Honors English 4
24 October 2014 Paganism and Christianity
“Do not cite the deep magic to me, Witch. I was there when it was written” (The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion the Witch and The Wardrobe). This is just one example of the attitudes portrayed towards the modern idea of a witch. From the Wicked Witch of the West to the White Witch of Narnia, witches have become prevalent in popular culture. The portrayals of these characters as sinister villains betray the lack of understanding of the culture of modern-day witches, known as Paganism. In contrast, Christian culture is widely known in modern times. Like Christianity, Paganism has had an impact on the culture of today, albeit discreetly. Though many people believe them to be vastly different, Paganism and Christianity do have numerous similarities and differences, particularly in regards to their beliefs, observances and holidays.
In general, Pagans believe in the presence of “the divine in nature”, not wishing to harm the environment. Pagans believe that humanity is not “set above” the rest of nature. However, Paganism encompasses many different religions, such as Wiccans, Druids, Heathens and Odinists, meaning there is no single set of beliefs that define Paganism. For instance, most Wiccans believe in a God and Goddess who engage in a yearly cycle of life and death. This Goddess has three aspects: the Virgin, the Mother and the Crone. Heathens, however, largely follow the gods of Norse mythology (“Religion: Paganism”). “Some [Pagan religions] are extremely open to diversity of opinion, while others are tightly catechized” (Rogers). Pagans typically believe that males and females are equal, as seen by the Wiccans’ God and Goddess (“Religion: Paganism”). Some Pagan religions, such as Spiritual Feminism and Dianic Wicca, focus on the Goddess alone (Rogers). Pagans try to avoid the presence of an overarching dogma in their religion (Blain 233). Consequently, separate congregations of Pagans, known as covens, have different beliefs (“Religion: Paganism”).
Pagans do not have a consistent set of religious observances to follow, since many religions qualified as Pagan have different sets of beliefs (“Religion: Paganism”). Also, because “sacred books [for Pagans] are not readily found,” followers of similar Pagan religions may worship very differently (Blain 233). As such, Pagans do not have a strict set of guidelines. “Many Pagans believe ‘if it harms none, do what you will’”. Contact with the “divine” in the natural world is the goal of most Pagan rituals. A Pagan ritual is believed to be “a symbolic language of communication between the human and the divine” (“Religion: Paganism”).Magic is used in many, but not all Pagan rituals. Pagans commonly, though not always, meet and celebrate in covens (“Paganism”). “In Wicca, it is common for such [rituals] to be timed to the phases of the moon” or during one of the many Pagan holidays. Many Pagan religions urge practitioners to maintain formal secrecy in regards to Pagan rituals (Rogers).
As many Pagan rituals and celebrations coincide with certain seasons, the Pagan calendar, also known as the Wheel of the Year, is significant to most Pagan religions (“Religion: Paganism”). The Wheel of the Year consists of eight Pagan festivals, known as sabbats (“Sabbat”). These eight sabbats consist of four holidays with Celtic origins and four holidays based upon points in the solar calendar (“Religion: Paganism”). Each sabbat signifies an important part of the annual seasonal cycle (“Paganism”). The vernal equinox, for instance, celebrates the coming of spring and the increase of the powers of the God and Goddess (“Religion: Paganism”). Since many ancient cultures celebrated similar occasions, there are many festivals occurring around each sabbat. Yule, Christmas and Saturnalia are all celebrated near the winter solstice. Currently, many ancient Pagan customs have been adopted by society, such as the Yule