Do Pagan Religions Have Rules?

Do Pagan Religions Have Rules?

By ,


Question: Do Pagan Religions Have Rules?

I read a book on Wicca that says “all Wiccans must do this and never do that,” and then I read another one that said Pagans can make their own rules. Some people believe in the Threefold Law, and others don’t. Others say that the Wiccan Rede is only for Wiccans but not other Pagans. What’s going on here? Are there rules in Pagan religions like Wicca, or not?



The word “rules” can be a puzzling one, because while there are guidelines, they do tend to vary from one tradition to another. In general, most Pagans – including Wiccans – follow some set of rules that is unique to their own tradition – however, it’s important to note that these standards are not universal. In other words, what Group A holds true as law cannot be applied towards Group B.

The Wiccan Rede

Many groups, particularly NeoWiccan ones, follow one form or another of the Wiccan Rede, which says, “An’ it harm none, do as you will.” This means that you can’t intentionally or knowingly cause harm to another person. Because there are so many different forms of Wicca, there are dozens of different interpretations of the Rede. Some people believe it means you can’t hunt or eat meat, join the military, or even swear at the guy who took your parking spot. Others interpret it a bit more liberally, and some believe that the rule of “harm none” doesn’t apply to self-defense.

The Rule of Three

Many traditions of Paganism, including most variations of Wicca, believe in the Law of Threefold Return. This is essentially a karmic payback – anything you do comes back to you three times more intensely. If good attracts good, then guess what bad behavior brings you?

The 13 Principles of Wiccan Belief

In the 1970s, a group of witches decided to assemble a cohesive set of rules for modern witches to follow. Seventy or so individuals from a variety of magical backgrounds and traditions got together and formed a group called the American Council of Witches, although depending on who you ask, they are sometimes called the Council of American Witches. At any rate, this group decided to try to assemble a list of common principles and guidelines that the entire magical community could follow. These principles are not adhered to by everyone, but are often used as a template in many sets of coven mandates.

The Ardanes

In the 1950s, when Gerald Gardner was writing what eventually become the Gardnerian Book of Shadows, one of the items he included was a list of guidelines called the Ardanes. The word “ardane” is a variant on “ordain”, or law. Gardner claimed that the Ardanes were ancient knowledge that had been passed down to him by way of the New Forest coven of witches. Today, these guidelines are followed by some traditional Gardnerian covens, but are not often found in other NeoWiccan groups.

Coven Bylaws

In many traditions, each coven is responsible for establishing its own set of bylaws or mandates. Bylaws may be created by a High Priestess or High Priest, or they may be written by a committee, depending on the rules of the tradition. Bylaws provide a sense of continuity for all members. They typically cover things like standards of behavior, principles of the tradition, guidelines for acceptable use of magic, and an agreement from members to abide by those rules. Again, these are rules which are applied to the group that creates them, but should not be held as a standard for people outside of this tradition.

Personal Responsibility

Finally, keep in mind that your own sense of magical ethics should be a guideline to you as well – particularly if you’re a solitary practitioner who doesn’t have the history of a tradition to follow back on. You can’t enforce your rules and ethics on other people, though — they have their own set of laws to follow, and those may be different from your own. Remember, there’s no Big Pagan Council that sits and writes you a Bad Karma Ticket when you do something wrong. Pagans are big on the concept of personal responsibility, so ultimately it’s up to you to police your own behavior, accept the consequences of your own actions, and live by your own ethical standards.



The Myths of Modern Paganism

The Myths of Modern Paganism

Author: Widsith 

“What’s history? Nothing but a legend on which all agree” – Napoleon Bonaparte.

As the title may suggest, this essay will deal mainly with history, or if I should be more precise, it’ll deal with some prevailing myths and urban legends among the global Neopagan community. I would like, however, to state beforehand that I am no historian of any sort; all I can claim to be is an ardent critic of the way people tend to perceive history. However, if there are any factual errors, I would be more than glad to be notified of them.

