Pagans seek peaceful existence with nature, one another and themselves through magick
Editor’s note: Darian’s, Moonshadow’s and Kangra’s names have been changed due to the sensitivity of the story material.
Pagans come from all walks of life. They can be the teachers, police, business owners, secretaries, lawyers and others in a community.
Darian is a Wiccan. Moonshadow and Kangra consider themselves Wiccan also, but they are pagans as well. They agreed to discuss their beliefs and share their knowledge on paganism.
Today’s society makes it tough for people to talk about religions, and sometimes people are simply not comfortable talking about their beliefs. This can be one cause of discrimination and misunderstanding.
Paganism and Wiccan are the same, yet they are different, Moonshadow said.
Paganism is a belief that faces prejudice in society. Most pagans believe in more than one god and the concept of divinity residing in all things. Neo-pagans have a reverence for the earth and all its creatures, and they see all life as interconnected.
“Paganism, in general, is a whole lot of religions,” Darian said. “They unify under one name but are all different.”
“We are not evil. We don’t harm or seduce people. We are not dangerous. We are ordinary people like you. We have families, jobs, hopes and dreams. We are not a cult. This religion is not a joke. We are not what you think we are from looking at TV. We are real. We laugh, we cry. We are serious. We have a sense of humor. You don’t have to be afraid of us. We don’t want to convert you. And please don’t try to convert us. Just give us the same right we give you — to live in peace. We are much more similar to you than you think.”
— from Margot Adler’s “Drawing Down the Moon”
The bond of paganism between these groups is based on the attitudes of the people, their heritages and their cooperation between each other.
“Pagans believe in constant self-improvement and in seeking to live in harmony with nature and with others,” Peter Hoeman, alumnus in anthropology and English, said. “They see magick as a tool to help them attune with natural forces that are available to every person and believe that magick should never be used in a way that harms others.”
Moonshadow said some people lump the term pagan to cover all Earth religions from shamanism to ceremonial magic to druidism and even to Zen and Buddhism.
“Paganism is a blanket term for all Earth religions,” Moonshadow said. “Just in the last few years, the lines have started getting more defined.”
However, Kangra said, if something bad comes up and threatens any pagan group, all the groups will jell quickly and protect it.
Hoeman said pagans are any of several religious groups that have similar beliefs.
“Pagans have a few binding beliefs,” Darian said. “One of these is the practice of magick.”
Magick is the focus of will to achieve one’s goals and desires, he said.
“In order to do magick, you have to be focused,” Darian said. “There must be a focus of desires, a focus of will and a complete focus on intent.”
As times change, so do systems and beliefs. As the world becomes modernized, these groups have changed to move with the flow. The old spiritual beliefs are working into society and strengthening with diversity.
“Nowadays, the pagans and the neo-pagans are defining themselves more strictly,” Kangra said. “If you take 10 pagans and put them together in one room, you’ll come up with 15 different definitions of paganism.”
Many sub-groups have been formed under the pagan tradition. Some of these are paleo-paganism, civilo-paganism, meso-paganism and neo-paganism. Neo-paganism is sometimes believed to be similar to Wicca.
Neo-pagans have broken away from Wicca, Kangra said.
“They don’t do as much wheel-of-the-year worshiping. They don’t put themselves in set-calendar form,” Kangra said. “They just do the magick part. Being an Earth-centered religion, they perform magick but are not really into the worshiping phase.”
These various pagan celebrations are based on the Wheel of the Year calendar of feast days. The celebrations are based on star formations and alignments.
The eight traditional holidays are Samhain, Oct. 31; Yule, during the winter solstice; Imbolc, Feb. 1; Ostara, during the spring equinox; Beltane, May 1; Litha, during the summer solstice; Lughnasadh, Aug. 1; and Mabon, during the autumn equinox.
“The Gregorian calender has shifted dates back, so these dates can change,” Moonshadow said.
On May 1, pagans will celebrate Beltane.
Beltane is a celebration about creation energy and sexuality, Darian said. It is a celebration of the gift given to us.
The ribbons are weaved around the maypole during an elaborate dance. The ribbons begin at the top with a wreath over them, as the dancers weave their way around the pole, the wreath goes down until it is at the bottom of the pole.
Darian said usually 30-40 people come, and there is a big dance. It is a powerful ritual.
“Babies conceived on Beltane are supposed to be blessed,” he said.
The Heartland Spirit Festival is a festival put together by the Heartland Spirit Association. Each year 500-600 people gather at the end of May to celebrate.
They have been gathering every year for almost 10 years, Darian said.
