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Paganism FAQ

Q: Doesn’t "Pagan" mean irreligious or heathen? 

A: No. The word "Pagan" comes from the Latin Paganus, meaning peasant or country dweller. As a religious term, it is correctly used by anthropologists to designate indigenous folk religions of particular regions and peoples, and by classical scholars to refer to the great ancient pre-Christian civilizations of the Mediterranean area (as in the phrase, "Pagan splendor," often used in reference to Classical Greece.)

To the Romans, "Pagan" denoted a "hick," one who was not part of the dominant, privileged, roman society (just as they used the

term "barbarians" to describe foreigners who spoke no Latin). The derogatory quality of the term comes from Roman Christian classism. Thus, from the Christian point of view, all traditional native tribal religions have been considered Pagan, such as those of the American Indians, Polynesians, Africans, Norse, Celts, Gauls, Australian Aborigines, Hindus, etc.

"Heathen" refers to the people who lived on the heaths (where the heather grew), as in the British Isles. Since such people were usually Pagans, especially in being unsophisticated, not part of the dominant, urban, privileged culture, the two terms became synonymous as far as Christians were concerned.


Q: What is a Heathen?

The word heathen is derived from the Gothic language where it is first documented in the fourth-century translation of Mark, Chapter 5 in the Gothic Bible which is attributed to Wulfila (L. Ulfilas), the Bishop of the Goths.  The word was likely derived from the Proto-Germanic *haithana which is of uncertain origin.  The Old English hæðen, is defined as a noun meaning a person who was of a race or nation that did not acknowledge the God of the Bible and in particular the invading Danes.  The term is used subsequently in other Germanic and Old Norse documents and laws against the pre-Christian indigenous religious traditions and practices. In modern Paganism, it is used by those who follow Old Norse or Germanic based spiritual practices to describe their faith.

Ásatrú FAQ 


Q: Weren't the Nazis "Neo-Pagans"?

A: We must comment upon the document published by the International  Theological Commission entitled "MEMORY AND RECONCILIATION: THE CHURCH AND  THE FAULTS OF THE PAST." Specifically, we are concerned with the following  statement therein: "The Shoah was certainly the result of the pagan ideology  that was Nazism, animated by a merciless anti-Semitism that not only despised  the faith of the Jewish people, but also denied their very human dignity."

Born in 1889 in Austria, Hitler would have been brought up in the Roman Catholic faith (as many contemporary Pagans were) but by the time he got into politics he had long since lost any interest in it. The basis of his antisemitic policy was an ideology called "Ariosophy" derived from Blavatsky’s Theosophy, in which she wrote about "root races". The inventor of Ariosophy, an Austrian called Liebenfels, maintained that the "Aryans” i.e., Indo-Europeans, were a superior race that was in danger of being corrupted by miscegenation with inferior races, notably the Jews. The Holocaust was thus a depraved form of eugenics.

While there was a lot of antisemitism in the Austrian-Hungarian Empire of 100 years, it was a prejudice against the Jewish religion, and indeed against all non-Catholic religions. When Jews converted to Roman Catholicism - as the composer Mahler did - they were fully accepted. But because of the Ariosophic emphasis on genetics, the Nazis persecuted even Jews who had converted to Christianity: the conversion hadn't affected their racial genes.

Hitler and most of the Nazis were anti-Christian. In many Catholic parts of Germany, it is the custom to have tall crosses in the entrance to the school. In 1942 some Gauleiters (provincial governors) attempted to have these crosses taken down, but desisted when the local people started rioting.

Hitler had no interest in the old Germanic gods. It was Himmler, the head of the SS, who wanted to bring back Odin as German national god, which Hitler found rather ridiculous. "Those gods were losers since they lost out to the Christian God. Why worship losers?" he is said to have remarked. However, he had no strong feelings on the matter and let Himmler indulge his Germanic mysticism. It was at Himmler's instigation that the inner core of the SS was initiated in an old mediaeval castle above the Rhine in a very heavy mystical atmosphere.

One cannot equate any Pagan ideology with Nazism. The essentials of Nazi anti-Semitism are rooted in Christian culture, which cast the Jews as diabolical destroyers and scapegoats for all social evils. Certainly, Adolph Hitler co-opted many types of dialogue and symbolism for his own ends. If the Nazi Socialist movement and its party drew upon any ancient Germanic Pagan ideology, it was eventually perverted by the Nazi party to such an extent as to be unrecognizable and not consistent with any modern Pagan  ideology extant at this time.


