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What Is Paganism and What Is a Pagan?

Cindy has been a writer for a number of years. She enjoys sharing her life experiences and what they have taught her.

what-is-paganism

I really hope I can find a way to compress the vast amount of information on Paganism into this article. My hope is that for those people who don't really know what Paganism is all about, this article will at least make it a little bit clearer and dispel many popular misconceptions about Paganism in general.

Modern Day Paganism

I discovered Paganism when I was in my mid-twenties, and felt very comfortable with the religion and its ideals. Having been sent to Catholic Convent Schools, whilst living in a Church of England home, it was at first difficult to get over the fear of wondering if by changing religion I would 'be in trouble with God'. It took me a few weeks to become relaxed with the idea of this new religion. Eventually the fact my sister had already changed to Paganism some years before, and experienced all the same worries, made me feel more okay about it, plus my logic told me that the ideals of Paganism were surely what any God of creation would want from his followers.

So what is Paganism? Well, a vast subject to say the least. There are many sects in Paganism, although most of them seem to happily converse together, e.g. Wiccans (white witches), Druids, etc.

My understanding and experience of Paganism in all of its forms is that it is essentially a nature-loving religion, where we believe that there is a supreme God/Goddess, or Great Spirit, and that he/she exists in everything around us, the trees, the plants, the rocks, the water, etc.

Pagans respect the planet, and believe in doing no harm to other creatures or wildlife wherever possible.

Pagans never try to convert others to their religion, and believe that Paganism, and what it stands for, has to be discovered by the individual for themselves.

Pagans will try wherever possible to save any of God's creatures, whether it is a butterfly or a snake, and many Pagans do opt to go down the vegetarian route also.

White Witch

White Witch

Most Pagans that I have come across still believe in Christ, although opinion differs as to whether or not he was the 'Son of God' or simply 'A Great Prophet'. Some will dispute whether or not he ever existed, but I am not one of those, I only have doubts as to the authenticity of many of the Bible quotes due to mistranslations and manipulation over the centuries.

Wiccans, (White Witches), believe in the threefold return law, in other words any spell you cast on someone will come back on you with three times the power. This is always a great incentive not to cast spells that harm another, as the repercussions can be very serious, likewise helpful spells can bring good karma back to the Wiccan in question. Most Wiccans tend to stick to love spells and healing spells rather than revenge spells.

There are also Hedge-witches, who spend their time utilising the plants in nature to create healing ointments etc.

Pagans do generally believe in either reincarnation or life after death, and also that animals have a place in heaven as one of God's creations, be them wild animals or domesticated pets.

The History of Paganism

Paganism began in about 10,000 BC at a time when people were nomadic and had to hunt for their food. The men would then worship the God of the Hunt, the Sun, the horned Stag God and the language of the animals. During these hunts, they would wear animal skins and antlers to make it easier to approach a herd of bison or antelope. (The image of the Horned God that developed from this was severely bastardized by the Roman Catholic Church into the evil entity known as the Devil or Satan).

During this time the women discovered their bodies were in tune with the lunar phases, and so they worshipped the moon and the Goddess deity. At this time women were the ones who led the rituals and were considered as having more power than the men because they were the givers of life.

Men who were either sick or elderly and unable to hunt would stay behind with the women during hunting trips, and this was when the women shared with them their lunar mysteries, which led to these men becoming priests in the lunar cult.

Around 8000 BC the tribes accidentally discovered agriculture and the need to be nomadic ceased because they now understood the role of males and females in reproduction, and the men now knew their input was essential. Once the tribes ceased to be nomadic and began to grow their own crops and breed their own livestock, they became known as 'Pagans', meaning 'country dweller'.

It was around this time that the image of 'The Green Man' came into existence, in the form of a male face surrounded by foliage. This image is still well known in Britain to this day.

The antlers of the Horned God were replaced with goats horns and this later led to such God-forms as the Greco- Roman Horned God 'Pan'.

As time went on many people from various places migrated to live in Rome, bringing their own Gods and Goddesses with them. The nomadic Eutruscans from Asia Minor brought knowledge of magic and divinations. The British (now known as Celts), arrived, as did the Mediranian Cult of the Dead. These people had great knowledge of spirituality and the theories of death and reincarnation. As they spread out they shared this knowledge with the Celts, and these people then became the Druids who oversaw all of the rights of the Pagan People.

