“Magick is the Science and Art of causing Change to occur im conformity with Will.”-Aleister Crowley
The word “pagan” is derived from the Latin word paganus, which means “country dweller.” It acquired its religious meaning after Constantine declared Christianity the official religion of the Roman Empire: people who lived in the cities were the first to adopt the new religion, while those who lived in the country districts held on to the old ways longer. Although the word began as an insult (equivalent to “hick”), many people today proudly use the word “Pagan” to identify themselves and their religious beliefs.
Modern Paganism includes a large number of religions, each with its own traditions and beliefs. According to the briefest and broadest definition, anyone who follows a religion or spiritual path that is outside the Abrahamic tradition (Judaism, Christianity & Islam) is Pagan. Other definitions are also in use, however. Some people emphasize the importance of and reverence for the Earth in Pagan religions. Others focus on theology, which is a somewhat complex issue, as a variety of positions ranging from pantheism (belief that all of Nature is divine) to duo-theism (belief in a God and a Goddess) and polytheism (belief in many gods) can all be found in Pagan traditions.
Here are some of the more common flavors of Paganism you’ll likely encounter as you journey along your path:
Wicca – a popular duo-theistic, nature- and magic(k)-based version of Paganism created in the 1950s by Gerald Gardener. Wiccans believe in a Goddess and God (some believe that the various gods and goddesses from world mythology are different faces of a single Goddess and God, while others have different interpretations). Wicca tends to be very eclectic and does not prohibit inclusions of any other belief or practice. There is a strong emphasis on treating the Earth as a sacred, sentient entity.
Reconstructionism – reconstructionist Paganism takes many different forms, but it essentially consists of following historical, culture-specific practices and beliefs as closely as possible. Because their beliefs stem from cultures in antiquity, reconstructionists often have to “fill in the blanks” where historical information is lacking.
Druidry – a form of Celtic reconstructionism with commonly practiced modern “Neopagan” additions. There are two main contemporary Druid groups in the US: Ár nDraíocht Féin (ADF) and the Order of Bards, Ovates & Druids (OBOD).
Heathenry – a form of Norse reconstructionism with commonly practiced modern “Neopagan” additions. Heathen groups are highly structured with formal rules of interaction, governed by the Nine Noble Virtues.
Thelema/Ceremonial Magick – created by Aleister Crowley, Thelema combines Judeo-Christian mysticism, Egyptian, Greek, Eastern, and occultist beliefs and practices into a highly organized, complex, and structured system. Crowley coined the term “magick” to distinguish “the Science and Art of causing Change to occur in conformity with Will” with stage or sleight-of-hand magic (like, pulling a rabbit out of a hat).
Judeo-Christian Mysticism – in Judaism, the Kabbalah is a set of esoteric teachings meant to explain the relationship between an unchanging, eternal, and mysterious Ein Sof(no end) and the mortal and finite universe (God’s creation). It has been heavily adapted in and out of context by Christians, New Age/Occult practitioners, Wiccans, and others.
Christian Mysticism refers to the use of angels and demons in spiritual/magical or ritual practices, or the incorporation of non-Christian beliefs and practices into an essentially Christian practice.
Hinduism, Buddhism & Shinto – although these religions do not consider themselves Pagan, many of their beliefs and practices share overlapping qualities with Paganism. Many of these same beliefs and practices have also, sadly, been appropriated by contemporary Pagan groups.
Voudou/Voodoo – in Africa, called Vodun or Vudun; in Haiti, called Vodou; in Louisiana, called Voodoo; in Cuba and Dominican Republic, called Santeria; when referring to folk magic practices in the Americas, called Hoodoo. These are ancient, highly complex interconnected religious systems that combine traditional indigenous African Pagan cultural beliefs and practices with those of Catholicism, as well as those native to respective areas. This makes Voudou not really pagan, as they believe in the Abrahamic God and Jesus Christ.
However, Voudou is also a closed culture, meaning that in order to practice Voodoo, you must either have ancestral ties to this practice or you must find a priest or priestess. This is that they have chosen to do in order to protect themselves and their culture, so we must respect that.
For more information, here are some links: