View Full Version : A Newbie Guide To Paganism (Paganism 101 and FAQ)

24 Feb 2015, 16:20
Hello! Welcome to "A Newbie Guide to Paganism" in the SAFE Zone forum. I'm working on this thread as a sort of Paganism 101/ Pagan FAQ thread for folks that might be new to Paganism. Unless stated otherwise, I'm the author of the content here, which has either been compiled from other posts over the years on the forum or from my blog and then reworked and updated a bit.

I can't promise that everyone will agree with everything I have written here--Pagans are a diverse group. But I try to be as specific and factual as possible in giving a variety of perspectives that I have encountered while still giving general sorts of answers (its an introductory information thread, not a text book). If there is anything you would like to see added, send me a PM.


What is Paganism?

This is probably the question of the century (in Pagan circles at least)...I've been Pagan for over 20 years now and people are still arguing over how to define it, whether or not its a useful term that means anything, and who is or is not Pagan.

The best answer I can come up with, after lots of reading Pagan opinions, talking to Pagans (IRL and online), reflecting on the variety of traditions and opinionsz, etc is that Paganism is an umbrella term for a collection of individual and distinct religious traditions (more on the different traditions later)...or perhaps it shouldn't be considered Paganism, so much as Paganisms (http://pagantheologies.pbworks.com/f/are-paganisms-religions.pdf). Either way though, Paganism can't be defined using a monothetic definition--it needs polythetic criteria (http://www.iva.dk/bh/lifeboat_ko/CONCEPTS/monothetic.htm) (basically via a checklist approach)...though getting Pagans to get together and make a checklist they can disagree on is as likely as herding cats.

Within that umbrella, (contemporary) Paganism (which is sometimes called neo-Paganism) is a term referring to one (or several) of many distinct spiritual paths, rather than one unified religious tradition. Pagan traditions generally practice some form religious and/or spiritual path that incorporates earth-centered and/or nature based beliefs that is often polytheistic (though a good proportion of practitioners will focus on the polytheistic aspect first, and the connection with the world around them secondarily or not at all). Many Pagan traditions incorporate the use of ritual and/or magic(k). Practices generally align themselves on a continuum from a loose inspiration to a reconstruction of (or an eclectic mix) one or multiple pre-Christian pagan faiths and occasionally other pagan (little p) religions such as Buddhism, Hinduism, etc, and sometimes even with Christianity or Judaism.

Within contemporary Paganism the largest tradition is probably Wicca, which is a distinct religious tradition founded by Gerald Gardner in the 1940s, and its various descendent offshoot traditions. Some other Pagan faiths include Druidry, Heathenry, Stregheria/Italian Witchcraft, Discordianism/Subgenius, Green Witchcraft, Celtic, Hellenic, Roman and Egyptian Paganism, and (yes, though many will certainly deny it) some forms of Satanism (and a whole lot more). Additionally, some individuals of the above paths may choose not to identify as “Pagan”, for various reasons that range from disliking the term “pagan” due to its lack real meaning (since it is rooted in the idea of describing what someone is *not*) to the idea that the term holds no purpose and creates an idea of false unity.

Who *is* Pagan?

Well...one way to look at it is that it is anyone that calls themselves a pagan ;).

Or, if you go the dictionary route:
The word pagan, according to Mirriam-Webster arises from 14th Middle English variation of the Latin paganus, meaning civilian or country dweller or from pagus, meaning country district. But the definition from Free Dictionary (http://www.thefreedictionary.com/pagan) (online) just got interesting (which just goes to show that words evolve)...

Etymologically speaking:

c.1375, from L.L. paganus “pagan,” in classical L. “villager, rustic, civilian,” from pagus “rural district,” originally “district limited by markers,” thus related to pangere “to fix, fasten,” from PIE base *pag- “to fix” (see pact). Religious sense is often said to derive from conservative rural adherence to the old gods after the Christianization of Roman towns and cities; but the word in this sense predates that period in Church history, and it is more likely derived from the use of paganus in Roman military jargon for “civilian, incompetent soldier,” which Christians (Tertullian, c.202; Augustine) picked up with the military imagery of the early Church (e.g. milites “soldier of Christ,” etc.). Applied to modern pantheists and nature-worshippers from 1908. Paganism is attested from 1433.
From http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?search=pagan&searchmode=none

Generally, among pagans, the definitions of hedonist or a person that is irreligious are not used, and are considered offensive…however, they might be used by someone that is not pagan, who may or may not know any better. Most of the time, when the term pagan is used, it is in reference to faith that is not Abrahamatic—Judaism, Christianity or Islam. This means that any number of religions in the world, from Shinto to Hinduism to Wicca fall under this definition...even though the bulk of adherents for some of them (Hinduism, Shinto, Buddhism, etc) wouldn't consider themselves such.

But either way, if you were to go to a Pagan event and take an informal survey, you would likely find that most (and by most, I would estimate at least 95%*) of people you sit down with do religion in the following ways:

as a reconstruction of ancient indigenous European religions and related pre-Christian religions originating in the ancient world (henceforth written as IE/PC religions, because that is a ton to write out)
as a revivalist construction of IE/PC religions
as a reinvention or reinterpretation of IE/PC religions
as constructed modern religious practices and beliefs inspired by the mythology or beliefs of IE/PC religions
as a modern earth-centered spiritual religious practices and beliefs inspired by IE/PC religions
as modern, constructed spiritual and religious practices and beliefs based in IE/PC themes

Now (before people start pointing out the exceptions), let me also say that this is not the definitive list of people that I have found self-identifying as Pagan over the years (nor will everyone that does religion like this want to self-identify as Pagan). And, you will also find that there are also people incorporating Buddhism, Hinduism, Shinto, etc, ideas into their Paganisms. There are people incorporating science and philosophy and theosophy and all sort of other non-religious ideas into their Paganisms...and there are even people that identify as Pagan that also identify as atheists, agnostics, naturalists, or humanists, as well as are people eschewing IE/PC religious traditions and themes in favor of other traditions, but doing it in a modern Pagan framework (like celebrating the Wheel of the Year, or using Wiccan-style ritual).

