If you are looking for some basic information on Paganism, or perhaps are interested in Wicca from a traditional perspective, this post might be for you. These are all things I have written myself, in order to try to explain things in good plain language. I hope that they’re helpful to people, in the spirit they were written in.
FYI: I am not an authority on anything, but I have been a Pagan for 20+ years, and an Gardnerian initiate since 2008. What I write comes from my own studies and experiences, and to the best of my ability is based in verifiable fact. You don’t have to share my opinions, and I do my best to keep my personal bias in check (or at least warn you that it’s there.)
Onwards to information!
Not sure where to start, or curious as to what’s out there? This article defines paganism, and breaks it down into different categories and traditions. Includes graphic.
Interested in Eclectic Paganism or Witchcraft but unsure where to start? These pages have lots of ideas, suggestions, and information for the newbie.
Information about the Wheel of the Year and its’ different holidays, as well as suggestions for crafts, foods, activities, and more.
An explanation of the concepts and practices that define what Wicca is, from a British Traditional Wiccan perspective.
The rest of these links are less basic, but might be relevant to those who are newer to Paganism and may not have yet read past some of the more common misinformation that abounds online and in books.
- Why Christianity Didn’t Steal Pagan Holidays
- How Can You Tell If A Magic Book Is Full of It?
- Karma for Dummies (Or, Karma Isn’t What You Think)
If you’re feeling particularly brave or curious, you can have a go at the entire list of posts I’ve made about Paganism, Wicca, witchcraft, and related subjects right here:
Or feel free to send me an Ask, if there’s something you’d like to inquire about. :)
There and Back Again
This year gave us a very rare gap in the weather, so I spent Imbolc at the covenstead. We had a quiet gathering, but one where we feasted well and found ‘the light between the spaces’*. (I may have added ‘in the potatoes’ to that.) Ritual was table-side, not fancy, and focused on feasting and light.
It’s not Spring here. It won’t be for a while. The Cailleach’s mantle still lies on our ground. But when Bríd rises, her light finds its’ way into the dark spaces between, and begins to wake what lies beneath. Tonight, here in my home Bríd will rise, and be unveiled, and I will wait for Spring.
I am famously not fond of Spring. It is a season of dampness and mud and lingering chill, long before it’s a season of greening and blossoms and growth. But I have learned to take pleasure in its’ fresh breezes, and the return of the crows, and I am a curious sort who pokes at what emerges from underneath all the snow and ice.
I dreamed a little in the early morning, after a restless night. Most of it was about an avocado (don’t ask) but I had a very short dream about my paternal Grandmother, who always started her seeds in February, and left them in the sun in the living room. They had been left there when she died, in this dream, but were beginning to sprout. A small thing, but
The season of Air has come, and Air will be on my mind for some time.
Are you a Wiccan with serious misgivings about your practice? Do your gods feel like empty shells you just can’t relate to? Does that Druidry dress feel so much more comfortable, even though you have your heart set on this pair of Wiccan jeans you know you won’t be able to button? Are you sad and depressed that your initiator had a false lineage? Are you having to yank, and push, and stretch, and pull, and alter everything about Wicca to make it fit?
Step right up folks, because I have the solution to all your Wiccan problems.
Walk away from it.—
[I cannot tell you how much I agree with this. Click the source link and read the whole post! -M.]
Okay, so I wrote a reply, but I ran out of room, so…
The problem isn’t Wicca. Wicca is its own closed tradition, and it isn’t for everyone. That isn’t what I personally have a problem with. The problem is what you put in paragraph 3. The public face of paganism is that pseudo-Wicca that permeates most of North American neopaganism, and it’s incredibly difficult as a new pagan to find anything that doesn’t stem from that system. So as a new pagan, it really does feel like in order to be pagan at all you have to buy into the idea that sex—and not just sex, but cis-hetero sex—is the most vitally important aspect of life and religion. I’m always shocked when people tell me they are drawn to this form of modern paganism for its nontraditional views on women or gender or sex because, uh… all I see is hypersexualised cisgendered heterosexual coupling raised up on some godly pedestal, which really shouldn’t be freeing for anyone who falls under the LGBTQ label, let alone relatable at all for asexuals. And it frustrates me immensely. It left me feeling very alone when I was a newbie pagan, since I didn’t have any way to realize that modern paganism could include anything but this worldview. In terms of sex and gender, it actually made me feel more like a freak than anything I ever encountered from Christianity.
It was something in an article you reblogged. I understand the sentiment the article contained, but at the same time it’s very frustrating for me to see people laying blame and accusations for this that and the other thing at Wicca’s door, when Wicca has little or nothing to do with the situation at hand.
