Intro: Pagans, Heathens and Recons
Article ID: 4575
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Posted: July 4th. 2005
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A Brief Introduction:
The following introduction is offered here to help to dispel many of the myths surrounding Neo-paganism, Witchcraft and the Heathen and Reconstructionist religions. The ways of many Neo-Pagan traditions, religions and groups, as well as some of the Heathen and Reconstructionist religions, are described in even more detail on various other pages on this Web site and elsewhere on the net.
This 'overview' is a very generalized rendition of some Neo-Pagan, Wiccan, Witch, Heathen and Reconstructionist religions and may not necessarily reflect the beliefs of all Pagan or Heathen individuals, religions or traditions.
Pagans: Wren Walker
Paganism is not a single religion, but an umbrella term for all those religions other than the Abrahamic faiths of Christianity, Judaism and Islam. A Pagan is a person who follows one of those "other" faiths. Many Witches, Wiccans, Reconstructionists, and other Neo-Pagans simply identify themselves as "Pagan" or "Neo-pagans" when talking with others who may not be familiar with the complexity of the different belief systems. This can make it sound like "Paganism" is a religion instead of a collection of religions. Neo-paganism should also not be confused with the "New Age" movement, as Pagans are almost exclusively involved in distinctive religions while New Age spirituality draws from many sources and esoteric spiritual techniques which are generally added as an extra layer on top of whatever religion one normally follows.
Note: The word 'Pagan" itself comes from the Latin paganu(m), for "someone who is not from the city, rather from the country." In Late Latin, this turned into pagensis, "one who is from the country, " and this ultimately became the French pays and the Spanish Pa's, both meaning "nation."-(From Etymologically Speaking at www.westegg.com/etymology/)
Witchcraft and Witches:
A practitioner of a nature-based/revering or folk belief system, art or religion. Not all Witches follow the same belief system. Some practice what is called the "Old Religion" which has its roots in Pagan pre-monotheistic folkways and beliefs and which usually follows the agricultural seasonal cycles. Many Witches believe in a polytheistic deity structure usually based upon the local gods and goddesses of the area of origin. Witches may practice alone as 'solitaries" or in covens. There are also family groups or traditions that trace their practices and beliefs within the same close group throughout several generations. Some Witches consider Witchcraft to be a religion while others simply practice witchcraft as a magical art.
A modern religion of Witchcraft is called "Wicca." Traditional Wicca is based on the teachings of Gerald Gardner, is coven (group) based and each coven can trace its lineage (line of teaching passed on by initiated Traditional priests and priestesses) back to Gardner himself. There are offshoots of Gardnerian Traditional Wicca such as Alexandrian Wicca, Georgian Wicca and many others. Traditional Wicca is considered a 'mystery' religion, one that requires initiation by the coven and has a "degree system" or different levels of rank based upon coven training and the readiness of the initiate to accept the duties and responsibilities of that degree. Traditional Wiccan covens have a core of inner knowledge-often called the "Book of Shadows"-which is shared only with initiated Wiccans. Most Traditional Wiccans believe in the balance of male-female divinity. Traditional Wiccans are seldom solitary except for those 'Elders'-usually former priests and priestesses-who may have retired from active coven involvement, have taken a voluntary sabbatical or do not have access to a Traditional coven in their area.
(Stregheria, La Vecchia Religione, "The Old Religion") An Italian form of Witchcraft encompassing elements of the pre-Christian European mystery teachings and the ancient Etruscan and Tuscan religions. Many modern Italian Witches today, especially those who still reside in Italy, are Christians who have simply continued to practice their native Old Religion alongside the 'new'.
Other Forms of Wicca:
A newer form of Wicca has developed since the 1970's that is looser in structure and practice than Traditional Wicca. These practitioners may follow a mixture of various or 'eclectic' Pagan and/or non-pagan beliefs. Some have formed 'traditions' or covens of their own, with or without a degree system, and have written a "book of shadows" outlining their own belief system and coven structure. Many are 'solitaries' who practice their beliefs and formulate their personal rituals in their own way.
Since modern Wicca is by far the most well known of the Neo-pagan religions or belief systems, many people incorrectly assume that all Pagan or Heathen religions are very much the same as or follow closely the specific tenets and ritual structures of Wicca. Nothing could be further from the truth. Each Pagan or Heathen religion has its own ritual structure, core beliefs and there is often little that can be said to hold 'true' as a universal belief held by either all Neo-pagans or Reconstructionists. In fact, most Reconstructionists take great umbrage when their cultural religious practices and/or Gods are misappropriated and/or misinterpreted by Neo-pagan groups. This has, in recent years, been cause for considerable friction to arise between Neo-pagans and Reconstructionists as they interact with one another.
