If you’re terribly terribly new to all this, and you’re wondering what it’s all about – or if you’ve had your interest tweaked by one or more paganish topics and want to know what we think about it; or if you’ve simply stumbled upon us by accident and have no idea what the blazes we’re doing here – then you may gain some benefit from looking at our shiny new Lurkers’ Corner. Here, we’ll assemble a few pages on some of the basics of paganism, its forms and practices, some Frequently Asked Questions and a run-down of some of the concepts you’re likely to run into if you make a habit of hanging around people like us.
And since we’ve got a whole page left over right here, we thought we’d start by running through what ‘paganism’ actually means. Good luck.
They say if you ask a hundred pagans what ‘pagan’ means you’ll get about a hundred and fifty different answers. As it’s used today, it’s not an easy word to define. Some would say it’s a religious philosophy – except that some pagans would tell you that they’re not religious. To some, it’s a belief in a specific pantheon of gods and goddesses – except that any two of us might recognise entirely different groups, or not recognise individual deities at all. Maybe it’s about being a witch, and using magic in rituals – except that for every witch amongst us there are some who wouldn’t consider themselves such.
Let’s start with the origins of the word. We can be pretty sure that the word ‘pagan’ comes from the Latin ‘paganus’; a term used in the time of the late Roman Empire to describe… And that’s where we get stuck. What did it describe? For a long time, the standard explanation has been that ‘paganus’ meant ‘country-dweller’ or ‘rustic’, and that as Christianity spread throughout the Empire the word started being applied to those people in out-of-the-way places who still worshipped the unfashionable old gods, while those in the more cosmopolitan areas were quickly adopting the new religion of Jesus Christ.
That’s one explanation. More recently, it’s been suggested that the word ‘paganus’ actually means ‘civilian’, as in one who does not serve in the military. Rome being a pretty militaristic society, once Christianity began to take hold the Roman Church started to order itself along the lines of an army: the Army of Christ. Those who weren’t enlisted in this army – such as those who continued to worship Jupiter or Mithras or Sol Invictus were, by definition, civilians or ‘pagani’.
Whichever was the case (assuming either was), the word’s long carried the meaning of ‘non-Christian’; and up until recently it’s mostly been used a little disparagingly. Throughout the middle ages and the early modern period, pagans were assumed to be (and accused of being) ignorant, superstitious, and quite possibly Devil-worshippers.
Nowadays the word has a number of different uses. Admittedly, it’s often used (along with such words as ‘heathen’ or ‘heretic’) by those of a particular faith to describe those who don’t follow that faith. It’s also used to denote one who is not a Christian, or at any rate, not a follower of one of the Abramic monotheisms of Christianity, Judaism and Islam.
But it’s mostly used by us to describe our particular point of view, which is…
Perhaps it’s better to think of paganism not as a religious belief system like these others, but as a loosely associated category of philosophies, which all tend to centre on the same broad themes. These themes include a respect for the sanctity of nature and for the divine force in the natural world, a reverence for our ancestors and for the spirits of the world around us.
Included within the category of pagan beliefs and traditions, you might find those who define themselves as any of the following (and this isn’t an exclusive list):
- Hedge Witch
- Traditional or Coven-Trained Witch
* Including (in no particular order):
- Ásatrú (Norse and Germanic)
- Hellenic (Greek)
- Kemetic (Ancient Egyptian)
- Religio Romana (Ancient Rome)
- Pre-Columbian Americas
You may also find those who have a particular affinity for extant Native North, Central and South American spiritual practices, or those of the Far East, Polynesia or Oceania; and those who profess a broader, more general spirituality.
Today, you can find pagans all over the world; amongst artists, civil servants, performers, environmentalists, archaeologists, government officials, bus drivers, office workers, shop owners, police and public servants, and builders – in fact, within pretty much any occupation, hobby or social group. Stand in a public place anywhere and the likelihood is that at least some of the people around you will be pagan. People with recognisably pagan leanings are more numerous still – although we wouldn’t seek to ‘claim’ someone simply because they share our reverence for nature. There are even those who manage to reconcile mainstream monotheistic religious beliefs with elements of pagan philosophy, although they may well not identify themselves as pagans.
All this makes modern paganism a highly diverse area, and means that most pagans will take it as read that the person next to them might not hold exactly the same – or even remotely the same – beliefs as they do. This tends to encourage openness and tolerance, and means that in general we’re not interested in evangelising, preaching and converting.
If you’ve got questions about paganism in general, or ones about a specific path, we’d be happy to try to answer them – just click HERE to send the site moderators an e-mail – but we have to point out that we can only give you our point of view!
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