Other Views and Definitions:

Our Ongoing, Never ending and somewhat tedious Debate on the Subject (http://www.paganforum.com/showthread.php?535-Defining-quot-Pagan-quot&highlight=defining+paganism)

A Pagan or NeoPagan is someone who self-identifies as a Pagan, and whose spiritual or religious practice or belief fits into one or more of the following categories:
*Honoring, revering, or worshipping a Deity or Deities found in pre-Christian, classical, aboriginal, or tribal mythology; and/or
*Practicing religion or spirituality based upon shamanism, shamanic, or magickal practices; and/or
*Creating new religion based on past Pagan religions and/or futuristic views of society, community, and/or ecology;
*Focusing religious or spiritual attention primarily on the Divine Feminine; and/or
*Practicing religion that focuses on earth based spirituality.
from http://www.paganpride.org/who/who.html


24 Feb 2015, 17:42
How do Pagans believe in dieties?

Most Pagans are polytheists of some sort--they somehow acknowledge (in belief and/or practice) more than one deity. But it tends to be more complex than that. Pagans can believe in gods as figurative/metaphorical concepts in the Jungian (archetypal) sense, or as literal distinct beings (or something in between, or none of the above). Its probably more helpful to sort out the terminology and explain the different ways Pagans might believe in the gods from there...

Hard polytheism—generally a belief in multiple, literal, distinct and separate deities

In my experience, hard polytheists tend to fall into one of three categories–those that believe in the existence of ALL gods and choose a specific pantheon(s) of worship (I have seen this called omnitheism), those that believe in the existence of THEIR gods at the exclusion of others, and those that fall somewhere in-between believing in SOME but not all gods.

Variations of hard polytheism include:
*henotheism–generally, the worship of a single god, but the belief in the existence or possibility of other deities
*monolarity–generally, the belief in the existence of multiple deities, with only one chosen deity as being worthy of worship
*kanthenotheism–generally, the worship of a single god at a time while recognizing the existence/possibility of other

Soft polytheism—-generally a belief in multiple deities as separate facets/personalities of one greater divine spirit or source

Variations of soft polytheism that I have encountered:
*All individual deities are literal manifestations of a single, greater Divine.
*All individual deities are archetypes of a single Divine and are symbolic, rather than literal.
*Feminine deities are a part of the Goddess and masculine deities part of the God and the God and Goddess are both aspects of a greater Divine.
*Feminine deities are a part of the Goddess and masculine deities part of the God and the God and Goddess are NOT both aspects of a greater Divine
*Individual deities are manifestations of greater archetypal type deities, which are separate entities (example: individual goddesses and gods are part of an Ultimate Love Deity)

Pantheism and Panentheism—Pantheism is a belief that god is the totality of the universe--this can be held as a naturalistic belief, a monotheistic belief, or as a (soft) polytheistic belief where individual gods are part of the Divinity of the Universe. Panentheism is generally the belief that god is both immanent and transcendent…that god is within the universe, but also something separate.

Duotheism--Literally “2 gods”…generally is a belief in a female and a male deity, duotheists can believe that the male and female are separate sides of one greater divine, or that they are separate entities, or that all gods/goddesses are facets of the god/goddess. Duotheists are usually Wiccan, as Wicca has, since its conception, an established belief in the Lord and Lady (though this can be understood and manifested in a number of ways).

Deism--Generally a belief in the existence of a creator deity who does not intervene in the universe

Monotheism—Generally a belief in one god…and yes, there are a few people that identify as Pagan that are monotheists, plus variations of some beliefs (pantheism, or panentheism, henotheism, etc) could be technically considered monotheism.

Agnosticism/Atheism—Some Pagans don’t believe in deity…or they may believe in a connecting universal force, but not see it as divine, or they might see it as not being important, or that there is no evidence for or against, or that there my be divinity, but they do not worship it, or…you get the picture. Not all Pagans do their religion with belief in gods.

More terminology:

Syncretism: The attempt to reconcile separate systems into a seamless and unified new system.
Eclecticism: The selection of elements from different systems of thought, without excessive concern for possible contradictions between the systems in an attempt to choose the best ideas and philosophies.
Reconstructionism: The process of examining the evidence of historic traditions and implementing those traditions in a modern sense, reconstructionists are attempting to reconstruct a historical religious (and often cultural) tradition that is as authentic as allowable.

Which Gods Do Pagans Worship?

Pagan (as a group) worship from just about every pantheon out there. Mostly from European pre-Christian pantheons, but not always. Depending on the Pagan, they may worship from only one pantheon, or from several...or from none. The decision of which gods to worship is a personal one--some choose to worship the gods of their ancestors, or from a culture they feel kinship with, or from a mythology they are enthralled by, or because they feel chosen or compelled by a particular deity.

Some traditions are specific to a particular pantheon. For example, followers of Asatru honor the Norse gods, while Hellenic pagans honor the Greek gods. Other pantheons that are commonly honored include the Celtic gods (Irish, Gaulish, etc), the Egyptian gods, and the Roman gods. A number of Pagans also worship the pre-Christian deities of the Middle East (Canaanite polytheism), or the gods of Hinduism or Shinto.

Additionally, some Pagans may worship or honor entities that may not be technically identified as deities--land spirits, ancestors, etc. Animism is a common belief among Pagans--at its most simple, and practical, animism is the idea that non-human entities *which can be as varied as animals, plants, locations, natural phenomena, etc) have their own soul (or spirit or essence, etc), and that this soul/spirit/essence is worthy of honoring. Some other examples--there seem to be an increasing number of Pagans that worship their own landbase (or bioregion, in my case). Still other Pagans may (controversy alert) incorporate modern fictional characters (perhaps as an egregore of sorts) into their worship. And (as we've previously mentioned) some may not worship any gods at all.

So, you keep talking about different Pagan traditions...What are they?

