Paganism 101: Basics of Pagan Spirituality

Paganism 101: Basics of Pagan Spirituality

Author: Cu Mhorrigan

Introduction:

Paganism has received a lot of attention in recent years with the increased use of the internet, television shows like Charmed, Buffy: the Vampire Slayer, Angel and movies like The Craft, Harry Potter, as well as cartoons like Sabrina the Teen-Aged Witch.

Nowadays, it has become fashionable to announce oneself to be a Pagan, or Neo-Pagan, Wiccan or Witch – especially for teenagers, wishing to attract attention, adults trying to follow the latest fad in spirituality, or just as an excuse to justify weird or aberrant behavior.

However, calling yourself a Pagan is one thing; actually following the spiritual path is something else. It is my hope with this ‘class’ that I might explain in practical terms what it actually means to be a Pagan in our modern age and to assist those who wish to implement the following of this spiritual path.

Definition of the word “Pagan”:

The Word Pagan is derived from the Latin word ‘paganus’, which is loosely translated to mean “of the country”. It should be noted however that the usage of ‘paganus’ within the Roman Empire (Where they spoke Latin. Duh!) was always meant to be a slur meaning “hillbilly, redneck, hick, trailer trash, or white trash”. Much in the same way we would talk about guests on the Jerry Springer Show.

Later, when the Christian faith took over the Roman Empire under Charlemagne, it was used to describe those outside of the Christian faith and those in need of conversion. Not an improvement, because paganus was still pretty much of an insult.

Turning a negative into a positive:

It wasn’t until recently that the term ‘Pagan’ gained a more positive use with the resurgence of Pagan beliefs within the European and American Cultures. Those who sought spirituality closer to that of their “ancestors” adopted it. Eventually, it came to mean ‘those who follow the Old religions’ or ‘those who follow a spiritual path outside of the big three Abrahamic religions’. (What are the big Three Abrahamic religions?)

What DO Pagans Believe?:

An it harm none Do as thou wilt.

Speaking in general terms, Paganism is an earth-centered spirituality, which believes in the sacredness of all things, equality of all persons regardless of gender, sexual, and spiritual and social practices. The practices within Paganism are extremely diverse and open-ended allowing individuals to incorporate whatever rituals and belief systems they feel comfortable with.

Since there is so much diversity within our spiritual path, we stress personal liberty, and responsibility for one’s own actions. That as long as a person does not cause physical, mental, emotional, financial, and spiritual harm to others or himself, he/she is free to pursue one’s physical, mental and spiritual development as he/she sees fit.

Which brings me to my next point: Pagans, in general, do not proselytize! That means you aren’t going to get a call from us at three o’clock in the morning asking us if you are going to ritual or not. There is no High Priestess going around smacking people over the head if they haven’t worked on their Book of Shadows or if they bought the wrong candle for a personal ritual. Aint gonna happen.

Why? We are assuming that if you are here, you want to be here. We’ll give you information, let you know your options, and the rest is up to you. We aren’t going to stand on a street corner and scream at folks for not worshipping Athena nor at women/men who chose not to go around sky clad (That’s ‘nekkid’ for those of us who are really new to this).

The Law of Return (or sowing and reaping):

There are no true “sins” within our spiritual practices. There are only things that cause harm (or, as I like to call them, “Stupid Ideas”) and things that are helpful (Or as I like to call them, “Good Ideas”).

When you do good things, good things tend to happen to you (Eventually). When you do bad things, bad things tend to happen to you (Eventually). Of course, since we do not live in a static environment, and people tend to interact with one another, sometimes things get a little ‘fa-kakhed’. However, the Universe always balances Itself out in the end.

This concept is called, karma and it’s a relatively complicated matter, which I have here boiled down to its lowest common denominator. Of course, there are differing views of Karma, one of which is the Three-Fold Law What you do comes back three-fold, or three times, back at you. (If you are not sure as to whether an act will have some kind of repercussion, ask yourself, how much would I really like this done to me?)

(The self-defense caveat: Like all “Laws”, there are loopholes. If someone else is out to cause you harm in some way it would be a really STUPID (Bad Karma) idea not to protect yourself, or your family, or your friends. However, make sure you have as many facts as possible (like the guy is holding a knife and threatens to cut you up) before beating the oneness of all things back into these individuals.

Pantheons, Divinities, Spirits, Energies:

Okay this is where it gets a little tricky, but stay with me. The most common (and extremely annoying) question we as Pagans get is, “Don’t you folks worship Satan?” (Everyone roll his or her eyes here.)

The answer to that is a resounding, “NO!” For the most part, you need to keep in mind that Paganism is a separate religion from Christianity. Hence Satan (Whom I call, the Christian God of Evil and Nastiness) is not a part of our pantheon. Sorry…

For the most part (depending on the tradition you follow) the Pagan concept of Divinity falls under one of the following expressions:

Duo-Theism: (Duo=Two or Dual, Theos=Divinities):

The Worship of a Co-Equal God and Goddess, each having unlimited power, compassion, wisdom, energy or what-have-you, but maintaining different roles and functions.

The God is aggressive, powerful, sexual adventurous, skillful. He handles the Male side of fertility.

The Goddess is nurturing, passionate, creative, sensual and artistic. She oversees the power of creating life through birth and the Female side of fertility.

This belief is widely held by the Wiccans and Wicca-like factions of Paganism.

Poly Theism: (Poly=Many, Theos=Divinities) The belief in multiple Gods and Goddesses.

Many folks see these Gods as extensions of the God and Goddess (i.e. Monism) with each one taking on different aspects at the time of their encounter with the worshipper. Others (like myself) believe that They are actually separate entities with Their own personalities, quirks and motives.

Not every god or goddess is a real people person nor does every god and goddess have a laid back attitude. If you are going to get involved with a particular deity, you had better make sure you do a LOT of research as to what they like, don’t like, and if a particular god or goddess is right for you. Otherwise your life will get extremely interesting in a bad way.

The third school of though in polytheism is the idea of the gods and goddesses being archetypes within a person’s own psyche. This is sort of like a piece of our own subconscious wrapped up in a costume and a mask in order to teach our conscious minds lessons they need.

Of course, there is more than those three Schools of thought, but I’m just giving the basics here.

Pantheism:

Simply put, this is the idea that the Divine is in everything; hence all things are a part of the energy we call god. Since all things are a part of god, all things are sacred and are expressions of the divine in some way, shape or form. When I worship a tree, I am worshipping the Divine; when I give food to a hungry stray, I am feeding the Divine; when I am hurting someone, I am hurting the Divine.

Then there is the Fourth Category:

I-have-no-Friggin-Clue-ism:

For the beginner, this is the best spiritual idea I can suggest. The idea is essentially, “I have no friggin’ clue if there is a Divinity or not, therefore unless I am shown otherwise, I will not say that the Gods are this way or that. I will respect the Power behind the name, but I will not pledge myself to him/her/it unless I have an absolutely good reason to.”

This is actually one of the safest belief systems to take as a new student of the Pagan path because you are open enough to receive enlightenment, but at the same time, you do not run the risk of making a total, complete ass out of yourself. The Gods will instruct you as They see fit.

Now of course, Pagans will usually incorporate not only one, but perhaps two or three of the ideas listed above. This usually comes from personal experience and cannot be learned any other way.
Keep in mind that it’s okay to shift from one idea to another or even to incorporate two or more of these ideas…it’s all good. Just find out what works best for you.

So How the Hades do I Become a Pagan? (Or stupid questions that are commonly asked)

Well, for the most part, it’s a matter of doing a lot of reading and a lot of self-exploration. It took me at least two years of studying online and reading books and attending classes to even consider myself a Pagan. A lot of the traditions under the banner of Paganism will have different views on training and initiation (think of it as baptism), and how one becomes a member of that tradition.

The best way is to start out attending Pagan gatherings, visiting bookstores and such, and talk to other Pagans. Eventually, you will either find a religious path that works for you or you will throw your arms up in dismay and run screaming back to your religion of birth. And there is nothing wrong with that. NOT AT ALL! We realize that the Pagan spiritual path is not for everyone, and we will not be offended. Just make sure you don’t tell people we sacrificed your cat and you’ll be cool with us.

Do I Need to Buy Special Clothes and Dress in Black?

The answer is: Only if you really want to. Yes, there are special robes some folks wear, but unless your coven says otherwise, you can pretty much wear what you want.

Just some basic suggestions: Wear something comfortable and wear something you won’t mind getting dirty. Most of our rituals take place outdoors and, while you may look really good in an Armani suit and Gucci shoes, there is a good chance your clothes will get messed up and your shoes scuffed.

Loose, light clothes in summer and spring is always a good idea, and warmer clothes in the fall are really smart. Most winter rituals will be held indoors, depending on the weather. If it makes you comfortable to wear black Witch clothes and pointed hats and cloaks… Knock yourself out…You’ll be getting lots of stares and odd looks (mostly from us), but all-in-all, if it makes you comfortable, then that is all that matters.

Do I Need to Buy Special Jewelry?

Again, only if you want to and if you enjoy it. Jewelry is a personal matter to the people who wear it. And it’s usually best to find a piece that says, “HEY! I LIKE YOU. WEAR ME AROUND YOUR NECK!” Otherwise, No special jewelry is required to be a Pagan.

Do I Need to Kill Something (like a kitten) and Drink its Blood?

