The reality of Pagan philosophy and religious practice is radically different from what organized religions have been teaching about us for the past two millennia. You should also be aware of the outright theft of our dearest traditions and deeply held beliefs by unscrupulous church leaders who went to great lengths to further their influence over free thinking Pagan men and women of the first millennium.
Historically, Pagan practices have influenced the evolution of Christian dogma to such an extent that if you remove the foundational beliefs of our long held traditions from contemporary Christian scripture, you would have an entirely different perspective on the truth vis-à-vis the life and ministry of Joshua, son of Joseph. However, there is a fundamental difference between our respective philosophies that has nothing to do with whether you consider Jesus to be divine or not, and I will address that difference at the end of this writing as it speaks to the very essence of what defines our respective religions.
To begin our journey toward clarity, it is necessary to travel back in time to the beginning of human society when our species had evolved to the point where the use of agriculture supplanted the hunter-gatherer mentality for the first time, as briefly mentioned in the Book of Genesis. I am well aware that many Christians believe that God created man from the dust of the earth, some six thousand years ago, and that Adam was the first human being extant. This is simply not a reasonable supposition, particularly when attempting to use biblical text as a foundation for the basic creationist argument against evolution.
While I believe that God created the universe, I also trust what scientific research has proven to be factual; in a perfect world, religion and science would complement each other and provide tangible support to the theories proposed by scientists and theologians alike. Unfortunately, the two factions insist on remaining at odds to the point where even basic reason is abandoned in a futile attempt to establish who is supremely correct, which I find horribly short sighted.
I consider the debate on the existence or non-existence of God as being solely the province of philosophy and religion. The history of the earth itself belongs to the realm of science, not theology, so let’s put the delusional belief of young earth creationism to bed once and for all, shall we? Normally I try not to offend anyone and I make every effort to respect different positions even when I disagree, but in this instance I will not apologize if I seem too abrupt. Considering the young earth theory to be factual is about as logical as believing the earth is flat, even in the face of video and pictorial evidence showing the planet to be round. Such a belief is not only utterly ignorant, it is an act of intentional ignorance, which I think is the worst intellectual crime one can commit.
Hypothetically, let us assume for a moment that the biblical view is correct when it refers to the creation of Adam by God. This does not invalidate evolution as many fundamentalists often claim; frequently ignored is the implication in scripture that there were already humans living on Earth at that point in time, and a fairly large population of them at that. In Genesis, Moses recounts that upon Cain’s exile from Eden following the murder of his brother he traveled east and eventually joined with a nomadic tribe of hunter-gatherers. The biblical reference to the Land of Nod does not implicate a single specific country but rather refers to the geographic location where various Pagan tribes wandered. The people who lived there were the ancestors of the Gentiles. The Old Testament is a holy book of Judaism; in Genesis, Moses is addressing the creation of his own people, not the entire human race. Adam is in the first Jew, the progenitor of the chosen people of God according to Jewish tradition.
It was into this nomadic Pagan society that Cain married, conceived a son named Enoch, and established a permanent settlement which grew into the first city to use the practice of agriculture as a primary means of providing sustenance to its population. Essentially, Cain was a Jewish farmer who reverted to a pagan philosophy and rose to prominence in the tribal society.
I assure you that these historical developments are quite relevant when attempting to differentiate between specific elements of contemporary Pagan and Christian philosophy. In general, the Pagan worldview is dominated by a sense of oneness with the earth and a reverence for all life, supported by the Grace of Nature. We are almost universally an environmentally conscious group of people and do not subscribe to the belief that God created the earth and all its resources for our personal exploitation.
It can be difficult to identify specific concepts that apply to all Pagan groups as there are numerous denominations, more so than even Christianity possesses. In many ways the definition of Paganism itself is extremely general; each individual Pagan group is usually an entirely autonomous entity, utilizing highly personalized rituals and promoting a unique understanding of specific theological ideals. We do not recognize a specific Pagan organization as possessing the authority to provide a leadership role in our faith, nor do we have a single agreed upon scripture offering a guideline for our spiritual practices.
This does not mean that we are less devout than the average monotheist however. I freely admit that many individuals who label themselves Pagan seem utterly focused on using ritual as a means of obtaining material possessions while ignoring the strength of faith required by our theology. Some contemporary Pagans consider the lack of specific moral guidelines beyond our version of the ethic of reciprocity to justify promiscuous behavior and reckless drug use.
Such people do not comprise the majority of contemporary Pagans but they certainly do manage to provide ammunition to our detractors, who seem to revel in their vision of pagans suffering through eternal hellfire and damnation. Pagans of course do not believe in such concepts, believing ourselves to be responsible for our own decisions and judging ourselves much more harshly than the zealot ever could. We do not evangelize so our spirituality remains a mystery to many but most of us simply want to be left alone anyway, to glorify our vision of Deity in our own way and to live in peace with Nature, whose countenance we love deeply and strive to protect at all costs.
Yes, our congregations are peppered with people who do not understand the true reality of what it means to be Pagan and I point out that this is no different than the various Christian churches, for many of their members claim to be Christian and yet clearly do not understand what the practice of being a successful Christian requires of them. It is my view that ignorance provides the impetus for hatred among human beings, who often fear what they do not understand and respond with hasty reactions that lead to situations fraught with violence.