Q: What is Paganism today? 

A: Paganism is, quite simply, Nature worship. It is also called "The Old Religion," "Ancient Ways," "Earth-Centered Spirituality," "Natural Religion," and "Nature-Based Religion."

The early Christians, most of whom lived in cities, adopted the Roman word "Pagan" to refer to persons living in outlying areas who had not converted to Christianity. Paganism was pre-Christian. Over time the term came to be used to describe any non-Judeo-Christian religious minority, often in a negative way.

Today, the word "Pagan," in its broadest sense, refers to persons following alternative spiritual paths, and who probably do not strictly adhere to the tenets of the world’s largest religions, such as Hinduism, Islam, Buddhism, Judaism, and Christianity. Most modern Pagans feel a close connection to nature and the seasons, and may look to early "Pagan" or indigenous cultures for guidance in strengthening this connection.

Modern Paganism (sometimes referred to as "Neo-Paganism" to distinguish it from original and indigenous pre-Christian folk traditions) is a revival and reconstruction of ancient Nature-based religions, adapted for the modern world. Paganism is an umbrella term denoting a collection of natural religions of the living Earth. Pagans generally view humanity as a functional organ within the greater organism of all Life, rather than as something special, created separate and "above" the rest of the natural world. Pagans seek not to conquer Nature, but to harmonize and integrate with Her. Paganism should be regarded as "Green Religion," just as we have "Green Politics" and "Green Economics."

Examples of Pagan traditions today include Wicca, Druidism, Church of All Worlds, Norse, indigenous African and Afro-Caribbean, ancient Egyptian, classical Greek, Celtic, Cabbalism, Shamanism, Eclecticism, Judeo-Pagans, Hindu-Pagans, Christo-Pagans, and all indigenous Earth-centered paths.


Q: What is our actual connection to the Pagans and accused Witches who were persecuted centuries ago by the Inquisition?

A: These are our spiritual ancestors, and, in many cases, our physical ancestors as well. The victims were identified at the time, by the Inquisition itself, as Witches and Pagans. Most modern Christians -- especially those converted in recent centuries among Africans, Asians, Native Americans, Polynesians, etc. -- could hardly be said to have any direct connection with the Medieval Roman Catholic Church. But if they can call themselves "Christian" simply because they identify with that heritage, then so may we consider ourselves Pagan. And probably with better cause. After all, originally ALL our ancestors were Pagan; even those who later converted to Christianity. Some of us just decided to convert back, even centuries later.

"Dominating the minds of witch-hunters in the time of the great persecutions in Europe was the belief that it was the duty of Christians to rescue heretics and pagans from the hideous fate which awaited them after death. Long before, St. Augustine had stated his conviction that ‘not only every pagan but that every Jew, heretic and schismatic will go to the eternal fire...unless before the end of his life he be reconciled and restored to the Catholic Church.’ The outcome of this attitude was the imposition of a veritable hell on earth upon thousands of human beings with the object of saving them from the terrors of hell in the next world."

(Eric Maple, "Bamberg Witches," Man, Myth & Magic: An Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Supernatural, Marshall Cavendish Corp., New York, (1970); p.211)


Q: What do Pagans believe?

A: Just as there is a wide variety of Pagan traditions, so there is variety in Pagan beliefs. The beliefs listed here are those held by many Pagan groups:

• Pagans believe that all life--human and non-human, animate and inanimate--is an expression of the universal/divine mind or energy, a part of which is contained in everything.

• Pagans believe that all things are interconnected and interdependent, both ecologically and spiritually. Communication and cooperation among all elements of the material and spiritual world is possible.

• Pagans believe diversity of religious expression is a part of human nature and a positive outlet for our natural urge to connect with the universe. Pagans encourage the questioning and exploration of god-images, worship forms, rituals, celebrations, and ethics; and for the most part hold creeds and dogmas to be unnecessary for spiritual growth.

• Pagans believe that a variety of views on the nature of Deity is a part of the diversity of religious expression. Pagans may image Deity as it suits their personality, level of growth, and understanding, even to the inclusion of atheism and agnosticism. Some Pagans believe in deities as conscious, self-aware Beings which may be male or female; some view deities as numinous, archetypal, or elemental Energies. Many Pagans personify their images of Deity to make them more easily understood and explored. Most Pagans have strong personal relationships with their concepts of Deity, and strive to work in cooperation with them daily.

• Pagans believe that all life is inherently good and oriented toward its own greatest growth, potential, and fulfillment. Evil is viewed as destructive behavior, not a state of being.

