The Art of Understanding
By Jennifer Smith
Paganism is derived from the word pagan, which means rustic or rural. Paganism is a contemporary expression of generic belief for a number of traditions which seek harmony and spiritual growth through the natural world. The word pagan can be used to describe some of the oldest forms of religious expression.
The development of modern Paganism in the West, particularly the rise of witchcraft dates from the repeal of anti-witch laws in various countries. These anti-witch laws set about a global movement of pagan tradition and saw significant developments in the religion known as Wicca. The religious practices of the Celtic, Norse, American Indian, Egyptian, Central American, Haitian, Germanic as well as many other cultures find religious expression in neo-pagan movements.
Pagan beliefs are broadly categorized into three different streams of thought. The fist stream of polytheism is a belief in many gods. Pantheism is a belief that the whole of reality is divine. Animism is the belief that spirits are active in all aspects of the environment. Among the neo-pagan traditions the most significant are:
1.) The Wiccan movement, or witchcraft; wicca is a root word meaning wise one' and hails as the Old Religion. Wicca gives devotion to various pre-Christian deities. Followers practice wicca through the use of magic and celebrate eight seasonal festivals or Sabbats per year.
2.) The Druids are celtic priest. The religion itself was derived from an ancient Celtic Religion that was found around Britain and Gaul. The Druids worship nature.
3.) Shamanists believe that the spirit world is limited to those who are called shamans. The status of being a shaman allows one to respond to the spirit world and was the key in many indigenous traditions. The shaman will travel in the spirit realm and use totems as guides.
4.) Teutonic or Norse Paganism goes by the name of Asatru and encourages spiritual growth through the study of the sagas, eddas and runes.
All pagan faiths are usually highly individualistic and are without formal doctrines or institutions. Although there are some formal orders of ministry or leadership the vast majority of pagan religions do not follow any formal set up. Most however, do acknowledge the concept of elders or teachers who have greater understanding of spiritual matters. Among the pagan religions most worship in small autonomous communities. The majority of Pagans is Wiccans and employs the coven as their basic structure. Most Pagans follow the same basic key beliefs.
They are as follows:
1.) Pagans uphold the individualistic right to interact on a personal level with the divine.
2.) Pagans are not restricted to the belief in one god and many are polytheistic.
3.) Most pagan traditions emphasize divinity in nature.
4.) As a rule, Pagans celebrate the annual cycles of the natural world and often hold festivals and conduct rituals in order that they may honor and recognize these changes while making contact with the divine.
5.) The most commonly used personifications of divinity are mother earth and father sky. 6.) Pagan traditions most always have defined roles for feminine and masculine principles. Priestesses often play a more prominent role and goddess worship is an important part of many pagan ceremonies. 7.) Finally, many pagan's believe in reincarnation.
The recognition of the divine is nature is at the heart of every person who practices paganism. He/she is deeply aware of the natural world and is able to see the power of the divine in the ongoing cycle of life and death. Pagan belief pays much importance to annual cycle of procreation as giving birth and dying defines the Pagan year. To the pagan there is no rank in male or female. Paganism is not based on doctrine but is based primarily on experience with the aim of Pagan ritual being to make contact with the divine world that surrounds them.
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