Paganism—a term that encompasses a wide variety of Earth-based religions—has a distinct community in Greater Boston. Home to Celtic, WiccanWicca is the name of one of the major streams of contemporary American Paganism. It is a form of religious witchcraft, sometimes simply called the Craft. Many Wiccans in America today call themselves “witches,” claiming the name under which women and ..., Greek ReconstructionistThe Reconstructionist movement is a recent development in American Judaism, beginning with Mordecai M. Kaplan (1881 - 1982) who understood Judaism to be a civilization and culture, kept vibrant by constantly changing and adapting to new situations. The ce..., eclecticEclectic Pagans bring aspects of many spiritual paths together. Some Pagans pride themselves on the high degree of authority granted to each person to develop his or her own spiritual path. Hence, many practitioners adapt practices from a variety of Pagan..., and other paganThe term “pagan” (from the Latin paganus) originally meant “peasant” or “country dweller.” For many Pagans, the term suggests a life lived close to the land. Today, nature spirituality is an important thread in contemporary Paganism. Some Paga... groups, Boston has a longstanding Pagan history. Salem’s historical connection to witchcraft has made it the modern-day locus of covensA coven is a community of Pagan witches (often Wiccans) who gather for ritual. It is usually a small, intimate group of no more than thirteen that meets privately. A coven may also offer open rituals to the public., activism for Witches’ rights, and other Pagan groups. Because of the stigma sometimes still attached to Pagan religions, many groups choose to keep their contact information, worship space, and membership information private.
The term “pagan” derives from a name given by Christians to peasants; it literally means “of the country.” While many of today’s PagansThe term “pagan” (from the Latin paganus) originally meant “peasant” or “country dweller.” For many Pagans, the term suggests a life lived close to the land. Today, nature spirituality is an important thread in contemporary Paganism. Some Paga... live in cities, the cycles of nature and the role of human community in the natural ecology provide much of the teaching and inspiration for PaganismThe term “pagan” (from the Latin paganus) originally meant “peasant” or “country dweller.” For many Pagans, the term suggests a life lived close to the land. Today, nature spirituality is an important thread in contemporary Paganism. Some Paga.... Pagans may gather on solsticesThe solstices are the extreme points in the yearly cycle of light and dark. The winter solstice (December 21) is the longest night of the year, and the summer solstice (June 21) is the longest day. Pagans may celebrate the winter solstice by staying up al..., equinoxesThe equinoxes, which happen twice a year, are days when night and day are of equal duration. For many Pagans, these holidays signify balance. Although practices vary according to region and climate, many Pagans celebrate the birth of spring on March 21 (t..., new moons, and full moons in these natural cycles; they may express devotion to nature through retreats or environmental activism.
Paganism includes a wide range of practice and belief, and there are many different kinds of Pagan communities. Some Pagan traditions emphasize worship of multiple GodsThe term god with a small “g” is used to refer to a deity or class of deities whose power is understood to be circumscribed or localized rather than universal, or to refer to a plurality of deities. or Goddesses, others focus on the interdependence of nature, and still others seek to recreate modes of worship from ancient cultures. Organizations range from small covens or groups gathered together for rituals to large networks that involve many different kinds of Pagans in big annual festivals.
The spaces for Pagan gatherings are extremely varied. Some groups gather for rituals in private homes, others may engage in public celebrations. Pagan rituals and worship circlesIn some Pagan traditions, a “circle” refers to the people who gather for a ritual. When standing in a circle, all the participants are able to see each other, with no one member elevated over any other. This practice is often felt to encourage egalita... may include song, dance, meditationMeditation is the disciplined practice of quieting and focusing the mind or cultivating the heart’s attention. Different meditation practices commend focusing attention on a word, a prayer, a form, or the breath as a way of practice. Meditation is commo..., trance work, drumming, spiritual requests, giving thanks, and feasting. Gatherings consist of large outdoor celebrations and small private rituals in backyards or living rooms. Individuals also connect and learn in a vast virtual world of email lists, chatrooms, message boards, and websites.
Paganism in Greater Boston
Leaders in Greater Boston estimate that there are over 6,000 Pagans here from more than a dozen Pagan traditions, including WiccansWicca is the name of one of the major streams of contemporary American Paganism. It is a form of religious witchcraft, sometimes simply called the Craft. Many Wiccans in America today call themselves “witches,” claiming the name under which women and ..., Druids, DianicDianic Pagans, taking their name from the Greek goddess Diana, honor only goddesses or the Goddess, never any gods. Most Dianic groups are women-only and grew out of the feminist movement. These Pagans say that a unique, positive energy is generated by si... Witches, and eclectic Pagans. As in many faiths, Pagans have sects, denominations or traditions. While some Pagan groups, such as the Women’s Gathering, have a strong feminist orientation and are largely circles of women, others are comprised of both women and men, such as the EarthSpirit Community and the CovenantA covenant (or brit) is a mutual promise or compact between two parties. In the Jewish and Christian traditions, covenant is of deep significance in describing the mutual relationship of God and the people of faith. The major covenants in Jewish scripture... of Unitariana belief in one God that rejects the three persons of the Trinity that has much in common with the belief in the early Christian church about the superiority of God over Jesus and the Anti-Trinitarian writing that emerged during the Protestant Reformation... Universalist Pagans (CUUPS). There are festivals, circles of worship and ceremony, study groups, and bookstores. Some groups draw inspiration from a particular culture of the ancient world, such as the TempleA temple is a house of worship, a sacred space housing the deity or central symbol of the tradition. The Temple in Jerusalem was the holy place of the Jewish people until its destruction by the Romans in 70 CE; now the term “temple” is used by th. Ref... of Artemis at Cataleos, a Greek Reconstructionist group that worships Greek deities.
