Communal Worship, Rites of Passage

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... worship and devotion takes many forms. Just as the Pagan movement as a whole is diverse, so are 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, and Heathens. Within each of these groups, there are many paths and traditions, each with their own variations of ritual and liturgy. The Pagan emphasis on practice, however, is nearly universal, as is the emphasis on physicality. Engaging the senses with movement, music, incense, flowers, colorful costumes, beautiful altarsAn altar is a raised platform or stand which bears the central symbols of a religious tradition—whether in a temple, church, shrine, or home—and at which offerings are made, worship is offered, or prayers are said., and delicious food and drink, Pagan ritual celebrates the experience of being embodied in a sacred world.

For regular worship, some groups meet on a regular weekly or monthly schedule, according to the availability of the members; other groups time their meetings with a lunar calendar. Wiccans and other 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... believe that energy can be drawn down from the moon and that this energy (often associated with feminine divinity) can be brought into a practitioner or channeled into a magickal working. The 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... is a time of increase and abundance, considered the best time for raising energy or consecrating spells. The dark of the moon is considered a time for initiating a new beginning, exploring hidden matters, and contemplation.

One typical 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 ... ritual is the 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... circleIn 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.... Wiccans begin by purifying themselves and the space with water and incense. Next, a boundary is formed around the group by “casting a circle,” sometimes a physical circle on the ground or floor, but more often a symbolic or spiritual boundary drawn with a ritual knife, wand, or other object. The circle sets the place apart from ordinary space and time and serves as a container within which spiritual energy will be generated. Next, the participants invoke spiritual powers and deities and may share a 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..., poetry, or story that relates to the ritual’s intention. Finally, the group dances, chants, and/or drums to raise energy. This activity may be merely celebratory, or the energy may be directed toward healing or transformation. At the end of the rite, the spiritual powers are thanked, and the participants share food.

Druid rituals are somewhat different. As in WiccaWicca 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 ..., a typical Druid ritual often begins with cleansing and purifying the participants and the ritual space. Instead of casting a circle, however, a “sacred center” is created around key symbols of Druidry (often the world tree, the fire, and the well, or in other groups, the tree, the stone of destiny, and the holy mound). The participants may then engage in a guided meditation or reading of liturgical poetry to frame the ritual’s purpose. For the centerpiece of the ritual, offerings in the form of food and drink are made to various deities and spirits, after which divinationDivining or divination is the ancient and pervasive practice of attempting to discern hidden dimensions of present situations or future course of events through sacred techniques, such as casting cowry shells or reading tarot cards. is performed and interpreted for the group. To close, a cup of blessing is passed, and thanks are offered to the spirits and deities.

In HeathenryHeathenry is the reconstructed practice of ancient Northern European religion. Heathens devote themselves to the Norse gods and view the Icelandic Eddas and sagas (originally oral poems recorded in the thirteenth century) as sacred texts. Ásatrú is one ..., the typical ritual observance is called a blót, which translates as “offering.” The ritual leader usually begins by blessing and warding the space with a hammer (symbol of Thor). Readings from traditional texts may follow, as well as a statement of intention for the ritual. Next, deities are invoked, and a cup of mead or other beverage is blessed, as are the participants. The cup is passed around the group, and each person toasts to honor the 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 their ancestors, or to express other sentiments. The leftover drink is poured out as an offering to the gods before a formal closing.

Pagans also celebrate a variety of rites of passage. In some Pagan traditions, a blessing and naming ceremony is held soon after birth. In Wicca, it may be called a “wiccaningIn the Wiccan traditions, a wiccaning is a blessing and naming ceremony held soon after a baby’s birth. It can also be a rite of welcoming for new adult participants.,” considered a formal blessing given to young children from the GoddessGoddess is a term used to refer to the female deity, either in the singular as the supreme divine reality, or in the plural as one of many particular or localized feminine deities. In the Hindu tradition, the Goddess refers to the very powerful, even supr... or the gods. Some Pagans also celebrate coming-of-age ceremonies for their adolescent sons and daughters. For young women, this rite may be timed with first menstruation. In New Hampshire, 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 Witchcraft offers specifically queer“Queer” is an umbrella term for a wide variety of sexual minorities and their allies, but primarily for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people (GLBT). Because many Pagan groups hold sex-positive and body-affirming values and accept queer and G... rites of passage to the Pagan community in addition to other services such as prison ministryMinister is a general term for a member of the clergy in the Christian church. The term has also come to use in other religious traditions to designate a member of the clergy (as in the Jodo Shinshu tradition and the Nation of Islam)., military outreach, and spiritual healing. The Temple’sA 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... co-founder, Christopher Penczak, is author of Gay Witchcraft (2003), one of only a few Pagan instructional books to focus specifically on the spiritual needs of queer Pagans.

Some Pagan traditions have tradition-specific rites of marriage and partnership, but one common ritual practiced for couples of all genders is a “handfasting.” Handfasting rituals will generally include vows written by the couple and an actual binding together of their wrists with colorful cords or scarves. Among Wiccans, it may involve the good-luck ritual of jumping over a besom, a broomstick made of twigs. Another distinctive ritual among feminist Pagans is the “croning” rite, held to mark a woman’s transition to the post-menopausal stage of wisdom, when she becomes a community elder, called a “crone.” The last ritual in the life cycle is the passage from life to death. For some Pagans, death is one’s final consecration in this lifetime. It is a passage to a spiritual world, and in some traditions, to rebirth and reincarnation. Pagans hold a variety of funeral rites, which may include telling stories about the deceased, toasting his or her memory, and rituals intended to ease the deceased’s transition into the next world.


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