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    sea witch thalassa's Avatar
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    relational theophysis and bioregional witchery
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    A Newbie Guide To Paganism (Paganism 101 and FAQ)

    Hello! Welcome to "A Newbie Guide to Paganism" in the SAFE Zone forum. I'm working on this thread as a sort of Paganism 101/ Pagan FAQ thread for folks that might be new to Paganism. Unless stated otherwise, I'm the author of the content here, which has either been compiled from other posts over the years on the forum or from my blog and then reworked and updated a bit.

    I can't promise that everyone will agree with everything I have written here--Pagans are a diverse group. But I try to be as specific and factual as possible in giving a variety of perspectives that I have encountered while still giving general sorts of answers (its an introductory information thread, not a text book). If there is anything you would like to see added, send me a PM.


    What is Paganism?

    This is probably the question of the century (in Pagan circles at least)...I've been Pagan for over 20 years now and people are still arguing over how to define it, whether or not its a useful term that means anything, and who is or is not Pagan.

    The best answer I can come up with, after lots of reading Pagan opinions, talking to Pagans (IRL and online), reflecting on the variety of traditions and opinionsz, etc is that Paganism is an umbrella term for a collection of individual and distinct religious traditions (more on the different traditions later)...or perhaps it shouldn't be considered Paganism, so much as Paganisms. Either way though, Paganism can't be defined using a monothetic definition--it needs polythetic criteria (basically via a checklist approach)...though getting Pagans to get together and make a checklist they can disagree on is as likely as herding cats.

    Within that umbrella, (contemporary) Paganism (which is sometimes called neo-Paganism) is a term referring to one (or several) of many distinct spiritual paths, rather than one unified religious tradition. Pagan traditions generally practice some form religious and/or spiritual path that incorporates earth-centered and/or nature based beliefs that is often polytheistic (though a good proportion of practitioners will focus on the polytheistic aspect first, and the connection with the world around them secondarily or not at all). Many Pagan traditions incorporate the use of ritual and/or magic(k). Practices generally align themselves on a continuum from a loose inspiration to a reconstruction of (or an eclectic mix) one or multiple pre-Christian pagan faiths and occasionally other pagan (little p) religions such as Buddhism, Hinduism, etc, and sometimes even with Christianity or Judaism.

    Within contemporary Paganism the largest tradition is probably Wicca, which is a distinct religious tradition founded by Gerald Gardner in the 1940s, and its various descendent offshoot traditions. Some other Pagan faiths include Druidry, Heathenry, Stregheria/Italian Witchcraft, Discordianism/Subgenius, Green Witchcraft, Celtic, Hellenic, Roman and Egyptian Paganism, and (yes, though many will certainly deny it) some forms of Satanism (and a whole lot more). Additionally, some individuals of the above paths may choose not to identify as “Pagan”, for various reasons that range from disliking the term “pagan” due to its lack real meaning (since it is rooted in the idea of describing what someone is *not*) to the idea that the term holds no purpose and creates an idea of false unity.

    Who *is* Pagan? way to look at it is that it is anyone that calls themselves a pagan .

    Or, if you go the dictionary route:
    The word pagan, according to Mirriam-Webster arises from 14th Middle English variation of the Latin paganus, meaning civilian or country dweller or from pagus, meaning country district. But the definition from Free Dictionary (online) just got interesting (which just goes to show that words evolve)...

    Etymologically speaking:
    c.1375, from L.L. paganus “pagan,” in classical L. “villager, rustic, civilian,” from pagus “rural district,” originally “district limited by markers,” thus related to pangere “to fix, fasten,” from PIE base *pag- “to fix” (see pact). Religious sense is often said to derive from conservative rural adherence to the old gods after the Christianization of Roman towns and cities; but the word in this sense predates that period in Church history, and it is more likely derived from the use of paganus in Roman military jargon for “civilian, incompetent soldier,” which Christians (Tertullian, c.202; Augustine) picked up with the military imagery of the early Church (e.g. milites “soldier of Christ,” etc.). Applied to modern pantheists and nature-worshippers from 1908. Paganism is attested from 1433.

