Paganism is a religion or ancient belief once common in Europe. Pagans today are generally thought to practice what is often referred to as "Earth Religions" But today's Pagans are not necessarily the same as the ancient Pagans.
By common definition, all the religions of the world are Pagan, with the exception of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. These religions are not Pagan because they each claim to be the only true religion and this is because they are all related. Pagans may claim that their particular faith is the only true religion FOR THEM, but not for all of humanity. And this is the difference. Paganism, over the centuries, has believed in just about every possible philosophy, has indulged in just about every practice and has worshipped just about everything possible.
In the not-too-distant past, pagans, (meaning non-Judeo-Christian believers) along with witches and mystics were burned at the stake, and some of the world's greatest teachers were ridiculed, rebuked and even crucified! Until the formation of the United States of America. the church and the state were one. Often the state was liberal and often it was despotic. Religious freedom depended on the attitude of the prevailing power.
Originally “pagan” (from Latin paganus for “rustic”). was used as a term of derision by city dwellers in the Roman Empire to make fun of the more superstitious version of the Greek religion practiced in rural areas
When the Christians began their take-over of the Roman Empire (200-500 AD), they quickly stamped out non-Christian religions in the cities, but many pagans -- Jews, Hellenists, Gnostics, Zoarastrians, Mithraists, hermeticists, and those of many other smaller religions fled to the mountains or to India or China. The Christians picked up the term “pagan” and applied it to all non-Christian religions.
Later, Muslims (members of the religion Islam) borrowed the word “pagan” to mean all non-Muslims.
While some Christians continued to use “pagan” to mean non-Christian and some Muslims continued to use “pagan” to mean non-Muslim, the word came to mean any person who didn’t worship the “One God”, that is, everyone except for Christians, Muslims, and Jews. [NOTE: This is the most common meaning.]
Another variation of “pagan” was everyone except for Christians, Muslims, Jews, and atheists.
And then yet another variation was everyone except for Christians, Muslims, Jews, atheists, and members of Buddhism, Taoism, Confucionism, and similar aesthetic Asian religions (that is, “pagan” meaning those who are members of pantheistic, polytheistic, or shamanic religions).
“Pagan” could also mean anyone who wasn’t religious in a society completely dominated by either Christians or Muslims, that is, atheists, agnostics, and “wayward” members of Christianity or Islam, whichever was dominant.
And in recent decades, the term “pagan” has often been used as a shorter version of “Neo-Pagan”.
During the Middle Ages, a fear swept Europe. And this fear found a target -- those who were not Catholic, those who believed in the "Earth Religions", and those who were thought to worship false gods (the Devil). These people were superstitiously thought to possess magical powers. Those that were not burned and jailed were forced underground to practice their beliefs.
These practices and beliefs were no more harmful or
dangerous than those of the prevailing religion, and the
concepts behind the terms Pagan and Neo-Pagans are, in fact,
the foundation of today's mainstream religions.
If there is one common behavior of all Pagans and
neo-Pagans, it is NOT to follow a personal belief system
simply because it is convenient to the King, or the Pope, or
the Potentate, or even your mom and dad... it is to follow a
belief system that is meaningful to our lives, ... so, we do
tend to be a rather rebellious lot !
1. Paganism is a religion of nature. Pagans see the divine as manifest in the whole of nature; in every tree, plant, animal and object, man and woman - as much in death and destruction as in birth and creation. Pagans live their lives attuned to the cycles of Nature, the seasons, life and death.
2. The divine is female as well as male and therefore there is a Goddess as well as a God. These deities are within us as well as we are manifestation from them. The non-Pagan Gods tend to be super-natural i.e. spiritual. Pagan deities are natural, symbolizing aspects of nature or human nature. Although the older Pagan religions acknowledge that the God and Goddess are derived from the Great Spirit or Akashka which equates to the God of the patriarchal religions. But the Pagans give the majority of their attention to those lesser deities
3. The Goddess represents all that is female and the God represents all that is male. But because nature is seen as female the Goddess has a wider meaning. Often called Mother Earth or Gaia she is seen as the creatrix and sustainer of life, the mother of us all which makes all the creatures on the planet our brothers and sisters.
4. The Pantheon of the deity is drawn from past myths and legends, for example Isis and Osiris from Egypt or Thor, Odin, Freya from the Norse. Ancient Pagans would have worshipped the gods and goddesses of their own nation or culture, whilst still recognizing the validity of other people's deities. The concept of an overall, un-named Goddess and God, the sum totals of all the others, appears to be of ancient origin, but not of interest to the masses.
5. Paganism in the west takes a number of forms including Wicca, Druidism, and Shamanism.
6. To Pagans the four ancient elements, Earth, Air, Fire and Water have special significance. The importance of these is hard to define because they have so many correspondences, for example they are associated with the four directions, North, East, South and West. Each element is a kind of spiritual substance from which all things are made especially ourselves and at the same time are Guardians both of ourselves and of the Goddess and God, and guarding the gateways between this world and the other world.
8. Many Pagans believe in reincarnation in some form. It gives Pagans a substantially different view of life. Early Christians saw Karma as a form of punishment. But Pagans see reincarnation as, at best, a chance to improve or to continue unfinished work, and at worst just a simple re-cycling of souls.
The Re-Emergence of Paganism
|The revival of Western
Paganism is mainly due to the creation of Wicca, the nice
modern name for Witchcraft. However Paganism is not Wicca;
Wicca is an Occult form of Paganism.
The old religion was
virtually wiped out by the church of Rome using a
combination of propaganda, torture and genocide. Some people
held on to the old religion. These were often the wisemen
and women or Witches, the root 'wit' meaning 'wise'. The
church became impatient and began a purge beginning around
1484 involving the burning of Witches and wholesale
slaughter of thousands of people across Europe just on
suspicion of being Witches. Not surprisingly, in the face of
such oppression the old religion went 'underground' and
Witches dedicated to preserving the religion formed
themselves into secret groups called covens.
What do Pagans do?
Pagans revere the cycles of Nature through rituals or ceremonies of various kinds. Pagans of the western traditions celebrate up to eight festivals or Sabbats each year (not all Pagans celebrate all the Sabbats). They comprise the four solar quarters i.e. the two solstices (longest and shortest days) and the two equinoxes (day and night are the same length) plus four Celtic 'fire' festivals. All these mark important events in the cycle of life and also symbolise changes in the Goddess and God. They are:
31st October: the feast of the dead; remembrance of ancestors and people, now dead, who were important to us. It marks the end of the Celtic year and the start of the spiritual new year. Also known as All Hallows day, the night before being All Hallows Eve (Halloween) or all souls night.
the winter solstice, 21st December approx.: rebirth of the sun and the gradual lengthening of the days towards springtime and new life.
Imbolc or Bride's day
start of spring and the return of the Goddess to the land.
the spring equinox, 21st March: Return of the sun from the south, springtime proper. Some celebrate a holy union between God and Goddess.
Beltane (starting on May day):
Summertime begins celebrating new life and the holy marriage of God and Goddess.
Midsomer (Midsummer) or Litha,
the summer solstice, 21st June approx.: Everything is green thanks to the God of nature, the Green Man.
Lughnasadh or Lammas
end of August: the festival of the first (corn) harvest.
the Autumn equinox, 21st September approx.: second (fruit) harvest celebration, making plans for the winter months to come.
Samhain, Imbolc, Beltane and Lammas are known as fire festivals. Traditionally there was always a fire at these celebrations. These festivals were never held on exact dates for example Lammas would have been celebrated when the barleycorn was harvested. All these festivals or sabbats complete the Wheel of the Year