Paganism

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Paganism is a term which is difficult to define. If you ask a group of Pagans "What is Paganism?" you will receive almost as many answers as there are people in the group. This is a positive side effect of the term Paganism and what it stands for. Unlike formal, doctrine based religions which have a distinct book of religious beliefs, Paganism follows no single book of theology and practice.[1][2] On the contrary, Paganism is based off of and dependent on the concept of a decentralized religious and spiritual faith. So much so, even Christian Pagans exist. In fact, even modern Christians are beginning to recognize and accept the fact some, if not most, of their current practices were inherited from older pagan practices. [3][4] Because of the varying definitions of Paganism, it is often very difficult to give a specific description of the term. This leads to much confusion at certain levels about what is and is not considered Paganism: grey areas if you will. The underlying issue of pinpointing a strong definition of Paganism exists for two very important reasons. First, Paganism can be used to refer to a modern religion. Second, Paganism can also be used to refer to an umbrella terminology used to help classify faiths which follow a pagan belief system.

Even so, there are a set of core beliefs which can safely be used to classify and define Paganism for an extremely large majority of faiths and paths. This set of beliefs and ideals is, in general, the following:

  • A belief in Nature, or Natural Processes, as a foundation of the faith or practice in question.
  • The worship of or belief in zero or more deities
  • More often than not, followers of a Pagan path are polytheistic. At the least, most followers of a Pagan faith recognize the masculine and feminine sides of Nature often referring to them in a general context as the God and Goddess.
  • For more polytheistic faiths, a single God and Goddess may be replaced with multiple Gods and Goddesses
  • Modern, or Neopagan, faiths and paths often, but are not required to, base their beliefs off of indigenous pre-historic or pre-Christian faiths which were lost, or nearly lost, after the influx of other religions into their native lands.

Even the above definition does not cover all forms of Paganism but it serves well as a general purpose description of Paganism. Even so, some religions, such as Wicca do not meet all of the criteria listed in the description. For example, Wicca is actually a modern religion and, unlike others, such as reformist Asatru (also known as Heathenism) and reformist Druidism which attempt to resurrect pre-Christian ancestral faiths, Wicca does not have a well defined historical precedence as being an Old Religion. Its roots are at most traceable back to Gerald Gardner. As one can see, the age of a pagan faith or path, as well as historical evidence of its existence, are not necessary in determining if that faith or path falls under Paganism.

Outside of defining what Paganism as an umbrella term means, there is also the contemporary religion of Paganism. Paganism is a modern religion.[1] Contemporarily, Paganism is a religion in much the same way Christianity is a religion. For example, there is no distinct Christianity per se. Instead, there are Catholics, Methodists, Baptists, Eastern Orthodox, and a plethora of other Christian faiths. Each of these faiths is distinct but shares a common underlying belief in Christ and are all lumped into the umbrella term Christianity. This is exactly how Paganism is a religion. Asatru, Druidism, Wicca, and a plethora of other faiths and paths are practiced. While they are distinct from each other much like different Christian faiths are distinct, they are still similar at their core as defined above in that each of the distinct paths can be united in the umbrella Paganism because the core ideals, as listed above, are all shared amongst the different Pagan faiths. The major difference between branches of Christianity and different Pagan paths lies in what is at he core. The core of each branch of Christianity which unites them all is a belief in Christ. Unlike Christianity, Paganism has no centralized religious figure, god, or goddess that is shared among all faiths. Instead, it is a set of core ideals which links all the Pagan paths together, the description of which is listed above.

References

  1. 1.0 1.1 Davy, Barbara Jane. Introduction to Pagan Studies. Rowman Altamira, 2007.
  2. Higginbotham, Joyce, and River Higginbotham. Paganism: An Introduction to Earth-Centered Religions. Llewellyn Worldwide, 2002.
  3. Viola, Frank, and George Barna. Pagan Christianity?: Exploring the Roots of Our Church Practices. Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 2010.
  4. Viola, Frank A. Pagan Christianity: The Origins of Our Modern Church Practices. Present Testimony Ministry, 2003.
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