And, now, for Samhain, a little something on American Paganism

1 11 2009

I think that I may have more Pagan friends than your average bear.  Well, to be fair, your average bear has more on its mind than finding Pagan friends, among which cubs, and salmon, and sex, and lots of sleep loom large.  But, as usual, I digress, if a little sooner in the blog than usual. 

Paganism is a Religion which exists without a hierarchy, as such, just what Pagans believe and what they practice varies wildly.  More, unlike a lot of other Religions, we have been taught, as a Society, a lot of things about what Paganism is, which it simply is not.  Therefore a large portion of this posting will be a discussion of what Paganism is not.

Let’s start with the big stuff.  Paganism is not a monotheistic Religion based, however loosely, on Christianity.  This is where it differs from the Religion that so many people associate with it: Satanism.  Satanism is a monotheistic religion where the master divinity, and the religion’s namesake, is a single entity which opposes the Christian deity, and whose hierarchy of demons mirrors the hierarchy of angels in Christianity.  But, Satanism is not Paganism, and, in fact, has nothing to do with it.

Now, just as I drew the distinction between Paganism and Satanism, I must too, discuss the differentiation between Paganism and Wicca.  Wicca, whence comes the word Witch, uses some of the same nomenclature of Paganism.  Wiccans use Circles to contain what is within, to protect from that which is without, and, along the Circle itself, to raise Energy.  Once raised, the Energy can be molded and shaped to perform Magick.  Notice the Capital M and the terminating K, which show that it is not the same magic you see in Vegas, which is based on illusion and sleight of hand; Magick uses Universal Forces to shape reality.  In fact, the word Wicca, if I remember it properly, and I might not, in its original form meant “to shape”, the same as the word “plastic” meant “to shape”.  And, whereas Pagans worship deities of various forms, Wiccans call upon the Four Elements, Earth, Air, Water and Fire, as the essence of their Craft.  The Fifth Essence, the Quintessence, is the spark of Life.  Therefore, a five pointed star, a Pentagram, with the Fifth Essence pointing Upwards affirms Life, and with the Fifth Essence pointing downwards negates Life, which is why you see it in so many horror movies.  When you saw Willow on Buffy the Vampire Slayer, she always referred to herself as a Wicca rather than a Pagan, and you know, good for Joss Whedon for drawing the distinction.

Finally, Paganism is not, so far as I can tell, the Religion practiced by any Indigenous American People, whose Religion, in the eyes of the People-Who-Came-After-Them-And-Forced-Them-Onto-Reservations-And-Such, was Heathen – Not Pagan.

Now, finally, onto what Paganism is.  Paganism is largely a nature worship religion.  Its holidays reside at 0 degrees of the astrological Cardinal Signs, and 15 degrees of the Fixed signs: at 0 Cardinal, you have, in order, the Vernal Equinox, the Summer Solstice, the Autumnal Equinox, and the Winter Solstice (minor holidays).  At 15 degrees Fixed, you have Beltane (May Day),  Lughnasadh (Mid-Summer), Samhain (Halloween) and Imbolc (which falls on Groundhog’s Day but is the Mid-Winter holiday and has nothing to do with Groundhogs).  I say that they are at 0 Cardinal and 15 Fixed, because they are; NOT because most Pagans are Astrologers, nor that Astrology has anything to do with their Religion.  To complicate things, the Lunar Cycles are celebrated, particularly Full Moons, but New Moons get their fair share of attention in certain circles (used with a small c as in the vernacular, not Capital C as in a Circle).  And while I am proud of that particular turn of phrase, I will tell you that a Circle is a gathering of Pagans to perform a Religious ceremony, whereas a Coven or a Grove are the equivalents of Congregations. 

Pagans are a polytheistic lot and some Circles draw in Gods from various pantheons, Greek, Norse, Egyptian, Native American, whatever, even if those Gods historically didn’t get along together, and even if the worship of those Gods required that they be worshiped singly, or at least have pride of place.  In other Circles, the Gods from those traditions are looked on as myths, and, instead, the Triple Goddess (Maiden-Mother-Crone) is invoked, either singly, or with her Consort, the Green Man.

You would expect that Nature Worship religions would meet out of doors, but that is not always the case.  They frequently meet indoors, and several even have relationships with various liberal houses of worship, especially the Unitarian/Universalists, because, let’s face it, what’s more Universal than Nature?

There are Religious themes that, as far as I can tell, Pagans agree on: the equality of the genders, and, therefore, that valid relationships can exist regardless of the genders of the participants; the veil between the living and dead worlds which is thinnest at Samhain (Halloween); that what you sow, you reap, with interest (although whether it is three-fold or seven-fold seems to be less clear, at least to me); and that Paganism should be taken seriously.  Also, as the practice of Astrology is not necessary to be a Pagan, neither is the practice of Divination, although both Astrology and Divination seem to have more adherents per capita within the Pagan Community than out of it.

Many Pagans celebrate today, November 1st, as New Years, and, if you are one of that number, Happy New Year to you.  Other Pagans celebrate the Vernal Equinox as the New Year.  And, of course, others still recognize January 1st as New Years.

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