BRIEF INTRODUCTION TO PAGAN THEOLOGY….
WHAT IS PAGANISM?
Paganism is a very broad umbrella term encompassing many different belief systems from Shamanism, African Witchcraft, Druidism, Odinism (the Norse traditions), Goddess Spirituality, Wicca (including various branches/traditions such as Alexandrian, Gardnerian, Dianic & Correllian) and Eclectic Paganism (which, as the name implies, is a “bit of this and a bit of that”). What these belief systems share in common, for the most part, is:
* They are all nature-based spiritual paths. Pagans strive to attune themselves to the natural cycles of the earth, and recognise the earth as a living being/spirit/consciousness. Many Pagans are concerned with environmental matters as a result of this belief. Many celebrate the changing of the seasons, the lunar cycles, and the natural cycles of life, death and rebirth.
* They believe in either some form of reincarnation (like in Buddhism) or an afterlife.
* Most belief systems trust in a karmic implication to actions, best illustrated through the Wiccan “Law of Three” (whatever you put out returns to you threefold). This is similar to the Hindu principle of karma, and the concept of “what you reap is what you sow”.
* The practice of Paganism is usually solitary, or in small groups. Pagans don’t evangelise, preach or recruit in any way and generally hold the belief that those who are drawn to the path will find it. They also believe that there is no one single way or path to connect with the Divine.
* Strong emphasis is usually placed on the intuitive mind, and the belief that the physical and non-physical worlds are equally real, and are interconnected. This means that spiritual work, whether called meditation, prayer or magic, and whether done as ritual, ceremony, worship or celebration, is effective in resulting in changes in the physical world.
* Many Pagans believe in “Animism”, which is the belief that everything has a soul. Some Pagans are “Polytheistic”, which means that they believe in and worship many gods and goddesses, such as the ancient Greek or Roman pantheon, or, for a more modern comparison, like Hinduism – or they may believe in a single God and a single Goddess (most often the spirit of the earth – Mother Earth). Others are “Pantheistic”, which means that they believe in a “Greater Spirit” or Creator, and that everything is Creator, and Creator is in everything and every-one.
The word “Pagan” comes to us from the Latin “Paganus”, which means “country dweller”, or a person who lives in the country. The country dwellers worshipped the “old gods” of the “pagus” (meaning ‘locality’). Initially, there were no negative connotations attached to the word, nor even to the word “heathen” (which was derived from the Old English word ‘heath’ meaning ‘uncultivated land’ so quite literally just meant ‘one who dwells in the heath or country’). A pagan, or heathen, was a person who lived in the country, worked the land, and worshipped the gods of the land.
The word “Witch” has a far more complex etymology, and rather unfortunate strong negative connotations today. At a brief glance, The Old English ‘wita’ means ‘counsellor’, and ‘wis’ means ‘wise’. “Wicca” and “wicce” are themselves Old English words for “witch”, masculine and feminine respectively. During medieval times these became “wicche”, both masculine and feminine, denoting both a witch and a wizard.
MYTH BUSTING – MYTHS ABOUT WITCHES:
* Although we’d love to contribute to saving the environment in this way, witches cannot actually fly on broomsticks. We can and do, however, believe in meditation and journeying with the soul. The broom associated with witches originated from the tradition of the “besom” which was used to sweep the space where a ceremony was to be held to symbolically sweep away unwanted energies. Some witches have upheld this tradition and still use a broom or “besom” for this purpose today.
* Not all witches wear pointy shoes, pointy hats and have warts. It’s true that some of us have a rather unconventional dress sense, that’s just a witch being an individual, and we’re quite big on that. We’re generally quite good at removing warts naturally. We do also sometimes choose to wear a cloak or robe when we perform our ceremonies.
* Witches don’t sacrifice little babies in our cauldrons. Killing any life form is bad, bad karma. Most witches hold that it’s good form to ask permission before even picking a part of a plant!
* Witches can’t turn some-one into a frog. Even if they deserve it. General principles in Paganism uphold the concept of “free will”, and that a witch may never interfere with another’s free will. This means we cannot do any kind of “spell” or energy working without the express consent of the person/s involved. Although “love spells” abound, these are frowned upon by real witches. Witches are more about healing, guidance and counselling.
* Witches don’t worship the devil. The devil, or Satan, or God’s fallen angel, is a purely Christian construct/belief. As we are not Christian OR anti-Christian (i.e. Satanists), Satan effectively does not exist for us. The image of Satan, with horns and beard, was actually taken and adapted from European Paganism’s pantheon, where he is known as the “Horned God”, consort and protector of the Goddess. The Horned God is not scary or “evil”, and does not ask for blood sacrifice.