Well...here's a long list that is in no way comprehensive:

British Traditional Witchcraft
Gardnerian Wicca
Alexandrian Wicca
Blue Star Wicca
Georgian Wicca
Correllian Wicca
Dianic/Femenist Wicca
Faery Wicca
Tameran Wicca (Egyptian)*
Kemetic/Egyptian Wicca
Celtic Wicca*
Norse Wicca*
Eclectic Wicca

Celtic Paganism* (http://www.paganforum.com/index.php?board=31.0)
Celtic Reconstruction**

Norse/Germanic Paganism*
Heathenry/Asatru** (http://www.paganforum.com/index.php?board=23.0)
Anglo-Saxon Paganism

Egyptian Paganism*
Neos Alexandria (egyptian-greek syncretic)
Kemetic Reconstruction

African and African syncretic traditions:
Yoruba (West African indigenous religion)**

Peruvian/Andean Shamanism
Huna (Hawaiian)

Middle Eastern traditions:
Canaanite polytheism (Natib Qadish)
Sumerian polytheism

Satire Traditions****

Greek/Hellenic Paganism*
Hellenic Reconstruction**
Roman Paganism*
Roman Reconstruction (Religio Romana)

Christian-Pagan synchretic traditions
Christian Wicca

Magical/Witchcraft traditions (which may not be exclusively Pagan)
Ceremonial Magick
Golden Dawn
Witchcraft Traditions
Green Witchcraft
Hedge Witchcraft
Kitchen Witchcraft
Italian Witchcraft (Strega/Stregaria)
Appalacian Granny Magic
Feriferia (aka Feri)

Eclectic Paganism
Unitarian Universalist Pagan

Religions that are not a contemporary Pagan path, but are sometimes included under the Pagan umbrella:

*traditions that predominantly incorporate a particular culture or pantheon
**practitioners may choose not to self-identify as Pagan, but some will
***various cultures have their own "shamanism"
****this is a personal categorization, not an official one, but it works
***** This is formed from a fusion of a few paths, or is syncretic

24 Feb 2015, 18:24
What about Magic?

What about it? Some Pagans do magic, some don't. For some Pagans, it is an essential part of their spirituality and/or religious tradition, for others its supplemental (and possibly separate from it), and for others its non-existent.

Defining Magic...

There are as many definitions for magic as there are people that practice it (and those that don’t). Etymologically speaking, the word magic (http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?term=magic) potentially has a number of origins and influences that seem to have reshaped and redefined the ways in which the word is used. When it comes to modern, Pagan ideas of magic, many start with the definition of Aleister Crowley (http://nuannaarpoq.wordpress.com/2011/05/02/thoughts-about-correspondences/), who defined magic as “the Science and Art of causing Change to occur in conformity with Will”. Oh…and Crowley also spelled it “magick”* (http://pythorium.com/faq/magick_k). Even scholars, elders and practitioners that define magic differently often assume or start with Crowley’s definition.

Some other definitions of magic:

Magic is an individual action, undertaken because the cosmos is not believed to be benevolent by nature, or, at least, not benevolent enough to that person.
(Maya Deren, Divine Horsemen: The Living Gods of Haiti)

The movement of natural (but little understood) energies from the human body and from natural objects to manifest change.
(Scott Cunningham)

Magic is the ancient and absolute science of nature and her laws.
(A. Constant, The History of Magic)

The whole aim of magick is the stage by stage development of the entire human being.
(Stewart Farrar)

Magic is not just something you do, or make. It isn’t something one does to the Univers; magic is what a living Universe does with you once you have awakened to its divinity.
(Phyllis Currott)

Magic is the art of affecting the manifest through the Unmanifest. The manifest is all that can be seen, touched, perceived, manipulated, imagined, or understood. The Unmanifest is none of these things. It is the place, or rather the non-place, from which everything issues. All that comes into being comes from the Unmanifest. All that passes away goes back to the Unmanifest.
(Donald Tyson, Truth about Ritual Magic)

(Magic) is a creative act, fusing our desire and will and vision with the Divine energy within/around us to reach a specific goal.
(Diane Sylvan, The Circle Within)

Magic is a convenient word for a whole collection of techniques, all of which involve the mind. In this case, we might conceive of these techniques as included the mobilization of confidence, will, and emotion brought about by the recognition of necessity; the use of imaginative faculties, particularly the ability to visualize, in order to begin to understand how other beings function in nature so we can use this knowledge to achieve necessary ends.
(Margot Adler)

Magic, the art of sensing, and shaping the subtle, unseen forces that flow through the world, of awakening deeper levels of consciousness beyond the rational, is an element common to all Witchcraft traditions

the art of changing consciousness at will
(Dion Fortune)

Magic is the Mystery of our interaction with Nature and with the Cosmos to coax the manifestation of what is in our heart with the will of our minds and the actions of our bodies.
(yours truly)

Magic is not defined by any particular methodology, though practitioners of magic often have their preferences. It is not governed by any particular set of ethics or morality, though practitioners and practices generally have their own (or a tradition-specific one). And it is not bound by any particular belief system–-magic is found in nearly every religion (strictly speaking, the Eucharist is divinity magic) as well as non-religious settings. Magic is simply a tool...or better yet, magic is a tool box, full of tools. And like a tool box full of tools (might as well continue with the analogy), the tools themselves are neither good nor bad and the worth of their use is purely dependent upon the person using them.

There are a number of broad categories that have been used to categorize types of magic over the years. One of the most basic ways that magic is often subgrouped is as “high” versus “low” magic. This division is often used to differentiation ceremonial-style magic from folk magics, though it really is a differentiation of magic meant to develop some sort of spiritual ascension versus practical, every day magics designed to help one along through life. Another common classification is that of light/white magic versus dark/black magic. Definitions and opinions on these these classifications differ and sometimes include the term “gray magic” as a third classification that acts as a sort of middle ground, but for the most part, they define dark/black magic as one of a maleficent intent or morally objectionable methodology. Additionally, some individuals and paths do not acknowledge this dichotomy at all.

