There are many ways to call a quarter, but all of them have a common aim: to make a connection with the element.
This is my list of recommended reading for beginners. Many other lists are available. If you don’t like my list, make your own. I have tried to keep the list fairly short, so as not to overwhelm you with a great long shopping list.
My recommendation would be to read widely and deeply, noting what you agree with, what riles you, and what attracts you. You don’t have to agree with everything you read. Rather you should engage with it, see how it affects you, think about any issues it raises for you.
I have always had trouble with books that have exercises in them, because I tend to think, “Oh yes I will do that exercise later” and I either skip over it and never come back to it, or put the book down and never finish it.
I have to confess that whilst I have read a few books on Heathenry and Druidry, none of them strike me as general introductions or 101 books, so I will refer you to other people’s lists for beginners in those traditions, and other polytheist traditions.
I have often said to people that if they only ever read one book on Paganism, it should be this one. It is all about how to engage with the landscape you live in, and how to connect with the spirits of place. It offers practical suggestions for deepening your connection with nature.
Drawing Down the Moon: Witches, Druids, Goddess-Worshippers, and Other Pagans in America by Margot Adler
A great, and classic, introduction to contemporary Paganism. Goes into the beliefs, practices and communities in some depth. Evocatively and accessibly written.
This is one of my favourite books of all time. It is an exploration of the world of Anglo-Saxon Heathenry from the point of view of a young Christian missionary who comes to respect the Anglo-Saxon sorcerer he has been sent to learn from. It was based on the author’s PhD research into the Leechbook, an Anglo-Saxon herbal.
Books on Wicca
A must-read for anyone who wants to know the history of Wicca, with some reflections on how and why why the Pagan revival happened. Ronald Hutton examines the historical conditions and cultural movements that gave rise to the Pagan revival and the birth of Wicca, and looks at more recent history as well.
The story of the Pagan revival in the United States. Very well-written and researched. The US equivalent of Triumph of the Moon.
Wicca: Magickal Beginnings by Sorita d’Este and David Rankine
A textual and historical analysis of the possible origins of the rituals and practices of this modern tradition of Pagan Witchcraft. A fascinating book that I found to be really interesting and to deepen my understanding of Wicca.
Wicca: the Old Religion in the New Millennium by Vivianne Crowley
An excellent introduction to Wicca, with an exploration of the dynamics of the rituals from a Jungian perspective. First published in 1989, with a revised edition in 1997, this book is still a classic. In a recent reflection on the book, Vivianne Crowley wrote:
When I wrote Wicca, I had been in Wicca for 15 years. What I had seen in that time was how Wicca had the potential to transform people. Many of the processes that I had seen occurring as people worked their way through the initiatory systems were those that manifest through the inner journey of growth that Carl Gustav Jung called ‘individuation’. By exposing our inner world to the Gods and to those who share the spiritual journey with us, we are transformed. This is not the matter of a few years, but a lifelong process, which initiatory Wicca at its best can nurture, support and foster. The purpose of such a journey is that of the Great Work – the transformation of self as a starting point for the transformation of humankind; for if individuals do not change, then societies cannot evolve. Our aim is to grow nearer the Gods, to move from our egocentric engagement with the world for our own ends, to a re-centering that detaches us from our own preoccupations and allows us the see the world from a wider, deeper, and longer-term perspective.
On my to-read list
A couple of books I haven’t read yet, but keep meaning to get around to, as I see them recommended often on other people’s lists:
- The Deities Are Many: A Polytheistic Theology by Jordan D. Paper
- A World Full of Gods: An Inquiry Into Polytheism by John Michael Greer
Other reading lists
- Pagan 101 resources – a comprehensive list on Tumblr
- John Beckett’s reading list for Druidry
- Three books for Polytheists – John Beckett
- My list of books and resources for LGBTQIA Pagans
- Best Wicca 101 books on Goodreads
- Gaulish Polytheism reading list
- Kemeticism 101
- Gallina Krasskova’s list of Polytheism resources for beginners
- 5 best intro books on Greco-Roman polytheism – Ursus
- Books on Wicca by Amber K on Goodreads
- Popular Heathen books on Goodreads
- Popular Polytheism books on Goodreads
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‘.
So you want someone to celebrate festivals with, and to learn from and bounce ideas off. Personally I love having a magical group, because it gives me the opportunity to do ritual with other people, to exchange ideas, and to have conversations about stuff that never normally gets talked about, and to experience those moments when all the energies of the group flow together and become more than the sum of their parts.
Groups can be awesome if you find the right people to celebrate with; they can also be a bit dysfunctional. The trick is to go about finding a group with your eyes open. If you experience warning signs and feel that the group you are considering joining does not fit your needs, proceed with caution. Finding the right group for your needs can be really tricky. Most people are either incredibly cautious about approaching groups, or touchingly enthusiastic and hence vulnerable.
It is all too tempting to assume that the group you have found was somehow meant for you, and to ignore the warning signs – but sometimes that is not the way life works, and it is just a really excellent idea to run a mile. If the group you are considering joining tries to tell you that they are the One True Way and that all the other groups have it wrong – run away. Even if the group doesn’t exhibit the classic warning signs, but their approach and philosophy is just not a good fit with yours, then maybe they are not the right group for you, and you are not the right new member for them.
I often come across people who say that they don’t want to join a group for various reasons. Some of them have had a bad experience of being in a group that has put them off. That’s understandable, but not every group is the same. I had a couple of bad experiences, but that didn’t put me off groups completely – it just made me more cautious. Others say that they need to do more work on themselves before joining a group. My answer to that one would be that a group is a great place to work on yourself, because social interaction with others is where personal change and growth usually happens. Another reason for not wanting to join a group that I have come across is being an introvert. That seems like a valid reason. But joining a group doesn’t necessarily mean you have to reveal your deepest secrets or spend vast amounts of time with others; it does mean engaging with them on a quest for meaning and connection.
