Paganism: An Introduction to Earth- Centered Religions by River HigginbothamPaganism: An Introduction to Earth- Centered Religions by River Higginbotham

Paganism: An Introduction to Earth- Centered Religions

byRiver Higginbotham, Joyce Higginbotham

Paperback | July 8, 2002

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A comprehensive guide to a growing religious movement

If you want to study Paganism in more detail, this book is the place to start. Based on a course in Paganism that the authors have taught for more than a decade, it is full of exercises, meditations, and discussion questions for group or individual study.

This book presents the basic fundamentals of Paganism. It explores what Pagans are like; how the Pagan sacred year is arranged; what Pagans do in ritual; what magick is; and what Pagans believe about God, worship, human nature, and ethics.

  • For those who are exploring their own spirituality, or who want a good book to give to non-Pagan family and friends
  • A hands-on learning tool with magickal workings, meditations, discussion questions, and journal exercises
  • Offers in-depth discussion of ethics and magick
Joyce and River have taught Paganism classes throughout the past decade. They have planned and organized local and national Pagan gatherings, written articles for Pagan publications, appeared on radio and television broadcasts, spoken at Christian and Unitarian churches, and attended interfaith councils. They also helped found the Coun...
Title:Paganism: An Introduction to Earth- Centered ReligionsFormat:PaperbackProduct dimensions:272 pages, 9.13 X 7.5 X 0.75 inShipping dimensions:272 pages, 9.13 X 7.5 X 0.75 inPublished:July 8, 2002Publisher:Llewellyn Worldwide, LTD.Language:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0738702226