When it comes to magics, there are other ways to describe and differentiate between ideas and practices. Banishing (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Banishing), invoking (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Invocation), evoking (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Evocation), divination (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Divination),consecration (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Consecration), and purification (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ritual_purification) are some classifications that differentiate between type of purpose. Additionally, magic can be classified by how it is “fueled”–as a few examples, divine magic is that which is thought to be worked in conjunction with or as a gift of the gods, while elemental magic is that which is thought to be worked with the energy of the elements or the assistance of elemental entities, and necromancy is considered t the communication with the dead and magic worked with their assistance or coercion. These are just a few ways to classify magic. Other groupings include techniques associated with a number of rules associated with how magic works (http://www.neopagan.net/AT_Laws.html) (this isn’t definitive or universally accepted, but its fairly well accepted and worth considering) or of the various magical systems that have been developed by various cultures or groups.

Magical Systems/Philosophies/etc:
FYI–This is not a comprehensive list. Also, some of these are historical and not active (though their writings and teachings are often still accessible), some of these are also religious systems, its not in any particular order and some of the terms overlap a bit or are analogous.

Enochian Magic
Golden Dawn
Chaos Magic
Green Witchcraft
Kitchen Witchcraft
Italian Folk Magic
Traditional Witchcraft
Heka (recreation of ancient Egyptian-based magic)

*Magick, majik, majix, majyc, magix, majick, fiddle-faddle. You won’t find any of that here, I personally find the alternative spellings of magic to be juvenile pretentiousness (and I know this will offend some, though I’m not saying it to be offensive–I was once an offender).

What about Witches?

Its not uncommon among Pagans to discover witches. A pretty decent number of Pagans will identify as witches of one sort or another. BUT...not all witches are Pagan.

A basic definition of witchcraft: Witchcraft is a craft, a practice that includes practices such as divination, spell casting, contacting or channeling spirits, journeying, making amulets or talismans, etc. It is a practice or set of practices that can be practiced with a religion (ANY religion) or alone or (in the case of Wicca) as the basis for a religion. Is it a witch?

Logically, if she weighs the same as a duck...she's made of wood. And therefore? A witch!

Seriously though...

A witch is simply a practitioner of witchcraft. If a person practices witchcraft, and acknowledges that they are a witch, then they should be considered to be a witch. Witchcraft is independent of religion--its a craft, not a faith.

While certain actions (more on this in a minute) might technically be considered witchcraft, that does not mean that a person engaged in those actions is necessarily a witch--in some cultures, certain magics are okay, but being a witch is not. What practices are considered witchcraft differs from culture to culture and society to society, and in many cultures being a “witch” can be a negative thing (and when I say negative, I mean there are still places in the world where people are killed for it). A person that practices beneficial magic (communicating with the ancestors, healing, curse breaking etc) may instead have a title other than witch, even if, technically, their practices could be constituted as witchcraft.

Which witch is which?

While you can be a witch and not be Wiccan, you can't be a Wiccan that isn't a Witch (because the very practice of Wicca is its own form of witchcraft)--sort of like a square is a rectangle but a rectangle is not a square (there's a reason why Gardnerian and Alexandrian Wicca are also called British Traditional Witchcraft).

Many websites and even a few books will tell you that the terms witch and Wiccan or witchcraft and Wicca are interchangeable… This practice is factually incorrect (but it happens).

Wicca was created by Gerald Gardner in the 1930's and 40's from a myriad of sources, including the New Forest coven. Wicca (though its name is based on the same Old English word that became "witch (http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?term=witch&allowed_in_frame=0)", shared etymological origins aren't evidence for same-ness)* is a specific religion based on the idea of what Gerald Gardner thought was a surviving remnants of a religion of Witchcraft from the (now largely debunked) ideas of Margaret Murray. Old school Wiccans (trained by Gardner or his immediate students were taught that Wicca *is* Witchcraft (with a capital W)) and later authors down the line often use the terms witch and Wicca interchangeably, because they were (or still are) working under Gardner’s (and similar) claim to a pre-existing witchcraft tradition which Gardner et al was privy to. His claims of being initiated into this tradition, and the claims that Wicca was a survivor of this tradition, led to the idea and use of the two terms being interchangeable…an assumption which has no real academic basis, but has been commonly found in the lexicon of the Pagan community for quite some time (a habit I am happy to say has been on the decline over the years).

A good witch, or a bad witch?

Witchcraft, in and of itself is not seen within the pagan community as “good” or “evil”, though some practitioners will make a big distinction between “light” or “white” and “dark” or “black” magic. Other practitioners do not. There *can be*, depending on a practitioner’s specific tradition or personal beliefs a particular set of ethics and/or rules governing the practice of witchcraft/magic for that person, but it is in no way (regardless of what some websites and texts claim) universal among pagans.

The most common ethic (that is in no way universal) is The Rede, “‘An it harm none, do as ye will”, occasionally short-handed as “Harm None”. This is taken literally by some, figuratively by others and not at all by everyone else (for a fantastic discussion on the Rede, consider these essays by Proteus Coven, “Exegesis on the Rede”, “An It Harm None: high-choice ethics”, “Do What You Will: best-choice values” ).

My personal ethic is this: If you are willing to own the actions, and the results of your actions and to accept full responsibility for all that your actions cause, and you feel that it is necessary, then you should do as you see fit.

Witchcraft References and other POVs:
http://www.ghostvillage.com/legends/...02222003.shtml (http://www.ghostvillage.com/legends/2003/legends12_02222003.shtml)
http://www.associatedcontent.com/art...lenge_for.html (http://www.associatedcontent.com/article/296104/wicca_vs_witchcraft_a_challenge_for.html)

27 Feb 2015, 08:26
So, the next two questions are ones we see crop up the most. These are my personal answers on the questions, which come from my experience as a Pagan*. I figured it might be useful to have them available before hand--not because we are against the questions, but because sometimes waiting for an answer can be torture!


