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Ancient Paths Revisited

An In-Depth Look at Alternative Religions

By Tristan BiggsPublished 2 months ago 44 min read


Are you interested in finding a faith to which you can identify? Are you disillusioned with the religions of the day? Or do you have a son or daughter who has expressed an interest in alternative belief systems, and wish for them to make an educated choice? If you have answered yes to any of these questions, then the following article is for you.

There has been a regained interest in many of the classical or archaic belief systems, and in this pages, I will attempt to cover as many of these as possible from the traditions of the ancient Celts and Vikings, to those of the diverse tribes and nations of Africa.

The first of these is what has become known as Neo-Paganism, a title that has two elements: The first being ‘Neo’ - meaning ‘New’. The word ‘Pagan’ has many interpretations, depending on the era in which it was used. There is also some question as to the term’s origin. The one thought is that it has its roots in the Latin word ‘Paganus’, which applied specifically to anyone dwelling outside of the city walls, or in a rural area - whether in a farming community of a village or hamlet. During the time of the Roman Empire (31 BCE to 476 CE) the word had a more derogatory tone to it. It referred to those who were deemed to be ‘Unsophisticated’ as well as rural.

Later the Roman Empire converted to Christianity, an event that happened in 313 AD after Emperor Constantine issued the ‘Edict of Milan’, and was made official 10 years later when it was pronounced the official religion of the Empire. It was then that the word ‘Pagan’ was given an even more negative connotation. It was said of pagans that they followed beliefs that were ‘backward’ and even ‘superstitious’. It was also given the meaning of ‘Civilian’, which applied to any that were not ‘Soldiers of Christ’, another word for early Christians. Later this was changed, and pagans were branded as ‘Outsiders’ because they were not part of the Body of Christ, a term first used in the New Testament to refer to the Church.

With the spread of Christianity throughout Europe came the attitude that any religious belief that did not agree with their doctrines was ‘Pagan’, and now was given the damning label: ‘The work of Satan - the Judeo-Christian and Islamic name for the ‘Chief Evil Spirit’. This would encompass all belief systems throughout Europe and even as far as Asia, and eventually included Buddhism, Shinto and Hinduism, to name but a few.

Before I continue, I need to point out that Neo-Paganism is not a specific belief system, but it describes a movement that desires to rediscover, and to an extent rebuild the archaic and classical religions and their practices. These faiths mainly originated from Northern and Western Europe, although not exclusively, Although it encompasses a wide spectrum of religious beliefs and traditions, along with a wide and diverse number of sects or subgroups, many of them tend to share certain basic beliefs and standards.

CHAPTER 1: A Detailed Look at Neo-Paganism -

Having introduced you, my reader, to the concept of Neo-Paganism, let us now look at the subject in more detail:


a. Historical:

The specific Neo-Pagan groups are known by many different names. This depends on the specific religious tradition that particular sect seeks to follow. Some of the details overlap, which tends to blur the lines between these groups. Some of them have changed more conventional names and words so as to avoid any form of association with the same term in its modern context. 

An example of this is the use of the archaic word ‘Magick’ instead of the common word ‘Magic’. The main reason for this is because it has become synonymous with mere parlour tricks, slite of hand and stage shows, whereas Magick refers to the practice by which many Neo-Pagans believe that, by focussing natural energies, they can influences certain forces of nature or course of events to bring about a more desirable, if not positive result.

Another common term is that of Witchcraft. Again popular literature has ever sought to cast this practice, and those who adhere to it, in a bad light. The true definition of the word is the ability to communicate with either the ancestors, or those who dwell in what is known as the ‘Spirit realm’, in order to allow the witch - a term that is correctly used for all practitioners regardless of gender - to perform rites, charms and spells. These practitioners are found in many different Neo-Pagan groups.

A common misconception is that all Neo-Pagans practice magic, or are witches. This is not true. Just as in a conventional belief system, where there are priests or pastors that are able to perform rites and sacraments, so there are those within Neo-Pagan sects that have learned to perform Magick. Many of these are either so empowered from birth, or have inherited their gifts from their forebears. Likewise, just as the rest of the congregation attend church meetings and services, seek guidance and help from their elders and so on, but are not themselves members of the clergy, so there are many Neo-Pagans who enjoy the benefits of being part of the group, but are not practitioners themselves. 

Although there are many Neo-Pagan characteristics, traditions and practices that are shared, there are also distinct differences between the various groups. This primarily depends on the tradition or culture they have chosen to follow. 

For example: Wicca derives their identity from the Celtic (Pronounced ‘Keltic’) belief system. The Celts were a people whose influence stretched throughout much of Western Europe and the present day British Isles. Their traditions gave rise to the Wiccan forebears as well as the Druids of old. Others identify themselves with the deities and traditions from modern-day Scandinavia, home to the famed Vikings. An example of this is those that follow Asatru, but one of the many deities revered in ancient Norse mythology.

There are those who choose to worship the gods and goddesses of ancient Greece or pre-Christian Rome. Some have sought to revive the beliefs and practices of the legendary Egyptians.

There are belief systems that do not find their origins in the ancient ways, and there are those who are thought to pre-date even the oldest of them, but these will be discussed in more detail in due course for various reasons that will also be explained later.

b. Commonalities:

As has been said before, there are a number of common threads that can be found throughout the various groups that are under the umbrella of Neo-Paganism. I will discuss but a select few in more detail.