• Pagans believe that since the nature of creation is good, salvation is unnecessary. Many Pagans believe in the Wiccan ethic: "If it harms none, do what you will." This ethic may appear simplistic, but it is quite challenging to live. Although Pagan ethics seem to bring a high degree of freedom, they actually bring great responsibilities. In addition, many Pagans believe they will be held personally responsible for their choices in some fashion, either in this life, in an after-life, or in a reincarnation.

• Pagans are encouraged to explore and test every idea they encounter, and to accept an idea as their own only if validated by personal experience. Pagan religious worship focuses on the experiential and utilizes singing, dance, movement, drumming, energy work, and healing.

Paganism is not a "revealed" religion, like Christianity, Buddhism or Islam, based on the revelations and teachings of a founding prophet. Paganism is a tribal religion, like those of the Native Americans, and even the Jews. In a revealed religion, membership in the religious community is usually defined by believing in the teachings, or scriptures. In a tribal religion, membership is determined by one’s participation in the community, and belief is more a matter of personal conviction.


For interviews with modern Pagan leaders and their beliefs please see Hopman, Ellen Evert and Lawrence Bond “Being a Pagan – Druids, Witches and Wiccans Today”


Q: Do Pagans believe in God?

A: The answer depends entirely upon the individual Pagan and the particular spiritual tradition or path which that Pagan has chosen. Paganism, unlike some religions, does not prescribe what its members should believe about Deity. Pagans are free to experience Deity according to their personality, level of growth, and understanding. A person attending a Pagan gathering will encounter a variety of philosophies and beliefs among those present. This diversity is welcomed and respected.

One notable difference between Paganism and some other religions is that Pagans accept the use of feminine images of Divinity. Wicca is one such example. This Pagan path identifies two primary deities, the God and the Goddess, who are seen as embodying all the qualities of gender, polarity, opposition, cooperation, and creativity in the universe.


Q: How do Pagans conceptualize Divinity?

A: "The Divine" is a term that has been used by some Pagans to refer to what is known in other religions as "God" (Christianity, Judaism), "Allah" (Islam), "Tao" (Taoism), and "Great Spirit" (some Native American religions). In many Pagan traditions, The Divine is viewed as immanent (indwelling), and in others, as transcendent (beyond the limits of humanness). Some traditions have a Panentheistic view that includes both immanence and transcendence. In Pagan traditions that include a view of The Divine as Great Unity, spiritual philosophy can be said to have a Monotheistic dimension. In Pagan traditions that include a view of The Divine as multifaceted, spiritual philosophy may be termed Polytheistic. Some Pagan traditions include both polytheistic and monotheistic dimensions, often honoring The Divine as both Mother Goddess and Father God, as well as Their Unity.

In addition, The Goddess and The God can have many sacred forms or aspects, depending on Pagan tradition, group, and practitioner. The Divine is often acknowledged as manifest through the Elements of Nature (for example, Earth, Air, Fire, Water, Spirit). And, as with most other Nature religions, many forms of Pagan spiritual philosophy are Animistic, in that The Divine takes the form of an honored spiritual dimension not only within living humans, but within ancestors, animals, plants, places, and all things.


Q: Don’t Pagans worship the Devil?

A: Absolutely not! "The Devil" is a specifically Christian concept, and no one outside of Judaism, Christianity or Islam recognizes him at all, much less worships him. Modern Pagans abhor coercive and manipulative acts, such as those ascribed to Satanists in the popular imagination. Indeed, the very notion of a supreme "God of Evil" is entirely peculiar to Jahvistic monotheism, and utterly alien to most Pagan theology (though it is largely derived from the dualism of Persian Zoroastrianism, wherein Ahura-Mazda, the Lord of Light, was opposed to Ahriman, the Lord of Darkness).

The popular confusion arose as a result of the 1486 publication of the Malleus Malificarum ("Hammer of the Witches"), by Dominicans Kramer and Sprenger, wherein they gave the first physical description of the Devil as he is commonly depicted today, based on a demonization of the Greek horned god, Pan. As Pan and other horned gods, such as the star-horned Cernunnos and Herne, were popular deities of the hunt and the animal kingdom, and widely worshipped by European Pagans, Kramer and Sprenger’s equation of that imagery with the Christian’s Satan was used by the Inquisition and others to justify the centuries of terrible persecution inflicted upon those who clung faithfully to their worship of the old gods.

