American Paganism FAQ
Happy 4th of July America
A Quote to Begin with Just to Stir Some Thoughts
"When they overrun the defenses
A minor invasion put down to expenses
Will you go down to the airport lounge
Will you accept your second class status
A nation of waitresses and waiters
Will you mix their martini's
Will you stand still for it
Or will you take to the hills...
When the cowboys and Arabs draw down
On each other at noon
In the cool dusty air of the city boardroom
Will you standby a passive spectator
To the market dictators
Will you discreetly withdraw
With your ear pressed to the boardroom door
Will you hear when the Lion within you roars
Or will you take to the hills..."
From 'Home' by Roger Waters
As It Is Above so It Is Below
What are these FAQ about American paganism about?
These are some of the most Frequently Asked Questions about American Paganism, being a pagan and what that means in the information age. These are all general guidance and not necessarily the same for all people in America today. This information will hopefully dispels some of the modern misconceptions about pagans and paganism in America. All around it will attempt to educate the reader about the reality of American paganism, but skip the usual mythology that most of the world believes about being pagan. Enjoy and try to have an open mind.
What does pagan mean?
The old world definition of pagan is heathen, a follower of a polytheistic pre-Christian religious system or a hedonistic or irreligious person. This is not the definition that modern pagans ascribe to themselves. This definition is mostly accepted based on the era when paganism was being labeled negatively by world religions that were in competition with the stone age religions after the fall of Rome. Heathen being in reference to the lack of belief in a monotheistic Godhead, or any single God.
What is a pagan?
The essential definition of living pagan is being a practitioner, believer or a follower of one or more modern offshoots from the ancient polytheistic religions. It also can refer to being a member of any of the modern belief systems that is not part of the major and accepted orthodox religions in their modern forms. Being pagan can also refer to a characteristic kindred earth worship, a belief system with the philosophical center of its universe being observed in an art form of life that embodies those beliefs that are true in natural law for all living things.
What is Paganism?
It is in essence, a point of view about society and any gods and goddesses that society may worship. Paganism is loosely a combination of animism, supernatural nature worship, elemental ritual magic, following of the seasonal calendar, honoring of ancestral blood lines or some mix of these ideas with other cultural blends as well. There are a variety of beliefs that can be categorized into this arena, some being very ancient historically and others being well rooted in the modern information age. Magic is common to all paganism, magic is to pagans what faith is to Christianity or Judaism.
What makes one a pagan?
Pagans are earth centered in their beliefs. Pagans are also attempting to be in tune with nature, to be more in touch with the planet Earth. Since most modern paganism incorporates new and old world traditions, modern pagans have built cohesion that has formed into many modern collective groupings. These belief systems are similar to the other world religions, but in most ways they do not associate themselves with any modern Orthodox beliefs. To pagans their traditions and rituals become part of their history, each group being unique in its viewpoint of the world as it exists. Nature worship, ritual traditions and magic are key to the pagan beliefs on some level, but each are clearly pagan from analysis of their ideological outlook.
Do pagans believe in God?
No, at least not an orthodox version of God. Most believe in a Mother Goddess and a Father God. One of the primary characteristics of most paganism is the belief in duality or multiplicity of nature being representative of the universal higher powers. These are not encapsulated by a monotheistic God, nor do they reject other religions for their choice of this definition either. Most pagans believe in a liberation of the self and that all paths to spirituality are seeking truth.
Do pagans believe in the Devil?
No is the short answer to this question. Most pagans do not in the Christian Devil. The dualities of good and evil, light and darkness, male and female are just representations of the natural order of life in its cycles. Therefore evil is in coexistence with good. Some pagans prefer not to use those definitions at all. Although this differs in the various belief systems that can be defined as paganism in the modern era. If pagans do take sides, it is against the evils humankind does unto nature that they are at war with. Human viewpoints on good and evil are for the most part viewed, as outdated or narrowly subjective. Why would it be any other way, because humans are just struggling to survive like everything else . We are animals, neither good nor evil . Therefore we are both divine and primal, but this can be conquered through communion with nature. We can become spiritual beings by waking ourselves to harmonious balance with the cycle of life.
Do all pagans believe in the same Gods or Goddesses?