No, you don’t have to kill an animal to be a Pagan. For the most part, we are animal friendly and don’t believe in killing a critter in order to work our rituals. Yes, there are some Pagan groups that practice animal sacrifice and it is left alone…but fear not, the only thing usually killed has already been slaughtered and put on the feasting table in a sacred bucket marked, KFC.

Do I Need to Become a Vegetarian?

Nope, being a vegetarian is a matter of personal preference and what you feel in your heart. While many of us are vegetarians, a lot of us aren’t. It may be a good idea to eat a little healthier, but no one is going to come down on you for eating meat or using meat-based products. However, you might want to do your own research and come up with your own choices.

So, What DO I Need to Do?

Excellent question. One, as I suggested before, do a lot of research, a lot of reading and, when in doubt, do more research. A lot of Pagans keep what is called a “Book of shadows”, which is just a fancy name for a Journal. Write down everything you learn in that book and when you get a chance, read it. If you see a cool article on the net, feel free to print it (for your personal use only, please).

To create a book of shadows, I would suggest buying a loose-leaf binder and fill it half-way with paper. It’s also a good idea to invest in a three hole punch. That way, you can put articles that you printed from the net and use them for later reference. Do not worry about using blood and special things to “make it official”. It is your study guide — your book — and so, make sure you personalize it to suit your needs.

When you feel you are ready, and you have found a religious tradition you feel comfy with, take that Book of Shadows and attend any class you can afford. A lot of places have very reasonable rates for their classes. The Learning Annex is one source, but so is your local Pagan bookstore. Just make sure you talk to the person running the store to make sure he knows what he/she is talking about. If you are not entirely comfortable in studying there, consider looking for another teacher. Remember, this is about YOUR spiritual growth and enrichment and you need to be in an environment conducive to YOUR learning.

Holidays, and Rituals:

There are eight major Holy Days during the Pagan year that a lot of us agree upon. There are also rituals that are held on the New Moon and the Full moon depending on how often your coven (A group of Pagans you worship with) meets.

The Eight Major Holidays are listed in the order they fall on:
Imbolc (February)
Spring Equinox (March 21)
Beltaine (May 1)
Summer Solstice (Litha) (June 21)
Lughnassadh or Lamas (August)
Autumn Equinox (Mabon) (September 21)
Samhain or Halloween (October 31 to Nov 1)
Winter Solstice (Yule) (December 21)

Each Holy Day represents a certain mythological event in our religion, which will be discussed by the High Priest (ess) in advance.

It’s usually a good idea to find out what you would need to bring so that you can best participate in the ritual.

Now most likely you are going to have a hard time pronouncing the names of the days when you first start out, so don’t be afraid to ask stupid questions; it’s the only way you are going to learn.

Tools For Rituals:

Energy: This is the most important, and since I am assuming people know Jack about Paganism, I’m going to make this explanation brief: When we perform rituals and cast spells, we are attempting to gather energy. This energy comes from the universe and ourselves. Depending on what we are trying to do, we use certain rituals, and tools. Think of it this way: It’s like gathering up a whole bunch of snow together. We eventually gather enough to make a snowball and then we pack it in and send it off to impact your friend. It’s basically the same thing. When we perform these rites, they help our minds to focus on gathering this energy and tell it what we want done. Energy is the most important part of any ritual, and without it, we are just looking stupid.

Cauldron: This is basically a black, three-legged pot to be used for burning incense and for other things. They range from tiny to huge and can be used to burn incense, burn paper, and make potions. Now cauldrons tend to be rather expensive, so if you are a bit “Price Sensitive” like me, find yourself one of those old fashioned iron pots that Mom uses to make rice. Make sure you clean it before and after use. If you have one of these in your own home and have had it for a long time, you are pretty much used to it and it is used to you. So, you really don’t have to “charge” it with energy.

Athemae: Essentially, this is a knife or a really small sword. This is used to direct energy raised up during rituals. THESE ARE NOT USED TO CUT PEOPLE (of any species). It can be used for cutting vegetables. Most traditions prefer a double sided blade, small enough to conceal. (You would be amazed how many cops will stop you for carrying a broad sword.) If you’re unable to get an athamae, it’s totally cool to make yourself a wand or use your index finger to direct energy.

Wands/Rods: Okay, these are wooden or crystal sticks also used to direct energy as well as to draw it to yourself. Wands tend to be no longer than your arm, while rods can be longer. Best way to get a rod is to go out on little walks in the park and look for a stick. Once you find a stick you like and that screams out for you to take it, take it home, and sand it and decorate it until you are totally comfortable with it. Viola! You have a wand or rod. If you have as much mechanical aptitude as a slug, ask around your local occult bookstores. Keep in mind they are going to be slightly expensive and you will have to charge it once you get it home.

Candles: Candles are used in rituals to help get your mind into the practice of Magic (No, I am not spelling magic with a K or a J…I’m keeping this as simple as possible. If you want to use the funky spellings in your own notebooks, knock yourself out. You’re not being graded here). Candles are lit in order to help get the mind into a state where it’s easier to put the patterns in for the energy to flow. I would strongly suggest getting candles of all colors and sizes and as many as you can afford. (Usually one of each color.) You can pick them up anywhere.

Incense: Like candles, incense helps the mind get energy together to cast spells. It’s a good idea to make your own incense or to purchase them from a botanica, or occult bookstore. Incense sticks may be colored, but it’s usually a good idea to purchase them based on their smells. Pungent or spicy incense is normally used to send stuff away. (Mainly because they are offensive.) Sweet incense is used to bring stuff to you. Earthy smells help to facilitate healing and to strengthen you.

Divination tools: Things like Tarot Cards, Runes and what not. These are mainly used to help you to make decisions or to gain some kind of insight as to what is going on around you. Keep in mind, these items themselves are not magical in and of themselves, but are based on your own intuition interpreting what you are seeing.

Books, books and more books: Like I said earlier, it is suggested you read religiously. It’s best to keep a library of things you have read or are about to read. Don’t just pick books only by one author, but of different ones. Some people may know a lot about what they are talking about; others are complete and utter horse feces. However, the only way you are going to find out is if you look for yourself and keep your Book of Shadows nearby while you read. If something sounds like nonsense, or if you aren’t sure about whether or not what is true within a book, do some research. It sounds like a lot of work, but this is your spirituality we are talking about here.

It is a good idea to question everything and find out if there is an agreement between the authors you have read. Another thing to keep in mind is that some folks are completely full of fluff and bluster while others deliberately water stuff down to keep from divulging too much about their path. And some are completely straightforward about the things they are writing about.

One of the best ways to learn about an author is find out when they are going to be doing a book signing near you. Get to meet them (Most book signings are free and most will give a short lecture about their book just to whet your appetite for it.) Some of the most intense learning experiences I gained were in attending some of these lectures; it’s also a great way to actually see the person who is writing.

Use your intuition…and don’t be shy about picking their brains. That is what they are there for. In fact, I would suggest doing the same thing at the store where you get your tools and books. It helps you learn a lot faster; especially when you ask Stupid questions. Yes you will get looks. Yes, you will even get the occasional shake of the head, But if you don’t ask, you wont know. It’s worth it.

Suggested Things to do:

Check out different groups that meet in your area. You can do this by attending open (public) circles or classes. Use them as a way to meet other Pagans and eventually find a group that you feel comfortable studying with. If you are Solitary Pagan, it helps to “meet and greet” other Pagans.

Look around for Pagan shops, botanicas and other places where you can get supplies. Most botanicas are devoted to Santeria or Voudu, but you can get some really good equipment at cheap prices.

Check out the local library, as well as the bookstore for things you can read about your particular pantheon.

Ask a lot of questions. Even stupid ones. It’s one of the chief tenets of Paganism to question everything you come across. If you get an answer that sounds like horsesh*t, then verify, verify, verify.

Things Not To Do:

Don’t panic; this seems like a lot of information, but it really isn’t. This is just the primer for your own research.

Don’t sweat if you cannot find a teacher right away, Nine times out of ten, they usually show up when you are ready to learn more about a particular aspect of your tradition.

Don’t start off calling yourself a High Something of a particular tradition. Most systems within Paganism have their own methods of teaching and credentials for clergy and what not. No faking!

Don’t be afraid of getting criticized; it’s going to happen. Learn to grow a thick skin, and if someone points something out to you, listen and check out your own motives and conscience. If the shoe fits, wear it. If it doesn’t, then don’t.

Don’t take everything at face value…Learn how to question what you hear and not be a total jerk about it.

Don’t try and convert people, It rarely works just put out information let people know where you stand and end it there.

Recommended Websites:

http://www.witchvox.com “The Witches’ Voice” — It’s a great place to start since they have information about everything.

http://pantheon.org — A great place to learn about the Gods of your chosen pantheon. It doesn’t have all the information, but enough for you to get your feet wet and do some research.

Yahoo.com — They have a plethora of Pagan groups and places where you can talk to people of different walks of life. It’s also a great way to meet Pagans in your area.

Google and other search engines — Another great website with links to thousands of Pagan websites.

