Paganism-Myths and Misconceptions

Pagan MisconceptionsJust the words pagan and paganism bring up images of women dancing naked around bonfires at night, baby sacrifices, and devil worshippers.  Whether from popular television shows and movies or from Christian dogma, many conceptions of paganism are wrong. The reality may just surprise you.

Myth 1:  Pagans are devil or Satan worshippers.

This is probably one of the most common misconceptions regarding paganism and its various religions.  The answer is emphatically no.  Satan, or the devil, is a Christian/Judeo concept and has no place in paganism.  This is not to say devil worshippers do not exist.  But those who do worship Satan are not pagan. Devil worshippers are therefore a sect of Christianity, not paganism. Along with this misconception is that Satanists worship Satan.  Again, this is not the truth.  Satanists do not believe in either God or Satan. They believe control of their lives is within them, not a higher power.

Myth 2: Paganism involves human and animal sacrifice.

Again, no.  Contrary to movies and shows, this is not true.  Paganism revolves around the respect and love of all life.  This also disproves the misconception that Pagans eat babies. Life, animal or human, is considered sacred.  It should be noted that animal and human sacrifice did exist in the earliest forms of paganism but no longer exists today.

Myth 3:  All witches are Wiccan.

That would be like saying all Christians are Catholic or Baptist.  Not all witches are Wiccan.  Some prefer a solitary lifestyle.  Some are a part of cults outside of the Wiccan beliefs.  Some belong to different religions entirely.

Myth 4:  All pagans perform rituals nude.

Not all pagans or Wiccans perform their rituals nude, or skyclad.  Some pagans do prefer to be skyclad. They feel that it gives them a closer connection to the divine and is not sexual in nature.  Being skyclad leaves nothing in between the individual and the divine, literally baring all.  Not all ceremonies require being naked.  It greatly depends on the group, privacy levels, the weather, and the comfort levels within the group.

Myth 5:  The use of the pentacle signifies devil worship.

This is another misconception from television.  The pentacle is a symbol of the five elements, one for each point on the star.  They stand for earth, air, fire, water, and spirit.  The wearing of the pentacle with the point up shows the recognition of a higher power.  An inverted star with the point downward symbolizes the Satanist belief that they themselves are the higher power.

In reality, this symbol like many means different things to different individuals. The cross was used to kill in ancient times, like a modern day electric chair is now a symbol of the Christian faith.  The Swastika now thought of a hated symbol from the time of Hitler was considered a symbol of peace by the Tibetans.  It is all a matter of interpretation.

Paganism is not what it seems, despite popular belief.  Knowledge is indeed key here.

Paganism-General beliefs

Pagan Core BeliefsPagan beliefs can be as diversified as Christianity but all Pagan religions share some common beliefs.  These pagan, or nature-based, religions tend to be polytheistic and pantheistic.  The majority not only believe in magic but incorporate magic into their rituals or daily lives.  Just like Christianity has sacred rituals, so do many Pagan religions, if not all of them.  Finally, all have sacred days, or Sabbats, they celebrate or recognize on a regular basis.

Polytheism is a common belief in Pagan culture. Since pre-Christian times, many parts of nature were personified as gods and goddesses.  From the Greeks, to Romans, to Native American tribes, all were based on nature. So it makes sense that this belief would continue on through Paganism. Although the specific gods and goddesses will vary with different pagan religions, there is generally one major god and goddess for each.  Some involve pantheons, or groups, of gods and goddesses. These gods were worshipped and petitioned for guidance and strength in trying situations.  Celebrations revolved around them.

Pantheism is the belief that god is everything and everything is god.  It is pervasive in many Pagan religions, although not every pantheist is a Pagan or practices paganism. This is not to say that the universe is a god but from the universe. Most see their gods more symbolic rather than literal, such as the God of Wisdom or Goddess of Love.  Pantheism offers a way to look at the divinity of both nature and the universe.

Magic is not just for Wiccans or witches.  Magic plays a part in paganism and its many religions. Energy is found in every living organism and can be harnessed like the power of the wind with windmills.  This energy or life force can be used in a variety of ways and for a number of reasons. Most commonly used for healing, divination, or to connect with a higher power, using magic to cause harm or manipulation is forbidden by most pagan religions.  Many adhere to the Wiccan Threefold Rule, what goes out comes back threefold to the user or caster.

