What In Heaven’s Name Is Going On Over There?

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Wicca and other Neo-Pagan religions are enjoying an unprecedented revival and growth in North America and in other English-speaking countries like Ireland and Australia. Because of a great deal of incorrect information about these heretofore-secretive religions, there exists an entire mythology about them which pervades Christian beliefs about these nature-based religions and their practices, nearly all of which is wrong.

Of late we have all seen variations on Satanism scares and “satanic crimes” virtually all of which, according to the FBI and several other equally as objective observers, are groundless. Moreover, Paganism and Wicca (often identified pejoratively as witchcraft in the gothic sense) have nothing to do with the Judeo-Christian heresies broadly labeled in our culture as “Satanism” which is another phenomenon entirely. Unfortunately, the emotional scare of things Satanic sells magazines, newsletters, and an occasional religious publication devoted to what is essentially proven by objective authorities to be pure “hype.”

In this country, we are gifted with the freedom to do pretty much as we wish regarding religious expression (or lack of it). Since Neo-Pagans and Wiccans frequently worship outdoors to be closer to nature, “what in heaven’s name are they doing over there” is not an unusual question between neighbors who may abut such a location, often a suburban back-yard, or perhaps a secluded spot in a rural countryside. Like many people with older traditions such as the Jews, Pagans consider the start of the new day to be sundown, and hence often hold their worship in the evening.

Sometimes we may not fully understand what these people may be doing, and lack of understanding can easily bring unease and sometimes, even fear. Things that we don’t understand or are foreign or different to us can easily raise those sorts of unintentional feelings. Often we just don’t understand someone or something, and that’s unsettling. It is such emotional fears that motivate us to unconscious, often prejudicial behavior.


Since the dawn of history, people have instinctively gathered together in groups for the feelings of comfort and security that come with socialization and fellowship. One of man’s basic drives is that of spirituality – the need for the comfort and security of group acknowledgement and worship of the creative force, the Almighty. One of the oldest religious artifacts ever found on Earth was a small, ochre – colored limestone carving, a figurine of a plump female fertility goddess, found near Willendorf, Austria and dubbed ” the Venus of Willendorf” by archaeological scholars. This goddess statue has been dated to between 30,000 and 28,000 BC.

Throughout northern Europe, some 1,400 of these varied figurines have been found, giving clear evidences of these stone-age peoples’ veneration of an Earth Mother figure, a Mother Goddess from whom all things came, including the miracle of birth, death, and rebirth as seen in all of nature. The forces of nature were full of the dual polarity of male and female which produced life in all of its forms. It is no wonder that early man envisioned the creative force as female, a Mother figure, a concept which is regaining acceptance today even in some mainstream churches.

The basic neolithic concept of deity being represented by an immanent or internal dual polarity, a god and a goddess force contained within every living thing, was commonplace throughout northern Europe. Historically, this concept held firm throughout most of the world for thousands of years until the rise of the Judeo-Christian philosophy, which introduced the concept of a single, all-powerful and external or transcendent male god in the form of the Old Testament Yahveh. In many early biblical translations, Genesis 1:26 first refers to deity as Elohim, which is a plural Hebrew word for deity which includes both male and female genders. Later, in Genesis 2:7, the single male godform called YHVH or Yahveh appears, to dominate the Old Testament and Judaism, and subsequently Christianity, thenceforth.

But in Genesis 1:26 we read that Elohim declaims the creation of humanity – a population of people, not just two. Later, in Genesis 2:7-9 Adam and Eve are created as a special, chosen people, special to Yahveh alone.  Many people often overlook this small but telling detail. There were “other people,” those who were not the “chosen people” of Yahveh in the Bible – the people of the “Land of Nod” east of Eden, from whence came Cain’s wife, for example.

These were the original Pagans.  Prior to the rise of Judaism and Christianity, this nature-based form of worship we now call Paganism was almost universal throughout the known world. Although each locale and peoples had their own names for their deities, they had no name for their religion because it was looked upon as a universal practice and did not require differentiation from any other. The old expression, ” when in Rome, do as the Romans do,” was a reference to the use of the local names for deities. Later, differentiation became necessary to distinguish the ” old religion” from the newer religious movements.

During the time of the spread of the Roman church throughout the urban population centers of early Europe, the Romans began calling the country people, who still practiced the old ways and worshiped the old gods, ‘pagani’, which meant “country dweller.” In the British Isles, a stronghold of Paganism, the term heathen similarly meant the simple country folk who dwelt out on the heath or meadowlands and still honored the old gods. Neither term was originally intended as a pejorative. The use of Pagan to describe any other non-Judeo-Christian religion such as Hinduism, Confucianism, Shinto, Zoroastrianism and the like, is an incorrect usage. When describing the religious movement known as Paganism, the word should always be capitalized, as with Baptist, Jew, or any other proper name.

Let’s take a look at the Pagan religious philosophy. Since Paganism doesn’t have a formal structure and hierarchy such as we are accustomed to in more traditional Western religions, there are many relatively small groups. There are a few national and international federations of some of these small groups, such as the Covenant of the Goddess (U.S.A.), the Pagan Anti-Defamation League (U.K.), the Fellowship of Isis (Ireland), and the National Alliance of Pantheists (U.S.A.). But these do not possess the familiar authoritarian church hierarchy. There are many loosely organized regional federations which annually sponsor over one hundred open and semi-open gatherings throughout the U.S.A. Because of this small group autonomy, we can best define Pagan church groups by their similarities rather than by their differences. Remember, when Paganism was the only religion in Europe, everyone had their own ideas about the details of the religion, yet they were bonded together by the similarities.

