Paganism is a religion of place, or a native religion, for example the Native American’s religion is Pagan, Hinduism is a form of Paganism. Paganism referes to any religion or belief that is not of the Judeo-Christian system, i.e. Christian, Jewish or Muslim. Hence all other religions, by definition are Pagan. In popular usage, however, Paganism refers to those religions that derive from ancient European and Mediterranean sources.
Paganism appeared very early on in the history of the world. It can be traced back to Neolithic times. Examples of early paganism, can be seen in ancient Greek and Roman religions, as well as in ancient Goddess worship and Druidic religions. Paganism survived around the Mediterranean Sea until fourth century when the Roman Empire merged them with the Gnostics and created Christianity. Small groups of Pagans survived in Northern Europe up to the 11th century.
Other than the fact that they were polytheistic and believed in reincarnation, the ancient Pagans were much like today’s Christians. Most of the Pagan religions believed in a chief God or Goddess from which all others descended. Beginning about 1000 BC, ancient civilizations began to develop, become more urban and scholarly, the Pagan religions changed, too. From the ashes of the Persian empire, new ideas and gods arose. The old gods remained, but aspects of them changed to conform to an evolving and more literate society.
Pagans held no belief in reward and punishment in a heaven and hell as do Christians, rather they believed that at death the soul when to an afterlife to await reincarnation. There are many varying beliefs relating to re-incarnation, however the theme remains the same in most forms of Paganism.
Some of the more prominent forms of Paganism include; Ancient Roman Religion and Ancient Greek Religion. In recent years there has been an upsurgence in the practice of paganism. The name given to this new movement is Neo Paganism. There are several forms of neo-pagan traditions which have taken their roots from ancient pagan practices, these include Neo-Drudism and Wicca Modern Paganism as practiced in the Western world is particular to the native peoples of Europe and the Mediterranean. Although there are many forms most claim Celtic origins. Modern Paganism or ‘neo-Paganism’ can be describes by the following:
1. Paganism is a religion of nature. Pagans see the divine as manifest in the whole of nature; in every tree, plant, animal and object, man and woman – as much in death and destruction as in birth and creation. Pagans live their lives attuned to the cycles of Nature, the seasons, life and death.
2. The divine is female as well as male and therefore there is a Goddess as well as a God. These deities are within us as well as we are manifestation from them. The non-Pagan Gods tend to be super-natural i.e. spiritual. Pagan deities are natural, symbolizing aspects of nature or human nature. Although the older Pagan religions acknowledge that the God and Goddess are derived from the Great Spirit or Akashka which equates to the God of the patriarchal religions. But the Pagans give the majority of their attention to those lesser deities
3. The Goddess represents all that is female and the God represents all that is male. But because nature is seen as female the Goddess has a wider meaning. Often called Mother Earth or Gaia she is seen as the creatrix and sustainer of life, the mother of us all which makes all the creatures on the planet our brothers and sisters.
4. The Pantheon of the deity is drawn from pas myths and legends, for example Isis and Osiris from Egypt or Thor, Odin, Freya from the Norse. Ancient Pagans would have worshipped the gods and goddesses of their own nation or culture, whilst still recognizing the validity of other people’s deities. The concept of an overall, un-named Goddess and God, the sum totals of all the others, appears to be of ancient origin, but not of interest to the masses.
5. Paganism in the west takes a number of forms including Wicca, Druidism, and Shamanism.
6. To Pagans the four ancient elements, Earth, Air, Fire and Water have special significance. The importance of these is hard to define because they have so many correspondences, for example they are associated with the four directions, North, East, South and West. Each element is a kind of spiritual substance from which all things are made especially ourselves and at the same time are Guardians both of ourselves and of the Goddess and God, and guarding the gateways between this world and the other world.
8. Many Pagans believe in reincarnation in some form. It gives Pagans a substantially different view of life. Early Christians saw Karma as a form of punishment. But Pagans see reincarnation as, at best, a chance to improve or to continue unfinished work, and at worst just a simple re-cycling of souls.