There are a few topics that we’ve always been warned not to bring up in a public setting – topics like money/finances, politics and religion. However, today I’m going to throw that advice out the window long enough to answer some of YOUR questions. From emails to social media, I have received quite a few questions about Paganism and my decision to openly share my journey online. So, today I’d like to break it down a bit and discuss some of the Pagan basics…
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I want to preface this post by saying I am NOT trying to convert anyone.
Early in my journey to Paganism, I was digging into every book, blog and article that I could get my hands on. One statement that seriously resonated with me is that unlike many other religions, Pagans aren’t converted to Paganism. Instead, you’re always a Pagan deep down, on your own journey to discover where your beliefs are aligned. I don’t remember where I read that, I wish I did!
With that thought in mind, I am writing this post for anyone and everyone that is interested in learning about the spiritual beliefs of Paganism, whether you’re interested in living the lifestyle yourself or not.
So, if you’ve come across this simply because you’re curious and interested in learning more, please know you are not only welcome but encouraged to enjoy this. If this resonates with you, great. If not, also great – We are all on our own individual journeys and I have no interest in trying to pressure anyone into adopting something simply because it connects with me.
Let’s start right at the beginning… While there has been a rise in the popularity of some aspects of Paganism, in particular Wicca, Paganism itself is nothing new. Traditional Paganism, also known as the ‘Old Ways’, can be traced back in time to our ancient ancestors. It was a set of beliefs and traditions that were practiced in Europe prior to the rise of Christianity.
The definition of ‘Paganism’ provided by the Pagan Federation is:
A polytheistic or pantheistic nature-worshipping religion.
If that sounds incredibly vague, like it could encompass a wide variety of different beliefs and practices, that’s because it is! ‘Pagan’ is like an umbrella. Some will choose to identify with a specific label or a particular practice, like Wicca, Druidry or Heathenism. Others, meanwhile, will simply choose to identify as ‘Pagan’, not fully believing that their own personal beliefs will fall into one of these categories. As the Pagan belief system is based on the freedom to walk your own journey and choose your own beliefs, all of the above are accepted.
Recently, modern society has shown an increased interest in the practice of Wicca and Witchcraft. However, in understanding the umbrella concept that I just described, not all Pagans are Wiccan. That is arguably one of the biggest misconceptions that I have come across along my journey. In fact, there are many Pagans who would be insulted to be referred to as a ‘witch’ while others embrace the term.
One commonality that underlies all paths is the recognition of the Earth as sacred. The way that this is practiced and incorporated into our daily lives can vary from person to person, belief system to belief system.
With this in mind, everything that I am sharing from this part forward will be exclusive to my own personal journey and practices. If you’ve come this far and do find yourself interested in learning more about Paganism and how it may connect with your own personal beliefs, I highly recommend digging into some research, reading up about the different belief systems. Find what resonates with you.
If you’ve been around Alternatively Speaking for any length of time, then you know that I have been quite open in recent months with the fact that I identify as Pagan. More specifically, I identify as an Eclectic Pagan. Eclectic Paganism, also known as ‘Non-Denominational Paganism,’ is the idea that one can follow a pagan path without subscribing solely to any one specific set of beliefs.
While I am personally drawn quite heavily to Celtic Paganism, I am not tied solely to their traditions, practices and beliefs. As with many Pagans, I follow the ‘Wheel of the Year’, an annual cycle of festivals and events based largely on the year’s solar events and the changing of the seasons. While each of these dates holds a spiritual meaning, they can also be tied to something bigger than my own practice.
For example, later this month we will be celebrating Ostara. Looking at the phases of the sun, Ostara coincides with the Spring Equinox, the time in which light and dark are once again perfectly balanced, with the amount of light that we are experiencing on the rise. From a spiritual belief, this is tied to new growth, newborn animals, fertility and new beginnings.
One thing that you will notice quite quickly is that many of the traditional Pagan festivals and events coincide with the practices of other religions. Many historians believe that as Christians began to take over Europe, they adopted many of these concepts in an attempt to convert the Pagans that were living there at the time to Christianity. This helps to explain some of the beliefs associated with Christian holidays that stray from what we are told are the ‘Christian roots’.
Ostara is a great example of this in practice. The connection between Ostara and fertility is often associated with 2 specific symbols – the egg and the rabbit. Symbols that are seen regularly associated with our modern Easter celebrations.
For other examples of the tie between traditional Pagan festivals and modern holidays, check out my posts about Yule and it’s associations with Christmas as well as Samhain and it’s associations with Halloween.
For me personally, I have always felt a deep connection with nature and the Earth. It is for this reason, I believe, that I am drawn to spend so much of my time outdoors, camping and hiking. I am much happier in the forest with no one else in sight, sleeping in a tent than spending the night at a 5-star hotel. There is a peace, tranquillity and serenity that this connection to the Earth provides. The more I read up about the nature-worshipping religions, the more my thoughts and feelings began to make sense to me.
I believe in the presence of a higher power, although many Pagans (myself included) don’t necessarily attribute this to a single God. While some recognize a number of Gods and Goddesses, each with their own strengths and attributes, others (particularly modern Wicca) see all of these combined as a single God and Goddess working in harmony with one another.
One concept that really stood out for me early on in my Pagan journey that set Paganism apart from most other religions that I had studied (curiosity had me reading up on a wide variety) was the fact that Paganism is not built on the premise that we are ultimately flawed, seeking salvation. Instead, most Pagans subscribe to the idea that we have a duty to honour the Gods/Goddesses/higher power with our actions each day, not that we are trying to live up to specific laws (and that following short of these laws would constitute as a sin). We are all capable of great good as well as capable of making mistakes and are ultimately responsible for our own actions.
It puts more of an onus on each of us individually – In order to honour the gods by upholding my own values, ethics and morals, I must first identify what these are. That kind of soul searching was both overwhelming and unbelievably freeing. I wasn’t blindly following someone else’s created doctrine. Instead, I had to take the time to define and understand each concept for myself.
Even if you do follow a set religion, I challenge yourself to dig into this concept while continuing to honour your own belief system. For example, if you are Christian, sit down for a moment and consider what about each sin makes it a sin…. Going with an extreme, why is murder inherently wrong? Then break down into smaller portions.
I have always been a firm believer that asking questions like this is important! Do you truly believe and follow your faith if you can’t question it and dig into it? Anytime a religion or a specific religious leader encourages blind following, I see that as a huge red flag! Some of the most devout Christians that I have met achieved their strong faith by questioning and finding answers that directed them back to their own spiritual beliefs.
As there is no one single belief system under the umbrella of Paganism, there is no one specific set of rules to abide by. However, many of the rules or redes that are accepted and embraced can boil down to a similar meaning. Examples include:
Wiccan Rede: “An’ it harm none, dos as you will.”
Rule of Three: Anything you do comes back to you more three times more intensely. If good attracts good, so do does bad attract bad.
As a Pagan, we don’t judge those around us. We have a very open and accepting view of the world, welcoming those whose lifestyles may differ from our own. At the end of the day, we hold ourselves to one principle – that we do not bring harm to others.
If you find yourself intrigued by the concepts of Paganism (for whatever reason) and are interested in learning more, I highly recommend you read the book ‘Paganism: An Introduction to Earth-Centered Religions’ by Joyce & River Higginbotham. This is a book that I have read multiple times, each time learning something new or discovering a new way to look at the world.
Do you have any questions about the Pagan basics and the concept of Paganism? Feel free to ask in the comments below!
For those who are also practicing Pagans, please feel free to leave your own thoughts/journeys/discoveries in the comments as well!