I’ve mentioned here and there that I’m Pagan, but I haven’t elucidated on what that means. Since I’m gathering with my coven today, I thought it would be a good time to get into it.
Paganism is more easily described in terms of observable behaviors than beliefs. Speaking broadly, “paganism” refers to a collection of spiritual behaviors that include animism, pantheism, polytheism, reverence for nature, ancestor veneration, numinousness, and magic.
In a historical context, paganism usually refers to the polytheistic traditions of pre-Christian Europe though it may also include Eastern religions and the indigenous religions of the Americas, Central Asia, Australia, and Africa. However, adherents of these religious and spiritual traditions do not tend to self-identify as pagan and may take offense at the label.
In contemporary usage, Paganism (with a capital P) refers to modern movements that attempt to reconstruct or draw from historical paganism. For example, Hellenics draw from ancient Greek religious practices; Norse Pagans look to the religious traditions of ancient Germanic people in Nordic countries.
Contemporary Paganism also includes adherents of various New Religious Movements such as Wicca, which is not rooted in ancient paganism and has its own unique development, but maintains similar behaviors. And some Pagans look to develop their spirituality based on the land they currently inhabit and its spirits rather than those of their ancestors.
There is tremendous diversity in what Pagans believe and much debate over what Pagans should believe. While I do think that people should examine their beliefs, I find such debates futile; people will believe what they want, what feels right to them, and do as they wish as they always have. At the end of day, it’s more important to me whether we can agree on how to worship rather than if we conceptualize deity in the same manner. There are more interesting and challenging ideas to debate anyway, but I begin to digress.
So how do Pagans worship? It varies widely, but in general, Pagans seek to affirm their connection with nature through seasonal festivals and rites of passage of human life, and may honor deities and their ancestors as well as develop and maintain relationships with other spirits. Common acts of worship include prayer, meditation, the pouring of libations, recitations of poetry, singing, and the performance of sacred drama. In this sense, Pagans are not so different from other religious people.
When I first told my friends that I would be going to Australia, a few who have traveled there told me the Pagan community is delightful and hoped that I would have the opportunity to spend some time with local Pagans. I certainly hope to as well.
About the image: Parthenon by Mr G’s Travels on Flickr CC BY-NC-SA 2.0