History, as opposed to what some may think, is not written in order to teach us of what happened in the past. Frankly, it’s relatively rare to find a history book that has no ulterior motives regarding anything. The reason for that, as I believe you all know, is that history was recorded mostly by those who managed to survive it. Thus it is not uncommon to find alterations and perversions of facts. You could find that in the Bible as well as in the writings of any notable historian, such as Tacitus or Josephus; it cannot be avoided.

However, I am not here to talk of such alterations, as I will not be discussing the suppression of Pagans by their Monotheistic counterparts, or vice versa. Much had been written and said about this topic without me adding to it. I will however write about some of the modern, Neo-Pagan myths, ranging from the supposed historicity of Wicca to the fictitious Mists of Avalon.

I often hear pagans uttering some statements regarding how old their religion is, and about their traditions being passed down orally for hundreds of years from father to son, or through covens, apprenticeship, etc. Needless to say, many of these claims are fabrications. Most, if not all, of the Western Pagan religions — from which the Wiccans, Asatruars, the Neo-Druids, and many others claim descent — were extinct by the late Middle Ages, if not much earlier. Although there were many aspects from the old religions blended into folklore (which in some cases survived up to modern times) , reconstructing these ancient religions precisely is impossible. I could recount here the history of Christianity and Islam and their bloody wars of destruction against the old religions, however, that would be unnecessary. There’s very little doubt that by the 1900’s, when the Neopagan movement began to surface, other than some old folktales and traditions, nothing remained of the old religions.

However, I see no problem in reconstructing these old religions per se. We’ll just never know for sure if the folk traditions the modern forms are based upon are actually remnants of an old pagan past, or on the contrary, simply modern costuming. My main problem concerns the falsehoods some people spread about Neopagan history. It’s no longer a problem about “who wrote it down”; the problem is that many of these things simply never happened.

Let’s take the Witch craze, for example. I have heard people say that it was basically a campaign by the Church, all for the extermination of an old European Pagan Religion. Of course, this is not true. The Witch craze was not directed against any supposed “witchcraft religion” because there simply wasn’t any witchcraft religion at that time. The entire concept of this supposedly historical religion originated in the 19th century among some anthropologists; however, it was soon discarded until Gerald Gardner picked it up and created the Wiccan Creation Myth.

Then there is the popular concept of an old widespread ‘Goddess religion’. It is true that Pagan cultures had some respect for the feminine aspects however there was no widespread Goddess-worshipping religion. Moreover, the entire concept of a triple Goddess, which encompasses everything (or as I prefer referring to it – the MMC – maiden, mother, crone) , never existed before the advent of Neopaganism (Yes, there were triple Gods and Goddesses, but they were not of the MMC type by all means) . There were some historical cults favoring female deities, however, none of them (from whatever we know of them) seem like their modern counterparts.

And lastly, there is the book, The Mists Of Avalon. When I first read it, I loved it. I truly think that it’s an important book, mainly because of its message. However, seeing the use made of the tale by so many, I felt dismayed at first, and enraged afterwards. The Mists of Avalon, as you all should know, is not history, and they never will be. Morgan Le Fey is likely nothing but a literary figure (although she might have some Pagan origin as the Welsh Modron) , and Avalon was never an island, nor had there been an order of druidesses in Glastonbury Tor. The entire legend connecting Glastonbury Tor with the mythical Avallach originated in the 11th century, when the English were warring with the Welsh, and most of what we know as the Arthurian Saga is the literary creation of Geoffry from Monmouth. Although he did incorporate many old folktales of Arthur in his tales, he had, as many others did on those days, invented parts of his story while claiming them to be older.

There is no problem in people following a religion that is other than yours, as long as they don’t harm other people in the process. The problem is that people choose to distort, and sometimes, even reinvent history in order to justify their religion. Even the oldest of religions were once new, so there’s no need for emerging new ones to fill in their blanks with a fictitious history. However, we still do it. (The answer to the question “why do we rely on mythologies to justify whatever we do?” will not be answered in this essay.)

