People wrongly say “Paganism” like there is only one kind or only one meaning.
I am not supporting Paganism as I am atheist and antireligious. I am just offering this inform to others so we know what we or others are talking about.
Paganism is an umbrella term that encompasses a wide variety of religions, belief-sets and spiritual paths. The lack of a firm and agreed definition makes the question ‘What is paganism?’ a very difficult one to answer.
Paganism is a broad group of religions including modern pagan religions, indigenous religions and historical polytheistic religions. In a wider sense, paganism has also been understood to include any non-Abrahamic, folk, ethnic religion or or European occultism.
The term pagan is from Latin “Paganus” likely acquired its meaning in Christian speach via Roman military jargon. Early Christians adopted military motifs and saw themselves as “Milites Christi” (“soldiers of Christ”). Classical Latin pagus which originally meant “region delimited by markers”, paganus had also come to mean “of or relating to the countryside”, “country dweller”, “villager”; by extension, “rustic”, “unlearned”, “yokel”, “bumpkin”; in Roman military jargon, “non-combatant”, “civilian”, “unskilled soldier”. It is related to pangere (“to fix”, “to fasten”) and ultimately comes from Proto-Indo-European *pag- (“to fix”). The adoption of paganus by the Latin Christians as an all-embracing, pejorative term for polytheists but was relatively a word of Latin slang originally some what devoid of religious meaning. The evolution occurred only in the Latin west, and in connection with the Latin church. Elsewhere, “Hellene” or “gentile” (ethnikos) remained the word for “pagan”; and paganos continued as a purely secular term, with overtones of the inferior and the commonplace.
What do pagans believe?
Some pagans believe in a single god or single goddess, some believe in a god and goddess, some believe in many gods and/or many goddesses, some believe there is no god and some are not sure whether there is/are god(s) or not. Some worship these gods, and some (even those who believe in them) do not. Some are animist (Nature – Veneration) and believe that ‘spirit’ exists in all humans, animals, plants, non-living things like rocks, planets, oceans and wind, as a real concept or an abstract concepts such as love, creativity, and change.
Some pagans feel closer to the deities of other cultures – Native American, Celtic, Norse, Roman, Greek, Germanic, Scandinavian, Slavic, Baltic, Albanian, Armenian, Basque, Etruscan, Finnic, Georgian, Egyptian, Vainakh… etc.
Paganism represents a wide variety of traditions that emphasize reverence for nature and a revival of ancient polytheistic and animistic religious practices. Some modern forms of Paganism have their roots in 19th century C.E. European nationalism (including the British Order of Druids), but most contemporary Pagan groups trace their immediate organizational roots to the 1960s, and have an emphasis on archetypal psychology and a spiritual interest in nature. Paganism is not a traditional religion per se because it does not have any official doctrine, but it does have some common characteristics joining the great variety of traditions. One of the common beliefs is the divine presence in nature and the reverence of the natural order in life. Paganism often has absorbed influences from around the world and some Pagans choose to specialise in one of these traditions, or paths as they are often known.
Some groups take influences from a particular part of the world. Some follow ancient Scandinavian, Germanic and Anglo-Saxon belief systems. Other traditions are defined by elements of their practice. For instance, Wiccans use magical techniques in worship, Druids emphasize arts and philosophy, and Shamans employ spirit-journeying for healing.
What about neopaganism?
There are new religious movements that have been called occult, new age, neopaganism, and esotericism, but they have the same obscure and arcane reasonless revelations and prophecies. Generally, the word “occult” is associated with secret knowledge and practices that deal with the supernatural or “psychic” phenomena and often, with the purpose of obtaining personal power. Some occult practices rely on good or evil “spirits” or “deities” to achieve their goals. Interest in the occult has been promoted by the new age, neopaganism, and esotericism.
All religions had a beginning point and a point when someone started telling lies. One of the new religious movements’ highly influential liars of reasonless revelations, prophecies, or predictions was Aleister Crowley, an esoteric conman who influenced scientology, eckankar, and wicca, which was created as a hoax. A hoax tries to make you believe in something that is not true or compatible with reality such as creationism, prayer, or magic for examples. Really, how is any religion different from a hoax religion? To me there is little to no difference. Aleister Crowley was a hoaxer, occult delusionary, and esoteric conman extraordinaire who inspired others like him directly or to a much lesser second hand sense such as Gerald Gardner (wicca 1954).
Aleister Crowley, the continual hoaxer who once faked his own death by leaving a sad note about heartbreak at the top of this dangerous rock formation and the implication being that he had jumped to his death. The papers ran with it and announced Crowley’s suicide much to the amusement of Crowley. Some weeks later, Crowley arrived unannounced at an exhibit of some of his paintings in Berlin and showed that his death was a hoax. Gerald Gardner was a hoaxer, occult delusionary and esoteric conman who took a bunch of Aleister Crowley’s writings and material from liber al vel legis, and sort of cut and paste them with a few words changed and added into his creation of initiation rituals, the charge of the goddess, the drawing down the moon ritual, and more.