• Neo-Pagans share a strong connection and reverence for the Earth. Their festivals and ceremonies generally follow the Earth’s various moods and seasons. By following these cycles, those adherents seek enlightenment. This is reflected in their celebration of Nature’s cycles, and thus their holy days include the first and last of each season, the Winter and Summer Solstices, and the Spring and Autumn Equinoxes. 

• They do not believe in the need for salvation as such as there is no reference to the idea of ‘Original Sin’.

• Neo-Paganism generally attracts those who have become disillusioned with and have lost faith in the mainstream religions, which they consider to merely be a means of gaining and maintaining control over the masses. This is done through the fear of Hell and eternal damnation, neither of which exist in the Neo-Pagan belief systems. 

• Having said that, however, let it not be said that Neo-Pagans believe that rash or malicious deeds have no consequences. There is a common belief that anything a person does, whether good or bad, will be visited upon that individual threefold. Thus if their acts are fiendish, then the repercussions will be dire indeed and even more so. Likewise those who do good will enjoy the benefits of their works by the same increase in measure. It has become more complicated than that with the adoption of the belief in reincarnation, but this will be discussed at a later stage. Suffice it to say for now that, because of this, there is no need for an eternal damnation after one has passed from this world. The price for one’s wickedness has already been meted out in one’s own lifetime.

• Many Neo-Pagans believe that it is the mainstream religions that have led to the over-exploitation of the natural world and the damage to the environment. This is said to be due to the belief that is common to these world religions that man is the master, and nature is subservient to him, therefore he can misuse and mismanage his world with impunity.

• Some see Neo-Paganism as a means of embracing a simpler, more natural lifestyle, one that is not dependent on modern technology or tools out of respect for the natural world. This is only possible to a certain extent, however, as there are certain modern amenities that even the most conscientious of Nature Lovers cannot do entirely without.  Nonetheless there is an avid attempt at limiting their ‘footprint’ on the Earth.

• Neo-Pagans generally believe in more than one deity, either in the form of ‘Duotheism’ - the belief in two supreme beings (usually a God/Goddess combination), or ‘Pantheism’ (also known as Polytheism), which entails the worship of a number of gods and goddesses, which are collectively known as a ‘Pantheon’.

• Some are solitary practitioners, not belonging to any specific group and often holding to their own unique version of Paganism. These are also known as Eclectic Pagans, as their beliefs encompass a variety of ancient traditions. The majority congregate in small groups, the names of which vary depending either on the purpose of the gathering, or the tradition to which the individual group adheres. For instance: A gathering of witches is often referred to as a Coven, whereas Wiccans often refer to their groups as Circles.

• Partially due to tradition, and also consistent with their reverence of all things natural, most rituals, festivals and ceremonies in the open. The former refers to the fact that traditionally Pagans originated from the rural areas, and thus did not have the desire or wherewithal to build lavish buildings in which they could worship. However some did choose certain places specifically because they were considered sacred, and there are a few upon which great monuments have been erected. Most of these originate from very early times, such as the Iron Age, an example of which are the many henges, dolmens, and stone circles that can still be seen today. One of the best known examples of this is the famous Stonehenge. There has been much debate as to the exact purpose of many of these constructs, but the general consensus is that they were set aside for some sacred reason or another, the true meaning of which has been lost in the mists of time and antiquity.

• Druids would select certain holy Groves in which to perform their ceremonies, whereas the Heathens would make use of Hearths, also known as ‘Garths’.

• In many sects, there is no real hierarchy or structure, although others have appointed or ordained Priests and Priestesses that preside over ceremonies, festivals and other rites. In some cases there is also the absence of official texts or body of recognised scripture. A few exceptions are the Wiccan Rede and the Norse Sagas. The reason for this will also be addressed at a later stage 

• Alas, many Neo-Pagans practice their faith and its traditions in secret even to this day. This is mainly because the rest of the religious community still associated them with Satanism, which results either in ostracisation and even persecution. In the present Century conditions have improved, and in many regions, Neo-Pagans are able to express their beliefs more freely, but there is still much discrimination levelled against them. This is mainly due to a number of misconceptions, which will be discussed in the next subsection. 

c. The Struggle Continues:

The negativity surrounding the word ‘Pagan’ remains in many places even to this day. The connotations range from being ‘Backward’ to ‘Evil’. This view is further strengthened by the image portrayed in the mass and social media, where Pagans are thought of as members of secretive cults and Satanists. They are often accused of performing bizarre rituals, blood sacrifices and ‘Black Magic’, a term used to describe magic practiced for selfish or malicious purposes.

The reality is that Neo-Pagans follow a strict code in which it is forbidden to harm any other living being. This is why many of them are either vegans or vegetarians, so that their diets do not include animals that have been slaughtered to provide them with food. 

The practice of the ‘Black Arts’ by members of any groups is also not allowed, and Pagans are certainly not Satanists. In fact they do not even adhere to the belief that Satan is the Dark Prince of all evil, and many do not believe that he even exists. In reality the Christian depiction of the Devil is an adaptation of one of the prominent Pagan deities who is known by many names: Cernunos, Pan and Faun being but a few. In other circles, he is merely referred to as ‘The Horned God’, so named because his head is adorned either with horns like those of a goat or antlers resembling a deer or a stag.

