M O D E R N P A G A N I S M :
QUESTIONS & ANSWERS
To promote community harmony and freedom of religious practice.
Distributed by : The Committee for Religious Freedom, Salt Lake City,
Thanks to LesleyPhillips andLinda Pinti ofThe Covenantof
Unitarian Universalist Pagans for original material.
Contemporarysociety isexperiencingaresurgence ofinterest
in earth- and nature-centered spirituality. Modern Paganism is a rich
and diverse religious movement drawing the attention of the media,
law-makers, and spiritual seekers. This pamphlet attempts to answer
some of the questions frequently asked about modern Pagan beliefs and
What is Paganism?
Theterm"Pagan" comesfrom aLatinword for"country dweller"
first used in early Christian times to refer to those not yet
converted to Christianity. "Pagan" was an epithet that cast aspersions
on those not seen as "true believers." Today, it refers more general
to the faith of those whose spiritual center is drawn to native and
natural religions, usually pantheistic or polytheistic, and almost
What then is "Modern Paganism"?
ModernPaganism,orNeo-Paganism, isamodern, Earth-centered
religious perspective which borrows and adapts from pre-Christian
paganism as well as from contemporary religious thought. While
reconnecting with ancient wisdom, it speaks eloquently to the needs
and concerns of the present.
What is meant by "The Old Religion"?
The term describes the pre-Christian religion of much of
western and northern Europe, which was based on the agricultural
cycles and other natural rhythms of the Earth. It coexisted with
Christianity for centuries, from the so-called "Dark Ages" up until
the Inquisition and the "Burning Times" (witch hunts) of the late
Middle Ages. It also can refer more generally to other
native and tribal religions of the world.
What is the difference between Paganism and Witchcraft?
SomecontemporaryPagans callthemselvesWitches.The termhas
many meanings, some carrying rather heavy negative baggage.
"Witchcraft" or "The Craft" is most properly applied to three broad
categories: Descendants of the European witches of the Middle Ages,
practitioners of the "reconstructed" Witchcraft of the 20th century,
and "feminist Witches" whose religion and politics center in the
contemporary womens' spirituality movement. It can generally be said
that all modern Witches are Pagans, but not all modern Pagans are
Witches. At least one writer, Aidan Kelly, has begun to use the term
"Neo-Pagan Witchcraft" to describe the largest portion of the
contemporary Pagan community.
What is meant by the term "Wicca"?
Oftenused asa synonymfor Witchcraft,"Wicca" isthought to
derive from an Anglo-Saxon root meaning to bend or to turn. It is more
properly applied only to those Witchcraft traditions which originated
in or derive from practices in the British Isles.
What about Shamanism?
Shamanismisnot areligion, butaset ofspiritual techniques
used for healing and the acquisition of knowledge through forays into
non-ordinary states of consciousness. Now gaining increasing
attention in the counseling profession, this journeying is usually
aided by sonic driving (such as repetitive drumming or chanting) and
often involves interactions with totemic and archetypal figures. These
techniques are used in virtually every tribal society and are widely
used by contemporary Pagans.
What do modern Pagans believe?
The centralbeliefs ofmodern Pagansdiffer in specificsyet
share many fundamentals. Deity is seen as immanent rather than
transcendent. Experience is preferred over doctrine. It is believed
that there are and should be multiple paths to the Divine. There is
no prescribed creed, but there are a number of beliefs shared by most
contemporary Pagans, summarized at the end of this pamphlet.
Isn't this just Humanism by another name?
Noand Yes.Likereligious Humanists,modernPagans havealove
and reverence for this world and the physical plane generally. The
rational is seen as important. Great emphasis is also placed on the
intuitive, however, and the belief that the physical and non-physical
worlds are equally real, and are interconnected, interpenetrating
manifestations of nature. This means that spiritual work, whether
called meditation, prayer, or magic, and whether done as ritual,
worship, or celebration, is efficacious and can result in changes in
the physical world. The majority of Pagans also believe in the
survival of the consciousness or soul after physical death.
How do modern Pagans worship?
Some groups have formalworship services or similar group
meetings. Others conduct rituals that have varying degrees of set
forms. Some Pagans worship by themselves without formal ritual. Most
contemporary Pagans hold rituals corresponding to the turning of the
seasons and the phases of the moon. Rituals are often performed in a
sacred space defined by the demarcation of a circle, within which the
celebration and worship take place. Celebrations include eight major
seasonal holidays, sometimes collectively referred to as "Sabbats".
These Sabbats, as most frequently observed by North American and
European Pagans, follow the agricultural cycles of the northern
temperate zone, and include the solstices and equinoxes as well as
four intermediate festivals which fall in between, sometimes called
"cross-quarters," on or near the first days of February,
May, August, and November. Regular public Sabbat rituals, reflecting
a variety of contemporary Pagan styles, are held in many communities.
Rituals may include meditation, chanting, drumming, myth- and
story-telling, ritual drama, dance, and so on. Deeper ritual work is
most often practiced at private gatherings, which for many traditions
coincide with the phases of the moon. The work may include more
intense raising of energy, healing work, and personal spiritual
What about Satanism?
Contrary to the claims of ill-informed Christian
fundamentalists, the practices of modern Pagans are in no way related
to Satanism. Most Pagans do not even believe Satan exists. As a
profanation of Christian symbolism, Satan worship is a Christian
heresy, not a Pagan religion.
Do Pagans proselytize?
No,Pagansdo notproselytize.Most modernPagantraditions do
welcome newcomers. Most modern Pagans also do not discourage other
Pagans from integrating other religious and spiritual practices and
beliefs into their practice.
WHAT CONTEMPORARY PAGANS BELIEVE
while there is no set of beliefs shared by all Pagans, most would
agree that similarities far outweigh differences. There are a number
of beliefs held by the vast majority of modern Pagans. Some of these
1. Divinity is seen as immanent.
2. Divinity is as likely to manifest itself in female as male form,
the God or the Goddess, in the interconnectedness of all life.
3. Multiple paths to the divine exist, as symbolized by many goddesses
and gods. These are often seen as archetypes or gateways to the
4. We respect and love Mother Earth as a living being, Gaia, of which
we are a part.
5. The physical world, as an emanation of the divine, is good and to
be enjoyed by all living beings in love and harmony.
6. Ethics and morality are based on avoidance of harm to other beings,
including Earth as a whole, which mandates environmental activism as a
7. Human interdependence implies the need for community cooperation.
8. The solar and lunar cycles and the cycles of our lives are
celebrated. This leads to the maintenance and revival of old customs
and the creation of new ones.
9. A strong commitment to personal and planetary growth, evolution,
and balance are vital.
10. One's lifestyle must be consistent with one's beliefs. The
personal is political.
11. A minimum of dogma and a maximum of individual responsibility in
all things are goals to strive for. Thus a healthy skepticism is to be
fostered, and ideas are not to be accepted without personal
investigation of their validity.
12. Messiahs and gurus are to be avoided. The mediation of another
being is unnecessary for an individual to commune with Deity.
Power-from-within is preferred to power-over.
13. All beings are personal emanations of the Divine. Thou art
Goddess, thou art God.
Next: A Booklist of Pagan/Magickal Titles