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June 2, 2020

What is Paganism?

Or indeed, what is a Pagan? These are big questions; broad, and deep, that span the entirety, really, of human history. Paganism is the spirituality of our ancestors, the original religion of the world, which has endured in many places, and may ways.

The word itself has Roman roots…

From Late Latin paganus “pagan,” in classical Latin “villager, rustic; civilian, non-combatant” noun; use of adjective meaning “of the country, of a village,” from pagus “country people; province, rural district”.

https://www.etymonline.com/search?q=pagan

In English, it was used later in a narrower sense of “one not a Christian, Jew, or Muslim.” As “person of heathenish character or habits,” by 1841.

It became popular among modern pantheists and nature-worshippers only from 1908, and it is in modern terms that we can look at the general Pagan beliefs, as they stand today.

A Belief In More Than One God

This is called polytheism, and the definition is “the belief in or worship of more than one god”. This often involves a whole pantheon of gods and goddesses, along with their own religions and rituals, usually (but not always) from within a single historical culture or tradition – eg. Egyptian, Norse, Greek.

A Reverence For Nature

This can come in the form of pantheism, which is “a doctrine that equates God with the forces and laws of the universe”… which sort of means that divinity is everywhere, in everything. For some Pagans, ‘God’ is inseparable from any rock or river or plant or animal or cloud or mountain. They are divine, and we are divine. It brings eco-friendliness to a whole new level.

Community Consciousness

Following on from that whole ‘we are one’ vibe, comes a strong sense of inter-connectedness of all people; all classes, communities, and creeds. What we now call socialism (that may not mean what you think it means, find the definition here!) side by side with insistence on justice, diversity, and equality, are strong elements of much modern Pagan practice.

A Cyclical Awareness and Practice

For many who consider the above question, what is paganism, there will come a focus on cycles – such as annual sun and seasonal cycles that respect ancient Pagan festivals through the ‘wheel of the year’. Or, two wheels, if you’re working with Irish Pagan Holidays. There is also the cycle of the moon to become aware of, as it affects us at a much deeper and more immediate level.

A Belief in Magic and Divination

When you’re living close to nature, at one with the universe and the ebb/flow of cycles, and connected to everything and everyone – well, you’d be amazed what’s suddenly possible, that may have seemed impossible before. Magic is, most simply, the causation of results in this world (the ‘natural’, through affected other worlds or realms (the ‘supernatural’). And being able to see what’s coming down the path ahead is a part of that (prophecy, divination).

There is a longer post here – What Are Pagan Beliefs?

What Was Paganism Then?

The common understanding is that the term ‘pagan’ first came into use around the 300s CE (Common Era) by early Christians, talking about people (usually outside the cities of the Roman Empire) who continued to worship the old Gods and Goddesses (polytheism).

They were often rural folk, living outside of the urban ‘civilisation’, as it was seen, and closer to the land and the natural cycles. There may also have been an element of military superiority in the connection between non military and civilian ‘pagan’ folk.

It came to be a very derisive term, as inevitably Pagans were thought of as morally inferior, and intellectually backward – the ‘common’ peasant folk who would ultimately need to be ‘saved’ by Christianity.

As the Christian church’s power grew, older Pagan Gods and Goddesses were demonised, and ‘pagans’ were thought to worship the devil… so if you’ve thought that or heard that, well. Now you know where it is coming from, at least.

What is Paganism Now?

While, technically, one could look at the spiritual beliefs of native tribal cultures worldwide, as well as many of the eastern philosophies and faiths, and call them ‘Pagan’, I tend to leave it up to indigenous folk to self define in whatever way they are most comfortable.

That often does not involve calling themselves Pagan, so please do be aware of that.

When we think of what a self defined contemporary Pagan is in modern terms, it will most likely be someone from a Western culture, although there is a messy tendency towards freely taking parts and pieces from any historical or indigenous culture that looks cool and shiny, which we also need to be aware of.

Or just stop doing it. That would be good too.

We now have a huge variety of traditions and different paths that can fall under the umbrella of Paganism, from Wicca and Witchcraft to Druidism, Goddess-centered Religions, and Historical Reconstructionists who look to cultures like the Asatru (Norse), Kemetic (Egyptian), and the ones who sort of lump all ‘Celtic’ nations into one pile and call it good.

Oh look, here’s a video resource to help clear that whole ‘What is Celtic Paganism’ question up for ya too!

Make sure you subscribe to my YouTube Channel and like the video while you’re there?!

What Is Paganism? The Resources…

If you’re still a little unclear, or you’d just like to dig into the subject a little deeper, here are the top resources I can recommend. (Some of the links on this blog are affiliated, which means I get a few cents if you end up buying anything through them, at no cost to you. It’s not much, but it helps support this education and community service work!)

The Path of Paganism (Book)

“Paganism is a way of seeing the world and your place in it. It means challenging the assumptions of mainstream society and strengthening your relationships with the gods, the universe, your community, and your self. The Path of Paganism provides practical advice and support for honoring your values and living an authentic Pagan life in mainstream Western culture.”

– Buy It Here (US) – – Buy It Here (UK) – by John Beckett.

Irish Paganism: Reconstructing Irish Polytheism (Book)

I mean, of course I have to recommend Irish Paganism! “This short introductory book touches on the basic beliefs and practices of Irish Polytheism as well as other important topics for people interested in practicing the religion using a Reconstructionist methodology or who would just like to know more about it.”

– Buy It Here (US) – – Buy It Here (UK) – by Morgan Daimler

The Triumph Of The Moon (Book)

“A history of attitudes to witchcraft, paganism and magic in British society since 1800. Its pages reveal village cunning folk, Victorian ritual magicians, classicists and archaeologists, leaders of woodcraft and scouting movements, Freemasons, and members of rural secret societies. We also find some of the leading figures of English literature, from the Romantic poets to W. B. Yeats, D. H. Lawrence and Robert Graves, as well as the main personalities who have represented pagan witchcraft to the public world since 1950. Thriller writers like Dennis Wheatley, and films and television programmes, get similar coverage, as does tabloid journalism.”

– Buy It Here (US) – – Buy It Here (UK) – by Prof. Ronald Hutton.

And if you do happen to have an interest in ‘Celtic’ or Irish Paganism specifically, we’d love to see you over at the Irish Pagan School, where we have multiple (free and paid) quality online classes to steer you in your quest for what is paganism!

https://IrishPaganSchool.com/

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About the Author

Irish Author, Educator, and Guide to Ireland. Co-Founder of the Irish Pagan School, Eel & Otter Press, and Pagan Life Rites (Ireland).

Lora O'Brien

  • I think I’m a cross-breed between Christian and Pagan. I believe in one God but am very interested in the beliefs of others. I am definitely influenced by the cycles of the seasons and the moon etc.

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