Another misconception is that Neo-Pagans are involved in strange sexual rituals, an accusation that is partly derived from the tradition called ‘Skyclad’, in which a reveller will perform or be part of the ceremony naked. This is not common at present because of the abovementioned misrepresentation. I say that the idea originates partially from the Skyclad phenomena because in the very early days, especially in ancient Greece and Rome, there were sects and cults that carried out very dubious sexual practices, but these have long since disappeared. The truth is that, unlike in most mainstream religions, nudity and nakedness do not have the stigma of being ‘Unclean’ or ‘Undesirable’. In fact the Pagan opinion thereof is that it is a celebration of something beautiful, something natural.

Despite such opposition and bad publicity, Neo-Paganism is one of the fastest growing belief systems in the world today, and those who hold to these beliefs want nothing more than to call themselves ‘Pagans’ freely in resistance to the negative stereotypes that have been leveled against them. And yet, sadly, the stigmas mentioned in this section are not the worst. Among certain peoples and groups, the opposition is as rife as it has always been. While the barbarism of burning witches at the stake, or torturing Pagans to try to force them to convert to one or other religion no longer takes place, nonetheless there is still severe opposition.

a. Religious and Social Discrimination:

In the Islamic world, Pagans are not considered ‘People of the Book’ - followers of the teaching of Mohammed as laid down in the Quran - and thus do not enjoy the same status as members of the other Abrahamic Religions. While it is permitted for a Muslim man to take a wife from either Judaism or Christianity - however rare this may be - he is not allowed to marry a Pagan woman unless she first converts to the Muslim faith. The Halaal ruling precludes a follower of Mohammed from eating meat that has not been prepared by a butcher who is considered to be ‘Of the Book’.

Although there are many today that seek to disprove this, the antagonism that exists between the Christian faith and the Pagans has its origins in history and the conflict that ensued between the Pre-Christian cultures and the vehemently expansionist Christian faith, but this discussion is for a later chapter. Suffice it to say that the present day Christian Church still despises Pagans and holds them in contempt and disdain. On the other hand, Pagans claim that the Church should apologise for the destruction of the cultures, religions and traditions of Pre-Christian Europe, and the relentless persecution of their followers. 

This became a topic of discussion after the Roman Catholic Church’s attempted apology to the Jewish people in 1998. In an announcement titled ‘We Remember: A Reflection on the Shoah’ Pope John Paul II made a formal apology for the fact that Rome turned a blind eye while Nazi Germany, under Adolf Hitler, exterminated more than six million Jews. The issue is that no-one is able to say how many Pagans suffered a similar fate at the hands of the early Catholic Church, and yet this atrocity has never been mentioned. In fact there are many today who claim that the so-called ‘Burning Times’ never even happened, and that despite historical records that point to the contrary, Once again history is being rewritten in order to make heroes out of villains and tyrants, and vice-versa.

In modern times there have been a number of Christian leaders and authors who have openly criticised Neo-Paganism. Once again others claim that Paganism and Satanism are synonymous, a view that is commonly shared with those in the mainstream entertainment industry and on certain forms of social media. In the region of the USA known as the Bible Belt - an area in which Christian fundamentalism is still dominant - Neo-Pagans still face continuous religious persecution. There have been documented cases, bothin the USA and the UK where school teachers have lost their jobs because the schools’ governing bodies discovered that they were Pagans.

Small wonder then that many Neo-Pagans prefer to keep their beliefs to themselves, and perform their ceremonies in private in order to avoid discrimination, and to prevent themselves and those close to them from being ostracised.

CHAPTER 2: Neo-Pagan Movements -

As has been stated before, Neo-Paganism encompasses a wide range of religious traditions. However there are others that are not considered as under the umbrella of Neo-Paganism. Examples of these are: The beliefs and practices of the various Native American peoples, and those of Africa. Another belief system that is deemed to be separate is what is known as Neo-Shamanism, while the followers of Asatru - known as Asatruars - associate themselves with Heathenism rather than Paganism. Even Druidism has its own identity that makes it different from actual Neo-Paganism.

The details of some of the above are for a later stage. For this reason, we will look at two specific traditions, being Wicca and Goddess Worship.

a. Goddess Worship:

This term does not define any specific religious group, but rather a set of beliefs that venerate and emphasise femininity and its attributes, such as: Nurturing, child-bearing, sensitivity, beauty and gentleness - to name but a few.

While some followers of this belief system indeed identify themselves as Wiccan, others are not aligned with any specific group. They also are known to revere female deities from diverse backgrounds such as Ancient Greece, Pre-Christian Rome, Ancient Egyptian and Celtic goddesses.

• Examples:

Anat: She is a goddess from the Semitic tradition, more specifically from the Agurites and Ammonites, where she has the portfolio of War and Peace. Anat is somewhat of an enigma in that, on the one hand, she is shown to be sexually active and fertile, while on the other, she is virginal and still a maiden.

Ishtar: A goddess of Akkadian and Mesopatamian origin, she is the custodian of War and Sexual Love. Her Sumerian counterpart is Ananna, while she is known as Astarte in the Semitic tradition.

Diana: In Greek mythology, she is called Artemis. Diana is the goddess of Wild Animals and the Hunt. Her name bears some similarities with the Latin words ‘Dium’, meaning ‘Sky’, and ‘Dius’, the word for ‘Daylight’. In Greece her portfolio extends to that of Domestic Animals and Livestock as well.

