Avoiding the Pitfalls of Paganism

Avoiding the Pitfalls of Paganism

Author:   Crick   

As folks begin to re-discover their interest in paganism, there are certain fallacies that are being put forth that do not contribute in a meaningful way to the true nature of paganism. We, as a community that is based upon many divergent beliefs, would be wise to avoid these pitfalls as we move forward. Please keep in mind that we are all individuals and as such we are entitled to our personal opinions even if it does not agree with others’ opinions.

Fallacy: The pentagram is the symbol of one particular group of pagans.

The truth is that the pentagram has been in use by various groups, both pagan and Christian, since Uruk IV circa 3500 BCE in ancient Mesopotamia where the general interpretation appeared to be “heavenly body.” By the cuneiform period circa 2600 BCE the pentagram or symbol “UB” came to mean “region, ” “heavenly quarter” or “direction”.

Venus is equated with the Sumerian Goddess, Ishtar (Inanna) whose symbol is an eight or sixteen point star.

In association with the Hebrews, the five-point symbol was ascribed to Truth and to the five books of the Pentateuch.

In Ancient Greece, it was called the Pentalpha.

Pythagorians considered it an emblem of perfection or the symbol of the human being. The Pythagoreans used it as a sign of recognition and they called the Pentagram “Hugieia” which is usually translated “Health, ” but can also translate as “Soundness or Wholeness”, and in a more general way, any “Divine Blessing”. Hugieia (Hygeia) is the Greek Goddess of Health, who is called Salus by the ancient Romans.

The pentagram was also associated with the golden ratio (which it includes) , and the dodecahedron, the fifth Platonic solid, which has twelve pentagonal faces and was considered by Plato to be a symbol of the heavens.

The Pentagram has been found everywhere from Egyptian statues to Gaulish coins. In fact, the Greeks, Aryans, and Etruscans (circa 400 BCE) shared a coin bearing a pentagram and the characters “PENSU” (Etruscan for five) .

It is noted that the texts of Solomon from the Mediaeval period gave great importance to the pentagram, under the name “Solomon’s Seal.”

It is documented that the first English mention of a pentagram appears in the legend of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Stanzas 27-28 (1380 CE) . Gawain, who is traditionally the Celtic sun-hero, carries a shield “shining gules, With the Pentagle in pure gold depicted thereon”.

“It is a symbol which Solomon conceived once
To betoken holy truth, by its intrinsic right,
For it is a figure which has five points,
And each line overlaps and is locked with another;
And it is endless everywhere, and the English call it,
In all the land, I hear, the Endless Knot.”

And yet with the exception of Eliphas Levi who was associated with Catholicism, the Pentagram has never had any established definition or translation in regards to evil or any other negative connotation.

It was Eliphas Lévi who made the claim, with no justification or established historical precedent, that the pentagram with one point upward represents the good principle and one downward, the principals of evil. Eliphas Levi had trained for the Roman Catholic priesthood and was a prolific writer on Freemasonry magical associations. And as such his motives are somewhat questionable.

In fact, the five-pointed star is also defined as a symbol of Christ, “the bright and morning star”: and, inverted with one point down, it represents the descent of Christ, which represents his Incarnation. Lo and behold, there is a huge inverted five-pointed star on the steeple of the “Marktkirche”, or Market Church in fourteenth century Hanover, Germany and there are the numerous inverted stars that surround a statue of Mary and the Christ Child in Chartres Cathedral circa 1150 C.E.

The early Christians attributed the pentagram to the Five Stigmata of Christ and/or the doctrine of the Trinity plus that of the two natures of Christ.

It can also be seen on gravestones in the Claustro da Lavagem in the Convento at Tomar, Portugal, the monastery of Ravna, Bulgaria and the Church of All Saints at Kilham, Humberside, Yorkshire, England, which incorporates the symbol on the columns which support the Norman doorway. It is indented on the gateposts of the churchyard of S. Peter’s, Walworth, England, built in 1824 CE.

And yet in spite of thousands of years of the Pentagram being seen as a symbol of health and many other positive aspects, the Pentagram is now held forth by a few so called organized religions as being a symbol of a dark foreboding and evil.

However the pentagram is not the exclusive domain of any one pagan group and should not be presented as such as it now often is. Paganism is far too diverse to be represented by anyone group.

It is one thing to establish a religion/spiritual path that is often a mishmash of beliefs from other religious belief systems. But for such religions who were formed after the fact to engage in such blatant distortions doesn’t do much to contribute to the understanding and acceptance that these same religions claim as tenets of their own beliefs.

Until the members of such religions find the will and inner strength to empower the truth, there will always be such institutional hypocrisies. And as such these misnomers will continue to belie and disrupt any real effort at understanding and good will towards others.

Fallacy: The mystical arts are primarily a religion.