"Satan" of the Old Testament was never described by such imagery, but was rather referred to as a fallen angel, a serpent, or a dragon. The word Satan is merely Hebrew for "adversary," and is related to the Egyptian Set and the Roman Saturn. The word "devil," interestingly enough, is Sanskrit in origin, and means "little god." The root word, devi, is also the root of our words "divine" and "divinity."


Q: So who do Pagans worship?

A: Paganism as a religion is remarkable for its tolerance and wide diversity of belief and practice. Some Pagans are polytheist, honoring pantheons of divinities from cultures as widely separated as Western Europe and Africa. Some worship a Goddess and a God and still others honor Great Nature and the elements as the originators and sustainers of sacred creation. There is no one sacred text that Pagans are expected to adhere to, no central dogma. Pagans are regarded as free to create their own ceremonies, sometimes using poetic inspiration, sometimes drawing upon ancient traditions and themes.

The deity most widely revered by Pagans throughout the world is the Goddess: Mother Earth. She is called by many names in many cultures, such as Hertha, Terra, Pachamama, and the familiar Greek name, Gaia or Gaea (the root of Geology and Geography). In a greater expansion of Her identity, She is Mother Nature, the All-Mother, the Great Mother, the "Mother of All Mothers;" and we, the animals and plants, and the Gods themselves, are all Her children.

But most Pagans are polytheists, not monotheists. Each Pagan pantheon includes numerous greater and lesser gods and goddesses, related to all aspects of existence. Most Pagans honor a balance of male and female divinities, paying homage to both the female and male aspects of the Divine. Some Pagans today feel that they do not exactly "worship" these deities per se, but rather honor and work with them; "worship" as such being directed more toward the "Living Cosmos" or "Whole."


Q: Where do Pagans see Deity?

A: Although there are many answers to this question, Pagans tend to fall within three major groups. The first group believes that Deity is transcendent. This means that Deity is viewed as separate from creation by its nature. One might say that to a person with this belief, Deity is wholly Other.

The second group believes that Deity is imminent ("pantheism"). This means that Deity is viewed as being within all things in one manner or another. One might say that to a person with this belief, Deity is wholly Permeating.

The third group believes that Deity is a mixture of the first two. Deity is viewed as permeating all things in some manner, while still retaining characteristics of a separate Being. The term "panentheism," used by the Christian author, Matthew Fox, would accurately describe this view.


Q: How do Pagans worship?

A: Pagans, like persons of other faiths, gather for times of worship. Most Pagans view worship as a time of connection and interaction between themselves, their concepts of Deity, and the material and spiritual world. This interaction is possible because most Pagans believe that all things are interconnected and interdependent. Emphasizing this continuity, most Pagan worship services take place in a circle.

Pagan worship tends to be experiential. This means that Pagan worship emphasizes the involvement of the participants, and can include singing, dancing, movement, drumming, energy work, meditation and healing. Since the Pagan movement in general does not promote any one dogma, many view Paganism as a religion that emphasizes experience. Pagans are encouraged to explore and test the ideas they encounter, and to adopt ideas or beliefs as their own only when validated by personal experience. Such experience helps Pagans achieve personal and spiritual growth. Pagans, therefore, design their times of worship--which may be called circles or rituals--to foster their growth through a variety of religious experience.

Pagan worship is also intended to promote spiritual maturity. Many Pagans believe that all life, including humanity, is naturally propelled toward its greatest growth, potential and fulfillment. This natural urge needs attention and care. When properly cultivated, it leads to a development of conscience, ethics, and personal responsibility -- which are vital for true spiritual maturity.


Q: When do Pagans worship?

A: Many religions establish their yearly observances around the historical actions of prophets, holy men or women, or miraculous acts. In contrast, the Pagan liturgical year follows the seasonal cycle of the Earth, often referred to as "The Wheel of the Year." This seasonal round is commemorated by eight great festivals (called "Esbats" in Witchcraft). In the northern hemisphere, these include Spring Equinox (Ostara) (March 21), Summer Solstice (Litha) (June 21), Fall Equinox (Mabon) (September 21), and Winter Solstice (Yule) (December 21). These are known as the "quarter points." The "cross-quarters" are the dates that fall directly between each of the quarter points. These are Imbolc (February 2), Beltane (May 1), Lughnasadh (August 1), and Samhain (October 31). In the Southern hemisphere, many Pagans reverse these dates.