When you are approaching a group, ask lots of questions.
- Does the group have ground rules?
- How often do they meet?
- Do they expect you to copy out rituals by hand?
- What is their attitude to disagreement – theological or magical or political? Are they prepared to learn from other people?
- How do they feel about members being involved with other traditions?
- Do they value previous experience?
- Do they value creativity and extemporisation, or do they prefer more formal rituals?
- Can you meet the existing members?
- Is there a training process prior to initiation?
- Can you attend an open ritual before deciding whether to embark on the training?
- Do they work skyclad?
- Do they have initiations? How far into the training do these happen?
You should also ask yourself a similar set of questions.
- Do you want a group that has ground-rules?
- How far are you prepared to travel for meetings?
- How many meetings per year are you willing to commit to?
- Do you want to copy out rituals by hand?
- How do you feel about people with different opinions from yours? Are you prepared to be challenged in your thinking?
- Do you have the time and energy to be involved with more than one tradition?
- What skills and experiences can you bring to the group?
- What style of ritual do you prefer?
- Are you prepared to put in the effort of engaging with the training process and learning new things?
- Are you comfortable with the idea of working skyclad?
- Are you comfortable with the idea of initiation?
The answers to these questions will vary from one individual to another, and from one group to another. Hopefully, you can find a group whose answers to the questions are a fairly close match with your answers.
- Patti Wiginton, How to find a coven – some excellent advice on networking and how to identify a compatible group
- Phil Hine (1998), Approaching groups. An excellent article with a really good set of guidelines and a list of warning signals for dodgy groups.
- Patti Wiginton, Warning Signs in Prospective Covens – excellent checklist of warning signs of dodgy groups, and groups that may be OK, but just not a good fit for you personally.
- Patti Wiginton, Should I Join a Coven I Found Online? – points out that you should follow all the same guidelines for meeting prospective groups that you found online that you should follow for internet dating.
- Patti Wiginton, Are you an older newbie Pagan? – for people who are new to Paganism but feel as if all the other Pagans their age are very experienced.
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.
Words and names have power. In many mythologies, the world came into being at the utterance of a particular word or sound. A magician who knows the true names of things has power over them. That is why, in A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula Le Guin, everyone has a secret name, and a nickname by which they are usually known. It is why some Romani mothers give their children three names: a secret name whispered in the child’s ear on giving birth, and again when the child becomes an adult; a name which they are known by among their own tribe; and a name for use among the gadjo (non-Romani) – but see update below.
Why have a Pagan name?
Many people decide to have a Pagan name because they want to celebrate an aspect of Nature with their name. Hence people choose the names of plants, animals, or birds that they particularly like. Fortunately for me, the name Yvonne means “Yewtree” anyway. My last name is probably derived from the Anglo-Saxon for fortified town (burh) but it may just possibly be derived from the Anglo-Saxon for burial mound (beorh), though in that case my last name would probably be “Berrow”.
There are many reasons why someone might want a Pagan name: to feel more in touch with a particular deity, animal, bird, or tree; to emphasise a quality that you possess, or to which you aspire; to celebrate a connection with a particular animal, bird, plant, place, or being that you already feel.
Choosing your own name is a powerful magical act. Sometimes a name is suggested to you by others; if it feels right, go for it. Sometimes the name only fits in a particular group or context. I am known by a particular nickname to a particular group of people, and it feels very odd indeed if anyone outside that group uses that nickname.
Using a pseudonym
When I wrote my first book, back in 1992, I considered using a pseudonym. Ironically enough, when it was published, some people apparently thought that Yvonne Aburrow actually was a pseudonym.
At that time, many Pagan authors used pseudonyms, because it was still legal to discriminate against Pagans at work in the UK, and everybody could still remember the “Satanic Panic” in which fundamentalist Christians tried to convince social workers that there was an epidemic of Satanism in the UK, and that Pagans were Satanists.
Fortunately, the 2003 legislation on religious discrimination in the workplace means that Pagans are protected by employment law. Pagans were explicitly mentioned in the ACAS guidelines on the Act, which have the same force as case law.
Employers should be aware that these Regulations extend beyond the more well known religions and faiths to include beliefs such as Paganism and Humanism. The Regulations also cover those without religious or similar beliefs.
It is not necessarily the case that Pagans are protected by law from discrimination in the workplace in other countries, however. So some Pagans may still feel the need to use a pseudonym.
When creating a pseudonym, it is always a good idea not to use the pseudonym to claim a living ethnicity that you do not possess. So don’t make up a fake Native American name, or a fake Celtic name. It’s tacky, and it’s cultural appropriation, and it’s potentially fraudulent. It’s fine to create a Latin pseudonym, because no current ethnic group uses Latin, so it is obviously not intended to be fraudulent.
Why have a magical name?
In initiatory Wicca, a witch-name or magical name is generally used only in circle, and known only to other initiates. The candidate for initiation is invited to choose a name prior to first-degree initiation.
When a witch is in circle, and using a witch-name, it feels as though we have stepped into our magical persona or power. Now we are ready to do magic, and have entered sacred space and sacred time. The magical name can reflect qualities we aspire to, or beings to whom we feel connected.
I read a book by Alan Richardson once, in which he suggests the following for “taking off” your mundane name and “putting on” your magical name in circle. What you do is intone your mundane name, knocking off one letter at a time, like this:
Then build up your magical name one letter at a time. Imagine that my magical name was Yewtree:
Alternatively, you can just introduce yourself as your magical name once the circle is set up.
