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Sunday, November 18, 2012

What is a Pagan?

**This post was written and originally published on My One Witch's Wonderland Blog, which has since closed...

So this is a question I hear almost on a daily basis, which is why I felt I needed to address it first. As a Pagan woman people always have questions, “What does Pagan mean,” “What are your beliefs,” “Do you believe in God?” And the list goes on and on. While I can't answer all the possible questions in this one single post, I will do my best to address the basics here...

The first thing that needs to be said is that the word Pagan has a few meanings. The most widely accepted meaning of the word is any Non-Christian, Jewish or Muslim belief system or a person who belongs to any of those belief systems. This is the meaning you will want to refer to when the word is in basic use by a non-Pagan. However this broad meaning really doesn't answer the question of What is Pagan... Instead it tends to create more questions than it answers and it the reason why there is so much confusion about the word in the first place.

In the early years of the Christian Church it became very obvious that Christianity was a completely new way of belief. Even though the idea of a single God was not a new one, the beliefs and practices of Christianity were not only vary different from the common belief systems of the day but also rather different from it's Jewish predecessor. It was in these early days that the word Pagan first came in to popular use. It was meant to set those of Christian or Jewish beliefs apart from all others. And by definition, those who weren't part of the Christian belief system were considered to be “evil,” including the Jews, because they were considered to worship false gods or take part in ungodly activities or any number of other things. It's from this usage that the word Pagan itself took on a negative connotation, just as words like outsider or stranger do in our present day society.

However, this meaning of “Stranger” or “Different” isn't the use that we think of when we hear someone say “I am Pagan.” In fact, it's a similar meaning, but not as broad! When someone uses the title Pagan as a description for their beliefs or lifestyle it tends to mean that their beliefs or lifestyle have a connection those “old ways” in one form or another. Just as the world is filled with countless belief systems so is the world of Paganism. So it's impossible to list all the things that someone would need to be to be Pagan, because there can be no such list. However, there are a few basics that will apply to most – not all, but most Pagan belief systems.

In general you will find that the majority of Pagans are Polytheistic. While I will go in to Polytheism more in further posts the basic meaning is that there is a belief in more than one God or Goddess. Some will believe in one God and one Goddess, while others, called Hard Polytheists, will believe in a great many. A second common thread is a connection to nature and/or a connection to “ancient” or Pre-Christian belief systems. From there on, there could be any number of variations of beliefs and practices. Some will have beliefs in Magick others will not... Some will hold ALL life sacred, others will not. But this tends to be where the different religious titles come in to play.

Again, I will be going through some of these individual belief systems in further posts but for this moment suffice it to say that when you hear the term Pagan itself you are looking at a rather “eclectic” or “non-denomination” type of person, or one who pulls from many Pagan paths. For those who do not pull from different Pagan belief systems you'll tend to hear them refer to themselves not as Pagans, but as a Wiccan, as a Druid, as an Asatauar or as a member of whatever sect of Paganism they belong to individually... The majority of those who use the term Pagan, as a self descriptive term, pull from 2 or more of these individual belief systems OR have a more personal view of Paganism which has similar beliefs to one or more of these belief systems yet doesn't match completely...

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