Lilith: Although not originally considered a Goddess as such, this figure has been elevated to hero status in modern times, as she symbolises the fight for equality for women in a male-dominated society. She also has come to represent fairness. Her name is taken from the Akkadian words ‘Lilu’ or ‘Lilitu’, both meaning Night Bird, or more specifically the legendary Nightingale. Her origins are found in the Mesopatamian and Judaic tradition, but in certain sects, she is said to have been Adam’s first wife who was banished from the Garden of Eden for not complying with her husband’s rules, or obeying his wishes.

Mary, the Mother of Jesus Christ (founder of the Christian Faith). She is included on this list - that is by no means exhaustive - because she is highly regarded, and even prayed to by many Christians. The first evidence of this that comes to mind is the Roman Catholic prayer, the ‘Hail Mary’, which goes as follows: “Hail Mary, full of Grace, the Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou amongst women, and blessed the fruit of thy womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners now, and at the hour of our death - Amen.” Today Mary is seen as the embodiment of virtue, gentleness and compassion. She is also revered as a symbol of femenine strength and courage, which is somewhat ironic, seeing that the historical evidence would indicate that she lived in an age where women were subservient to men, so much so that they were hardly ever mentioned. Even when an individual’s lineage was revealed it was always the father who was given precedence, such as David, son of Jesse, or as it was actually spelt ‘Isai’.

The Triple Goddess: This belief system portrays the Feminine aspect as being symbolised by the lunar phases: The Waxing Moon, the Full Moon, and the Waning Moon. Each phase is given a specific title, and each title a portfolio of attributes. The Waxing Moon is described as a Maiden, a goddess of youthfulness and emerging sexuality. The Full Moon is the Mother, symbolising nurturing, childbirth, fertility and the female at her peak, full of feminine power. Lastly, the Waning Moon. This is the Crone, full of the wisdom and experience that comes with age. It is she who guides humans towards death, and prepares them for the afterlife.

Gaia: The name - which can also be spelt as ‘Gaea’ - originates from ancient Greece, and is a poetic form of ‘Ge’, which means ‘Earth’. She is seen as the Mother of all Life, and the personification of Earth itself, a philosophy which has given rise to the ‘Gaia Hypothesis’. She is also the mother of Uranus - the sky - and of the Titans, who were the forebears of the Olympian Gods. Gaia gave birth to the race of Giants as well, of which Cyclopes is a member. In Roman mythology, she is called Terra, mother of Pontus (the Sea).

In Greek art and sculpture, she is portrayed in two different motifs: The first appears in paintings on Athenian vases, where she is depicted as a woman only half risen from the Earth. She is often seen handing the infant Erichthomius - who was later to become ruler of Athens - to the goddess Athena, who would in turn foster him until such time as he took to the throne. In some mosaics, she is seen as a woman reclining upon the Earth. She is attended to by a host of Carpi, deities that appear in infant form, and represent the fruits of the Earth.

Gaia is purported by some historians to be the inspiration behind the Oracle of Delphi, to whom this classical monument may have been dedicated. This is because of a quote from classical literature that states: “That word spoken from the tree-clad Mother Gaia’s (Earth’s) navel stone” - for which the Greek word is ‘Delphoi’. From here Gaia was thought to have passed her wisdom and her powers to Poseidon, Apollo or Themis.

In his writings on the matter, Pausanias stated that ‘... in the earliest times, the oracular seat belonged to the Earth (or to Gaia) …’ She in turn is said to have appointed one of the ‘Nymphs from the Mountain’ - supposedly Olympus - as a prophetess. This nymph’s name was Daphnis. Pausanias cites a poet by the name of Eumalpia as saying that the Oracle of Delphi belonged both to Poseidon and to Gaia (the Earth). Poseidon then ‘... used Pyrcon as his mouthpiece in order to respond …’ Thereafter she shared her wisdom with Themis, who in turn passed it on to Apollo.

There is some speculation that the concept of Gaia is derived from that of the Great Mother, or Mother Earth, whose worship first appeared in Neolithic times. Other academics even put forward the idea that the goddesses Demeter (the ‘Mother’), Persphone (the ‘Daughter’ or ‘Maiden’) and Hecate (the ‘Crone’ - thus the elements of the Triple Goddess, are aspects of an earlier deity known as Rhea, or even as Gaia herself. The goddess Rhea seems to be an earlier incarnation of Gaia. Both hypotheses have been debated and even deemed controversial by many members of the academia. Another theory is that the concept of Gaia relates to the Cretian goddess known as ‘Potnia’ - meaning ‘Mistress’ - or ‘Potnia Theron’ - the ‘Mistress of the Animals’, although this specific title was later given to Artemis in later Greek texts. In Anatolia - modern day Turkey - the mother goddess Cybele is thought to be associated with Gaia, although more so with Rhea, her predecessor. 