How to choose a name
Not many people know immediately what their magical name should be. I had been given a name as a sort of joke a couple of years before my initiation, and when I was invited to choose a name, that was the one that immediately came to mind. I considered a few others, but that name kept coming back to me, so I stuck with it. I have never regretted it.
That said, don’t just choose the first name that comes to mind, or that sounds cool. And I would advise against using an internet name generator – fun though they are to play around with. Patti Wiginton has some excellent advice on how to choose a name, including how to work out if it is a good fit by using numerology (though how to do numerology with the Latin alphabet is disputed, since numerology was invented for use with the Hebrew alphabet).
Some people get their names in a dream; others choose their names from mythology or from Nature. Using the name of a major deity is regarded as a bit hubristic, and somewhat risky in that you are taking on the whole of the archetype of that deity. Minor deities and spirits, human heroes, plants, birds, animals, and abstract qualities are generally regarded as a better source of names.
Meditate on what qualities or virtues you want to embody, or which you find yourself embodying a lot of the time, and think about what animal, bird, plant, or mythological person best represents that quality. That will probably be a good source of potential names.
Once you have found the right name, you will know, because it will just feel right.
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.
UPDATE on Romani naming practices.
The information about Romani naming practices in the article was an oversimplification. And please note that I was in no way advocating that Pagans should appropriate Roma naming practice.
My source was a book by Jacques Prévert about the Romani of Eastern Europe. Here’s a better explanation of the practice, from a library of Roma culture at the University of Graz:
Gadžo names are the Christian (first/personal) names registered in official documents (on identification papers, in registry offices; on passports, etc.) In the past, it was very rare to find a Rom with a Gadžo name. Very few Roma called their children or each other by their Gadže (official) names. Some small children did not even know their Gadže names when they started school.
Roma use their Roma name when they speak to each other. In the past, there was not one Rom who would not have had a Roma name. Even today, it is hard to find even one.
When a child is first born, he is spoken of as “the little one”, “the tiny one”, because his character is not yet determined. Only when he has grown a bit does his Roma name usually reveal itself.
Relatives determine the Roma name for a child in various ways.
The name can reflect a personality trait or something about the appearance of the child: Kalo(Black), Cikňi (Little), Šuki (Slender), Papin (Silly), Pušomori (Little Flea).
An “other name” is a Roma name with a specific function. Many Roma have forgotten this function, but in Roma settlements around Snina and Zbudské Dlhé, Roma traditionally still have an “other name”.
An “other name” protects a child from illnesses and impure forces. Let’s say that a child is named Gejza, but his mother calls him Toňu. Gejza is often kept secret from other Roma. It can happen that some illness may appear, for example oja (epilepsy), and this illness wants to possess the child. It looks for a child named Toňu, the name by which his parents and the other Roma call him. But no such Toňu exists. Toňu is merely the “other name” for the child. The illness does not know that the child’s real name is Gejza because the name Gejza has been kept secret. Therefore, the illness does not find the child and cannot hurt him.
A similar explanation is offered on this less academic site, the Patrin Web Journal, which as far as I know was set up by an actual Romani person.
On encountering the phenomenon of the Pagan revival for the first time, some people ask why there are so many different Pagan traditions.
There are many different answers to this question – here are the ones I can think of.
The varieties of religious experience
There are many different forms of Christianity, Buddhism, Islam, and so on, because different people have different values, different theologies, and different taste in ritual styles. Some people like solemn and liturgical rituals with quite a lot of formality, and where you can predict what will happen next. Others like a lot of room for experimentation and going with the flow.
Similarly, there are many different forms of Paganism, with different theologies, ritual styles, and values. And there is often as much variation within traditions as there is between traditions. For example, one Wiccan coven or individual might be animist or polytheist in their outlook; another might be more duotheist. Some Wiccan covens are more into ceremonial magic than others; some are more hierarchical, some are more consensus-based. The array of traditions on offer is quite a Smörgåsbord.
When choosing a group in whichever tradition you are attracted to, it is a good idea to attend some of their rituals and see if they fit with your values and tastes, and whether they are open to people with differing theological perspectives.
Ancient paganism was diverse
Ancient paganism probably didn’t have the concept of “religion” as a distinct tradition with a coherent set of beliefs, values, and rituals that we have nowadays as a result of the influence of Christianity and its norms.
However, each culture had its own deities and customs and values, and these form the basis of many of the Pagan and polytheist traditions that have been revived.
In Greek and Roman culture, it is well-documented that different deities had their own cults and that these were different in different regions. There were also many different schools of thought within classical paganism, such as the Stoics and the Epicureans. There were also sacred dining-clubs devoted to Bacchus, which I think we should revive. Anyone care to join me?
Contemporary Paganism is diverse
There are many different types of people with different tastes, values, and cultural backgrounds attracted to contemporary Paganism too. And accordingly there are many different traditions on offer, and varying styles of ritual within those traditions.
Being English, with some ancestors from Cornwall, I suspect it is a fair bet that I have both Celtic and Saxon ancestors, maybe even a Norman ancestor or two, so it would be hard for me to choose a particular ethnic religion such as Heathenry or Druidry. That, along with my interest in magic and ecstatic techniques, is one of the reasons I am a Wiccan. It also means I get to honour the other gods in my personal household shrine, who are from other cultures (Roman, Hindu, Sumerian, and so on).
Just plain Pagan?