No they do not necessarily, but most do believe in a duality that is evident in nature. For some this is just a way of honoring this recognition and attuning ourselves to it spiritually. For others the Gods and Goddesses are very real and can aid our works in life. For some they are guides on our journeys, a power to petition in times of need and a source of love when we are lost. Some would equate the Gods and Goddesses of paganism to arch-angelic powers, avatars or loas from other religions. Pagans for the most part believe in what they are drawn to personally, all the Gods and Goddesses being symbolic of humans in their traits and powers. They are men and women like all the children of the Earth.
Is paganism a cult?
No, being a cult is a subjective and specific term. All religions and beliefs started out as small groups with different ideologies. Therefore all beliefs generally start out with a cult like structure, once they become more widely embraced cults become part of culture. Some pagan groups are very small in number, so yes in ways they have cult structure. This by no means defines them all as a cult. Cult movements have existed in various forms through the centuries. The Gnostics, the Socratics, the Hermetics, the Hospitallers, the Templars, the followers of Galileo, Copernicus, the Oashpe movements, the earliest New Age followings, the Christian Scientists,Hippie culture, and all modern civil rights movements began with their formative cult stage in history.
Is there a sacred text that pagans believe in?
No and many do not believe in written texts for the processing of knowledge. Most of the ancient pagan cultures believe in passing down sacred knowledge by way of oral traditions, storytelling and songs. Music maybe a kind of sacred art, but no book encompasses the beliefs of all pagans today. The artists of all musical styles from classical Baroque to modern Electronica are in some way part of pagan culture.
Is there one religion or belief that is considered paganism?
No, paganism is a collection of groups that have a wide and diverse world of beliefs. Religion and dogma are not considered a necessary part of the traditions of modern paganism. Although this is probably not the viewpoint of pagans from the ancient times, but more an evolution of ideologies that became part of modern pagan thinking today.
Is there any single religion that represents paganism?
No , but there are a few larger factions, most of which have historical significance to the cultures which they originate from. Among these Wicca is easily the most outspoken and representative of a great number of pagans in America. Taoism, Santeria and Voodoo are equally large in their numbers within the worldwide community of pagans. Even the practice of magic is not an exclusively pagan tradition. Religions are a product of modern culture more than our world realizes today. The pagans always had their temple under the sky, with feet on the ground and the four winds at their reach . The church of the pagan children was never a building, the body and the spiritual temple is something all of us have as part of being alive.
Who calls themselves pagans?
This is by no means a complete list. Pagans are known as Druids, Wiccans, Witches, Warlocks, Gypsies, Santerians, Odinism, Vikings, Norsemen, Voodoo, Shinto and Taoists. Some other groups like Satanism, Nihilism and a variety of Apocalyptic polytheistic beliefs also consider themselves pagan. There is disagreement about this particularly between Wiccan and Satanism. Wicca holds that Satanism is just an offshoot of Christianity. Satanism holds that they worship no God but the self, so like Wicca the human ideology is the Godform. But this is an argument that will likely go on into the new century. For the general classification of pagan as it refers to people, all of them have the necessary criterion to call themselves pagan in some way. Most anyone who claims to practice magic is at least familiar with the term pagan and many will claim to be one. Yet it should be understood, that to many pagans it is not calling yourself one that makes a pagan. It is living as a pagan, by getting in tune with nature and the planet Earth that makes the difference. The fairy folk and earth children love their Mother Goddess, our planet Earth. That is how all magic begins and ends, by love as the one law.
How is paganism part of being American?
Well first most of the original settlers that came from Europe to settle in the Americas were running from religious and political persecution. At some point we were at war with our oppressors, but also were committing mass genocide upon the Native Americans that were residing here before our arrival. We then created a cargo cult by fulfilling the diaspora or apocalypse for the Africans that were carried here in the slave trade. Despite our ignorance, we as Americans are the descendants of the great experiment that brought all the worlds races and beliefs together by evolutionary or manifest destiny. Take your pick, but somehow it became the culture that we now know as the United States of America. The influence of paganism is visible in our Greco-Roman architecture, Washington's egyptian obelisk monument, the symbolism of the armed forces, our national art, our money, our flag design and even our sacred governmental documents. We the people. That comes from the Greeks and Romans, but more importantly the pagan roots of American history.