In addition to the Solar-based Wheel of the Year, many Pagans (especially Witches) also follow the Lunar cycles, gathering for "Sabbats" at the full Moons, and sometimes also at the dark of the Moon. Other Pagan festivals and holidays dedicated to various deities and Mysteries (such as the Eleusinia) may also be celebrated in various traditions, and at various times.

Each Pagan tradition, and each group or circle within a tradition, observes Pagan holidays in its own fashion. Some traditions provide detailed instructions and forms for worship, while others do not.


Q: Where do Pagans worship?

A: Pagans may worship in their homes, in nature, or in churches, although Pagan worship is not limited to specific times or places. Any moment or activity can be an opportunity for worship.

Some Pagan groups have formally organized into churches which are recognized by the Internal Revenue Service as tax-exempt organizations. Certain Pagan traditions have been recognized by the United States Military, and Federal case law specifically affords Wiccans and other Pagans First Amendment Constitutional status and protection.


Q: What are the Pagan sacraments?

A: A "sacrament’ is something regarded as holy, or sacred. Ordinary acts or substances may be elevated to the status of Sacraments in a ritual context, thereby becoming gateways into a greater awareness of the beauty and power of the Cosmos and our part in it. Sacraments may be grouped into three categories: Actions, Rituals and Substances.

Life passages, called "Rites of Passage," ritually mark significant periods in life, movements between life-stages, and personal transformations. They are a public acknowledgment and recognition of growth. Just as the seasons pass in order, so do the stages of life. The inner and outer worlds mirror each other, so Rites of Passage provide a further link with the Earth and the Cosmos. Rites of Passage include coming of age, marriage or handfasting, pregnancy and birth, welcoming of new members to the community, dedications to a path or course of study, ordination, croning and saging (passage into elderhood), handpartings, and death.


Q: Who are the Witches?

A: The spiritual leaders in traditional Pagan tribal cultures are the shamans, or medicine men and women, who are both gifted and learned in talents and skills of augury, herbalism, hypnosis, psychic work and sorcery. They are the village teachers, magicians, spirit guides, healers and midwives. Among some of the Celtic tribes of Western Europe, such shamans were known as Wicce—an Anglo-Saxon word meaning "shaper"—from which we derive our present term "Witch."

During the centuries of persecution at the hands of the Inquisition and others, many of these shamans were martyred, along with many people in the communities they served. The recent revival of Witchcraft (often called simply "the Craft") can be mostly attributed to Gerald Gardner, a British Witch who became public after the repeal of the British anti-Witchcraft laws in 1954. One of Gardner’s initiates, Doreen Valiente, created beautiful liturgy, including the beloved "Charge of the Goddess," which states: "If that which you seek you find not within you, you will never find it without. For behold, I have been with you from the beginning, and I am that which is attained at the end of desire."

Modern Witchcraft is based on scholarly reconstruction, imagination, and some inherited traditions. Thus Witchcraft is now emerging as a distinct religion and way of life for entire religious communities as well as the solitary practitioner. Today, the Craft in many diverse traditions is a flourishing Neo-Pagan religion.


For detailed interviews with modern Witches and historical references, please see;

Hopman, Ellen Evert “The Real Witches of New England – History, Lore & Modern Practice” 


Q: What is the relationship between Paganism and Witchcraft?

A: Witches are a subset within the larger category of Pagans. Just as all Catholics are Christian, but not all Christians are Catholic, so most Witches are Pagan, but not all Pagans are Witches!


Q: Who are the Druids?

A: Druids were the priests/intelligentsia of some of the pre-Christian Celtic peoples. Modern Druids honor the traditions, religion, culture and history of the Celts and other Indo-Europeans, seeking through scholarship and poetic inspiration to revive the ancient spiritual practices and languages of those peoples. Modern Druids, like the ancient Druids before them, may be women or men. In keeping with the beliefs of the ancestors Modern Druids regard fire and water as the sacred building blocks of creation. They honor trees as sacred along with stones, animals, birds, plants, and the unseen spirits of the Otherworld. Most Druids are polytheists, honoring the pantheons of Celtic and other Indo-European cultures. In common with Witches and other Neo-Pagans, most Modern Druids celebrate the Solstices, Equinoxes and Cross Quarters with ceremony and feasting; though a Celtic Reconstructionist Druid would likely only celebrate the cross-quarters.


For an example of modern Druid Orders please see

Druids - moving forward, remembering the past 

No, the Druids weren’t all old men with beards, ancient evidence for female Druids; 



Q: What is Paganism’s role in modern society?

