What Is A Pagan & What Is Paganism?

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What Is A Pagan & What Is Paganism?

We’ve all heard the term pagan, and maybe it conjures up images of paganism, witches or other occult practices.

What is a pagan and what is paganism?

A sort of unconventional approach to religion, pagans believe in several gods and goddesses and the interconnection of nature and human beings.

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However it presented itself in your life, it’s important to know what pagan signifies.

Maybe you’re like me and heard the term paganism in religion class. Perhaps your parents have discussed what a pagan is with you.

Paganism has a rich history, holidays, and practices proving that being a pagan is a unique religious experience.

Here is the meaning of paganism and what it means to be pagan:

Definition of paganism

Paganism is defined as a polytheistic or pantheistic nature-worshipping religion, according to Pagan Federation International.

Therefore, a pagan is a follower of this type of religion.

Generally seen as being outside the norm, this person holds religious beliefs other than those of main world religions such as Christianity, Judaism, or Islam.

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Christianity.com explains the principal beliefs of paganism — polytheism and pantheism.

Polytheism is “the belief in and veneration of multiple gods or goddesses...both male and female, who have various associations and embody forces of nature, aspects of culture, and facets of human psychology.”

Considered to be more relatable than the “perfect” higher power of other religions, these deities find wisdom within their human faults.

Pagans chose to incorporate this aspect because it allows for expressing humor.

Their other belief of pantheism involves seeing the divinity as inseparable from nature.

This shows that pagans have a holistic worldview that the universe is interconnected and deities can be found all around us within trees, flowers, water, even the sky.

Due to the manifestation of divinity within nature, pagans will actively search for answers and signs from their deities.

As an example, Pagan Federation International states that pagans may cast “stones to read the geomantic patterns into which they fall.”

It’s also important to note that while there are ancestral beliefs within paganism, it tends to take on domestic elements.

That being said, it is not so much a public religion but rather one that is more private and varies from person to person.

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How did paganism come about?

Some forms of paganism are rooted in the 19th century C.E. European nationalism, as said by Chrisianity.com.

However, “contemporary pagan groups trace their immediate organizational roots to the 1960s and have an emphasis on archetypal psychology and a spiritual interest in nature.”

Described as being both a prehistoric and postmodern religion, paganism has heavy ties to spiritualism.

Pagan Foundation International explains that with the development of science, the Greeks and Babylonians wanted to understand the hidden patterns of nature.

With the cultivation of human industry and the well-roundedness of culture, Renaissance thinkers began to write about pagan ideals.

Many pagans lived on Mediterranean lands of the countryside which were never far from people’s reach.

As a result, their parks, gardens, and zoos were “re-introduced into modern Europe, not by the religions of the Book, and not by utilitarian atheists, but by the classically-inspired planners of the Enlightenment.”

Their beliefs and ideas were unlike anything that had been seen at the time.

Paganism became one of the first religions to make way for an individual connection with the divine, or their deities.

Modern pagans emphasize the importance of the “individual psyche as it interfaces with a greater power.”

They are creative and playful, not tied down by the customs of an established religion.

With respect for all life, pagans usually desire “to participate with rather than to dominate other beings.”

The hope is that all of creation live in harmony with each other.

Pagan holidays and celebrations

It makes sense that with a high importance of nature within paganism, their holidays and celebrations center around solar and seasonal change.

The Wheel of the Year is a symbol of the eight religious festivals that pagans celebrate.

According to the Ancient History Encyclopedia, pagans noticed that “the seasons changed, people died, but nothing was ever finally lost because everything returned again — in one way or another — in a repeating natural cycle.”

Their appreciation for nature’s predictability is observed eight times a year.

These festivals are “designed to draw one’s attention to what one has gained and lost in the cyclical turn of the year.”

Wheel of the Year includes 8 holidays celebrated by pagans:

1. Samhain: October 31

Marking the beginning of the year’s cycle, Samhain means “summer’s end” and commences the season of darkness.

As you’ve probably noticed, this festival takes place on Halloween.

It is a pagan belief that during this time, the veil between the living and the dead is at its thinnest.

2. Yule: December 20-25

Yule celebrates the Winter Solstice, the shortest day of the year, where the days grow longer.

It symbolizes “the renewing cycles of life, as well as rebirth, rejuvenation, and growth.”

At Yule, a tree is decorated to honor the home of deities. It also commemorates the birth of the new sun god.

3. Imbolc: February 1-2

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Meaning “in the belly,” Imbolc celebrates rebirth and purification between the Winter Solstice and Spring Equinox.

As it references pregnancy, this festival is linked to fertility, hope, and the promise of the future.

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4. Ostara: March 20-23

The Spring Equinox is “observed through feasts and celebrations involving colored eggs, rabbits, chicks, and flowers.

A time of birth and renewal, the goddess Ostara is believed to re-emerge from beneath the earth and become pregnant with the sun god who will be born the next Yule.

5. Beltane: April 30-May 1

Bonfires, dancing, and colorful strands of ribbon are used to observe the coming us summer.

Beltrane represents light and fertility, while pagans show their passion and set aside inhibitions in order to indulge their desires.

6. Litha: June 20-22

The days become shorter during the celebration of the Summer Solstice at Litha.

It acknowledges “the triumph of light over darkness” and involves fresh fruits, honey cakes, and feasting.

7. Lughnasadh: August 1

Lughnasadh is named after the Celtic hero-god Lugh who is linked to order and truth.

This is a harvest festival that ceremonializes the transition from summer into autumn with a harvest of fruits offered to the gods and goddesses.

8. Mabon: September 20-23

Celebrating the Autumn Equinox, Mabon focuses on “the loss of the goddess who goes into the underworld in autumn but will return in spring.”

The belief is that she will eventually return bringing life and prosperity to humanity.

If pagan ideals are something that interest you, it might be beneficial to do some research.

Anyone can become a pagan and begin to practice their rituals.

Here are some books that explore what paganism is.

  • Paganism: A Beginner’s Guide to Paganism by Sarah Owen
  • Paganism: An Introduction to Earth-Centered Religions by Joyce and River Higginbothom
  • The Path of Paganism: An Experience-Based Guide to Modern Pagan Practice by John Beckett
  • Pagan Planet: Being, Believing & Belonging in the 21st Century by Nimue Brown

However you decide to take in this information and potentially follow pagan ideals, you will become closer to nature and see the importance of individualism.

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Isabella Pacinelli is a writer who covers relationship, self-love, spirituality, and entertainment topics.