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FAQ About Paganism
Frequently Asked Questions
by Elizabeth Barrette
Q: What is a Pagan? What is Paganism?
A: A Pagan is a person who feels a strong connection to nature, who holds the Earth and its creatures sacred, and who seeks a personal connection with the Divine. Pagan religions come from all around the globe, from ancient history and contemporary times as well. Paganism encompasses the reverence of nature, the worship of the Divine in many guises but especially as an embodiment of natural forces, the observance of seasonal cycles, and a perennial quest for personal growth. Most Pagan religions are polytheistic, celebratory faiths. Like any religion, Paganism is much too complex to describe fully in just a few words.
Q: What do Pagans believe?
A: This depends on the Pagans, because different Pagan religions have different tenets. Still, some common threads emerge. More often than not, Pagans believe: The God(s) and Goddess(es) made this world as a kind of school, where souls can enter bodies to learn many valuable lessons. Your body is a precious gift that you should cherish and care for accordingly. All the plants, animals, landscape features – everything in this world is sacred and worthy of respect. You must take responsibility for your own life and actions. Magic, a focusing of Will to alter reality, can help you shape your life to positive ends. Many good spirits offer help and guidance along the way. You have a right to choose a religion meaningful to you and helpful in achieving your goals. You are a good and worthwhile person; you do not need to "do" anything to earn or keep the love of the God and the Goddess, because unconditional love comes with no strings attached. Humanity includes the capacity for great good and great evil; we are not tainted by some "original sin" from which we need "salvation" but we do need to choose right action over wrong action. After you die, you will travel to a beautiful place and be reunited with your ancestors and friends who have gone before; you may or may not return to Earth for another lifetime.
Q: Who is the Goddess? The God?
A: The Goddess is the female aspect of divinity. As Maiden, She is the perfect innocent child who shows us the simple joys in life. As Mother, She is the perfect mate and provider who nourishes and guards us. As Crone, She is the perfect grandmother who teaches us wisdom and leads us into the next world. The Goddess loves all of us as Her children; all life comes from Her and eventually returns to Her. The God is the male aspect of divinity. At different stages, He is the son and the lover of the Goddess. He teaches us about manhood and fatherhood. As the Horned One, He reigns over the crops of the field for harvest and the wild animals for hunting. Together the Goddess and the God bring us blessings and challenges according to our needs. Their eternal dance marks the changing seasons, as They each change form and show us Their different faces.
Q: What is Witchcraft? Is it the same thing as Wicca?
A: Witchcraft encompasses several branches of Paganism, one of which is Wicca. Others include Stregheria (Italian Witchcraft) and a feminist version that considers every woman a Witch. Not everyone means the same thing when they say "Witchcraft" – some mean only religion, some mean magic, and many mean both. The lowercase "witchcraft" may refer simply to the practice of magic, not to a religion. Usually Witchcraft is a complex, positive belief system which incorporates a God and a Goddess venerated through ritual. Wicca follows that paradigm, drawing most of its content from the works of Gardner and Alexander; modern traditions include Dianic, Faerie, Eclectic, and even Angel Wicca. The Wiccan religion incorporates gender equity, immanent divinity and immanent worth, and the responsible use of magic.
Q: What is a Gaian? What is Gaianism?
A Gaian is a person who focuses his/her spiritual faith upon the Earth (Gaia.) Gaianism is a growing movement devoted to the creation of an earth-wise spirituality that honors the Earth and all life as the primary source, sustainer, and reality for life. Gaians may be Pagans, Christians (see Creation-Spirituality movement of Matthew Fox), atheists, Scientific Pantheists, or any other religion/faith that is willing to focus its energy upon the spirituality of connection with the biosphere. As a very young offshoot of Paganism, Gaian theology, philosophy, and ethics are still in a formative stage.
Q: Are all Witches lesbians?
A: No. Witches come in all sexual orientations and genders.
Q: What are the ethics of polytheistic and pantheistic traditions?
A: Because each tradition has its own set of ethics, these vary considerably. Common ethical guidelines include: Treat all sacred objects, places, and entities with respect. Honor the Earth who gave you life. Take only what you need, and offer fair return for whatever you take. Destruction in its proper time can prove beneficial, but do not destroy anything just for the sake of destruction. Every person contains a little spark of divinity, so speak to the divine spark in everyone you meet. Allow others to worship as they choose. Sexuality is a blessing, not a curse; yet the power to create new life brings with it the obligation to do so responsibly. Do not meddle with that which you do not understand.
Q: What is women’s spirituality? How does it work?
A: Women’s spirituality is just what it sounds like – any religious activity or system involving women. So this very broad field can include Witchcraft and other forms of Paganism, Christianity and other revelatory religions, Secular Humanism or other practical creeds, the individual faiths of Solitaries who practice alone in a religion of one, and much more. Many women enjoy gathering to share their spiritual experiences, or to hold special ceremonies, or to talk about what it means to be a woman. Women’s spirituality is a natural outgrowth of our companionable urges and our experiences with divinity. It works just the way other women’s networks do: through mutual support and activity. You talk a little, you listen a little, you learn a lot.
Q: What is magic? Why is it sometimes spelled "magick"?
