Perhaps you're uncomfortable with the mere idea of Paganism. Perhaps you're asking yourself, "How could my child/friend/co-worker have gotten involved with this?" Or maybe you prefer not to think about it at all. Maybe you secretly hope that some day you'll be talking on the phone with the Wiccan in your life, and he or she will say, "Oh by the way, I found a nice little Christian church that I have been attending, and I'm thinking about joining." Or maybe you've accepted that, while Paganism is not your choice for religion and spirituality, you respect the right of each person to make his or her own spiritual choice. In any event, I believe knowledge is a powerful tool to help people get along better in this crazy world we live in.
Paganism, Wicca, and Witchcraft all mean slightly different things, just like Lutheran and Methodist and Baptist refer to different forms of Christianity. But just as these churches are all a part of Christianity, so are Paganism, Wicca, and Witchcraft all part of a worldwide movement of spirituality and religion that is based in reverence for nature. That's why it's called "Nature Spirituality." This movement believes that Mother Nature, or Mother Earth, is actually as much a part of God as is God the Father. Some Pagans think of Mother Nature as a Goddess, so this religion is often called Goddess Spirituality. It is a new religious movement, but is based on ancient spiritual practices form around the world. Nature spirituality is not a cult, and Pagans do not worship the devil. Pagans don't even believe in the devil.
If you are a religious person, I'm sure your faith means a lot to you. Perhaps you are an active member of your church, and you raised your children in the faith. Even though Paganism and Wicca may seem strange and unusual to you, I hope you'll see that Pagans are just as devoted and committed to the highest principles of nature spirituality as other people are to their faiths, whether Christian, Jewish, Muslim, or whatever. The Pagan path may not be the same as yours, but Pagans walk it with a similar sense of commitment, integrity, and responsibility. For Wiccans and Pagans, their path is about becoming a better person and working for the healing of our natural environment and our society.
It may be difficult for you to accept that someone you love is a Witch. After all, in our society, Witches are often thought to be bad people, malevolent evildoers who curse and poison their enemies. Look at the Wicked Witch in "The Wizard of Oz," for example. Of course, Pagans believe these stereotypes are inaccurate and unfair, based on centuries of misunderstanding. But it is understandable if the word "Witch" makes you uncomfortable.
If the Pagan you know is your child, it may bother you that he or she does not participate in your religion. This can be especially difficult for conservative Christians.
Some Christians say that if you merely dabble in non-Christian religion, then you have sinned against God and are going to hell. Perhaps you're afraid that a Pagan's eternal soul may be in danger.
I honor and respect your concern. I've been studying modern Paganism since 1983, and have actually practiced the Pagan path since 1990. In other words, I spent seven years thinking about and researching Wicca and other forms of Paganism before I took the step of actually living a Pagan life. Let me share with you some of the things that I learned in the years I spent researching Paganism and Witchcraft.
Paganism (or "Neopaganism," which means the new Paganism) is the overall name for the modern nature religions. Just as Christianity has many different forms (Catholic, Episcopal, Lutheran, Methodist, and so forth), so does Paganism. Some of the forms of Paganism include Wicca, Witchcraft, Druidism, Shamanism, Odinism, Goddess spirituality, and many others. Although there are differences between the many forms of Paganism, they also have much in common.
Witchcraft and other forms of Paganism have nothing to do with devil worship or Satanism. On the contrary, Paganism teaches the importance of living an upstanding and ethical life, just like any other religion.
Christians subdivide God into a Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Wiccans do the same thing, only they see God as a Mother and a Father. In other words, as a Mother Goddess and a Father God. In fact, one of the biggest differences between Paganism and Christianity is that some Pagans prefer a feminine image of the Goddess over, or in addition to, the traditional masculine image of God.
To Pagans, it makes no sense to see spirituality as separate from the material world. The Goddess is present in the material world, just as she is present in prayer and meditation. For this reason, Pagans see nature as holy and many Pagans get involved in recycling and ecological preservation as a way of expressing their religious convictions.
Most Pagans talk about magic -- an easily misunderstood term. To Pagans, magic is not about pulling rabbits out of hats, or conjuring up spirits to do one's bidding. [Some Pagans prefer the spelling "magick" to differentiate their practice from this type of magic.] Instead, it is best seen as using spiritual power in their daily lives. For example, just about anyone who believes in God will pray for healing when someone is sick. What Christians call prayer, Pagans call magic. It's basically the same thing: relying on spiritual power to achieve our goals and live happier lives. Just as Christians ask for God's blessing through their prayers, Pagans ask for the Goddess' blessing through their magic.