However, if you are not attracted to any particular Pagan tradition, there’s no rush. You can always attend open rituals of various different traditions, or get together with like-minded others for eclectic Pagan ritual.
Just don’t feel railroaded into doing “Wicca-lite” – there are plenty of other ways of being eclectic. Observe what moves you, what you feel is sacred, and create rituals around that. They don’t have to be complicated – they may just be as simple as noticing beautiful experiences and acknowledging them as sacred.
Find out more
If you are attracted to a particular tradition, go along to any open rituals they offer, and read more about the tradition. Talk to practitioners, ask lots of questions. Have a look at the various different Pagan organisations, some of which represent specific traditions.
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.
Pagans care about the same issues as everyone else – poverty, war, racism, homophobia, transphobia, the environment, saving indigenous lifeways, knowledge, and culture, women’s rights, cruelty to animals, and so on. Like any other movement, there are many different opinions in the Pagan movement: some Pagans don’t care about these things; some take a different view of them; and some care about them very much more than the average.
But there are some issues that are associated in people’s minds with being Pagan, the two most obvious ones being environmentalism and feminism. Many people have claimed that Paganism is a Nature religion (and many others have claimed that it’s not), and since Paganism and Nature-worship are synonymous in many people’s minds, caring for the Earth seems like an obvious thing for Pagans to want to do. And since the Earth is often viewed as a goddess, or as the Goddess, Paganism is an obvious choice for anyone who wonders why so many monotheists view their deity as exclusively male.
Pagans care about the environment for many and varied reasons. Some people became Pagans because they care about the environment; others began to care more about the environment after becoming a Pagan. Either way, Pagans recognise that the Earth is our mother, and if we don’t take care of her, we will all die, and so will many other species.
The earth is our mother,
we must take care of her.
Hey yanna, ho yanna, hey yan yan.
Her sacred ground we walk upon,
with every step we take.
The earth is our mother,
she will take care of us.
The causes of our current destructive course are many and complex. Some people blame capitalism; others blame consumerism; and others blame the dominionist views of conservative Christianity. I blame all three, and think they are historically interlinked.
Capitalism does not simply mean a market economy; it means the investment of surplus money in a business venture. This means that instead of being accountable to the whole community, a company becomes accountable to its shareholders, and shareholders generally want only one thing: a profit.
Consumerism is not simply wanting nice things; it is the view that only having nice things makes you happy, and the drive to acquire more and more nice things.
Dominionism is the view (derived from the book of Genesis) that God gave the Earth to humans for our use.
A major contrast with these views is deep ecology, which advocates the inherent worth of living beings regardless of their instrumental utility to human needs, and argues that this requires a radical restructuring of modern human societies. This certainly chimes in well with the Pagan world-view, and I explored the ecological and embodied world-view in two previous posts, Eco-spirituality and theology and Eco-spirituality in practice.
The language of ecology can be problematic, especially when it gets co-opted by business trying to preserve the status quo. Sustainability used to mean living in a way that prevents damage to the environment and loss of species habitat; now it has been co-opted to mean something like ‘greenwashing‘ (paying lip-service to environmental concerns while actually continuing to act in a destructive way), or buying carbon credits and continuing to release carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. The “environment” implies something that surrounds us, but which we are not necessarily part of. We are part of the environment and of ecosystems; we are not separate from our habitat.
A group of Pagans (of which I was one) have recently produced A Pagan Community Statement on the Environment, which has been translated into several different languages and has now reached around 5000 signatures. Whilst a statement will not fix things on its own, what it does is articulate the principles and practices which will help to fix things, and signing up to the statement means a commitment to its principles and to doing something for the planet.
Some people became Pagans because they were feminists; others began to focus more on equality after becoming a Pagan. Either way, feminism is a natural bedfellow of Paganism, because most Pagan traditions worship a Goddess or goddesses, and value diversity and equality.
The roots of feminism lie in three simple premises:
- that women are equal to men,
- that women are not currently treated equally in society,
- and that we should do something about it.
However, as with any other philosophy, there is more than one flavour of feminism, because not all feminists necessarily agree on the correct tactics for getting rid of inequality, or indeed on who counts as a woman.
Variants include: Amazon, Analytical, Anarchist, Atheist, Black, Chicana, Christian, Conservative, Cultural, Cyber, Difference, Eco, Equality, Equity, Fat, French, structuralist, Global, Individualist, Islamic, Jewish, Lesbian, Liberal, Lipstick, Marxist, Material, Maternal, Mormon, Neo, New, Postcolonial, Postmodern, Poststructural, Pro-life, Proto, Radical, Separatist, Sex-positive, Social, Socialist, Standpoint, Third world, Trans, Transnational, and Womanism. There is even an online quiz for deciding what kind of feminist you are.
Here are some of the ones that share concerns with Paganism:
According to Wikipedia, “Anarcha-feminism, also called anarchist feminism and anarcho-feminism, combines anarchism with feminism. It generally views patriarchy as a manifestation of involuntary coercive hierarchy that should be replaced by decentralized free association. Anarcha-feminists believe that the struggle against patriarchy is an essential part of class struggle, and the anarchist struggle against the state. ” Historically, anarchist feminists included those who advocated free love and campaigned against marital rape and the subjugation of women.
Black feminism: Black feminist theorists argue that sexism, class oppression, and racism are inextricably bound together. The way these relate to each other is called intersectionality. The theory of intersectionality has been adopted by many other feminists and social theorists. According to Barbara Omolade, ”Black feminism is sometimes referred to as womanism because both are concerned with struggles against sexism and racism by black women who are themselves part of the black community’s efforts to achieve equity and liberty”.