Recommended Books:

The Truth about Witchcraft Today: Scott Cunningham
Urban Primitive: Tannin Silverstein and Raven Kaldera
The Book of Shamanic Healing: Kristin Madden
The Celestine Prophecy: James Redfield (Yes, it’s a novel but it helps to get an idea about energy-work and how energy can be gathered and stolen.)
The Wiccan Warrior: Kerr Cucuhain
Witchcraft Theory and Practice: Ly de Angeles
When I see the Wild God: Ly de Angeles
Drawing Down the Moon: Margot Adler (of NPR)
The Spiral Dance: Starhawk
Buckland’s Complete Witches Handbook: Raymond Buckland

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The Path of Wisdom

The Path of Wisdom

Author:   Crick   

As I walk along an unexplored trail through the forest, I take notice that there are no obstructions in my way. There are no brambles waiting to snag me with their thorns. There are no fallen trees to stumble over. There is no wayward stream forcing me to forage across. There is only the solitude of the woods and the associated sounds of woodland life.

Above me in the branches of an old Elm tree are a couple of birds that are singing a morning duet. It is a song about joy and the happiness of life. Could this be a romantic tryst? Up ahead of me a King snake goes slithering quietly across the path. He emanates an indifference to his surroundings as he ponders solitary thoughts. Alas, a creature of stealth and mystery that one is.

In the creek that runs parallel to the path, are shiny black salamanders, gleefully enjoying the gentle currents of cool water. It glides over them, while they undulate like strands of dark grass beneath the surface of the shallow stream. Their thoughts may be minute but their existence is in tune with their surroundings.

As I pass an old Oak tree, I can see the tracks of a raccoon leading to a well-used hole situated in the base of the tree. Without a doubt, this young denizen is nestled deep within the trunk of this abiding oak, lost in a deep slumber. For a moment I wonder what it may be that she is dreaming of.

Suddenly I hear the splash of a small fish as it propels itself out of its natural environment into a momentary altered state of experience. Much like a human who has astral projected for the first time. I wonder if there is a change in its sense of reality as it briefly goes from one element to another. Or is it a fleeting experience that passes by un-noticed?

These thoughts lead me to think of my spiritual path which unlike this forest trail is fraught with obstacles placed by fellow humans. For unlike the many denizens of this quiet forest, humans do not adapt well to the environment in which they live. For as long as I can remember I have walked my personal path as an individual and yet many have been the obstacles placed before me by others who have stumbled across my path. The light glows before them but their eyes remain tightly closed.

Spiritual growth is the unique experience of each who walks such a trail and yet many are those who would insist otherwise. The mysteries of life are an experience that is related to the lessons each individual person requires to move forth. And yet there are many who will posture and claim to know the answers that are hidden from them within the mists. Fear of such unknowns spawns a false sense of arrogance and thus limits the ability to truly experience and thus find the understanding that is there for us all.

A spiritual path requires the freedom of mind and heart and the willpower and desire to achieve it. Empty words cast forth from a mass of humanity, is akin to a lonely sigh on a secluded mountaintop. No one truly hears it for there is none about to listen. For those who speak little but listen much, indeed, they will hear the whisper of wisdom as it goes quietly by like a soft springtime breeze. And yet there are many who would gladly lend their voices to the maddening din of transparent experiences, egos rising like a flock of geese, thus offering naught but another obstacle to one’s spiritual path.

We are each as different as the blades of grass that make up a vast field. Perhaps the sage approach is to listen as we each have a unique tale to tell. Though we may each walk a spiritual path our footfalls will not be exactly identical, each step along the path an experience within itself. But rather then live in synchronicity with each other, each of us striving to attain an awareness and understanding of our purpose in life, we would rather place obstacles one before the other.

And woe, are our bitter fruits, given to us by those who would choose to take shortcuts along the path of life. Such folks as these are the loudest of all who seek to place obstacles before others. And little do they care to be listening as the lessons of life present themselves to each of us whom walk this path. For such folks are spiritually apathetic and as such they continually seek the shortest route.

But as I walk along this unexplored path through the forest, I realize the parallels inherent between this woodland trail and my spiritual path. Knowing not where the shortcuts may lead, would I not prefer to follow the trail in its entirety and thus have the opportunity to absorb the experience of life as a whole?

Would I personally want to chance on missing out on important lessons that may advance my understanding of life and thus my spiritual growth by taking shortcuts? And would I choose to hide my lack of such knowledge gained through such an experience by being loud and boastful and eager to set obstacles before others who may be walking beside me? Or would I choose to be silent and let the sounds of this forest and in essence of life, make their presence known to me?

Alas, if I am to be true to the tenets of being an individual who is walking the path of life, then I can only answer for myself. I cannot pretend to be able to answer for others, for though their life experiences may be similar, they are still unique to that traveler. And the only way for me to learn from the experiences of others is to be silent and willing to listen.

Balancing one’s ego is a difficult task, but then the ego is attached to the earthbound soul and once freed from the path of humanity, it is left behind as the spirit sheds such obstacles and flies freely back home. And so as we travel our spiritual path, each individual must decide which is more important, the short-lived desires of the mundane human existence or the long-term goal of spiritual growth.

And so as I walk the last remaining yards of this forest path free of any obstacles, I know that within my heart I will continue to bypass and overcome the obstacles that my fellow humans will surely present me on the path of humanity.

Will you?

Let’s Talk Witch – Getting Started On Your Spiritual Education Path

 Let’s Talk Witch – Getting Started On Your Spiritual Education Path

Any spiritual practice requires research and study. Witchcraft is no different than any other path. Here is some basic info, words of caution, and suggestions for reading and starting your research.

How Can I Learn More? If you are one of the many people looking for information on how to become a witch, there are a few things you should ask yourself first.

1. What is your reason for wanting to be a Witch? If your reason is simply so you can cast a spell, it’s the wrong reason and you might find more information if you look for Spellcraft, than Witchcraft. If your reasons are truly from an interest in the faith or you feel drawn to the Craft as a religion, then you maybe on the right path. But you should learn more and make an informed decision.

2. Are you willing to live by the spiritual laws as a way of life? If you are, or if you’re not sure, do a lot of research on your own and find out as much as you can about the path you’ve chosen.

3. How Do I Get Started? Read, learn and read a lot more. Do your own research, and not just from magikal books or reference manuals. Through studying history, other religions and how they all inter-relate and interact. I have a favorite saying for this type of education: “Books can give you knowledge. But only your own personal experiences give you wisdom to decide your own path.”

Words of Warning.

Don’t take one persons word or teachings as the only truth or as the only way on this or any spiritual path. No one person has all the answers for you. Only you know what rings true within your own heart and soul.

When it comes time for you to chose a mentor, be very cautious. There are a lot of novice people claiming to be a High Priest or Priestess. The best advice I could give is find someone who can prove they have practiced the path for several years (my standard is 10 years or more).

Don’t just take their word for it. Find someone who is willing to answer your questions without charging you money.

Taking a class and paying for an instructors time is NOT the same thing as finding a “spiritual teacher”. (Classes are wonderful for making new friends and learning in a group.)

What you should really be looking for is a mentor or guide, not a person who thinks they have the right to tell you what to do or believe.

Lastly, always question!

Question everything you are told and everything you read.

Research other material to validate what you are being told or what you read in a book.

Make sure that a book is supported by other books and by history itself.

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Paganism 101: Basics of Pagan Spirituality

Paganism 101: Basics of Pagan Spirituality

Author:   Cu Mhorrigan  

Introduction:

Paganism has received a lot of attention in recent years with the increased use of the internet, television shows like Charmed, Buffy: the Vampire Slayer, Angel and movies like The Craft, Harry Potter, as well as cartoons like Sabrina the Teen-Aged Witch.

Nowadays, it has become fashionable to announce oneself to be a Pagan, or Neo-Pagan, Wiccan or Witch – especially for teenagers, wishing to attract attention, adults trying to follow the latest fad in spirituality, or just as an excuse to justify weird or aberrant behavior.

However, calling yourself a Pagan is one thing; actually following the spiritual path is something else. It is my hope with this ‘class’ that I might explain in practical terms what it actually means to be a Pagan in our modern age and to assist those who wish to implement the following of this spiritual path.

Definition of the word “Pagan”:

The Word Pagan is derived from the Latin word ‘paganus’, which is loosely translated to mean “of the country”. It should be noted however that the usage of ‘paganus’ within the Roman Empire (Where they spoke Latin. Duh!) was always meant to be a slur meaning “hillbilly, redneck, hick, trailer trash, or white trash”. Much in the same way we would talk about guests on the Jerry Springer Show.

Later, when the Christian faith took over the Roman Empire under Charlemagne, it was used to describe those outside of the Christian faith and those in need of conversion. Not an improvement, because paganus was still pretty much of an insult.

Turning a negative into a positive:

It wasn’t until recently that the term ‘Pagan’ gained a more positive use with the resurgence of Pagan beliefs within the European and American Cultures. Those who sought spirituality closer to that of their “ancestors” adopted it. Eventually, it came to mean ‘those who follow the Old religions’ or ‘those who follow a spiritual path outside of the big three Abrahamic religions’. (What are the big Three Abrahamic religions?)

What DO Pagans Believe?:

An it harm none Do as thou wilt.

Speaking in general terms, Paganism is an earth-centered spirituality, which believes in the sacredness of all things, equality of all persons regardless of gender, sexual, and spiritual and social practices. The practices within Paganism are extremely diverse and open-ended allowing individuals to incorporate whatever rituals and belief systems they feel comfortable with.

Since there is so much diversity within our spiritual path, we stress personal liberty, and responsibility for one’s own actions. That as long as a person does not cause physical, mental, emotional, financial, and spiritual harm to others or himself, he/she is free to pursue one’s physical, mental and spiritual development as he/she sees fit.

