What is Paganism?

I make no secret of the fact that I practice an uncommon form of spirituality. I’m Pagan. What’s that? I’m so glad you asked. Here’s an introduction to Paganism.

Paganism is more easily described in terms of observable behaviours than beliefs. Broadly speaking, it refers to a collection of spiritual behaviours that include animism, pantheism, polytheism, reverence for nature, ancestor veneration, numinousness, and magic.

In a historical context, paganism usually refers to the mostly-polytheistic traditions of pre-Christian Europe. It may also include Eastern religions and the indigenous religions of the Americas, Central Asia, Australia, and Africa. However, adherents of these religious and spiritual traditions do not tend to self-identify as pagan. Applying this label to them may be offensive.

In contemporary usage, Paganism (with a capital P) refers to modern movements that attempt to reconstruct or draw from historical paganism. For example, Hellenics draw from ancient Greek religious practices; Norse Pagans look to the religious traditions of ancient Germanic people in Nordic countries.

Contemporary Paganism also includes adherents of various New Religious Movements such as Wicca, which is not rooted in ancient paganism and has its own unique development, but maintains similar behaviours. Some Pagans look to develop their spirituality based on the land they currently inhabit and its spirits rather than those of their ancestors.

What and how do Pagans worship? It varies widely. In general, Pagans seek to affirm their connection with nature through seasonal festivals and rites of passage of human life. They may or may not believe in gods or spirits. Some Pagans honour their ancestors and keep ancestral shrines in their homes. Common acts of worship include prayer, meditation, food offerings and the pouring of libations, recitations of poetry, singing, and the performance of sacred drama. Many Pagans like history, archaeology, mythology, and art.

Organisations may have leadership, but Pagan religions and paths don’t have a central figure of authority or a governing body. Men and women can be leaders, priests and priestesses, and mystics. Paganism is generally considered an egalitarian and equitable form of spirituality. Because of this and their interest in nature, Pagans may be very politically and socially active.

Do you have questions about Paganism? Leave them in the comments.



  • Cosette, you have written such an eloquent version of Paganism — very simple and very basic, yet to the point. Yes, Australia is home to many renowned Pagans (authors, speakers, bloggers, Witches, Wiccans, Shamans, editors, etc) and there are a few Pagan magazines based there as well, that just are not available in the mainstream book stores. I do so hope you have the opportunity to spend some time with like minds in Sydney … don’t forget to look into “meetups” there. I am sure you can find some.

    Having been on my own Pagan path consciously for about 12 years, it really can be difficult to explain to non-Pagans what Paganism is on a general level, much less my own path. UGH … and it can be even more difficult when a closed minded, ill-mannered person of another belief keeps insisting that we are something we are not.

    Thank you for posting this. It gives me that kick in rear to start including my own beliefs into my own writings (After all it IS MY OWN BLOG) — something I have been skirting about for a couple months. Of course, it should be obvious — after all the picture in my logo has me wearing a Witch hat 😉 LOL

    • Cosette

      I’ve found it useful (and challenging) to try to develop an elevator-pitch explanation, something quick and easy for most people who ask. In general, however, I tend to disengage from people who are not interested in at least trying to understand where I’m coming from.

      I find it hard not to include Paganism in my blogging because it’s a big part of who I am and what I do and if I’m going to share of myself, that’s part of the package. I hope to hear more from you about your path if that’s something you feel comfortable sharing 🙂

      • I’m comfortable within my niche LOL Actually, I consider myself an eclectic solitary “green” witch with a brown thumb HAHA. I do not follow the Wiccan path personally but I am friends with many who do and I enjoy many Wiccan authors’ works/writings/stuff. I consciously started following my Pagan path December 1999 when I bought my first tarot deck with a gift card from my boss 😉 Shortly after that I found a great “new age” shop that helped me further that path. I met several soul sisters there and I also started selling some of my tarot bags and spread clothes there, as well as let them convince me to start doing readings at the psychic faires.

        I say consciously following because my Pagan thoughts were always there and even in highschool if someone asked about my “religious” preference, I always just said I was spiritual, not religious. Goes back even further in elementary school, when i asked for “proof” of what they tried to teach in sunday school and all they could come up with was, “it’s in the bible” … it just didn’t sit right with me. I’m a VIrgo LOL I wanted tangible proof .. of course I did not understand that back then, but looking back I totally figured out. And the best part … is I found out during my conscious lightning bolt moment, that my maternal great grandmother was a fortune teller and tea leaf reader … and I know it was her that lead me to my first tarot deck and that shop.

        And I’ve been on my conscious Pagan path every since 😉

        • Cosette

          Thanks for sharing! Improving my tarot skills (read: getting over my fear of reading for others) is one of my goals this year.

          • OMG I loved doing readings for others. I have a hard time with “charging” though, although my dear friend explained it well to me. The person you are doing the reading for wants to give you something in return for what you gave them — okay in most cases this is totally true (the ONLY ones I have found this not true with are the skeptics — the ones getting a reading to prove a point kind of people .. who really don’t believe in tarot but want to try to trip you up UGH). I have since stopped doing readings for others since I moved to Washington State in 2005 — only read for myself and not very often. though my cards are getting restless with me LOL I should make myself get back into again! 🙂 I started with my friends and they helped convince me to do faires … the first one was the hardest but after that … it was second nature!

            Once you get over that “fear” hump, its a breeze 😉 I still have issues with my reading skills — but I have never had a complaint, so I must have been doing something good! LOL It will come, getting over the fear, and after that you will wonder why you weren’t doing before that!!! 🙂

          • Cosette

            You’re very right. People are coming to your for a service and, in general, they expect to pay in some way. And it’s an equal exchange of energy. Thanks for the encouragement!