Eco-feminism: According to Vandana Shiva, women have a special connection to the environment through our daily interactions. She says that women in subsistence economies who produce “wealth in partnership with nature, have been experts in their own right of holistic and ecological knowledge of nature’s processes.”
Obviously there are lots of other things that Pagans care about, but these are two areas that are fairly central to why so many people have joined the Pagan movement.
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.
The next post in the series will be on controversies in the Pagan community, where I attempt to summarise all the controversies of the last few years, including racism, transphobia, Wiccanate privilege, and more.
Pagan organisations are important because they represent Pagan organisations to the wider world, and connect members of the Pagan movement together. Through them you can find out more about your chosen tradition, and meet other Pagans to celebrate with. Pagan organisations do not claim to represent all Pagans, only their members – but the more people who join these organisations, the stronger, and the more diverse, the Pagan voice in the public square will be.
The ADF is a Pagan church based on ancient Indo-European traditions expressed through public worship, study, and fellowship. ADF is working to combine in-depth scholarship with the inspiration of artistry and spiritual practice to create a powerful modern Paganism. They research and interpret sound modern scholarship (rather than romantic fantasies) about the ancient Indo-European Pagans — the Celts, Norse, Slavs, Balts, Greeks, Romans, Persians, Vedics, and others. Upon these cultural foundations, they are working to build a religion that these ancient people would appreciate and understand yet one which has depth and power for modern people. They seek to developing genuine skills in composition and presentation in the musical, dramatic, graphic, textile and other arts. They bring together people trained in ritual, psychic skills and applied mythology to bring the remnants of the old ways to life, and to create a nonsexist, non-racist, organic, flexible and publicly available religion to practice as a way of life and to hand on to future generations.
The Covenant of the Goddess is one of the largest and oldest Wiccan religious organizations. CoG was incorporated as a nonprofit religious organization on October 31, 1975. The Covenant is an umbrella organization of cooperating autonomous Witchcraft congregations and individual practitioners with the power to confer credentials on its qualified clergy. It fosters cooperation and mutual support among Witches and secures for them the legal protections enjoyed by members of other religions. The Covenant is non-hierarchical and governed by consensus. Two-thirds of its clergy are women.
The Covenant of Unitarian Universalist Pagans (CUUPS) is an organization dedicated to networking Pagan-identified Unitarian Universalists (UUs), educating people about Paganism, promoting interfaith dialogue, developing Pagan liturgies and theologies, and supporting Pagan-identified UU religious professionals. CUUPS was chartered by the Unitarian Universalist Association at the General Assembly in 1987.
OBOD – Order of Bards, Ovates, and Druids (UK, international)
The Order of Bards, Ovates & Druids is a worldwide group dedicated to practising, teaching, and developing Druidry as a valuable and inspiring spirituality. The Order was founded in Britain 50 years ago by the historian and poet Ross Nichols, aided by the writer and founder of the Tolkien Society Vera Chapman, and fellow members of the Ancient Druid Order, which developed during the early years of the last century out of the Druid Revival which began about three hundred years ago. Read more
Pagan Federation (UK)
Founded in 1971, the PF seeks to support all Pagans to ensure they have the same rights as the followers of other beliefs and religions. It aims to promote a positive profile for Pagans and Paganism and to provide information on Pagan beliefs to the media, official bodies and the greater community. The Pagan Federation regards membership of any organisations that refuse to support freedom of religion and equality of race, gender, and sexual orientation, as incompatible with their aims, objectives and values.
The Pagan Federation (Scotland) is a democratic organisation whose membership is drawn from all the Pagan traditions including Wicca and other forms of Pagan Witchcraft, Druidry, Heathenry, Celtic Paganism, Shamanism and Goddess-Spirituality. It is an autonomous national body within the Pagan Federation, Europe’s largest and most active Pagan organisation.
One of the main aims of Pagan Federation International is to enable Pagans to network, using the internet and email. It is however also important to be able to contact Pagans in our own countries and to communicate in our own languages.
The PFI communicates internationally using English as our common language and at a local level we are building up regional contacts in local languages. A number of countries have coordinators who provide regular newsletters, advertising events of interest to PFI members and also including news of local pub moots. Most countries with a substantial amount of members are now also providing websites with the various information packs provided by the PF and translated into the local languages.
Pagan Life Rites Ireland is a non-profit organisation, operated by a nationwide network of Priests and Priestesses, which offers a range of services to the greater Pagan community of Ireland, including Naming and Welcoming Rituals, Coming of Age Rituals, Handfasting (Marriage) Rituals, Separation Rituals, Croning Rituals, Funerary Rituals, courses and training offered in the various traditions, and events hosted for the community. They offer their services to the public regardless of practice, race, gender or sexual orientation.
The Pagan Heathen Symposium is a group of Pagan and Heathen Organisations that actively co-operate on a variety of issues and projects.
The Unitarian Earth Spirit Network (UESN) is an association of Unitarians based in the UK that seeks to represent a Nature/Earth/Creation centred religious voice within the Unitarian church. The UESN provides a forum for this group and is a recognised, credible part of the British Unitarian movement.
An unofficial and informative website about Gardnerian Wicca, with articles by various Gardnerian Wiccans about various aspects of Wicca and Paganism, with links to other Wiccan and Pagan sites.
A site of beautiful resistance. We Pagans are trying to re-enchant the world, to bring back the magic of the forests and the mountains. We are trying to hear and revere the wild places the sacred forgotten places, the spirits of ocean and rivers and lakes. And yet Capitalism is always poisoning these places because it considers nothing sacred except profit, nothing holy except wealth. To Re-enchant the world, we must destroy Capitalism.
