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Paganism: Past, Present, and Future.
What does it mean to be Pagan? Most of our society has vast misconceptions of this term, a result from hundreds of years of persecution by the Christian and Catholic churches. The word Pagan often evokes among people negative images of savages, heathens, devil worshippers, and cackling witches. Those ideas and beliefs are false in their negativity and misunderstandings. In truth, to be Pagan means to be part of one or more of a very broad collection of earth-based religions.
In ancient times the term pagan referred to people who dwelled in the countryside. When Christianity made its way across Europe, people residing in the cities and towns were the first to be converted, leaving those people who resided in the country with their original pre-Christian beliefs. This resulted with the word pagan becoming synonymous with heathens, and non-believers (Harvey).
In an effort to ensure success for its own religion, the Christian church did its best to eradicate Pagan beliefs completely by demonizing it and its people. However, the slander itself was not enough to convince people to abandon their beliefs, and the church was forced to try a different angle. They began gaining converts and the comfort of the people by adapting pagan sabbats into its own holidays. Yule, the winter solstice, is a time when Pagans acknowledge the symbolic birth of the Sun God, recognizing the lengthening of each day. However, the church was able to absorb the solstice, as well as converts, by creating its own holiday--the birth of it’s own son god on December 25th every year. The same can be said about many holidays, Ostara, the spring equinox, became Easter, Beltane became May Day, Samhain became Halloween, even Groundhogs Day was originally a Pagan holiday known as Imbolc. (Cunningham 65).
Some sources arguing for the Christian church claim the opposite of what I mention above, and propose that written documentation for Pagan religions took place up to 300 years after the bible writings of Paul. They imply that because of this, Pagan sabbats were instead the ones influenced by the Christian church (Nash). This argument is weak in the sense that it implies written documentation proves that the Christian stories and holidays came first. The use of written language is a technology, and should not discredit the legends and stories that were passed down for generations before such cultures gained the ability to write and document them.
The meaning of Paganism today represents a religious movement formed in the mid-twentieth century promoting a strong nature based core (Harvey). Some examples of modern pagan religions include: Druidism, Wicca, Animism, Shamanism, and Asatru. To be Pagan often comes with an open mind, and it is rare occasion when a Pagan judges another for his or her beliefs. Actually, it is common to come across a Pagan who comprises many religions into his own spiritual path. There even exists Christian Pagans, which may seem to be a paradox, but these people lead very happy and fulfilling lives. This is the beauty of Paganism--it offers personal freedom.
Pagans do not judge another’s spiritual path because they do not make claims that their own is the only true and righteous religion. For Example, Wiccans acknowledge that all the archetypes of the different Gods and Goddesses throughout the past and present represent the same divine energy that created life. (Cunningham 11). This is unlike most monotheistic religions which actively try to convert people of different beliefs by an intimidation of Hell, and claiming salvation only happens for those who are true believers of their God.
Growth and understanding of what earth-based religions are would benefit our nation and our world greatly. Pagans, as earth worshippers, recognize the dire future their children and planet face, and do their part in helping the environment. If deity is in nature, then that means each tree that’s cut down, each rock displaced, and all those miles of concrete plastered over the earth’s surface is hurting that divine energy. For hundreds of years now, there has been a lack of respect for the planet that supports us, a result from certain bible verses such as Genesis 1:26: “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.” Also Genesis 1:29: “… fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth” (qtd. in Dobel). With the majority of Americans believing verses such as those previously mentioned, it is no wonder that our planet is being ravaged without thought given to future consequences..
Today there is roughly five million Pagans in the United States, and the number is slowly rising each year (Boudica 41). This shows hope for our planet’s future. If more people come to understand what it means to be Pagan, as well the core principles involved, it could result in an awakening within our culture, unleashing a tolerant and nature-conscious mindset.
Boudica. “Where are the Pagan Communities?” Llewellyn’s 2010 Witches’ Companion . Ed. Sharon Leah. Woodbury, MN: Llewellyn, n.d. 39-49. Print.
Cunningham, Scott. Wicca: a guide for the solitary practitioner . Woodbury, MN: Llewellyn, 2006. Print
Dobel, J. Patrick. “Stewards of the Earth’s Resources: A Christian Response to Ecology.” Christian Century 12 October 1977. P. 906. Print
Harvey, Graham. "Paganism." Encyclopedia of Environmental Ethics and Philosophy . Ed. J. Baird Callicott and Robert Frodeman. Vol. 2. Detroit: Macmillan Reference USA, 2009. 135-138. Gale Opposing Viewpoints In Context . Web. 15 Nov. 2010.
Nash, Ronald. “Christianity Wasn’t Influenced by Pagan Religions” Bible.ca/trinity/trinity-pagan-christianity.htm. Copyright 1994 by the Christian Research Institute. Web. 6 Nov. 2010.