*I've been Pagan for over 20 years now. Like many new Pagans, I started out with solitary eclectic Wicca...and then sort of moved on to something else. I've been a part of a number of Pagan communities, as a college student, in the military, and as a civilian. I've been a member here since 2005, and I've been blogging about Paganism and witchcraft since 2008. Over the years I've had lots of time to meet new Pagans and to think about what would have helped me early on my path.

1) I believe/think/practice/etc (enter list here), what tradition/path is for me?

Hands down, this is probably the most common newbie question we get here. And, the best answer I can give you is...I don't know. I'm not trying to be mean, but I have no clue... I don't know you enough to tell you what direction might be good for you to head in. The best tradition you can have is the one that helps you grow as a person, that helps you be your best self. And if you can't take responsibility for doing the research and exploration and experimentation to figure out what that is, I can't either.

Now, what I can do--what *we* can do here at PF, is help you find the materials to do the research, and give you advice on the basis of our own experiences.

With that being said, we are working on getting some "Introduction to __________" threads up on here, that might help you narrow things down a bit. In the mean time, I've made a short-cut list...

--If you are an atheist/agnostic and interested in Paganism, Naturalist or Humanist Paganism might be for you.
--If you believe that animals, plants, and even places have souls and are deeply interested a practice centered around where you live, Bioregional Animism might be for you.
--If you are interested in recreating and rediscovering ancient pagan traditions as the basis of your beliefs and practices, reconstructionism might be for you.
--If you take a universal, collective interest in global mythologies and practices, ecclecticism might be for you.
--If you believe that divinity is best expressed as the Universe or the Cosmos and interested in Paganism, pantheistic or panentheistic Paganism might be for you.
--If you are deeply interested in Greek or Roman deities and mythology, some form of Hellenic Paganism or Hellenismos or Roman Paganism or Nova Roma might be for you.
--If you are deeply interested in Norse or Germanic deities and mythology, some form of Heathenry might be for you.
--If you are deeply interested in Celtic deities and mythology, some form of Celtic Paganism or Druidry might be for you.
--If you are deeply interested in Egyptian deities and mythology, some form of Egyptian Pagansim or Kemetic Pagansim might be for you.
--If you are deeply interested in (enter culture) deities and mythology, some form of that culture's Paganism might be for you.
--If you are interested in the practice of witchcraft, there are a number of witchcraft traditions that might be for you.
--If you are interested in worshiping a central male and female deity, in the context of a yearly mythological cycle, Wicca might be for you.

Now, this list is in no way definitive. Also, I've not put anything in here having to do with specific beliefs and practices. That's because, over the years, I've met all sorts of Pagans that practice a myriad of things. Practices and beliefs aren't necessarily connected.

The best way to figure out what Pagan path is for you is to be Pagan (see the next question)--to research Paganism in general, read mythology, and to have some sort of basic practice...when you stumble upon a path that interests you, you'll know it. But if you stand still, you won't grow enough to move forward.

2) I'm new to Paganism...where should I start?

This probably ties for second place as the most common thing new Pagans ask (the other being for books, websites, etc--I'll answer this one another time)... These are my long standing 7 steps to becoming (really, to being) Pagan:

1. Read.
Read everything. Read the boring academic stuff that puts you to sleep and read the fluff. Read what other people call crap–keep in mind that sometimes you can find something useful buried in it. Read what other people recommed, keep in mind that sometimes its crap. Read about mythology, philosophy, other religions, neuroscience, psychology, history, biology… Keep reading…and then use the stuff between your ears and think about it.

2. Think.
Think critically. Keep a journal to keep track of your thoughts, of the things you learn and of the things you like or dislike and why, of the things you agree with or don’t and why. Make lists of the things that interest you. If you something interesting, research it–if you don’t find it interesting, research it anyway…its always good to know what others think and why.

3. Observe.
Watch nature, follow her cycles. Learn about the place you occupy, geographically and ecologically. People watch. Find a group–or two—or ten that allow non-members to go to rituals, see how they do things. Go to a pagan festival or two, or ten–just to meet and talk to people and see what they do and why…you may learn something, you may not. Sometimes what you learn is what *doesn't* interest you...and that is okay too!

4. Meditate.
Meditate in whatever method and manner works for you, but try new things. Use visualization and guided imagry. Meditate to music, meditate to silence, meditate indoors and out. Try tai chi, or trance dance, get a drum, learn to play no matter how crappy you think you are. Use meditation to order your thoughts and your place in the cosmos. Be proficient in achieving a meditative state.

5. Practice.
Find what works for you. If it doesn’t work the first time, try it again a few times. If it just doesn’t work for you, find something that does. Practice only that which follows your sense of morality and ethics. Try new things. Try old things in new ways.

6. Discuss. Exchange ideas. There few things that work as well for ordering thoughts and ideas and information that discussing them with others. Find someone to talk to about what you learn, find more than just someone to exchange ideas with if you need to. Take what everyone says with a grain of salt–for some people, you might need the whole shaker :D…

7. Act.
These are not separate ideas to be taken individually, they are all pieces of a whole–of your whole self.. Figure out how they work together, and integrate them into your life. Take action with purpose and integrity to your beliefs. Apply your knowledge and skills to your daily life. Let your everyday activities be a reflection of your spirituality. Remember that every action has a consequence. Once you take action, reflect and readjust as needed to ensure that your actions are a reflection of your beliefs and that your beliefs are making you your very best self.

03 Mar 2015, 16:30
What is Reconstructionism?
(Answered by Ljubezen (http://www.paganforum.com/member.php?18959-Ljubezen))

Some people choose to follow a belief system by studying the history, classic texts, and (sometimes) language of a particular culture and its historical traditions. This information is then used to reconstruct the beliefs and practices of that particular culture, which is then implemented into a practice that fits better with our present lifestyle. In short, it’s the integration of a specific culture’s tradition into a modern world.

The individuals who follow this path are called Reconstructionists (or Recons, for short). They incorporate their chosen path into their lives in the same way (or as close as they can/choose to) as their ancestors did. This means that the major emphasis on this path is on scholarly historical sources; as the aim is to rebuild the tradition with as much historical accuracy as possible.