Patheos is a multi-faith blogging platform with channels for different religious traditions. Patheos Pagan is the Pagan channel, with blogs by Pagans and polytheists of many different traditions.
For some time, many Polytheists have been seeking a place for discussing their religions, their divine relations, and their living lineages in such a way that effectively maximizes the vastness of the all-connecting technologies of the internet age to reach out to and commune with other like-minded and like-religioned groups and individuals. In a “manifold” universe populated by myriad entities, autonomies, consciousnesses and willed layers-upon-layers of complex relations, animist sensibilities, and ancestral connections, Polytheist.com acknowledges not only the many gods and goddesses and Their sacred agency, but also the agency of the many cultic communities, devotional disciplines and worshipful fellowships, war-bands, sects and circles.
The Wild Hunt is the Pagan news blog. It is a daily updated news blog that concerns itself with the events of interest to or happening within the modern Pagan, Polytheist and Heathen communities. Their mission is to raise the standard of journalistic discourse regarding our religions from within and without. Consider it an exercise in advocacy journalism, where a decidedly “pro-Paganism” view is exercised.
A community resource for Paganism since 1997, Witchvox hosts hundreds of articles and listings of Pagan groups. The Witches’ Voice is a proactive educational network providing news, information services and resources for and about Pagans, Heathens, Witches and Wiccans.
Witches and Pagans / Pagan Square
A collection of blogs and magazines devoted to various Pagan paths and aspects of Pagan culture.
Did I miss someone?
Did I miss out your Pagan organisation or website? Add the details in the comments – please include the name of the organisation, the URL of its website, where their activities are focused (a specific country, or international) and a summary of what they do.
Pagan values and virtues
Pagan values are grounded in an appreciation of life and the enjoyment of being physically embodied, and the desire for others to enjoy the same experience. A value is shared norm or expectation of a group; something that is considered desirable. A virtue is a quality of a person or a group that is considered desirable. Traditionally, most Pagan ethical codes were lists of virtues which were considered desirable, instead of a set of rules to be kept. The cultivation of virtues by the individual was said to lead to eudaimonia, a happy state of being.
This was and is a hugely important virtue in just about every traditional culture, and governed the behaviour of both guest and host. Imagine you are travelling in a strange land, like Gawain in the story of Gawain and the Green Knight. The offer of a nice warm bed, and a feast every night, would be an absolute godsend if you were riding in a howling wilderness at midwinter. Imagine you were shipwrecked on a strange coast, like Odysseus in the story of The Odyssey. Rescuing and looking after shipwrecked travellers would be a sacred obligation in an age when there were no coastguards and few lighthouses. But the guest must also behave honourably towards the host. Many cultures still have the beautiful custom of the guest-gift – something that the guest brings the first time they visit your house. Being inclusive and welcoming to all could be said to be a logical extension of hospitality.
Reciprocity and balance
This is linked with the idea of hospitality. “A gift for a gift” says the Hávamál. Connections between people are maintained by the exchange of gifts (not necessarily physical objects, but the gifts of time and attention). Everything in Nature is balanced, and the same is true of society and culture – as in the saying “what goes around, comes around”. This is related to the Pagan concept of cyclicity, which maintains that everything goes in cycles: night and day; the seasons; birth, life, death, and rebirth.
A common treasury for all
The land is sacred in all Pagan traditions, and looking back at non-hierarchical cultures, we can see that it was held in common by the people, or not owned at all. The persistence of the idea of communal land, despite the Enclosures, the Highland Clearances, and the theft of land from indigenous peoples around the world, shows what an important idea this is.
The upholding of personal integrity appears in lists of virtues compiled by a number of different cultures and traditions, including the eight Wiccan Virtues, and the Nine Noble Virtues of Heathenry. What honour means to me is being honest in my personal dealings, including all aspects of life, and doing the decent thing: fighting against injustice, speaking up for the vulnerable.
Embodiment: Celebrating being alive
Pagans value physical pleasure: eating, drinking, making love, seeing beautiful things. We find that the enjoyment of these things increases our ‘spiritual’ connection, because we find value in the physical world. We love trees, rocks, mountains, flowers, beautiful art, the ocean, animals, birds, other people, the moon, the night, the sun, rolling hills, water, making love, eating, making merry. Oh yes!
The Charge of the Goddess, written by Wiccan priestess Doreen Valiente, says that “All acts of love and pleasure are [Her] rituals.”
The idea that the divine/deities is/are immanent in the world (intimately entwined with physical matter) also contributes to the sense that being alive in this world is to be celebrated and enjoyed.
“Women desiren sovereigntie”, wrote Chaucer, at the conclusion of his excellent story, The Wife of Bath’s Tale. Sovereignty is the ability to determine your own destiny. Pagans love being free, and not being coerced. We don’t like to be told what to think, what to do, or how to live. This extends to bodily autonomy, and not being coerced or cajoled into having unwanted sex or other physical contact. The value of sovereignty is particularly important in Druidry.
Paganism is a life-affirming religion, and most Pagans view the physical world as sacred. Pagan values flow from that and embrace it. Pagans do not usually regard spirit as more important or more valuable than matter. Most Pagans view matter as entwined with spirit, or perhaps as a denser form of spirit.
There are many different values embraced by Pagans, but the ones described above seem to be the most widespread. Have I missed any? Let me know in the comments.
