Articles/Essays From Pagans
March 4th. 2017 ...
Finding Balance: Discipline Wedded to Devotion
February 10th. 2017 ...
Understanding the Unseen
Kitchen Magic and Memories
January 10th. 2017 ...
The Gray of 'Tween
Becoming a Sacred Dancer
Little Dog, Big Love
December 9th. 2016 ...
A Child's First Yule
November 10th. 2016 ...
What Exactly Is Witchcraft?
A Witch in the Bible Belt: Questions are Opportunities
On Death and Passing: Compassion Burnout in Healers and Shamans
What I Get from Cooking (And How it’s Part of My Path)
October 10th. 2016 ...
Witchcraft from the Outside
September 11th. 2016 ...
Wild Mountain Woman: Landscape Goddess
How Did I Get Here? (My Pagan Journey)
September 3rd. 2016 ...
Rethinking Heaven: What Happens When We Die?
What is Happening in My Psychic Reading?
August 12th. 2016 ...
When Reality Rattles your Idea of the Perfect Witch
Hungarian Belief in Fairies
Designing a Pagan Last Will and Testament
July 13th. 2016 ...
What Every Pagan Should Know About Curses
Magic With A Flick of my Finger
An Open Mind and Heart
Finding and Caring for Your Frame Drum
June 13th. 2016 ...
Pollyanna Propaganda: The Distressing Trend of Victim-Blaming in Spirituality
Living a Magickal Life with Fibromyalgia
My Father, My First God
Life is Awesome... and the Flu
May 15th. 2016 ...
Faery Guided Journey
How to Bond with the Elements through Magick
Magical Household Cleaning
Working with the Elements
April 2nd. 2016 ...
Becoming Wiccan: What I Never Expected
An Alternative Conception of Divine Reciprocity
The Evolution of Thought Forms
The Fear of Witchcraft
Rebirth By Fire: A Love Letter to Mama Maui and Lady Pele
Magic in Sentences
Blowing Bubbles with the Goddess
March 28th. 2016 ...
Revisiting The Spiral
Lateral Transcendence: Toward Greater Compassion
Spring Has Sprung!
January 22nd. 2016 ...
Coming Out of the Broom Closet
Energy and Karma
Community and Perception
December 20th. 2015 ...
Introduction to Tarot For the Novice
Magia y Wicca
October 24th. 2015 ...
Facing Your Demons: The Shadow Self
The Dream Eater--A Practical Use of Summoning Talismans
Native American Spirituality Myopia
A Dream Message
Feeling the Pulse of Autumn
October 16th. 2015 ...
Sacred Lands, Sacred Hearts
September 30th. 2015 ...
September 16th. 2015 ...
Vegan or Vegetarian? The Ethical Debate
Nature Worship: or Seeing the Trees for the Ents
August 6th. 2015 ...
Lost - A Pagan Parent's Tale
July 9th. 2015 ...
Love Spells: The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly
The Magic of Weather
June 7th. 2015 ...
A Pagan Altar
A Minority of a Minority of a Minority
The Consort: Silent Partner or Hidden in Plain Sight?
Why I Bother With Ritual: Poetry and Eikonic Atheism
May 6th. 2015 ...
Gods, Myth, and Ritual in Naturalistic Paganism
I Claim Cronehood
13 Keys: The Crown of Kether
March 29th. 2015 ...
A Thread in the Tapestry of Witchcraft
March 28th. 2015 ...
On Wiccan Magick, Theurgy, Thaumaturgy and Setting Expectations
March 1st. 2015 ...
Choosing to Write a Shadow Book
Historiolae: The Spell Within the Story
February 1st. 2015 ...
Seeker Advice From a Coven Leader
The Three Centers of Paganism
Magick is No Illusion
The Ancient Use of God/Goddess Surnames
January 1st. 2015 ...
The Six Most Valuable Lessons I've Learned on My Path as a Witch
Manipulation of the Concept of Witchcraft
Publicly Other: Witchcraft in the Suburbs
NOTE: For a complete list of articles related to this chapter... Visit the Main Index FOR this section.
The Three Centers of Paganism
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Age Group: Adult
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Author: John Halstead
Posted: February 1st. 2015
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I have found a useful tool for thinking about the Pagan community. Most attempts to describe contemporary Paganism use lists of beliefs or practices. Some of these lists attempt to be comprehensive, while others do not. One problem with these lists is that they inevitably focus on those elements that the person making the list wants to emphasize. Consequently, large portions of the Pagan community are excluded.
Another common way of understanding the Pagan community is as a metaphorical umbrella. The problem with this metaphor is that the image of an umbrella suggests a single center. And what the “center” represents is a matter of perspective, usually the perspective of the person drawing the umbrella.
