Normally, questions come in from my Mailing List or YouTube comments, and I’ll answer them in blogs or videos, but I was a little unprepared to be asked the question: “What are Pagan beliefs?” while attending a recent Irish activism event.
Caught on the hop, I guess, would be a better description, as it was out of the usual context in which I answer questions on Paganism. Really, I have been preparing for questions like this since I picked up my first book on Paganism in 1994, at the age of 16.
That was a wonderful start actually: Vivianne Crowley’s excellent title “Phoenix From the Flame: Living as a Pagan in the 21st Century”.
[Get your Copy Here – https://amzn.to/2WsxzAg]
This book was lauded as ‘a fresh look at the most ancient religion – Paganism – the vital, widely practiced alternative to mainstream religion that heralds a return to ritual and reverence for the earth’.
It certainly opened my eyes to a whole new world, as I now had a name for the unusual beliefs and inclinations I’d had all my life, even while mired in the very mainstream religious practices and beliefs of (then) Catholic Ireland.
I’d been carrying Pagan beliefs in my heart and in my soul, without even knowing what they were.
The top 3 basics, the things most Pagan Beliefs will align on, are Polytheism, Pantheism, and Reverence for Nature or Nature Worshipping. We’ll get into what these mean specifically, in just a minute.
Because first, it’s important to say that not all Pagan Beliefs do align, or even look remotely similar, in some cases. There are many traditions, and many different ways to be Pagan, and some Pagans don’t follow any tradition or any set way at all.
I shouldn’t have to say it, but sadly – it needs saying again – I do not here, nor do I ever attempt or presume to, speak for ALL Pagans, Irish or otherwise. This blog, as with all my writing and educational materials, are an expression of my own understanding and experience on a given topic.
Historically speaking, all of our ancestors were Pagan, as we understand it. It’s an umbrella term that we now use for basically anything non-monotheistic – ie, belief in more than one, or multiple Gods.
When the big ‘belief in one God’ religions started coming in, humanity moved away from pretty much everyone being Pagan. Before the Abrahamic religions came along, our Gods were many.
Which gives us the definition for the first term we used up there, Polytheism.
Polytheism is the worship of or belief in multiple deities, which are usually assembled into a pantheon of gods and goddesses, along with their own religions and rituals.
The definition of our second basic Pagan Belief – Pantheism – is a little trickier. This one is not specific to Paganism per se, so while many/most Pagans are Pantheists, not all Pantheists are Pagan.
Stick with me here.
Pantheism is the view that everything is part of an all-encompassing, immanent deity or Universal consciousness. All forms of reality and things within reality are then seen either modes of that Being, or identical with it.
What this means, practically, is that Pantheists see ‘God’ in everything – every rock, every river, every cloud, every insect, every elephant, every human.
The essence of all things IS divinity.
Pagans are pretty much down with this view in a majority, and it ties very well with the third of our basic Pagan Beliefs – reverence for Nature.
There are also some of those who follow the Abrahamic religions (Judaism, Christianity, Islam) who may hold Pantheistic views… it all depends how you define God, right?!
Again, this varies, but there are a couple of mainstays.
Pagans will follow and attune to the natural year through both lunar and solar cycles. That is, the moon cycles – New, Waxing, Full, Waning, and Dark. And the sun cycles – Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter.
Depending on tradition and personal practice, there may be specific festivals, rituals, and observances that happen through these cycles.
Sometimes these cycles correspond with Deity, and a God or Goddess will be venerated or acknowledged as part of the celebration or observance.
[For example, many people work with the Mórrígan at Samhain (Hallowe’en). You can learn more about the Mórrígan at Samhain Here]
Another commonly held Pagan Belief is that the earth herself is sentient, and sacred, as well as all that lives upon her. The spirit of place is highly regarded to, with a particular reverence for certain ancient sites being widespread.
Perhaps the first thing that those only familiar with modern mainstream religions will find odd, or even unsettling, is the Pagan Belief in both Gods and Goddesses. There is a diversity and openness to deity in any form, or none, that is just not what many folk are used to any more.
Pagans can be members of traditions that venerate within certain cultural parameters. We see followers of Irish (most often spoken of as ‘Celtic’, even though this term is a little more complicated than they may understand), Norse, Egyptian, Greek/Hellenistic historic spiritual cultures or pantheons of Gods. As well as many others.
The questions of authentic connection to these cultures, and cultural Appropriation vs Appreciation, I have addressed elsewhere – please do go and find an awareness/understanding around these issues for yourself.
[Cultural Appreciation vs Cultural Appropriation on YouTube – https://youtu.be/8oC3dUqEXaY]
Some Pagans prefer to keep things much more open and unspecified, with beliefs in non personified or unnamed God and/or Goddess energies. We may see veneration of a ‘Great Goddess of All’, or a ‘Great Mother’, perhaps with a partner/consort ‘Great God’.
Many Pagans work with both Gods, and UnGods (though they may not call them exactly this name!).
These beings and entities that don’t quite fall into the Deity categories may include our own particular ancestor spirits, the dead in general, fairies or ‘Otherworld’ folk of many cultures, and the personification or anthropomorphisation of natural features.
That’s a long word.
It means attributing human characteristics, behaviour or personalities to natural elements; such as geographical locations (a river, a mountain, an ocean even a city), or broad spirit types (fire spirit, wolf spirit, death spirit).
Those are the most basic Pagan Beliefs, in my experience, which may or may not apply to ALL Pagans, but will be held sacred by most of us, most of the time, in some form or another.
And if you have any questions, I’ll be prepared for them in the comments below 😉