    Generally, among pagans, the definitions of hedonist or a person that is irreligious are not used, and are considered offensive…however, they might be used by someone that is not pagan, who may or may not know any better. Most of the time, when the term pagan is used, it is in reference to faith that is not Abrahamatic—Judaism, Christianity or Islam. This means that any number of religions in the world, from Shinto to Hinduism to Wicca fall under this definition...even though the bulk of adherents for some of them (Hinduism, Shinto, Buddhism, etc) wouldn't consider themselves such.

    But either way, if you were to go to a Pagan event and take an informal survey, you would likely find that most (and by most, I would estimate at least 95%*) of people you sit down with do religion in the following ways:

    • as a reconstruction of ancient indigenous European religions and related pre-Christian religions originating in the ancient world (henceforth written as IE/PC religions, because that is a ton to write out)
    • as a revivalist construction of IE/PC religions
    • as a reinvention or reinterpretation of IE/PC religions
    • as constructed modern religious practices and beliefs inspired by the mythology or beliefs of IE/PC religions
    • as a modern earth-centered spiritual religious practices and beliefs inspired by IE/PC religions
    • as modern, constructed spiritual and religious practices and beliefs based in IE/PC themes

    Now (before people start pointing out the exceptions), let me also say that this is not the definitive list of people that I have found self-identifying as Pagan over the years (nor will everyone that does religion like this want to self-identify as Pagan). And, you will also find that there are also people incorporating Buddhism, Hinduism, Shinto, etc, ideas into their Paganisms. There are people incorporating science and philosophy and theosophy and all sort of other non-religious ideas into their Paganisms...and there are even people that identify as Pagan that also identify as atheists, agnostics, naturalists, or humanists, as well as are people eschewing IE/PC religious traditions and themes in favor of other traditions, but doing it in a modern Pagan framework (like celebrating the Wheel of the Year, or using Wiccan-style ritual).

    Other Views and Definitions:

    Our Ongoing, Never ending and somewhat tedious Debate on the Subject

    A Pagan or NeoPagan is someone who self-identifies as a Pagan, and whose spiritual or religious practice or belief fits into one or more of the following categories:
    *Honoring, revering, or worshipping a Deity or Deities found in pre-Christian, classical, aboriginal, or tribal mythology; and/or
    *Practicing religion or spirituality based upon shamanism, shamanic, or magickal practices; and/or
    *Creating new religion based on past Pagan religions and/or futuristic views of society, community, and/or ecology;
    *Focusing religious or spiritual attention primarily on the Divine Feminine; and/or
    *Practicing religion that focuses on earth based spirituality.
    Last edited by MaskedOne; 24 Feb 2015 at 20:24.
    “You have never answered but you did not need to. If I stand at the ocean I can hear you with your thousand voices. Sometimes you shout, hilarious laughter that taunts all questions. Other nights you are silent as death, a mirror in which the stars show themselves. Then I think you want to tell me something, but you never do. Of course I know I have written letters to no-one. But what if I find a trident tomorrow?" ~~Letters to Poseidon, Cees Nooteboom

    “We still carry this primal relationship to the Earth within our consciousness, even if we have long forgotten it. It is a primal recognition of the wonder, beauty, and divine nature of the Earth. It is a felt reverence for all that exists. Once we bring this foundational quality into our consciousness, we will be able to respond to our present man-made crisis from a place of balance, in which our actions will be grounded in an attitude of respect for all of life. This is the nature of real sustainability.”
    ~~Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee

    "We are the offspring of history, and must establish our own paths in this most diverse and interesting of conceivable universes--one indifferent to our suffering, and therefore offering us maximal freedom to thrive, or to fail, in our own chosen way."
    ~~Stephen Jay Gould, Wonderful Life: The Burgess Shale and the Nature of History

    "Humans are not rational creatures. Now, logic and rationality are very helpful tools, but there’s also a place for embracing our subjectivity and thinking symbolically. Sometimes what our so-called higher thinking can’t or won’t see, our older, more primitive intuition will." John Beckett

    Pagan Devotionals, because the wind and the rain is our Bible

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