In modern times, beliefs concerning Gaia vary. Some believe that Gaia is the Earth itself, while others perceive her as the spiritual representation of the Earth. Others still hold to the original concept that she is the Goddess of Earth. The first idea has become what is known as the Gaia Hypothesis, which states Earth in its entirety is one dynamic system, or in fact a living organism, that makes up the Earth’s biosphere. This system encompasses both organic and inorganic matter as integral parts of the whole, and any imbalance or disturbance in one area would cause the entire structure to become incapable of sustaining life. Thus this organism is self-regulatory, and will seek to purge anything within it that would cause such disruption. The earliest instance of this could well have been the extinction of the dinosaurs, whose presence posed a threat to the well-being of the world upon which they were dependent.

Thus, whether those who follow Gaia believe that she is the Earth herself, or whether they worship her as the Earth Goddess, the common thread is that they hold her in high regard, and like many other Neo-Pagans, seek to live in harmony with her or the world over which she is sovereign.

As feminism became more and more prevalent, so the interest in Goddess Worship has grown, along with the desire for equal rights and treatment for women. This is accompanied by a belief that modern culture and civilisation has been dominated by characteristically masculine principles, and that this has led to much of the aggression, violence and even war that has tainted human history. I say ‘Modern Culture’ because this phenomenon is not peculiar to any group or single culture in today’s world. With the exception of a select few, most nations nowadays are rife with aggressive people. One only has to look at the increased tendency towards what has come to be known as ‘Road Rage’, or the alarming  rise in violent crimes around the globe. It is a disturbing fact that there has been war somewhere in the world non-stop since the end of WW2. Thus those who worship the many goddesses often seek to restore balance between the feminine and masculine energies by placing a greater emphasis on the ideals of the former.

It is believed that early humans began to worship goddesses because they were aware of the female role in procreation. While the male had a role to play, it was the mother who carried the offspring, and thereafter were responsible for their nurturing. Also, in the prehistoric Hunter/Gatherer cultures, it was the task of the women to gather edible plants and grains while the men went out hunting. This indicates that these early societies were well aware that both genders played an integral role in the well-being and survival of the whole. Even up until recent times, this could be seen among the San people of Southern Africa. Also known as ‘Bushmen’, these were the last vestiges of an ancient culture that alas has all been eradicated, either by being assimilated into Western society, or because they were actively exterminated.

While the sexes had distinctive roles, both would have been considered equally essential, and thus, as man began to develop the gift of abstract thought - thus enabling him to consider such notions as the afterlife, indicated by the evidence of burials and graves - so too the notion of the supernatural began. This might have first been in the form of animal spirits, but soon these early worshippers saw the wonder of Nature and her cycles, and ascribed these to mighty beings, the precursors to the gods and goddesses of antiquity. This further developed, and certain aspects were given either male or female attributes, which in turn were assigned their particular deity. Thus male gods became associated with hunting, this being a traditionally male task. The men began beseeching these beings so that the hunt would be blessed. Goddesses on the other hand were entreated in order that the gathering of food plants and grains would be successful. Once agriculture had been discovered, the productivity of the crops were assigned to the portfolio of the goddess, whereas the health and well-being of the livestock was in the hands of the god. Evidence of this lies in the term used to describe the maintenance and well-being of livestock, which is known as ‘Animal Husbandry’.

This all changed with the rise of monotheistic and Abrahamic religions, namely Judaism, Islam and later Christianity. These are known to suppress feminine values, while elevating the masculine. Their deities are predominantly male. Jehovah is the Jewish God, also known as Yahweh, whereas Allah is worshipped by the Muslims. The Christian God is the same deity as in Judaism, the only difference being that Jesus Christ is said to be His Son - or ‘only begotten Son’, which differentiates him from the other ‘Children of God’ who were either created so, or were adopted by divine selection.

From that moment on, gods, kings and priests were given preference over goddesses, queens or priestesses. Indeed, even today, certain denominations will not allow women to serve in the ministry. This is because their scripture states that the man is the head of the house, and that women are subservient to them, and this belief is reflected in the Church hierarchy as well.

b. Duality of Male and Female Deities:

In response to the above, there has been a rise of belief systems that seek to merge the masculine and feminine elements. These have included male deities in their beliefs, while including goddesses as well. This is in an attempt to revive the balance between the masculine and feminine energies and influence in the world, and elevate the latter to once again be on an even par with the former. Thus re-establishing the balance that was lost so many centuries ago.r

Some believe in a single Supreme Being containing both male and female aspects and energies instead of a pantheon of gods and goddesses. The male part would represent such attributes as power, the ripening harvest or wild animals and the hunt, whereas the female would encompass such virtues as fertility, wisdom, love and gentleness. Some Wiccan groups associate the Goddess with the Moon - as mentioned before - and the God with the Sun.

The concept of both male and female aspects existing in one being is not specifically a Pagan belief. Rather it is taken from the Taoist philosophy of the Yin and the Yang, in which the former represents the female - Dark, mysterious, and yet open, flexible and soft. The Yang is male - Light, controlling with the desire to control, hard and inflexible. These are clear opposites of each other, and yet are vital in maintaining spiritual balance. This is represented by a circle divided into two halves, the one black and the other white. each of them are curling into one another, and there is a black speck in the white area and vice versa. This is because of the belief that there is light in darkness and darkness in light.

It is believed that both male and female work in harmony with one another, and are constantly needing to adjust in order to maintain balance. One cannot survive without the other, and society only thrives if one does not seek to dominate the other.

