For many a century, the term Pagan could evoke fear within an able body. All sorts of images arose if the term was directed at an individual or group. We have been trained, manipulated and conspired to envision a certain type of group or individual when we refer to them as Pagan.
In Latin, the word, “PAGAN” means country-dwellers. Often individuals whom worshipped Nature or the natural flow of life. It was often distorted in it's usage through history. From references of being devil worshippers to some sort of demonic entity at other times. When simply put, they were a simple people living a simple life, but often misunderstood.
The term Pagan had it's origins as a slang wordage and introduction out of the developing Christian religion. This term described an individual or group whom practiced a different religion or belief other then the arising Christian religion. Those in power appeared to want to gain control or dominance over such religious groups. It became a paramount mission historically. Conversion to save the souls of others. If you were not Christian you could not enter the kingdom of heaven or grace some other significant areas of life. Often out caste for being different. From marriage to government, those not in were out. Like some sort of pass or ticket to the pearly gates of the divine. So although the road to Christianity was indeed a road to salvation through the following of Jesus. A pure act of individual faith became a political arena. It soon became a road to power through various Churches, or specific individualistic gain. Specific armies that worked for the Church, fought against other forms of religion that did not meet the standards of it's own practices and/or beliefs in various parts of the world. Historically I'm sure there are all sorts of references to Church control over various populations. Adherence was strictly governed by doctrine.
The groups considered to be against at various times throughout history, were often other religious groups such as Jews, Abrahamic, Judaism, and Islam. Other religions like Hinduism, Buddhism, Shinto, as well as smaller groups such as Heathens, Witches or Druids. As well these groups often fought among themselves as well. From the face of the earth, many of these religions or beliefs disappeared or went deep underground as the course of history unfolded. Many of these religious practices became dirty little words, which provoked fear due to the demoralizing acts of justice put on display if accused of such practices. People labelled as heretics, witches or heathens could invoke a response of hatred or punishment, exile or even death. It soon became apparent in certain areas of the world, one must keep silent in order to survive. If they believed something different then the mainstream. Various faiths did sustain identity during the rise of Christianity, like Jewish faith, Judaism and Islamic faiths. All practised strongly throughout may countries. Others seemed to disappear from the record book for a time
As the world evolved the re-emergence of some of these practices or faiths have opened up in the public. Many were of course practiced between layers of secrecy. According to Wikipedia the Renaissance and Romantic periods brought forth an interest in many of these old belief systems. The rise of spiritualism and mysticism during this time was rather prevalent. It brought back to the fold, interests in various other types of religious practices or belief, or merely opened them up to the world at large. Although still shunned by many it was a crack that suggested some tolerance for such belief systems.
Pagan's were essentially labelled as non believers. According to what standard one would ask. Again the answer would be the dominate religious groups in the area. Most of the standard religions are considered to be Monotheistic. Meaning they believe in a single God as being supreme. The term Theism is a belief one deity exists or should I say at least one. Polytheism was a very popular way of living prior to the rise of various strong religious groups. Romans, Greeks, Egyptians all believed in more then one deity prior to the rise of Christianity. From the Bronze Age through to the Axial Age. The foundation of belief was often based on recognizing several Gods or Goddesses. Various tribal fractions also believed in more then one entity of power such as Indigenous practices. Some believed one supreme spirit, with other spiritual entities.
We have remarkable artifacts from such times. Statues of various God's like Apollo or the Goddess of Venus. We have wonderful sacred spaces left over where thousands of people visit. We have tribal ritual grounds, Stone hedge. Sacred circles. Statues of Buddha or ancient statues of other prominent deities. Having reignited the interest as well as the learning of such times and practices.
Various groups have emerged as practicing other beliefs rather then the main stream variety. We in North America have emerged as a society which has a massive rage of belief systems. Still to this day, the ones that were ridiculed or persecuted the most through history have often remained on the fringe of society. Beliefs such as Druidism, Witchcraft and Heathenism are still limited in their scope of acceptance. As well as Aboriginal practices have been displaced, forgotten through years of pressure to become a believer in the main stream religious dominance.