A: To heal alienation and restore balance among all the heretofore competing aspects of our lives: work, family, spirit, play; mind, body, spirit; humans and the natural world, etc. Thus shall we save the Earth, and ourselves as well. This is, after all, what religion is supposed to do, isn’t it?


Q: Is modern Paganism part of the New Age movement?

A: The term "New Age" is used in many varying ways to cover a wide range of spiritual practices, new religions, and philosophies. In the regard to a new movement toward a renewed respect and care for the Earth and environment; an increased awareness of one’s psychic skills, yes. However, that is where the similarity ends. That vast compendium of the New Age, The Aquarian Conspiracy, by Marilyn Ferguson, (1980), lists hundreds of "New Age" organizations – and there is not a single Pagan group among them.

The New Age community derives much of its inspiration from Eastern mystical traditions, such as Hinduism and Buddhism – which place a great emphasis on aestheticism, celibacy, monastic living, meditation and a rejection of materiality. Pagans tend to derive their inspiration from Western customs, folklore, mythology and traditions. While the New Age community often seeks purpose and direction from "above," that is, Ascended Masters and the world of Spirit, Pagans tend to find their inspiration in the Earth and the coexistence of the Spiritual and the Physical.

Perhaps a more useful discussion would be to what extent Paganism is old religion vs. new religion. Many "new religious movements" tend to center around the teachings of a prophet or central teacher. Paganism goes beyond the teaching of any one leader, and it tends to be Nature-centered rather than teacher-centered, as well as rooted in folkways that pre-date the 20th century.

Now that shamanism, Goddess spirituality, Celtic folkways, and some Western forms of Nature religions and spiritual philosophies have become trendy in New Age circles, there are indeed New Age practitioners and groups who now draw inspiration from Pagan ways, in addition to or instead of Eastern religions, Christian spiritualism, and other paths.


Q: Just how many people are practicing Paganism and/or Witchcraft today?

A: Estimates of the number of Neo-Pagans in the US range from 500,000 to several million. As the movement has no central authority, accurate estimates are difficult to make. Rev. J. Gordon Melton of the Institute for the Study of American Religion (Santa Barbara) has studied modern Paganism and terms it one of the fastest-growing religious movements in modern times. All leaders and groups within the Pagan movement report growth is meteoric, with demand for teachers, resources, and festivals often outstripping supply. A 1998 Gallop Poll of American teenagers revealed that 17% indicated "an interest in Witchcraft."

Based on their own mailing list, the Wiccan/Pagan Press Alliance estimates about 600,000 Pagans in the US. The Military Pagan Network says there are about 10,000 Pagans in the US Armed Forces. The Unitarian-Universalist Church has 19% of their members (100,000) identifying as practitioners of "Earth-based spirituality."

Rev. Wren Walker of The Witches Voice ( Web site in Clearwater, Fla. says the ranks are swelling: "My estimate is one million (Witches) in the United States."

Llewellyn Publishing, based in Minnesota, is the largest publisher of Neo-Pagan books. They currently publish over 400 titles, with an average print run of 47,000 copies. Based on sales of such books, major chain bookstores such as B. Dalton estimate 4-6 million Pagan customers in the US.

Witchcraft and Paganism have been identified by surveys and censuses as the fastest-growing religious movement in Australia and Great Britain as well as the US. In 1990 there were 5,000 practicing British Pagans; now, according to a recent study by Newcastle University, there are 100,000—outnumbering Britain's 80,000 Buddhists. The Australian National Census of August 1996 indicated a total of roughly 12,000 Pagans.


Q: The Inquisition happened a long time ago. Why is this relevant to modern Pagans?

A: Western Civilization is still scarred by the Inquisition's legacy of  cultural repression by fire and iron. The torture-trials of the Burning  Terror have never been acknowledged as a force in massively reshaping  European culture and that of the lands it colonized. There is a long way to  go in restoring full religious rights to Pagans and indigenous religions.  The claim that Pagans are devil-worshippers originated in the  witch-inquisitions. Today we face the hatred and fear of misinformed people  who still believe the diabolist propaganda-including accusations that witches  murder babies in satanic rites-spread by Christian demonologists hundreds of  years ago. These ideas are still around today. But we say, Never Again the Burning!

Healing of an evil of this magnitude can only begin with public acknowledgment and apology, which is what we are asking for from the Vatican.  We hope that the Roman Catholic Church will admit its share of responsibility for this horrific legacy, which continues to cause suffering among contemporary Pagans, including discrimination and loss of jobs, homes and children. In some regions of the US, Pagans have received death threats, and many remain secret out of fear for their safety if their religion becomes known in their communities. All this is due to prejudices based on malicious Christian propaganda about Pagans and Witches; our beliefs and our practices.