A: Magic is the art and science of altering reality by an act of Will. Magical energy may come from within the practitioner, from a shrine or natural power place, from specially consecrated tools, or from the God and the Goddess. The practitioner then shapes the energy into a desired pattern and sends it out into the world to take effect. Magic can also create deep changes within the user’s own body or mind, rather than the outside world. Using magic effectively takes a lot of practice; you can’t learn it just by reading a few books or articles. Using magic also takes effort; you don’t just wave a wand and watch things happen. Magic works best in concert with mundane activities which support the same goal. This is because magic follows natural law, just like the other sciences; it simply touches some aspects of reality that most people don’t see every day. All things are connected, therefore it is possible for distant events or objects to influence each other; that natural law makes magic work. Some people use the spelling "magick" to distinguish spellcraft from prestidigitation.
Q: Do all Wiccans/Pagans/Witches practice magic? What is the difference between "white magic" and "black magic?"
A: No; although many Wiccans/Pagans/Witches practice magic, not all do. Some people have no interest in magic; others feel uncomfortable about the idea of changing reality on purpose. Victor Anderson, High Priest of the Faery tradition, says this about magic: "White magic is poetry, black magic is anything that actually works." Most practitioners today do not use the terms "white magic" or "black magic" – these come primarily from folklore. Instead, you hear people talk about "positive magic" and "negative magic." Most systems consider it unethical to work magic on another person without their consent, with the intent of coercing them to do something they would not ordinarily do, or with the intent of causing them harm. All of those things fall under the general class of "negative magic." Conversely, "positive magic" follows strict ethical guidelines, operates only with consent, and aims for the highest good of all.
Q: What is the Rule of Three? The Wiccan Rede?
A: The Rule of Three states, "All that you do returns to you three times over." This means if you do one good deed for someone else, three times that much benefit will manifest in your own life; and if you cause harm, three times that much misfortune will likewise manifest. The Wiccan Rede states, "An it harm none, do as thou wilt." This means you should follow your own inner guidance, so long as you harm nobody (including yourself!) by your action or inaction. Taken together, these two basic ethical guidelines form a mainstay of all Wiccan traditions, and many other Pagans adopt them as well. When followed diligently, they guide practitioners into virtuous and mindful lives. Other Pagan traditions have their own guidelines, such as the "Nine Noble Virtues" that Asatruar uphold.
Q: What is the relationship between Earth-based religions and other religions?
A: This depends on whom you ask. Followers of Earth-based religions generally aim for an attitude of tolerance, mutual respect, and cooperation. Many Pagans carry on interfaith activities with Christian, Jewish, atheist, and other friends. Pagan scholars, clergy, and activists devote a lot of energy to the creation and distribution of educational material, so that people of other faiths can learn about Earth-based religions. However, the major "revelatory" religions like Christianity and Islam customarily exhibit hostility towards everyone outside their own religion – or even denomination, in some cases. Sometimes people take a very narrow view of the Divine and attack other people who worship or believe differently than they do. While Pagans prefer a congenial relationship, they do assert their religious freedoms, and they readily respond to attacks on their rights by organizing an effective protest.
Q: Should parents teach their kids about religion(s)? Is Paganism safe for kids?
A: Parents should decide for themselves whether or not to teach their kids about religion. However, evidence suggests that it is a good idea to offer kids a chance to learn about a variety of different religions; this way they can make an informed choice when they are old enough, and they develop a strong base for religious tolerance. It is generally not a good idea to force kids into any religious activities if they don’t want to participate; this can cause hurt feelings all around and won’t create the kind of positive religious experience you want. Paganism in general is safe for kids, and many Pagan activities like dancing and singing really appeal to younger people. Like any religion, though, some ceremonies and activities are for grown-ups only; if you want to take your kids to a Pagan event, you should check ahead to find one with age-appropriate activities.
Q: Do Witches worship Satan? Sacrifice babies? Sacrifice animals?
A: Absolutely not. Witches do not acknowledge the existence of "Satan" or any other figure of ultimate evil. Witches love children and make excellent parents. Many Witches also love animals and keep pets, especially the traditional cats. Negative acts such as dwelling on evil or harming helpless creatures would violate the basic tenets of Wicca and most other forms of Witchcraft.
Q: Can you be a Pagan and a Christian?
A: Yes. Such people may call themselves Christo-Pagans, Mystic Christians, or other names reflecting their dual heritage. Angel Wicca is another popular example. Some Afro-Caribbean religions like Santeria combine Pagan and Christian elements too. You can blend together aspects from many different religions according to what feels right to you; many people do this. In your explorations you might meet a "Jewitch" studying Judaism and Witchcraft, or a "Pagan Sufi" studying Paganism and the Sufi branch of Islam, or just about any other combination you can imagine.
— Elizabeth Barrette lives in central Illinois with my lifepartner, in a large Victorian farmhouse with a yard frequented by wildlife. An avid wordsmith, she works as a writer and editor, doing poetry, articles, essays, reviews, interviews, short stories. She is a former editor of PanGaia magazine and has written several popular books published by Llewellyn including the popular 2012 Magical Almanac and Composing Magic and many more. She is a member of The Greenhaven Tradition, and Fieldhaven Coven in central Illinois.
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