Ancient Druid

Ancient Druid

The Druids, the Wice and the Pagans

Druids were mostly men. From 6500–4500 there were still remnants of the solar/lunar cults that dealt with animals, herbs and the mysteries that intertwined with the pagan communities. These people were known as the 'wice', and they were the people who knew of the mysteries and the power of understanding life and earth.

Three major groups of people developed, the Druids who held the men's secrets of the Cult of the Dead, the Wice who held the teachings of the solar/lunar cults which remained mostly made up of women who worshipped the Goddess, and the Pagans, who were common folk, balanced and polaric and who sought out the knowledge of the other two groups.

Christianity

After the death of Christ, the people from the Middle East spread out across the land, teaching the word of Christianity. Eventually, they made it to Rome, and this is where the mass conversion began. They began with the leaders, Kings and Queens, first by using money and bribery. This way the country dwellers would have to convert as they depended on their leaders for survival.

Pagan temples were destroyed and Christian churches were built upon Pagan holy grounds. The Pagans were naturally not happy about this forcible conversion, so when they were made to build the churches they incorporated many of their symbols into the buildings that can still be seen today.

The Roman Catholic Church perverted the meaning of the name Pagan (from the Latin 'Paganus') and claimed it meant anti-Christian and an 'unbeliever'. Many people today still believe that Pagans are atheists or have no belief in a deity or deities of any kind, and a total rejection of all aspects of Spirituality.

The Goddess was excised from the masses to reappear later to the Roman Catholics in the subordinate form of the Virgin Mary. Jesus Christ himself was deified, and his image transformed into the Son of God. He became the Christian equivalent of the Sun God, an old Pagan tradition of a beloved male deity born to the Mother Goddess who is killed and resurrected after death. The Pagan horned God was transformed into the visualised form of 'Satan' or the 'Devil', the evil being who was the enemy of the Christian God, who only 'evil' people (non-Christians) worshipped, and who had dedicated his existence to totally undermining and destroying the moral turpitude of loyal Christians.

Pagan ideals such as the openness of sex and reverence for women were attacked in order to control the masses by the Church Clergy. Now sex and nudity were considered sinful and abhorrent to the new God image, and women became little more than the property of their menfolk, losing all their property rights and unable to serve in the clergy until the 20th century.

During this time the first Pagan scriptures emerged and were held by two Celts.

In 1100 the Dark Ages began, and no further writing took place. The Pagan scriptures vanished, and the Christian conversion continued to spread, and the Holy Wars began.

When the Christians decided their teachings were not catching on fast enough with the Pagans, the Christian leaders began claiming the Pagans worshipped and consorted with the Devil, and so the inquisition began.

what-is-paganism

Malleus Maleficarum (The Witches Hammer)

In 1494 two Dominican Monks who were the inquisitors of Papal Bull of Innocent VIII, by the names of Kramer and Springer produced the book the Malleus Maleficarum (The Witches Hammer). This laid the groundwork for the reign of terror that swept through Europe well into the 18th century.

This period was known as 'The Burning Times', where it is estimated some 9 million men, women and children were held captive, stripped, starved, deprived of sleep and horribly tortured to obtain confessions of witchcraft, only then to be either burnt at the stake or strangled.

The last Witch to be executed under the laws of the Malleus Maleficarum was in 1747 in Australia.

Witches Being Burned at the Stake

Witches Being Burned at the Stake

Those involved in Paganism went into hiding until 1951 when the last of anti-witchcraft laws were abolished in England.

In 1952 Gerald Gardner published a book called 'High Magicks Aid', before publishing a further book in 1952 called 'Witchcraft Today' and so began the New Age Religion of Wicca.

In 1985 Wicca became a legalized religion and has grown at an incredible pace ever since. The approximate number of Pagans in North America alone surpasses 250,000 and is believed to actually be much higher because many lie on their census forms to avoid persecution.

Ritual

Ritual

This is clearly an enormous subject to try and cover in one article, so I may well continue in further articles where I explain more about modern Pagansim, Wiccan Altars, Rituals etc.

A quote I found whilst writing this that I really liked was that 'Pagans are not anti-Christianity, they are prior to Christianity'.

In the links section below you will find a list of sites I found very useful as a research tool when writing this piece, and if you do have the interest in this subject I highly recommend them.

