What is Paganism?

A few weeks ago, I met a very sweet young lady. I will call her ‘Spiritual Seeker’ for the purposes of this blog, because that’s what she is right now – a young woman trying to find out where she belongs in the spiritual landscape. And I think that’s fantastic! It’s important to explore spirituality and find out what’s right for you.

A few days ago we were talking and I told her I was a pagan. I tend to say ‘pagan’ rather than ‘polytheist and animist’ because I find that few people know what the latter means. She asked me what ‘pagan’ meant, and I…gave her *the* most confused, vague answer. It can’t have done her any good at all, and I’m kicking myself a little bit (I did something very similar when Wife’s psychiatrist asked ‘what is Christo-paganism?’) So here is the explanation I should have given – and indeed, that I will give, when I see her again. I’m just one person – and a million miles away from being an elder or any flavor of expert – and could never claim to speak for all pagans; this is more of a general overview.

First, I should explain that ‘paganism’ is not one religion (or faith, if you prefer). It’s an umbrella term that covers a whole host of what people sometimes call ‘minority faiths’. I should also add that people don’t always agree about which faiths do and don’t count as pagan – some Heathens, for example, aren’t happy with the label. Some people say Hinduism is a pagan faith, but Hindus aren’t always cool with that. Same goes for Native American faiths. Don’t get put off by this, though. You’ll figure it out as you go.

What this means is that ‘pagans’ don’t all believe the same thing, or even similar things. There are pagan atheists who don’t believe in any kind of Deity at all, right through to pagan polytheists like myself, who believe in the literal existence of a whole host of Gods and Goddesses. Different pagan faiths have different philosophies that go with them – my friend who follows a path called Asatru, for instance, does not believe the same things as my friend who follows a path called Wicca. Many pagans cast spells and may be witches, but not all of us. We are a varied bunch!

Some pagan faiths are pretty popular and you’ll likely have heard of them – Wicca and Druidry are the most obvious examples (yes, druids are real!). https://www.paganfed.org/index.php/ is a good place to start exploring the different ‘pagan paths’ that are open to you – even if none of them are right for you, exploration is good! It doesn’t cover *absolutely everything* because…frankly, you can’t. There’s so much wonderful diversity in modern paganism! This is one of the reasons I love this particular ‘umbrella’ so much. Yessss, we squabble sometimes, but…We’re worth it, I think.

Another brilliant thing about paganism is that people can and do just go right ahead and forge a path all of their very own, taking what is right for them from various different philosophies and faiths. Wiccan Friend, for example, whilst still being Wiccan, is also very interested in Buddhism, and over the past couple of months has started to get into Ancient Greek philosophy. Many pagans will simply say ‘I follow my own path’. I wrote a little about this at ravensonlinemoot.wordpress.com/2015/08/14/finding-a-path/

Many pagans believe in the ‘old Gods’ – the Deities you probably read about in myths and legends growing up, like Thor with His Hammer and Zeus with His thunderbolts. Some of us worship Them, others of us prefer to say that we work with Them. Some of us believe that They are all independent Beings, others that they are all a part of one/a small number of greater Deities, and other pagans don’t believe that They really exist at all, but see Them as archetypes of the human mind.

Pagans also often believe in other types of Beings – Angels, nature Spirits, spiritual guides and a whole variety of other entities. Wife, for example, is learning to work with the Angels using Angel cards. In my own spiritual life I have Spirit guides who, in my particular case, are mostly animal Spirits. We have an outdoor shrine to our local nature spirits and an indoor shrine to the spirits of our home.

People are often drawn to paganism because they find that they have a psychic gift of some kind. However, it’s absolutely not a prerequisite of paganism to be ‘psychic’ – you don’t even have to believe that such things are possible. Casting spells, reading Tarot cards, dowsing…many pagans practice such things, but you don’t have to. You don’t even have to believe that they work. For example, I know a pagan lady who does not believe that crystals have any kind of healing power whatsoever. That’s fine. Like…she’s kind of a minority, amongst pagans, but nobody’s screaming ‘Heretic! Heretic!’ and trying to have her thrown from the building.

My advice – if you don’t mind me sharing it – is to really enjoy discovering different faiths and ideas. Blogs and websites are fantastic if you’re on a budget, and there are heaps of books available too. As a rule of thumb, blogs will be a window into the author’s personal faith and religious life, whereas websites offer more general information. Both are helpful in getting a wide range of ideas and views. There are internet groups you can join, and also meetings (moots, covens, circles…) out there in the real world too. There are even Pagan Pride events these days!

So, Spiritual Seeker…I hope this has been helpful to you, and to anyone else who may wonder about paganism and happen across this blog. Ask questions – here, or anywhere else. When people say something like it’s a fact, don’t assume that everyone agrees with them. Most of all, enjoy the ride 😉


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