If you wish to copy this text, please link back to this blog and accredit me, the author. Thank you.
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.
Yesterday I attended the Thelemic Symposium in Oxford. My motivation was intensely personal. As such I took no notes, so my impressions of the speakers are entirely subjective, probably skewed and flavoured with my own biases and opinions (what’s new?).
Once we had got over our initial hilarity at the location, which was essentially a scout-hut with bar at the back of a housing estate, we soon realised what an absolutely perfect site it was: private, comfortable with bar and food, and no prying eyes of locals. Inside, the stage area was decorated with curtains and a beautiful arched painting of Nuit. She took my breath away and I looked at her often throughout the day.
Unfortunately the DuQuettes were absent, so the number of talks dropped to 6. First off were Peter Grey and his partner on Babalon. Each read their own incredibly evocative and thrilling interpretations of Babalon, the Whore, the Scarlet Woman. (I notice a discrepancy here in my understanding of their work, and TGW’s notes – this I think reflects my bias in favour of Babalon.) Their Babalon was a strong, indefatigable woman, independent and raw; she was the Babalon of two people in love; and the Babalon who challenged all preconceptions including those of Thelema. They called on Thelemites to reject dogma and to commit blasphemy to infuse new life into a partially degenerate philosophy that needed to change to respond and be relevant to the times. The raw sexual language was beautiful, challenging and ultimately deeply arousing. I later overcame my innate shyness to ask them for copies of their work because I very much want to read through both texts at my leisure.
A couple of talks later, this particular image of Babalon was shaken to its roots by Melissa Harrington who spoke about Thelema and The Feminine. (I would just like to say I admired her spirit and thoroughly enjoyed her talk. It’s only because she posed such interesting ideas, that I feel able to engage in discussion and disagree with some of her points of reference.) Her first words, though not unkind, were to Peter Grey and partner, saying, “Come back when you’ve had children and tell me again about Babalon.” I prickled at what I felt was a rather dismissive statement. Her talk went on to question the role of women in Thelema; that because the structure has been so male dominated since its inception, that there are not enough provisions made for women, either in a spiritual sense or practically in the form of crèches at rituals. She looked at the audience and marked everyone as a first generation believer, and wondered how on earth anyone could be expected to bring up a child in Thelema with the lack of structure and openness to families and children. This was a fair point, but one that could have been made in isolation. Instead she cited Crowley’s behaviour with a string of women, the drugs, the abandonment and death through negligence of some of the children. She found this an unacceptable basis for a religion; that women were essentially given sexual freedom but not the power to deal with it. This is true, and perhaps because I don’t see Crowley as a prophet, but more as an inspired madman, I have no issue in taking the good and leaving the bad: when you start talking about “religion” then people start wanting absolutes; they want their prophets to be flawless and their gods to be manifest in dogma. Untidiness irritates such people. And such people irritate me. Whether it is directly Crowley’s responsibility or actually a failure of responsibility by the women themselves, I find harder to say, and the discussion smacks to me slightly of arguing how many angels can dance on the head of a pin. Are the personality flaws of Crowley then, still relevant now? Can’t we take the best of his work and just move forward with it? If we are looking to him as a cult leader, then his personality flaws certainly create stumbling blocks; but if he is an inspiration, in the true sense of the word as a source that inspires us to other things, then I don’t see that it matters.
Another thing that riled me slightly, was that all of these points could have stood strongly on their own without bringing in the image of Babalon. She said that Babalon was a whore, and a male wet-dream, that ultimately Crowley did not question the motivation of whores and the desperation that drove them to whoredom. A fair point to a degree. But she ultimately robbed Babalon of any power, citing her childlessness as indicative of the barren nature of her symbolism, and that consequently this barrenness was being expressed in current day Thelema by the lack of provision for women and children, and the concomitant outcome that no one at the conference had been brought up as a Thelemite. Two points need addressing here: one – I HATE the way women who have had children then interpret everything in their lives thereafter from the perspective of motherhood as the pinnacle of female achievement. I understand that to them it is the most momentous thing of their lives. But to invoke childlessness as an expression of barrenness, negativity, lack of self, lack of will, slavery to male sexuality is in my opinion entirely missing the point of Babalon. She is an independent woman figure desired by man. She holds tremendous power. I have seen so many women lose any sense of self and individuality to their children; so many merge and become solely the power engine for their brood. Rightly so. If you are going to bring a being into the world, it is your responsibility to give that being everything you can. I am not criticising this. What I criticise is the assumption that childless women are less because they do NOT sacrifice themselves for their children. (This was implicit rather than explicit in her talk; it was unaddressed and hence bugged me big time.) For me, Babalon is a powerful Goddess that represents the ultimate in freedom. Does feminist freedom always have to be entirely and utter split from men? Can’t we be free and still in relationship with men? And if it is right to sacrifice yourself to your children whom you love, why is it suddenly wrong to sacrifice yourself to a man you love? The second point is that my understanding of Thelema is that it is a spiritual path which requires a spiritual awakening: it needs you to make the realisation of will to undertake the path; it is not a philosophy that can be taught at Sunday school. It is the philosophy of adults searching for a way to the divine. By trying to force a familial pattern of parental guidance on Thelema, she is trying (in my opinion) to make a tomato out of a chestnut.
