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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.
I went for a walk this evening in the dark. Everything is icy and frozen. I stood on the bridge and watched sheets of ice float in the black river, gathering on the one side at the roots of a willow. Last year when the river froze over there was a large trout lying at that spot. It had come up for air and been trapped in this alien world and died.
First I walked down one side of the river, matching my slow footsteps to the beat of the music I was listening to. I turned to walk back and saw the nearly full moon peering around a cloud.
I walked down the other side of the river. It was so tempting to slide down the banks and tap at the ice floes. How hard are they? How thick? Would I fall in? Would I die if I fell in?
I found a safe path down to the water’s edge and sat in the crook of a willow tree. Looking up I saw the stripped branches of the tree and then the moon unveiled herself and shone. I prayed to my Lords Osiris, Sobek and Khonsu and the ever-present Isis. There were the footprints of gulls in the snow. The ducks floated in the water at the edge of the ice. Occasionally one started grumbling and gacking, a vocal ripple taken up by the others until they once again fell silent.
I found a new path, one that took me further along the water’s edge. I only stopped when I couldn’t see any more, the branches too close overhead and blocking out the sporadic lunar appearances behind the clouds. There was no way except either back or up, so I chose up and promptly slipped down the bank falling into the snowy grass. As I looked up I saw the masts of a sailing ship. A new path and a ship? It hadn’t been that long since my last visit to this stretch of the river. I grabbed at the grass and hauled my twisted toe and wrenched back up onto the walkway.
The ship is composed of three masts (two with look-out baskets) and a prow. The appearance is of a buried ship, submerged: a representation and reminder of the past and things buried (I read on the sign). How appropriate. As I stood there on what would have been the deck I looked up at the main mast and saw the moon; I looked to the bow and saw a star. The clouds in the dark sky, backlit by the moon, looked like gods and I inhaled the air they sent into my lungs.
Some things became clear to me this evening. As ever my blessed Egyptian gods are kind to me and guide me… by moon and by star.
Yesterday’s post on revenge, love and indifference gathered a lot more interest than I thought, so I wanted to continue today on that theme.
On the left-hand path we work with the darker forces, the fallen goddesses and the demons. In my dedication to the Egyptian pantheon this is fairly easy as each god or goddess has a darker aspect, so (apart from beings like Apep/Apophis, etc.) I am dealing with harlequin beings where it is just as easy for me to touch on the dark as on the light.
We may call on the Light to guide us in our lives, to protect us and shower us with blessings (an over-simplification, but I’m trying to make a point here); so what do we call on the Dark for? Once again I have seen people get stuck in using the dark gods like some kind of boyish gang to wreak revenge on anyone who has ever slighted them. The question is, will the score ever be settled or will the gunslinger keep firing shots at the shadows? Perhaps the aim here, or rather the hope, is to achieve a level of internal justification and clarity, to release the past through “righting the balance” - an eye for an eye (except many LHP-ers scoff at the idea of balance, so again, I question the motivation for focusing on revenge). It’s almost as if once the decks are clear of all the dross that has hurt and betrayed them, THEN they will move onto the next stage. I am minded of Aleister Crowley’s comment of those brothers who did not achieve the leap over the void (the relinquishing of ego), that they were brothers of the left-hand path. Yes, we do not reliquish ego in the same way as RHP-ers; but I think the abyss is just as much of a risk and failure to LHP-ers and in that sense he was right. Is not the point to become mistress even of our own egos? So where is the mastery when we indulge in rolling around in the mud of egotistical revenge. As I said yesterday, revenge can get us well and truly stuck in a prolonged, eternal relationship with the person we hate. I would rather cut the bonds, be free and fly off to the stars. From that celestial position I look down at the earth and see a muddy battle field of flailing arms and fists; a Hieronymus Bosch scene of humans convinced they are free because they fight, but unaware of the mud that sucks at their feet.
So, that is one reason to call on the darker forces, to get your own back. But how disrespectful would it be to those gods and demons to just use them for that purpose (like using a car as an outdoor seating arrangement). This is where it becomes tricky because by starting to discuss the concrete specifics of why we might call on a darker force, I could betray my own motivations, and frankly, that’s nobody’s business but my own. So forgive me for flipping to a certain vagueness…
The LHP is about pushing your boundaries, pinging that internal censor that says run, and standing your ground in the face of the worst. Through my years of illness, I faced the concrete possibility of death three times. It was indeed my very own personal initiation, and Death became a reality to me not just a concept. It’s not that I have completely lost my fear of Death, I know Him and He knows me; we are already acquainted. That was a major boundary to break and one that has freed me to undertake an awful lot more in my pagan life. It takes energy to hate, it takes energy to fear. Our limited, human frames (though not the internal, eternal spirit) can only supply us with so much energy; once we release a fear we have an energy supply available to us that we didn’t have before. This can then become a driving force to move us onto the next stage of Becoming.
Now, I know that some of you who would put yourselves in the RHP camp would say, we do the same thing; we face our fears and grow, we Become, so what’s the difference? The difference is in the method and this is what gives the LHP its reputation for being dangerous. I have used the analogy before that the RHP may be about expanding boundaries, but it is like expanding a bowler hat, it is gentle, takes time and does not push the person … erm… or the hat… beyond its limits. In my brief time as a Catholic I was told, “God will never present you with a challenge you are not capable of mastering.” Jolly good. That’s the RHP. The LHP WILL present you with unmasterable challenges, the LHP will break you apart and crush you back to dust for you to reform yourself with spit and mud as in the First Days. This is a faster path, and one that is fraught with more possibilities for mental, physical and emotional breakdown. I’m not going to cite pathetic Hollywood images of the demon hord tearing the flesh from your bones, or possession or what-not. The danger as ever lies with your Self and in your Self; it will just FEEL like the demon hords are tearing at your flesh… ah, but what beautiful white bones lie beneath. And perhaps here lies the first boundary to ping for those intent on revenge; while we wreak revenge we are in control and that need for control screams of a fear to lose control. That fear is one of the biggest fetters we must learn to break; to learn to be strong when we are in control and when we have NO control.
I am laughing now because surely you must think that LHP-ers are a complete bunch of nutters, either childishly stuck in gunslinging fantasies of revenge, or laying themselves open to mental disturbance and demon buffets. There is more than just this, it’s up to you to read between the lines.