Feb 19, 2017

Deconstructing Pagan religions

DEBORAH GREY
DNA
February 18, 2017

Considered a derogatory term until the early 20th century, many aspects of paganism shared similarities with most traditional Indian religions that were later brought under Hinduism. Here’s list of some modern Pagan movements.

Before the birth of Abrahamic religions and other monotheistic cultures, most parts of the world followed a variety of Pagan religions. These were mostly polytheistic religious practices with deities representing forces of nature as that is what man feared most. In what is commonly referred to as classical antiquity, and later in the middle-ages, Paganism, was widespread among Nordic, Celtic, Slavic and Germanic tribes.

Pagan cultures existed across the world. In fact, most traditional Indian religions that were brought under the umbrella of the common Hindu way of life shared many similarities with Pagan religions from regions as far as Greece and Central Asia. In fact, the Greek and Roman pantheon is identical, just the names are different.

Meanwhile, Indian goddess Saraswati has Greco-Roman counterparts in Athena/Minerva. Pagans also worshiped goddesses associated with rivers and water for their ability to create and sustain life. These include Anahita (Zoroastrian), Ganga (Indian), Tethys (Greek), Chalchiuhtclicue (Aztec) and Dewi Danu (Balinese).

The word ‘Pagan’ comes from the Latin word ‘Paganus’ which meant ‘related to the country side’ or ‘village dweller’. It came to mean a person with little or no knowledge or what is popularly called ‘village bumpkin’. But the word Pagan wasn’t used until the early Christian Church began using it to describe people from distant rural places who were considered backward because they did not practice monotheism.

‘Pagan’ was therefore considered a derogatory term until the early 20th century when Wiccans made Paganism ‘cool’ and acceptable again and re-branded it as neo-Paganism. Neo-Paganism is a group of new religious movements inspired by historical Pagan beliefs of pre-Christian Europe. Polytheism and animism is common among all these movements, however, they do not share any common text and maintain separate identities. Let’s take a look at some modern Pagan movements:

Goddess Movement
It is a worship of the ‘sacred feminine’, something that was lost to patriarchal religions. Here the female form, sexuality and maternity are celebrated. The followers of this movement see matriarchy as natural, egalitarian and pacifistic as opposed to destructive and aggressive patriarchal cultures. Goddesses worshipped vary from region to region and include Diana, Hecate, Isis, Ishtar, Saraswati and Kali.

Heathenry
This is also a neo-Pagan movement which aims at reviving the cultural beliefs and religions of Germanic people from the Iron Age and Early Medieval Europe. Heathen communities rely on historical records, archeological evidence as well as folklore for information about lifestyles in pre-Christian Europe. Scandinavian and Icelanding Old Norse mythological texts and old Anglo-Saxon folk tales are popular in this regard. Heathen communities are known as kindred’s or hearths, who gather together in specially constructed buildings to conduct their rituals which always involve raising a ceremonial toast of an alcoholic beverage to their deities. Some Heathens have however, unfortunately become rather racist and started associating with white supremacist movements.

Neo-Druidism
Druidry originated in England in the 18th century mainly as a cultural movement aimed at increasing appreciation for nature and how people are connected with it. The movement subsequently became spiritual and developed religious undertones with an increasing emphasis on nature worship and environmental protection. The neo-Druids adhere to no dogma and there is no central authority, it is just a form of nature-centred spirituality. Almost all Druids are animists, but some have elaborate ancestor worship rituals. Their festivals include celebrating the Autumn and Spring Equinoxes and Winter and Summer Solstice. Most rituals are carried out in day light outdoors. Neo-Druidry is popular in Britain and North America.

Wicca
It is the fastest growing religion in the world. It was developed in England in the early twentieth century by Gerald Gardner and Doreen Valiente. While Wicca has no central authority, its core values are similar across various traditions (sects and denominations). Wicca is duotheistic, i.e., it has two deities, the Moon Goddess and the Horned God. You have probably seen the five point star or pentacle associated with witchcraft. It is just a harmless image depicting the five elements: Earth, Fire, Air, Water and Spirit. While Wicca talks about magic as a part of its rituals, it is actually defined as channelising one’s will to achieve a goal. An important Wiccan rule is that a follower of Wicca can never do any harm to another person. There is also the concept of Threefold Return, according to which if you do good or bad, it will ultimately come back to you with thrice its original intensity. This is a bit like the Indian concept of Karma. Though often used interchangeably with witchcraft, Wicca is distinct from Satanism and Luciferianism, whose followers also call themselves witches and wizards.
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