Ancient Pagan/Witch Image

Ancient Pagan/Witch Image

© 2008 Cindy Lawson

Comments

Sammie15p on February 20, 2012:

Thanks you misty :)

Cindy Lawson (author) from Guernsey (Channel Islands) on February 19, 2012:

You are welcome Sammie, this is what being a Pagan is all about, not being forced into it, but discovering it for yourself and sticking with it because it 'feels right', not because you are 'told it is right'. Keep looking, there is so much information out there, and so many organisations you can join, (just Google your area and 'Pagan Groups'). Good Luck

Sammie15p on February 19, 2012:

Hi. I'm only 15 but I just discovered one of my friends is pagan and I researched it out of curiosity. From this article this is the only religion I've heard of that makes the slightest bit of since to me. Thank you for making this article. I would love to learn as much as I can about this

Cindy Lawson (author) from Guernsey (Channel Islands) on November 07, 2011:

Thanks hecate-horus, the brainwashing is hard to shake I agree, but thankfully I got over it within about a year, so I am sure you will soon too. Glad you enjoyed the Hub too :)

hecate-horus from Rowland Woods on November 07, 2011:

Great hub on Paganism! After 2 years of being a Pagan,I confess that I still feel little anxiety about "going to Hell" for my beliefs...the brainwashing is hard to shake!

Cindy Lawson (author) from Guernsey (Channel Islands) on October 06, 2011:

I recall hearing that the Swastika had been around for many centuries before the Germans 'reversed' it and used it in a way that unfortunately tainted it for most people forever more.

I will have to ask my Sister about the cross on the rosary, as she is a mine of information on Paganism in general and attends a Wicca group every week.

Rod Marsden from Wollongong, NSW, Australia on October 06, 2011:

I don't know either about when the cross or a cross symbol first appeared with the rosary.

I know that crosses, in one form or another, have been symbols for thousands of years. The swastika, as far as I know, began its existence in Asia Minor and traveled with the tribes during the Indo-European movement. This means you will find the Swastika with roots in India and Europe. Thanks to Hinduism and Buddhism spreading from India, you will also find it in China and Japan. It is also a well known and very ancient symbol in Tibet.

The swastika comes to us originally as one of Thor's runes. It is actually a good luck rune. If you reverse a rune you reverse its meaning. The Nazi swastika is actually the traditional swastika reversed.

Of course the ankh originates in Ancient Egypt.

Cindy Lawson (author) from Guernsey (Channel Islands) on October 06, 2011:

Funnily enough Rod we were only talking about that famous Soccer game and the Germans and the English singing 'Silent Night' the other day. What a strange coincidence.

Thanks also for the further detail on the Christmas Trees :)

RE-the roasry, I seem to recall that the Pagans used them as prayer beads too, but the Christian church changed the prayers to their own prayers, i.e. Hail Mary's and The Lord's Prayer. I am not sure about the cross, as that too is originally a Pagan symbol, but whether or not it was on the original prayer beads or not and the Christians just added a 'Jesus' to it I don't know.

Rod Marsden from Wollongong, NSW, Australia on October 05, 2011:

I don't know the story about the rosary beads but I am not surprised at a pagan origin. As for the Christmas tree, you are right. It came into Britain during the reign of Queen Victoria. It had been a tradition in Albert's country. When the royal family began putting presents under the Christmas tree it caught on.

Something strange happened on Christmas day in 1914. The Germans sang Silent Night in their own language and, across the way, the British joined in singing in English. There was no killing that day. A soccer game actually broke out. Both sides comprised of young men who did not expect to be away from home at Christmas. The French tell a similar story. In any event, the powers that be made sure it never happened again. What is of interest is that Silent Night came into English in the Victorian age along with the Christmas tree.

Certainly, in the northern hemisphere, Christmas is the 'death' of the old year and the promise of the new year.

Where I live, in Australia, it is somewhat different in that it isn't winter but summer. Even so, we still celebrate Christmas.

Cindy Lawson (author) from Guernsey (Channel Islands) on October 05, 2011:

Thanks Rod, that was a really interesting and informative comment. I never tire of learning more about Paganism, for instance I found out recently that the rosary beads originated from Paganism and the Christian Church took over the idea as part of the 'convert Pagans to Christians' scheme. The Christmas Tree is another Pagan idea as it symbolised 'evergreen', holly, mistletoe etc, all Pagan in origin, and of course Christmas itself being 'Yule' a Pagan festival.

