The umbrella term “neo-paganism” is a relatively new word to describe religions or belief systems that incorporate gods/goddesses, symbols, ritual and other aspects of an ancient religion. Many adherents to this movement prefer to be referred to simply as pagans because they find the term neo-pagan derogatory. Some of the most popular pagan, or neo-pagan movements are:
The cycles of the sun and moon were integral to most pagan religions. The cycles of the year hold importance for all pagan religions, seasonal and nature observance form a very important part of the neo-pagan/pagan movement. Among the celebrations or observances that most members of this community observe are:
- The Winter Solstice (the shortest day of the year in the Northern Hemisphere). The emphasis is on renewal and rebirth out of darkness.
- Imbolc (a “cross-quarter holiday”). This is also known by some pagans/neo-pagans a Brigid. It falls between the winter solstice and the spring equinox. A celebration of the increasing light.
- The Spring Equinox. One of the two points of the year where the day and night are in balance. The celebration of the awakening of plants and animals and fertility are integral to this observance.
- Beltane. (a “cross-quarter holiday”). The midpoint between spring and summer. The time of the Mother Earth flowering. The occasion for the Maypole dance.
- The Summer Solstice. The longest day of the year in the Northern Hemisphere. A time to make commitments to loved ones and to cultivate healthy self-love.
- Lammas (a “cross-quarter holiday”). The midpoint between summer and autumn. A time to honour mother earth.
- The Fall Equinox. Regarded as the most powerful night of the year.
- Samhain (Hallowmas). Marks the neo-pagan new year.
Actual dates can vary slightly from year to year for some of these observances. Asatru Asatru is also known as Odinism and is an ancient Norse religion. Asatru (from the Icelandic language meaning “true to Asa”), believes that each person is dependant on others and that it is only through working together that true harmony can be achieved. It is a religion or belief system that believes in contribution by the individual to the greater good. The Gods (or Asa) are known as the Aesir and the Vanir. The Aesir are primarily warrior gods and are generally speaking the “higher gods”; while the Vanir are largely fertility gods. Asatru believe that there are “nine worlds” held together and reached by the yggdrassil (world tree). These worlds are the realms of the Gods, humans, light elves, dark elves, dwarves, giants and others. Asatru believe in Nine Nobel Virtues:
Integral to the religion are a large and vast array of myths and legends which incorporate all beings. There are many rituals and forms of magic in Asatru. There are six major festivals in Asatru:
- Yule (Mother Night). This begins on the 20th December at sunset.
- The Charming of the Plow (February 1st)
- Eostre (the Spring Equinox)
- Valpurgis (the beginning of Summer)
- Midsummer (21st June)
- Loaf-Feast. A Harvest Festival on the 1st of August
- Winter Nights (around the Autumnal Equinox)
Druids Druids were ancient priest in a nature-based religion indigenous to Celtic Britain and other European regions. The actual term Druid means “oak knowledge”. Documented evidence (mostly from the Romans) of the activities of this group go back to the third century B.C.E. Julius Ceasar noted that the Druids in Gaul formed a federation that crossed tribal boundaries (it seems that this same system existed in Britain). The Druids met annually and had great influence over political and social matters for their areas. The Druids were well respected and revered members of their communities. The actual term Druid, does not refer to a cleric or religious person. The actual term refers to an elite class of respected Celtic officiates who were part of a powerful network which was based on common practice and outlook. It has been discovered that Druids performed the same tasks for their communities that a modern day scholar, judge, teacher or clergy member still performs today. The Druids also took part in divination and nature focused worship. There is not definitive Druidic text. The Druidic culture was suppressed by ruling nations and lead to a necessity to keep the practices alive through myths, historical heroic stories and songs. The Druid practices of today still use mythology and heroic stories in their practice. Some of the basic beliefs of the modern-day Druid are:
- A belief in a multiplicity of Gods and Goddesses.
- The requirement of respect and love for Nature
- A love for humanity and a belief that it is important to help fellow human beings.
- An importance is placed on celebrating the solar, lunar and other life cycles present in nature.
Historical Druid worship practices seem to have included a wide variety of nature gods. Services took place near lakes and rivers and in tree groves. Oaks and mistletoe are regarded as sacred plants. In modern times, Druids can be varied and diverse in their beliefs and practices. There are 8 major Druidic festivals and observances, 4 correspond to the solar cycle and 4 correspond to the lunar cycle. The festivals mark the seasonal equinoxes and traditional harvest/planting times. The most well know Druidic celebration takes place at Stonehenge during the summer solstice. Wicca Wicca, or witchcraft, is another earth religion. It is a religion which honours many Gods and Goddesses and which is mindful of the natural cycles in the world. There is not particular series or precepts to which a Wicca practitioner must adhere. In addition to the holidays outlined in the pagan/neo-pagan section, Wiccans also observe the Full Moon (there are 13 in the current calendar year). There is no sacred text for the Wiccan follower, however, they do all tend to follow what is known as the “Wiccan Rede”, which states “An Ye harm None, Do what thou wilt”. Harm is defined as anything which works against an individuals free will, takes away from another, or harms an individual mentally, physically or spriturally. In addition to the “Wiccan Rede”, Wiccans ethical duties are defined in the Law of Three. Simply put, the Law of Three states that the actions and even the thoughts of an individual are visited back to the individual at least three fold the intensity of the original. Wicca’s teach self-discipline, personal responsibility, kinship with the planted and all living beings, open-mindedness and the virtues of diversity. There is no specified place of worship for Wicca followers because of the belief that all of the earth is sacred. Worship or witchcraft may be practiced in whatever location the individual desires. Most rituals are performed in a ritual space marked out by a circle. Many Wicca’s liken their rituals more to meditation than to any sort of spell-casting. The teachings of Wicca encourage working in harmony with the natural elements of Earth, Water, Air, and Fire. The purpose of most ceremonies is to promote the inner spirit of the individual. Actual ceremonial practices and witchcraft rituals vary widely.