So it is even now. Today, most people who define themselves as Pagan use the word as a general term for ” native and natural religions, usually polytheistic, and their members.” In simple terms, it is a positive, nature-based religion, preaching brotherly love and harmony with and respect for all life forms. It is remarkably similar to Native American spirituality, although it developed a hemisphere away. Its origins are found in the early human development of religion: animistic deities gradually becoming redefined to become a main God and/or Goddess of all Nature. This God or Goddess — bearing different names at different times and in different places-can be found in nearly all of the world’s historic religious systems. Paganism does not oppose nor deny any other religion. It is simply a pre-Christian faith which recognizes all spiritual paths as equally valid.

Most Pagans agree on many of these commonly held beliefs: Divinity is immanent or internal, as well as transcendent or external. This is often expressed by the phrases ” Thou Art God” and ” Thou Art Goddess.”  Divinity is just as likely to manifest itself as female. This has resulted in a large number of women being attracted to the faith and joining the clergy. A multiplicity of gods and goddesses, whether as individual deities or as facets of one or a few archetypes. This leads to multi-valued logic systems and increased tolerance towards other religions. Respect and love of Nature as divine in Her own right. This makes ecological awareness and activity a religious duty. Dissatisfaction with monolithic religious organizations and a distrust of would-be Messiahs and gurus. This makes Pagans hard to organize, even ” for their own good,” and leads to constant mutation and growth in the movement.  The conviction that human beings were meant to live lives filled with joy, love, pleasure and humor.

The traditional Western concepts of sin, guilt and divine retribution are seen as misunderstandings of natural growth experiences.  A simple set of ethics and morality based on the golden rule: the avoidance of harm to other people. Some may extend this to some or all living beings and the planet as a whole. The knowledge that with proper training and intent, human minds and hearts are fully capable of performing all of the magic and miracles they are ever likely to need, through the use of natural psychic powers which everyone possesses. The importance of acknowledging and celebrating the solar, lunar and other cycles of our lives. This has led to the investigation and revival of many ancient customs and the creation of some new ones.  A minimum of dogma and a maximum of eclecticism. That is to say, Pagans are reluctant to accept any idea without personally investigating it, and are willing to adopt and use most any concept they find useful, regardless of its origins.  A strong faith in the ability of people to solve their own current problems on all levels, public and private. This leads to… A strong commitment to personal and universal growth, evolution and balance. Pagans are expected to be making continuous efforts in these directions. A belief that one can progress far towards achieving such growth, evolution and balance through the carefully planned alteration of one’s consciousness, using both ancient and modern methods of aiding concentration, meditation, reprogramming and ecstasy.

The knowledge that human interdependence implies community cooperation. Pagans are encouraged to use their talents to actively help -each other as well as the community at large.  An awareness that if they are to achieve any of their goals, they must practice what they preach. This leads to a concern with making one’s lifestyle consistent with one’s proclaimed beliefs.

And so, the group of people who may on occasion gather, indoors or out, near your home, perhaps at a neighbor’s place, may well be of this pre-Christian religious faith. There is no need to fear them or their religion. They don’t recruit or proselytize. They gather, often in robes, in serene, natural outdoor surroundings to be in contact with Nature during their services otherwise, you’d never know they were there. Their own children are encouraged to examine many other religions and make an informed personal choice of which to follow when they grow older. These people may call themselves Neo-Pagans, Pagans, Wiccans, or even Witches. They are neither evil nor weird. They are not performing animal sacrifices, black magic, nor devil-worship. They don’t kill anything as a religious practice. In actual fact, they hold Life in all its forms as sacred, and many are vegetarians. Few, if any, hunt wild animals for sport. They are a simple, gentle people, people just like you and your friends, only different in that they hold to another view of spirituality than Christian, Moslem or Jew-one you just aren’t very familiar with yet.

What does all of this mean? It should be quite obvious that Pagans are nothing to be feared, ridiculed, or even singled out. Pagans are simply a little different in their approach to and acceptance of personal spirituality. Their religion is based on humanity’s first stirrings to spirituality, of reverence towards the Earth as a living, breathing entity. They honor all living things, practice ecology, and are tolerant of those who follow a different path from their own. These are things everyone could benefit form studying.

Endnotes

Satanic, Occult, Ritualistic Crime: A Law Enforcement Prespective, technical paper issued June 1989 by Kenneth V. Lanning, Supervisory Special Agent, F.B.I. Academy, Behavioral Science Instruction and Research Unit, Quantico, VA.

Satanism in America, a report issued by The Committee for Scientific Investigation of Religion, by S. Carlson & G. Larue, CSER, published by Gaia Press, 1988 & 1989, El Cerrito, CA.

The Three Faces of Satan, article in Gnosis Magazine, the Lumen Foundation, San Francisco, CA., Issue No. 12 (September 1989).

Passport Magazine

“Special Report: America’s Best Kept Secret,” by John Frattarola, Ed. & Raul Ries, published 1986 by the Calvary Chapel of West Covina, West Covina, CA.

He Came To Set The Captives Free,  by Rebecca Brown, M.D., Chick Publications, 1986, Chino, CA., and assorted other comic-book style tracts by this same publisher.

The Language of the Goddess, by Marija Gimbutas and Joseph Campbell, Harper & Row, San Francisco, 1989.

The Bible, King James Version, and others.

 

Family gathering graphic from the
Pagan Children’s Activity Book by
Amber K.

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