Most pagan branches recognize the same holidays. The basis of most modern branches can be traced to Gerald Gardner.
Gardner is considered the father of modern paganism. He started the Gardnerian tradition in the mid-1950s. It is one of the most influential of the traditions.
“He is the first person to publish anything remotely resembling paganism,” Darian said.
Gardnerian, named after Gardner, is considered to be one branch of Wicca. Other branches can include Alexandrian, Dianic, Seax and Traditionalist. These are just a few in an expanding network of beliefs and groups.
“Gardner’s books have probably been the most influential in shaping the overall structure of the traditions within neo-paganism,” Hoeman said.
Gardnerian is a joyous, peaceful, nature religion rather than focusing upon the periodic sacrifice and resurrection of the god, Hoeman said.
“Wiccan individuals worship the gods and goddesses,” he said.
Listening, observing and reading are important when learning about any religion. Listening can be a form of meditation when one listens to the world outside and the world inside. It can also mean listening to others who wish to share knowledge and experience.
“Everyone that comes in reads books, listens to others and makes their own decisions of what they want to do,” Kangra said. “Wiccans are becoming more solitary.”
They are losing traditions but are gaining more diversity, he said.
“In the U.S., it is possible for neo-pagans to be solitary, create or modify a system so that is their own unique take, yet still be considered a neo-pagan and be accepted by other neo-pagans — even though their beliefs are not exactly the same,” Hoeman said. “They are able to be a loner to a degree yet still be accounted as part of the larger group.”
Hoeman said this idea seems to be an American point of view: “The loner who really isn’t a loner.”
One local pagan organization, the Web of Oz, encourages individuals to be a part of their group without compromising their individuality.
The Web of Oz is in Lawrence. It has been there for nearly nine years, Darian said. It is a large group.
“The Web of Oz is a collection of all different kinds of individuals,” he said.
Almost everyone in the Web of Oz is pagan, but not all of the members are Wiccan. The group draws on a variety of beliefs and traditions.
“They celebrate all the eight traditional holidays,” Darian said.
The group has its own newsletter, Oz Notes, to keep everyone who is involved updated on happenings and holidays, Kangra said.
If someone is truly interested, it is fairly easy to find out about pagans, Darian said.
“They are pretty open,” he said. “But it’s who you know.”
The Web requires someone to sponsor an interested person, he said. After a certain number of attendance times, a person can start going on his own.
Darian himself is solitary. He has been associated with a couple of different covens, but right now he is not.
Darian was a high priest for a while in one coven. He was paired with a high priestess in a magickally paired partnership.
“We learned everything together,” he said. “She and I started a coven together, and we grew up together magickally.”
Darian said they were close friends, and it was fantastic.
This coven only had six people, Darian said. It was just the right number.
“It only lasted for 15 to 16 months,” Darian said. “We were a younger, more dynamic and energetic group.”
It was a free-flowing group, he said.
“We used our own poetic pieces. Everybody had their favorite,” he said. “Imagination is more important than knowledge sometimes.”
The group did not last long after the high priestess left, he said.
Darian was also in a coven in Kansas City for a while.
“It was a highly structured group,” he said. “We had particular things we had to say and to do. Nothing like the one we had here.”
The group in Kansas City was organized and specific.
“They were very selective,” Darian said. “Some professional people were concerned about images. They get paranoid because they could be discriminated against.”
The rituals they did were structured, he said.
Rituals have a specific purpose in all groups. The ritual can be in observance of a holiday or simply a thanks to the gods. It can also be to help someone in the group.
A ritual is any ordered sequence of events or actions. These can be directed thoughts and can be repeated in the same manners. They are designed to produce a predictable, altered state of consciousness. In these altered states, magickal results might be obtained.
Rituals are for centering oneself and helping a person achieve a calm state of mind, Darian said.
“It gives a feeling of oneness,” he said. “That is what you strive for. That whole step-by-step process is what gets you into the right state of mind.”
People can use incantations, burn herbs, candles or incense, among other things to cast their circles.
“Magick is a free-form thing,” Darian said. “What works for some may not work for someone else.”
Methods differ, he said, but the end results are the same.
“Everyone must agree about the structure of the ritual,” Darian said. “There must be a consensus. Otherwise it will never happen.”
Ritual is an important part of all religions.
Kangra said it is not the religion itself that makes a person bad or good. It is a person’s own will that determines it.
People can change, but only if they will it, he said. It is just people’s perceptions.
“The more I look and learn of the world, the more I see how personal it really is,” Kangra said.
Copyright 1996, Student Publications Inc. All rights reserved.
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