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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.
In the Beginning there was Nothing; and the Nothing had a Voice and spoke my Name.
My Ren (name) came into being and dwelt with Nothing, until Nothing spat and breathed upon the void and I was not alone.
The water moved and a serpent arose. Typhon, the chaos demon, swam and split the waters.
Then I knew fear, and fear was my Sekhem (immortal power).
The waters shifted and there arose the primeval hill: my Khu (immortal light of the mind) flew from the darkness and was a Light resting upon the hill.
I was before Atum, but Atum knew me.
I was before Atum, and I proceed through him.
I hold the darkness in my mortal Ba (heart) and Typhon protects my mortality so that my Khu may fly freely over the waters and rest at will in the hands of Atum; there, my immortal parts shall merge: my Ren, my Sekhem, my Khu, and I shall become the first Sunrise.
The problem of names and definitions rears its head all too often in the pagan community. I can’t remember seeing this much confusion in my brief contact with the Roman Catholic Christian Church; but there they had a 2,000 year old history to draw on (however rocky the foundations and censored the progression of that history), and there are very clear rites of passage to becoming a Christian, or more important (to them) a Catholic. My mother believes that non-Catholic Christians are as bad as non-Christians; they are all wrong and therefore damned. That’s a very clear definition and boundary.
There is no such clarity in paganism, and most certainly little clarity on the term ‘witch’. As we progress along our own personal paths our tolerance to fluffydom fades and is quickly replaced by frustration, because that’s not what ‘we’ are, and others may judge us by their standards: they “give pagans a bad name”. Maybe.
I think labels can be very disingenuous, but people want to know how you label yourself, so they can compare you against the list of their own criteria and see where you fit into their world picture. This is human nature. We like to know where we stand with other people; are we singing from the same hymn sheet? The greatest disappointment can come when we assume that a person is one thing, and then further down the line we realise they are everything we despise; the shiny copper glamour of the initial meeting turns a green patina against the ravage of our elemental criticism.
I have spoken a few times on the blog about what I am, what label I go by. Naturally this changes over time as I consolidate the tendencies of my path. Changing labels – that’s something people dislike even more than not having a label! Often people have kindly urged me to ‘just be’, to defy the definition. Maybe. If I were to live in a solitary bubble not engaging with other pagans and non-pagans, then that would be fine. But conversation and discussion means we have to have common words, we have to agree on our definitions or never get passed “Hello, you’re a what?!”.
I know that it can be extremely threatening to some people when others start bandying around pagan categories: this is what makes you Wiccan; this is what makes you a witch. The fear is that they will fall betwixt and between and not find recognition in ‘the community’. As pagans we are already outsiders; insult to injury if we are then labelled outsiders by other Outsiders!
However, for the pagan community to be solid, for witches of all shades to have a chance at survival, we need to start looking at definitions, and what makes us who we are. The discussion is being had in small gatherings and circles all over the world. Everyone has an opinion. There is little consensus, and the fact is, we have no pagan pope to lay down the law, and if we did we would probably truss him up with the law stuffed in his gob and fling him off a cliff … actually maybe I’m projecting; that’s what I’d want to do with him, other pagans would most likely sit around him in a circle and blow incense and loving thoughts at him in the hopes that his spirit be released from the constraints of dogma. Yech!
I try very hard to let other people self-define. Yes, I balk at the Pagan Dudes who equate paganism to music festivals; at the fluffies who do not think beyond a love spell and write Isis with two hearts as dots over the ‘i’s. Grrrr. I can feel my blood boiling as I write. But I had a discussion earlier today with someone I respect and love greatly, and he has shown me that, actually, yes, I am irritated by people calling themselves something they are not. I’m quite quick to see who’s a doer and who’s a talker. Sometimes the talkers talk because they are scared of doing; they want it desperately but words are the closest they get to it. It’s hard to walk the line of respect for another’s limitations; especially when you agree with someone else’s criticism. Half the time I sit and bite my tongue. It’s not for me to say who or what a person is.
I suppose the summary of the current state of affairs is: take every label with a pinch of salt: the labels that people give themselves and the label you choose for yourself. I am still unsure how to label myself: I practise magick, I perform pagan rituals, I worship the gods of Egypt, I talk to spirits alive and dead – does that make me a witch? I don’t know. I deliberately choose the word ‘witch’ because there is such disagreement over what one is, that I think I could slip past the bodyguards at the door and party with the rest of them.
Ultimately I may disagree with how people define themselves, but I can’t judge them and their path. It’s how they get through life. If calling themselves a witch or Wiccan helps to give them strength to soldier on; who am I to question that? As frustrating as it may be at times. I rejoice in communion and like-mindedness wherever I find it, whatever its name. The important thing is to know where I am going. I am dedicated to the Egyptian gods. And even though my experience is a neophytic speck of dirt compared to others I know, magick is my life and focus for my future. I’ve gone too far to ever go back. So would you call me a witch…?
© 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