Sabbats can be considered pagan holidays in a sense.  They’re a celebration and marking of the passing of seasons. There are eight of them and usually called the Wheel of the Year.  The idea of the Wheel of the Year was created in the 1950s by Ross Nichols.  But the Sabbats have existed for a longer amount of time. The Sabbats consist of the Spring and Fall Solstices, the Summer and Winter Solstices, and the four fire festivals-Samhain, Ibolc, Beltane, and Lughnasadh. The dates vary, depending on which hemisphere the celebrator lives at the time.

Although pagan religions differ as much as the religions in Christianity, all have the same basic beliefs. Paganism is a life of enjoying the natural world we live in and the celebration of its cycles. It’s rekindling the ways of our ancestors and incorporating the new or modern world.  It’s finding joy in the simple things.

Paganism-Sabbats

SabatsThe word Sabbats are derived from the Greek word, Sabatu, meaning “to rest”. In Paganism, Sabbats are celebrations of the cycles of life-birth, death, and rebirth.  They are meant to attune to the Gods/Goddesses and nature’s energy with our body, mind, and spirit.  Simply put, “to become one with nature”.

Unlike holidays like Easter or Christmas, Sabbats are based on the cycles of nature and solstices.  The dates vary depending on what part of the world you live in.  What may be the spring solstice in the Western Hemisphere will not be the same in the Eastern Hemisphere. Sabbat celebrations begin the night before, or eve, of the actual day and end the following night. The reason is that long ago, the Sabbats followed the lunar cycle instead of the solar cycle.

Below is a brief description of some of the eight Sabbats that are practiced by the Norse, Wiccan, and Celtic religions.  The dates are a rough approximation, depending on where you live in the world.

Winter Solstice-Yule   December 20th-January 1st

Considered to be the real “twelve days of Christmas”, the Winter Solstice begins on Mother’s Night and ends on Yule Night.  This is the time when the waxing sun overtakes the waxing moon. It is when a one chapter of life ends and one of new opportunities and lessons to learn begins.

Red, or Bayberry, candles decorate homes and represent happiness and wealth for the incoming year.  Since Yule is associated with fire, a yule log will also be placed.

Beltane    May 1st or 5th

Also known as Mayday, this celebration represents a time when humans, animals, and plants prepare for the summer months. Bright colors such as blue, pink, lavender, yellow and white are colors used to decorate trees with ribbons or wreaths hung in the home.

Summer Solstice   Around June 20th

Summer Solstice is celebrated on the longest day of the year.  It celebrates the kingly aspect of a God and in Celtic traditions also celebrates the Mother Goddess.  Red, gold, and maize colors represent the masculine parts of the season, or the Sun God.  Sunflowers are usually displayed at this time to represent these vibrant colors.

Autumn Equinox-Mabon     Around September 23rd

Just as the Summer Solstice celebrates the coming summer months, Mabon celebrates the fall. Corn and corn bread are stables at this celebration, along with sweet potatoes and apple cider. The wonderful fall colors are represented in the changing colors of the leaves, marking the passing of summer.

Samhain-Pagan New Year

Samhain represents the full cycle of the season and closes the circle of life.  It is a celebration of thanks for the gifts given and lessons learned in the passing year.  A time of year when the veil between the physical and spiritual world is thin, ancestors and loved ones who have passed are honored.

These are not all of the Sabbats celebrated by Pagans.  They are all based on the cycles of nature and the Gods and Goddesses connected to them.

Paganism-What is it?

PaganismPaganism, the word alone brings up images of bloody altars, witches, and devil worshippers. Pagans are considered to be those who do not follow the Christian dogma and traditions.  Many religions fall into this category including Buddhism and Taoism. But what actually is Paganism?

Paganism can be defined as those spiritually driven to native or natural religions. It is almost always nature-based and tends to be pantheistic and polytheistic. Still scratching your head?  Let’s explore further.

Another definition that may be much simpler to understand is that paganism usually refers to religions that are not Abraham-based.  The word pagan literally means “country dweller”.  Paganism has existed for centuries in many forms. The ancient Greeks worshipped nature-based gods such as Zeus, king of the gods and god of thunder, lightning, and the heavens, Aries, the god of the sun, and Artemis, goddess of the moon and the hunt.  The ancient Romans worshipped Neptune, the Sea God, Ceres, the Earth Goddess, and Flora, the Flower Goddess.

