I am Pagan. I am a part of the whole of Nature. The Rocks, the Animals, the Plants, the Elements, and Stars are my relatives. Other humans are my sisters and brothers, whatever their races, colors, genders, sexual orientations, ages, nationalities, religions, lifestyles. Planet Earth is my home. I am a part of this large family of Nature, not the master of it. I have my own special part to play and I seek to discover and play that part to the best of my ability. I seek to live in harmony with others in the family of Nature, treating others with respect. – Selena Fox
So, you have realised that you are a Pagan. You feel connected to Nature, or you read a book, or went to a Pagan festival, or went to a pub moot, and now you want to explore further. But where to start? Which are the best books, websites, organisations? How to find a reliable source of information?
I have realised that, despite all the many wonderful articles out there about Paganism, many of them assume a basic level of knowledge about Paganism, and if you don’t have that basic knowledge, it can be very difficult to know where to find it. What is self-initiation and why are so many people dismissive about it? What do Pagans believe? What is orthopraxy?
Add to that the fact that there are so many people on the internet who are willing to dismiss your hard-won insights, peddle pseudo-history, and claim that theirs is the One True Way, and it becomes very hard to sift reality from fantasy and find some people you might actually want to celebrate with. Plus the fact that we all spout jargon – though this is inevitable when we have a different way of looking at the world, and need the vocabulary to describe it.
So, this series will aim to provide a basic introduction to the Pagan movement and the various traditions within it, with links to resources, organisations, books, blogs, and websites. I will also provide a glossary of terms.
What is Paganism?
Many people have tried and failed to come up with a comprehensive definition of Paganism that includes everyone who identifies as Pagan – so the simplest explanation is ‘you are a Pagan if you think you are one’.
However, that is not very helpful if you are trying to work out whether you are one or not. You might be a Pagan if you agree with one or more of the following statements:
- the nature of deity is unknowable
- there are many gods
- there’s a divine feminine and a divine masculine
- there’s one god or goddess with many aspects
- deity or deities is/are immanent in the world
- there are many beings and spirits/wights
- deities are archetypes (yes, it is possible to be an atheist and a Pagan);
- The world
- the physical world (this life) is just as good (or better than) the other planes of existence
- the physical world is the the only plane of existence so let’s celebrate it;
- The body
- pleasure (sex/food/being alive/general pleasure) is good or sacred or life-enhancing;
- the body is sacred;
- same-sex relationships are just as valid as opposite-sex ones;
- Nature / the Earth / the land is sacred;
- life is less enjoyable if you don’t get a regular experience of nature in some form
- darkness and death are not seen as negative, but part of the natural cycle
- positive attitude to magic & ritual & arcane knowledge
- The soul
- reincarnation exists;
- original sin (or similar concepts) does not exist.
Not all Pagans will agree on all of the above; that does not make them any less Pagan. Paganism is more of an attitude of mind than a fixed creed. It is always tempting to ask, “what do Pagans believe?” but a better question is “what do Pagans do?” That’s not to say we don’t need theology – of course we need theory to explain and underpin what we do – but we definitely don’t need dogma.
Paganism is an umbrella term for several different traditions, some of whose members identify as Pagan, and some of whom identify solely as a member of that tradition. It is also possible to be a Pagan without belonging to any particular tradition. However, most people find they want to meet other Pagans to bounce ideas off, and to celebrate the seasonal festivals with.
In future posts, I will look at the different Pagan traditions, Pagan values, and Pagan concepts. I will also do requests, so if you have a question or an idea for a topic, please leave a comment.
- I am Pagan, by Selena Fox – a beautiful piece of writing exploring the Pagan world-view, which I have always found to be very poetic and evocative.
- Nature as Teacher, by Selena Fox – another great piece of writing about Pagan values that we can learn from Nature.
- Advice to a new Pagan, by John Beckett – some great advice on where to start
- An Introduction to Paganism, by John Macintyre
- Seeking the Mystery: An Introduction to Pagan Theologies, by Christine Hoff-Kraemer – an invaluable resource for all Pagans, not just beginners – available from the Patheos shop
This post is part of a series, Paganism for Beginners. All the posts in this series will appear in the category ‘A Beginner’s Guide‘. You can find them by clicking on the ‘FILED UNDER’ link at the foot of the blogpost.