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Nb: If you find two pagans who agree, you haven’t found two pagans!
A pagan is person who practises a spiritual path; he or she follows either an established tradition under the “Pagan” umbrella or takes aspects of paganism, which are meaningful to him or her, and creates a way of living. A pagan is not somebody who only worships once a week or at special times in the year; a pagan path embraces all aspects of living and is a philosophy as well as a spirituality.
So what comes under the “Pagan” umbrella?
There are innumerable pagan paths: some draw on native religions such as the traditions and beliefs of Native Americans; some look to history and “re-kindle” Greek, Roman or Egyptian mythologies; then there are the neo-pagan religions of Wicca and the eclectic lifestyles and approaches of Green Witches, Hedgewitches and Kitchen Witches. There are Discordians and the followers of the Feri tradition, modern-day neo-shamans, magickians, wizards and witches. But not every pagan is a witch!
Pagans can be monotheists (believing in one god or goddess), polytheists (believing in two or more gods/goddesses), polyentheists (believing that god/goddess exists in all things) or even atheists (no belief in a god/goddess).
Paganism can (although does not have to) incorporate occult studies, and indeed some occultists would not describe themselves as pagan, although some definitely would. The occult world includes Thelemites (who follow the religion/philosophy of Aleister Crowley), Satanists (Satanism as created by Anton LeVey in the 1960s), Luciferians, Gnostics, Qabbalists … the list is virtually endless.
Isn’t it a bit vague having so many different paths under one word?
Yes and no. It can appear vague and confusing when you first approach paganism, but once you start learning, studying and exploring you will be overwhelmed with the richness both of paganism and the diversity of the people attracted to it. One thing is key amongst pagans: to accept the path that the other person walks. There is no preaching and there are no attempts to convert people. We are happy to be who we are, and we rejoice in seeing other people be who they truly are. Human diversity is celebrated within paganism!
Is paganism a cult?
No, paganism is not a cult. There is no one figure who commands all pagans. Even though there are occasionally oddballs proclaiming that they are, for example, King or Queen of the Witches, this is something rejected by pagans and usually cause for much hilarity.
We abhor bullying and coercion in any area of life and this is something that goes very much against the Pagan Path. To reiterate the previous answer: There is no preaching and there are no attempts to convert people. We are happy to be who we are, and we rejoice in seeing other people be who they truly are. Human diversity is celebrated within paganism!
The word “cult” is often used as a slur word to disparage someone else’s religious or spiritual beliefs. Often people using the word “cult” have their own agenda of conflict and negativity, rather than a true desire to promote spirituality and personal growth.
Are pagans devil worshippers?
The majority of pagans do not believe in the devil; Satan or the devil for them is a construct of Judeo-Christian religions and mythology. There is a lot of confusion in this area as the pagan image of, for example, Pan (who is the god of nature, hunting and revelry) has been subsumed into Christian culture as the epitome of “what the devil looks like”. Pan is by no means an evil god, and many pagans would even dispute the existence of evil itself, but would say that “evil” is energy just as “good” is energy: a gun is only a piece of metal until the gun-holder decides how to use it. This is a key point within paganism: there is no doctrine telling us what is wrong or right. We each carry a heavy responsibility as to how we use this “moral energy”. It would be easier if we were told what to do, but instead we have to cultivate self-awareness, respect of others, sensitivity to the environment, a knowledge of cause and effect and make our decisions bearing all this in mind within our spiritual framework.
Are pagans witches?
Some pagans are witches, but the majority are not. Many pagans do not practise witchcraft or spellwork. Witches can come in many guises: some are Wiccans, some Dianic witches, Green Witches, Hedgewitches, Kitchen witches, etc. Traditional witchcraft and Voodoo even draw on the spellcraft of Pennsylvanian Christian pow wow magic. Witchcraft is like a river with many tributaries feeding it – some of which lead to surprising sources.
What is a pagan ritual?
The answer to this will depend very much on which tradition you choose to work with. A pagan ritual in general will aim at focusing the energy of the person or participants (if it is group work); this energy can be drawn from themselves or from any of the Five Elements: Earth, Air, Fire, Water and Ether/Spirit, for example. Sometimes the energy is focused on sending healing to people, or on blessing the group, reconnecting with deity or many other things.
Rituals can be either in a group or worked individually. Rituals can be as elaborate or as simple as you wish. The main point, however, is to learn the basics and for that there are many good books and (through the Herefordshire Moot) willing people to teach and advise you.
Do pagans believe in Jesus?
Some do and some do not. Many pagans believe in a wide variety of higher beings. Jesus is one of these beings for some pagans. Some believe he was a great spiritual teacher, but not a god. Some have no feelings about him at all.
Who is the pagan god?
There is no single pagan god. As mentioned before, some pagans believe in one god or goddess, some believe in two or more and some believe in none. It depends on the tradition you are called to work with.
What do pagans do?