Paganism is greatly diversified but maintains some basic beliefs. One is that nature is a divine presence. Practioners of paganism have a deep respect of nature and life’s natural order. Paganism also rejects monotheism, choosing to worship and acknowledge a variety of gods, goddesses, and spirits of their ancestors.

In the 1960s, the Gaia Hypothesis was formulated by James Lovelock, a researcher, who theorized that the entire planet with its many ecosystems and interconnections was actually a single living organism.  Though not fully accepted by the scientific community, it would be embraced and be one of the basic beliefs of the Pagan world. Gaia has become one of the most widely revered in this community. The Romantic movement of the 19th century brought about more modern forms of nature spirituality.  Romantic poets would write about the celebration and love of nature in response to the Industrial age. It was from this time that the Boy Scouts were formed and also an increased interest in ancient religions as a way to interact more with the nature spiritually.

Instead of a monotheistic view of God, Paganism takes a polytheistic approach.  One of the reasons for the rejection of monotheism is because of the view of God being above or transcendent of the natural world.  In contrast, Paganism views nature as sacred and worthy of respect and honor.  These views connect the world and the god, or goddess, as one.  With this monistic view, worshipping the divine and worshipping nature are one and the same.  Another view is that nature is the “body” of the divine god or gods just as the human spirit is within the human body.

Paganism takes many forms today, from Shamanism to Wicca to Buddhism. With their reverence for nature and all its elements, Paganism celebrates nature and encourages lifestyles that are eco-friendly.  Dominate in most forms of paganism is gender equality. Paganism has no specific doctrine and hold firm to the belief that no harm should come by anyone’s actions.

 

 

 

Paganism and Its Religions

Pagan ReligionJust like Christianity has many religious communities, Paganism has the same.  Christianity has Baptist, Methodists, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and Catholic communities.  Paganism has Wiccan, Druidism, and Heathenism. These are just some of hundreds of both Christian and Paganism religious communities and faiths. Each has the same fundamental beliefs and beliefs that make them different from each other.

Wiccan

The first image this word usually brings to mind for most is the wicked witch of the West in Oz.  This could not be farther from the truth. Not every witch is a Wiccan, just like not every Christian is Catholic.

The Wiccan rede, “An’ it harm none, do what you will” is an ethical code that is strictly held. The Law of Three is a Wiccan belief that what is sent out will come back threefold. Wiccans traditionally hold nature in high regard.  Nature is learned from and cherished.  Practicing of witchcraft generally involves love, wisdom, harmony, and healing.  Because of endless persecution, Wiccans believe strongly in religious freedom.  Many misconceptions exist around this pagan religion that could not be farther from the truth.  Pagans, including Wiccans, do not worship the Devil.  The concept of the devil is of Christian origin and has no place in paganism. Magic to cause harm or to manipulate to another is strictly against their ethical code as “true witches”.

Neo-Druidism

Neo-Druidism arose from the earlier Druids groups.  They have the basic pagan beliefs of nature-based spirituality and have strong regard for their Celtic ancestors.  There usually is no leader or authoritarian figure.  The groups are referred to as henges or groves.  Belief in the Gaia hypothesis plays a big part in their belief systems and nature is considered spiritual. The two best known groups are the Ár nDraíocht Féin and the Henge of Keltria. The main difference between the two is the Henge of Keltria believes in the restoration of the original druidism.

Heathenism

Heathenism dates back to pre-Christian times.  Its ancestry includes descendants from Anglo-Saxon England, Germany, and Scandinavia. Modern heathenism involves the revival of old ancestral practices and their religions fall under a variety of names such as Odinism, Heathenry, and Germanic Pagan Reconstructionism. Heathenry is considered more of a way of life than just a religion and permeates daily life.  Heathenism requires constant learning about the values and beliefs of ancestors. Much time is given to the development of relationships with ancestors, gods and goddesses, and the spirits of the land.  Again, there is no central authority figure or book used.

Even with the basic information given of just these few pagan religions show some commonalities.  All have a reverence for nature and include this reverence in their practices.  No bloody altars, no sacrifices, no devil worship is involved in any of them. Most pagan religions include their ancestral traditions and beliefs in the way they live and worship.  Both polytheism and pantheism are present in practically every type of paganism. Just like Christianity, Paganism is just as diverse.