What is Paganism


What is Paganism?


What is Paganism1) What is this group for?

This newsgroup is for the discussion of paganism in its various forms and traditions; for sharing ideas for ritual and completed liturgy; for networking with others of a like mind and those who are not; for answering questions and disseminating information about paganism, and spiritual reflection, (and, occasionally, for dispelling the misconceptions about same). While we are interested in traditional pagan practices, this awakening community is fundamentally for all religions, as this helps in dispelling not only misconceptions in religious practices but dispelling marginality among other cultures.

2) What is paganism/a pagan?

The words paganism and pagan come from the Latin “paganus,” meaning “country dweller.” Neopagans hold a reverence for the Earth and all its creatures, generally see all life as interconnected, and tend to strive to attune one’s self to the manifestation of this belief as seen in the cycles of nature. Pagans are usually polytheistic (believing in more than one god), and they usually believe in immanance, or the concept of divinity residing in all things. Many pagans, though polytheistic, see all things as being part of one Great Mystery. The apparent contradiction of being both polytheistic and monotheistic can be resolved by seeing the God/desses as masks worn by the Great Mystery. Other pagans are simply monotheistic or polytheistic, and still others are atheistic.


Some people believe paganism to be a religion within itself; others see it as a belief system (such as monotheism) that can be incorporated into religions like Wicca or Druidism; others see it as a broad category including many religions. The fact that we are re-creating religion for ourselves after centuries of suppression makes us very eclectic and very concerned with the “rightness” of a particular thing for the individual. So when you see some people calling it a religion and others not, when you see it capitalized in some instances and not in others, don’t be confused we’re all still basically talking about the same thing.

2b) What is Paganism? How is it different from paganism?

Paganism (with a capital “P”) is one strand of neopaganism which strives to allow each person to draw from whatever religious and cultural traditions are meaningful for the individual. The practices of Paganism derive from those of Wicca, but are not identical with those of Wicca. Some people view Paganism as a non-initiatory form of Wicca, or Wicca as an initiatory form of Paganism. Some say that Witches are the clergy of Paganism. (On the other hand, some Witches violently disagree with that viewpoint. As with most things in Paganism and Spirituality there is no answer with which everyone can completely agree.


3) What are different types of paganism?

Paleo-paganism: the standard of paganism, a pagan culture which has not been disrupted by “civilization” by another culture — Australian Bushmen modern (who are probably becoming meso-pagans), ancient Celtic religion (Druidism), the religions of the pre-patriarchal cultures of Old Europe, Norse religion, pre-Columbian Native American religions, etc.

Civilo-paganism: the religions of “civilized” communities which evolved in paleo-pagan cultures — Classical Greco-Roman religion, Egyptian religion, Middle-Eastern paganism, Aztec religion, etc.

Meso-paganism: a group, which may or may not still constitute a separate culture, which has been influenced by a conquering culture, but has been able to maintain an independence of religious practice — many Native American nations, etc.

Syncreto-paganism: similar to meso-pagan, but having had to submerge itself into the dominant culture, and adopt the external practices and symbols of the other religion — the various Afro-diasporic traditions (Voudoun, Santeria, etc.), Culdee Christianity, etc.

Neopaganism: attempts of modern people to reconnect with nature, using imagery and forms from other types of pagans, but adjusting them to the needs of modern people. Since this category is the focus of alt.pagan, the listing here is more comprehensive (though no listing could be completely comprehensive).

Wicca — in all its many forms neo-Shamanism, neo-Druidism, Asatru and other forms of Norse neopaganism neo-Native American practices the range of things labeled “Women’s Spirituality”,the Sabaean Religious Order Church of All Worlds, Discordianism,Radical Faeries and other “Men’s Spirituality” movementscertain people within Thelema and hedonistic Satanism,some of eco-feminism and last, but not least, Paganism.


4) What is Witchcraft/Wicca?

Wicca was the first (or at least one of the first) of the neopagan religions. As a result, it is the best known, and tends to overshadow,its younger, smaller siblings. This bias appears in the postings in various pagan tenents . This does not mean that Wicca is more valid than other neopagan religions — just larger and louder.

