Basic Beliefs and History

This is a presentation given by AP Pete “Pathfinder” Davis at the Washington Hospice Association Conference

March 4th, 1997 in Issaquah, WA

Thank you for inviting me here. I am Pete Davis, the president of the Interfaith Council of Washington, and I am a Pagan; more specifically, a Wiccan Priest. To those who have not examined the modern religious revival commonly called Paganism, and my own specific faith, Wicca, those can be highly charged and emotional words. To many,
“Pagan” or “heathen” can mean anyone who doesn’t follow the Christian, Islamic or Jewish faith traditions, but that’s not an accurate definition.

The word Pagan entered the English language from the Latin word for country dweller, when the Roman armies first spread across what is now called northern Europe and the British Isles. They encountered the nature-oriented spirituality of those indigenous peoples – the Norse, Frankish, and Celtic folk, including the Irish, the Picts, Welsh, Brittanic and Scotts. The soldiers referred to them as the
“Pagani”, or country dwellers, since the area had very few settlements of any size and most of the locals were scattered across the countryside.

The origins of the Pagan faith is tribal or racial, but not racist. Correctly, to be a Pagan one had to be of northern European peoples. A variant of Pagan is heathen. Now to most, heathen has come to mean someone who does not follow a Christian path, but this, too, is historically incorrect usage. Properly, a Heathen is someone who lives in the meadowlands of the British Isles, where the meadowlands area was and is commonly known still today, as the heath, from the massive patches of heather plants which grow there. Neither had any religious connotation until the later coming of Christianity to the area, when the village folk were more easily accessible to missionaries than the country dwellers, the Pagans or Heathens, who often were the last to be converted, if at all.

The word Wicca comes from two Old English words the feminine, spelled w-i-c-c-e and the masculine, spelled w-i-c-c-a. These words, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, are pronounced WIH-CH(UH) and WISH respectively, and referred originally to the the local herbalists or healers in Ireland and the rural parts of the British Isles, the village wise woman or cunning man, as they are known today. This is the origin of the modern word, Witch, and long ago, before the advent of male-dominated medicine in the middle ages, referred to the local healers who used natural medicines, herbs and roots and things from the forest and the garden. It was originally a term of respect rather than the frightful and horrific movie images that come to the mind now.

The world is experiencing a revival of this nature-oriented pre-Christian era spirituality because of its close connection with nature and respect for the earthly environment. In an age of raging consumerism, amid pollution, garbage, nuclear waste and the like, there’s a strong appeal to the concept of living in step with nature and respecting our fragile environment, instead of continuing the conquest, plundering and contamination of our limited natural resources. Our untrammeled and frenzied lust for what we call progress has led us to the brink of disaster. We have managed to subdue the earth and its creatures beyond all rationality, to the point of threatening our own existence, and recognize a spiritual imperative to change our outlook.

There are many differences in the beliefs and practices of modern Paganism, as there were also in ancient times. But we are better defined by our commonalities than by our differences, and we’ll cover some of them later on. Right now, I want to reassure you that the modern Pagan revival is
celebrational, positive, life-affirming, comforting and empowering, and has absolutely nothing to do with sacrifices of any kind, neither actual nor symbolic, neither animal nor human. Our common central focus of worship is the Mother Goddess and her consort, the God of the Forests. Our beliefs don’t include a personification of evil. No Devil, no Satan figure. We absolutely do not worship something we don’t
even believe exists, no matter WHAT you may have read, been told, or seen on Hollywood’s Silver Screen. These fantasies became part of our culture over the centuries from the efforts of the early church to convert people away from their old religion. History shows us that every budding faith has tried to demonize the old gods and beliefs. More recently, such lurid tales were used to bolster the sales of literature and even movie tickets!

Certainly, in the dark corners of history there were peoples who offered sacrifices to propitiate their gods in times of stress. In antiquity, even the Biblical Abraham was willing to sacrifice his own son to the God of the Israelites. Such practices are universally seen today by everyone – Christian, Moslem, Jew and Pagan – as barbaric, superstitious, and uncivilized, and are not practiced by anyone, although they may regrettably have been a part of the ancient histories of a number of modern religious traditions.

Sometimes, frankly, I feel deprived at not being able to blame my own wrongdoings on some kind of Devilish figure. But as a Pagan lacking the luxury and the advantages of such a practical religious convenience, I am left with no choices. I have to take responsibility for my own actions, instead of passing the buck to a
‘devil’.

Later, during the panel presentation, I’ll try to elaborate more on the Pagan beliefs, customs and practices surrounding today’s topic of death and dying, and leave you with some useful information and resources for obtaining more, should you find yourself ever with the need.

Thank you.

References:

In the Service of Life; a Wiccan Perspective on DeathISBN 0-8065-2444-8

Ashleen O’Gaea, Citadel Press, New York 2003

209 pages including extensive bibliography and index.

Other books by this author:

The Family Wicca Book, Llewellyn


The remainder of this presentation was on Death and Dying. Click here to continue reading.

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