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Chapter 1


Introduction to Paganism



Paganism is not a thing of the past. It has survived years of neglect and persecution, and is now returning to life. It has spent a long time in hidden corners of the world, or sleeping beneath a thin blanket of Christianity in the folk customs or country people. But now it is waking up. It is a beautiful day, and Neo-Pagans--those of us who are reviving the old ways--are glad to see it.

Neo-Paganism is diverse, drawing its inspirations from many cultures. Its practitioners range from people pouring out libations on the beach, to shamans riding their drumbeats to the spirit world, to Wiccans practicing complex rites involving special tools and knowledge, to Reconstructionists carefully reading ancient texts and modern scholars in an attempt to revive the worship and belief of their ancestors. I cannot speak for the details of all of its forms. They are as varied as the people who practice them. But its spirit, its principles, its attitude toward the world -- these all Pagans share, and of them I can speak.

Pagans live in this world, recognizing it as sacred. We do not see it as merely a temporary thing, nor as the manifestation of something of greater sacrality. There is no other world that is more real and of more value than this. We are not mere sojourners here, marking time until we can die and go to the real and eternal world. This is our world; we belong here and we like it that way. When I walk outside each morning I feel as if I belong. This is my planet and I am part of it as surely as my fingers are part of me. The sky is above me, the earth is below me, and I walk in between, accepted and loved.

When I walk in the woods, I feel the individual personalities of each tree and stone. When I walk in the city I feel the complex patterns of power woven by so many people. Either place I am at home. This is my planet and these are my people.

Pagans are great workers of rituals. No matter how complex or ornate these rituals may be, however, they are not an escape from the world. We use them to celebrate the world and to adjust ourselves and our lives to harmonize with the world, and with the Gods of this world, who are themselves deeply involved with it. We do not conduct these rituals to distant deities, but to old friends. The material world fills our rituals. We orient our rituals and our lives by the four directions. The four classical elements, or types of matter (air, fire, water, and earth), are our constant reference. The most common symbol used by Wiccan Neo-Pagans is the pentagram, adopted from ceremonial magic. This five-pointed interlaced star is the symbol for a reality formed of the weaving together of the elements with spirit. Matter and spirit are not separate, but interdependent. Most ritual actions are performed clockwise to mimic the motion of sun and moon in the sky. Offerings to our deities are of everyday items, particularly food and drink.

Don't misunderstand me; Pagans are quite interested in the sacred. But it is a sacred which is not opposed to the profane. We may make a space sacred for a ritual, but it is the same space as before and will be the same space after. For a time, though, we are more aware of its sacredness, more attentive. The ritual helps us to remember its sacrality. "Remember" is an important word to us.

Paganism is not a religion of metaphysical dualism. Matter is not opposed to, or even separate from, spirit. Nor is the material, the everyday, somehow not fitting for religious purposes. The earth and all its delights is as sacred as those things normally considered "spiritual." Nor are Pagans ethical dualists. Evil does not exist as a force or a personality. Many of the disasters that beset us (floods, tornadoes, disease) are disasters only from the human point of view. But the Gods have many children, and most are not human beings. The disease that kills me may be the result of millions of bacteria being allowed to live. This is hard on me and I don't like it, and I certainly have the right to fight the disease, but it isn't evil. It is part of the great dance of life and death.

The terrible things that humans do to each other are no proof of evil either. When examined closely, they are seen to be unbalanced forms of very positive things -- the aggression that helped win us our place in the world, the sexuality that continues our species, the loyalty to family and community that gives us our strength. It is a terrible thing when such wonderful forces are carried to bad ends. The term "sacrilege" comes to mind. But it does not show the existence of an evil force, nor does it challenge the existence or power of the Gods.

This emphasis on this world does not mean that for the Pagan it is the only world. In fact, there is a different world existing in close connection with ours. This is the Otherworld, the Land of Youth, the Dreamtime, the home of the Ancestors, the Land of Faerie. It is the home of Gods and spirits, the source of numinous power. It sometimes seems far away, but it is actually right here, existing with ours. Where else would it be?

Be careful next time you wander in the fog, then; you may wander into the Land of Faerie. And perhaps the greatest mystery of Paganism is that if the Pagan path is followed with dedication the two worlds approach each other more closely, until the Pagan lives in both at once. This is one of the ways a Pagan will come to see the sacrality of our world.

Perhaps you are thinking, "What does all this sacred world stuff have to do with Paganism? I thought Pagans were simply people who believe in more than one God." Of course we do; it says so right in the dictionary. We do not believe that the infinite variety we see around us can be attributed to the action of one sacred being. There is immense variety on the material level, and we believe there is equally immense variety on the spiritual. For this reason, the numinous beings of Paganism are many. They can be as far-reaching as the One that we all are (humans and the rest of the Universe as well). They can be as local as the spirit of a rock, limited in time and space. And there are many gradations in between: the Wiccan God and Goddess, deities of particular cultures, ancestral spirits, family guardians, power animals -- the list is practically endless. While not every Pagan would choose to work with all of these, most Pagans would accept their validity.

The major deities of Wicca, the most common form of Neo-Paganism, are called the Goddess and the God. They are the Mother and Father of All; from their love new worlds are continually born. The Goddess is the origin of being, the power behind the Universe, the bringer into manifestation. She goes by many names, and of these the most popular among Neo-Pagans are Diana and Isis. I myself call Her "Maghya," which is Proto-Indo-European for "She Who Has the Power" and that she certainly has. The God is the one who acts, the wielder of power, the one who is the masks that reveal the Universe. His most popular name among Neo-Pagans is Cernunnos, which means "The One with the Antlers," for He is frequently depicted wearing those symbols of maleness and wildness. However, since Cernunnos was a specific Celtic deity (whose functions did not in fact include wildness), I prefer "Kerntos," which has the same meaning, but is Proto-Indo-European. By using such an old language, contact may more easily be made with the old powers.