Which brings me to my next point: Pagans, in general, do not proselytize! That means you aren’t going to get a call from us at three o’clock in the morning asking us if you are going to ritual or not. There is no High Priestess going around smacking people over the head if they haven’t worked on their Book of Shadows or if they bought the wrong candle for a personal ritual. Aint gonna happen.

Why? We are assuming that if you are here, you want to be here. We’ll give you information, let you know your options, and the rest is up to you. We aren’t going to stand on a street corner and scream at folks for not worshipping Athena nor at women/men who chose not to go around sky clad (That’s ‘nekkid’ for those of us who are really new to this).

The Law of Return (or sowing and reaping):

There are no true “sins” within our spiritual practices. There are only things that cause harm (or, as I like to call them, “Stupid Ideas”) and things that are helpful (Or as I like to call them, “Good Ideas”).

When you do good things, good things tend to happen to you (Eventually). When you do bad things, bad things tend to happen to you (Eventually). Of course, since we do not live in a static environment, and people tend to interact with one another, sometimes things get a little ‘fa-kakhed’. However, the Universe always balances Itself out in the end.

This concept is called, karma and it’s a relatively complicated matter, which I have here boiled down to its lowest common denominator. Of course, there are differing views of Karma, one of which is the Three-Fold Law What you do comes back three-fold, or three times, back at you. (If you are not sure as to whether an act will have some kind of repercussion, ask yourself, how much would I really like this done to me?)

(The self-defense caveat: Like all “Laws”, there are loopholes. If someone else is out to cause you harm in some way it would be a really STUPID (Bad Karma) idea not to protect yourself, or your family, or your friends. However, make sure you have as many facts as possible (like the guy is holding a knife and threatens to cut you up) before beating the oneness of all things back into these individuals.

Pantheons, Divinities, Spirits, Energies:

Okay this is where it gets a little tricky, but stay with me. The most common (and extremely annoying) question we as Pagans get is, “Don’t you folks worship Satan?” (Everyone roll his or her eyes here.)

The answer to that is a resounding, “NO!” For the most part, you need to keep in mind that Paganism is a separate religion from Christianity. Hence Satan (Whom I call, the Christian God of Evil and Nastiness) is not a part of our pantheon. Sorry…

For the most part (depending on the tradition you follow) the Pagan concept of Divinity falls under one of the following expressions:

Duo-Theism: (Duo=Two or Dual, Theos=Divinities):

The Worship of a Co-Equal God and Goddess, each having unlimited power, compassion, wisdom, energy or what-have-you, but maintaining different roles and functions.

The God is aggressive, powerful, sexual adventurous, skillful. He handles the Male side of fertility.

The Goddess is nurturing, passionate, creative, sensual and artistic. She oversees the power of creating life through birth and the Female side of fertility.

This belief is widely held by the Wiccans and Wicca-like factions of Paganism.

Poly Theism: (Poly=Many, Theos=Divinities) The belief in multiple Gods and Goddesses.

Many folks see these Gods as extensions of the God and Goddess (i.e. Monism) with each one taking on different aspects at the time of their encounter with the worshipper. Others (like myself) believe that They are actually separate entities with Their own personalities, quirks and motives.

Not every god or goddess is a real people person nor does every god and goddess have a laid back attitude. If you are going to get involved with a particular deity, you had better make sure you do a LOT of research as to what they like, don’t like, and if a particular god or goddess is right for you. Otherwise your life will get extremely interesting in a bad way.

The third school of though in polytheism is the idea of the gods and goddesses being archetypes within a person’s own psyche. This is sort of like a piece of our own subconscious wrapped up in a costume and a mask in order to teach our conscious minds lessons they need.

Of course, there is more than those three Schools of thought, but I’m just giving the basics here.

Pantheism:

Simply put, this is the idea that the Divine is in everything; hence all things are a part of the energy we call god. Since all things are a part of god, all things are sacred and are expressions of the divine in some way, shape or form. When I worship a tree, I am worshipping the Divine; when I give food to a hungry stray, I am feeding the Divine; when I am hurting someone, I am hurting the Divine.

Then there is the Fourth Category:

I-have-no-Friggin-Clue-ism:

For the beginner, this is the best spiritual idea I can suggest. The idea is essentially, “I have no friggin’ clue if there is a Divinity or not, therefore unless I am shown otherwise, I will not say that the Gods are this way or that. I will respect the Power behind the name, but I will not pledge myself to him/her/it unless I have an absolutely good reason to.”

This is actually one of the safest belief systems to take as a new student of the Pagan path because you are open enough to receive enlightenment, but at the same time, you do not run the risk of making a total, complete ass out of yourself. The Gods will instruct you as They see fit.

Now of course, Pagans will usually incorporate not only one, but perhaps two or three of the ideas listed above. This usually comes from personal experience and cannot be learned any other way.
Keep in mind that it’s okay to shift from one idea to another or even to incorporate two or more of these ideas…it’s all good. Just find out what works best for you.

So How the Hades do I Become a Pagan? (Or stupid questions that are commonly asked)

Well, for the most part, it’s a matter of doing a lot of reading and a lot of self-exploration. It took me at least two years of studying online and reading books and attending classes to even consider myself a Pagan. A lot of the traditions under the banner of Paganism will have different views on training and initiation (think of it as baptism), and how one becomes a member of that tradition.

The best way is to start out attending Pagan gatherings, visiting bookstores and such, and talk to other Pagans. Eventually, you will either find a religious path that works for you or you will throw your arms up in dismay and run screaming back to your religion of birth. And there is nothing wrong with that. NOT AT ALL! We realize that the Pagan spiritual path is not for everyone, and we will not be offended. Just make sure you don’t tell people we sacrificed your cat and you’ll be cool with us.

Do I Need to Buy Special Clothes and Dress in Black?

The answer is: Only if you really want to. Yes, there are special robes some folks wear, but unless your coven says otherwise, you can pretty much wear what you want.

Just some basic suggestions: Wear something comfortable and wear something you won’t mind getting dirty. Most of our rituals take place outdoors and, while you may look really good in an Armani suit and Gucci shoes, there is a good chance your clothes will get messed up and your shoes scuffed.

Loose, light clothes in summer and spring is always a good idea, and warmer clothes in the fall are really smart. Most winter rituals will be held indoors, depending on the weather. If it makes you comfortable to wear black Witch clothes and pointed hats and cloaks… Knock yourself out…You’ll be getting lots of stares and odd looks (mostly from us), but all-in-all, if it makes you comfortable, then that is all that matters.

Do I Need to Buy Special Jewelry?

Again, only if you want to and if you enjoy it. Jewelry is a personal matter to the people who wear it. And it’s usually best to find a piece that says, “HEY! I LIKE YOU. WEAR ME AROUND YOUR NECK!” Otherwise, No special jewelry is required to be a Pagan.

Do I Need to Kill Something (like a kitten) and Drink its Blood?

No, you don’t have to kill an animal to be a Pagan. For the most part, we are animal friendly and don’t believe in killing a critter in order to work our rituals. Yes, there are some Pagan groups that practice animal sacrifice and it is left alone…but fear not, the only thing usually killed has already been slaughtered and put on the feasting table in a sacred bucket marked, KFC.

Do I Need to Become a Vegetarian?

Nope, being a vegetarian is a matter of personal preference and what you feel in your heart. While many of us are vegetarians, a lot of us aren’t. It may be a good idea to eat a little healthier, but no one is going to come down on you for eating meat or using meat-based products. However, you might want to do your own research and come up with your own choices.

So, What DO I Need to Do?

Excellent question. One, as I suggested before, do a lot of research, a lot of reading and, when in doubt, do more research. A lot of Pagans keep what is called a “Book of shadows”, which is just a fancy name for a Journal. Write down everything you learn in that book and when you get a chance, read it. If you see a cool article on the net, feel free to print it (for your personal use only, please).

To create a book of shadows, I would suggest buying a loose-leaf binder and fill it half-way with paper. It’s also a good idea to invest in a three hole punch. That way, you can put articles that you printed from the net and use them for later reference. Do not worry about using blood and special things to “make it official”. It is your study guide — your book — and so, make sure you personalize it to suit your needs.

When you feel you are ready, and you have found a religious tradition you feel comfy with, take that Book of Shadows and attend any class you can afford. A lot of places have very reasonable rates for their classes. The Learning Annex is one source, but so is your local Pagan bookstore. Just make sure you talk to the person running the store to make sure he knows what he/she is talking about. If you are not entirely comfortable in studying there, consider looking for another teacher. Remember, this is about YOUR spiritual growth and enrichment and you need to be in an environment conducive to YOUR learning.

Holidays, and Rituals:

There are eight major Holy Days during the Pagan year that a lot of us agree upon. There are also rituals that are held on the New Moon and the Full moon depending on how often your coven (A group of Pagans you worship with) meets.

The Eight Major Holidays are listed in the order they fall on:
Imbolc (February)
Spring Equinox (March 21)
Beltaine (May 1)
Summer Solstice (Litha) (June 21)
Lughnassadh or Lamas (August)
Autumn Equinox (Mabon) (September 21)
Samhain or Halloween (October 31 to Nov 1)
Winter Solstice (Yule) (December 21)

Each Holy Day represents a certain mythological event in our religion, which will be discussed by the High Priest (ess) in advance.