Wicca, however, is only one of the things called W/witchcraft (or sometimes, the Craft, a term also applied to Masonry. There are a whole range of styles of folk-magic around the world which are called witchcraft in English. If the word Witch is capitalized, it indicates that it is being used to refer to a member of a pagan religion, not just to a practitioner of folk-magic. There are also Witches who practice religions called Witchcraft which are not Wicca. These religions tend to be more folk-pagan than Wicca, drawing on the heritage of a specific culture or region.

Wicca itself is a new religion, drawing strongly on the practices of Ceremonial Magic. While there are claims that Wicca goes back into the mists of pre-history, honest examination of the practices and history of the Wicca will make it clear that Wicca is new. (Actually, the word “Wicca” itself is recently coined, at least in its present usage. The OE “wicca” was pronounced “witch-ah” and meant male magician. The new word “Wicca” is pronounced “wick-uh”, capitalized as a religion, and means a religion, not a person.) However, Wicca has developed in many directions and should not be seen as a unified whole, even though it is fairly new. Rituals and beliefs vary widely among Witches.


Unlike most of the neopagan religions, Wicca is an initiatory religion, that is, people who choose to practice Wicca believe that the commitment to this path set changes in motion in their lives. Many Traditions (sects) of Wicca formalize this with a ritual (or series of rituals) of initiation. Others, especially Solitary Witches, trust that the Gods/ess will do the initiating of the Witch.

4b) Why do some of you use the word Witch? Wiccan?

First, not everyone that say they are Pagans areWiccan/Witchy, so thisquestion only applies to some of the people.

Witch is a very old word meaning “magic-maker”, from a root which meant “bending” and “shaping”. For many of us, the word Witch is a powerful reclaiming of that inherent human power to make changes around us. For others, including some of the people within Wicca, that word is not their word. Some people within Wicca take the adjective“Wiccan” and use it as a noun.

(Some people question the authenticity of the etymology that says “witch” means “to bend or shape.” They believe that the word is simply from the Old English for “wise one” and has no relation to the root mentioned above — which gives us the modern word “wicker,” for instance. However, this definition is a good way to think of how a odern Witch might see him/herself.)


5) What are some different traditions in the Wicca?

Different traditions in the Craft include Gardnerian Wicca, Alexandrian Wicca, Dianic Wicca, the Faery tradition, many branches of Celtic-based Wicca, and many other forms of Wicca often called eclectic, since they draw their practices and liturgy from many different sources. There is no way to include all traditions because new ones are being created every day by the practitioners themselves.

6) Are pagans Witches?

We’ve mentioned that even among pagans and Witches, there is dispute about just how specific these terms are. But the majority opinion seems to be that the question, “Are pagans Witches?” is about the same as the question, “Are Christians Catholics?” (or Methodists, Baptists or whatever). Most Witches are pagans, but not all pagans are Witches.


7) Are you Satanists?

This is a bit of a loaded question, since there are several different conceptions of what Satanism really is. Most pagans do not worship Satan or practice Satanic rites. Some pagans practice something called Satanism, but it is a far cry from the Hollywood image of Satanism. These people tend to value pleasure as a primary motivation, or to find meaning in images which the repressive Christian churches attacked. For some of these folk, reclaiming the word “Satanist” is an act of resistance against oppression.

If what you’re really wanting to know is do Satanists sacrifice babies and worship evil incarnate, the answer’s no.

8) What kinds of people are pagans?

People from all walks of life are pagans — computer programmers, artists, police officers, journalists, university professors, lawyers, doctors and mainstream cultures and societies — the list is endless. Many people, no matter what their mundane occupation, find solace in the life-affirming aspects of paganism.


9) What holidays do you celebrate?

Because neopaganism follows so many traditions from many different parts of the world, there is no single set of holidays that all neopagans celebrate. Several calendars are available which list many different holidays, one or more for every day of the year. Most of these holidays are either dedicated to particular deities (e.g. Brighid, Diana, Thor), or mark seasonal changes in the environment (e.g. the solstices and equinoxes). What specific holidays are celebrated is something decided within a certain tradition, or by the individual.

10) I’m not a pagan; should I post here?