Pagans are just like anybody else. You will find pagans working in industry, in the military, employed, unemployed, well, sick, happy, sad, divorced, married, hand-fasted (pagan marriage) and other. Most pagans will work around the pagan year honouring the equinoxes and solstices, marking the new moon and full moon. Some will do elaborate rituals in groups or on their own, some will do nothing more than light a candle and internally connect with what is important to them.
Do pagans pray?
Some pagans pray in what would be recognised as a “traditional way”, others use forms of meditation, drumming, chanting or dancing. There are many ways of connecting with deity and pagans are pragmatic in that, if it works, they’ll try it!
Where are the pagan churches?
Most pagans would say that their church is Nature and that She is where they worship. Others might say that when they cast a circle (create a sacred space), that is their church. Since pagans believe that deity is everywhere, however deity is conceived, the idea of a fixed building in which to worship is unnecessary.
How do you become a pagan?
Try firstly to read as much as you can about paganism and its different offshoots. Meet up with pagans. Ask lots of questions! When you feel the time is right, you will know how best to dedicate yourself to your chosen path and deity or deities. Most people begin with a personal, individual dedication. Groups, such as covens (not all groups of pagans are covens), do not usually allow people to join them until they have shown a commitment to studying and learning about that particular path. A moot, however, is a social environment for meeting pagans: you don’t even have to be pagan to come along, just bring your interest and respect for others.
What do I need to be a pagan?
You only need yourself and a sincere interest to learn, a yearning in your belly that this is where you belong, combined with an open heart and mind for your fellow pagans. No one is going to judge you if you step on this Path and decide at a later date it is not for you. Our Paths can be winding ones, and each step teaches us something valuable.
Why do people say bad things about pagans?
People often ridicule what they do not understand. Hollywood has also created many damaging and untrue stereotypes. This is why it is important for people genuinely interested in paganism to inform themselves from reputable authors and to meet up with real pagans. You cannot teach your paganism by watching “Charmed” or “The Craft” or any other light entertainment. Paganism is a spiritual way of living that requires commitment, soul-searching, self-awareness and hard work. Nothing worth having comes easily, but the joy of finding yourself on the right Path with like-minded others can’t be overestimated.
Today a piece of synchronicity dropped into my inbox, an email from chabad.org. In it was an article entitled “Breaking Walls, The Three Weeks” by Sara Esther Crispe. She spoke about the three weeks of mourning mandated by Jewish law to commemorate the smashing of the ten commandment tablets, the destruction of the first temple in Jerusalem by the Babylonians in 423 BCE and then of the second temple by the Romans in 69 CE.
During this period of three weeks which started on Sunday (17 Tammuz), Jewish people do not hold weddings but carry out traditional mourning practices such as not cutting their hair, not eating meat or drinking wine, not listening to music, not purchasing new clothes or bathing for pleasure, and generally refraining from anything where the sole purpose is enjoyment and pleasure.
What struck me was her mention that in the Qabbalistic work Zohar these three weeks are characterised as the seed for what will become. The Three Weeks (Bein HaMetzarim) begin on 17 Tammuz. The number 17 in gematria is equivalent to ‘tov’, the Hebrew word for ‘good’ although the good is still hidden in darkness. The final day of mourning, the 9 Av (10 August) was prophesied to become the most joyous day of the year. It isn’t yet but it will be as the sages teach that Moshiach (the Messiah) will be born either spiritually or physically on that day.
Now I have no time for talk of Messiahs. But what interested me was this:
Along with the 21 days of mourning, there are 21 days of celebration in the Hebrew calendar: Shabbat (1), Rosh Chodesh (1), Passover (7), Shavuot (1), Rosh Hashanah (2), Yom Kippur (1), Sukkot (7) and Simchat Torah (1) [the counting may seem off as Shabbat and Rosh Chodesh are actually celebrated each week/month respectively, but this is the official way of counting them]. The 21 days of the Three Weeks correspond to a vision the prophet Jeremiah had about the destruction of the temple, where he saw a staff of almond wood and heard G-d’s warning [out of respect for the author of the article, I'm not writing the word G-d in full as is usual amongst Orthodox Jews]. The Talmud says, “The almond takes 21 days from when it blossoms until it ripens. This corresponds to the 21 days between the 17 Tammuz, when the walls of Jerusalem fell, and the ninth of Av, when the Holy Temple was burned.” Rabbi Joseph Rozen (the Gaon of Rogatchov – 1858-1936) wrote that G-d’s warning contained a consolation through the symbol of almonds; almonds start off bitter and become sweet as they develop. This is why the 21 days of Bein HaMetzarim are symbolised by the 21 day ‘staff of almond wood’. Crispe writes, “…not only are we able to negate the bitterness of these days, but we are capable of turning their bitterness to sweetness, of transforming these days of mourning into days of rejoicing and gladness.”
What better message could I receive after having had such a painful emotional breakthrough with my doctor yesterday the 21 July on what is essentially the first day of Bein HaMetzarim (as days are measured from evening to evening)? The mourning time may be beginning for Orthodox Jews, but I think it is time for me to think of joyous things and to take the almond blossom as a symbol of my own rebirth.
© starofseshat 2008