Pagan gatherings are determined by the seasons, by the moon, or by the ancient practices that inspired a group’s worship. The Wheel of the Year is a series of holidays celebrated by many but not all Pagans. The Wheel of the Year has eight SabbatsThe term “sabbat” usually refers to the eight seasonal celebrations observed by many Pagan traditions, but can also refer to any formal gathering of witches or Wiccans. The seasonal celebrations include the winter and summer solstices, the spring and ..., or festivals: BeltaneThe festival of Beltane is celebrated on or around the first of May. It honors the generative energy of spring time, the energy of sexuality, and the fruitfulness of union. Many Pagans celebrate it with a maypole dance, a ritual in which participants perf... in early May, Lammas or LughnasaThe Pagan Holiday of Lughnasad or Lammas celebrates the first summer harvest. It takes place on or near the first of August and, for some Pagans. represents the wake of the Sun King. In one myth cycle, the Sun King comes into being at the winter solstice,... in early August, SamhainSamhain is an originally Irish holiday, now commonly known as Halloween. Celebrated on October 31, it is the night of the year when the veil between the spirit and the material worlds is the thinnest. It is thought to be the best night for communicating w... at the end of October, ImbolcImbolc is the Celtic name for the Neo-Pagan High Holiday celebrated on or near February 2. This time of the year signifies creativity, initiation and the taking of form of the new year that started at the winter solstice. It is also known as Brigid, after... in early February, the summer and winter solstices, and the spring and fall equinoxes. Celebrations often reflect the changes in the seasons on each day, with Samhain anticipating the coming of winter and Beltane greeting the arrival of warmer days. Many Pagan groups hold rituals or celebrations open to the public on these days. The phases of the moon play another important role in determining Pagan celebrations, and groups such as Viriditas hold gatherings at the new moonThe different phases of the moon’s cycle are significant in some Pagan traditions, especially in Wicca, where the moon is associated with the Goddess. Wiccans believe the inherent spiritual power in nature is greatest on the night of the full moon. They... and full moonThe different phases of the moon’s cycle are significant in some Pagan traditions, especially in Wicca, where the moon is associated with the Goddess. Wiccans believe the inherent spiritual power in nature is greatest on the night of the full moon. They.... Other Pagans prefer to celebrate Norse blot festivals or rituals appropriate to the specific deities they wish to invoke, like the six Greek-inspired festivals at the Temple of Artemis Cataleos.
ClergyClergy are the body of ordained men (and in some cases women) who are authorized to perform the priestly, pastoral, or rabbinical duties of the community—as distinct from the laity whom they serve.
Several groups make training Pagan clergy a priority. Pagan clergy perform handfastings and weddings, officiate at funerals, and offer counseling and mentoring for Pagans. Depending on the group, ordinationOrdination means consecration to a priestly or monastic life. The term is used in the Buddhist tradition for the rites of becoming a monk (bhikkhu) or nun (bhikkhuni); in the Jewish tradition for the rites of becoming a rabbi; and in the Christian traditi... or initiation may be open to all or may require study and training. Online schools such as Cherry Hill Seminary provide training for Pagan clergy throughout the country, including aspiring clergy from Greater Boston.
Children and Elders
As practitioners age and raise children, these new demographic groups in Pagan communities have received more attention. The Society of Elder Faiths offers resources for end-of-life care for Pagans on its website, including instructions for making wills. Specific programs are available for Pagan parents and their children, such as the Society of Elder Faith’s “Pagan Family Connection.” Viriditas works to make their rituals inclusive of children and young adults as well.
Many Pagans have strong social and political commitments and are involved in AIDS activism or religious and civil liberties issues. Viriditas’ early rituals included protests against globalization. EarthSpirit asks that participants in its public rituals bring a contribution for a local food bank and is a regular participant in the Boston Interfaith Clergy breakfast meetings. The Society of Elder Faiths has participated in AIDS awareness bicycle rides and the community farm project “Seeds for Change.”
Although the profiles and listings of World Religions in Greater Boston capture a range of different Paganisms and ritual practices, there are many parts of Paganism that cannot be easily represented in this way. Small covens with closed membership are found by word-of-mouth and are often not open to public view. Pagan traditions that stress individual learning often prefer networks of teaching and training to a central group that meets regularly. This means that large sections of the Pagan tradition, such as the individualistic shamanic teachings of Feri, do not have formal centers. These teachers and students may belong to larger networks such as EarthSpirit or the Society of Elder Faiths.
Cyberspace as Sacred Space
Online, Pagans have created many tools to connect with each other and find like-minded individuals. Sites such as Witchvox or local email lists like the Boston Pagan Alliance connect individuals, small groups and larger organizations. This connection between cyberspace and sacred space is a unique aspect of Paganism that allows it to grow steadily without a significant public presence. However, through civic engagement, Pagans are working to gain greater recognition in the Greater Boston community and beyond.