Yes, definitely — with a couple of caveats:

a) Don’t come on to witness to us. We’re really not interested in being converted (or worse, saved). It’s not a tenet of our path to convert, and so we are particularly unhappy with the idea. Plus which, you will add unnecessarily to the noise level in this newsgroup, since most readers will feel compelled to flame you to the farthest reaches of Hell.

(This doesn’t mean we don’t want to discuss aspects of other religions as they relate to paganism. However, discussion we like. Argument, even. But *not* witness attempts.)

b) If you’re new to News, then you might want to check out the site for the posting protocol. And you might want to read some articles for a while — get the feel of things — before you post. Some folks just want to read and receive their digests as they get whatever it is that they desire out of the newsletter.


11) How does one/do I become a pagan?

Most followers of pagan beliefs feel that, if someone is meant to find the pagan path, s/he will eventually. Usually, it is not a case so much of “becoming” a pagan as it is of finding a vocabulary for ideas and beliefs that you have always held. Good ways of investigating if this path is for you is to frequent pagan or new age bookstores, attend open pagan gatherings when the opportunity arises, and look for contacts. Most importantly, read read read! There are plenty of good books out there, as well as periodicals. The latter especially might be useful in the way of making contacts in your area.

12) What books/magazines should I read?

There are many, many good books on this subject (and quite a few bad ones), and different bibliographies are available on the Internet. But the best book to read is _Drawing Down the Moon_ by Margot Adler.This is not a how-to book; it’s a comprehensive study of the neopagan movement in America, and the author is a journalist, a reporter for National Public Radio, and a pagan.


13) What’s a coven really like?

Well, if you’re expecting to hear about sex and blood magic, animal sacrifice, and ritual cruelty, then you’ll be disappointed. Forming or joining a coven is a spiritual commitment (the words coven and covenant are related) that is entered into advisedly. Once that bond is made, though, you find yourself in a spiritual community of people who have roughly the same theology, getting together to celebrate the passing of the seasons and the cycles of the moon, providing support and comfort to its members — a lot like a small spiritual community of any faith. Another common saying among Pagans is “In perfect love and perfect trust,” and that sums up their relationship among conveners pretty well.

Another kind of group for like-minded pagans to gather in is called a circle. The ties between coven members are as close as those between members of a family, and in some cases, closer. A circle is similar to a group of friends — you like to do things together, but the bonds between members are not as serious as between coven-members.

Forming a circle, or a magical study group, is perhaps a better first step. It can be on a relatively informal basis, and you and the other participants can get to know each other while learning about the the different paths together (as a matter of fact, many covens are formed from study groups). The fun of this is that you can meet more people who are interested in what you’re interested in, and you can all learn together, and maybe even develop a tradition from the results of your studies. (You can do this as a solitary, of course, but some people do take more enjoyment in working with others. Once again, do what’s right for you.)


14) What does Dianic mean?

Like everything else in neopaganism and the Craft, the term Dianic is one that has several meanings. A majority of those who call themselves Dianic are women that choose not to work with male energy in their ritual, magic, or universe. They feel that they need spiritual and psychic space filled with only women’s energy.

Some Dianics are feminist of the craft, both lesbian and heterosexual, who often come to the Craft through feminism. Although these women may be involved with men in one way or another, they agree that religion has over-emphasized the male for the last several thousand years, and therefore want to share their women’s energy in women’s circles. They may or may not also be involved with the mainstream pagan community, and they may or may not participate in magic andritual with men.

The most visible groups of Dianics are those who are lesbian Dianics. They are generally not interested in revering any sort of male deity or in working with men in circle. They choose to limit their dependence on and acceptance of the male-defined world as much as possible, and they do so not to exclude men but rather to celebrate women and the feminine. For that reason many of them do not interact much with the “mainstream” pagan community.

(There are also those who call themselves Dianic and who are not like those described above, but who practice thier workings based on the traditions found books like those of anthropologist Margaret Murray. However, the term is more often meant to designate those practitioners described in the first two paragraphs. This definition is taken largely from the book _To Know_ by Jade.)


15) Aren’t women-only circles discriminatory?

Yes, women-only circles are discriminatory. So what? *ALL* circles are somewhat discriminatory, even if the only discrimination is that they’ll evict preachers who disrupt the proceedings of the circle.