It’s usually a good idea to find out what you would need to bring so that you can best participate in the ritual.

Now most likely you are going to have a hard time pronouncing the names of the days when you first start out, so don’t be afraid to ask stupid questions; it’s the only way you are going to learn.

Tools For Rituals:

Energy: This is the most important, and since I am assuming people know Jack about Paganism, I’m going to make this explanation brief: When we perform rituals and cast spells, we are attempting to gather energy. This energy comes from the universe and ourselves. Depending on what we are trying to do, we use certain rituals, and tools. Think of it this way: It’s like gathering up a whole bunch of snow together. We eventually gather enough to make a snowball and then we pack it in and send it off to impact your friend. It’s basically the same thing. When we perform these rites, they help our minds to focus on gathering this energy and tell it what we want done. Energy is the most important part of any ritual, and without it, we are just looking stupid.

Cauldron: This is basically a black, three-legged pot to be used for burning incense and for other things. They range from tiny to huge and can be used to burn incense, burn paper, and make potions. Now cauldrons tend to be rather expensive, so if you are a bit “Price Sensitive” like me, find yourself one of those old fashioned iron pots that Mom uses to make rice. Make sure you clean it before and after use. If you have one of these in your own home and have had it for a long time, you are pretty much used to it and it is used to you. So, you really don’t have to “charge” it with energy.

Athemae: Essentially, this is a knife or a really small sword. This is used to direct energy raised up during rituals. THESE ARE NOT USED TO CUT PEOPLE (of any species). It can be used for cutting vegetables. Most traditions prefer a double sided blade, small enough to conceal. (You would be amazed how many cops will stop you for carrying a broad sword.) If you’re unable to get an athamae, it’s totally cool to make yourself a wand or use your index finger to direct energy.

Wands/Rods: Okay, these are wooden or crystal sticks also used to direct energy as well as to draw it to yourself. Wands tend to be no longer than your arm, while rods can be longer. Best way to get a rod is to go out on little walks in the park and look for a stick. Once you find a stick you like and that screams out for you to take it, take it home, and sand it and decorate it until you are totally comfortable with it. Viola! You have a wand or rod. If you have as much mechanical aptitude as a slug, ask around your local occult bookstores. Keep in mind they are going to be slightly expensive and you will have to charge it once you get it home.

Candles: Candles are used in rituals to help get your mind into the practice of Magic (No, I am not spelling magic with a K or a J…I’m keeping this as simple as possible. If you want to use the funky spellings in your own notebooks, knock yourself out. You’re not being graded here). Candles are lit in order to help get the mind into a state where it’s easier to put the patterns in for the energy to flow. I would strongly suggest getting candles of all colors and sizes and as many as you can afford. (Usually one of each color.) You can pick them up anywhere.

Incense: Like candles, incense helps the mind get energy together to cast spells. It’s a good idea to make your own incense or to purchase them from a botanica, or occult bookstore. Incense sticks may be colored, but it’s usually a good idea to purchase them based on their smells. Pungent or spicy incense is normally used to send stuff away. (Mainly because they are offensive.) Sweet incense is used to bring stuff to you. Earthy smells help to facilitate healing and to strengthen you.

Divination tools: Things like Tarot Cards, Runes and what not. These are mainly used to help you to make decisions or to gain some kind of insight as to what is going on around you. Keep in mind, these items themselves are not magical in and of themselves, but are based on your own intuition interpreting what you are seeing.

Books, books and more books: Like I said earlier, it is suggested you read religiously. It’s best to keep a library of things you have read or are about to read. Don’t just pick books only by one author, but of different ones. Some people may know a lot about what they are talking about; others are complete and utter horse feces. However, the only way you are going to find out is if you look for yourself and keep your Book of Shadows nearby while you read. If something sounds like nonsense, or if you aren’t sure about whether or not what is true within a book, do some research. It sounds like a lot of work, but this is your spirituality we are talking about here.

It is a good idea to question everything and find out if there is an agreement between the authors you have read. Another thing to keep in mind is that some folks are completely full of fluff and bluster while others deliberately water stuff down to keep from divulging too much about their path. And some are completely straightforward about the things they are writing about.

One of the best ways to learn about an author is find out when they are going to be doing a book signing near you. Get to meet them (Most book signings are free and most will give a short lecture about their book just to whet your appetite for it.) Some of the most intense learning experiences I gained were in attending some of these lectures; it’s also a great way to actually see the person who is writing.

Use your intuition…and don’t be shy about picking their brains. That is what they are there for. In fact, I would suggest doing the same thing at the store where you get your tools and books. It helps you learn a lot faster; especially when you ask Stupid questions. Yes you will get looks. Yes, you will even get the occasional shake of the head, But if you don’t ask, you wont know. It’s worth it.

Suggested Things to do:

Check out different groups that meet in your area. You can do this by attending open (public) circles or classes. Use them as a way to meet other Pagans and eventually find a group that you feel comfortable studying with. If you are Solitary Pagan, it helps to “meet and greet” other Pagans.

Look around for Pagan shops, botanicas and other places where you can get supplies. Most botanicas are devoted to Santeria or Voudu, but you can get some really good equipment at cheap prices.

Check out the local library, as well as the bookstore for things you can read about your particular pantheon.

Ask a lot of questions. Even stupid ones. It’s one of the chief tenets of Paganism to question everything you come across. If you get an answer that sounds like horsesh*t, then verify, verify, verify.

Things Not To Do:

Don’t panic; this seems like a lot of information, but it really isn’t. This is just the primer for your own research.

Don’t sweat if you cannot find a teacher right away, Nine times out of ten, they usually show up when you are ready to learn more about a particular aspect of your tradition.

Don’t start off calling yourself a High Something of a particular tradition. Most systems within Paganism have their own methods of teaching and credentials for clergy and what not. No faking!

Don’t be afraid of getting criticized; it’s going to happen. Learn to grow a thick skin, and if someone points something out to you, listen and check out your own motives and conscience. If the shoe fits, wear it. If it doesn’t, then don’t.

Don’t take everything at face value…Learn how to question what you hear and not be a total jerk about it.

Don’t try and convert people, It rarely works just put out information let people know where you stand and end it there.

Recommended Websites:

http://www.witchvox.com “The Witches’ Voice” —  It’s a great place to start since they have information about everything.

http://pantheon.org —  A great place to learn about the Gods of your chosen pantheon. It doesn’t have all the information, but enough for you to get your feet wet and do some research.

Yahoo.com — They have a plethora of Pagan groups and places where you can talk to people of different walks of life. It’s also a great way to meet Pagans in your area.

Google and other search engines — Another great website with links to thousands of Pagan websites.

Recommended Books:

The Truth about Witchcraft Today: Scott Cunningham
Urban Primitive: Tannin Silverstein and Raven Kaldera
The Book of Shamanic Healing: Kristin Madden
The Celestine Prophecy: James Redfield (Yes, it’s a novel but it helps to get an idea about energy-work and how energy can be gathered and stolen.)
The Wiccan Warrior: Kerr Cucuhain
Witchcraft Theory and Practice: Ly de Angeles
When I see the Wild God: Ly de Angeles
Drawing Down the Moon: Margot Adler (of NPR)
The Spiral Dance: Starhawk
Buckland’s Complete Witches Handbook: Raymond Buckland

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Wiccans Practicing Witchcraft

Wiccans Practicing Witchcraft

Ro Longstreet
BellaOnline’s Wicca Editor

You can walk a Wiccan spiritual path without practicing witchcraft. Wicca is a religion centered upon the natural world that involves worship of God and Goddess. It also requires that you live by certain tenets such as the Wiccan Rede (“An harm it none, do what ye will”).

Meanwhile, witchcraft is a set of learnable methods by which you can influence the flow of energy that surrounds you and permeates the universe. As with skills such as growing herbs or meditating, witchcraft can add a deeper layer to your spiritual life, but you do not have to practice witchcraft to worship the God and Goddess in a Wiccan way. Many Wiccans are interested in witchcraft, some are good at it, and others have no interest whatsoever in picking it up.

Within the broad scope of Wicca, witchcraft is only a small part. If you live your life as a Wiccan without practicing witchcraft, you will still have plenty to keep you occupied. You can focus on ritual rather than spellwork. Daily rituals can include morning and evening prayers to God and Goddess, blessing food and drink, and making everyday choices to live in harmony with the earth.

You can observe ceremonies known as esbats to mark the phases of the moon, and sabbats for the passing of the seasons. Milestones in your life such as marriage, birthdays, birth of a child, passage into adulthood, self-dedication to your spiritual path and more can be celebrated with Wiccan ritual.

Much of Wiccan ritual is similar to witchcraft with a focus on altar, tools, candles, herbs, and other accessories. The difference is that you would not be raising, focusing, and directing energy, as in spellwork. Rather, your ceremony communicates devotion to God and Goddess. If you were to compare an act of witchcraft to a religious ritual, the two would feel very different. Casting a spell involves a rising tension and release whereas a ceremony is more a gentle outpouring of gratitude.

If you did want to practice witchcraft as part of your Wiccan spiritual path, it can deepen your understanding of the natural world that surrounds you. This is similar to how growing your own herbs can put you in touch with the agricultural cycles of life. If you learn to cast spells, it will teach you about the ebb and flow of the energy that fills the universe – and your own place within the tide pool of that vast ocean.