How is modern paganism patriotic?
We must ask what elements are a part of American paganism and part of our national pride as a culture to answer this question . But perhaps a modern example is as profoundly able to symbolize the patriotic pagan that is alive in America. Since the Gulf War there have been a number of Wiccan men and women joining the armed forces, perhaps more than ever before. In this last decade did the families of fallen soldiers fight with the Pentagon for the rights of their beloved sons and daughters of wartime. The fight was for the right to let Wiccan soldiers have the holy symbol of the Pentagram be engraved upon their tombstones and grave markers like the Star of David, the Cross and the religious symbols of all other religions are allowed to be. This honoring of the Wiccan soldiers in death is a recent reconciliation, but one that is important to the spirit of American paganism.
What are the core beliefs of modern paganism?
As with any religions or dogmas there are widely accepted versions and more secular ones. Everywhere has its own version of Winter and Summer rites. Festivals of the seasons are the most core beliefs that all forms of paganism adhere to. For the modern pagan, their rituals and beliefs are an ever evolving art known primarily unto themselves, their friends and their families. Some secrets are best kept between friends you might say.
Can American paganism be defined or classified?
Generally, modern pagan traditions in American culture, will fall into one of these five larger categorized groupings. Take note that each can easily be divided into subdivisions that are not more elaborately discussed here. There are five major divisions of the greater world of paganism that are classical paganism, neo-paganism, techno-paganism, shamanism, discordianism and nihilism. Even these are broad generalizations, so they should be taken in that spirit as the reader reads them.
What is classical paganism?
Classical paganism is the practice and art of pagan traditions pre-dating Christianity. Many traditions are passed down and are practiced in the same ritualism generationally. As religion is passed down all through the centuries and are still to the modern times. The practitioners try their best to follow the rituals and methods as they were originally taught either through their family or bloodline. For the most part they choose not to use ideas from other pagan rituals or traditions. The classical pagan is hoping to obtain pure ideological rites by trying to achieve the optimum similarities to how their ancestors actually practiced their religion. The classical paganism traditions tend to merge the ideas of pantheistic gods, cyclic ritualism, polytheism and animism into their beliefs. Classical paganism includes Taoism, Shinto, Jainism, Hinduism, and other proto-religious groups like the Egyptians, Greeks and Romans.
What is neo-paganism?
Neo-paganism is sometimes refered to as the New Age Movement. This kind of paganism is the practice of classical pagan traditions, but also includes modern ritual and ideology. It is generally creative in nature, being somewhat based on the lifestyle of the person and their background. Neopaganism and the New Age have this similarity in common, and therefore are often put together for generalized explanation of their belief systems. Also they are both products of the post-cold war era for the most part. The main difference between neopagans and practitioners of classical paganism is the incorporation of modern religious dogma and rituals into their formulae. Things like the use and incorporation of Western monotheistic ideas, other non-pagan beliefs, angels, demons, alternative texts, cultural dance, and even the Bible in their self stylized rites of the seasons. There is also likely to be a modern undercurrent allowing the intermixing of traditions from other pagan beliefs without discrimination. Neopaganism is very activist oriented and politically progressive. It has embraced feminism, environmentalism, along with gay and lesbian politics in the last century.
What is techno-paganism?
Techno-paganism is the most modern offspring of paganism in America. In theory, it is just a relatively new twist on practices and belief systems coming from what are traditionally pagan. The key idea is that modern technology, devices, computers and artifacts of the post-industrial world are ment to be used as sacred or magical tools, the same way that the chalice, the censor, the horn, the sword, the cord, the pentacle or the athame have been in classical and neo-paganism throughout history. Techno-paganism sees modern musical styles, digital animation, instant messaging, social networks, encryption, cyphers, viruses, hacking, robotics, synthesized writing, multimedia arts and even raw computer code as a kind of sacred text. This codex of new knowledge is not only a basis for what older religions would have used hymns and scripture to prove their religious belief, but is actually magic. This is a very wide subject and would be unfair to discuss without further ability to elaborate, but is worth serious study for those who are truly interested in this subject.
