Glossary of Pagan Terms
compiled by Elizabeth Barrette
Alternative Lifestyle: A mode of living which differs significantly from the "mainstream" society’s prescribed beliefs, affiliations, values, or practices. People who live an alternative lifestyle often gather with others who share their preferences; they may or may not retain close contact with the larger society. Many religions, including Paganism, fall into this category.
Blessed Be: A common phrase, used among Pagans as a greeting, a letter closing, or a statement of agreement. "Bright Blessings" appears in similar context. Although both phrases come from Wicca/Witchcraft they have spread into general use.
Coven: The most common name for a group of Wiccans/Witches who meet regularly for ritual and social purposes. Other Pagan traditions may call their groups by different names. "Coven" and "circle" are both very popular among Eclectic Pagans. Druids usually say "grove" or "henge" instead. Asatru sometimes use "grange" or "stead."
Craft Name: Pagans customarily choose, or receive as a gift, a special name which evokes their unique personality and/or powers. Some take a completely new name, while others choose a historic or ethnic version of their given name. People may use their craft names all the time, or only during ritual; some even go through a legal name change. Examples include Lady Isadora, Starhawk, and M. Macha NightMare.
Divination: The art and science of obtaining information through magical or spiritual methods, usually regarding things one could not investigate as thoroughly through more mundane methods. Divination may reveal past events, present events in distant or hidden locations, or likely future events; it can also reveal insights within a seeker’s own subconscious mind. Popular tools include Tarot cards, runes, crystal balls, astrology, and channeling.
Family: Much as we might wish, this doesn’t go without saying yet. A family is a group of people who love and support each other, in good times and bad. Many Pagans find themselves abandoned by their birth families, so they create new families. Sometimes a coven or other spiritual groups can serve as a kind of family. Pagans respect all different kinds of family – nuclear families, extended families, single-parent families, Gay families, and much more.
Gaian: One who believes in focusing their spirituality on the Earth (Gaia.) May include some Pagans, Wiccans, Creation-Centered Christians, Scientific Pantheists and others.
Handfasting: A Wiccan/Pagan betrothal or wedding. A traditional Pagan betrothal lasts for a year and a day, after which the permanent ceremony is held. In most traditions, a High Priest or High Priestess officiates, reading the lines to the celebrants just like in a Christian wedding. The "handfasting" part refers to the custom of tying the celebrants’ hands together with a ribbon to symbolize their union. Most Pagan religions allow the marriage of any persons who choose to form a family, so you may see two brides or two grooms or two brides and a groom or some other combination instead of the usual bride and groom. A handparting is a Pagan divorce, in honor of the fact that sometimes people do grow apart over time.
Heathen: Members of several Germanic and Norse traditions, such as Asatru and Odinism, prefer this term to the more general "Pagan."
Like-minded: This slippery but still useful term refers to people belonging to any one of several alternative lifestyles such as Paganism, science fiction fandom, or historical re-enactment. Most like-minded people are fun, intelligent, and tolerant of differences. There is a lot of overlap among different communities, practices, and traditions. Ask any ten like-minded people to identify their religion, and you may get twelve answers. Like-minded events include Pagan gatherings and public rituals; Renaissance, Colonial, and Civil War events; science fiction, fantasy, gaming, furry, comic, and other conventions; sundry marches and rallies; harvest, folk, and women's festivals; and miscellaneous other gatherings for fun or social evolution.
Metaphysics: That which lies beyond or above ("meta") the bounds of regular physics. These days, metaphysics has a lot in common with quantum physics, minus the boggling math. This is the study of multi-leveled reality and complex philosophical questions like "Why are we here? Where did we come from? What aspects of reality exist independent of human interpretation?" Often people use "metaphysical" to describe anything beyond ordinary reality.
Monotheist: One who believes in the existence of a single, usually omnipotent Deity. Christianity posits one male God; some feminist Pagan traditions posit one female Goddess. In its less enlightened forms, this can lead to hostility towards other religions, but it does not have to.
Mundane: Not magical, not Pagan; mainstream. Some people use this simply to distinguish between different aspects of their lives, as in, "My craft name is Shadow; my mundane name is Sarah Smith." This can make a handy warning: "Please don’t freak out my mundane relatives by talking about Samhain." Other people use the word to imply narrow-minded, dull, or hostile to matters magical: "Rhiannon had to move because her landlord was a mundane; he kept complaining about the coven meeting at her place." In this form, it is synonymous with the term "Muggle" popularized by author J.K. Rowling.
Mundanely Known As: Refers to a person’s formal, check-cashing name rather than a craft name or nickname. Because some people use their legal name only for cashing checks, Pagans often know each other primarily or solely by craft name. This also offers protection in less-tolerant areas, a holdover from times when craft names made it impossible to anyone to betray covenmates if captured and tortured.
Occult: Related to metaphysics, "occult" means "secret" and refers to hidden knowledge, such as the study of magic. "Esoteric" is a synonym.
Pantheist: One who believes in universal, immanent divinity; that is, divine presence in all places, people, and things.
Panentheist: One who combines the tenets of theism and pantheism, believing that divinity is both immanent and transcendent. Otherwise known as having one’s cake and eating it too.
Polytheist: One who believes in the existence of multiple Gods, Goddesses, and/or other divine entities. This includes duotheism, the belief in a matched pair of divine entities.
Scientific Pantheist: One who believes in the Universe as divine, but not possessed of supernatural powers or personality. A balance between the scientific and spiritual viewpoints, which "revelatory" religions often set at odds against each other.
Sex Magic: Lovemaking generates a lot of positive energy, which experienced practitioners can use to fuel certain kinds of spells, such as fertility or abundance spells. This is not a technique for novices, although it gets a great deal of attention in folklore and fiction.
So Mote It Be: The Wiccan version of "amen," said at the end of a prayer or spell. "So mote it be" means "It must happen this way" and serves to manifest what the speaker has just said. Wiccans also use this phrase to indicate agreement with something another person says. Like other useful phrases, it has spread far beyond the Wiccan tradition.
Theist: One who believes in the existence of some divine Being(s), usually transcendent in nature.
Wiccaning: Also called "Paganing" or "saining," this is the Wiccan/Pagan equivalent of christening. During this rite, a Pagan baby receives a name and welcoming into the family/tribe. Customarily, the parents and/or a High Priestess also bless the child and introduce him or her to the God and the Goddess, but not as a permanent dedication. That must wait until the child is old enough to decide what religion he or she feels called to follow. This merely serves as a basis for teaching, protection, and community during childhood.
Witch: A male or female member of the Wiccan religion, if capitalized; or a practitioner of Pagan magic, if lowercase. "Witch" and "Devil worshipper/Satanist" are mutually exclusive terms.
Witch Wars: The regrettable use of vicious gossip and backbiting which sometimes surrounds a dispute within Pagan culture; not restricted to Witches. The term "witch war" can refer to online flames, letter campaigns, fights in person, and so forth. Responsible people do not support or practice this kind of behavior.
— 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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