BellaOnline

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Pagan Parenting: Combating the Violence of the World Today

Pagan Parenting: Combating the Violence of the World Today

Author:   Crystal Blanton   

There are violence, crime, pain, drugs and death all around us. It has become a part of society and we have begun the process of normalizing it into our everyday world.

The video games, music videos and songs that depict violence are just unbelievable. So, if you are anything like me, as a parent there is a certain amount of anxiety you carry when thinking of your kids in the “real” world.

You may be thinking, “What does this have to do with Paganism?” Well, it has everything to do with paganism and living a spiritual path. We, as adults, know we make different and make better decisions when we are rooted in a spiritual path. Why do we automatically assume that kids are so different from us?

Granted, children don’t have the life skills and experiences we do. Children do not have the critical thinking skills some adults have, and notice I did say some.

Children are learning how to operate in the world with every passing moment. Sometimes, in the world of an adult where things seem to move so fast, we forget the true path of a kid and that path is all about learning the life skills to live and make decisions. More often than not, it is about learning to recognize choices and make better choices.

With those thoughts at the forefront of our minds, let’s go back and revisit the original thought. As humans, children and adults alike, we make different and better decisions when we are rooted in a spiritual path.

So by putting that concept into the proper perspective, the time for action is now.

The time is now to teach our children responsibility and accountability, not by preaching but by example. Remember, attraction rather than promotion and we can always show better than we can “tell”.

The time is now for spiritual knowledge. Broaden their minds; kids can never have too much knowledge or understanding of the world that is beyond this world.

The time is now to teach our kids structure. We cannot pretend that our kids will automatically understand that the world is based on rules, some real and some invisible. If we don’t provide our kids structure, how will they learn how to exist in the world?

The time is now to teach our kids to respect life and everything in it. They must begin the long process of understanding that we are connected to everything and everything is connected to us. Understanding this principle helps to take away the false illusion that we are not affecting others, the world or ourselves with our attentions.

The time is now to teach our kids how to think. Children are accustomed to reacting to life instead of thinking things through and evaluating consequences. This is a skill many adults didn’t learn and they are still suffering the effects of bad choices made in the past and in the present.

The time is now to have open and honest communication with our children about life.
We think we can save our kids from the reality of the world but, when our kids don’t get the answers from us, they are looking from the answers from others. And sometimes the places our kids look for answers is the last place we would wish.

The time is now to teach our kids that they create their own reality. Kids often immediately think life is horrible or unfair when things don’t go their way. We all need to understand life is hard but I chose how I am going to deal with it or what feelings I am going to accept or adopt. How I chose to look at life will dictate how I feel about my life. There are people who have much less in life than I do and they wake up happy in the morning because they actually opened their eyes to another day. Wow, what a harsh realization at how many of us are self-centered and don’t appreciate our blessings. Guess what? We pass that along to our kids.

The time is now to teach our kids that we cannot control other people’s thoughts or actions. We just have to learn to live in spite of the outside world. The building of coping and life skills through spiritual foundation can be invaluable to a child, especially since most children feel like their power resides in the choices of others

With all of that in mind, again let’s look at the mission of this article. We cannot actually remove our children from the violence in the world today because, no matter how far away we move, and violence is a part of our everyday life. But we can give our kids the tools to understand life in a way that doesn’t promote violence and destruction.

Let’s stop acting like it is ok that our kids are exposed to senseless violence in movies and TV. I am not promoting censorship but our attitudes will help dictate how our children see these things. If we were acting like it is ok or “cool” then why wouldn’t we think our kids would think the same thing?

Ask yourself what things are you lenient with that you should tighten up on and what things should you give more freedoms? What are you teaching your children when you are not mentally and spiritually present?

Sit with yourself and a piece of paper and think of some of the discussion topics that you feel you need to start opening the lines of communication around, and then just start. Start talking about the values of your faith and what is means to them. Talk about almost anything to help forge the connection between you as the parent and the supporter of spiritual development. Don’t get stuck on how to do this or what to say. Sometimes it isn’t about the how but just to do. And don’t forget to incorporate spirituality into almost everything.

Just imagine if all parents started doing the same.

Blessed Be!!

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Paganism 101: Basics of Pagan Spirituality

Paganism 101: Basics of Pagan Spirituality

Author:   Cu Mhorrigan  

Introduction:

Paganism has received a lot of attention in recent years with the increased use of the internet, television shows like Charmed, Buffy: the Vampire Slayer, Angel and movies like The Craft, Harry Potter, as well as cartoons like Sabrina the Teen-Aged Witch.

Nowadays, it has become fashionable to announce oneself to be a Pagan, or Neo-Pagan, Wiccan or Witch – especially for teenagers, wishing to attract attention, adults trying to follow the latest fad in spirituality, or just as an excuse to justify weird or aberrant behavior.

However, calling yourself a Pagan is one thing; actually following the spiritual path is something else. It is my hope with this ‘class’ that I might explain in practical terms what it actually means to be a Pagan in our modern age and to assist those who wish to implement the following of this spiritual path.

Definition of the word “Pagan”:

The Word Pagan is derived from the Latin word ‘paganus’, which is loosely translated to mean “of the country”. It should be noted however that the usage of ‘paganus’ within the Roman Empire (Where they spoke Latin. Duh!) was always meant to be a slur meaning “hillbilly, redneck, hick, trailer trash, or white trash”. Much in the same way we would talk about guests on the Jerry Springer Show.

Later, when the Christian faith took over the Roman Empire under Charlemagne, it was used to describe those outside of the Christian faith and those in need of conversion. Not an improvement, because paganus was still pretty much of an insult.

Turning a negative into a positive:

It wasn’t until recently that the term ‘Pagan’ gained a more positive use with the resurgence of Pagan beliefs within the European and American Cultures. Those who sought spirituality closer to that of their “ancestors” adopted it. Eventually, it came to mean ‘those who follow the Old religions’ or ‘those who follow a spiritual path outside of the big three Abrahamic religions’. (What are the big Three Abrahamic religions?)

What DO Pagans Believe?:

An it harm none Do as thou wilt.

Speaking in general terms, Paganism is an earth-centered spirituality, which believes in the sacredness of all things, equality of all persons regardless of gender, sexual, and spiritual and social practices. The practices within Paganism are extremely diverse and open-ended allowing individuals to incorporate whatever rituals and belief systems they feel comfortable with.

Since there is so much diversity within our spiritual path, we stress personal liberty, and responsibility for one’s own actions. That as long as a person does not cause physical, mental, emotional, financial, and spiritual harm to others or himself, he/she is free to pursue one’s physical, mental and spiritual development as he/she sees fit.

Which brings me to my next point: Pagans, in general, do not proselytize! That means you aren’t going to get a call from us at three o’clock in the morning asking us if you are going to ritual or not. There is no High Priestess going around smacking people over the head if they haven’t worked on their Book of Shadows or if they bought the wrong candle for a personal ritual. Aint gonna happen.

Why? We are assuming that if you are here, you want to be here. We’ll give you information, let you know your options, and the rest is up to you. We aren’t going to stand on a street corner and scream at folks for not worshipping Athena nor at women/men who chose not to go around sky clad (That’s ‘nekkid’ for those of us who are really new to this).

The Law of Return (or sowing and reaping):

There are no true “sins” within our spiritual practices. There are only things that cause harm (or, as I like to call them, “Stupid Ideas”) and things that are helpful (Or as I like to call them, “Good Ideas”).

When you do good things, good things tend to happen to you (Eventually). When you do bad things, bad things tend to happen to you (Eventually). Of course, since we do not live in a static environment, and people tend to interact with one another, sometimes things get a little ‘fa-kakhed’. However, the Universe always balances Itself out in the end.

This concept is called, karma and it’s a relatively complicated matter, which I have here boiled down to its lowest common denominator. Of course, there are differing views of Karma, one of which is the Three-Fold Law What you do comes back three-fold, or three times, back at you. (If you are not sure as to whether an act will have some kind of repercussion, ask yourself, how much would I really like this done to me?)

(The self-defense caveat: Like all “Laws”, there are loopholes. If someone else is out to cause you harm in some way it would be a really STUPID (Bad Karma) idea not to protect yourself, or your family, or your friends. However, make sure you have as many facts as possible (like the guy is holding a knife and threatens to cut you up) before beating the oneness of all things back into these individuals.

Pantheons, Divinities, Spirits, Energies:

Okay this is where it gets a little tricky, but stay with me. The most common (and extremely annoying) question we as Pagans get is, “Don’t you folks worship Satan?” (Everyone roll his or her eyes here.)

The answer to that is a resounding, “NO!” For the most part, you need to keep in mind that Paganism is a separate religion from Christianity. Hence Satan (Whom I call, the Christian God of Evil and Nastiness) is not a part of our pantheon. Sorry…

For the most part (depending on the tradition you follow) the Pagan concept of Divinity falls under one of the following expressions:

Duo-Theism: (Duo=Two or Dual, Theos=Divinities):

The Worship of a Co-Equal God and Goddess, each having unlimited power, compassion, wisdom, energy or what-have-you, but maintaining different roles and functions.

The God is aggressive, powerful, sexual adventurous, skillful. He handles the Male side of fertility.

The Goddess is nurturing, passionate, creative, sensual and artistic. She oversees the power of creating life through birth and the Female side of fertility.

