This is my first article for Spokane Faith & Values. Not having a specific topic to write about I thought it appropriate to give a little background information about Paganism, the local Pagan community and myself. Personally my experience with Paganism goes back more than 15 years. During that time countless books have been read, spiritual work undertaken and completed, private and public groups have been joined and faded away. In no way is this personal journey of learning and spiritual growth over; however it has, like a fine wine, matured with age. I have become choosier about the books read, tasks undertaken and groups in which to participate. One constant during this journey has been somewhat different than many other religious paths which are prevalent today — there was and still does not exist a guide or path upon which one can decisively say is the right way. This is something which is differentiates a Pagan religion from most mainstream belief systems and why many people still do not recognize Paganism as a religious system.
You would think since most are based on the Gods of yesteryear it would be a simple and easy thing for someone to become a Pagan — just pick up a book and read about the religions and Gods of the past. Nothing could be further from the truth. What scholarly information is known about ancient religions is surprisingly little. Many times the best accounts of ancient belief systems were written by outsiders, conquerors or others who neither understood, nor practiced the religion. These accounts were, at best, descriptions of the activities observed rather than the belief system as a whole. The recorded descriptions of events were often colored by the observer’s belief in another system. Through much of history these accounts were retold and rewritten and no longer bear any of the original meaning behind the rites and practices of the original practitioners.
Since the original understanding and knowledge of the ancient beliefs are lost to antiquity, what many Pagans do is really a reconstruction of what they believe to be the original belief system. They do this by using the currently available scholarly material, myth and legend regarding the time, place and practices of ancient societies. In truth what is practiced today is not the Paganism of ancient times but Neo-Paganism. It is also true that the Neo-Paganism of today is one of the newest religions around. Though Pagans may claim roots to their belief go back many centuries Neo-Paganism’s rise truly can be traced back to the 1951 repeal of England’s Witchcraft Act of 1735. The Witchcraft Act of 1735 was different from previous acts claiming witchcraft and magick to be real (the spelling here is intended to differentiate stage magic performed by magicians from the spiritual practice of magick in a metaphysical sense). The act of 1735 was a reversal of opinion stating that people who claimed some sort of metaphysical power were frauds and punished by imprisonment rather than death.
Once the Witchcraft Act of 1735 was repealed and imprisonment no longer a threat Gerald Gardner along with others began to come forward describing their religious practices and beliefs. Shortly after this there was an explosive interest in magick and occult practices giving rise to what is called Wicca today. About the same time similar fervor took hold in the United States. Raymond Buckland went to England to learn more and brought back much knowledge, which he then taught to others as Saxon Witchcraft. As people learned more and began to have slightly different beliefs groups began splintering off forming different sects, which are generally referred to as paths. At one time Neo-Paganism was the fastest growing religion in the world but has since tapered off. Today some form of Neo-Paganism is practiced just about any place in the world you care to look for it.
In the Spokane community there are a few public, and doubtlessly numerous private groups. Some of the public groups are the Inland Empire Pagan Guild based out of the Unitarian Universalist Church. The oldest group in the community is the Spokane Pagan Meetup Group, which has been in existence since 2002 and is primarily a meet and greet for local Pagans. A relatively new group in the area is called ROOTS whose focus is on teaching interested members about various practices of Paganism. All three groups can be found on Meetup.com where they regularly post their events and activities. If you are interested in Neo-Paganism these groups are a good place to start though not the only place. There are now thousands of books available on a myriad of metaphysical topics. Many bookstores have sections specifically for metaphysics and Paganism. Many Pagans started their path by reading books on Wicca, witchcraft and magick. There are also a plethora of online resources many of which are quite good.
Whether you know it or not it is likely you know someone who is a practicing Neo-Pagan. Most do not practice their religions openly nor do they show any outward sign of their inner religious beliefs. This is not because it is against the law, for at least in the United States it is a protected right to practice your beliefs as you choose. It is because of the long running stigmatism associated with metaphysical practices that most Pagans are not public about their beliefs. This stigmatism about Pagan religious practices bears no resemblance to what you may find purported by classic or modern literature, nor anything at all like what is depicted by the film industry. As a whole Pagans show a great respect for nature, life and other religious practices. Pagans are normal people who hold jobs, raise families, worship gods and enjoy life. There are a few of us, I amongst them, who are not afraid of the stigmas and openly show we have Pagan beliefs in hopes of dispelling the myths and stigmatisms attached to our belief systems. Let’s start a conversation and help dispel those myths. If you have questions or comments about Neo-Paganism please forward them to SpokaneFAVS and they likely will become the topic of my next article.