Both Wicca and Daoism believe that the Divine (both Male and Female) can be found in all things at all times. As William Blake once said: “All that lives is holy, and life itself is sacred.”

c. Wicca:

Introduction and History:

First arising in England during the early parts of the 20th Century, Wicca has been categorised as a new belief system, and is part of ‘New Western Esotericism’. It was first formally introduced to the world in 1954 by Gerald Gardner, a retired civil servant. This faith draws upon a combination of ancient pagan traditions, and 20th Century themes,  for its theology and ritual practices.

Wicca has no central authority figure, in contrast to Roman Catholicism, for example, of which the Pope is the head. The core traditions, beliefs and practices were originally laid out by Gardner himself and one of the first High Priestesses, whose name was Doreen Valiente. These were then circulated to their members, either by means of books and written manuscripts, or by word of mouth. This is largely why there are many interpretations of the core beliefs and structure as the belief system has evolved. In modern times Wicca is divided into manifold denominations, or ‘Traditions’ as they are called, and each has its own structure and level of hierarchy. 

There seems to be some debate as to which of these groups can be given the name Wicca. Some follow strictly the teachings and guidelines of Gardner himself, and consider only themselves as truly Wiccan, along with a select few that share similar views. These do not regard the later, eclectic traditions in the same light.

Characteristically it is Duotheistic, honouring and working with a male deity and a goddess. These are traditionally known as the Triple Goddess - the details of which have been given earlier - and the Horned God - also alluded to in a previous section. These can possess diverse aspects or divine energies, and can thus be associated with many pagan figures from different archaic and classical pantheons. Because of this they are given the title of ‘Great God’ and ‘Great Goddess’, thus implying that they encompass many other deities. Another term that is commonly used is the ‘Lord’ and ‘Lady’, in the same way as the Christian and Judaic God is also known as ‘Lord’, and the Virgin Mary - mother of Jesus Christ according to the Gospels - is known as ‘Our Lady’. The only difference is that both Lord and Lady share an equal status. Practitioners hold to the belief that the worship of the Mother Goddess and Horned God dates as far back as the Stone Age, when they were revered by the Hunter/Gatherer cultures of that age. It has been said that the veneration of these deities was part of a tradition that was passed down from generation to generation, at times in secret due to religious opposition, until the modern era.

This idea is supported by the fact that the Horned God - who has also been named Cernunnos - is mostly associated with animals and the natural world, but also with the afterlife. At a crucial point in hominid evolution, man gained the ability of abstract thought. This has been alluded to before, but was mainly evidenced in the appearance of art, especially that which could be classified as ‘Spiritual’ rather than merely representative. An example of this is the emergence of fertility idols, such as the ‘Venus of Willendorf’ which is said to date back 25,000 to 30,000 years before present. The other evidence of abstract thought is in the contemplation of an existence after death, and consequently of the soul, and so the first signs of burials and burial rites appeared. It would hardly be surprising then that there would emerge a Denison or Guardian of the life hereafter. This Supreme Being would also be used as a role model for the ideal male.

The Mother Goddess - referred to as Aradia - has been given the portfolio of Life - especially the beginning thereof, Fertility and the season of Spring. Thus the whole of life, and the existence afterwards, is encapsulated in these two figures of worship.

Other interpretations view these two beings as facets or elements of a single all-inclusive divinity, which is often seen as the embodiment of a force or energy rather than an actual being. Thus, while Wicca is largely considered to be Duotheistic, the broader picture shows that it also incorporates such elements as Pantheism and even Monotheism. The latter is more than a bit of a misnomer, because Gardner himself was opposed to the Monotheistic model.

Festivals and Celebrations:

These are arranged to describe the cycles and patterns of both the Moon and the Sun. Those associated with the former are known as the Esbats, and are accredited to the Goddess, while the latter - called Sabbats - are ascribed to the God, The calendar year is depicted as a wheel with eight divisions, simply called the ‘Wheel of the Year’. Each segment begins with a specific festival or celebration. These are as follows:

1. December - ‘Yule’, being the Winter Solstice.

2. February - Imbolc, symbolising the middle point between the Yule solstice and the equinox celebrated on Ostara.

3. March - Spring Equinox, with the title of ‘Ostara’.

4. April/May - Beltane. As with Imbolc, Beltane is observed halfway between the March equinox and the June solstice. 

5. June - Summer Solstice, also known as Midsummer or ‘Litha’

6. August - Lughnasadh (Lugh) is observed midway between Litha and Mabon. 

7. September - Autumn Equinox, also called ‘Mabon’.

8. October/November - Samhain is celebrated between Mabon and Yule.

Definitions: The word ‘Solstice’ describes the division of day and night as being unequal. Thus, in the case of the Winter Solstice, the day is shorter and the night longer. The extent of this differs greatly depending on the location. Indeed in certain places, Mid winter can mean that the sun seems not to rise at all, while during Midsummer, it seems never to set. The word ‘Equinox’ means that, at that time, both daylight and night-time hours are the same. The above calendar applies to the Northern Hemisphere, and is reversed in the Southern.