Some of the common traditions for Reconstructionism are:

• Asatru (Nordic, Northern Heathen)
• Baltic (Estonian, Latvian, and Lithuanian)
• Celtic (Gaelic and Brythonic)
• Druidism
• Hellenismos (Greek)
• Kemetism (Egyptian)
• Religo Romana (Roman)
• Slavic ( Russian, Polish, Bulgarian, Czech, Ukrainian, Serbian, Croatian, Slovenian, Macedonian, Slovakian, Kashubian and Belorussian)

If you are interested in Reconstructionism:

The best place to start is by reading the history, folklore, and anything else you can find pertaining to the tradition that interests you. If you have the motivation, a second language may be helpful (Gaelic for Celtic traditions, Russian for Russian traditions, etc…). Take notes, and leave yourself space to write down things you would like to investigate further at a later date if you already have too much on your to-do/read list already.

If you read something that seems a little off, or you’re not sure about, cross-reference the information against other sources or try to find its reputation as a scholarly (peer-reviewed, evidence-based) claim. There are many missing pieces when it comes to investigating history, but often you can piece many things together to get a somewhat-working picture of how things worked or fit together.

A note from Thalassa: It may be worth looking for a reconstructionist community or organization. There are a number of Heathen groups (and the members of that board here on the forum are quite excellent at pointing you in a good direction in that regard) if you are interested in Norse or Germanic Paganism. There is the Nova Roma if you are interested in the Religion Romana, a variety of Hellenismos boards and groups if you are interested in Greek religion, as well as Egyptian reconstructionism (the Kemetic Orthodoxy is one group that some of our members have had experiences with), and even Canaanite reconstruction has a number of bloggers and websites where you can find more information. Granted some may be more difficult to find than others (Aztec Recons spring to ming), but its not impossible, it just takes patience and perseverance.

04 Mar 2015, 20:46
The Wheel of the Year
(Answered by Ljubezen)

The wheel of the year is something you will probably come across in several books, websites, forums, and other resources regarding pagan and witchcraft topics. There are several different images, but they all depict the same idea. That the year is cyclical, it has a predictable route and phases, and in many paths of belief the important times of the year are the same.

Painted Wheel of the Year from the Museum of Witchcraft, Boscastle.

The year can be broken up first into halves, the dark half and the light half of the year. Basically the height of the dark half of the year is midwinter, and the height of the light half of the year is midsummer.

There are four major points in the year that determine the four major holidays in some belief systems: the two solstices and the two equinoxes.
The solstices can be translated to the longest night (midwinter) and the longest day (midsummer) of the year. The equinoxes are when the day and night have equal time within the 24 hours of a day, there is a Spring and a Fall equinox.

If we go around the circle, starting at the Spring equinox when day and night are equals and the world is coming back to life, we can see how this wheel turns. From the Spring equinox we get birth, new ideas, and new beginnings; the world is beginning itself anew. It is the first day of spring, and is usually around May 21st A few months later we come to Midsummer, the Summer solstice, around June 24th or so. Nature is in full bloom, there is more daylight than night in the 24 hour day and the sun is at its height. People tend to see marked energy increases during this time of the year. We then come to the Fall equinox (around September 21ist), the day and night are again equals, but the sun is losing ground to the night. The crops are ripened, the world is bringing its projects to fruition and things are slowing down. We come to Midwinter a few months later (December 21st or so) and the vegetation has died and returns to the earth, going into sleep and reflection of the year that has passed. It is a time of stillness, of the inner world, when the night sky and moon are at their height. Until we return again to the spring in its rebirth.

After the four major points, which are basically the center points for the four seasons (the heights of Winter, Spring, Summer and Fall), there are four other times of the year which are celebrated (or at least acknowledged). These are considered to be the in-between points, the turning points where one season begins to weaken and another begins to take hold. These are placed halfway in between each Equinox and Solstice (see the image below to better visualize the new 8-spoked wheel of the year).


These in-between dates will have different names depending on the tradition you’re looking at. The most common ones you’ll find refer to them as Beltane, Lughnasadh, Samhain and Imbolc. But it’s not the same for every tradition (it’s just the ones you’ll see most frequently if you do internet searches for the wheel of the year). The celebration themes and practices will also differ depending on which tradition you’re looking into.

All in all, these 8 dates are sometimes referred to as the 8 Sabbats of the year.

The Wheel of the Year in more detail...
(Written by volcaniclastic)

From a strictly scientific point of view, the wheel of the year (woty) represents the turning of the seasons.

What causes the seasons?
The seasons are caused by the tilt of the Earth's rotational axis away or toward the sun as it travels through its year-long path around the sun.

The Earth has a tilt of 23.5 degrees relative to the "ecliptic plane" (the imaginary surface formed by it's almost-circular path around the sun). The tilt toward the sun is maximized during Northern Hemisphere summer in late June (the "summer solstice"). At this time, the amount of sunlight reaching the Northern Hemisphere is at a maximum.

In late December, on the date of the "winter solstice", the Earth's tilt away from the sun is maximized, leading to a minimum of sunlight reaching the Northern Hemisphere. The seasons, of course, are reversed in the Southern Hemisphere.

source (http://www.weatherquestions.com/What_causes_the_seasons.htm)

There are a number of different WotY traditions, but the generally accepted version is that of early Europe. The 8 sabbats, which are sometimes referred to as major and minor sabbats, or quarter, and cross-quarter days, are as follows:

Major Sabbats/Quarter Days:
Dec 21: Winter Solstice, Yule, Midwinter, Yuletide
Mar 21: Spring Equinox, Eostre, Ostara
Jun 21: Summer Solstice, Midsummer, Litha
Sep 21: Autumn Equinox, Mabon, Fruit Harvest, Wine Harvest, Hausblot

Minor Sabbats/Cross-Quarter Days:
Feb 2: Imbolc, First Quarter-Cross, Candlemas, Brigid's Day, Imbolg
May 1: Beltaine, Second Quarter-Cross, Beltane, May Day, Walpurgisnacht
Aug 1: Lughnasadh, Third Quarter-Cross, Lammas, Bread Harvest, Festival of the First Fruits
Oct 31: Samhain, Fourth Quarter-Cross, Winternacht, Feast of the Dead, All Hallow's Eve, Hallowe'en

What do I celebrate on which day?

