddess-worship, which is widespread in the Pagan movement. Many Pagans look to the fertility Goddesses
of old and find vibrant, dynamic models for ecological balance. The myriad Goddesses from the past also provide Pagans with
a vision of powerful feminine
divinity which is missing from other Western religions.
The Pagan movement has become
somewhat coherent largely through networks, journals, and festivals. But it is not unified or structured - herein lies some
of its greatest appeal. Pagans believe profoundly in freedom and the power of the individual. People are encouraged to explore
paths that are most helpful to them, rather than conform to a specific code of beliefs. Through magazine columns
contact, Pagans participate in a dynamic marketplace of ideas, where each person is encouraged to contribute and to take away
what is most appropriate for him or her. Rather than structuring the community around a particular set of beliefs or symbols,
Pagans concentrate on process to create community. A variety of practices are used to fulfill spiritual needs, heal, or create
change. Each person's particular technique is honored in the understanding that our aims are often the same. Most Pagans abide
by some form of "If it harm none, do what you will."
There are no charismatic gurus in Paganism. Pagans do not seek
to convert others. Each Pagan is independent and autonomous, even when working in groups. All value choosing one's own path
and beliefs. There is no one spokesperson for Paganism.
One of the most characteristic elements of Pagan religions
is their adaptability. In the case of nature-based religions, some will differ from others simply because their practitioners
live in different parts of the country. For instance, a system that includes rituals
celebrating snowfall would be inappropriate
for people in areas where it doesn't snow. Pagans believe that religions must change to meet the needs of people on an everyday
basis. While some Pagan religions can be quite esoteric, most Pagan beliefs and practices are rooted in everyday, natural
experience. Myths, rituals, and techniques are
adapted to meet particular needs.
Some Pagan systems and religions
Most American Pagans practice a blend of different traditions, the most popular of which are Celtic, Greco-Roman, Native American,
ancient Egyptian, and Norse.
Church of All Worlds: Promotes celebration and honoring of all life and the planet as a living,
divine organism: Gaea. Combination of worldwide Goddess traditions.
Discordianism: Honors the Chaos
principle and the humor of chance.
Druidism: Many varieties of Druidism are practiced, with varying
emphasis on scholarly research into the original Druids, who were the priest/ess and judicial class of the ancient Celts.
Ancient Egyptian priestesses and priests were renowned for their level of knowledge and skill in magical arts. In its four-thousand
year history, pharaonic Egypt built complex spiritual and magical systems centering around death and rebirth, still influential
Kabbalah: Jewish mystical and magical system developed since the Middle Ages. The most influential
magical system in the development of the Western magical tradition.
Magic (sometimes spelled "magick"):
Most Pagan religions practice some form of magic, which can be defined as getting results through the application of will.
Magic falls into two very general categories; "practical" or "folk" magic pertains to everyday life and is performed with
common implements like stones or candles, while "high" or "ceremonial" magic often requires rigorous training,
ancient languages, and concerns the mystical development of the self to its greatest potential.
Practiced by Native peoples worldwide. Shamanic techniques such as drumming are used in many different Pagan systems. In traditional
societies, shamans travel to the spirit realm to gain information pertaining to the community's needs, such as healing or
Witchcraft: Also known as simply the Craft. Honoring of Goddess and God (some traditions
honor the Goddess alone), use of magic, and healing, all within the context of "If it harm none, do what you will." Pagan
or Wicca Witchcraft has nothing to do with and is antithetical to Satanism.
Reprinted by permission of the Pagan Educational
Network. This information is available from PEN as a brochure. If you would like more information about Witchcraft or other
Pagan religions, please contact PEN, P.O. Box 1364, Bloomington, IN 47402 USA
This information © 1996 PEN