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.