- The eight Wiccan Virtues on Beliefnet
- The Nine Noble Virtues of Heathenry on Wikipedia
- The Charge of the Goddess, by Doreen Valiente
- The Pagan Values Project, which explores Pagan values in depth
- The Roman Virtues (Nova Roma)
- The difference between values and virtues
- Virtue ethics (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy)
Pagan theology is non-dogmatic, experiential, and descriptive. Usually people have an experience or perform a ritual, and then develop a theory to explain the experience. Quite often, Pagans will deny that this is theology – but to my mind, theology is any theory to explain the relationship of humans with the numinous.The term theology was coined by the pagan philosopher Cicero in 49 CE, in his work of pagan apologetics, De Natura Deorum (‘On the Nature of the Gods’).
You are ‘doing theology’ whenever you explain how magic works, describe what you think a deity is, talk about the soul, or what happens after death. You are ‘doing theology’ when you wonder why bad things happen to good people.
Theology – and Pagan conversation in general – tends to confuse a lot of people because it involves specialised terminology. Here are some of the most common terms used in Pagan theology, with a short explanation. You can find out more information on all these terms by looking them up on Wikipedia.
- Animism – the idea that everything (trees, rocks, animals, etc) has a spirit or a soul
- Apologetics – the process of explaining your religion to other people (not apologising for its existence!)
- Dogma – theology codified as a compulsory set of beliefs, such as a creed
- Duotheism – the idea that there are two deities, a god and a goddess (sometimes expressed as “all the gods are one God, and all the goddesses are one Goddess”)
- Henotheism – the view that there may be many deities, but the henotheist worships only one of them
- Immanent – intertwined with or present in matter. Pagan deities, spirits of place, genii loci, land wights, etc are usually regarded as immanent
- Land wights (Landvættir) – a term used by Heathens to describe the powers and spirits of the land, who may protect whole countries, or smaller regions.
- Monism – the idea that there is a single underlying unity of everything – spirit and matter
- Monotheism – the idea that there is only one deity, who is often, but not always, seen as transcendent.
- Naturalism – the idea that there is nothing beyond Nature, and usually, no spirit(s) within Nature either.
- Numinous – the power or presence or realisation of divinity; the experience of the supernatural or the preternatural
- Orthodoxy – a religion that emphasises that all its practitioners should believe the same set of ideas is orthodox
- Orthopraxy – a religion that emphasises that all its practitioners perform the same or similar rituals is orthopractic
- Pantheism – the idea that deity (usually a single deity) is present in Nature, or in the universe.
- Pantheon – a group of deities worshipped by a specific culture (e.g. the Greek pantheon, the Roman pantheon, the Norse pantheon, the Hindu pantheon)
- Polytheism – the idea that there are many deities
- Prayer – having a conversation with, or communing wordlessly with, a deity or spirit
- Preternatural – a term suggested by Michael York to describe the experience of immanent spirits and deities
- Spirits of place – spirits of trees, rocks, and specific places, often guardians or protectors of the place (Latin: genii loci)
- Supernatural – the idea that spirits and deities are transcendent and exist outside of nature
- Theology – a set of theories about the gods and our relationship with them (not necessarily dogmatic, as many different theologies can co-exist peacefully in non-dogmatic religions)
- Transcendent – existing above or beyond something
- Epistemologically transcendent – the experience of something beyond the ego, such as the sense of being swept away in a crowd.
- Ontologically transcendent – existing beyond matter (usually referred to simply as ‘transcendent’)
- Worship – A ritualized expression of respect and honour – offered to anything or anyone that you respect and honour.
- Pagan Theology: Recommended Resources, by Christine Hoff Kraemer
- Seeking the Mystery: An Introduction to Pagan Theologies, by Christine Hoff Kraemer
- Three Legs on the Pagan Cauldron, or Must Pagans Be Polytheists? by Christine Hoff Kraemer
- What is theology? by Yvonne Aburrow
- The Three (or more?) “Centers” of Paganism, by John Halstead
- The Four Centers of Paganism, by John Beckett
- To Worship the Gods, by Ian Corrigan
Wicca is both a religion and a magical practice. Wiccans interact with the world on many levels – physical, spiritual, magical and emotional. Witchcraft is the craft of magic.
Wicca and Witchcraft overlap – all Wiccans are also witches, but not all witches are Wiccans. But the practice of witchcraft (in the sense of doing spells and so on) is only part of the practice of Wicca.
Initiatory Wicca (known in the USA as “British Traditional Wicca”) is essentially an esoteric mystery religion in which every practitioner is a priestess or priest.
A mystery religion is one in which the dramas of the psyche are enacted by and for the benefit of its initiates, but because these mysteries often involve non-verbal concepts, they cannot be communicated. Also, some material is oathbound (initiates are forbidden to disclose it to non-initiates). This is not because we want to keep these mysteries to ourselves, but because you need the ceremony of initiation to prepare you to encounter the mysteries.
There are three degrees of initiation in Wicca. After the first degree initiation, the initiate is responsible for their own spiritual development; in some groups, the period between first and second is where the new initiate is helped to develop their spirituality by their Coven and High Priestess and High Priest; after the second, they may take on responsibility for assisting others’ development; after the third, their psyche is fully integrated with itself. (The third degree is generally regarded as a personal step in British Gardnerian Wicca, not something that is required in order to be able to run a coven.)
Initiatory Wicca has many variants (Gardnerian, Alexandrian, and offshoots of these) but all share an adherence to a similar ritual structure and the practice of initiation.
Early modern Wicca was inspired by the general interest in the early 20th century in ancient paganisms, esoteric orders of the 19th century, and a strong interest in nature and magical realms. It appears that the basic structure of modern Wicca was devised by two women in the Bournemouth area in the mid-1920s. They passed this on to Gerald Gardner via Dafo. Gardner genuinely believed that he had found an ancient practice which could be traced back centuries, possibly even millennia. There were, however, other covens practising in other parts of Britain, but little is known about these other than that they existed, and most claims that traditional and hereditary Craft existed before Gardner have not been proven – but nor have they been disproved.
