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Ancient Paganism and Today’s Beliefs

Some people believe all religions that are not Jewish, Christian, or Muslim, are Pagan religions. Monotheism includes religions where there is only one superior God, like the previously mentioned, while all other religions where there are two or multiple gods are considered Pagan, including Hinduism. Ancient Greek and Roman religions were Pagan, and the earliest form of paganism can be traced 29.000 to 23.000 years before our century. Venus from Dolní Vestonice (Czech Republic) or Willendorf (Austria) are Paleolithic figurines that were allegedly used as fertility totems in magical practices and ceremonies. No written words or texts are left behind from that period, but scholars think those are the origins of the ancient Paganism. Today, we have Neo Paganism and Wicca as the most widespread Pagan religions, but people around the world worship many different aspects of nature.

Short History of Paganism

During the Paleolithic period people were very primitive. They lived in tribes, where the men were in charge of providing food by hunting, while women stayed behind and took care of the children, injured ones and elderly. At that time, women were considered much more powerful than men, because they were the patrons of life. They started to worship the moon because their monthly menstrual cycle was tuning in with the cycles of the moon, while men worshiped the sun. From there, many Gods and Goddesses found their way in their everyday life. They started exploring the mysteries of birth, life, death, afterlife and rebirth. The gods were not personified until the early 7th century. Before that, all Gods and Goddesses were simply spirits that were accredited for people’s good fortune, their miseries and changing of weather seasons. Ancient pagans were people who lived their lives close with nature, where the earth and their environment had everything they needed to survive. And so, spiritual powers were given to everything found in nature, from trees and stones, to the wind, the rain and the seasons. As time passed, people started to migrate and rituals from the East were introduced to the European practices and vice versa. During the years of 6500 to 4500 the cult of the dead, the lunar, solar and Saturnian cults were established, as one of the oldest pagan cults. After the Old Testament was written and Christianity started to spread, Paganism was wiped out of the face of earth. Paganism and all its cults, consider women to play an important part of all rituals. Unlike the Judeo-Christian religions, where women are considered evil and second-rate members of the society, in paganism women are put on the highest pedestal. Once the Christianization has begun, pagan religious beliefs and practices had a tough time surviving. Even rural pagan societies were converted to Christianity, and during the dark ages thousands of pagans across Europe were burned on sticks, had their eyes removed or were killed if they sustained their polytheistic beliefs. The term witch comes from that time, originally meaning witty, or wise. Wise as they were, some pagans kept their beliefs a secret and continued to practice their doctrines, behind closed doors and in secret groups, called covens.

What is Paganism?

When most people think of the word pagan, witches, satanic sceneries and evil rituals on full moon come to mind. The truth behind that myth is the fact that Satanism is not even a pagan cult, but a sect of the Christian religion. In paganism there is no devil or Satan, even though there are some occult rituals that may be linked to the evil forces by some religious enthusiasts. Just like in ancient times, today’s pagans still worship all aspects of our mother nature and our father universe. If you believe everything around you has a spirit, if you believe animals’ souls are just as important as yours or you believe the phase of the moon has something to do with your mood, then you may easily find your transcendent home in one of the modern Pagan religions. In today’s culture, pagan religions vary from individual to individual or between different groups. A person might choose to follow a particular pantheon, such as Norse, Celtic or Greek. They can either worship one specific deity or maybe all of them. Male and female gods are identical in superiority, and in paganism special importance is placed on the equality of the sexes. For that matter, some gods are not even gender specific. The purpose of the adoration is to focus on a certain aspect of one’s life, like love, prosperity, learning or mental strength. All aspects of the human life are associated with a different deity. For instance, if you compete for a job promotion and Greek or Roman Pagan Gods and Goddesses rule over the course of your life, the Ancient God Mars or Ares in Roman paganism, may be the ones you will have to pray for the blessing. Pagans have very close, individualistic and personal relationships with their gods and goddesses. Certain foods, colors and elements are included in the ritual in relation to the deity, most of the time, to honor their existence and to evoke their presence.

The basic four elements, air, water, earth and fire are present in every modern pagan belief. The element Earth reflects the stable, fertile and abundant mother, or the goddess and it’s associated with the north. Since prehistoric times, this element was linked to the mother, its season is winter, its colors are green and brown and modern pagans associate it with the root chakra. When pagans evoke some of their Earth Goddesses, they call them to achieve stability, grounding, order, silence, beginnings, birth, death, endings and fertility in their lives. They use soil and salt to bring these deities closer. Just like in Catholicism during baptism, water is a significant factor in cleansing, healing and purification in paganism too. If you want to thank a fertility Goddess for the safe childbearing, you will have to turn to the west, because that is the direction of all water Gods and Goddesses. In rituals, water is the central item used to symbolize emotions, clarity, intuition, wisdom, daring and healing. Autumn is associated with this element, and also the color blue and the throat chakra. The summer season is associated with the fire element and the south direction. Its colors are yellow and red and the solar plexus chakra symbolizes this element. When men want to increase their fertile power, they place the attention on the fire element. It represents strength, passion, energy, transformation, will, sex and energy. Pagans are usually very careful not to expend too much fire energy into their rituals, because as much as this element creates strength, it can also destroy, harm or sap their efforts.

