As Americans continue the ancient quest for the meaning of life, Pagan and Mystical religions are experiencing a resurgence. It has been called the fastest growing religion in the West. Most Pagan religions/traditions are a blend of non-Abrahamic, ecstatic, and esoteric religions of Europe and indigenous cultures from around the world. They accept and encourage personal growth and beliefs and are concerned about religious institutionalization. Paganism is often called Neo-Paganism to emphasize the blending of ancient religions with modern ideas.
Why is there a resurgence of such religions? In the introduction to Paganism Today: Wiccans, Druids, the Goddess and Ancient Earth Traditions for the Twenty-First Century (S. Thorsons, 1996), Charlotte Hardman says, "The interest in Paganism today in the UK and USA may be interpreted as a response to an increased dissatisfaction with the way the world is going ecologically, spiritually and materially; people are disillusioned by mainstream religion and the realization that materialism leaves an internal emptiness."
Forget the "Craft" and "Witches of Eastwick." Pagans dress in jeans, T-shirts or any other typical attire. They don't go around hexing people either.
It is difficult to fit Pagans into one category because they are of all ages, creeds, races, and classes. They do have an interest in occult knowledge such as mysticism, alchemy, astrology. The definition of occult is involvement in the unseen, mysterious, and supernatural. It is a search for understanding of those universal powers of God, or the human consciousness and nature, which human beings haven't deciphered yet. To some Paganism is the peaceful search for God through nature, to others it is a path of personal responsibility and growth. The word "occult" has acquired a very nasty meaning and has almost become taboo. Like any group, the occult has fanatics and conservatives. Unfortunately, immoral fanatics have made the biggest impression on society. People hear "occult" and they associate it with followers of Charles Manson, the Branch Dividians or Heaven's Gate. These groups are analogous to murder or suicide and brainwashing.
The majority of pagans and mystics don't fit this horrible stereotype. Paganism is not a “cult” either. The core teachings of Paganism is to find your personal path and walk it in a responsible manner. So the idea of blindly following a single leader, which cult implies, goes against Pagan principles.
Pagans do not acknowledge the existence of Satan.
Pagans feel they are the caretakers and not the dominate force of the earth. “Part of this rethinking goes along with the resurgence of Goddess worship, which is widespread in the Pagan movement. Many Pagans look to the fertility Goddesses of old and vibrant, dynamic models for ecological balance,” states the Pagan Educational Network (www.bloomington.in.us/~pen/). They revere the earth because of the common view that the God/dess resides in all things, human and natural. Pagans do have different ideas on who or what God is and if there are Gods. To damage the earth is sacrilege. Many Pagan rituals celebrate and mark transitions in the natural world (such as the four seasons, lunar phases, birth, and death or rebirth into the afterlife) as well as personal milestones (such as marriage, graduation, or a new home).
Pagan rituals and beliefs are as diverse as the different branches of Christianity. There are many different traditions within Paganism: nature religions, Druidism, and Wicca are just a few. Some Pagans do not belong to a single tradition. Instead they explore the world and find their own unique path. To know what a Pagan believes you must ask that person. People can not be easily labeled and neatly organized into categories. Personality types and philosophies among Pagans are as diverse as the different people of the world. Pagans are united by the idea that people should live by their conscious and not a strict dogma and that every person has the right to worship and live as they please as long as they are not harming others.
Pagans and mystics thirst for knowledge. They believe God's mind or life’s mysteries are revealed through the intricate balances of chemistry, biology and physics that allow all life to exist. Pagans tend to be avid readers with interests in art, science, social service, personal growth and creativity.
Pagans emphasize the use of holistic medicine, meditation and ritual as a form of prayer or enlightenment, the natural energy fields that surround the human body (chakras or auras), and stones and crystals. These tools are used to learn about this world and beyond. According to PEN, “While some Pagan religions can be quite esoteric, most Pagan beliefs and practices are rooted in everyday, natural experience. Myths, rituals, and techniques are adapted to meet particular needs.”
We are lucky that our world isn’t homogenous and we can learn from many different cultures and beliefs.
Copyright © 1998 Tara Miller - Local Coordinator Pagan Pride Project, Inc. This article appeared in the May 1997 issue of Earth Spirit Newsletter and the Capaha Arrow at Southeast Missouri State University. Revised in August 2001.