Many of these so called fringe groups, began to be lumped into one set of standard. They were all pagan. If we try to reach back and obtain some of these ideologies, we often find little actual information aside from some people's dedication to research, anthropology, historians as well as some information which has survived it's journey historically. Past down from generation to generation. What's interesting is we all have our little practices that our grandmothers did or our little belief systems or rituals. We often call these superstitions or other trivial names. When really we can find they come from various practices of pagan traditions or are linked to such. Whether they are brought by nationality, race, ethnic background many of them seem to have a long lineage embedded deep in history.
According to Wikipedia, there seem to be two distinct manners of belief. One is Pantheism, “ the view that the universe is connected. The Divinity and Spiritual are all as one with the material”.
Panentheism is the recognition, “ Divinity is separated from nature”. God is above or Goddesses are apart from the material world.
In the center of Pagan Witchcraft,” according to Priestess Starhawk,” “ is the understanding that all beings are interrelated that we are all linked with the cosmos as part of one living organism. Of course there are various practices of witchcraft that might believe something entirely different.
As well the Celtics often believed in Animism, “where everything is imbued with life force of spiritual energy”. All things hold the spirit, thus it can inhabit the world at large. There are spirits in every manner of thing. From rocks to plants to animals to trees. We have spiritual helpers whom reside within nature. The Green Man, fairies or the elemental's, etc.
As with many religious belief systems, Pagan practices also hold rituals. There appears to be a link between Pagan practices and Christian practices. Who got what from whom is a matter of opinion. However ritualistically, many of the Pagan holidays fall in line with the Christian Holidays. Alters are established, the burning of incense in some cases, candle's are burned, as well as the use of various types of oils or waters are established.
Rituals are often seen as elements of connecting with others on the same spiritual level. Singing, routines, meditations, visualizations, drumming, circle forming, group forming. For the purpose of changing or initiating a desired change based on belief of the spiritual realm, Gods or Goddesses or spiritual Guides. Many of these rituals are for the purpose of faith, belief in something other then singular. Going further, we find Magic or what was labelled Magic, which produced Spells in order to change or alter a direction of something or someone. This was found to be the case in various practices from Witchery, Heathenism, Druidism. Many times for the sole purpose of healing, charms or metaphysical practices.
Druidism was a very old belief system which arose from the Celtic lands. From my understanding there were Druids whom were considered like Priests. Guiding people through various issues in life. Such as healing, rules or regulations of the land, religious leaders, or simply story tellers or poets.
Heathenry was Germanic. A tradition or way of living with it's own set of practices of religion, culture, story telling. Having it's own set of Gods or Goddesses. It is seen as being associated with Norse mythology and belief system.
Included is the practice of Wicca and Witches. Wicca has become the largest form of Paganism according to Wikipedia with Witchcraft being the traditional form of Paganism. It is now the second largest following. Many people throughout history have continued to believe in this type of Pagan belief. Stemming way back in history we can see many of these women (traditionally) sometimes men were, Healers or Cunning Women. They were often sought after for wisdom, healing work or simply to get rid of something or to protect something. All manner of work arouse out of this practice. Herbal applications, medicines, cooking, and strong traditions that were past down from generation to generation. Psychic work, dream interpretation, astral travel, or spiritual connections fell within this realm in certain branches.
This is not to say, Heathenism or Druids did not have these applications as they did practice many of the applications that the sector of Witches did.
Of course the list of Pagan beliefs extends far beyond what I have mentioned here. From Goddess Spirituality to Gnostic to Atheist or any other relevant forms of belief. I have just mentioned a few beliefs systems as they were often strongly associated with being Pagan throughout history. Often having a strong backlash from the mainstream belief systems.
I wish also to state I have no prejudice against any particular belief or religion. To each his own! As long as it gives them comfort, spiritual guidance or faith, it is all good.
Where ever your spirit guides you.