This belief is widely held by the Wiccans and Wicca-like factions of Paganism.

Poly Theism: (Poly=Many, Theos=Divinities) The belief in multiple Gods and Goddesses.

Many folks see these Gods as extensions of the God and Goddess (i.e. Monism) with each one taking on different aspects at the time of their encounter with the worshipper. Others (like myself) believe that They are actually separate entities with Their own personalities, quirks and motives.

Not every god or goddess is a real people person nor does every god and goddess have a laid back attitude. If you are going to get involved with a particular deity, you had better make sure you do a LOT of research as to what they like, don’t like, and if a particular god or goddess is right for you. Otherwise your life will get extremely interesting in a bad way.

The third school of though in polytheism is the idea of the gods and goddesses being archetypes within a person’s own psyche. This is sort of like a piece of our own subconscious wrapped up in a costume and a mask in order to teach our conscious minds lessons they need.

Of course, there is more than those three Schools of thought, but I’m just giving the basics here.

Pantheism:

Simply put, this is the idea that the Divine is in everything; hence all things are a part of the energy we call god. Since all things are a part of god, all things are sacred and are expressions of the divine in some way, shape or form. When I worship a tree, I am worshipping the Divine; when I give food to a hungry stray, I am feeding the Divine; when I am hurting someone, I am hurting the Divine.

Then there is the Fourth Category:

I-have-no-Friggin-Clue-ism:

For the beginner, this is the best spiritual idea I can suggest. The idea is essentially, “I have no friggin’ clue if there is a Divinity or not, therefore unless I am shown otherwise, I will not say that the Gods are this way or that. I will respect the Power behind the name, but I will not pledge myself to him/her/it unless I have an absolutely good reason to.”

This is actually one of the safest belief systems to take as a new student of the Pagan path because you are open enough to receive enlightenment, but at the same time, you do not run the risk of making a total, complete ass out of yourself. The Gods will instruct you as They see fit.

Now of course, Pagans will usually incorporate not only one, but perhaps two or three of the ideas listed above. This usually comes from personal experience and cannot be learned any other way.
Keep in mind that it’s okay to shift from one idea to another or even to incorporate two or more of these ideas…it’s all good. Just find out what works best for you.

So How the Hades do I Become a Pagan? (Or stupid questions that are commonly asked)

Well, for the most part, it’s a matter of doing a lot of reading and a lot of self-exploration. It took me at least two years of studying online and reading books and attending classes to even consider myself a Pagan. A lot of the traditions under the banner of Paganism will have different views on training and initiation (think of it as baptism), and how one becomes a member of that tradition.

The best way is to start out attending Pagan gatherings, visiting bookstores and such, and talk to other Pagans. Eventually, you will either find a religious path that works for you or you will throw your arms up in dismay and run screaming back to your religion of birth. And there is nothing wrong with that. NOT AT ALL! We realize that the Pagan spiritual path is not for everyone, and we will not be offended. Just make sure you don’t tell people we sacrificed your cat and you’ll be cool with us.

Do I Need to Buy Special Clothes and Dress in Black?

The answer is: Only if you really want to. Yes, there are special robes some folks wear, but unless your coven says otherwise, you can pretty much wear what you want.

Just some basic suggestions: Wear something comfortable and wear something you won’t mind getting dirty. Most of our rituals take place outdoors and, while you may look really good in an Armani suit and Gucci shoes, there is a good chance your clothes will get messed up and your shoes scuffed.

Loose, light clothes in summer and spring is always a good idea, and warmer clothes in the fall are really smart. Most winter rituals will be held indoors, depending on the weather. If it makes you comfortable to wear black Witch clothes and pointed hats and cloaks… Knock yourself out…You’ll be getting lots of stares and odd looks (mostly from us), but all-in-all, if it makes you comfortable, then that is all that matters.

Do I Need to Buy Special Jewelry?

Again, only if you want to and if you enjoy it. Jewelry is a personal matter to the people who wear it. And it’s usually best to find a piece that says, “HEY! I LIKE YOU. WEAR ME AROUND YOUR NECK!” Otherwise, No special jewelry is required to be a Pagan.

Do I Need to Kill Something (like a kitten) and Drink its Blood?

No, you don’t have to kill an animal to be a Pagan. For the most part, we are animal friendly and don’t believe in killing a critter in order to work our rituals. Yes, there are some Pagan groups that practice animal sacrifice and it is left alone…but fear not, the only thing usually killed has already been slaughtered and put on the feasting table in a sacred bucket marked, KFC.

Do I Need to Become a Vegetarian?

Nope, being a vegetarian is a matter of personal preference and what you feel in your heart. While many of us are vegetarians, a lot of us aren’t. It may be a good idea to eat a little healthier, but no one is going to come down on you for eating meat or using meat-based products. However, you might want to do your own research and come up with your own choices.

So, What DO I Need to Do?

Excellent question. One, as I suggested before, do a lot of research, a lot of reading and, when in doubt, do more research. A lot of Pagans keep what is called a “Book of shadows”, which is just a fancy name for a Journal. Write down everything you learn in that book and when you get a chance, read it. If you see a cool article on the net, feel free to print it (for your personal use only, please).

To create a book of shadows, I would suggest buying a loose-leaf binder and fill it half-way with paper. It’s also a good idea to invest in a three hole punch. That way, you can put articles that you printed from the net and use them for later reference. Do not worry about using blood and special things to “make it official”. It is your study guide — your book — and so, make sure you personalize it to suit your needs.

When you feel you are ready, and you have found a religious tradition you feel comfy with, take that Book of Shadows and attend any class you can afford. A lot of places have very reasonable rates for their classes. The Learning Annex is one source, but so is your local Pagan bookstore. Just make sure you talk to the person running the store to make sure he knows what he/she is talking about. If you are not entirely comfortable in studying there, consider looking for another teacher. Remember, this is about YOUR spiritual growth and enrichment and you need to be in an environment conducive to YOUR learning.

Holidays, and Rituals:

There are eight major Holy Days during the Pagan year that a lot of us agree upon. There are also rituals that are held on the New Moon and the Full moon depending on how often your coven (A group of Pagans you worship with) meets.

The Eight Major Holidays are listed in the order they fall on:
Imbolc (February)
Spring Equinox (March 21)
Beltaine (May 1)
Summer Solstice (Litha) (June 21)
Lughnassadh or Lamas (August)
Autumn Equinox (Mabon) (September 21)
Samhain or Halloween (October 31 to Nov 1)
Winter Solstice (Yule) (December 21)

Each Holy Day represents a certain mythological event in our religion, which will be discussed by the High Priest (ess) in advance.

It’s usually a good idea to find out what you would need to bring so that you can best participate in the ritual.

Now most likely you are going to have a hard time pronouncing the names of the days when you first start out, so don’t be afraid to ask stupid questions; it’s the only way you are going to learn.

Tools For Rituals:

Energy: This is the most important, and since I am assuming people know Jack about Paganism, I’m going to make this explanation brief: When we perform rituals and cast spells, we are attempting to gather energy. This energy comes from the universe and ourselves. Depending on what we are trying to do, we use certain rituals, and tools. Think of it this way: It’s like gathering up a whole bunch of snow together. We eventually gather enough to make a snowball and then we pack it in and send it off to impact your friend. It’s basically the same thing. When we perform these rites, they help our minds to focus on gathering this energy and tell it what we want done. Energy is the most important part of any ritual, and without it, we are just looking stupid.

Cauldron: This is basically a black, three-legged pot to be used for burning incense and for other things. They range from tiny to huge and can be used to burn incense, burn paper, and make potions. Now cauldrons tend to be rather expensive, so if you are a bit “Price Sensitive” like me, find yourself one of those old fashioned iron pots that Mom uses to make rice. Make sure you clean it before and after use. If you have one of these in your own home and have had it for a long time, you are pretty much used to it and it is used to you. So, you really don’t have to “charge” it with energy.

Athemae: Essentially, this is a knife or a really small sword. This is used to direct energy raised up during rituals. THESE ARE NOT USED TO CUT PEOPLE (of any species). It can be used for cutting vegetables. Most traditions prefer a double sided blade, small enough to conceal. (You would be amazed how many cops will stop you for carrying a broad sword.) If you’re unable to get an athamae, it’s totally cool to make yourself a wand or use your index finger to direct energy.

Wands/Rods: Okay, these are wooden or crystal sticks also used to direct energy as well as to draw it to yourself. Wands tend to be no longer than your arm, while rods can be longer. Best way to get a rod is to go out on little walks in the park and look for a stick. Once you find a stick you like and that screams out for you to take it, take it home, and sand it and decorate it until you are totally comfortable with it. Viola! You have a wand or rod. If you have as much mechanical aptitude as a slug, ask around your local occult bookstores. Keep in mind they are going to be slightly expensive and you will have to charge it once you get it home.

Candles: Candles are used in rituals to help get your mind into the practice of Magic (No, I am not spelling magic with a K or a J…I’m keeping this as simple as possible. If you want to use the funky spellings in your own notebooks, knock yourself out. You’re not being graded here). Candles are lit in order to help get the mind into a state where it’s easier to put the patterns in for the energy to flow. I would strongly suggest getting candles of all colors and sizes and as many as you can afford. (Usually one of each color.) You can pick them up anywhere.