Reconstructionism is a general term used to describe those religions (sometimes designated as' Heathen' with many groups preferring the term 'polytheists' or 'pagan') that are the continuation of a cultural spiritual tradition into the modern era. Great emphasis is placed upon scholarship, the use of classic texts (such as 'The Eddas' in çsatrœ and the ancient Egyptian texts in Kemetism) and the revival of traditional modes of worship. Magic(k) plays much less of a role in Reconstructionist religions than it usually does in Wicca or Witchcraft. Cultural relevance is stressed, but this should not be confused with either nationalism or racism, as most Reconstructionists, while protective of their cultural heritage, are neither racists nor bigots. Some of the major Reconstructionist Religions are:
(Norse, Nordic, Regintroth Northern Heathenism) Ásatrú is a reconstructionist, polytheistic faith based on pre-Christian Northern European beliefs, Gods and Heroes. Most adherents of Ásatrú (Ásatrúar) put much emphasis on historical accuracy and the heroic tales as recorded in texts such as the Icelandic sagas and 'The Eddas'. Ásatrú has a rich and complex ethical system in which personal honor, truth and integrity are considered to be some of the highest virtues.
The reconstructionist religions of the Lithuanian, Estonian and Latvian peoples. Like their neighbors, the Slavs, folklore and custom are important elements in their practices and rituals and the 'Balts' have largely maintained their language, folklore, pagan beliefs and customs throughout the centuries. Nature as a sacred force is emphasized as is harmony both within the individual and in society and the relationship with the gods and ancestors.
Celtic Reconstructionism is an umbrella term for those who follow the cultural and religious practices of the Gaelic or Brythonic (Celtic) peoples. Beliefs and ritual practices vary from one ethnic or tribal group to another, but almost all place great store in history, language, the surviving Gaelic literature and cultural relevance/context (with the emphasis being placed upon linguistic and cultural, rather than DNA or religious, ties to those regions). As in most other Reconstructionist religions, personal honesty, integrity, honor in both word and deed and scholarship are very important and highly valued.
A reconstruction and/or a reweaving of the spiritual threads of the wisdom and ritual framework of the ancient Druids. Druids are generally polytheistic and follow a calendar based upon the astronomical yearly stages of the sun, the earth and the moon. Modern or Neo-Druids can be either male or female. Since the ancient order or class of Druids passed along their lore and wisdom through a closely guarded oral tradition, little is known of the actual rites themselves. However, Modern Druidism considers itself as a mainly spiritual path wherein the old knowledge is still accessible through insight and revelation. Like the ancient order, Neo-Druids often denote different levels of learning or expertise. The most commonly known classifications are the Bards (composer of verses; keeper of the lore), The Ovates (guardians and interpreters of the mysteries; diviners) and the Druids (advisors; authorities of worship, law and ceremony). The entire training process for new initiates may last several years.
Hellenic or Greek Reconstructionists (Hellenists, Hellenes, Hellenism) are generally polytheists who worship and revere the ancient Greek Olympian gods. It is primarily a 'votive' religion where 'offerings' or gifts to the Gods are an important element of ritual practice. Hellenismos has a highly developed ethical system based upon moderation, hospitality and reciprocity, place great value on scholarship and specifically on the use of classical texts.
A modern religion based upon the ancient Egyptian family of gods/goddesses and the concepts of Ma'at (all) and Netjer (the divine force). While many gods and goddesses are revered or acknowledged, the Kemetic religion is not polytheistic in the same sense that many other Pagan or Heathen religions are. In many sects of Kemetism, the concept is better described as a 'monolatry' or one god manifesting as many distinct personalities and divinities. Rituals and offerings are often elaborate and great value is placed upon both ancient texts and modern archeological discoveries and research.
The Religio Romana is the pre-Christian religion of Rome. The modern religion attempts to reconstruct the ancient faith of Rome and its gods, goddesses and temple rituals as closely as possible. Every attempt is made to rely on actual historical and archaeological evidence and much emphasis is placed upon the original classical texts, writers and language.
The Slavic peoples are not a "race", but are related through culture and area. These regional groups include the Russians, Polish, Czechs, Ukrainians, Byelorussia's, Serbo-Croatians, Macedonians, Slovenians, Bulgarians, Kashubians and Slovakians. In reconstructing Slavic religions, adherents place much store on Slav folk tales and stories. Dualism is an important concept in Slavic religion, but differs from the 'good' and 'evil' dichotomy of post-Christian thought. Here dualism is understood to be a system of complimenting opposites such as darkness and light, winter and summer, female and male, cold and hot. The God-brothers Bialybog "white-god" and Czarnebog "black-god" who rule the light half and dark half of the year respectively, are further illustrations of this polarity. Nature spirits also play an important role in Slavic beliefs.
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