There are several ways to approach a topic new to you. You certainly should consult expert or knowledgeable sources. But there is also value in understanding how critics or how even common people – albeit a less informed perspective — view the topic.
The word pagan may immediately evoke the notion of anything that is not “Christian” or anything that is “heathen”. Is that really the definition of paganism? What about practitioners of religions far older than Christianity? Are Hindus also pagans? In fact, a simple Internet query for a definition of pagan returns:
“a person holding religious beliefs other than those of the main world religions”
That is quite a broad definition and obviously comes with some disputable opinions as to what are main world religions. Many now, minor or even defunct world religions may be classified as pagan according to this definition.
Alexandrian Wiccan elder and High Priest, Edward Sott, described being pagan as pertaining to agrarian-based beliefs. This should make the reader think of nature, forest and farming cultures. While it is true that many of the pagan traditions are agrarian-based, the author of this article wanted to dig deeper as to why. Sott further explained that the word pagan comes from the Latin word, paganus which literally means country-dweller. A further historical and cultural look reveals that the Roman-Greco society considered these pagans as less civilized. This is comparable to how in modern American culture people that live in the hills or the forest might be considered hillbillies or country-bumpkins by people that live more urban. In this way, a paganus person was someone that didn’t come to worship the various gods in the Roman temples but instead remained in the wild with their own faith. This concept of a rural-dweller having their own forms of religious practices transferred to the Christian era in classifying everyone outside of Christianity as pagan. Again, a classification that is somewhat vague.
A non-pagan’s perspective of paganism might be that paganism is a hodge-podge of mixed beliefs that borrow elements from often “dead” or defunct religions such as the Norse Viking pantheon, the Babylonian, Sumerian, and Egyptian religions. Adding to this buffet of beliefs, the modern pagan may have completely personal beliefs or rituals that are not based on any historical practice. Even more, there are no standard codices or books utilized by pagans. Unlike how a non-Christian can at least point to the Bible whenever a Christian behaves outside the scope of that text, pagans have no specific sacred text to which a non-pagan could source to claim the pagan is acting outside of paganism. This makes paganism a difficult thing to define.
At first, a non-pagan may then conclude that being pagan is simply a person that just makes up their own religion as they go along. But then how does a person like High Priest Sott become a high priest? Who made him a high priest? Did he just wake up one day and declare himself a high priest? No. There is some order within paganism. There are sects or collective traditions that are recognized, thus Sott’s association with the Alexandrian Wiccan tradition. Sott had to be initiated into the tradition by someone else. He was first a sort of apprentice until declared a high priest within the tradition. But even these traditions or schools of pagan practice often don’t extend very far back into history. The Alexandrian Wicca tradition or perhaps more accurately called a craft is said to have originated with a man named Alex Sanders that lived in the United Kingdom in the 1960s. In turn, Sanders was greatly influenced by an earlier tradition also named after its founder, Gardnerian Wicca after Gerald Gardner of the UK in 1948.
This article is not meant to be a history lesson on Wicca or paganism but more an introduction to how paganism is seen by those not part of it. Paganism conjures up (pun intended), the notion of robed witches and warlocks assembled in the forest chanting some mysterious phrases while casting flame-enhancing dust into a blazing bonfire. But much of modern paganism is practiced by so-called “normal” people working nine to five jobs. You wouldn’t know they were pagans if they didn’t say so.
To conclude, this author’s perspective is still at the stage of it-is-mostly-vague-appropriations of various ancient beliefs and perhaps better labeled as neopaganism, but as this is a non-pagan’s perspective of paganism there is room for better understanding.
Roderick Edwards is an established multi-genre author with over twenty books available in paperback, ebook, hardcover, and audiobook formats. His perspective on life and all of the topics upon which he writes are influenced by his adoptee status and being reunited with his biological family at age fifty. This perspective has caused an outsider’s view of the wider world.
Further interaction at https://rodericke.com
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Roderick is open to further discussion about this topic. Discussion is how changes in our world start.