I'll include a brief description of each, but for more in-depth answers, refer to the previous posts about research. Half of how we learn is by finding things out for ourselves. Some of us on the Forum (and elsewhere) have come up with our own versions of the WotY, as well. Because of our global inter-connectedness, the original WotY only really represents one climate. In the one I currently live in, for example, March is supposed to be about the heralding of Spring and the blessing of seeds, however, the land I live in is still blanketed in snow, so I've learned to celebrate different signs of Spring. The deadening of the harshest weather, the vague warmth to the sun, etc. Nothing is set in stone, and ultimately, you are celebrating the turn of the seasons, whatever they may mean to you, in the climate and place that you celebrate in. A land-locked town doesn't celebrate the sea, and people of the prairies don't celebrate the mountain winds. Love where you are, wherever you are.

Winter solstice: rebirth of the sun, introspect, planning for the future, prosperity spells, decorating with evergreens, "wassailing" (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wassailing), happiness/joy spells, welcoming the light
Imbolc: braided bread/dairy offerings, Brigid's Cross (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brigid%27s_cross), healing poppetwork, house blessings, purification, renewal, candle-making, new beginnings, fertility spells
Spring Equinox: planting, welcoming Spring, colouring eggs, fertility rites, rituals of balance, herb work, new beginnings/potential
Beltaine: fertilize, nuture and boost existing goals, activities of pleasure (ie: of a sexual nature), bonfires, planting seeds, feasting, youthful exuberance, creativity
Summer Solstice: healing/protection spells, offerings to the fae, god offerings, bonfires, harvesting wild berries, foraging for herbs, summer cordials, growth and empowerment spells, love spells
Lughnasadh: first harvest, bread-making, honouring crops, abundance spells, money spells, harvesting emotions, gratitude prayers and spells
Autumn Equinox: second harvest, feasting, celebrating bounty and abundance, giving thanks, honouring the darkness to come, honour the gods (specifically the gods of the vine), energy work
Samhain: return and change, divination, honouring the dead, spirit contact, meditation, drying winter herbs

An alright rendition of the Wiccan version of the WotY (http://www.trueghosttales.com/wicca-wheel-of-the-year.php)

10 May 2015, 04:59
Where do I go from here?

One of the most common questions we get here is usually the "now what" question--you know what Paganism is in general, you know that you have an interest in a specific pantheon or culture or world view (or that you don't, and you are interested in a more nature-based path) and you find yourself at an impass in terms of figuring out what to do next.

Now what?

Well...there's no right answer to this. But there is a wee bit of guidance available in the form of a book (actually a couple of books, but I really like how one book lays it all out and gives examples, so we are going to talk about that one). So, the book is To Walk a Pagan Path by Alaric Albertsson, which a few of our members list as "recommended newbie reading". IMO, the very best advice of this book is given in the first chapter (and then elaborated on throughout the book). I'm currently blogging a part summary/part review/part commentary on the book (https://nuannaarpoq.wordpress.com/tag/to-walk-a-pagan-path/), but I'm going to toss out his 7 steps for developing religious traditions.

1. Connecting with Spirit–Albertsson’s first step is to find your connection with the Divine (which is probably one of the best first steps one could suggest in how to live your religion). He offers some practical advice on finding which gods to worship, on finding a pantheon or mythology that appeals to you, perhaps because you've been “called”, or perhaps based upon your heritage, or perhaps just because you've done some reading and picked something that interested you. He then suggests picking a god to make an offering to as the start to building a relationship, and describes the process of making an offering in a a clear and easy to understand way.

2. Creating Sacred Space–After finding one’s connection with Spirit, Albertsson recommends that “your next action should be to establish a place where you can maintain and continue to build that connection” so that “there is some place in your home that is sacred and set aside for your gods” (p 19) (and/or presumably for your ancestors or nature spirits). He suggests that one’s sacred space (for devotion is an altar and that one’s altar should reflect the culture of the deities of worship–“the sacred space you reserve for your gods should be a space where they can rest comfortably” (p 19) before turning to the practical concerns of space itself and how “out” one is as a Pagan, the benefits of outdoor altar space, and of altars dedicated to one’s ancestor.

3. Creating Sacred Time–“If you do nothing with your altar, it is not truly an altar it is merely a table or shelf holding an incense burner, a couple of candles, and perhaps two or thee interesting statues. The activities that take place at that table of shelf–the reverence, the offerings, and the meditation–are what give meaning to your sacred space.” (p 23) Paganism is an religion based in praxis; without practicing, all you have is a shelf of dust collectors. In this section, Albertsson talks about the fact that life happens, and the importance of consistency. Because, as he says, there is always going to be something happening that will let us feel justified in putting it off until the next day. His recommendations include setting aside a specific time for doing this. Practically speaking, that might be during a certain event of your day after you wake up or while you wait for your morning coffee to percolate, or it might be at a specific time each day (in my experience, setting your alarm for this is a good idea). Whether its 5 minutes or 15 or 50 isn’t as important as consistency. And it doesn’t have to be every day–maybe its just once or twice a week. Albertsson’s advice is to pick the smallest time commitment that you can reasonably stick with…if you can’t stick with it, then its not reasonable for your lifestyle. His last advice here regards the interruptions that life brings to even the best laid plans, “When something like this happens, attend to the problem but make your sacred time the next highest priority. If you put it off any longer than necessary, you diminish its worth.”(p 26)