ISBN - 13:9780738702223

Appropriate for ages: All ages

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Read from the Book

What is Paganism? Paganism, also called neo-Paganism, is a new religious movement whose adherents are found throughout the world. Paganism is an umbrella term that describes a variety of denominations-known to Pagans as traditions-which for the most part organize themselves and operate without a centralized religious body or a standardized dogma. While variety of belief and practice is a source of pride for Pagans, it can sometimes be a source of confusion for others. In the pages that follow we present what we believe to be the fundamentals of Paganism. We explore such questions as why Paganism is called an earth-centered religion, how many Pagans there might be in the United States, what Pagans are like, how the Pagan sacred year is arranged, what Pagans do in ritual, what magick is, and what Pagans believe about God, worship, human nature, and ethics. Over the years we have met thousands of Pagans throughout the United States. We have watched the Pagan movement grow from a fairly small, insular movement to one that may now number more than a million in the United States. We have spoken to numerous Pagans individually, participated in discussions and debates about the nature and future of the Pagan movement, and helped organize local and national Pagan events. For more than a decade we have explained and taught Paganism to many people in a variety of likely and unlikely places. We''ve taught Sunday school at Christian churches, given the main address at Unitarian churches, attended interfaith councils, taught world religions classes, demonstrated Pagan ritual for Mensa, given retreats, spoken at festivals and conventions, and provided newspaper, radio, and TV interviews on the subject. For most of these years we''ve also offered private class instruction in Paganism at beginning and intermediate levels. It is from this source of accumulated personal experience that we have collected and developed the concepts we present in this book. While elements of the topics covered here can be found in other books on Paganism, the beliefs we identify as fundamental to Paganism and how we interpret them are uniquely our own. We have on occasion been asked to name the most important belief or concept of Paganism. This is difficult given the many traditions within the movement. However, if we could reduce Paganism down to its essentials, we believe its two most central concepts are interconnectedness and blessedness. The belief that every part of the universe is profoundly interconnected shapes how Pagans view the nature of the Divine, the sorts of relationships possible with the Divine and the universe, and forms the Pagan approach to prayer and magick. Most Pagans believe that all parts of the universe, whether "animate" or "inanimate," are connected at very deep levels that extend beyond the boundaries of space-time as we know them. Because of this interconnection, many Pagans believe they are able to interact with the universe and the Divine as co-creators. This concept is further explored in chapters 5 and 6. The belief that every part of the universe is blessed in its nature, and that there is nothing wrong with the universe or with you, means that the purpose of Pagan spiritual practice differs from that of religions focusedon issues of purification and salvation. Paganism takes the position that human beings are unflawed in their natures, are not spiritually doomed or damned, are born with all the tools and skills necessary to live ethically and spiritually, and are naturally oriented toward their own greatest growth and development. No part of Pagan belief, practice, ritual, or sacrament is designed to "save" Pagans from a flawed or corrupt nature, or to avert supernatural punishment arising from such supposed flaws. Elements of this concept are developed throughout the book, particularly in chapter 7. By contrast, most world religions today teach the opposite of one or both of Paganism''s central themes. They teach that the elements of the universe are separate from each other and that there is something fundamentally wrong with all of us. They may teach separateness by asserting that the universe contains distinct bits of matter not connected at deeper levels, that each of us is irretrievably separated from others and the Divine by nature, or that the universe is split between what is spiritual (and therefore good) and what is physical (and therefore bad). Most world religions also teach that human nature is flawed, and that there is something fundamentally wrong with all human beings that must be corrected in order to reach that religion¿s idea of salvation or enlightenment. This wrongness may be called original sin or ego or desire or free will or any other of a number of names, but the existence and overcoming of this inherent wrongness is the basis of the spiritual practices, sacraments, and ethics practiced by their members. In such religions, the wrongness frequently doesn''t end with human beings but extends into the entire physical world so that we are seen to be surrounded by wrongness, to be spiritually unsafe, and are encouraged to feel that life is a very dangerous undertaking. The concepts of separateness and wrongness are so ingrained in each one us and in our culture that most of us are often not even aware they color our perceptions, life experience, and spiritual growth. Paganism soundly rejects both of these concepts, and unequivocally affirms the interconnectedness of all parts of the universe and the inherent rightness or blessedness of the universe and human nature. Certainly Pagans believe that humanity can improve itself, but Pagans do not equate the human ability to make bad choices with a flawed nature. Joyce and I believe that the concepts of interconnectedness and blessedness are what link together most of the divergent paths and traditions within Paganism. Yet they are not the only common threads Pagans share, as you shall see throughout this book. However, if you come away from here with no other knowledge of Paganism than the concepts of interconnectedness and blessedness and what Pagans mean by them, then you will have gained something of value. General Characteristics of Paganism In addition to the two central themes of interconnectedness and blessedness, what other characteristics common to Paganism as a whole can we identify? Paganism is a religion. As in other religions, Pagans seek answers to ultimate questions such as what is the meaning of life, what happens after death, is there a God, what is our basic nature, and how do we interact with the greater universe. Pagans seek these answers in the context of a religious and social community. Pagans gather in churches, homes, or outdoors, and meet in groups that may be called, among other things, circles, covens, churches, or groves. Unlike members of some religions, however, Pagans generally do not actively proselytize. They do not send out missionaries, hold revivals, or try to gain converts. Almost none of the Pagans we know "converted" to Paganism in the traditional sense. They became Pagan by deciding that Paganism reflected what they already believed and then adopted the word "Pagan" to describe themselves. Like other religions, Pagans have clergy who perform religious functions such as marriages and funerals. Pagans also observe a sacred year and have religious holidays and other celebrations. Most modern Pagan traditions are described as "earth-centered." Pagan holidays often fall on dates that mark the change of seasons or are otherwise seasonally important. We take a look at the Pagan sacred year and how it is celebrated later in this chapter. Paganism is a modern religion. Paganism is a new religion, even though it may borrow concepts and practices from any spirituality, including those now fading or extinct. Paganism is classified as a new religion by social scientists who report that Paganism exhibits all six features of new religious movements. These are (1) a pronounced religious individualism, (2) an emphasis on experience instead of belief and doctrine, (3) a practical perspective on matters of authority and practice, (4) an acceptance and tolerance of other religions and worldviews in general, (5) a holistic worldview, and (6) an open, flexible organizational framework.1 Pagan traditions also meet the test of a religion as applied by the U.S. courts. Characteristics that courts look for include historic longevity, number of devotees, the existence of clergy, religious literature, ceremonies, and holidays. The federal courts correctly recognized Wicca, the largest of the Pagan traditions, as a religion in the case of Dettmer v. Landon (1986).2 In this case, the court found that Wicca exhibits the characteristics of a religion as outlined above. Paganism has no central hierarchy or dogma. Paganism is a religion that as a whole has no central hierarchy or dogma, though individual traditions may adopt an internal governing structure and specific beliefs. Some Pagan paths have a specific ethnic focus, such as the