Some interesting facts concerning the appropriation of Pagan traditions by the Christian Church: In the Northern Hemisphere, Yule - also known as Yuletide - is held between the 21st of December and the 1st of January. Certain considerations point to the improbability of the event that, according to Christian tradition - being the birth of Christ to the Virgin Mary - would have taken place at this time of the year. One of these is the narrative of the shepherds who, while watching their flocks in the fields, saw the star that heralded the arrival of the ‘Son of God’. Bear in mind that this would have taken place in the middle of winter, which means that no shepherd would have dared to leave his flock outside in the dead of night. Not only that, but many of the celebratory practices associated with paganism, such as ‘Decking the Halls with Vines and Holly’, and the Christmas tree, as well as a tradition that is still seen in some cultures, the Wassail Log. None of which have anything to do with the birth of Jesus, and instead have been taken from the pagan celebration of Yule.

The second instance revolves around the time of Christ’s execution or crucifixion. While the actual dates are considered accurate, so proven by the Jewish Passover, the actual name is not a Christian one at all. The word ‘Easter’ is an adaptation of ‘Ostara’, the pagan festival that happens to fall around about the same dates as the above mentioned event. Without going into too much detail, the elements that have become associated with the Christian Easter have also been taken from pagan traditions.

Moral Standards:

A document, known as the Wiccan Rede is an expression of Wiccan moral values and standards. It is, however, not accepted as such by all Wiccan traditions. The standards that it sets out do - to a certain extent - express these beliefs, but perhaps in a form that appears to be somewhat over-simplified. It is written in old English, and appears as a rhyme. These are certain excerpts therefrom: “Bide the Wiccan laws we must in Perfect Love and Perfect Trust. Live and let live. Fairly take and fairly give … Heed ye flower, bush and tree, by the Lady, blessed be … With a fool no season spend, lest ye be counted as his friend … Merry meet and merry part, bright the cheeks and warm the heart … Mind the Threefold Law you should, three times bad and three times good … True in love ever be, lest thy lover is false to thee. Eight words the Wiccan Rede fulfill: An ye harm none, do what ye will.”

There is more to this document, but I left it out because it deals with specific practices and rituals rather than moral standards. But this I believe is sufficient to show the views of those Wiccans who hold to the code.

Some Wiccans take the last part of the Rede to the extreme, to the point where it is forbidden to ‘harm’ another no matter the cost. When asked if they would consider self-defense or the protection of those close to them is included, many would answer in the positive, until they are faced with just such a situation that is. Another interpretation is much clearer on this point.It states: “Seek ye first to do no harm, and when ye have done all in your power, do whate’er ye must.”

Like most of the Neo-Pagan communities, Wicca is closely affiliated with nature. Indeed many Wiccans have embraced the term ‘Nature Religion’. They seek to uphold and promote a more environmentally conscious way of life that reveres all living beings. Wicca has also adopted many of the New Age philosophies, and has in fact been the source thereof in many aspects, although some academics, not to mention many Wiccans themselves would dispute this association.

Further Notes:

As with so many Neo-Pagan religions, it is difficult to distinguish Wicca from others who embrace similar beliefs. One of the reasons for this is the scarcity of any literary references to the original traditions upon which their doctrines are based. This in turn is the result of the destruction of much classical and archaic literature by the still emerging Christian Church. Once Christianity had taken almost complete control, this war on heretical writings continued unabated. Not all classical literary works were destroyed, but those that survived were locked away in secret vaults. The reason for this is that the opinion of the early Church with regards to knowledge was that its value was in the possession thereof, not necessarily in one’s understanding of its teachings.

Depicted in Umberto Echo’s famous book “The Name of the Rose'', this was one of the principal reasons why Saint Francis of Assisi chose to distance himself from the other orders of the Catholic Church of that time. Some historians would say that it was because of the Church’s ostracisation of those who suffered from leprosy, and indeed it was Saint Francis himself who discovered that this ailment was not actually contagious, but other academics would point at the Saint’s belief that classical literature is equally essential to the health and well-being of society than the teachings of the Bible. The rest of the Catholic Church, in contrast, considered such works as heresy and a danger to the Church itself.

Thus, when the time came for the ancient ways to re-emerge in the early 20th Century, there was a shortage of reliable literature concerning many of the ancient beliefs, practices and traditions. There are exceptions, however: The first is the great Sagas of the Norse mythological era, and the second is the collective works of Greek and Roman antiquity. Fortunately, many pagan traditions were passed down from generation to generation by word of mouth, something that no bonfire could destroy, and this became a valuable source of information for the new followers of the ‘Old Ways’.

An example of similar philosophies existing in diverse cultures is found in the ‘Threefold Law’, as alluded to in the Wiccan Rede. The belief is that any deed. whether good or bad, will be repaid by the Universe - or at the hands of one’s deities. Not only will it be visited upon one, but it will also be increased three times. This theme is common in many belief systems, the most renowned is the belief in what is known as ‘Karma’, although this originally applied to the sum of all one’s actions that would influence one’s fate in future lifetimes - thus associated with the Hindu and Buddhist belief in reincarnation, it has come to describe good or bad fortune that is the result of one’s actions.

Being one of the earlier forms of neo-Paganism, Wicca has influenced many other belief systems. Likewise others have left their mark on Wicca as well. Although it is widely recognised by academics as a religion, as always there are many among the evangelical Christian church that have campaigned to deny it any legal recognition as such. This is evidenced by the law that states that only a marriage that has either been consummated in a recognised place of worship, or in a court before a magistrate is considered legal. This precludes many of the older, more traditional weddings around the world. And then there is the fact that many Wiccans shun the term ‘Religion’ because of its historical connotations, as well as the association with the mainstream, apart from which they wish to be distinguished. They refer to their beliefs as ‘Spirituality’ or simply ‘a way of life’.


