Contributing to the Common Good

In English, the days of the week are named after the sun, the moon, and 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. and goddesses of European mythology. For instance, the Germanic and Scandinavian godGod is a term used to refer to the Divine, the Supreme being, Transcendent deity, or Ultimate reality. Thor gave his name to Thursday, and 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... Freya to Friday. These names are part of the generally unacknowledged legacy of ancient religious cultures. On Halloween, children dress in ghostly costumes and knock on neighborhood doors demanding “treats” or threatening “tricks.” Adults masquerade in fantastic costumes and dance all night. Conscious or not, these community expressions are distantly related to the old Celtic holiday of 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.... Halloween revelers experience the transformation that a mask can offer and explore taking on another form, even if it is just for a single night. This autumn holiday occurs during nature’s annual season of death, when ancient Celtic cultures remembered their ancestors, as many modern Latin American ones still do through El Día de los Muertos. Although death is only implicitly and playfully acknowledged by Halloween’s bedsheet ghosts and paper skeletons, many people still intuit the deeper meaning of the season, which contemporary 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... celebrates openly. All phases of life are sacred to 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..., even the descent into the dark.

Today’s American Pagans can articulate many other ways their faith has contributed to contemporary society, such as environmental consciousness. Stewardship in Paganism does not rest on the claim of human dominion over the Earth, but on respect for all life as part of an interdependent web of relationships. Devotion to the Earth and to the land on which they live motivates many Pagans, and for them, its pollution is akin to the desecration of a sanctuary. Some Pagans enact human interconnectedness with the land through the cycle of the seasons and the ritual calendar; others seek to form relationships with the other-than-human beings that live around them by growing their own food, learning about the plants and animals of their bioregions, or simply spending time outdoors. Not surprisingly, many are avid environmentalists, actively working on programs to halt the degradation of the environment.

A second contribution Pagans make to the world today is a holistic view. Just as the tides ebb and flow and summer is no more sacred than winter, so it is with life, which includes both growth and decay. Light and darkness are both part of the cycle of the moon and the cycle of nature, each needing the other for completion. Some Pagans would affirm that honoring life and death, age and youth, dark and light undermines the deep divisions, the alienation, and the racism of modern society.

Contemporary Pagans are committed to diversity and to an understanding that all people—indeed every living thing—should be treated with reverence. Although 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... communities, like other religious groups in America, sometimes struggle to fully address the needs of practitioners who are sexual minorities, differently abled, economically underprivileged, or members of other historically oppressed groups, conversations about all these topics are actively occurring in the Pagan movement.

This tolerance for diversity is grounded in ethics. For some Pagans, ethics are based on the cultivation of personal virtues, shaped by a religious community that holds individuals morally accountable. Values such as community harmony, honor, courage, compassion, fairness, and strength are developed through ritual and group practices that emphasize relationship and personal responsibility. Individual Pagan traditions have different frameworks for their values. 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 ..., the primary ethical principle is called the 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 ... Rede, which states, “If it harm none, do what you will.” 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 ... think about the implications of “harming none” in relation to questions of abortion, vegetarianism, religiously motivated violence, and all the economic and political issues of the day. In addition to avoiding harm, Wiccans also feel an obligation to discover their own “will,” or their divinely given work in the world. “Doing what you will” is not as simple as doing whatever you want; discovering and enacting one’s will is an ongoing process of discovering one’s deeper purpose in life. Individual Wiccans may reach different conclusions about how to behave ethically, but the Rede helps them to balance difficult issues of freedom and responsibility.

Pagans are involved in service, voluntary programs, and public affairs. Some Pagan groups participate in the civic and religious life of their cities and towns and are involved in 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)., local clothing and food drives, AIDS action programs, the Walk for Hunger, and local Adopt-a-Highway programs. Pagans have also taken advantage of internet-based crowdfunding technology to support causes. In 2011, for example, Peter Dybing led 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 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... in raising $30,000 for Japanese tsunami disaster relief.

Religious freedom is a critical issue for America’s new Pagan communities, and many have long been actively involved in work to protect it. Pagans believe that freedom denied to any faith puts the freedom of all faiths at risk. Pagan journalists, such as Jason Pitzl-Waters of The Wild Hunt blog and the local news bureaus of the Pagan Newswire Collective, seek to protect religious freedom through providing media coverage of discrimination. These news sources report on the status of legal cases and inform Pagans about the activities of Pagan groups like 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... Sanctuary in Madison, Wisconsin, where Selena Fox and the Lady Liberty League offer networking, resources, and referrals to Pagans facing discrimination. One of the League’s co-founders, chaplainA chaplain is a member of the clergy who serves in a prison, a hospital, a college, or some other institution outside the context of the normal congregational life of a religious community. Patrick McCollum, has gone to court to challenge the Five Faiths policy of California prisons, which currently allows paid chaplainsA chaplain is a member of the clergy who serves in a prison, a hospital, a college, or some other institution outside the context of the normal congregational life of a religious community. only from five approved religions: ProtestantProtestant is a term used for the range of reform movements that broke with the Roman Catholic Church during the period called the Reformation. There are many branches of Protestantism, including the Lutherans, Anabaptists, Anglicans, Methodists, Baptists..., Catholic, Jewish, Muslim, and Native AmericanEach of the many Native American nations has its own distinctive life-ways, although there are some widely-shared characteristics. most Native life-ways are primarily transmitted through oral traditions; they are oriented toward living in relation to a sp.... McCollum’s effort has garnered support from a diverse interfaith coalition. While Pagans are obviously the direct beneficiaries of this work in defense of religious freedom, the struggle benefits people of all faiths and none.

Many Pagans believe that American society can learn from the internal plurality that exists within the Paganism movement, a plurality that honors both the freedom of the individual and the freedom of distinctive religious traditions while still offering a sense of community. Groups that bring together Pagans of different traditions and paths in larger community in this way include Circle Sanctuary, Our Lady of Earth and Sky (OLOTEAS), EarthSpirit, Come as You Are (CAYA), Four Quarters Interfaith Sanctuary, and the ChurchThe term church has come to wide use to refer to the organized and gathered religious community. In the Christian tradition, church refers to the organic, interdependent “body” of Christ’s followers, the community of Christians. Secondarily, church ... of the Sacred Earth. These examples may provide models of engagement applicable far beyond the Pagan community.


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