Asatru, African, and Celtic Traditionalists. Others pull together many Pagan and non-Pagan religious beliefs and practices and blend them into a unique religious expression, such as the Eclectic and Blended paths. (We look at a variety of these traditions later in the chapter.) Most Pagans enjoy spiritual diversity and would not think it appropriate for all Pagans to believe the same things, practice in the same ways, or be organized under the same structure. Paganism stresses personal responsibility. Most Pagan traditions stress personal responsibility and put the burden of developing spiritual practices, beliefs, and ethics on to the individual. Even those traditions that offer established beliefs and methods encourage their members to test ideas so that members build the mental muscles necessary to judge the soundness of beliefs for themselves. Those traditions that offer established moral guidelines also tend to encourage their members to explore ethical ideas so that members can find their own ethical sense and formtheir consciences accordingly. With this freedom comes a corresponding responsibility; a responsibility for one''s beliefs, behavior, and degree of spiritual development. As friend and fellow author Dana Eilers once humorously observed to us, "Some religions are a restaurant. You sit down and they bring you what they''re serving for dinner. Paganism is a buffet. If you want to eat, you have to get up off your butt and serve yourself." On the whole, Paganism''s approach to the issue of personal responsibility is very empowering for the individual. It is also empowering for the greater society as the number of mature and self-directed individuals in it increases. Paganism offers a different worldview. Paganism is one of the first religions that deliberately incorporates new perspectives from science, metaphysics, and mysticism into its spirituality and consciously breaks from the traditional Newtonian view of the world. (These concepts are explored further in chapter 5.) Pagans tend to see all parts of the universe-from the smallest atom to the largest planetary system-as sacred and having some form of consciousness or spark of intelligence. Most Pagans believe that this living universe is able to communicate to all parts of itself on one or more levels, and that these parts can choose to cooperate together for specific ends. Pagans call this cooperation magick. Paganism is a spirituality. Paganism is a way of living, praying, and connecting to the flow of the universe. Pagan spirituality addresses the existence and nature of Deity, the relationship of ourselves and the universe with the Divine, the nature and scope of human existence, what happens to us after death, the nature of the physical and nonphysical universe, and our relationship to that universe. Spiritual practices among Pagans are quite varied and include everything from formal ritual to meditation, quiet walks, singing, dancing, healing, divination, ecstatic sex, working with herbs, gardening, and massage. Just about any activity can be incorporated by a Pagan into his or her spirituality. Paganism is protected by law. The freedom to hold and practice the religion of one''s choice is a hallmark of liberty in the United States as well as several other countries. It is a right enjoyed by American citizens regardless of their affiliation as a liberal, conservative, Democrat, or Republican. President George W. Bush, a Republican conservative, stated in a speech given to a joint session of Congress on September 20, 2001, following terrorist attacks against the United States that, "No one should be singled out for unfair treatment or unkind words because of their ethnic background or religious faith." He also pointed out that if the citizens of the United States intend to defend their principles, then their "first responsibility is to live by them." Paganism is protected in the United States under the First Amendment and various civil rights acts. One of the largest of the Pagan traditions, Wicca, is formally recognized as a religion in the case of Dettmer v. Landon, as mentioned earlier. Pagans in the military are allowed to practice their religion on military bases, as are Christians, Buddhists, Jews, Muslims, and Hindus. What Does "Pagan" Mean? The word Pagan comes from the Latin word paganus, which means "country dweller." It may have been a derogatory term created by city dwellers to describe "thosehicks out there," much like the word "redneck." Because "pagan" tended to have a negative meaning, it was later adopted as an insult.3 During the Crusades, the Christians called the Muslims "pagans," and later, Protestants and Catholics flung the word at each other.4 Eventually, "being pagan" meant someone without religion.5 Since the word "Pagan" has been adopted by the Pagan movement, some of its perceived stigma has lessened. At the very least, the word helps us to think about the labels history applies to those who differ from conventional Western thought. Some Pagans don''t like the word and use other terms to describe their path, such as African Traditional Religion, Native Spirituality, Celtic Spirituality, Heathenry, Earth-Centered Spirituality, European Traditional Spirituality, the Elder Faith, and the Old Religion. Joyce and I occasionally run into Pagans having a debate over whether the term "Pagan" or "neo-Pagan" should be used. The term "Pagan," after all, refers to ancient, tribal, and usually pre-Christian cultures that are mostly extinct. To avoid confusion between historical Paganism and the modern movement, many social scientists and Pagans alike have decided they prefer the word "neo-Pagan." The noted author and Druid Isaac Bonewits goes further. He uses the word "paleopaganism" to describe "the original tribal faiths of Europe, Africa, Asia, the Americas, Oceania and Australia." A few of these tribal faiths, such as Hinduism, Taoism, and Shintoism, whose adherents number in the millions, have survived to the present. Next, Bonewits describes "mesopaganism" as re-creations of paleopagan systems, usually with influences from Judeo-Christian thought. Some of his examples are Freemasonry, Rosicrucianism, Theosophy, Voudon, Santeria, and Sikhism. His third category is "neopaganism," which he defines as religions created from the 1960s onward, and that "have attempted to blend what their founders perceived as the best aspects of different types of paleopaganism with modern ''Aquarian Age'' ideals."6 We leave it to you to decide how to refer to your spiritual path. In this book, however, we use the word "Pagan." Who Is a Pagan? The word "Pagan" is a label that identifies you as a person who agrees with one or more parts of Pagan philosophy, and who may participate in observances or practices common to Pagans. In the broadest sense, Paganism is an umbrella term that describes a multitude of religious and spiritual traditions. This is not unique to Paganism. Most of us are already familiar with Christianity as an umbrella term that describes a myriad of denominations and groups. These include Methodists, Catholics, Baptists, Mormons, Episcopalians, Presbyterians, and Jehovah''s Witnesses, to name a few. If we try to define Christianity in a sentence we will find it difficult. Moreover, we will not be able to capture in that sentence the differences between Catholics and Mormons, for example. Pagans are in the same boat, and yet are frequently asked by friends, family, and journalists to describe all of Paganism in a sentence or a sound bite. Let''s take a look at the Pagan umbrella (Figure 1.1). Under Paganism''s umbrella are found such diverse traditions as Wicca, Shamanism, Asatru, Eclectic, Family Traditions, Celtic Traditionalism, Druidism, Strega, Santeria, Voudon, Ceremonial Magick, Mystery Traditions, solitaries, as well as a wide variety of Blended paths such as Judeopaganism, Christopaganism, Buddhistpaganism (or Easternpaganism), and so on. These traditions, while spanning many centuries and cultures, share at least one of several characteristics: they are indigenous, earth-centered, contain magickal elements, recognize both male and female deities, were suppressed or eradicated by another religion, or stress a connection to and respect for the natural world. In other words, Paganism is a broad term that acts as an umbrella under which many different traditions find a home. Joyce and I have been asked, "So are you Wiccan or are you Pagan?" This like asking, "So are you Baptist or are you Christian?" Wiccans are Pagans, but not all Pagans follow a Wiccan path, in the same way that Baptists are Christians, but not all Christians are Baptists. To answer the question of what Joyce and I are, we would reply that we are "Eclectics." What does that mean exactly? Below we take a brief look at each of the Pagan traditions. Unfortunately, it is beyond the scope of this chapter to explain the various traditions in detail. The study of even one tradition can, and does, fill many books. So many books, in fact, have been written on most of these paths and traditions that you should have no trouble finding further reading. Just check with your bookseller by subject.

