The word Pagan originates from the Latin word, Paganus, which means country dweller. Similarly, the word heathen originally meant to live in the heaths or on the edge. Paganism is an ancient agrarian religion that was based on the cycles of the seasons and the beliefs that certain divine forces took part in fertility and life of the earth. When Christianity began spreading through Europe, many of the people living in the outskirts of town or the “country dwellers” remained true to their beliefs and did not convert to the new religion. Thus to this day, after centuries of political objectives by dominating religions of the time, the words Pagan and Heathen have unfounded negative associations to many people in society.
Paganism is generally considered a polytheistic religion that refers to the belief that the Divine is multiple and very diverse. These multiple Divine figures make up a larger than life picture of the ultimate “One” all encompassing divine energy that is present in the universe. Since it is not easy to grasp or comprehend an infinite energy source, the Gods and Goddesses provide a way of carrying out a certain aspect of the Divine that otherwise could be difficult to understand.
In Margot Adler’s book “Drawing Down the Moon” one person wrote her a passage regarding what the many deities mean to her:
“I do not believe in Gods as real personalities on any plane, or in any dimension. Yet I do believe in Gods as symbols or personifications of universal principles. The Earth Mother is the primal seed-source of the universe…I believe in Gods perceived in nature; perceived as a storm, a forest spirit, the Goddess of the lake, etc. Many places and times of the year have a spirit or power about them. Perhaps, these are my Gods.”
As this writer points out, a very important concept to understand is that many Pagans agree that the divine is not separate from nature. It is immanent in nature. The universe is a web and we are each weaving our own strand of it, however, it is all connected and a part of the whole. The following is a quote from Arnold Toynbee in the Journal of Environmental Studies, 1972:
“In popular Pre-Christian religion…divinity was inherent in all natural phenomena, including those that man had tamed and domesticated. Divinity was present in springs and rivers and the sea; in trees, both the wild oak and the cultivated olive-tree; in corn and vines; in the mountains; in earthquakes and lightening and thunder. The Godhead was diffused throughout the phenomena. It was plural, not singular; a pantheon, not a unique almightly super-human person.
As Toynbee points out in this essay, Pagan beliefs generally hold nature as a live, breathing, integral part of the divine. The concept of animism is used to imply a reality in which all things are imbued with vitality. There is no separation between animate and inanimate. All of life; rocks, trees, animals, humans alike, have the divine life force.
Of course, this is just a basic description as Paganism is defined differently by many people. Overall, it includeds many different smaller religious beliefs broken down into its own neo-Pagan beliefs. One can almost compare it to how within Christianity there are Lutherens, Baptists, Methodists and so on. In general, Paganism is considered polytheistic, however, the many different groups each have their own Pantheon of Gods and Goddesses based on that belief structure. This difference is often times attributed to the geography of the people of that time. There is Celtic Paganism, Norse, Odinism, Wicca, Goddess Worshippers and many more. They all believe a bit differently,however, they all generally revere respect for all life and hold that the divine is diverse and non-transcendent but rather immanent within themselves and nature. We are all a part of the larger web of life but functioning individually as a part of the whole.
One of the things that I commonly hear from people is the notion that Pagans pray to the earth or that we worship trees. Some people claim that we are worshipping the creation and not the creator. It is often difficult to explain to someone who believes in a Divine figure that is “beyond” us and that is so separate from us about animism and polytheism. It isn’t about worshipping trees but rather respecting and acknowlegding that we are not here as dominators of nature, but rather a part of nature.
Although this is by no means a complete description of Paganism, it is a general overview to those who are wishing to learn more about this religion. The Neo-Pagan religious movement of this modern day stem from the ancient Pagan beliefs once held, however, are always evolving and changing and there is no right or wrong way. We believe that all paths ultimately lead to the Divine energy source of life and therefore should be respected. We do not preach our ways to others in order to convert them, as it is against our nature to do so. However, we are open to sharing our diverse beliefs in order to promote a better understanding of our religion with others.
Written by Oscianna. Please do not copy and or distribute without permission.