The God and Goddess are protectors and teachers, and like human parents, they must occasionally discipline their children. They love all their children equally and expect them to treat each other as family. They are our role models as parents.

Other Pagans, the Reconstructionists, worship a more diverse group of deities. Usually these are drawn from one particular ancient culture. Their concern for the world, and for their special devotees, is equally a model for out behavior as parents.

The fact that Pagans worship a divine that does not exclude the female has caught many people's attention. Although at some theological level the God of the religions of the West may be said to be without gender, the ways in which this God has been conceived have been almost exclusively male. That Neo-Paganism celebrates male and female equally has certain effects on Pagan family life. Neo-Pagan families are likely to avoid sexual stereotypes, and to encourage excellence in both boys and girls.

On the other hand, we recognize essential differences between the sexes. But since our divinities are both male and female these differences are not differences in worth but in type. We welcome and celebrate the differences.

Since this book is written for families, not covens, groves, congregations, or mystics, the spiritual beings called upon will tend toward the lower end of the range, the local spirits that shape our mundane lives. The One is best left to individual attention. The God and the Goddess will not be forgotten, but they too are well left for the individual, or for the coven or other group. Their great mysteries of love and sex are not always appropriate in a family setting. The main inspirations for family Paganism are folk traditions, the everyday customs and the special day customs of the common people. Its deities are the comfortably worn down and worn in ones of the European peasant: the Threshold Guardian, Hearth Guardian, spirits of the dead, spirits of the wild, and such. The Shining Ones have their times, and they will be honored here, but a family can concern itself with the household spirits and flourish. This is true for both Wiccan and Reconstructionist.

The beings of power, the Gods, exist not only on a continuum of power, but of space and time. Every place and every moment is filled with them. They can be found by all who open themselves to them.

Sometimes I encounter them. Sometimes I feel a quiver, like a whisper or a breeze that just makes itself known without giving more information. Have you ever felt an itch and not known where it was coming from? The Gods can come like that, a Cosmic Itch.

Sometimes they are inside me. Cernunnos comes with strength when I am weak and courage when I am scared. He fills me; I am taller and larger and more muscular. From my head antlers reach up, pulling me up and weighing me down. He is there, and he helps me.

Sometimes they are right here in front of me. I see them, I hear them; they are there and they are helping me. They are there, and I make no apologies for that belief. And sometimes it is not them but their effects I feel. I am surrounded by their love when I am lonely. I am comforted when I am troubled. And I am given help when I need it.

The Gods are there, in the way of the world, the living and dying that makes our planet. The wind, the waves, the stone and the tree reveal them.

The turning of the seasons reveal the sacred. When I see the dying of the year, I mourn with it. This mourning is itself a source of strength, for while I may mourn with the death of the year, I will rejoice in its rebirth. All this drama is played out within me.

So when I face my own death I do it with a little less fear and a little more comfort. I have seen the earth die and be reborn and I know that I am indeed part of this earth. I too will be reborn, not because I have an immortal soul that is living innumerable lifetimes to learn its way to godhood (although that might be true, and who am I to say yes or no?), but because this is my home. This is where I was born. I grew from the earth and there is nowhere else I belong. Not only can you go home again; there is no place else you can go.

I know that I am a part of all this, a part of the turning and changing that is our world. I live now, I will die then, and the world will go on. I will have done my part and I pray I will have done it well. No one else could have done it.

But when I am gone, I will have left an effect behind. Everyone I meet will have been changed by me, just as I was changed by them. Everything I have consumed will have left my mark, for good or bad. Nothing, though, will have left as large an effect as how I raised my daughter, how she came to see the world and how she went on to affect it in turn.

But despite these wonderful feelings, Paganism is not about feeling. It is about doing. A Pagan is someone who walks a Pagan path. She aligns her life with the seasons and the moons, treats the planet gently, and shows respect to the others who share our world, to minerals, plants, animals, people, spirits, and deities.

It is for this reason that many Pagans are fond of saying that "Paganism is not just a religion, it's a way of life." This can come across as snobbery, as if other religions weren't serious enough, but it should be taken literally. Paganism is a way of life, or perhaps it would be more correct to say it is a way of living. What do you do? That will tell you if you are Pagan.

Watch the world. Learn from it. Learn what you have to do to live in balance with its ways. Listen to the world. Hear its voice. It speaks to you in rhythm.

Go to where Pagans gather and you will feel the rhythm. Listen to the drums. They start spontaneously, all sizes and types, and the rhythm grows and changes. The people dance to them. Listen carefully and you will hear your own rhythms -- heartbeat, breath, sleeping and waking, menstruation, life and death and rebirth.

Turn then from your own rhythms. Turn from the rhythms of the drumming and dancing of the community. Turn to the world about you and feel her rhythms. Live these rhythms: day and night, moon change, season flow.

And in the flow, something will seem right. There, on the edge of your mind, is a tickling of memory, like $déjà vu. Was it in another life? Or is it just part of being human? Something tells you: Remember. So you try. It says: Remember the stories of your ancestors. Remember those who died for you. Remember that this world is your home. Remember and things will be OK.

The rituals in this book are here to help you and your children remember. When the old deeds are done, when the old songs are sung, the mind remembers, the body remembers. Do you want to understand Paganism? Do the rituals -- and remember.