Traditions, Texts, and Values

The modern 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... resurgence that began in the twentieth century was stimulated by academic and semi-academic research and is sustained by individual practices and the many shared values of the movement. The work of folklorist Margaret Murray, beginning in the 1920s, caught the imagination of many with its theories of persistent 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... worship and Pagan traditions in the Christianized West. In 1948, Robert Graves published The White 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..., a massive compilation of folklore, poetry, and theories about the worldwide worship of the Great Goddess.

In the 1950s, the repeal of British laws prohibiting witchcraft allowed amateur anthropologist Gerald Gardner to publish the story of his initiation into a hereditary lineage of witches. Gardner called this religion “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 ...,” and his work sparked a wave of Gardnerian 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. in England. Wicca came to the United States in the 1960s, where it met the California counterculture and quickly produced a variety of politically active, feminist, and ecologically focused offshoots. Since Wicca was the first widely publicized Pagan religion of the modern revival, it continues to inspire and influence the Pagan movement as a whole, to the point that many people treat “Paganism” and “Wicca” as being synonymous. As a result, even 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... who are neither 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 ... nor witches must still deal with witchcraft stereotypesStereotyping is the ascription of generalized characteristics to a whole group of people, thus describing individuals by the characterization, usually a caricature, of the whole.. While many outside of the tradition today, as in times past, have understood witchcraft to be a malevolent practice, 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 ... and other Pagan witches use the term for earth-centered practices of spirituality and healing and for worship of the Goddess, goddesses, or 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..

The archeological work of Marija GimbutasMarija Gimbutas (1921-1994) was a Lithuanian-American archeologist whose theories about matriarchal prehistory were extremely influential on feminist Paganism. Although her theories have been weakened by subsequent research, in the 1970s and 1980s, many P... was also important in inspiring feminist Pagan traditions. Gimbutas produced massive studies of Neolithic figurines discovered in what she called “Old Europe” (centered in Malta and the Balkans). She believed that these diverse figurines represented the many faces of a single Great Goddess, who was worshipped thousands of years ago by a pacifistic, matriarchal society. In Gimbutas’Marija Gimbutas (1921-1994) was a Lithuanian-American archeologist whose theories about matriarchal prehistory were extremely influential on feminist Paganism. Although her theories have been weakened by subsequent research, in the 1970s and 1980s, many P... narrative, the migration (or invasion) of Indo-European peoples from the East destroyed this matriarchal culture. In the 1970s and 1980s, many Pagans embraced Gimbutas’ work as a source of hope for a peaceful, modern Goddess-worshipping society.

Contemporary scholars see the work of Murray, Graves, Gardner, and Gimbutas as academically flawed. Although they drew attention to important parts of European history, the evidence is not strong enough to support their frequently sweeping claims; today, parts of Gardner’s work are thought to be straightforwardly fictional. Their work, however, resonated with a need for alternative religious expressions and sparked a revival of 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... in the West. Since the 1970s, there has been an explosion of Pagan writings, both in books and periodicals. The year 1979 marked two important milestones in Pagan literature: Margot Adler published her journalistic exploration of Paganism in America, Drawing Down the Moon, and StarhawkWriter, ritualist, and teacher of the late 20th and early 21st century whose book The Spiral Dance is considered a primary text on Witchcraft. She frequently engages in political activism, including protesting nuclear development and advocating for gay ri... published The Spiral DanceThe spiral dance is a Pagan ritual dance that follows a snake-like coiling pattern. A line of dancers spirals into the center, back out, and back in again. Each dancer passes face to face with all the other participants; each member of the community is se..., a combination theological and instructional text for contemporary witches.

Currently, there is a lively academic debate over whether ancient European religious practices could have survived in a direct lineage from ancient to modern times. How much has been lost, how much went underground, and how much can be reclaimed through ritual are all areas of exploration. Pagans are now rediscovering and renewing ancient religious ways. Some Pagans choose to call themselves “witches” in solidarity with medieval European heretics, whom they believe were practicing an indigenous religion. For some, to be a witch is also a way to recover women’s power, since witchcraft was once associated with practical women’s knowledge of healing, birth, and death. Other Pagans are reconstructing non-European religions based on historical and archaeological study, and reconstructionism is a strong minority voice in the Pagan movement. Most Pagans, however, are less concerned about historical links to the past. Although they draw on pre-Christian traditions for inspiration, they are most likely to look within themselves and to the land for a connection to divinity.

There is no single text or scripture to which Pagans look for authority. Text is an important source of practice for Heathens, who look to the Icelandic sagas and Eddas, oral poems originally recorded in the thirteenth century. Other Pagan traditions have formal bodies of liturgical material, generally gathered or written during the last century. For Pagans who identify as witches, these collections of materials are known as a tradition’s Book of ShadowsIn religious witchcraft traditions, the Book of Shadows is a body of liturgical writings and lore that is passed down from teacher to student. Traditionally, the book is copied by hand.. A Book of Shadows often includes material written by Pagans who practice the tradition, as well as material drawn or adapted from folklore, ancient and medieval poetry, Western mystical traditions, and more. Although these books may be added to, once a tradition has been formed, material is usually never deleted. Academic studies of ancient religions may serve as authoritative texts for 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... Pagans. For others, authoritative texts in any form smack uncomfortably of organized religion. These Pagans often prefer to draw freely on the mythsMyths are stories human beings tell about the nature of reality: how the order of things we know came to be and by what deep truths the this order operates. Myths may concern the events of creation, the divine dramas of God or the gods, or the discoveries... and poetry of various cultures, and sometimes on modern fiction, to create a highly individualized practice and spirituality.

The many strands of Paganism share some attitudes in common, however. Many Pagans see divinity as both present in the physical world and as multiple, whether in the form of separate gods and goddesses, as aspects of a Goddess and/or a GodGod is a term used to refer to the Divine, the Supreme being, Transcendent deity, or Ultimate reality., or as archetypes (recurring symbols that are thought to be inherent in human cultures). Many also believe in the principles of magickIn Paganism, “magick” refers to the ritualization of one’s spiritual intentions. It is often spelled with a ‘k’ after the usage of Aleister Crowley, a twentieth-century esotericist who wished to differentiate his practice from stage magic. Today..., the idea that performing sacred acts and altering consciousness can have a wider effect on the world. Finally, most Pagans are pluralistic and individualistic, believing that there are many valid religious paths, and that personal religious experience is the most important source of spiritual knowledge. Although not all Pagans share all of these characteristics, most Pagans affirm most of them.


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