When one is studying or thinking about following a Pagan path, it is useful to know just exactly when Paganism means. As the saying goes, ask ten Pagans to described Paganism and you will get eleven different answers. This is a confusing term that means different things to different people, so it is useful to explore some of those meanings and to make clear just what I mean when I talk about Pagans and Paganism.
Paganism is an umbrella term that is used to classify many different and varied religious and spiritual paths. Generally, a Pagan religion is held to be any faith that is not one of the Big Three–Christianity, Islam, or Judaism. Using the term in this way lumps together long established religions like Hinduism and Buddhism with newer faiths like Wicca. But more often, Paganism is used to refer to non-mainstream religions and paths, like Wicca, Astaru, or Druidism. They are perhaps better called Neo-Pagan, meaning new Pagan or post-1950 faiths.
Many of these newer Pagan faiths have several principles in common. If is, of course, dependant on the faith as to how the principles are upheld, and to what level of meaning they are given. (As always, generalizations are a difficult things, are there are paths which do not follow these principals).
These principals include:
- Interconnectedness: All parts of the universe are blessed because everything is connected to everything else at some deep level, including the divine. There is no split between the spiritual and the physical, making improvement of the body, mind and spirit of equal importance.
- Blessedness: There is no original sin, so there is no need to anyone to be saved. We are born as a tabula rasa, a clean slate. Ethics are not followed to please a deity, but are rather followed because they honour and recognize the interconnectedness of everything.
- Proselytization: In short, Pagan religions do not proselytize. Followers are expected to be on the path because they were called to it by their own free will, not because they were talked into joining.
The origin of the word pagan is a thing much discussed in the Pagan community. The origin is often cited as being paganus, a Latin word meaning “country dweller”. As city living became more desirable, this word came to be an insult, and eventually came to mean non-Christians when the Roman Empire converted to Christianity. As is still sometimes the case, the people in the country were behind the city dwellers, and often still followed the old religions.
Often Paganism is accused of being a “Do-it-Yourself ” religion, where one takes a little bit of this faith, and a dash of this faith, and maybe something from another one, and cobbles together their one specific path. (This is also called “Spice Rack” Paganism.) Intelligent and dedicated Pagans put in a great deal of their time towards learning about the deities they are worship. They are well aware that not all goddess as associated with the Moon (take the Japanese Sun Goddess Amaterasu, for example), and that certainly not all goddess are mother figures (for example, the Indian Kali). They also take time to research old–original–practises of the religions that their deities belong too. They need not follow these rites, but they must be aware of them so as not to make mistakes like making inappropriate offerings. (For example, alcohol should not be offered to most, if not all, North American Indian deities.) So, in short, being a Pagan does not give one free reign to create their own religion. Rather, it gives us the burden of research and careful worship.
Looking at Wicca in terms of Paganism, it is one of the faiths that is under the Pagan umbrella, but it is not the Pagan faith. Not all Pagans are Wiccans.
Wicca, as a religion, has no central hierarchy or dogma. There are individual traditions which have internal hierarchies and a type of dogma, in a form of rules that help keep the group running smoothly. It can be argued that the Wiccan Rede is a form of dogma, but I feel that we are meant to examine it and question it, rather then accept it unconditionally.
The emphasis in Wicca, and many other Pagan faiths, is on personal responsibility. We are the only ones who are responsible for our actions. We cannot blame them on the Gods or on others. It is also important to remember that spiritual experiences don’t just happen, or aren’t given to you in a church or temple setting. We must seek out the experiences through meditation, rituals, and other methods.
Wicca, like other Pagan faiths, is a way of life. It is not something you put on, like a ritual robe, when it suits you. It is something you live all the time. The Rede is followed all the time, and the Lord and Lady are honoured by all your actions. Also, know that you don’t need to announce your religion, or even that you are Pagan, to all and sundry, but rather let its ethics and ideals affect all that you do.