To my mind, when one takes the mystical arts which to my mind is constantly evolving and is limitless in its definition and understanding and places it within the parameters of religious dogma, then one is in effect limiting their personal spiritual growth and ability to develop within the concept of true mystical arts.

I understand that such limitations work well for some folks and that is what it is. However such a concept does not work for those who are solitaire, follow the path of shamanism, Voudon, Asatru, Nordic, Witchcraft or what have you. Such folks follow a spiritual path and not a religion. And so there needs to be more of an acceptance of such a reality.

Far too often there are attempts by those who desire to turn the mystical arts into a religion to downplay the beliefs of others or to elevate themselves above all others. Such behavior is detrimental to any attempts at creating a true pagan community and thus is a pitfall to be avoided.

Fallacy: Everyone who follows a pagan path is in effect a Neo Pagan and attempting to re-construct an ancient pagan belief.

This is simply not true and does nothing more than to play into the hands of those who would like to be seen as the pagan standard and whom often falsely claim to represent all pagans.

This misnomer may apply to those primarily of European descent who now desire to follow a pagan path from ancient Europe. But the reality is that there are in fact folks from such descent who have always been pagan. Though the organized religions did their utmost best to eradicate pagan beliefs, there were some families who did not succumb to such attempts.

To paint everyone who follows a European based pagan belief with such a broad brush is self-serving and in fact stereotyping. There are also many folks around the world who have always been pagan such as the Eskimos, Australian Bushman, Siberian Shamans, the many indigenous tribes located all around the world and so forth.

To deny the pagan heritage of such folks is arrogant and elitist to say the least. It also deprives us of a rich and valuable source of experiences that far exceed many of the modern day pagan paths. Do we really want to establish a pagan community based on such deceptive behavior?

And so as we move forward, we should keep in mind that it is human nature to put forth fallacies that are self-serving to one’s particular group. But if we are in fact going to avoid the missteps of prior belief systems, then we should be aware of the pitfalls that are waiting for the unwary.

Paganism is not about any one particular group. We are far too diverse for such a self-serving fallacy. And so moving forward, we should show common respect for all of our divergent beliefs… for we are Pagans…

The Green Man, Spirit of the Forest

The Green Man, Spirit of the Forest

The Green Man embodies the spirit of the fertile forest.

For our ancient ancestors, many spirits and deities were associated with nature, wildlife, and plant growth. After all, if you had just spent the winter starving and freezing, when spring arrived it was certainly time to give thanks to whatever spirits watched over your tribe. The spring season, particularly around Beltane, is typically tied to a number of pre-Christian nature spirits. Many of these are similar in origin and characteristics, but tend to vary based on region and language. In English folklore, few characters stand out — or are as recognizable — as the Green Man.

Strongly connected to Jack in the Green and the May King, as well as John Barleycorn during the fall harvest, the figure known as the Green Man is a god of vegetation and plant life. He symbolizes the life that is found in the natural plant world, and in the earth itself. Consider, for a moment, the forest. In the British Isles, the forests a thousand years ago were vast, spreading for miles and miles, farther than the eye could see. Because of the sheer size, the forest could be a dark and scary place.

However, it was also a place you had to enter, whether you wanted to or not, because it provided meat for hunting, plants for eating, and wood for burning and building. In the winter, the forest must have seemed quite dead and desolate… but in the spring, it returned to life. It would be logical for early peoples to have applied some sort of spiritual aspect to the cycle of life, death and rebirth.

Folklorist James Frazer associates the Green Man with May Day celebrations, and with the character of Jack in the Green, who is a more modern adaptation of the Green Man. Jack is a more specifically defined version of the nature spirit than the earlier Green Man archetype. Frazer speculates that while some form of the Green Man was probably present in a variety of separate early cultures, he developed independently into a variety of newer, more modern characters. This would explain why in some areas he is Jack, while in others he is Robin of the Hood, or Herne the Hunter in different parts of England. Likewise, other, non-British cultures seem to have similar nature deities.

The Green Man is typically portrayed as a human face surrounded by dense foliage. Such images appear as far back as the eleventh century, in church carvings. As Christianity spread, the Green Man went into hiding, with stonemasons leaving secret images of his face around cathedrals and churches. He enjoyed a revival during the Victorian era, when he became popular with architects, who used his visage as a decorative aspect in buildings.

Legends connected to the archetype of the Green Man are everywhere. In the Arthurian legend, the tale of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is a prime example. The Green Knight represents the pre-Christian nature religion of the British Isles. Although he originally confronts Gawain as an enemy, the two later are able to work together – perhaps a metaphor for the assimilation of British Paganism with the new Christian theology. Many scholars also suggest that the tales of Robin Hood evolved from Green Man mythology. Allusions to the Green Man can even be found in J.M. Barrie’s classic Peter Pan – an eternally youthful boy, dressed in green and living in the forest with the wild animals. Today, some traditions of Wicca interpret the Green Man as an aspect of the Horned God, Cernunnos.