Q: How many Witches were actually burned at the stake or otherwise killed by the Inquisition?

A: Nobody knows for sure, as documentation is often incomplete or missing.  Estimates run from as low as 20,000 victims, up to hundreds of thousands, for the period between 1450 and 1700. Many Italian cities where inquisitors were active have missing records, or no records at all. In France, entire archives were burned at the beginning of the 18th century. Savoyard officials hung the trial transcript around the neck of the person being burned at the stake. The records of the papal Inquisition were carried off by Napoleon.  Some later showed up in Dublin, but there's no way of telling what might be missing.

Also, trial records make it difficult distinguish between actual Witches (who practiced pagan arts) and Christians accused of "witchcraft" (which the witch-hunters defined as devil-worship and harmful magic). Torture forced both groups to repeat the same false stories of sex with devils, harmful sorcery and baby-killing. In addition to those burned, accused witches in various times and places also faced drowning, lynching, branding, fines, exile, imprisonment, forced labor, confiscation of property, vandalism, shunning, and beatings or slashings. Even those who were eventually acquitted first had to withstand terrible torture.


Q: What do most Pagans have in common regardless of their tradition?

A: We’re all children of the same Mother. Most of us work in a Circle, call upon the four directions as Elemental forces (Air, Fire, Water and Earth), and celebrate a seasonal round (the Wheel of the Year) of eight main Festivals (or Sabbats, as they are called in Witchcraft) aligned with the Solstices, Equinoxes and cross-quarters. We also tend to celebrate at the full Moon, and we’re not afraid of the dark!

Most of us regard Divinity as immanent ("Thou art God/dess") and our thealogy tends towards polytheistic pantheism (polytheism = belief in many deities; pantheism = the belief that divinity is a quality inherent in and manifesting throughout Nature). We honor and value women as Priestesses (only Pagan religions have Priestesses!). We regard sex as a sacrament, and rape in all forms as the primal "sin."

We draw our values from Nature, we regard life as sacred, and we believe in and practice Magick (probability enhancement). We are a part of a seamless whole with all of Nature, and we believe in a living cosmos, as opposed to the soulless creation of orthodox monotheism, or the inanimate clockwork of the "scientific" paradigm.

We are brought together by our innate longing for tribal community; reverence for all life; celebration of diversity; intellectual curiosity and honesty; magic; feminism; environmentalism; recognition of non-human sentience; good stories; great parties; much love; noble friends and worthy companions; splendid rituals, wondrous festivals; magnificent Priestesses and Priests.


Q: How does Paganism view the roles of male and female?

A: Female and male are the two partners in the cosmic Dance of Life. Both are essential to the creation of new life, and neither should be denigrated or subordinate to the other. There can be no Mother without a Father (at least among mammals), and there can be no Father without a Mother (even among gods). Female and male, Goddess and God, Priestess and Priest; partners and consorts, our fate intertwined like the double helix of the DNA molecule.

And incidentally, this view of equality between the sexes should not be construed to preclude all-female or all-male working groups, or same-sex lovers. These things too are part of the great Balance, and it is the Balance itself which we honor, holding neither side above or below the other.


Q: What is magic? Why is it sometimes spelled "magick"? What is the difference between "white magick" and "black magick?"

A: Some of us define Magick (often spelled with a "k" to distinguish it from stage magic, or prestidigitation) as "probability enhancement" (Anodea Judith), or coincidence control by manipulation of probabilities. Others prefer Aleister Crowley’s definition: "The ability to cause change in conformity to Will." Most agree that magick involves the manipulation of reality towards a desired end by methods that cannot be explained by the current scientific paradigm. Some consider psychic phenomena as the basis of magick. As Arthur C. Clark said: "Any sufficiently advanced science is indistinguishable from magic."

"White" and "Black" are terms seldom used by modern practitioners, as they convey an implicit dualistic racism. Rather, when colors of magick are referred to, it is in terms of a rainbow spectrum of hues for many purposes. Correspondences of colors and purposes are not absolute, however, and may vary slightly from group to group.

Magick is morally neutral, like electricity. The purpose for which it is used is determined by the ethics of the practitioner. The ethics of modern Witchcraft constrain any use of magick for malevolent purposes, as these include the Wiccan Rede ("An ye harm none, do as ye will") and the Law of Threefold Return ("Whatever you put out will return to you, multiplied by three").