At this point I would like to address a few typical misconceptions about contemporary Paganism and provide a basic outline of our commonly held theological positions. Perhaps the most moronic assumption I have encountered is the fervent belief that Pagans worship Satan and promote the increase of evil in the world through curses, hexing and other ‘black arts’. As a group, we firmly deny this. Pagans do not acknowledge the existence of Satan, Lucifer, Mephistopheles or whatever you choose to call the Christian definition of Yahweh’s opponent. Additionally, most Pagans would never use ritual or prayer to bring about a negative outcome.
By the way, the correct term for someone who worships Lucifer is Satanist, not Satanic Witch – most Pagans consider this to be a derogatory term. No Wiccan in the history of their denomination has ever received mystical power from a Hell based entity. Such a thing would be impossible on a practical level as witches disavow the existence of Hell and I have never met a devout Wiccan who was anything other than peaceful, desiring to promote only the greatest good. I should point out also that while all witches are Pagan by definition, not all Pagans are Wiccan in belief or practice.
What we do advocate is reverence for the natural world, which we show openly by honoring the seasons through the enactment of religious ritual on specific dates throughout the Wheel of the Year. How we pray in private is just that, private, and I cannot speak for anyone but myself in that regard. While many pagans are polytheists, just as many are pantheists, monotheists or panentheists (my own perspective). While we do not agree on specific God forms or names of Deity, we do, as a group, revere the Sacred Feminine in all Her forms. The continuation of life as we understand it depends on the interaction between the feminine and the masculine, which are generally balanced equally in our worldview.
A rather simplified example of a typical duotheistic Pagan belief could be described this way: The great Goddess gives birth to the God, or King of the Forest, and together they bring balance to the natural world, which includes humanity. At the end of the growing season, the King is sacrificed to bring hope to the land and His people. The King is resurrected and resumes his joint throne with the Goddess as rulers of both nature and man. If you see a historical pattern here you would be correct – there is a reason this sounds familiar to the story of Jesus as taught today, although the Pagan version pre-dates the New Testament by thousands of years.
The early Christian church did not consider Joshua to be divine; the first believers, while certainly accepting Joshua to be the messiah foretold in prophecy, treated him with the same basic reverence they held toward other Jewish prophets. The main difference between Joshua’s theology and standard Judaism was his focus on the proposition that God would again destroy the world of man despite His decision to never again visit the earth with such a terrible and destructive judgment.
Joshua, like John the Baptist before him, was an apocalyptic Jew who taught spiritual truths from that perspective and consequently placed great value on the salvation of souls through repentance of sin, thereby appeasing God and ensuring the continuation of the Jewish people in the New Kingdom, to be established after God’s wrath obliterated the planet. Joshua’s death was certainly not anticipated by anyone at the time and early Christians did not believe he was sacrificed in atonement for their sins.
Jesus Christ was murdered by politicians who considered his movement to be a serious threat to their authority. This much we know to be true. The followers of Christ relocated to various nations to avoid violence from their orthodox detractors and instead found they could not integrate successfully with the Gentiles (Pagans) as they had hoped. Although faced with constant derision and contempt, the church continued to grow in membership and its members were increasingly forced to meet in secret locations to avoid further persecution.
As the Christian church grew in membership it was increasingly imperative that its worshippers meet in secret. The leaders of Pagan communities not only frowned upon the Christian practice of marginalizing their Deities, they chose to persecute the devout followers of Christ to such an extent that Christianity as a religion would not have survived if its clergy did not take immediate steps to bring their dogma closer in line with existing Pagan ideals. To be fair, I’m sure the proposition of being fed to hungry lions or publically tortured to death did not do much for Christian morale in those days either.
This same tactic was used centuries later when Pagan political influence had waned and Christianity had become the popular public religion, except that the changes made during that era were designed to convert the remaining Pagan population by providing church approved celebrations that ran directly parallel to the Pagan’s own ancient rites honoring their Gods.
The two largest contemporary Christian holidays, Easter and Christmas, are perfect examples of this practice. The birth of Jesus was not celebrated for hundreds of years following his death as the observance of one’s birthday was considered a Pagan tradition. When the official date for Christmas was chosen by Pope Julius I, it was set on December 25th specifically to make the celebration more acceptable to Roman Pagans who also revered that specific time of year.
The Easter season to Pagans traditionally represents the first hint of spring and the return of fertility to the land following winter’s harsh embrace. While the day of Christ’s resurrection is fairly well documented in scripture as the first Sunday after the Jewish Passover, it is important to remember, once again, that early Christians did not celebrate the resurrection of Christ and the bible verses that refer to Easter were written on or about the same time other Pagan dates were being used by church elders for conversion purposes. This practice continues to the present day with many Christian churches celebrating their harvest festivals on Halloween in an attempt to subvert the Pagan celebration of Samhain, the day when we celebrate the coming New Year while remembering our ancestors and lost loved ones.
The last and arguably most important point to discuss is the fundamental difference between Paganism and Christianity and as I said before it truly has nothing to do with our different conception of Deity, which is ultimately immaterial. The key difference lies is in our respective approach to eschatology. Pagans revere God in every form, we honor the natural glory of the created universe and we certainly do not believe that God will destroy humanity or the earth because of the sins of mankind. Pagans are generally optimistic by nature and we refuse to blame God for our own mistakes. S/he did not personally cause the violence and unpredictability of our past history and does not predetermine the future reality. That happy task S/he leaves to us.