What is Paganism?
Paganism is an a rather broad term used to classify religions that are earth or nature oriented. Examples are the mystic religions of Hinduism, Buddhism and Taoism found in the East while Greek, Roman, Celtic and Native American Shamanism are those from the West. Most ancient religions are pagan in nature and pre-date Christianity. Followers of Paganism are called pagans and in contrast to Christianity and other monotheistic religions, they believe in and worship more than one God. As a matter of fact, central to most pagan beliefs is not only a God (or gods) but also a Goddess (or goddesses). But there are also some pagans who call only to a Lady and a Lord.
Most Pagans have a deep reverence for nature and the God and Goddesses are archetypes that represent the duality that is always present in nature. Unlike most patriarchal religions (such as Christianity, Islam, Judaism), pagans recognize that there is also feminine aspect to the Divine as well as masculine. The Chinese mystics refer to it as the Yin and Yang. The Hindus refer to it the Shakti and Shiva. It is Binah and Chokmah in the Cabala. It is one of the ideals in paganism that I personally like and cherish because it appeals to my sense of balance. Unlike the patriarchal religions of Christianity and Islam, pagan religions recognize the power of the anima (feminine principle) to be just as important as the animus (masculine principle).
Central to pagan religions are celebrations of the turning of the seasons. Pagans ride the cycles of nature or the Wheel of the Year. They celebrate festivals that recognize the transitions of the seasons called Sabbat. Most of us also observe the lunar cycles and celebrate each Full Moon with ritual called Esbat.
Neo-PaganismNew Breed, Old Ways
Paganism itself is much older than Christianity. Some say it is about 10,000 years old. Personally, I think it is as old as man himself because it is natural for man to look for a Divine especially when there is so much in nature that he cannot immediately explain. Even now, with all the technology we have, we still cannot explain away some phenomenon in our world. The only difference between the man of olden times is that when they cannot explain something, they attribute it to their deities. Modern man either discredits the existence of something he cannot explain (such as ghosts, spirits, UFOs) by ridiculing it or he analyzes it to death and strips it of its mystery and its place in the Divinity of life.
In some dark ages in our history, religions other that what is socially acceptable were suppressed (such as the hanging or burning of suspected witches at the stake). In this century however, we have evolved to be a less barbaric society and killing due to religious prejudice has ceased to be a norm. This is probably one reason why modern paganism started to reemerge. In the 1950s, a man called Gerald Gardner supposedly revived witchcraft and termed it Wicca. Although Gerald Gardner was said by some to have gotten messed up, he has started the birth process of modern Western Neo-Paganism which it still continues today. Since records on how the Old Religion is actually practiced are usually transferred by word of mouth and what little of it is written were either destroyed by those crusading to convert the pagans or are hidden in cryptic language, it is hard to reconstruct accurately. Therefore, most pagans have to rely on a lot of research and even more introspection and meditation to carve out their spiritual path. Because of this, pagan paths, also sometimes called traditions, are many and very diverse. But still, they based on the ancient ways and mysticisms. The tradition of witchcraft called Wicca is exploited a lot lately by Hollywood often which leading to the misconception that these two terms are synonymous. Actually, Hollywood is responsible for a lot of misconception regarding witchcraft with movies like The Craft, Practical Magic, Charmed and more recently the Blair Witch project. Although they have entertainment value, they should not be taken seriously as examples of how witchcraft really is.
Are witches Satanists?
Witches do not worship Satan. Witches do not even believe the guy exists. It is a purely Christian concept. Unfortunately, because the Christian colonizers of medieval times wanted to gain more ground in converting the pagans of yore, they demonized some of the pagan gods most notable of whom is the Horned God (an example of which is Cernunnos). To explain this concept in a manner, the Horned God is an archetype of fauna. He is the companion to Mother Earth's flora. Most male species of mammals such as stags, antelope, moose, cattle and such have horns. Hence, for maximum effect, they illustrated the Christian God's nemesis as a being with horns. Come to think of it, is it mentioned anywhere in the Bible that Satan has horns?
Give it a break!
For the longest time, witchcraft has been regarded as synonymous to evil practices. This is very unfortunate because, throughout history, it has led to the unjust persecution of countless people, mostly women. It has been used as an excuse, even by kings who merely wanted to get rid of their current wife and be wed to another (e.g. Henry the VIII). Mostly, the portrayal of witches as evil was an image promoted by the Christians of medieval times to secure their place in the cultures they were trying to convert. They demonized the pagan gods and associated the 'craft of the wise' or witchcraft as works of the devil whose existence, ironically, witches do not even acknowledge. This campaign was so successful that decades and even centuries later, people still believed it and witches, or even those just suspected of it, were put to death.
Today, witchcraft is still alive and well despite its dark and difficult history. Unfortunately, so are its detractors, usually religious zealots or misinformed maligners. Witches have survived to live in an age where they are, at least, not put to death anymore. But what are witches really? Aside from how the Grimm brothers or some other storyteller or insecure medieval cleric pictured witches, what do you know of them, really? Chances are you don't know too much except for what has been constantly pounded in our consciousness since childhood by fairy tales and Hollywood.
Now, isn't it unfair to judge something that one does not fully understand?
Ryea Wyndhorse's WebSanctuary
The following discourse are my personal views on the subject. It expresses how my spirituality means to me. Although most pagans would probably share the same views, I do not intend to present these to be the only valid points of view on the subject. Pagans are a very diverse group of people. If you are seeking knowledge on the subject I strongly suggest that you read further on the subject from other sources as well. My links page can be a starting point. There are also a lot of books on the subject. I shall strive to put some up on the BookShelf section soon. If you are a friend or one of my family who seeks to understand me and my path better, open your mind and read on.