I will conclude with a simple call for all of you out there: do not distort history. Simply, do not do it. What you’re doing is not presenting the ‘other side’ of history; you are attempting to rewrite it. I beg you, please do some research.

And may the universe bless you all.

The Essence Of Witchcraft Is Therapy

The Essence Of Witchcraft Is Therapy

The younger generation, that generation unfairly labelled Generation X, has an alarmingly dark cast looming over them. They are the first generation who are not expected to fare better than their parents. They are the depressed generation, with an alarmingly large percentage of these children on Prozac or other anti-depression drug, they have been warped by television, violence, illegal drugs and absentee parents. It is no wonder then, that many of these young people have turned to the Pagan religions for solace, turning Witchcraft and other Pagan religions into very quickly growing paths.

It is no puzzle why young people find the pagan religions attractive, they offer a degree of freedom and individualityuncommon to most other mainstream religions, they offer the practitioner strength and power. Because these religions integrate the magickal arts into their core theology, people who need a sense of empowerment are drawn to these religions. In Witchcraft especially, the practitioner is taught that they hold all the power, that will is all one needs to shape their fate and that we all have the ability to determine our futures. But Witchcraft also teaches that along with the power of independence comes responsibility, when we are forced to take responsibility for our actions, we become much more aware of them and this realisation is in itself a kind of therapy.

While many Craft leaders would be hesitant to accept the fact that Witchcraft is therapy, the truth is that any practice which advocates self exploration, self empowerment and self expression is therapeutic. The entire purpose of spirituality in its pure and unadulterated form is to provide a link between the individual and the Divine. Once this link is established and a firm relationship develops, the seeker becomes cleansed. A renewed understanding of self and a new-found self respect is instilled, thus the end result is the same result striven for in any kind of therapy. The re-connecting of the mind and body to the Earth and Goddess is the ultimate form of self affirmation therapy.

Unfortunately, however, the therapeutic aspects of Witchcraft are often masked not only by Hollywood facades which present Witchcraft as a fairytale practice, but also by many books that speak almost exclusively about magick and its application. While it is true that Witchcraft wouldn’t be Witchcraft without magick, it is also true that magick simply will not work without a deep understanding of self and a deep relationship with Earth, Universe and Goddess. Books that give guidelines for rituals and spells do nothing to add dimension to Witchcraft as a bona fide religion, though it appeals greatly to the younger generation. Yet watered-down Witchcraft can never feed the soul and when the young practitioner discovers that their magick does not work (because the books they read have neglected to inform them that they must transform themselves before they can work magick) they turn away from Witchcraft and never come to gain the very thing that they came in search of.

Because witches are very wary of those who proselytise, they are wary to do so themselves. Witches are willing to teach those who are sincere in their desire to learn and who are mature enough to discipline themselves in the manner required of true scholarship. The trouble however, is that most teenagers and young adults who encounter Witchcraft are not lucky enough to have a physical teacher. They read books, magazines and consult the Internet for their teachings. Yet precious little of these media offer valuable and accessible theological and/or philosophical information to the student. Most often, students are taught the Wheel of the Year and the Wiccan Rede without ever being taught why these things are sacred, how they are integrated into our daily lives and how the student is to interpret these guidelines for themselves. In fact, because many publications focus heavily on the eclectic side of Witchcraft, they often offer the student these empty words…Do whatever feels right to you. In some instances, such advice is favourable, but many times, the student has no idea what they should feel, let alone if that feeling is right.

Though teenagers and young adults come to Witchcraft for many reasons including a desire for control, love or for some rebellion against controlling parents, the reason these people stay with Witchcraft is because they feel a sense of coming home.While love and money spells may lure them in, those who are not willing to change for their religion will not stay. Witchcraft is first and foremost, a religion that advocates metamorphosis and self transformation and these things do not come from the wave of a magick wand. These things only come with perseverance, determination and discipline. Many books mention this fact, but most do not stress it enough. It is almost as though they are afraid of scaring away the reader. But why mask what our religion is? Why try to market it is as something that it is not? If we know that Witchcraft is a therapeutic religion that can reconnect the individual with Earth, why do we try to bury this beauty underneath magick spells and rituals? Why are we afraid to tell the student, If you want it bad enough, you can have it, but not without getting your hands dirty? In an age where we are losing a generation to drugs, violence and sexually transmitted disease, why do we deny them the exhilarating liberation that Witchcraft-as-therapy has to offer?

