Life Out on the Street: Pagan Terminology 101

The Witch Who Turned Pink - LAP Halloween Contest EntryI was digging about my blog drafts to see what I could work on, and lo’ and behold, I found this little number, perfect for this ‘heathen’ holiday time. Amongst all the sugar and frills, a little education might add a nice kick to your Halloween or Samhain-

Since this is one of those prickly pears you’re supposedly not supposed to eat in public, I’ll say this up front:

a) In terms of overall research, I’m an amateur in the field,
b) I studied and explored these subjects for 2-3 years,
c) I actively converse with people of different experience levels and backgrounds during this time,
d) I have some heritage on my maternal side regarding this, and
e) It’s been a few years since I looked at these matters in depth, so I’m rusty.

Bearing this all in mind, I’d say I have a decent grasp of what I’m talking about. Which, I guess would be helpful to spit-out: the realm of Paganism and related topics. However, I am not going to share some amazing spell on how to get your missing inventory back or will completely eliminate bots of the grid. I am, though, going to show you how to spell and use words correctly so you can look a little less silly when you poke someone’s eye out with a wand.

Ra's Kiss - Call of the Nile EntryFirst, what de fark is Paganism? In the simplest idea, it is a non-Abrahamic faith. Abrahamic refers to any faith that connects itself to Abraham, a pinnacle Hebrew figure in the Book of Genesis; the three Abrahamic traditions everyone should know are Judaism, Christianity and Islam.

So, technically, Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism and the like are considered Pagan traditions. Yet, just as a Apple machine is a personal computer, you will get weird looks if you call your Mac a PC. So, in colloquial (common) usage, Paganism mostly refers to any non-Abrahamic, non-mainstream faith. Granted, this is still rather broad, and ultimately it’s best to weigh each distinct faith on its own. Just as Judaism, Christianity and Islam are very different from each other, the variances among Pagan traditions can be huge.

That in mind, when referring to something of a faith-based or religious nature, Paganism and Pagan should be capitalized. Again, like other faiths, they’re proper nouns, and most of us should have it beaten into our skulls to use a big letter first for names and the like. At the same time, pagan can be a lower-case term when being used as a synonym for barbarian or hedonist. This does not mean that anyone who is a Pagan is uncivilized; this is just a reflection of the evolution of words through history. In Europe, when Christianity first rose to be a major religion in the empire, it took time for this information to disseminate throughout the rural and outer regions; thus, their Pagan ways became associated with being behind the times and uncultured, and the word gathered a new meaning.

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Many Pagan faiths are polytheistic. A belief system is polytheistic if it believes in multiple deities; in contrast, a faith is monotheistic if it only has one deity. Classic examples of polytheism are the pantheons (a pantheon is a collection of gods) of the Ancient Egyptians and Ancient Greeks. Both of these civilizations believed in multiple deities, with each having their own main focus and/or abilities. This should not be confused with a monotheistic faith that has helping-figures. In example, Catholicism – a form of Christianity – believes in one god, which is omnipotent; Catholicism also believes in angels and saints, which are viewed as assistants and messengers of the god. Rightfully so, you will probably make a Catholic mad if you call them polytheistic, just like you would ruffle feathers if you said that a building secretary had the same authority and abilities as a company CEO. (Foregoing the boss being a jerk and all.)

Some Pagan faiths today are known as Neo-Pagan because they’re, well, relatively new to the block. Wicca is considered a Neo-Pagan faith, for example. Another major sub-category of Paganism is Reconstructionism, which consists of faiths working to follow older traditions. Hellenic Reconstructionism, a faith that believes in the pantheon of the Ancient Greeks, is one such belief-system. Neo-Pagans may draw from older faiths, but they are not actively trying to “reconstruct” how things were originally practiced. Reconstructionists may also change some methods or beliefs in order to better work with modern culture and technology.

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A word that probably jumped out at you was Wicca; it’s one of the most well-known when discussing this subject. Building on what was already mentioned, Wicca is nature-focused religion that has many, many sub-sects that like to disagree with one another (just like Christianity, with more or less incense). It is primarily ditheistic (two gods), with the God and Goddess (or Lord and Lady, or… yeah, not getting into it), and the faith as we know it today started in 1954 by Gerald Gardner. I will flat out say that considering it to be older than that is sheer idiocy and follows the reasoning that I’m as old as my parents because I got my genetics from them. A lot of the finer details, such as the elements, assisting deities, and whatnot are best left for another day, perhaps even in another lifetime.

Wicca is often associated with the practice of witchcraft, and many Wiccans are witches. However, they are not synonymous (even though Gardner originally used witchcraft as a name for the faith, but he had a lot of his own problems). Consider that Jesus of Nazereth was a fisherman or a carpenter at times; this does not mean you can substitute the word construction for Christianity. Similarly, you do not have to be a Christian to fish, nor do you have to be a Wiccan to practice withcraft.

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Withcraft is a practice, similar to cooking and arts-n’-crafts, that incorporates a lot of mental, emotional and symbolic concepts in order to achieve the practitioner’s goal. It is not a proper noun like a religion, so it only needs to be capitalized at the beginning of a sentence and what not. As there are different types of cooking, there are different types of witchcraft (including kitchen witchcraft and more food… mmm…). As practitioners generally believe that what they do can affect themselves, their environment and others, there is a general code of ethics that writers and community members try to share. But, as with other activities like gun enthusiasm, some people decide to be morons and give it a bad image.

Bearing this all in mind, both the faiths and the practices have their own cultures, and thus their own flairs in fields like fashion. As popular Pagan faiths tend to be nature based, it is likely that followers will wear designs and colors reflecting elements they feel in tune with; a very common one is the moon and its cycles.

Thanks to Achariya for unintentionally spurring this on with her post at Rezzable dispatches way back when! Without it, I would have never pieced together this post and would not have something to present something specificly for my blog this season!

Oh, and before your comment, remember to read the very top again.

~ by Terry Toland on October 28, 2009.

One Response to “Life Out on the Street: Pagan Terminology 101”

  1. […] Lifestyles of the Broke and Notorious […]

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