4. Sacralize Daily Activities–Albertsson’s fourth step is to “integrate our spirituality with the rest of our lives” as our spirits are “sustained by the mindful actions you take to sacralize your daily activities” (p 27). He explains his tradition’s “Hal Sidu”, or “holistic tradition” (I call this “artem vitae”, which is Google Latin for “art of living” and my summer sister*** calls it “nuanaarpoq” which is an Inuit word that means something akin to “taking extravagant pleasure in being alive”) as an integration of our spirituality into the everyday of our lives. I won’t spend too much time here, since his third chapter is pretty much dedicated to this idea, except to say that this sacralization might be while you do dishes or take a shower or when you drink your first cup of tea (whether you are interested in Wicca or not, Diane Sylvan’s Circle of One has some great ideas on this topic). Or maybe its mindful eating and before meal prayers, or meditation while swimming laps or while running each morning–you name it. It might also be something specific to your chosen tradition that connects with the culture that your tradition comes from. As Albertsson says, “Any worthwhile pursuit can be a sacred act.” (p 29) As I put it, let every action or our bodies be a prayer of our soul.

5. Observe Regular Húsles–Perhaps this would be better titled “Observe regular rites” or “Observe regular Offerings”… According to Albertsson, a húsle (sometimes called a faining) is his tradition’s “formal offering usually given to a specific spirit” (p 29). With that being said, what Albertsson is really calling for here (as opposed to a regular schedule of making offerings) is a ritual practice that is “more formal that a person’s ordinary devotionals” that “recur at specific times” and often are “observed with a group rather than one’s self”(p 30). Basically, regularly practice your religion and do it with a group (if possible). Some examples of this from other traditions, include blots or esbats, or any other regularly religious observation–what he isn’t talking about are actual holy days (that’s next on his list).

6. Observe Holy Tides–The next step is a set of seasonal observances that recognizes the significance of the passage of time through out the year. Albertsson mention a number of possibilities here–following the contemporary Pagan Wheel of the Year, whether in the Wiccan form or some other adapted way, or to celebrate an annual calender from another culture. As he puts it, “The important think is not what calender you follow, but that you consistently observe the hold tides–the holidays of that calender. By doing so you touch the earth, attuning yourself to the seasonal change occurring around you.” (p 32) This is covered more in-depth in the 2nd chapter.

7. Find Your Folk–“Humans, however, are social, tribal creatures, and the overwhelming majority of us are happier when we can share our life experiences with others… Our celebrations, whether secular or spiritual, are more fulfilling when we are joined with others of like mind”(p 32-33). Albertsson takes some time in this next step to talk about the benefit of having some sort of non-solitary practice, whether its is a single family or a formal group–support, advice, assistance, fellowship, and friendship, to name a few. He also offers some practical advice in finding the “right people to enter into such a relationship with” , from the practical–compatibility of beliefs and membership expectations, to the precautionary–that active recruitment of new members can be an indication of something not being on the level. For those where a local community doesn't mesh with their own practice or beliefs, online communities may be an option worth looking into (this is my personal advice, not from the book). While the worship aspect would be difficult, the community aspect–advice, support, assistance, and friendship is not.

(excerpted from my blog, minus most of my commentary and with a few changes to that aren't pertinent unless you are following the entire series of posts)

The things to keep in mind here are that 1) there is no one answer and 2) there is no right answer. Pagans are people that are building their own traditions, their own religious experiences. This takes trial and error. My path today looks radically different than it did 10 and 20 years ago. But the key is that change comes organically from experience.

Some other books that I recommend...

The Short-list:
Introduction to Pagan Studies by Barbara Jane Davy (this one is meant to be a text/reference book--there are no exercises, no how-to, etc). This is a good book to have when it comes time to explain Paganism to others.
Paganism: An Introduction to Earth-centered Religions by River and Joyce Higgenbotham
Pagan Paths: A Guide to Wicca, Druidry, Asatru, Shamanism, and Other Pagan Practices by Peter Jennings
The Earth, The Gods and The Soul: A History of Pagan Philosophy from the Iron Age to the 21st Century by Brendan Myers
A World Full of Gods: an Inquiry into Polytheism by John Michael Greer

These 5 books should 1) give you an overview of contemporary Pagansim and its variety of traditions, 2) give you a jumping off start of the most predominant Pagan philosophies and theologies, 3) give you a practical foundation towards finding and creating your own traditions and/or finding the tradition where you might start your own path.

As a sort of expanded list, I'd also add in these guys:
Comparative Mythology by Jaan Puhvell
A Short History of Myth by Karen Armstrong
Walking with the Gods: Modern People Talk About Deities, Faith, and Recreating Ancient Traditions by W. D. Wilkerson
The Deities are Many: A Polytheistic Theology by Jordan D Paper
The Circle Within by Diane Sylvan
Pagan Theology: Paganism as a world religion by Michael York
God Against the Gods: The History of the War Between Monotheism and Polytheism by Jonathan Kirsch
Ritual: A Druid’s Guide to Life, Love & Inspiration by Emma Restall Orr
Deep Ancestors: Practicing the Religion of the Proto-Indo-Europeans by Ceisiwr Serith
The Hollow Bone: A Field Guide to Shamanism by Colleen Deatsman and Sandra Ingerman
The Wakeful World: Animism, Mind, and the Self in Nature by Emma Restall Orr (or Animism: Respecting the Natural World by Graham Harvey)
The Sacred Depths of Nature by Ursula Goodenough
The Wayfinders: Why Ancient Wisdom Matters in the Modern World by Wade Davis

I picked these because they sort of expand on the themes of the previous list, and start branching out a bit into ideas that are found through out the variety of Pagan traditions, from a specific practitioner's or tradition's POV (for example, Emma Restall Orr is a Druid with the OBOD, and *at the time of the writing* Diane Sylvan was a solitary eclectic Wiccan, etc) which might also give you some ideas on traditions or cultures that interest you if you aren't sure. None of them are really introductory books on specific traditions (check our giant book list or the resources page for the tradition you are interested in for that!), but they will expand understanding of different traditions, philosophies, and practices in a way that should point you in the direction of a path that interets you.