What Is Paganism and What Is a Pagan?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
This is clearly an enormous subject to try and cover in one hub, so I may well continue in further hubs 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 hub, and if you do have the interest in this subject I highly recommend them.
© 2008 Cindy Lawson