What Do Pagans Do?

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... traditions have a strong focus on ritual, and practitioners may draw from multiple sources or follow a single contemporary Pagan tradition. The largest of the latter is 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 form of religious witchcraft that includes dozens of lineages, paths, and styles. Other traditions include Druidry, non-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 ... forms of religious witchcraft, 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 ... and Ásatrú (Northern European Paganisms), feminist 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 a variety of reconstructionisms—including Greek, Egyptian, Celtic, Roman, Canaanite—as well as other historical religions. Some practitioners of Afro-Caribbean religionsAfro-Caribbean religions include a wide range of religious traditions that have roots in Africa, came to the islands of the Caribbean with African captives, and developed distinctive forms in this new environment: Santería or the Lucumi tradition in Cuba... also may consider themselves to be Pagan, while others do not.

Pagan rituals commonly focus on honoring a deity or deities; observing natural cycles, such as seasonal changes or the waxing and waning of the moon; or celebrating rites of passage, such as birth, transitioning into adulthood, marriage, and death. Although the form of ritual varies by tradition, Pagan rituals tend to engage the participants physically. Rituals often include drumming, chanting, and dancing. Some 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... offer food or drink to their 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 ancestors; these offerings may be shared by the participants as part of a feast, or sometimes disposed of ritually. Representations of earth, air, fire, and water may also be employed for cleansing and consecration: for instance, participants might anoint themselves with salt water (earth and water) and burn incense (air and fire) as part of ritual preparation.

Pagans generally do not proselytize and, while classes and retreats may introduce people to the path, the initiative to practice is with each individual. Some Pagans also participate in other religious communities such as churchesThe 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 ... or synagoguesSynagogue, shul in Yiddish, is the most widely used term for a Jewish house of worship. Meaning a “place of gathering,” it is the central institution of Jewish communal life. The structure and role of synagogues has changed through the centuries, but .... From the 1970s through the early 1990s, the source of growth in 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... was through small groups—variously called grovesSacred groves have historically been among the most important sites for Pagan worship. In Druidism, trees are thought to have specific attributes that contribute meaning to the site where they grow. Contemporary Druid groups are often called “groves.”..., nests, 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., or 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.... After the mid-1990s, the availability of Internet and communications technology increased access to religious material for geographically isolated Pagans, who slowly grew into a majority in the movement.

Although some Pagans still practice regularly in either small private or large public groups, many are “solitariesA solitary is a Pagan who does not regularly practice with a group. Solitaries may join groups for special occasions, but the bulk of their practice occurs alone. Today, solitaries make up the majority of self-identified Pagans.,” meaning they practice alone and may only gather with a group for special occasions. Sociologist Helen Berger reports that as many as 79 percent of American Pagans today may identify as solitaryA solitary is a Pagan who does not regularly practice with a group. Solitaries may join groups for special occasions, but the bulk of their practice occurs alone. Today, solitaries make up the majority of self-identified Pagans.. Most do not celebrate within a specific 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... or building, though there are a few Pagan temple buildings in the United States. On the whole, Pagans prefer to worship out of doors, or else in private homes and rented halls.

Building an altar—a place for divinity, and a sacred workplace for performing rituals—is one of the first ways many Pagans begin spiritual practice. Pagans often have 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. in their homes, sometimes tucked in a corner of the bedroom. Pagans with yards, or those who live in rural settings, may build altars outdoors. The altarAn 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. may contain natural objects, photographs of the beloved dead, ritual tools, and objects of beauty or personal power. At the altar, one might leave an offering for a deity, enter into 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..., create an herbal charm, or undertake a personal cleansing or healing ritual. Gazing at an altar is a reminder of one’s spiritual life, and meditating there can lead to spiritual insight.

Pagans might perform a wide variety of spiritual exercises on a daily basis, though probably no two Pagans practice their faith exactly the same way. Pagan personal practice can be as simple as lighting a candle at the dark of the moon and meditating on the flame, or pouring a fresh cup of water for one’s ancestors and saying a prayerPrayer is the vocal or silent address to the Divine. It may consist of fixed words, spontaneous words, or rest in silence with no words at all. Some forms of prayer are accompanied with specific postures or gestures, while others are not.. Spoken intention is thought to be very powerful: Pagans often believe that verbalizing their desires is the first step toward bringing change into their lives. Respect for this principle leads many Pagans to choose their words carefully, lest a habitA nun is a woman who renounces worldly life and is ordinarily a member of a monastic order or community, thereby undertaking a special commitment to study, service, asceticism, prayer, or disciplined spiritual practice. In the Buddhist tradition, fully or... of self-deprecation or pessimism interfere with achieving life goals.

One important form of daily practice for many Pagans is “grounding” meditation, which connects the individual with the energy of the Earth and helps to maintain physical and emotional balance. Another is the practice of 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., which may take the simple form of asking about the day ahead, or inquiring about a specific question. Some Pagans consult astrology, while others use TarotTarot cards are used for meditation and divination by some Pagans. Tarot cards are usually elaborately illustrated using symbols and images from Western mysticism. Many artists have created their own variations on the Tarot, and dozens of different decks ... cards, runesRunes originated in fourth-century Scandinavia as a divinatory alphabet. In Paganism, small stones printed with runes are employed for both divination and magick. Each character is said to have a special spiritual significance, particularly when drawn in ..., or pendulums to access sources of spiritual knowledge. Others look to movements in the natural world—interactions with animals, plants, wind, and water—to gain intuitions about patterns in the local environment. The sense of connection gained through these practices helps Pagans live out their belief that divinity is present in the world around them.

Some Pagans choose to wear sacred jewelry. Pagan symbols include the pentacle, an interlaced five-pointed star that is often worn by 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 .... The star is pointed up to align with an upright human body, with one point up for the head and outward- and downward-facing points for the arms and legs. The pentacle is a symbol of life and the union of the elements (earth, air, water, and fire) with spirit, though it has often been misrepresented as a symbol of evil in popular horror films. Not all Pagans use the pentacle as a religious symbol, however. Pagans who follow a Northern European path may wear Mjölnir, Thor’s hammer, a traditional religious pendant worn by those resisting Christian conversion in medieval Scandinavia. Images of natural objects, such as trees, or abstract 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... figures are also popular among Pagans. In 2007, the Department of Veterans Affairs added the pentacle as an approved religious symbol for veterans’ headstones, a decision that delighted Wiccans. Druids and Heathens are in the process of petitioning to have their symbols of choice approved.

Many Pagans practice 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... (often spelled with a ‘k’ to differentiate it from stage magicIn 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... and the fanciful magic of fantasy novels). In Paganism, magick is a spiritual practice aimed at creating change in the individual and in the world. Magick functions somewhat like prayer in other traditions, but it tends to have more of a physical component than prayer usually does in the West. When Pagans do magick, they begin by stating a clear intention and then raise energy to support that intention. This might be done, for instance, through chanting and dancing, breath exercises, or concentration. The energy is then released, either out into the world or sometimes into an object that will serve as a focus for the intention. The latter could be a candle, a piece of jewelry, or an altar object. Pagans often feel that magick cannot be successful without a practical component. Successful job magick, for instance, involves filling out job applications, not just setting intention and raising energy.


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