Her second partial criticism was how women often came to Thelema through a male partner, but that often the women remained in Thelema once that original partnership dissolved. She used this as indicative of the non-woman friendly feeling in Thelema. Again, I disagree and believe that the reason for this is perhaps slightly more complicated. Thelema, the Gnostic mass and other tenets, are very sexual; to an outsider they could appear (indeed in some ways ARE) sexually aggressive. In today’s world I think there are very few women who would feel comfortable entering such a scene on their own, however great their interest. So perhaps the fact that women often approach Thelema through a male partner is less about emphasizing the male dominance and male leadership in Thelemic male/female relationships, than it is about reflecting the sad status of our society, that women are often frightened of overt, public expression of sexuality and feel safer approaching it all through a male partner whom they trust will keep them safe (at least until they have gained trust and confidence in the community).
The second talk was The 5 Senses in AMOOKOS and Tantrik Traditions, by Mike Magee. This was a fairly basic introduction to the idea of Tantra; the balance of Shakti and Shiva, the balance of male and female internally. The only new bit of information for me was gleaned from a training level in the AMOOKOS tradition, where initiates were called on to practice sense focus for a period of 26 weeks: one week they would focus on sight and keep a journal about (for example) the different shades of grey they saw through the week; the second week focused on taste; the third on hearing; the fourth on touch; the fifth on smell and the sixth represented ether and was a week of meditating on the present, of grounding and feeling utterly in the moment. This sequence was repeated over the 26 weeks, by the end of which you would have an extensive diary of your sensory experiences, which often led to certain changes in the initiate and the integration of disparate memories and sensory experiences. An integrity of being seemed to be the ultimate focus, but the final outcome depended entirely on the initiate’s own experiences and it was up to them to apply interpretations and learn from their experiences. This is a practice I am considering working through, as it could be very useful for my Kundalini practice.
Following Melissa Harrington, there was a talk by Charlotte Rodgers on Taboo & Blood Rites. There was in my mind very little information on generic blood rites, and it was more of a personal journey using blood; this was fascinating and I warmed to this woman greatly. She discussed the difference between venous blood and menstrual blood. She cited personal experience, which I don’t think it is appropriate to go into here. She touched on the subject of Mayan yoga, as in Maya/illusion. Performing this type of yoga in front of mirrors covered in blood symbols draws out aspects of self. This encourages a splitting of self to enable working on manifest aspects of self.
After this there was a talk on Goetic Magick by Jake Stratton-Kent. His experience seemed focused primarily on the Grimoirum Verum. The content of his talk passed me by, the prime interest for me came in the question time where he talked more openly about spirits with whom he had what he termed a “marriage type relationship”. These relationships were concrete things that he worked on as any other kind of relationship. I enjoyed the matter-of-fact way that he spoke about spirits. His relationship with them seemed more concrete than my own, but the way he spoke of them as such an integral part of his life – “I get along with some spirits better than I do with some people” – this rung true for me, and I felt he was speaking my language.
The final talk was given by a young German man, David Beth, Into the Meon – Inside Voudon Gnosis. His English was excellent, but unfortunately he assumed that everyone in the audience was privy to certain knowledge, that TGW and I mostly certainly were not. Consequently we were unable to follow the thread and missed out on learning much of anything. I’m sure that wasn’t the case for the more learned people in the audience. What did strike me was that in his tradition blood shares a cosmic essence with the “upper world”. The junction where these two essences meet in the adept is the hieros gamos. He also spoke of a concept called Las Prise des Yeaux, which is a form of esoteric vision of objects where you view the spiritual essence in all things animate and inanimate (another practical exercise in the offing).
This is a censored and curtailed version of the event, and hence the text at times appears a little choppy, for which I apologise. I took some hefty secateurs to it to make it publicly palatable Some things are not appropriate for public consumption, some things are too personal to me to convey. Let it just be said, that this was a hugely important day for me and I will definitely be going next year.
