Many people come to this website because they’ve heard a little about Paganism, maybe from a friend or family member, and want to know more – but a lot of readers come here because they’re starting with the very first question: What is Paganism?
Keep in mind that for the purposes of this website, the answer to that question is based upon modern Pagan practice – we’re not going to go into details on the thousands of pre-Christian societies that existed years ago. If we focus on what Paganism means today, we can look at several different aspects of the word’s meaning.
In general, when we say “Pagan,” we’re referring to someone who follows a spiritual path that is rooted in nature, the cycles of the season, and astronomical markers. Some people call this “earth-based religion.” Also, many people identify as Pagan because they are polytheists – they honor more than just one god – and not necessarily because their belief system is based upon nature. Many individuals in the Pagan community manage to combine these two aspects. So, in general, it’s safe to say that Paganism, in its modern context, can be defined as an earth-based and often polytheistic religious structure.
Many people also come here looking for the answer to the question, “What is Wicca?” Well, Wicca is one of the many thousands of spiritual paths that fall under the heading of Paganism. Not all Pagans are Wiccans, but by definition, with Wicca being an earth-based religion that typically honors both a god and goddess, all Wiccans are Pagans. Be sure to read more about the Differences Between Paganism, Wicca and Witchcraft.
Other types of Pagans, in addition to Wiccans, include Druids, Asatruar, Kemetic reconstructionists, Celtic Pagans, and more. Each system has its own unique set of beliefs and practice. Keep in mind that one Celtic Pagan may practice in a way that is completely different than another Celtic Pagan, because there is no universal set of guidelines or rules.
Some people in the Pagan community practice as part of an established tradition or belief system. Those people are often part of a group, a coven, a kindred, a grove, or whatever else they may choose to call their organization. The majority of modern Pagans, however, practice as solitaries – this means their beliefs and practices are highly individualized, and they typically practice alone. Reasons for this are varied – often, people just find they learn better by themselves, some may decide they don’t like the organized structure of a coven or group, and still others practice as solitaries because it’s the only option available.
In addition to covens and solitaries, there are also significant amounts of people who, while they usually practice as a solitary, may attend public events with local Pagan groups. It’s not uncommon to see solitary Pagans crawling out of the woodwork at events like Pagan Pride Day, Pagan Unity Festivals, and so on.
Many Pagans – and certainly, there will be some exceptions – accept the use of magic as part of spiritual growth. Whether that magic is enabled via prayer, spellwork, or ritual, in general there’s an acceptance that magic is a useful skill set to have. Guidelines as far as what is acceptable in magical practice will vary from one tradition to another.
Most Pagans – of all different paths – share a belief in the spirit world, of polarity between the male and female, of the existence of the Divine in some form or other, and in the concept of personal responsibilities.
Finally, you’ll find that most people in the Pagan community are accepting of other religious beliefs, and not just of other Pagan belief systems. Many people who are now Pagan were formerly something else, and nearly all of us have family members who are not Pagan. Pagans don’t hate Christians or Christianity, and we try to show other religions the same level of respect that we want for ourselves and our beliefs.