The term “Pagan” is an overarching descriptor for adherents of a variety of non-Abrahamic and pre-Abrahamic religious traditions. Just as there are many Christianities, Judaisms, and Islams so too are there many Paganisms such as Witchcraft, Druidry, Heathenry, and Shamanism. And within each of these, there are many diverse Traditions just as there are a plethora of denominations in said Abrahamic religions. The terms “Pagan” and “Paganism” are acceptable general descriptors for these religious traditions and their community members.
As it migrated from the Middle East, Christianity became a politically endorsed religion in various regions at different times and eventually became state religion. The term “Pagan” originates from the Latin paganus which referred to those who lived beyond the influence of organised walled towns and cities and therefore held to the indigenous religions of what we now call Europe. The term “Heathen” referred to those also living remotely upon heath lands where indigenous religious traditions survived and adherents were less likely to experience persecution. Propaganda from some institutional religions ensured that large populations came to understand both terms to incorrectly refer to a person as atheistic, ergo evil.
The notion that those of Pagan faith do not subscribe to a belief in Divinity is the result of cultural conditioning driven by historical and current misinformation by dominant cultural forces against native religious traditions of the West and other regions of our world. Although Abrahamic religions were born out of Pagan / polytheistic heritage, such discrimination and opposition is still encouraged today by some figures of institutional Christianity, Judaism and Islam.
Those of Pagan faith may perceive Divinity through the deities of initiatory traditions, or those of one’s homeland and the ancestral lands one may connect to through culture and ethnicity. Divinity may be seen as either immanent or transcendent in relation to our world and may be viewed through a monotheistic, polytheistic, pantheist, panentheist, or animist understanding.
Pagan traditions do not operate by way of the same mechanisms as institutional religions such as Christianity. Paganism does not have a pope, or single magisterial voice, nor does it have descending multi-tiered administrative structures. The Pagan community is a collaborative lateral network of diverse strands and this trait is shared by other congregational religions such as Islam and Judaism. As our religious traditions are nature orientated there are almost no temples or churches. Sacred space is created outdoors through ritual at places of natural beauty or sites sacred to our ancestors such as Tara, Loughcrew, and Stonehenge etc.
Our Pagan communities are large and diverse, often involved in equality and environmental activism. Our clergy are Witches, Druids, and Shamans. Despite the peripheral image these words conjure, our clergy tend to be far more socially integrated into their local communities, quietly ministering to those in need and providing ceremonies to mark their rites of passage in life.
Eight Sabbats are celebrated throughout the ritual year, four of which are the Spring and Autumn Equinoxes and the Winter and Summer Solstices. The dates for these Sabbats will vary a little from year to year as they are subject to astronomical alignments. Between these Sabbats are Imbolg (2nd February), Bealtaine (30th April), Lughnasadh (1st August) and Samhain (31st October). The ritual year commences and ends with Samhain and each Sabbat in between celebrate a signficant point in the turning of the seasons and agricultural cycle. The Sabbats are celebrated on reverse dates in the Southern Hemisphere where the seasons are the opposite of those in the Northern Hemisphere. For example, in New Zealand the Winter Solstice occurs in June while the Summer Solstice occurs in December.
Between these Sabbats people also gather for Esbats when the Moon is full. Such occasions may be celebrated publicly in large groups or privately in small Tradition-specific groups such as covens, groves, or lodges. Some Traditions may observe other festivals in addition to or distinct from the above.