© starofseshat 2008
In Arthur Versluis’ The Philosophy of Magic he writes:
“There is one aspect of invocation that must be reiterated: the difference between expulsion of the demonic and invocation of the daimonic… the invocation of devic or celestial influences implies the expulsion of the lower, bestial or demonic creatures which ordinarily inhabit the mind of man – the demons of desire and hatred… Each time we manifest desire or aversion, we are bringing to life, signing a pact with, one of the demons of ego.
The reason the true magus – in the vernacular – ‘consorts with demons’ is to expulse those inner forms of ego. Every instant, every day that one lives without having expulsed those demons is a day lived in a tacit pact with them…For these reasons, the popular image of the magician as one who ‘consorts with demons’ is at once ironic … and accurate…”
This passage struck a chord with me, not least because it was a topic I was discussing with a friend not too long ago. He said that anything in your life which controls you instead of you controlling it, is demonic and calls for some kind of exorcism. That in itself resonated as I feel that I am undergoing an exorcism of my past at the moment which is freeing me physically and mentally. I know a couple of people who have confided in me that they are scared of their own alcohol intake that it is potentially problematic and yet they do nothing to change the situation – this could be classed (according to the above definition) as a form of demonic possession. Compulsive eating is demonic as the sufferer of this condition is most definitely under the control of the disorder, not the other way around. The uniting thread seems to be compulsion, a forcing of our will away from the middle path, often away from what we know is good for us: a compulsion to self-harm through excessive food, excessive alcohol, dangerous relationships or >insert your chosen ‘sin’ here<. Although I know that some people may get their knickers in a twist about me suggesting even indirectly that their ‘weaknesses’ are demonic and they are in need of an exorcism, I hope that they can overcome the knee-jerk response (which may indeed be the inner demon recoiling at being uncovered!) and consider the concept. I find the idea of almost personalizing the compulsions within very interesting. We can often recognise the compulsion, the end-product as it were, but not know the origins which is why we throw ourselves into therapy or compulsive repetition of our errors – so easily one demon can become legion within us if we don’t deal with the original intruder; after all, once demon number one has settled into the comfort of an entrenched ego, why wouldn’t he send out a general invite to his mates?
Yes, I am being flippant, but the concept still holds and it is helping me compartmentalise a mess of feelings inside me. So once the demon is identified, the question is, what to do? I think that is a personal decision, and I would not give a generalised answer to that when someone may take it as law and run with the idea right over a cliff (metaphorically speaking … although isn’t that what Jesus did with the devil whose name was ‘Legion’?). I am still pondering the nature of my demons, and bizarrely the thought of them doesn’t scare me. Colin Wilson wrote a fantastically interesting novel called The Mind Parasites – creatures that have colonised the minds of all men [sic] and who control the fate of mankind by remaining hidden in the depths of the unconscious. After reading that book you never look at the dark, quiet corners of your own mind in the same way again! But where as these parasites frightened me, the concept of the demonic doesn’t. I am keen to know them, because once known, once I have their name, I will be able to oust them from my being and I find that a very positive thought; just as once I admitted that my illness was psychosomatic, rather than clasping a sweaty hand to my forehead and curling up in victim mode at the wasted years and torments of my own mind (!) I felt hugely rejuvenated and empowered. Real chronic physical ailments are sometimes manageable but never curable. By admitting the potential psychosomatic origins of my illness, I have unleashed a flood of energy and uncovered some dark corners with the light optimism: if it is in my mind, then I can conquer it and be well. If the compulsions are demonic, I can know them and expel them. Of this I have no doubt.
The other aspect to this concept is that ego and habit energy is the resting place and breeding ground for such demonic energies. So logically, a two-pronged attack both on ‘knowing your demons’ and on breaking down ego and habit energy would be the most successful. I feel that the last month when I was riding on an artificial high (as genuine as it felt at the time, it was un-real), I was actually surfacing the wave of my ego. It felt good, it felt great, if felt compulsively, addictively wonderful – like too much chocolate, too much coffee, too much sex. And ultimately it was ‘too much’ of everything, it took me away from the middle path and I lost myself in ‘feeling’. I brought a lot back from the journey – there are things I learned – but it showed me once again how deceptive the path of ego can be. We think we are being true to ourselves, when actually we are living a fantasy.