So we’re not entirely on topic here, no, but again - I understand exactly where you’re coming from. One of the things I really dislike about eclectic neo-paganism is the assumption (particularly in North America) that all pagans practice the same things, in the same way, and that there’s nothing else out their but that mash up of pseudo-Wicca and New Age-inspired witchcraft.
Asexuals have a tough go of it in the pagan world. You’re stuck trying to find a way through a big eclectic minefield of people escaping their dogmatic pasts, which often involves shaking off the idea that sex is sinful or wrong and it’s ok to enjoy it. People leaving behind that kind of dogma often go to the other extreme, pushing it out aggressively. Toss in a heaping dose of people borrowing ideas and practices that are incomplete or poorly understood, and suddenly anyone who doesn’t stroke a maypole with lust or want to fuck their way through the Wheel of the Year is suspiciously ‘unpagan’. It’s hard enough to find your way past that sort of paganism into the different faiths that are less visible as it is, let alone when people are being asinine and judgmental.
What a load of horseshit.
As you said, Wicca’s not the problem - but they’ve made it look as if Wicca is the problem. Since most people don’t know what Wicca properly is anyway, the people out there speaking on Wicca’s behalf are generally believed, whether they have that authority or not. They borrow our image and reputation, hold it up to the eyes of the world, and then leave us to deal with the aftermath - people who have made up their minds about the Wica without ever actually meeting the Wica. The end result is negativity towards Wicca, earning us contempt, disdain, and ignorance without our involvement.
Personally - I don’t need overt, tasteless artwork or symbolism when there are a multitude more that are simple, less overt, and ultimately less offensive to those who don’t share my religion. I don’t want a bimbo pinup Goddess or a beefcake God. I also don’t want anyone telling me who or how to fuck…or telling someone that they -simply must- be sexual to be pagan. ‘No True Scotsman’ fallacies don’t fly with me.
I especially don’t want one world culture where everything’s mixed up into a unthreatening generic mush that contains no distinct flavours or variety. I hate normative society. Normal doesn’t exist. Perfection is boring! And it really bothers me to think that people can’t seem to shake the pro-normative attitudes of society and the unrealistic measuring sticks we set for ourselves.
In the end, we’ve got two wrongs and they don’t make a right here. There’s plenty of room for asexual pagans - if they can make it past the stupidity that some eclectic neo-pagans perpetuate. But at the same time, that stupidity can’t be lain at the door of Wicca. We don’t have space for asexuality, really, but we’re honest and upfront about that. And just because we’re a fertility cult, doesn’t mean that all Pagan faiths are or need to be. The people who are perpetuating that misinformation are (in my opinion, at least) a load of lazy, intellectually dishonest twats who wanted to be Wiccan but couldn’t manage to do the work to get initiated properly.
Had something cross my dashboard last night, which is prompting some thought.
There seems to be some idea that there’s been a creeping, insidious increase within Wicca regarding sex, and fertility, and that makes things uncomfortable for asexuals.
I have an inkling of how frustrating it must be - our society is highly sexualized, and there’s a heavy emphasis in North American neo-paganism on fertility thanks to the outer-court stuff they’ve taken from observing public Wiccan practices. They don’t always understand it, they don’t always get it right, and often it’s out of context (which makes it worse).
Wicca has always been a fertility witchcult. There has always been an emphasis on the necessitate of sexual procreation that is present in nature, vital to both agriculture, and the continued survival of humanity. If you’re going to practice Wicca, you need to be comfortable with the polarity Wiccan practice requires, and with sexuality and sexual activities.
Wicca in and of itself doesn’t care what your sexual orientation is; all may Seek initiation. But a proper person accepts and understands that they will have to work with the concepts of polarity and fertility as they exist in the rites, even if it runs against their own personal preferences. Some people can’t get past that, and thus Wicca is not for them.
And I want to point out yet again that not everything that calls itself Wicca is. If it’s not a lineaged tradition of Wicca, it’s usually eclectic neo-pagan witchcraft trying its’ damndest to be Wicca. And that eclectic neo-paganism often misrepresents the Wiccan faith and its’ practices quite badly.
Wicca is one small, self-contained pagan religion. Wicca focuses on the rites of two specific British deities, and its’ rites follow a ritual calendar designed specifically for Wicca. It has a core of practice that you can’t take away from or fundamentally change - doing so means you’ve removed yourself from Wicca entirely. Wicca was not meant to be all things to all people, or to endlessly balloon to fit in whatever else people want to include. If you’re not at all interested in fertility, don’t even stop on Wicca’s doorstep. There are many other pagan religions and practices that might be a better fit for someone than Wicca.
