According to Ronald Hutton, the noted religious historian (see my post, “What Is Paganism”) there are “three core beliefs” found in contemporary Paganism. They are:
A) Love and kinship with Nature; a Pagan ethic (such as the Wiccan Rede or a comparable code); the Divine masculine and feminine
B) A link to the ancient past; polytheism; reincarnation
C) The Threefold Law of Return; reincarnation; working magick
D) Love and kinship with Nature; a Pagan ethic; the Threefold Law of Return
What do you think the correct answer is?
Soooo…what is the answer to the Ronald Hutton Pop Quiz question?
Believe it or not, the answer is A:
Love and kinship with Nature; a Pagan ethic (such as the Wiccan Rede or a comparable code); the Divine masculine and feminine
Surprised? According to Hutton, most Pagans do believe in the Threefold Law of return… but not all do. While many do work magick, not all do. Although many Pagans do believe in some form of reincarnation, there is no universal belief or dogma regarding what happens after death. The only three that seem to be agreed on by Pagans are listed in answer A.
Let’s examine these a little further ~
Love for and kinship with nature. Pagans do not seek to dominate nature, but live in harmony with it, revering the life force and the eternal cycle of birth-death-rebirth. Divinity is immanent in the realm of nature, as it is in all things in creation. The planet has its own living consciousness. The cycles of nature are celebrated in seasonal festivals which make up the Wheel of the Year. Paganism is especially a “green” religion, and many Pagans are environmental activists.
Many Pagans practice what can be called “eco-magick” – magick based on natural Earth energies and the resident spirits of the land. While many may indeed demonstrate their awareness of the planet and our interconnection with it by engaging in such behaviors as recycling, vegetarianism, organic living, and environmentalism, these are not the basis of eco-magick. Rather, the term refers to the awareness of and working with the spirits of the land on which you live (as compared to those in China, Brazil, or even the town down the highway).
The Pagan ethic. Yes, this one might be debatable, but the fact remains that Pagans do follow some basic ethic which revolves around the concept of “harm none, do as you will.” While many will argue that this is basically the Wiccan Rede and does not apply to all Pagans, it needs to be remembered that the Rede is thought to be based upon older writings and beliefs. Gerald Gardner (considered “the father of Wicca”) claimed it derives from the legendary Good King Pausol, who declared “Do what you like, so long as you harm no one.” More likely it comes from the writings of Aleister Crowley, who stated in his Law of Thelema “Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law.” Crowley believed that if people knew their true wills and followed them, they would attune themselves to harmony with the universe.
While not all Pagan Paths necessarily agree on the definition of harm, or believe in the Threefold Law, or the concept of will, they all do share a basic concept on following some type of moral code, or set of virtues. Paganism places responsibility on the individual to develop self-knowledge and truth…and to express it in harmony with all things.
The divine masculine and feminine. Divine Oneness is expressed in the divine feminine and masculine, which engage in an eternal cosmic dance of creation. Pagans honor the “totality of divine reality,” which transcends gender and does not suppress either the male or female aspect of Deity. The aspects of Deity, expressed through many gods and goddesses, are real beings who share the world with human beings.
It is important to understand that this recognition of the divine masculine and feminine does not necessarily translate into a belief in duality. While Paganism in general is polytheistic (meaning that it recognizes the existence of multiple Gods and Goddesses), some are monotheistic or at least practice a “polytheistic view of monotheism” – believing that the many different Gods and Goddesses are all parts of one great deity…are different facets of that one diamond, so to speak. Some Pagans are dualistic – believing that all Gods are one God, and all Goddesses are one Goddess. Whether that God and Goddess can be seen as “equals” is up for debate. Duality does not necessarily mean equality. Still other Pagans are true polytheists in that they view each and every God and Goddess as being a very real, separate, individual deity.
Once again, I would like to point out that Paganism does not refer to one single established spiritual path, but rather to a group of contemporary religions based on Nature worship and ancient indigenous traditions. Those religions are going to be quite diverse, and the beliefs and practices of those who follow these religions are going to also be quite diverse.
It is also important to understand that we are talking about modern day Neo-Paganism, not the practices of our ancestors. The “neo” recognizes this difference, and acknowledges that our rites have changed and evolved over time, along with our culture. In today’s world, Pagan is applied primarily to traditions springing from European roots, but is also applied to non-European religions that do not recognize a monotheistic god.
Paganism of today has three central characteristics:
- It is polytheistic and recognizes a plurality of divine beings
- It views the world as a theophany – a manifestation of deity
- It recognizes the divine feminine
Neo-Paganism is relatively young. While it has its roots in the folk magicians, the occultists, the ceremonial magicians, and the old celebrations of yesteryear, for the most part is it under 100 years old. The largest segment of Paganism is Wicca/Witchcraft, a religious system that actually can only be traced back to the work of Gerald Gardner, Doreen Valiente, and others during the mid-twentieth century. Other paths may be somewhat older (a revival of interest in the Druids began in Britain in the 18th century), but overall what we are seeing here is a school of religious thought that really started around the 1930′s and flowered in the 1960′s – aided by liberal interests in feminism, Goddess spirituality, ecology, Gaea, New Age spirituality and a desire for personal transcendent experience.
So while witchcraft, indigenous traditions, and seasonal celebrations have been practiced throughout the world for centuries, it is only a romantic notion that the religion we now know as Paganism has an unbroken line to the ancient past.