So there are a few essentials for me that come from the concept of the demonic: as Dion Fortune indicates in her book Psychic Self-Defence, the greatest protection is being very grounded in this life, being grounded enough to give a belly laugh at a good film. I am finding my Kundalini yoga supremely grounding; it is what broke the cycle of flying high-higher-highest and brought me gently back to earth. I am now incorporating a minimum of two meditation sessions a day, where I can tune back into myself and check how far I have strayed off the Beauty Path. And this new moon I shall be beginning some ritual work to face my demons. I have Sobek to my left and Anubis to my right, and I am more than ready to stare into the mouth of Apophis. May Osiris bless me and my path. It’s time to know the demons, and really know my Self.
© starofseshat 2008
I thought it was about time to look at issues surrounding the “secrecy of the Craft” or “oaths of secrecy”. Naturally when talking about such secrets, the nature of secrecy will depend greatly on what the secrets are!
Some secrets cannot be expressed because they are inexpressible. This would include direct contact with deity, the feelings and experiences within a circle or during a ritual. In some ways it falls under the banal disclaimer, “You had to be there.” Any attempt to convey such experiences will fall short, make you sound like a fool and potentially confuse and misdirect your listener, so in that sense, save yourself the trouble and just button it (or not, it’s up to you ).
I came across a quote in a book:
“My mind is not so timid that I deny the existence of mysteries. But I am wary of those who profess to live by them, who, with their finger to their lips, proclaim themselves God’s elect and keep the uninitiated in ignorance.”
Jacques De Bourbon Busse, Moi, Cesar in Tutankhamen, Christiane Desroches-Noblecourt
This is a key point for me and one I am sure that has seen many pagans flee their childhood major religions in search of something more … dare I say? … honest. Considering the Christian-bashing that I have seen go on amongst pagans, it makes me laugh when I repeatedly see the same power structures being built and the same Babel Tower threatening to fall in pagan circles.
… Who am I? I am a group that requires initiation that has a series of grades. At each grade you will become privy to more information that is just not suitable for outsiders or those of a lower grade. You are beholden to the leaders of the group, who by virtue of being the leaders and possessing all the information you aspire to knowing, are worthy of respect. And whether you understand or not, you listen and obey. After all, who are you to question those higher than you? Am I Christian, pagan or something of an occult variety? Is the initiation baptism, renunciation of self, ritual acceptance into a group? Are the grades Golden Dawn, Wiccan or merely the grades from layperson, to deacon, to priest etc.? Are the leaders we are supposed to honour and take our teachings from Wiccan high priests and priestesses, Adepti Exempti, priests or popes? …
It doesn’t take a genius to draw the parallels, and yet our questioning of such structures seems to stop at the major religions most of us rejected, and doesn’t carry over to the new paths we are currently walking. For me, there is something inherently suspect in someone who places themselves in a position of spiritual superiority, by virtue of their training or whatever else.
Sometimes people are just too precious about their occult/hidden information, which makes me think they know very little and are trying to defend themselves against too many questions, which would reveal them for the frauds that they are. On the other hand, I have seen some people on forums hint loudly at the occult knowledge they are privy to, only to drop a penny’s worth on the table, just to prove that they do indeed know it. So what happened to the importance of secrecy? Or is it just a cloak to wave around dramatically to enhance your sense of self-importance, while roaring “mwha-ha-ha-ha” into the wings? Well, really.
However, having made a minor plea for openness and for questioning “spiritual” hierarchies, I will not say that there should be an information free-for-all, available to all and sundry. Specifically when it comes to magic – witchcraft, ritual, ceremonial or other – there has to be at the least a major degree of discretion. As I wrote to MS, there is most definitely information that someone outside such circles or a beginner just wouldn’t be able to comprehend without a certain amount of practice and experience behind them. But I view this along the lines of a technical engineer talking in detail about a texturizing machine to a toddler. The toddler may only hear, “insert here” and understand none of the additional information; consequently they insert their finger and it’s chopped off! Just as I don’t consider myself superior to a child (I may have more experience, but I am not superior), so I don’t feel like any kind of Übermensch in relation to those who are further back on the path, or who actually aren’t even interested in this path.
A certain amount of secrecy really is for the good of all, at least until you have done the groundwork and are ready to understand. But this way of thinking is not meant to exclude, it should invite people (if they are interested) to start the journey of learning, doing, experiencing and knowing.
Out of respect and moral care for certain others, let there be an element of secrecy. But don’t use secrecy as a weapon to beat those less knowledgeable, or those honestly reaching out for a helping hand. We are all children in the eyes of our Gods, and as Socrates said, “The only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing.” And as Seshat says, “The only joy is in starting to learn all the things you don’t know!”
© starofseshat 2008