Paganism Glossary Terms

Alexandrian

The Alexandrian tradition is a variation of the Gardnerian tradition of British witchcraft. Alex Sanders and his wife Maxie personally initiated may followers int the craft, and the initiates became known as Alexandrians.

Beltane

The 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 perform a simple dance while holding strands of ribbon attached to a central pole.

Book of Shadows

In 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.

Celtic

Although the Celtic peoples were originally spread across much of Europe, by the first centures CE they were confined mainly to France and the British Isles. In the Celtic religious world view, groves of trees, bodies of water and elevated landscapes were closely associated with various gods, goddesses, and faries and hence became important sites for worship. Today, these beliefs and practices are being revived within the Celtic school of Neo-Paganism.

circle

In 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 egalitarianism and community. At a ritual, a circle will be “cast” to provide a container for the energy to be raised and to denote a differentiation between the ritual space and everyday reality.

coven

A 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.

Dianic

Dianic 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 single-gender groups.

Druidism

Before Europe was conquered by the Romans in the early centuries CE, members of the priestly elite of Ireland, Britain, and modern-day France were known as Druids. In their religious culture, groves of trees, bodies of water, and elevated landscapes were closely associated with various gods, goddesses, and spirits and became important sites for worship. Today, Pagans who specialize in the revival of practices and beliefs from these parts of Europe often refer to themselves as Druids or Celtic reconstructionist Pagans.

Eclectic

Eclectic 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 traditions, as well as from indigenous and other world traditions.

eight High Holidays

(also: cross-quarter days) Neo-Pagans attune themselves to the annual cycle of time through observing eight High Hoidays: the winter and summer solstices, the spring and fall equinoxes (which mark four quarters of the year) and the four mid-points (cross-quarter days) between them called Imbolc, Beltane, Lughnasad, and Samhain in the Celtic tradition. These holidays are sometimes called Sabbats.

equinox

The 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 (the spring equinox), while September 21 is a fall harvest festival (the autumn equinox).

Faerie

Faeire is a tradition within Celtic Paganism that comes out of Ireland and is based on belief in lore about little people, tree spirits, and other spirits.

full and new moons

The 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 gather at that time to work magick related to increase, fullness, and fruition, such as prosperity or growth. On new moons, Wiccans often gather for ritual that is connected with the unseen or for goals that need a period of gestation.

Gardnerian tradition

The Gardnerian tradition of Wicca, a form of religious witchcraft, follows the writings and teachings of Gerald Gardner (1884–1964), which were published in England in the 1950s. Gardner claimed to have discovered and been initiated into a group that was practicing an ancient indigenous British religion. Within the Pagan community, there is debate over how much Gardner received from tradition and how much he created himself. In either case, the tradition has been influential; many groups in the United States follow the ritual guidelines published in Gardner’s books or taught to his initiates. The Alexandrian tradition is one variation of the Gardnerian tradition of British witchcraft, named after Alex Sanders and his wife Maxine who personally initiated many followers into the craft.

Gimbutas, Marija

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 Pagans embraced Gimbutas’ work as a source of hope for a peaceful, modern Goddess-worshipping society.

Goddess

Goddess 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 supreme Goddess known variously as Durga, Kali, or simply Devi. In today’s Pagan traditions, the Goddess may refer to one of the ancient female deities such as Diana or Isis, or to the universal and supreme Goddess known under many names.

Goddess spirituality

Goddess spirituality is a common term for contemporary devotion to female deities. Many modern goddess worshippers worship a single Goddess, of whom the many named goddesses of mythology are thought to be aspects. Goddess spirituality is associated with the feminist movement.

grove

Sacred 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.”

Heathenry

Heathenry 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 13th century) as sacred texts. Ásatrú is one of the better-known types of Heathen religion. For some Heathens, the historical accuracy of their religion is very important; others believe that innovations are necessary to keep the religion relevant to the modern world.

Hellenismos

Hellenismos is the reconstructed practice of ancient Greek religion. Hellenic Pagans devote themselves to the Greek pantheon and model their ritual practices based on historical and archeological texts. For some Hellenic Pagans, the historical accuracy of their religion is very important; others believe that innovations are necessary to keep the religion relevant to the modern world.

High Priestess

Some Pagan traditions refer to their ritual leader as the High Priestess and/or the High Priest. Generally a High Priestess or High Priest has been formally trained and initiated and has substantial experience. Some Pagan groups practice shared leadership where different priestesses or priests rotate, and there is no one High Priest or Priestess.

Imbolc

Imbolc 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 the Celtic triple Goddess of smithcraft, healing and poetry.

immanence

Most Pagans believe that divinity is immanent, or present, in the physical world. Some Pagans believe that a single divine force is present in all things; others believe that all living and natural things have a soul or spirit. The Pagan belief that the human body is holy is connected to their belief in immanent divinity.

kindred

A kindred is a group of Heathens. This term emphasizes contemporary Heathen kinship with ancestral practitioners of Germanic and Northern European religious traditions. Although some Heathen groups believe it is important for Heathens to have Northern European ethnic heritage, many see kinship in spiritual terms and welcome practitioners of all ethnic backgrounds.

Lughnasad

The 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, achieves union with the Goddess at Beltane, and dies at the summer solstice so that the wheel of life can continue. Those who practice Irish traditions often honor the god Lugh at this holiday, as well as his mother Tailltu, whose funeral games were traditionally held at this time.

magick

In 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 20th century esotericist who wished to differentiate his practice from stage magic. Today, the alternate spelling separates the spiritual practice from the fictional magic of fantasy novels and films. Magick is not about cultivating supernatural powers, but rather about aligning oneself with natural forces to manifest an intention. In Paganism, ritual techniques that change a person’s consciousness so that he or she may better perceive and participate in divine reality are regarded as magick.

Minoan

The Minoan tradition flourished on the island of Crete from the third to the second millennium BCE. Central to its religious practice was the worship of magnificent goddesses, who were frequently accompanied by male consorts. Most Minoan cultic activity appears to have take place outdoors, especially on mountains and in caves. Today, certain groups of Neo-Pagans have specialized in the revival of Minoan practices and beliefs.

new and full moons

The 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 gather at that time to work magick related to increase, fullness, and fruition, such as prosperity or growth. On new moons, Wiccans often gather for ritual that is connected with the unseen or for goals that need a period of gestation.

Pagan

The 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 Pagans also focus on reviving polytheistic systems of belief and practice, especially those that passed away or were destroyed as Christianity swept across Europe. Still others embrace Paganism as a religion that offers feminine and queer images of divinity and sex-positive, body-affirming values.

polytheism

Polytheism is a belief in many gods. Most Pagans are polytheistic. Some are soft polytheists, believing that all gods are aspects of one greater God/dess (or sometimes aspects of two greater deities, a Goddess and a God). Other Pagans are hard polytheists, believing that the gods are separate, objectively existing beings with whom devotees can have relationships. Still other Pagans see the gods as archetypes or metaphors for natural forces or parts of the human experience.
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