Paganism is an ancient type of religion which has quite an inauspicious reputation today. There are many types of paganism, most date back thousands of years, which include Wicca, Witchcraft, Paganism, and a few other lesser known and practiced variations.
Yet all of these religions are similar and share common beliefs. Wicca is the most common of these, as it also demonstrates the shared belief of doing well that is common to most forms of paganism. Another common belief, is to gather in small groups, called covens, to practice pagan rites and ceremonies with others.
There are many ancient beliefs, archaic rituals, and forgotten traditions that are practiced by pagans. Many of these are also the origins of widely practiced traditions in the Christian-dominated world of today.
A defining characteristic of many pagan religions, especially Wicca, is the worship and closeness to nature. Pagans treat animals kindly and respect all things, living or nonliving, as though they were a person (Roy N. p.). They also share the worship of their nature gods, which increases their respect for all that is around them (Roy N. p.).
Pagans are very sensitive people that also have high regard for personal privacy (Roy N. p.). With this belief in privacy, many pagans have more time to keep in touch with their inner selves and with the nature around them. Wicca, a more popular pagan religion, focuses on the Earth and uses pure white magic to help others (Roy N. p.). In fact, the Wiccan creed is, “An it harm none, do as thou will,” which agrees with the “good” philosophy (Beliefs N. p.).
Altogether, pagans have a great deal of emphasis on the life and beauty of nature that thrives around them and is radically different than the mythical rumors of witches that have been given to them over time.
Another defining characteristic of many pagans is the dedication to knowledge and self-exploration (Roy N. p.). In fact, it has been said that, “Witchcraft is the oldest, most irrepressible religion in the world because it stimulates the intellect, promotes a simple, practical way of life, and most importantly, is emotionally satisfying” (Art N. p.).
There is a set of beliefs, called the Laws of Magic that help illustrate the beliefs supported by Wicca and other pagan religions. Many of these laws are practical, yet they also relate to the more religious aspect of paganism. One of the most important laws, the Law of Knowledge, states that witches believe that all knowledge is power, no matter how big or small (Bonewits N. p.).
A related law, the Law of Self-Knowledge, states that witches should truly know themselves, for this prevents doing harm to others, once the understanding of the harm is seen (Bonewits N. p.). There are many other laws, one such law explains that coincidence does not exist, but that everything is part of a larger plan (Bonewits N. p.).
The Law of Similarity states that similar representations of things can be made to represent them, such as voodoo dolls (Bonewits N. p.). The Law of Personification states the important belief that anything, concrete or abstract, can be considered alive for whatever purpose (Bonewits N. p.). One commonly known law, The Law of Perversity, also called “Murphy’s Law,” states that if anything can go wrong, it will (Bonewits N. p.).
As if a summary of all other beliefs, The Law of Unity says that everything is linked together to every other thing, in any space or time (Bonewits N. p.). So, as shown here, all pagans, whether Wiccan or not, follow the basic guidelines and beliefs that knowledge is power. To support this belief are many other more specific beliefs that help the individual learn and grow.
Rituals and traditions also play a large role in Wiccan lives and activities. The most common of these include the rituals associated with the new and full moons, as well as the 8 sabbats. The 8 sabbats are equally divided throughout the year, along with the seasons, and help attune the practicing Wiccans to the cycle of the year (Sabbats N. p.). The first of these sabbats is Yule, practiced around December 21; it represents the rebirth of the light and the awakening of new goals (Sabbats N. p.).
Candlemas, celebrated on February 2, banishes winter and is the favored time for initiating new members into a coven of witches (Sabbats N. p.). It is also a tradition at this time to light all the lamps in the house (Sabbats N. p.). Ostara, a familiar holiday, is usually around March 21 and symbolizes balance and equilibrium. At this time of peace, many pagans gather wildflowers in baskets and free themselves of their pasts (Sabbats N. p.).
Beltane, similar to Mayday but held on April 30, honors the fertility of the earth and is the sacred time of marriage as well as the time for self-discovery, love, and union (Sabbats N. p.). Midsummer, held around June 21, is a time for triumph and light, when healing and love magic becomes suitable (Sabbats N. p.). Lammas, practiced on August 2, celebrates the harvest and the traditional time to teach others what has been learned (Sabbats N. p.).