Table of Contents


Acknowledgments / xi

Introduction / xiii

1 What is Paganism? 1

General Characteristics of Paganism / 3

What Does "Pagan" Mean? / 6

Who Is a Pagan? / 7

How Many Pagans Are There? / 12

Where Pagans Come From and What They''re Like / 13

What Pagans Do and When They Do It / 15

An Earth-Centered Religion / 16

The Wheel of the Year / 16

Rites of Passage / 25

What Is a Ritual? / 30

What Happens in a Ritual? / 30

Ritual Tools and Symbols / 33

Is Ritual All Pagans Do? / 38

What Do Pagans Believe? / 38

Principles of Paganism / 39

2 You Are What You Believe 45

How Do Beliefs Work? / 46

What Is a Belief System? / 54

Claiming the Power to Choose Your Beliefs / 58

Search: Paganism''s Spiritual Foundation / 66

3 A Pagan View of deity 75

Concepts of Deity / 78

What Do Pagans Believe About Deity? / 79

The God Map / 80

A God Map Story / 92

4 What About Satan? 101

How Do Pagans View Satan? / 102

Pagans, Witches, and Bad Reputations / 103

Why Witch-hunts? / 106

What Happened to the Accused? / 108

A Look at the Biblical Witch Bias / 108

A Fabricated Image / 109

The Social Roles of Satan / 111

The Mythological Roles of Satan / 113

Who Is a Satanist? / 120

Can a Satanist Be a Pagan? / 121

5 The Living Universe 131

The Current Western Mindset / 132

Unbroken Wholeness: Science and a Magickal Universe / 135

The Ground of Being: Mysticism and a Magickal Universe / 145

The Universe as a Cosmic TV / 155

Personal Experience and a Magickal Universe / 161

6 Magick 163

The Mechanics of Magick / 165

The Iceberg / 172

The Applications of Magick / 179

The Limitations of Magick / 184

Your Magickal Pager / 187

7 Ethics and Personal Responsibility 197

Who Are You? / 197

The Multidimensional Self / 199

The Afterlife / 201

Ethics: What Are They? / 206

The Western Religious Ethic / 207

Ethics: The Pagan Approach / 210

Pagan Ethical Systems / 214

Notes / 225

Glossary / 231

Bibliography / 235

Recommended Reading / 239

Index / 245