Although initially synonymous with Wicca, witchcraft itself has a very different meaning, one that has been discussed in an earlier chapter. Gardner himself referred to this newfound faith as “The Craft of the Wise'' or “The Witch Cult”, even though he has been credited with being the “Father of Wicca”. He did, however, once refer to the pagan witch community as “The Wica”. In the 1960s, the term ‘Wicca’ was first introduced, although this was closer in spelling and reference to the original Anglo-Saxon forms, being ‘Wicca’ - meaning specifically a male witch, and ‘Wicce’ - the feminine term.

There is a distinct difference between the terms ‘Witchcraft’ and ‘Wicca’. Not all followers of Wicca are practitioners of the ‘Arts’, and not all witches are Wiccan. There are many traditions that include the practice of Magic and Witchcraft, ranging from the Native American Medicine Man to the Sangoma of Southern Africa. Thus witchcraft is by no means purely characteristic of Wicca.

Another common misconception is that witches are primarily female, and that male practitioners are known as wizards or even warlocks. The latter originates from the Old English word for ‘traitor, scoundrel’, or even ‘monster or devil’. The word is ‘waerloga’, the first element meaning ‘covenant’, and the second ‘to belie, or to deny’. In Middle English, the term described one who was believed to be in league with the Devil.  In fact warlocks are largely shunned by the Wiccan community. The word ‘Wizard’, on the other hand, was originally spelt ‘wiseard’, which all but explains its meaning as would the term ‘dotard’ - being one who dotes, or whose physical health, or more specifically mental faculties have deteriorated. It was used to describe a local sage or philosopher, and only later was connected in any way to the use of magic.

In conclusion, Wicca has been given the title of the largest, best known and most influential of all Neo-Pagan movements. It is also one of the few that have been studied in great detail by academics worldwide. This is evidenced in this article by it being more extensive than the aforementioned disciplines. Thus it would be much easier to access further information concerning this belief system than that which is contained in this book.

d. Eclectic Paganism:

Also known as ‘Universalist’ or ‘Non-Denominational’ Paganism, this encompasses a wide range of Pagan practitioners that blend elements of traditional Paganism with elements of other religions and philosophies, while still heeding to the Pagan religious way. This includes being concerned with the balance and wellbeing of the Natural world, honouring the deities of antiquity, and a strong belief in magic.

It is different to conventional Neo-Paganism in that it is a melding of several different cultural and philosophical views, from any number or eras. Some Pagan movements accuse this group of cultural misappropriation, and point out that - because of it having such a broad spectrum of influences, it is difficult to define exactly which sects are actually Pagan and which are not. They state that many of the Eclectic beliefs and practices are borrowed from traditions that are not considered Pagan in and of themselves, whereas those who are followers of this form of Paganism insist that they still fall well within the Pagan ethos. They also argue for the belief that all traditions, and not just those of ancient Europe, should be given equal consideration as to whether they should be incorporated into the Pagan umbrella. Some also claim that they have the right to create their own rules, beliefs and practices.

• Note: Eclectic Paganism and the Use of Social Media:

The advent of social media is largely welcomed by the Eclectic Pagan movement. The first reason is that many of its members are solitary practitioners, and thus make use of this medium to converse with other, like-minded Pagan individuals and even groups. Secondly, these folk are still in the minority in many places, as well as often being frowned on by other Neo-Pagan groups, again because they consider much of the Eclectic philosophy as being borrowed, and thus misappropriated, from other cultures. However the fact remains that social media has allowed this community to gather information from a much wider spectrum than it would have if it had been handed down by means of word-of-mouth, as is the age-old Pagan tradition. These communities are vast, and encompass the globe. Thus social media is vital in allowing it to further grow and develop.

One disadvantage is that many of these groups have presented themselves with a particularly ‘Witchy’ image. Some of these accept this as being the appropriate way. This has been cited as undermining the right to individual expression, as well as casting the whole Pagan movement in an inaccurate light, one that would only strengthen any form of religious or social prejudice against the movement as a whole.


And so, in closing: This is by no means an all-inclusive list of choices with regards to Neo-Paganism, but I hope that it has given you, the reader, some idea of the manifold choices there are when it comes to alternative religions. It has been my desire that - whatever choice you make - it will have been an educated decision, and that it will ultimately be the right choice for you as an individual. For those who are parents and/or guardians of those who perhaps are seeking, desirous to find their own path, I hope too that this essay will provide you with some enlightenment to share and pass on to those seekers under your care. There have been many misconceptions and those who would seek to depict these beliefs as something to be avoided or even feared, and it has been my aim in this document to lay these to rest, and dispel the lies and deceit, so that you will be rest assured that your charges - whether children or students - will not endanger themselves in any way by choosing to follow these ancient ways. I will be exploring other alternatives in a later article, but I hope that this one proves helpful.

For now I greet you using a pagan farewell: “Merry we have met, merry we shall part. May we meet merry again.”


About the Creator

Tristan Biggs

I was born in Rhodesia (now called Zimbabwe) and currently live in South Africa. From an early age, I seemed to have a knack for poetry. I have written a number of stories, poems, and several novels, ranging from fantasy to non fiction.

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