Background: Ancient heritage to modern Times
Modern Paganism is essentially a return to, and re-interpretation of, the polytheistic, goddess-centred and nature-based spiritualties that humans followed for over 30,000 years, in the great ancient civilizations across Western Europe; through Turkey, Greece and Egypt to China and beyond, and which are still practised by some people today.
This ‘Old Religion’ never really died out in the West: it just went underground; it hid in plain sight within the new religions and especially in Ireland and parts of Britain as Brighid, Saint and Goddess; it hid in the hedgerows and secret groves with solitary practitioners, and with the poets as the Muses. Since the repeal of the Witchcraft Act in the UK in 1951 it has been cautiously emerging from hiding, shaped by both the ancient ways and modern developments.
Pagan Belief and Practice
There are many variations of the Pagan path: Druidry, the Goddess (She has many names), Wicca, the Craft, Heathenry, Animism, etc. There is no one overall authority or institution, so every pagan has his or her own belief system, evolving over time. Some pagans practise as solitaries (hedgewitches), some in groups or covens or congregations. The Goddess loves diversity in all things. But all Pagan paths have the same basic core beliefs: the Earth is our Mother, we are part of the Earth, all things are interconnected.
Pagan practice is carried out alone and in groups. Any space – indoors or out – may be used and rituals held at any time. Some pagans favour simple rituals, with words and actions improvised spontaneously, or with only an outline planned in advance, while others like to devise more elaborate ceremonies. Many will do either, depending on what seems most appropriate to the purpose and the occasion. Everyone takes part in the ritual to the best of his/her ability – the aim is for each individual to have direct experience of the divine.
What gifts can Paganism offer the modern World?
Today one of humanity’s biggest problems is that we have separated ourselves from Nature – so much so that there is a risk that we may not survive as a species.
We need philosophies, spiritualities and ideas that can help us to become fulfilled individuals in stronger communities and to build a positive, sustainable future for all. Paganism has a contribution to make. It offers: A philosophy which emphasizes the sacredness and interconnectedness of all life, whether spirit or matter. It sees science and mathematics as studies of the Great Mother’s workings, and therefore integral with religion.
A way to get back in touch with Nature, our Ancestors, our own bodies and our sense of Spirit. Eight seasonal celebrations help us attune to the natural cycle, and to develop a sense of community with all living things. The cycles of the Moon are also celebrated, as are the elements of earth, air, fire, water and spirit/ether.
The gift of healing; using spiritual and physical methods in a holistic way.
Affirmation of our life as a journey: with rites of passage for birth, puberty, marriage (handfasting), death and other major events.
An opportunity to explore other states of consciousness, other realities, the Otherworld.
A path of self-development that encourages our creative potential, our psychic and intuitive abilities, and fosters our intellectual and spiritual growth.
The arts of Magic: of opening ourselves to the magic of being alive, of bringing ideas into manifestation, and of journeying in quest of wisdom, healing and inspiration.
The joys of community, dance, music, poetry, drama, story telling and feasting.
A positive, strong and simple ethic based on personal responsibility, often expressed as ‘Enjoy Life but Do No Harm’.