Incense: Like candles, incense helps the mind get energy together to cast spells. It’s a good idea to make your own incense or to purchase them from a botanica, or occult bookstore. Incense sticks may be colored, but it’s usually a good idea to purchase them based on their smells. Pungent or spicy incense is normally used to send stuff away. (Mainly because they are offensive.) Sweet incense is used to bring stuff to you. Earthy smells help to facilitate healing and to strengthen you.

Divination tools: Things like Tarot Cards, Runes and what not. These are mainly used to help you to make decisions or to gain some kind of insight as to what is going on around you. Keep in mind, these items themselves are not magical in and of themselves, but are based on your own intuition interpreting what you are seeing.

Books, books and more books: Like I said earlier, it is suggested you read religiously. It’s best to keep a library of things you have read or are about to read. Don’t just pick books only by one author, but of different ones. Some people may know a lot about what they are talking about; others are complete and utter horse feces. However, the only way you are going to find out is if you look for yourself and keep your Book of Shadows nearby while you read. If something sounds like nonsense, or if you aren’t sure about whether or not what is true within a book, do some research. It sounds like a lot of work, but this is your spirituality we are talking about here.

It is a good idea to question everything and find out if there is an agreement between the authors you have read. Another thing to keep in mind is that some folks are completely full of fluff and bluster while others deliberately water stuff down to keep from divulging too much about their path. And some are completely straightforward about the things they are writing about.

One of the best ways to learn about an author is find out when they are going to be doing a book signing near you. Get to meet them (Most book signings are free and most will give a short lecture about their book just to whet your appetite for it.) Some of the most intense learning experiences I gained were in attending some of these lectures; it’s also a great way to actually see the person who is writing.

Use your intuition…and don’t be shy about picking their brains. That is what they are there for. In fact, I would suggest doing the same thing at the store where you get your tools and books. It helps you learn a lot faster; especially when you ask Stupid questions. Yes you will get looks. Yes, you will even get the occasional shake of the head, But if you don’t ask, you wont know. It’s worth it.

Suggested Things to do:

Check out different groups that meet in your area. You can do this by attending open (public) circles or classes. Use them as a way to meet other Pagans and eventually find a group that you feel comfortable studying with. If you are Solitary Pagan, it helps to “meet and greet” other Pagans.

Look around for Pagan shops, botanicas and other places where you can get supplies. Most botanicas are devoted to Santeria or Voudu, but you can get some really good equipment at cheap prices.

Check out the local library, as well as the bookstore for things you can read about your particular pantheon.

Ask a lot of questions. Even stupid ones. It’s one of the chief tenets of Paganism to question everything you come across. If you get an answer that sounds like horsesh*t, then verify, verify, verify.

Things Not To Do:

Don’t panic; this seems like a lot of information, but it really isn’t. This is just the primer for your own research.

Don’t sweat if you cannot find a teacher right away, Nine times out of ten, they usually show up when you are ready to learn more about a particular aspect of your tradition.

Don’t start off calling yourself a High Something of a particular tradition. Most systems within Paganism have their own methods of teaching and credentials for clergy and what not. No faking!

Don’t be afraid of getting criticized; it’s going to happen. Learn to grow a thick skin, and if someone points something out to you, listen and check out your own motives and conscience. If the shoe fits, wear it. If it doesn’t, then don’t.

Don’t take everything at face value…Learn how to question what you hear and not be a total jerk about it.

Don’t try and convert people, It rarely works just put out information let people know where you stand and end it there.

Recommended Books:

The Truth about Witchcraft Today: Scott Cunningham
Urban Primitive: Tannin Silverstein and Raven Kaldera
The Book of Shamanic Healing: Kristin Madden
The Celestine Prophecy: James Redfield (Yes, it’s a novel but it helps to get an idea about energy-work and how energy can be gathered and stolen.)
The Wiccan Warrior: Kerr Cucuhain
Witchcraft Theory and Practice: Ly de Angeles
When I see the Wild God: Ly de Angeles
Drawing Down the Moon: Margot Adler (of NPR)
The Spiral Dance: Starhawk
Buckland’s Complete Witches Handbook: Raymond Buckland

When You Might Not Want to Come Out of the Broom Closet

When You Might Not Want to Come Out of the Broom Closet

Author:   Bronwen Forbes   

A great deal has been written about the benefits and advantages of coming out as Pagan to your family, friends and co-workers, both here on Witchvox and in other places. Living an honest life, helping Paganism be more accepted as more people say “I know a Pagan, ” and taking pride in who and what you are – these are all excellent reasons to be open about your faith. However, as a friend of mine reminded me recently, coming out is never something you do just once. You continue to choose with every new day, every new situation and every new person you meet whether or not to say anything about your spiritual path.

Which means, of course, that there are some valid reasons to never come out to anyone, or only to a select few in specific situations. For example (obvious as it is) , if you’ve recently begun the process of legally severing your marital bonds with someone and, before the divorce is final and all child and property custody disputes have been resolved, and you realize in the middle of all this that you’re Pagan, it would probably be in your best interests not to announce your new path until after the dust has settled.

Another obvious example is on the job. I hate to sound like an alarmist, but in this economy, just because you think it’s safe to be openly Pagan at work doesn’t mean it *is* safe. I lived for years in the Baltimore-Washington DC area where no one, not even my employers, cared if I was Pagan or not.

I left DC for a Midwest town that had a university – and a very prominent journalism school. As leaders of a training coven (consisting mostly of college students including one journalism major) , my husband and I were pretty good candidates for “interview a witch for the Halloween edition of the school paper.” It happened every year. While I wasn’t exactly out at work, between my regular appearance in the university’s school newspaper and occasional mentions in the city’s paper for being on various Pagan-related discussion panels, I wasn’t exactly hiding my religion, either. Five minutes on Google would have told my employers everything they wanted to know about it. I don’t think it even occurred to them to check.

Unfortunately, I took this lack of interest in my religious affairs for granted when we moved to a tiny town in New Mexico and I got a job at the local (much smaller) university in the admissions office. We also tried to help revive the campus Pagan student group which had been prominently featured in the local paper a year earlier, when every Baptist minister in the county denounced its existence (which should have been a clue to me to keep my flapping mouth shut) . Connections were made among the students, and next thing I knew it was two weeks before Samhain and the editor of the school paper was interviewing me. It was a good, well-written article, and no one in my office said a word about the fact that I’d just outed myself to the entire campus. I didn’t think any more about it.

Until I realized that my immediate supervisor was quietly and subtly going out of her way to make my workday a living hell – and had been since the article appeared in the paper.

For example, whatever I did wrong was discussed loudly and in public, while my co-worker, a Catholic, got a bit of quiet privacy when her errors were pointed out (We started the same day and did the exact same job) . I mentioned it to my boss and was told it was all my imagination and that I was “too sensitive.”

Eventually I quit; I’m convinced that if I hadn’t, I would have been fired. Was it because of the article? I’ll never know for sure, but in retrospect my decision to come out of the broom closet was, in this instance, a pretty poor one.

Sometimes, though, the decision of whether or not to come out as Pagan is not so obvious. Family and close friends, for example, are the people you most want to accept this part of you, and as a result your prediction of their reaction to your news may be skewed; you so very much need them to be happy for you that you could project the reaction you want onto them.

I’ve asked around, and a lot of my friends suggest telling a close sibling, aunt or uncle and see how they react before having the “Big Talk” with Mom and Dad. But – and this is hard – telling your nearest and dearest may not only be a bad idea, you may not know it’s a bad idea until it’s too late.

Back in the mid 1980s when I first realized I was Pagan, I told my parents. I had plenty of solid, valid reasons for doing so: 1) I was about to be divorced by my first husband over my Paganism and I thought they deserved to know the truth. 2) I had a strong feeling, even in the early days, that my spiritual path was going to be a major part of my life (turns out I was right) and I couldn’t see cutting my parents out of that much of my world (we were a lot closer back then) . 3) My parents are highly educated people with five college degrees between the two of them, have been professional performers most their lives (i.e. used to odd, artistic, fringe folk) , and are reasonably liberal in their personal and political views. In other words, if there are (or were) two Christians (Episcopalians) more likely to accept their daughter’s new spiritual path with open-mindedness and grace, I don’t know them.

At first it looked like I made a good decision to come out to my folks. My father, a college librarian, found a copy of Starhawk’s The Spiral Dance on my recommendation and read it. He said that while he’d never be a Pagan, he was struck by how “poetic it is.”

Fast forward a decade or so. In the intervening years my religion has been referred to as “that Pagan b*llsh*t” more than once. I’ve been told, “We’re just so relieved you’ve managed to stay away from the drugs” (What drugs? Did I miss the memo on rampant drug use in the Pagan community?) , and treated to this day like a not-quite-bright teenager by – you guessed it – my intellectual, liberal parents.

Was coming out to my parents a good idea? Probably not.

Knowing what I know now, would I do it today? No.

The decision to tell or not to tell someone you’re Pagan is a deeply personal one, and not in any way something you should be pressured into. Coming out as Pagan is not “cool” or something to do for the shock it might cause the listener. Although it’s true that the more of a presence we are in society the less “other” we become, and the more our faith is accepted in the world.

But we need to be aware that sharing our religious choice with anyone or everyone is not always the best solution. We no longer need to worry about witchfinders, hangings and other historically dire consequences for openly celebrating our faith, but we do need to think very hard about our livelihoods, our children and the feelings of the one we’re outing ourselves to before we choose to share this most personal information.