Perhaps writers are afraid that their work won’t be published unless they offer mass public appeal and the public wants magick. Maybe they are afraid that publishing a belief system is so close to proselytisation that they are afraid to cross that line. Yet if Witchcraft is to remain a bona fide religion, it must enculturate the younger generation and it must offer them something useful in return. Witchcraft is a truly beautiful religion, once one gets to the very meat of it and it is a religion truly fit for combating the decay of our young people. Unlike many mainstream religions, witches do not believe that they must rely on an outside source for fulfilment and happiness. Witches believe that the witch saves them self and in an era where self denigration and self hate is on the rise, it would be wise for the teachers of the Craft to make this information readily available to the student. The most valuable thing I ever learned from Witchcraft is that by the simple fact that I am, everything I do, say, feel and think is not only valid, but sacred as well. When we learn to accept ourselves as sacred, we come to understand that others are sacred and mutual respect is established and unity grows.

While it is never too late to teach these principles to anyone, it is much easier to integrate them into the teachings of the beginner, because they are so willing to learn. Instead of filling our bookstores with how-to books that may sell well but offer very little, we must teach and publish that which the younger generation needs to hear, which is that only through self discovery and understanding can we ever be truly successful, be it in work, love or magick.


Empathy’s Mystical Occult Site

How Witchcraft Works – Modern Witchcraft

How Witchcraft Works


Modern Witchcraft

Witchcraft is a pagan religion. Pagan religions worship multiple deities rather than a single god. Paganism is one of the oldest religions and includes all religions that are not Christian, Muslim or Jewish, meaning Paganism includes the Hindu, Buddhist, Taoist, Confucian and American Indian religions as well as all other nature-oriented religions. According to the 1998 Cambridge Fact Finder, Paganism accounts for 50 percent of all religions.

The word “Pagan” actually stems from the Latin Pagini or Paganus, words meaning “hearth” or “home dweller” or, more simply, “country person” — those labeled as Pagans were considered inferior to those living in cities. It didn’t, however, mean those people were “bad.” It wasn’t until the 1450s that fear of witchcraft became more prevalent, and people began associating witchcraft and paganism with devil worship, evil hexes and spells.

Types of Witchcraft

There are many types of witchcraft, many of which overlap and all of which can be defined in different ways by different people, but here are some rough guidelines for their designations:

  • African witchcraft: There are many types of witchcraft in Africa. The Azande of central Africa believe that witchcraft causes all types of misfortune. The “gift” of witchcraft, known as mangu, is passed from parent to child. Those possessing mangu aren’t even aware of it and perform magick unconsciously while they sleep.
  • Appalachian folk magic: Those who practice witchcraft in the Appalachian mountains see good and evil as two distinct forces that are led by the Christian God and Devil, respectively. They believe there are certain conditions that their magick cannot cure. They also believe that witches are blessed with paranormal powers and can perform powerful magick that can be used for either good or evil purposes. They look to nature for omens and portents of the future.
  • Green witchcraft: A Green witch is very similar to a Kitchen/Cottage witch (see below) with the exception that the Green witch practices in the fields and forest in order to be closer to the Divine spirit. The Green witch makes his or her own tools from accessible materials from outdoors.
  • Hedge witchcraft: A Hedge witch is not part of a group or coven. This witch practices magick alone and works more with the green arts, herbal cures and spells. In the early days, Hedge witches were local wise men or women who cured illnesses and gave advice. They can be of any religion and are considered traditional witches (see below).
  • Hereditary witchcraft: Hereditary witches believe in “gifts” of the craft that are with a witch from birth, having been passed from generations before.
  • Kitchen/Cottage witchcraft: A Kitchen witch, or Cottage witch, practices magick around the hearth and home. The home is a sacred place, and the use of herbs is used often to bring protection, prosperity and healing. Kitchen witches often follow more than one path of witchcraft.
  • Pennsylvania Dutch hexcraft or “Pow-wow“: When the Germans first arrived in Pennsylvania, Native Americans were there, so the term “pow-wow” to describe this practice may come from observations of Indian gatherings. Pow-wowing includes charms and incantations dating back to the Middle Ages, as well as elements borrowed from the Jewish Kabbalah and Christian Bible. Pow-wowing focuses on healing illnesses, protecting livestock, finding love or casting or removing hexes. Pow-wowers consider themselves to be Christians endowed with supernatural powers.
  • Traditional witchcraft: Traditional witchcraft often follows science, history and the arts as its foundation. While sharing the same respect for nature as the Wiccan witch (see below), traditional witches do not worship nature nor the god or goddess of Wicca. They contact spirits that are part of an unseen spirit world during rituals. Magick is more practical than ceremonial and focuses greatly on herbs and potions. This sect of witchcraft also has no law of harming none, but does believe in responsibility and honor. Hexes and curses, therefore, can be used in self-defense or for other types of protection.
  • Wicca: Wicca is one of the modern Pagan religions that worships the Earth and nature, and it is only about 60 years old. It was created in the 1940s and ’50s by Gerald Gardner. Gardner defined witchcraft as a positive and life-affirming religion that includes divination, herblore, magic and psychic abilities. Wiccans take an oath to do no harm with their magick.




Thirteen Books Every Wiccan Should Read

Thirteen Books Every Wiccan Should Read

By ,

Now that you’ve decided you want to learn about contemporary Wicca or another modern Pagan path, what should you read? After all, there are literally thousands of books on the subject — some good, others not so much. This list features the thirteen books that every Pagan should have on their shelves. A few are historical, a few more focus on modern Wiccan practice, but they’re all worth reading more than once. Bear in mind that while some books may purport to be about Wicca, they are often focused on NeoWicca, and do not contain the oathbound material found in traditional Wiccan practice.

Adler, Margot: Drawing Down the Moon2

If you want to learn about birds, you get a field guide about birds. If you want to learn about mushrooms, you get a field guide to mushrooms. Drawing Down the Moon is a field guide to Pagans. Rather than offering up a book of spells and recipes, Margot Adler presents an academic work that evaluates modern Pagan religions – including Wicca – and the people who practice them. The work is based on a survey the author took over two decades ago, but the information within is still a worthy read. Drawing Down the Moon makes no apologies for the fact that not all Wiccans are full of white light and fluff, but instead tells it like it is. Adler’s style is entertaining and informative, and it’s a bit like reading a really well-done thesis paper.

Buckland, Raymond: Complete Book of Witchcraft

Raymond Buckland is one of Wicca’s most prolific writers, and his work Complete Book of Witchcraft continues to remain popular two decades after it was first published – and for good reason. Although this book represents a more eclectic flavor of Wicca rather than a particular tradition, it’s presented in a workbook-like format that allows new seekers to work through the exercises at their own pace, learning as they go. For more seasoned readers, there’s a lot of useful information as far as rituals, tools, and magic itself. This book is a classic, and well worth picking up.

Cunningham, Scott: Wicca – A Guide for the Solitary Practitioner

The late Scott Cunningham wrote a number of books before his untimely death, but Wicca: A Guide for the Solitary Practitioner remains one of the best known and most useful. Although the tradition of witchcraft in this book is more Cunningham’s eclectic path than any other tradition, it’s full of information on how to get started in your practice of Wicca and magic. He goes into depth about tools, how and why they are used, ethics, and the concept of god and goddess. If you’re interested in learning and practicing as an individual, and not necessarily jumping into a coven right off the bat, this book is a valuable resource.