Rod Marsden from Wollongong, NSW, Australia on October 05, 2011:

I will vote up and flag as interesting. A lot of good and useful information including some of the connections Christianity has with paganism.

I have a copy of The Witch's Hammer translated into modern English. What intrigued me most about it was the various ways the authors had to get around the writings of Saint Augustine. He could be a hardliner Christian in some ways but he was not for harming witches. He felt they were not capable of casting spells that really did work and were only tricking themselves and the gullible. He kind of felt sorry for them and was more for converting them into Christians if it could be done or leaving them be. Augustine, being a saint, couldn't be wrong but, in order to prosecute witches (it was considered a book of law) they had to re-interpret what this fellow had written.

The Green Man lived on in Sir Gawain and the Green knight. There were these English mystery plays in the middle ages that were, on the surface, Christian because they had to be but underneath there were tidbits of old pre-Christian pagan ritual.

It seems to me that Satanism is anti-Christian and not Paganism.

Cindy Lawson (author) from Guernsey (Channel Islands) on September 27, 2011:

Thanks MizBejabbers, it is a subject I am fascinated in too, and I love being a Pagan. It is worth bearing in mind this Hub focuses mainly on Wiccans, and there is loads more to learn about other branches of Paganism.

Doris James MizBejabbers from Beautiful South on September 27, 2011:

Good job on such a complicated subject (one of my favorites, by the way). I hope to see you write more. I enjoyed seeing the comments on Marion Zimmer Bradley's Avalon series. I've read them all, and I think that's what got me interested in this subject.

Cindy Lawson (author) from Guernsey (Channel Islands) on September 16, 2011:

Thanks ChoiceGiver, I must take a look at your jewellery, it sounds really interesting :)

ChoiceGiver on September 16, 2011:

Gosh, thank you so much Misty! I have been looking around for a well-thought out and written piece of writing to explain Paganism and Wiccan beliefs as I sell Wiccan jewellery on it, and this is by far the most interesting article I have read! Many thanks!

Debbie

http://www.peroozle.co.uk

Cindy Lawson (author) from Guernsey (Channel Islands) on August 20, 2011:

Thanks catspirit, so lovely to get feedback from a fellow Pagan.

catspirit on August 19, 2011:

Excellent Hub....I'll be at the Pagan Festival in Salt Lake City, Utah in September. We have a large underground community that is bursting into the forefront

Cindy Lawson (author) from Guernsey (Channel Islands) on August 04, 2011:

Thanks Druv,

Some very interesting information in your post, so thanks for sharing it here. It would be hard to categorically say that all Druids, Celts etc must have originated from an ancient civilisation in India as a result of what you discovered though, it could have been the other way around just as easily, and the animal protector/horned God could have been a belief from the Druids and the Celts etc by the Indu Valley Civilisation, I guess we are unlikely to ever find out for certain. Wicca is definitely not in the frame either way though, as Wicca was only created as a religion in very recent times (first half of the 20th Century), however witches and witchcraft go back significantly further.

Druv on August 03, 2011:

Wrong word-->"story" i meant "research", sorry

Druv on August 03, 2011:

Hello i have been doing a story and i found out that the Horned God is the same as the God of Indus Valley Civilization. There are artifacts showing a horned God which is one of the form God Shiva known as Pashupatinath -which means Animal protector or the protector of the animals.

Hence the Celts/Druids/Wiccans originated from an ancient civilization of India - the Indus valley civilization.

I found an article showing an artifact of the Druids sitting in a "Yoga" posture called padma-asan with 4 swastika on its chest.

http://www.hymla.com/index.php?/Readings/were-the-druids-yogis.html

Cindy Lawson (author) from Guernsey (Channel Islands) on July 27, 2011:

Thanks zaarahjasmin, so pleased you enjoyed this :)

zaarahjasmin on July 27, 2011:

lot's of useful info and overview here..it's my first time at this site! i love ur site :)

Cindy Lawson (author) from Guernsey (Channel Islands) on June 06, 2011:

I could not agree more Mrs. J. B. Treating nature the way man does largely, deserves a death sentence.

Mrs. J. B. from Southern California on June 06, 2011:

Nature is amazing. I make sure I feed my little furry or feathered friends every day. How man treats nature is what kills me.