Q: Do all Wiccans/Pagans/Witches practice magick?

A: Most do, in one sense or another, as this is the term we generally use to refer to our prayers, healings, blessings, and other ritual work. Pagan magickal practices run the gamut from simple "Kitchen Witch" spells and charms—mostly concerned with individual healings, blessings, transformations and other small workings; shamanic ecstatic practices used for healing and journeying; through "Circle Work" involving raising group energy for healings, community service, weather working, etc.; to larger group workings to heal and save the planet—protecting endangered forests, peoples and species, etc.


Q: What is the relationship between Earth-based religions and other religions?

A: Pagans are generally delighted to interact positively with other faith groups. Pagans participate eagerly in interfaith councils and projects, such as the Parliament of the World’s Religions meeting this December in South Africa. The Pagan community as a whole enjoys a very friendly relationship with many other religious communities, such as Hindus, Buddhists, Native Americans and Afro-Caribbeans. The only religious groups we have a problem with are those monotheistic fundamentalists who believe that it is their manifest duty to persecute and exterminate all infidels and heretics who refuse to accept their One True Right and Only Way.


Q: Can you be a Pagan and a Christian?

A: Paganism is polytheistic, honoring many gods. This extends to the pantheons and deities of all cultures, who are respected even if they are not worshipped. Thus Paganism has no problem accepting those who find beauty and meaning in the teachings and rites of Jesus, Moses, Buddha, Krishna, Confucius, Mohammed, Baha’u’llah, or any other great prophet, avatar or messiah. The difficulties in dual affiliation come from the other direction, as some other religious traditions strictly prohibit their members from worshipping other deities.


Q: What does it involve to become a Pagan?

A: Persons new to Paganism will be encouraged to explore what Deity means to them. Being Pagan means being willing to wrestle with important spiritual questions in a spirit of openness. A Pagan opens himself or herself to personal and spiritual growth through the use of meditation, prayer, study, ritual work, and other spiritual experiences. Over a period of years, Pagans may find that their beliefs change as they grow spiritually. An openness to questioning and exploring is considered by many to be vital in attaining spiritual maturity. The freedom not only to hold differing beliefs, but discuss them openly, is considered a precious and enriching part of Paganism.

Pagans know that the freedom they enjoy to search, explore, and question the meaning of God and other spiritual topics is not to be taken lightly. Pagans know that many persons throughout history, as well as recently, have suffered for their spiritual views. Religious freedom for all persons, regardless of race, sex, age, creed, or national origin is a matter of importance to Pagans.

Many believe that Paganism has a lot to offer in the advancement of religious freedom because of its inherent respect for diversity. Many Pagans are active in efforts to disseminate accurate information about alternative and minority spiritual paths, and to educate others on religious tolerance. Some of these efforts have led to the creation of civil rights organizations, such as  

Lady Liberty League  


Q: What is the meaning of the pentagram?

A-Meaning of the Pentagram

by Oberon Zell-Ravenheart

The Pentagram, or five-pointed star drawn with one unbroken line, is a favorite sign of Witches, Pagans, and magicians. Inscribed within a circle it is the most popular symbol for modern Witchcraft. It was used in ancient Babylon, nearly 4,000 years ago, where it was the Star of Ishtar, the planet (and Goddess) we call Venus.

Drawn on a disk, the pentagram becomes a Pentacle, which is used in Tarot cards and on Wiccan altars to represent the Element Earth, or the material plane. Placed in windows or worn as a pendant, it is a charm to repel evil. The five points of the Pentagram stand for the four Elements (Earth, Air, Fire and Water) plus Spirit, which is at the top, over all. They also stand for the five senses by which we know the world.

The Pentagram represents the human microcosm, or tiny model of the Universe. It is seen as a person standing with feet set wide and arms upraised in the Goddess-invoking position. In this the Pentagram is a way of representing the Goddess.

In the inverted, or upside-down position, the Pentragram resembles the head of a goat, with two horns up, two ears out, and his beard hanging down. Some Witches use it in this way to represent Pan, the Horned God. But it is also used in this position by Satanists to represent the face of the Christian Devil.

(from How About Magick? (HAM) Vol.III, No. 9; 10/31/91)


Q: A note on Capitalization:

"Pagan," "Paganism," "Witch" and "Witchcraft" are proper nouns designating the names of religions and their practitioners, and should always be capitalized, just as Christian, Christianity, Jew, Judaism, Moslem, Islam, Hindu and Hinduism.

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