There is no shame in that. I can not seem to say this enough. If you are not a fit for Wicca, it’s not the end of the world. There are myths out there that will speak to you. There are gods and goddesses who will fit your needs. There are religions that focus on other concepts.
Picture it this way: You’re in a shop. You try on ONE shirt - in some instances it might be the first shirt you lay eyes on. Other times it might be that you’ve heard -so much- about that brand of shirt you only want that. And then the shirt isn’t the right fit for you in some way. But instead of trying on other shirts, you insist the company makes that shirt they way YOU want. You want their shirt, but custom made just for you. And you insist they change, instead of just trying on a different shirt or brand of shirt that might fit you much better.
If that seems irrational, you’d be right. Which is why I have a hard time understanding when people think that religions should work that way.
Wicca has no obligation to alter itself for your needs. For those within Wicca, it already fits them well. Asking Wicca to change for the needs or desires of non-initiates is simply unrealistic.
What Is Pagan?
Not all Pagans are the same. This should go without saying, but there is a extant and prevalent belief that Paganism is somehow a single organism, a unified faith that believes the same and practices the same. And it’s not true.
'Pagan' is an umbrella term. It means 'non-Abrahamic'. That's it. It doesn't serve as anything other than a very broad category. If it's not Judaic, Christian, or Islamic, it's Pagan (roughly speaking).
Under the term Pagan you’re going to find many different religions. There’s not so much common ground between Pagan religions that you can consider all Pagan religions to be branches or parts of an overarching faith. There’s more than a few where their ideas about what is holy and what is not completely oppose one another.
You have a top-level label: Paganism. It’s the umbrella.
Then underneath that, you have a first level of sub-divisions. It’s generally agreed that there are three types of paganism.
- Paleo-paganism is paganism untouched by another culture, still practiced in its’ original form by its’ original culture.
- Meso-paganism is paganism that’s come into contact with another culture or cultures. The meso-pagan culture may be an independent culture, or it may have been absorbed into another culture. Meso-paganism has been influenced by said culture, but still maintains an independent religious practice.
- Neo-paganism, which the majority of modern pagan practice fall under, is paganism that is inspired by or draws from ancient sources and cultures but adjusted for the lives of modern people.
Most people’s practices will fall under Neo-paganism.
Each of the three types of paganism breaks down further into types of associated religions. You have the various syncretic Yoruban religions of the Caribbean and South America, reconstructionism of various kinds (Hellenic, Roman, Norse, Gallic, etc.), Heathenry, various kinds of European religious witchcraft, Goddess traditions like Reclaiming…and there are still many different Native peoples who have meso-pagan paths around the world. I couldn’t possibly list them all.
Underneath those associated religions you can break each down to individual traditions of those religions. And sometimes you can get several traditions under those traditions.
I’ve made a graphic, to provide you a more visual example of what I’m talking about. It’s very (very) rough but gives you a better idea of the way things tend to break down.
Looking for things Pagan:
Many people set out to research ‘Paganism’ and hit a wall. Sometimes it’s that they don’t know that pagan history is really the history of many different nations, peoples, and pantheons, and so end in finding little. Sometimes all searching for ‘pagan’ will bring you is to the New Age shelf in the bookstore, which doesn’t really represent the wide variety of Pagan religions, or offer any depth in the materials presented. And though we’d like to think otherwise, some writers are more motivated by selling books, than being diligent and accurate with the information they present seekers.
Because of that, someone just starting out might be forgiven for thinking that Paganism is one big thing. The easiest source materials to find, in chain bookstores, and online, make it look that way because they only represent one specific type of paganism: eclectic neo-pagan witchcraft. It’s not a newbie’s imagination: the sources they’re often handed to get going with imply that all pagans are witches, all witches are Pagan, everything’s soft poly, witchcraft and paganism is about affirming the self (the New-Age ‘me’ syndrome) and that all paganism is Wicca-based. The research in many of these books is wibbly, because the authors have revised history or fact to suit their own purposes, or have done their research out of the same genre of neo-pagan books.
So what do you do? Start at the source - history. Neo-pagans are just that - new. We draw our inspirations, beliefs, and practices from older sources - the paleo-pagans of ancient days - and adapt them to our modern lives. It can’t and doesn’t make what we do ancient - but it only makes sense for us to use what materials we can from their own era.