Curott, Phyllis: Witch Crafting

Phyllis Curott is one of those people who makes me glad to be Pagan — because she’s really normal. An attorney who has spent her life working on First Amendment issues, Curott has managed to put together a really useful book. Witch Crafting is not a collection of spells, rituals or prayers. It’s a hard and fast look at magical ethics, the polarity of male and female in the divine, finding the god and goddess in your everyday life, and the pros and cons of coven life vs. solitary paths. Curott also offers up a very interesting take on the Rule of Three. Whether you’re a new student of Wicca, or a veteran, Witch Crafting is worth reading more than once.

Eilers, Dana: Pagans and the Law – Understand Your Rights

Dana D. Eilers spent many years facilitating an event called Conversations With Pagans, and from that she wrote a book entitled The Practical Pagan. She then drew on her experience as an attorney to write Pagans and the Law: Understand Your Rights. This book goes into depth about precedents in religious discrimination lawsuits, how to protect yourself if you may be a victim of workplace harassment, and how to document everything if your spirituality is leading someone to treat you unfairly. Eilers is an outspoken woman who has a lot of great advice worth listening to.

Farrar, Janet & Stewart: The Witches’ Bible

[p]The first section of this book is Eight Sabbats for Witches. It goes into depth on Sabbat rites, and the meanings behind the holidays are expanded on. While the ceremonies in The Witches’ Bible are the Farrars’ own, there’s a heavy influence of the Gardnerian tradition, as well as Celtic folklore and some other European history. The second half of the book is in fact another book, The Witches Way, which looks at the beliefs, ethics, and practice of modern witchcraft. Despite the fact that the authors are a bit conservative by today’s standards, this book is an excellent look at the transitioning concept of what exactly it is that makes someone a witch.

Gardner, Gerald: Witchcraft Today

Gerald Gardner is the founder of modern Wicca as we know it, and of course of the Gardnerian tradition. His book Witchcraft Today is a worthy read, however, for seekers on any Pagan path. He discusses paganism in Europe, as well as the so-called “witch cult”, and goes on to demonstrate how many of history’s notable names are connected, one way or another, to what we know today as witchcraft. Although some of the statements in Witchcraft Today should be taken with a grain of salt — after all, Gardner was a folklorist and that shines through in his writing — it’s still one of the foundations that contemporary Wicca is based on. For its historical value, few things beat this book.

Hutton, Ronald: Triumph of the Moon

Triumph of the Moon is a book about Pagans by a non-Pagan, and Hutton, a highly respected professor, does an excellent job. This book looks at the emergence of contemporary Pagan religions, and how they not only evolved from the Pagan societies of the past, but also owe heavily to 19th-century poets and scholars. In fact, Hutton points out that a good deal of what we consider “ancient” Pagan practice can be attributed to the novelists and romantics of the late Edwardian and early Victorian era. Despite his status as a scholar, Hutton’s breezy wit makes this a refreshing read, and you’ll learn far more than you ever expected to about today’s Pagan religions.

Morrison, Dorothy: The Craft – A Witch’s Book of Shadows

Dorothy Morrison is one of those writers who doesn’t hold back, and while her book The Craft is aimed at beginners, she manages to create a work that can be useful for anyone. Morrison includes exercises and rituals which are not only practical, but teaching tools as well. Despite its focus on the lighter side of witchcraft, it’s a good starting point for anyone trying to learn about Wicca, and how to create your own rituals and workings. Morrison also has written a number of other books, including a companion work to this one.

Russell, Jeffrey: A History of Witchcraft

Historian Jeffrey Russell presents an analysis of witchcraft in an historical context, from the early days of Medieval Europe, through the witch craze of the Renaissance, and up into modern times. Russell doesn’t bother trying to fluff up the history to make it more palatable to today’s Wiccans, and takes a look at three different kinds of witchcraft — sorcery, diabolical witchcraft, and modern witchcraft. A noted religious historian, Russell manages to make an entertaining yet informative read, as well as accepting that witchcraft in and of itself can in fact be a religion.