What is shamanism?
Shamanism or sorcery is much like classical paganism, but it has a distinctive set of differences and dogmatic parallels that are not the same as witchcraft or Odinism. This includes eastern, western, shamanism, martial arts, and aboriginal traditions. Voodoo, Native American traditions and cargo cults are also of this design spiritually. They are different in most cases because of their rites, sacred dance, oral traditions for history, singing, chanting, ancestor worship, animism and that their symbolism tends to pre-date writing and most known history. A common link between all shamanistic belief systems is the art of spirit possession or being ridden by outside spirits. The body is a vessel for this state of trance mediumship and only the trained ritual specialist known as a shaman should attempt such actions. Shamanism is also always linked to tribal societal structures. Historically the Jews are shamanistic as much as the Native American cultures.
What is discordianism?
Discordianism is the scientific and skeptical model of reality, but yet through it paganism and its virtues are upheld. Essentially, any true knowledge is not possible, despite what we want to believe reality is, but true reality does not inherently exist in such fantasy. So is the discordianistic idealism, that chaos, discord, and dissension are more desirable qualities in a true human being than are harmony, faith, and order. The discordant view also has a court jester like attitude to almost anything as it has been proposed by religions in former centuries. Despite their inherent love of chaos theory and even in magical practices, the true discordant believes in testing everything to prove itself worthy of being part of human experience. In many ways Atheists and Agnostics have a similar world view as the discordianism, but they just do not have as much fun with their beliefs. They maybe off the deep end for some readers, yet they are true pagans at their core.
What is nihilism?
Nihilism is a darker vein of our current subcultural belief systems having finally grown up. This is paganism by way of the incorporation of the core existential idea that morality does not exist, and that all such ideologies are artificially contrived. Most profoundly found within the ideas of anarchism, ecological movements, activism, artificial intelligence culture and modern Satanism. The nihilistic point of view holds science up as an example, but even doubts it as being dogmatic and potentially flawed. Although not apocalyptic in essence, the nihilistic view does expect that evolution may not have humankind very highly esteemed for the most part. Annihilation or advancement of the species is the right or left hand path. Freewill and determinism are the source of human survival, if that is our destiny. Perhaps not the same passive and peace loving pagans as the others, but this group is growing in numbers as the world faces ecological and technological issues as never have been seen before. This maybe the reason for their rising during the information age, perhaps a new perspective is needed to become more aware and enlightened about the world for now. Such is the quest of nihilism.
Are these groups really considered one belief system?
Yes they are one group of interrelated beliefs systems, but they are not the same religion nor are their practices the same. In terms of being modern American pagan beliefs, yes they all fall under the same umbrella of thought. All are part of the greater philosophy that encompasses being pagan and the practice of paganism. In other words, the practice of personal and natural magic as part of daily life. Magic and nature are the nature of being pagan, it really is that simple. Nothing more or less important, but nothing else is as beautiful to the pagan who is one with the universe in their heart. That one law of love is what all pagans share spiritually. As it is above us, so it is below us, or what is called the microcosm and the macrocosm world we all coexist in together.
Are any of these groups the same in their beliefs?
No, but there is no reason they should be. They each are expressing their own piece of a larger picture. They each are expressing their own version of human evolution and communion with nature. Also they are each doing it in the way that is natural and in harmony with their life. So it is not likely that they would do things the same way to express themselves as pagans.
Are these groups found in the United States of America?
Yes and elsewhere in the world. Pagans and paganism have been around as long as there have been people. Since at least the stone age when we awoke to being hunters and gatherers, but over the centuries our beliefs and rituals just became part of us that was assimilated. Or for the most part forgotten by society, which maybe why many feel drawn to these ancient practices in these modern times again. So let us hope we are being drawn to learn something together, not be torn apart further as a species with war and death. Let us hope that American paganism and all the other religions can find some solutions to this world full of problems, because the world is in greater need of order and truth than ever.
And are they all really pagans?
Yes and they love the Mother Goddess and Father God like children do their parents. So as we end these frequently asked questions, a simple prayer that represents pagans of all types in America, or anywhere.
Know thyself. There is magic.
Love is the Will, Love is the Law.