Air is the element that comes from the east. The crown chakra is associated with this element, white is its color and spring its season. The mind, the intellect, reason, logic, sciences, travel and youth are symbolized trough this element. Ether is the fifth element, that governs all seasons, colors and directions and it’s also found in the center of the crux. These elements are used to describe the divine energies around us and within us. Everyone is born with a unique combination of all elements, but in different periods of our lives we need to establish a stronger connection to each of them separately. Pagans do not believe in evil, just that sometimes one of the four elements is out of its natural balance and forces the individual to act incorrectly or make mistakes. They believe that everyone is good because we are all part of the same universe, and the universe is there to provide us only with blessings, protection, abundance and utility.

Pagan Holy Days and Rituals

Many Christian holidays we celebrate today actually have pagan origins. Ostara is the name for Easter in paganism, and it’s the date of the spring equinox. Ostara, same as Easter, falls on the first Sunday after the first full moon in the month, but some pagan religions celebrate it on the 25th of March every year. Many pagans celebrate this day as the union between the God and Goddess, because the night and day achieve the perfect balance in duration. It is the time when the new Sun is born and the young maiden Goddess bears fertility, bounty and conceives new life on earth. It is a time for planting new seeds, planning a garden and walking in nature. Before the pagan Easter, the day known as Oimelc, St Brigit's Day or Candlemas is celebrated on the night of February 1st and into February 2nd. This is the day when the seeds are blessed and agricultural tools are consecrated. Oimelc symbolizes the time when the Goddess is returning as a maiden, while the Sun god reaches puberty. It is time to get rid of the old, to make room for the new, a time for purification and renewal. To honor the evolution of the young God and the Maiden Goddess, you can light candles or the lights few minutes after the sunset and bring signs of the spring into your home, if you can find any. The holy marriage between the God and the Goddess is celebrated on the night of April 30th and the day of May the first. Water collected from streams on this day is used as an ointment for health. Many pagans consider this day to be the day when the Sun God fully matures and impregnates the Goddess.

In ancient times, the night of April 30th was a night for promiscuity, when young people spend their time in the woods, while married couples removed their wedding rings, and vows. Litha falls on the summer solstice, the time for pagan harvest festivals, but not many modern pagans celebrate this day. On this day, pagans contemplate on the light and the darkness of their lives, they give thanks to their Gods about the yields and the fight won over the dark spirits. It is a time to celebrate the triumph of the day over the night and a day for showing love and appreciation. The autumn equinox is celebrated under the name Mabon. As the summer season ends, we give thanks for our harvest, we thank the Sun for its graciousness and gather our crops. At this point of the year, Wiccans believe the young Maiden has already become the Mother and she will turn into the Crone, preparing to see the death of the Sun. Samhain symbolizes the end of the summer season. It is celebrated on the October 31st or November 1st. Some Wiccans and modern pagans leave food offerings at their doorsteps, because it is believed that the souls of the dead wander the earth on their way to the Summerlands (the afterlife). On this night, going out after sunset is not aloud, because the spirits of the dead might encounter human beings. Imbolc, Samhain, Beltane and Litha are all fire festivals because fire is used in all of their celebrations. Finally, Yule celebrated on the winter solstice, or summer solstice, depending on which hemisphere you are in. Since ancient times this day has been celebrated and Gods were honored for their amiability. If you use a Yule tree as a Christmas decoration, you are actually supporting this age old pagan ritual. In ancient times, the Yule log used should have been gathered from the homeowner land or given as a gift. The night before the solstice, the Yule was placed and lighted in the fireplace. In the morning, the sun climbed a little higher than usual, symbolizing the birth of the Sun or the lengthening of the day as the spring was coming closer.

Becoming a Pagan

If you compare other religions, you may come to the conclusion that all of them are based on pagan beliefs, but as time passed, we had to alter them and change a few rules to keep the harmony. If today, you think you will be better off putting your faith in nature, you can do that individually but you can also join a coven. In a society where religious beliefs are not forced upon and you have the option to choose, you can very well choose what you think it’s best for you and your wellbeing. Neo Pagan, Wiccan, Christian or Muslim, we are all the same in the face of the universe, the face of God, Goddess, or Divine Deity.

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