Gardner eventually published a novel, High Magic’s Aid (a fictional account of medieval witchcraft) and Witchcraft Today, an account of the witches that he had encountered.
Many people joined Gardner’s early covens, including Doreen Valiente, who added quite a lot of new material into Gardner’s Book of Shadows. Each new person added more material.
The modern Craft both draws upon its roots in the Western Mystery Tradition, and looks to traditional forms of folk magic, folklore, and the pagan traditions of the British Isles for inspiration. The structure of rituals remains reasonably constant, but the content varies quite a lot according to the inclinations and tastes of individual covens. Only initiations remain fairly standard, in order to ensure that they will be recognised across the whole Craft.
Gods and other beings
Wicca encompasses a variety of beliefs:
- A belief in many gods and goddesses, spirits of place, nature and elemental spirits (polytheism)
- A belief that “all the gods are one God and all the Goddesses are one Goddess” (duotheism)
- A belief that there is no duality of good versus evil (monism)
- Devotion to a specific deity (henotheism)
- Belief that there is only one deity, usually the Goddess or the Great Spirit (monotheism)
- A belief that everything has a soul, including trees, rocks, animals, birds, places (animism)
- A belief that the divine is immanent or manifest in the physical world (pantheism)
- A combination of one or more of the above
Fortunately it is possible to accommodate all these different views within Wicca because of the autonomy of covens and the diversity in unity of Wiccan practice.
Most Wiccans gather in covens. Most covens have a High Priestess and High Priest, but the extent to which these are leaders in the generally-accepted sense of the word varies from one coven to another. Their role is more like that of a facilitator or mentor; their aim is to empower their coveners to develop as priestesses and priests in their own right, passing on their experience and knowledge to their coveners, and usually learning from them in the process. Covens are autonomous, but as their founders will have been trained in another coven, they usually maintain contact with their previous High Priestess and sometimes seek guidance from her. The maximum size of a coven is usually limited by the size of the room where they meet.
Most coven members will also practice on their own (either a full ritual or meditation and visualisation), and sometimes will become solitary for a time if they move to another part of the country and cannot find a compatible coven or simply because that is what they wish to do at the time.
Solitary Wicca is also practised by non-initiates, either because they do not want to join a coven or cannot find a compatible one. Solitaries sometimes perform a self-dedication or self-initiation ritual.
The structure of a ritual
The basic structure of a ritual is similar to that of a story. It has a beginning (the opening of the circle), a middle (the purpose for which the ritual is being conducted be it celebratory or magical) and an end (the closing of the circle).
Wicca is practised in a sacred circle, and most rituals have a structure broadly based upon the Western Mystery Tradition. This involves consecrating the space, orienting it to sacred geometry, raising some power, performing the ritual, sharing consecrated food and drink, and then closing the circle and bidding farewell to the beings and powers that have been called upon. Coveners usually bring a contribution to the feast.
Wiccans celebrate eight festivals and the thirteen Full Moons of the year. They will sometimes meet on other festivals and other phases of the Moon.
The eight festivals are Samhain or Hallowe’en (31st October); Yule (21st December); Imbolc (2nd February); Spring Equinox (21st March); Beltane (1st May); Midsummer or Litha (21st June); Lammas or Lughnasadh (1st August); and Autumn Equinox (21st September). The dates, practice and meaning of these vary according to where the coven is located, when particular plants actually come out, and the local traditions where the coven members live. Some covens celebrate on the nearest weekend to the actual festival. Some writers have tried to fit the festivals to the story of the interaction between “The God” and “The Goddess”.
It is now generally recognised that the eight festivals were not all celebrated by the same culture (in spite of wild claims made on some web sites), and some of them are retro-engineered Christian festivals, but this is in keeping with the nature of Wiccan practice. Whatever the origins of the festivals, they have now taken on a life of their own, and could be considered a valid development of pagan tradition, provided that we do not make spurious claims for their antiquity.
While the Solstices and Equinoxes are fixed points governed by the movements of specific movements of the Sun and Moon, the other four, Imbolc, Beltane, Lammas and Samhain are moveable and relate to the passing of the seasons as they display themselves wherever the practitioner happens to be geographically.
In the Southern Hemisphere, the equinoxes and solstices are reversed, so the winter solstice is in June, and so on.
Most Wiccans practice magic for healing and other ethical results. The intention behind the working of magic is not to impose our will on the universe, but to bend the currents of possibility somewhat to bring about a desired outcome. Magic is generally practised at Full Moons rather than major festivals.
The Wiccan attitude to ethics is mainly based on the Wiccan Rede, “An it harm none, do what thou wilt”. However, it is significant that this injunction occurs as part of the first degree initiation, and was probably originally meant to show the new initiate that it is impossible to do anything without causing some harm, so it is necessary to consider carefully the consequences of one’s actions. The other famous (and often misquoted) injunction occurs at the second degree, and is generally known as the Law of Threefold Return. The actual text enjoins the initiate to return good threefold wherever s/he receives it. To my mind, the most important aspect of Wiccan ethics is the list of the eight virtues which occurs in The Charge of the Goddess. These are beauty and strength, power and compassion, mirth and reverence, honour and humility. Each of these pairs of virtues points to the need for balance.
- Wicca: an introduction – John Macintyre
- Inclusive Wicca – Yvonne Aburrow
- Aspects of Initiation – Yvonne Aburrow
- Mystery Religions: the what and why – Sarah Howe
- Witches in history – Yvonne Aburrow