If you’re worried about being discriminatory in your own circle, simply look at the circle as a group of friends. Then, the discrimination is simply a limit on who you’ll have as your friends, which is undeniably a good thing.

If you’re worried about being discriminated against, then you can form your own circle or choose to be ecletic, and you have the option to make it a men-only circle. Why do you want to intrude into a social space where you’re
not wanted?

16) Can/will you cast me a love spell/curse my enemies?

Can we? Probably. (Whether it might yield the desired result is something else.) Will we? Not on your life, bucko.

Pagans and Witches usually believe in some form of what’s called the Witches’ Rede: “As long as you harm no one, do what you will.” That isn’t nearly as easy as it might sound. That means whatever action you undertake, it can’t harm anyone, including yourself.Witches and pagans also believe in some form of the Law of Return: “Whatever you do magically [or otherwise] will come back to you,” some say three times, some nine, some just say it will come back to you. And it does. As Ursula K. LeGuin said, “You can’t light a candle without somewhere casting a shadow.” ( Even those Pagans that do not believe in a Karma influence will not start stupid workings on behalf of another or even themselves).It is far better to meditate and do workings that are postive in ones life as opposed to try to create negative energies for another)! You are the work, and the work is you!

Most of us believe that it is wrong to use magical power to coerce someone into doing something against his or her free will. Curses andlove spells are the most prevalent examples of manipulative magic. Some Witches and pagans do believe that using one’s powers in defense (say, to assure a rapist’s gett ing caught or a pedophile gets caught) is all right; others do not. Those who do choose to work that kind of magic do so knowing that it will come back to them, and are making an informed choice when they decide to do so.

Besides, anything you do for yourself will work much better than a spell or working done by someone else.

A note of caution: If you have the mindset of  stupidity and have the audacity to ask us for a*Death Spell*, you know to do in your enemies for some preconceived harm that you feel one has done to you. You are definitely asking for being flamed and bashed. This along with what I have mentioned above and asking us for herbs  for unsavory practices, will not be met with welcome address. In fact it will be more like responses of thunder, lightning, fire and brimstone. I recommend strongly that you don’t go there in this community. I can guarantee that these illicit requests will be met with fierce resistance and volatile reaction in responses from many readers.

These typical requests and questions makes it sound as if we spend our lives deciding whether to curse or hex someone, when that’s not true. Most of the time, our spells and magical workings are for such things as healing the planet, getting a job (or otherwise bringing prosperity into our lives), healing (both ourselves and others), and spiritual empowerment, specifically spiritual empowerment. Once you are empowered spiritually, you will journey on a path that is right for you and that appeals to you. This is just basic information to help you along your way and help you decided what religion appeals to you personally as an individual. Spells are really quite similar to prayer.


17) Is it okay if I…? Will I still be a pagan if I…?

Yes. Most pagans take a clearly anti-authoritative (no one is your superior) stance when it comes to other pagans’ religious practices. Ideally, we try to remember the relativity of our values.

One of the major advantages of neopaganism, is that it is defined by you, and that is what makes it so empowering (making you feel your own power). Nobody can tell you that you aren’t a true neopagan, because *you* decide what’s right for *you*. There are no dogmas (truth defined by an expert) in neopaganism, simply because therecouldn’t possibly be any expert who knows better than you what feels right for you. Many pagans also appreciate the Discordian catma (related to dog-ma): “Any Discordian is expressly forbidden to believe what she reads.” We also like the paradox in this cuddly catma.

The above is taken in part from the alt pagan group. It is such a rich source of information and explanation that it cannot be said better then this. Submitted by Deb.

Susan Harwood Kaczmarczik; Br’an Arthur Davis-Howe;
T. O. Radzykewycz; Ailsa N.T. Murphy; Cecilia Henningsson

Acknowledgements to Jack Coyote, Robert Pearson, Chris Carlisle and
Izzy, and a special thanks to Janis Maria Cortese.

**Disclaimer** Throughout this FAQ you will find the words “usually,” often,” and other disclaimers; this is because Paganism is not a rigid, structured belief system. We have tried to present as many faces of the neopagan
sub-culture as possible in the FAQ, but realize we can’t possibly cover it all.