The Autumn Equinox, approximately September 21, is the time of balance and the time to gather dry plants and herbs (Sabbats N. p.). Samhain, commonly called Halloween, is held on October 31; it is when reincarnation is believed to take place (Sabbats N. p.). Samhain is also called “the Witches’ New Year” (Sabbats N. p.). The 8 sabbats practiced by Wiccans and other pagans are important for the transitions of the season but are only a small sample of the many rituals and traditions of the pagan religions (Sabbats N. p.).
Another interesting aspect of pagan rituals and traditions is the fact that many of the common holidays and traditions in today’s culture possess ancient pagan roots. The Christian holiday of Christmas, for example, has its roots in the pagan festivals and customs of Yule (Sabbats N. p.). Bringing in a tree from the winter weather to house the winter spirits was a common practice (Sabbats N. p.).
Pagans also would decorate the tree with a bell to indicate the spirits’ presence, food to nourish the spirits, and a pentagram star on the top to symbolize the five elements of nature (Sabbats N. p.). In fact, the red and green colors of Christmas also come from a pagan tradition, that of the yule log being burned once annually (Sabbats N. p.).
The Christian Easter is another common holiday that is derived from ancient pagan customs. Witches believed that the God and Goddess would spend the time of Ostara (Spring Equinox) playing with brightly colored eggs in the fields to represent childhood (Sabbats N. p.).
The tradition of collecting flowers in baskets in springtime is also of pagan origin (Sabbats N. p.). For those who recognize Mayday, it was a pagan practice to weave a web of life around a Maypole with ribbons as well (Sabbats N. p.). Another, more commonly known, holiday with pagan beginnings is Halloween or the Samhain sabbat.
It was believed that spirits would leave the physical plane during this time (Sabbats N. p.). Another more recognizable trait of the holiday could be seen when one realizes that thousands of years ago, pagans used jack-o-lanterns and gourds to decorate for the season (Sabbats N. p.).
So, by looking at the many practiced customs of the pagans that have been around for thousands of years, one can discern how some traditions have come into play in today’s world.
It is severely apparent that there are many erroneous rumors related to pagans and their rituals. Pagans have many rituals, but not one of these relates to Christianity or the belief in the devil deity (Art N. p.). Some of the more common rituals are an initiation into a coven and handfasting, or marriage. The ritual of initiation is a sacred ceremony to bring in a new member of the coven (Hicks N. p.).
The individual must be highly acquainted with all of the members of the coven for over one year before initiation is possible (Hicks N. p.). Another commonplace ritual is a handfasting. Handfasting is a highly sacred rite that binds two very close people together, similar husband and wife; the ritual is symbolic of the union of the god and goddess (Hunter N. p.).
All other pagan rituals are impartially sacred and highly valued, as well as enjoyed. Despite all of the misleading rumors, there are no rituals depicting evil or anything to go against goodness belief that is practiced by Wiccans or related pagan groups.
Wicca and other similar pagan religions all reflect the mutual belief of doing well and harming none. This, however, has been overlooked by others for many centuries which have led to inaccurate rumors. Aside from that, however, pagans still enjoy a rich and culturally satisfying life that keeps in touch with their ancient beliefs.
Along with this is their passionate practice of the many rituals, including the 8 seasonal sabbats, that help characterize the pagan doctrine. All of this and even more truth can be found about these lesser-known and often misconceived religions classified as paganism.
Bonewits, P. E. I. The Laws of Magic. Online. Necronami Net. Available HTTP: http://www.necronami.com/d/paganism-celtic/magic.laws.txt, 30 Nov. 1996.
General Beliefs. Online. Necronami Net. Available HTTP: http://www.necronami.com/d/paganism-celtic/wicca.gen_beliefs.txt, 15 Dec. 1996.
Hicks, J. Brad. Ceremony of Initiation. Online. Necronami Net. Available HTTP: http://www.necronami.com/d/paganism-celtic/initiation.ritual.txt, 15 Dec. 1996.
Hunter, Ryan. Handfasting Ceremony. Online. Necronami Net. Available HTTP: http://www.necronami.com/d/paganism-celtic/handfasting1.ritual.txt, 15 Dec. 1996.
Roy, R. Thirteen Questions. Online. Necromnami Net. Available HTTP: http://www.necronami.com/d/paganism-celtic/13Questions.txt, 30 Nov. 1996.
The Ancient Art. Online. Necronami Net. Available HTTP: http://www.necronami.com/d/paganism-celtic/craft.intro.txt, 30 Nov. 1996.
The Sabbats. Online, Teleplex Communications, Inc. Available HTTP: http://www.teleplex.net/SCNPA/sabbat.html, 8 Dec. 1996.