Instead of a single circle with a single center, I would describe the Pagan community as three overlapping circles. Each circle has a different center, a different focus that transcends the individual. The three circles of the contemporary Pagan community are: earth, Self, and deity.
Earth-centered Paganism includes those Paganisms concerned primarily with religious ecology, “deep green religion”, animism, and what is sometimes euphemistically called “dirt worship”. For earth-centered Pagans, their relationship to the earth is what defines their Paganism, and connecting to the “more-than-human” natural world is what characterizes their spiritual practice. A sense of wonder or awe often characterizes the religious experience of earth-centered Pagans. Of course, there are those whose spirituality may be described in these terms, but who do not identify with the Pagan community, including some earth-centered Christians.
“Self-centric” is used here, not in pejorative sense of ego-centrism, and for that reason I have capitalized the word “Self”. “Self” here means that larger sense of “self” which transcends the ego and even the individual. It is sometimes called the “Big Self” or “Deep Self”. Self-centric Paganism includes many forms of Neo-Wicca, Jungian Neo-Paganism, feminist witchcraft, and more ceremonial or esoteric forms of Paganism. The goal of Self-centric Pagan practice is personal development, spiritually and/or psychologically, through connecting with the Deep Self. This may be described in terms of psychological wholeness or ecstatic union with a divine “Oneness”. Again, there are those whose spirituality may be described in these terms, but who do not identify with the Pagan community, including many New Age practitioners and ceremonial magicians.
“Deity-centered” is a term which I adopted from Janet Farrar and Gavin Bone’s book, Progressive Witchcraft. Deity-centered Paganism includes many forms of polytheistic worship, some reconstructionist or revivalist forms of Paganism, including those that are closer to Heathenry, and those that borrow techniques from African-diasporic religions. Deity-centered Pagans identify primarily in terms of their dedication to one or more deities. The goal of deity-centered Pagan practice is to develop a relationship with those deities. A sense of passionate devotion is what most characterizes the religious experience of deity-centered Pagans. As with the other two categories mentioned above, there are many people whose spirituality might be called “deity-centered”, but who do not identify as Pagan. They would include some contemporary polytheists who have rejected the Pagan label, many traditional or indigenous (small-p) “pagan” religions, bhakti Hindus, and many Judeo-Christian-Islamic monotheists as well, including but not limited to evangelical Christians and Catholic devotee’s of Mary.
Because contemporary Paganism is so diverse, the more inclusive ways of describing Paganism tend to group individual Pagans together with others with whom they share little commonality. This is one reason why there is so much conflict over the definition of “Pagan”. Individuals respond to this by either opting-out and rejecting the Pagan label, or by attempting to define the term in a way that excludes those they are uncomfortable with.
One advantage of the “three centers” approach is that it recognizes both the similarities and the differences among contemporary Pagans. On the one hand, individual Pagans can identify with one or two of the centers, without having to identify with all three centers. On the other hand, the three centers approach also recognizes the overlap between these groups. For example, some feminist Goddess worshippers might overlap with both earth-centered and Self-centric Paganisms. Likewise, some forms of animism might overlap with both earth-centered and deity-centered Paganisms.
“Three Centers” Correspondences
The three centers described above correspond to three chapters in Graham Harvey’s book, What Pagans Believe, which describes Pagan practices in these terms: “Celebrating Nature”, “Working Magic”, and “Honoring Deities”.
In addition, the three centers correspond roughly to three different Classical “paganisms” described by 19th century classicists and philologists: (1) the local cults of the country folk (which corresponds to earth-centric Paganism) (2) the mystery cults (which correspond to Self-centric Paganism) , and (3) the poets and the city state cults (which corresponds to deity-centric Paganism) . Often contemporary Pagans will focus on one of these groups of ancient Pagans when invoking antiquity in support of their claim to the term “Pagan”.
Finally, the three centers correspond to three different reactions to Christianity. Earth-centered Pagans reject the “other-worldly” focus of Christian eschatology and the dualistic separation of matter and spirit, as well as its anthropocentrism. Self-centric Pagans, challenge the Christian condemnation of the body, sex, and the feminine, and seek to reclaim these. And deity-centered Pagans, reject monotheism and all it implies.
Community: A Fourth Center?
In contrast to Paganism, Heathenry tends to be community-centered. In recent years there has been greater interaction between the Pagan and Heathen communities, which grew up alongside each other, but held different values. As the two communities begin to blend somewhat, a fourth center of Paganism may be discerned. Community-centered Pagans define their Pagan identity by belonging to the group, which calls itself “Pagan”. Pagan authenticity is defined in terms of conformity to communal norms and participation in group rituals. For community-centered Pagans, the community is that which transcends the individual. The relationship between community-centered Pagans and the community is ideally characterized by mutual fidelity. Like earth-centered Pagans, what community-centered Pagans get out of the relationship is a sense of belonging to something greater than themselves.
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