Wicca is basically a new religion. It didn't really exist before the 1940s. But it is based on ancient spirituality (such as the spirituality of the Druids, the ancient priests of Ireland and Scotland), as well as on modern science and psychology. For many Pagans, following this religion is about getting in touch with one's (ancient) roots. For example, the more I have learned about the ancient Celts, the more I admire their civilization and spirituality. Modern Pagans try to honor the old ways of our forefathers and foremothers, who lived close to nature and who believed in Mother Earth as much as in a heavenly Father.
Hundreds of thousands, perhaps even millions, of people around the world follow the Pagan path. Pagans come from all walks of life: rich and poor, male and female, straight and gay, high school dropouts and Ph.D.s. Pagans can be found in every corner of society: as lawyers, teachers, computer programmers, doctors, nurses, mechanics, and writers. The U.S. military has a thriving Pagan population, since many Pagan groups consider it an honorable thing to be a warrior. The Military acknowledges Pagans as practicing a valid religion, and many military bases have Pagan chaplains or chaplain assistants.
Now, you may be thinking, "All this okay, but I still don't like the idea of Witchcraft." Let's take a closer look at that.
I grew up in the Lutheran Church, and learned an interesting tidbit about Lutheran history. Once upon a time, calling somebody a Lutheran was an insult. It meant that the person was a radical, a heretic, a follower of that terrible Martin Luther. But as the Protestant Reformation swept much of Europe, Lutheranism became a noble and honorable religion. Today, millions of people all over the world are proud to be Lutherans.
Witchcraft is similar. In ancient times, to call somebody a Witch meant to accuse them of using spiritual power to curse or harm others. We now know this was based on superstition and fear. Meanwhile, scholars have determined that much of what was considered to be "Witchcraft" in ages past may have actually been the nature-based spirituality commonly practiced in Europe up until the coming of Christianity. As people began to see Witchcraft as nature spirituality and not as something harmful, they began to see it as a good and upstanding thing. So today, when someone calls himself or herself a Witch, they mean it in a totally positive way.
What Do Witches Do?
When people become Witches, how do they practice their spirituality? Wicca is considered a craft of the wise. It involves the pursuit of wisdom in many forms. Thus, people who explore the old religion will do any or all of the following:
Study. Witches often love to read, and many longtime practitioners of the craft have houses crammed full of books. Nowadays, this love of research also extends to the Internet, where countless websites provide information on mythology, ritual, Goddess lore, and magic.
Ritual. This would be the closest equivalent to going to church or synagogue. Rituals can be performed alone, in small groups, or in larger gatherings. As a general rule, they are performed on the night of the full moon, new moon, or on one of eight special Pagan holidays known as Sabbats.
Magic. Less formalized than a ritual, magic consists of any activity aimed at channeling spiritual energy to achieve a specific goal. This can be as simple as meditating before a lit candle or as complex as an intricate ritual involving a series of carefully prepared symbolic objects. Incidentally, the process of doing a magical working is known as casting a spell.
Craft activities. Many Wiccans and Pagans love to make candles, incense, oils, salves, herbal tinctures, and other items, imbued with natural ingredients that have spiritual significance. Such items are created only for positive magical or healing purposes, and are often used in spells or rituals.
Nature-based activities. From planting an herb garden to helping clean up a polluted river, to simply enjoying long walks in the woods, nearly all Witches and Pagans truly the outdoors. To Pagans, such ecological activities as recycling or composting are not just good civic duties; they are also spiritually sacred acts.
Other activities designed for spiritual growth. These miscellaneous pursuits can include meditation, studying a divination system such as astrology or Tarot, taking classes to develop psychic or intuitive ability, or making pilgrimages to ancient sacred sites such as Stonehenge in England or Newgrange in Ireland. Because Witches and Pagans regard all of life as sacred, any of these activities can be spiritually meaningful and an important part of their overall religious observance.
There's no one right way to be a Witch, and so not all Wiccans will do all of these things. But this variety of activities shows the richness and depth of spirituality that is available to modern Pagans.