Aleister Crowley was an English occultist, ceremonial magician, and novelist, responsible for founding the religion and philosophy of thelema, in which role he identified himself as the prophet entrusted with guiding humanity into the aeon of horus. Crowley claimed to have been contacted by a supernatural entity named aiwass, who provided him with the book of the law, a sacred text that served as the basis for thelema. Crowley was influenced from a variety of sources, ranging from Eastern religious movements and practices like hindu, yoga, and buddhism, scientific naturalism, and various currents within Western esotericism, among them ceremonial magic, alchemy, astrology, rosicrucianism, kabbalah, and the tarot. Several Western esoteric traditions other than thelema were also influenced by Crowley. Gerald Gardner, founder of gardnerian wicca, made use of much of Crowley’s published material when composing the gardnerian ritual liturgy.
Anton LaVey and Michael Aquino, who are two prominent figures in religious satanism were also aware of Crowley’s work and had conflicting thoughts on it. It is not uncommon to read the name Aleister Crowley and it linked to satanism or devil worship. There have been various statements made by Crowley or attributed to him that were used as proof that he was the archetypal satanist. However, many occultists reject the belief of Crowley-the-Satanist as well. Many of these occultists, even some of these are satanists and followers of Crowley’s magical system of thelema believed he was a satanist; however, there are some satanic groups who also reject the idea of Crowley being a satanist. Many of the people claiming that Crowley was a satanist based their assumptions on the literal interpretations of his writings. It is clear that some of Crowley’s writings were extremely anti-christian. However, to be anti-christian does not make someone a satanist per se and does not indicate that the person identifies with the popular conceptions of satanists. Crowley wrote of being the servant of satan, “the devil, our lord whose number of magic is 666, the seal of his servant the beast” in his ritual for the attainment of knowledge and conversation of his holy guardian angel, shaitan-aiwaz. Kenneth Grant, another student of Crowley, wrote, “This whole ritual is an invocation of shaitan (satan) or set.” It is easy to see how Crowley, the great beast 666, gained the reputation as a satanist and hardcore anti-christian. The simple answer to the question of Aleister Crowley of having been a satanist is that there is no definitive answer. The religion of satanism is stupid and is just like all religions. I do care and am against satanism, even though it is not real, it is still a religion or a form of religious thinking, all of which I reject just like all other religions or pseudo-religions.
Now we get to Wicca:
Gerald Gardner, founded the religion of wicca and put it together in the middle 1950s using blatant rip-offs of Aleister Crowley, Freemasonry, Egyptian ideologies and Celtic lore. Wiccans or neo-pagan witches are not satanists nor do they worship devils or consort with demons. Let us address the satanic ritual abuse and used to describe the actions of “pseudo-satanists” or those who sexually abuse children and use the trappings of so-called satanic rituals and claims of magical powers to coerce and terrify victims, but do not actually believe in the official organized satanic rituals. In the first place, there has never been any consensus on what actually constituted satanic ritual abuse and it was actually used more a catchall fear motivated term. This lack of a single definition, as well as confusion between the meanings of the term “ritual” (religious versus psychological), allowed a wide range of allegations and evidence to be claimed as a demonstration of the reality of satanic ritual abuse claims, irrespective of which “definition” the evidence supported.
A survey of more than 12,000 satanic ritual abuse allegations has found no substantiating evidence for an intergenerational conspiracy, but did document several examples of abuse by pseudo-satanists. Despite allegations appearing in the United States, Holland, Sweden, New Zealand, and Australia, no real material evidence has been found to verify allegations of organized cult-based abuse that practices human sacrifice and cannibalism. Satanic ritual abuse is considered a moral panic and no more credible to the historical witch-hunts. Anthropologists, sociologists, and journalists performed the initial investigations of satanic ritual abuse, which failed to find evidence of satanic ritual abuse actually occurring. However, they concluded that satanic ritual abuse was a result of rumors and folk legends that were spread by the media hype, christian fundamentalism, and some evangelical activists and groups were using claims of satanic ritual abuse to further their religious and political goals.
Now back to wicca, which is the largest category of neopaganism. Wicca, no matter how it would like, it is not historically accurate and not part of or a continuation of a Stone Age religion. Wiccan expressions are essentially esoteric, not exoteric. Wicca is a decentralized religion, which mostly involves witchcraft as a spiritual system, and though many share this common name, many wiccans develop their own beliefs, rituals, and other practices. As a result, they place their emphasis on a subjective religious experience and not on historically verifiable facts. Originally, wicca’s founder Gerald Gardner claimed the rituals in the book of shadows were the original rituals used by British wiccans for centuries; it becomes quite obvious when reading it that the material comes from several sources. The writings of Aleister Crowley were a major source of material and without question; there were no sources from British wiccans as historically there is no such thing as British wicca since it was created in the 1950’s. If wicca is the survival of an ancient tradition, there would be a record of those beliefs somewhere and yet, there is not. There is an old saying that if you ask any ten wiccans about their religion, you will get at least fifteen different answers. Margot Adler a wiccan author states, “The most authentic and hallowed wiccan tradition is stealing from any source that didn’t run away too fast.”
The truth is all too clear and not a single culture from pre-christian Europe held beliefs, even remotely similar to those of wicca. There are literally thousands of inscriptions to Celtic deities, most of them appearing only once, and many tied to small areas of population. The surviving Celtic myths speak of their gods as behaving as individual beings unto themselves and not pieces of one super-god. The druids, often cited by new agers as being monotheistic, were actually of little importance to Celtic religion. After the Romans outlawed the druids, the Celtic religious practice continued uninterrupted. The druids are often viewed as something of a mystical brotherhood of priests and wizards. Upon closer examination, one finds they were more akin to a guild of bards and lawyers who acted as priests from time to time. Wicca instead relatively a mix of witch cult, ceremonial magic, Victorian ideas and British legend about nature worship, some old esoteric knowledge into his original tradition, including eastern mysticism, kabballah, a sprinkling of hinduism and spiritualism all put together by Gerald Gardner created and founded wicca with possibly some additional help and wicca is relatively a mix of witch cult, ceremonial magic, Victorian ideas and British legend about nature worship, some old esoteric knowledge into Gardner’s original tradition that includes eastern mysticism, kabballah, and a sprinkling of hinduism and spiritualism.
The claims of a surviving Stone Age cult appears to me as an attempt to validate wicca by making it appear older and to give it the popular appeal of “ancient and powerful mysteries.” Many wiccans criticize or deny the division of an ultimate deity into a purely good god and another into purely evil. For wiccans, the ultimate deity divides into a male god and female goddess. Since this division does not correspond to a division between good and evil, it follows that the male god and female goddess must be mixtures of good and evil or is mixtures of positive and negative values. However, as stated before, wiccan views on theology are numerous and varied and there is no universally agreed-upon religious canon. Traditionally, wicca is a duotheistic religion that venerates both a triple goddess associated with the moon, stars, and often the earth, and a horned god associated with the sun, forests, and animals. These two deities are variously understood through the frameworks of pantheism as being dual aspects of a single godhead, duotheism as being two polar opposites, hard polytheism as being two distinct deities in a larger pantheon which includes other pagan gods, or soft polytheism as being composed of many lesser deities. In some pantheistic conceptions, found within the wicca and including monotheism, the concept that there is just one deity, which is seen by some such as dianic wiccans as being the goddess, whilst by others, like the church and school of wicca as being genderless.
There are other wiccans, who are atheists or agnostics and do not believe in any actual deity, but instead view the gods as psychological archetypes of the human mind, which can be evoked and interacted with. Many wiccans believe that the god and goddess are merely two aspects of the same godhead, often viewed as a pantheistic deity, thereby encompassing everything in the universe within its divinity. Many wiccans believe in magic, a manipulative force exercised through the practice of witchcraft or sorcery. Several wiccans agree with the definition of magic offered by ceremonial magicians such as Aleister Crowley, who declared that magic was “the science and art of causing change to occur in conformity with will.” Many wiccans believe magic to be a law of nature, yet misunderstood or disregarded by contemporary science, and as such, they do not view it as being supernatural, but a part of super powers that reside in the natural.
Some wiccans believe that magic is simply making full use of the five senses in order to achieve surprising results, whilst other wiccans do not claim to know how magic works and merely believing that it does because they have observed it to be so. Some spell it “magick,” a variation coined by the influential occultist Aleister Crowley, though this spelling is more commonly associated with Crowley’s religion of thelema than with wicca. If wicca really is nature-based, then it is contradictory to the present theory of nature and is so deeply inconsistent with natural science. Therefore, if wicca really does demand empirical testing, then it is contradictory for wiccans to make claims that are obviously empirically false. Skeptics and rationalists ought to put pressure on wiccans to naturalize their beliefs. Wiccan texts are full of woo and just plain irrational thinking. It is precisely because wicca has naturalism that it seems it can very easily become naturalized and de-mythologized. As long as our brain structures remain the same, religion is here to stay. The question is whether the Wiccan religion can be changed so that it becomes more rational.
By Damien Marie AtHope