Essentially you’ll be looking at the history and mythology of different peoples around the world - each civilization had its’ own pantheon of deities and set of religious practices. Typically people look to the Egyptian, Greek, Roman, and Norse pantheons to start, to name only a few of the most popular and well-recorded. Other pantheons and mythologies may not be so well-known or easy to uncover, particularly if they kept an oral tradition.
Be patient. Keep an eye out for primary source materials from the peoples who worshiped the Gods you seek. Myth and legend can give you a really good idea of how ancient peoples perceived, and interacted with, their deities. What’s been recorded by those peoples is sometimes called ‘lore’ - and lore is an important guide for pagans of any stripe.
Sometimes with primary or secondary sources, you’ll have to work with materials written by outsiders or conquerors, whose works carry a bias concerning the pagan history they’ve put to paper. This is ok - you just need to remember the bias is present. For example, if you’re reading Caesar’s words about the Druids, remember that the Romans hated the druids and hunted them to extinction - what Caesar reports will always be coloured with that hatred. There’s a level of reasonable doubt involved with all such things.
In modern papers and books, look for a good bibliography, one that sources books outside the neo-pagan genre. Avoid sources that seem skimpy on actual fact, or have revised history - history isn’t always straight-forward, but the truth shouldn’t be inconvenient. Also watch out for books that jump to huge conclusions based on the idea that ‘similar=same’. It doesn’t, and it’s a huge logical fault to connect everything together in this manner. And if the author is encouraging their reader to do unethical or illegal things, put the book back on the shelf and walk away.
It’s easy to get confused when you’re still learning. It’s a warm fuzzy thought, that we’re all together and you’re not alone when you’re starting out. For some people being alone is very uncomfortable, and they really want the reassurance that there are others out there like them.
But you wouldn’t stand at the bus stop, with a crowd of people, and assume that they’re all just like you, would you? Just remember: Paganism is the a big, wide umbrella. All the word ‘pagan’ does is separate us from the Abrahamic faiths - it’s nearly meaningless otherwise. Many people stand under that umbrella, but it does not assure us that the person standing next to us believes or practices as we do, shares the same Gods, or respects the same values. Don’t assume or take for granted that your path is everyone else’s.
You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.
Karma. People love that word. It gets thrown around a lot.
It’s really too bad that the West uses it very, very wrongly.
(This is a pretty rough, basic, “Dummies” sort of explanation, because frankly I’m a Dummy when it comes to navigating the byzantine maze that is Eastern religion.)
Karma as a concept originates from Dharmic religions. We’re talking Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, Sikhism. It’s somewhat complicated, and the exact emphasis on Dharma varies from sect to sect. Dharma is “natural law”. It is one’s particular path or calling, one’s duties and obligations. When a person obeys their calling and their obligations, they are upholding the natural order.
Karma plays into the system when someone does not follow their dharma. It is a realignment. It does not reward a person for doing good, or punish a person for doing bad. It is merely a reaction to a person’s deeds in life. People who follow their dharma do not gain additional karma. People who do not uphold their dharma earn additional karma.
You never want more karma. There’s no such thing as ‘good’ karma.
A person will reincarnate, upwards (or downwards) until they have discharged their karmic burden. Since the entire goal is to liberate the soul from the eternal cycle of life and death, it logically follows that one wants to follow their dharma as much as is possible, to shorten the amount of time it takes to get out of the reincarnation cycle.
Karma doesn’t function separated from dharma. It’s connected to dharma in such a way that removing it from that context renders it rather meaningless. The Western “karma” doesn’t have much in common with its’ original. It is, sadly, yet another thing misappropriated and bastardized for common use.
I put to you that the Western use of ‘karma’ is just a non-Abrahamic version of “Ye Shall Reap What Ye Have Sown”. People want to toss a word around meaning “I hope that person gets what they deserve”, and yet somehow avoid all the dogma and baggage they may have regarding their relationship with Christianity, and its’ morality.
Western ‘karma’ isn’t karma at all. It is a misappropriation of a term that has a completely different meaning and usage in its’ proper context.
Me? I don’t practice a dharmic religion. I do not believe in sin. Nor do I believe in any cosmic law that earns me brownie points or a scolding from the Universe on any kind of multiple scale.
I’m pretty good with the physical laws of our Universe - especially Newton’s Third Law: “Every action has an equal and opposite reaction.” Since there’s no force multiplier there, I feel fairly justified in thinking that the ‘Law of Three’ is nonsense. Opposite simply means something pushes back. It doesn’t indicate whether that force has a positive or negative effect. Whatever my actions are, I take responsibility for them. Whatever comes back my way, I’ve earned, and I own.
Karma doesn’t have a place on my path. And if you stop to think about it, it probably doesn’t have a place on yours, either.