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Essay/Term paper: Common pagan rituals and beliefs

Essay, term paper, research paper:  Philosophy

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Paganism is an ancient type of religion which has quite an inauspicious
reputation today. There are many types of paganism, most date back
thousands of years, which include Wicca, Witchcraft, Paganism, and a few
other lesser known and practiced variations. Yet all of these religions
are similar and share common beliefs. Wicca is the most common of these,
as it also demonstrates the shared belief of doing good that is common to
most forms of paganism. Another common belief, is to gather in small
groups, called covens, to practice pagan rites and ceremonies with others.
There are many ancient beliefs, archaic rituals, and forgotten traditions
that are practiced by pagans. Many of these are also the origins of
widely practiced traditions in the Christian-dominated world of today.
A defining characteristic of many pagan religions, especially Wicca, is
the worship and closeness to nature. Pagans treat animals kindly and
respect all things, living or nonliving, as though they were a person (Roy
N. p.). They also share the worship of their nature gods, which increases
their respect for all that is around them (Roy N. p.). Pagans are very
sensitive people that also have a high regard for personal privacy (Roy N.
p.). With this belief of privacy, many pagans have more time to keep in
touch with their inner selves and with the nature around them. Wicca, a
more popular pagan religion, focuses on the Earth and uses pure white
magic to help others (Roy N. p.). In fact, the Wiccan creed is, "An it
harm none, do as thou will," which agrees with the "good" philosophy
(Beliefs N. p.). Altogether, pagans have a great deal of emphasis on the
life and beauty of the nature that thrives around them and are radically
different than the mythical rumors of witches that have been given to them
over time.
Another defining characteristic of many pagans is the dedication to
knowledge and self exploration (Roy N. p.). In fact it has been said
that, "Witchcraft is the oldest, most irrepressible religion in the world
because it stimulates the intellect, promotes a simple, practical way of
life, and most importantly, is emotionally satisfying" (Art N. p.). There
is a set of beliefs, called the Laws of Magic that help illustrate the
beliefs supported by Wicca and other pagan religions. Many of these laws
are practical, yet they also relate to the more religious aspect of
paganism. One of the most important laws, the Law of Knowledge, states
that witches believe that all knowledge is power, no matter how big or
small (Bonewits N. p.). A related law, the Law of Self-Knowledge, states
that witches should truly know themselves, for this prevents doing harm to
others, once the understanding of the harm is seen (Bonewits N. p.).
There are many other laws, one such law explains that coincidence does not
exist, but that everything is part of a larger plan (Bonewits N. p.). The
Law of Similarity states that similar representations of things can be
made to represent them, such as voodoo dolls (Bonewits N. p.). The Law of
Personification states the important belief that anything, concrete or
abstract, can be considered alive for whatever purpose (Bonewits N. p.).
One commonly known law, The Law of Perversity, also called "Murphy"s Law,"
states that if anything can go wrong, it will (Bonewits N. p.). As if a
summary of all other beliefs, The Law of Unity says that everything is
linked together to every other thing, in any space or time (Bonewits N.
p.). So, as shown here, all pagans, whether Wiccan or not, follow the
basic guidelines and beliefs that knowledge is power. To support this
belief are many other more specific beliefs that help the individual learn
and grow.
Rituals and traditions also play a large role in Wiccan lives and
activities. The most common of these includes the rituals associated with
the new and full moons, as well as the 8 sabbats. The 8 sabbats are
equally divided throughout the year, along with the seasons, and help
attune the practicing Wiccans to the cycle of the year (Sabbats N. p.).
The first of these sabbats is Yule, practiced around December 21; it
represents the rebirth of the light and the awakening of new goals
(Sabbats N. p.). Candlemas, celebrated on February 2, banishes winter and
is the favored time for initiating new members into a coven of witches
(Sabbats N. p.). It is also tradition at this time to light all the lamps
in the house (Sabbats N. p.). Ostara, a familiar holiday, is usually
around March 21 and symbolizes balance and equilibrium. At this time of
peace, many pagans gather wildflowers in baskets and free themselves of
their pasts (Sabbats N. p.). Beltane, similar to Mayday but held on April
30, honors the fertility of the earth and is the sacred time of marriage
as well as the time for self-discovery, love, and union (Sabbats N. p.).
Midsummer, held around June 21, is a time for triumph and light, when
healing and love magic becomes suitable (Sabbats N. p.). Lammas,
practiced on August 2, celebrates the
harvest and the traditional time to teach others what has been learned
(Sabbats N. p.). The Autumn Equinox, approximately September 21, is the
time of balance and the time to gather dry plants and herbs (Sabbats N.
p.). Samhain, commonly called Halloween, is held on October 31; it is
when reincarnation is believed to take place (Sabbats N. p.). Samhain is
also called "the Witches" New Year" (Sabbats N. p.). The 8 sabbats
practiced by wiccans and other pagans are important for the transitions of
the season, but are only a small sample of the many rituals and traditions
of the pagan religions (Sabbats N. p.).
Another interesting aspect of pagan rituals and traditions is the fact
that many of the common holidays and traditions in today"s culture possess
ancient pagan roots. The Christian holiday of Christmas, for example, has
its roots in the pagan festivals and customs of Yule (Sabbats N. p.).
Bringing in a tree from the winter weather to house the winter spirits was
a common practice (Sabbats N. p.). Pagans also would decorate the tree
with a bell to indicate the spirits" presence, food to nourish the
spirits, and a pentagram star on the top to symbolize the five elements of
nature (Sabbats N. p.). In fact, the red and green colors of Christmas
also come from a pagan tradition, that of the yule log being burned once
annually (Sabbats N. p.). The Christian Easter is another common holiday
that is derived from ancient pagan customs. Witches believed that the God
and Goddess would spend the time of Ostara (Spring Equinox) playing with
brightly colored eggs in the fields to represent childhood (Sabbats N.
p.). The tradition of collecting flowers in baskets in springtime is also
of pagan origin (Sabbats N. p.). For those who recognize Mayday, it was a
pagan practice to weave a web of life around a Maypole with ribbons as
well (Sabbats N. p.). Another, more commonly known, holiday with pagan
beginnings is Halloween, or the Samhain sabbat. It was believed that
spirits would leave the physical plane during this time (Sabbats N. p.).
Another more recognizable trait of the holiday could be seen when one
realizes that thousands of years ago, pagans used jack-o-lanterns and
gourds to decorate for the season (Sabbats N. p.). So, by looking at the
many practiced customs of the pagans that have been around for thousands
of years, one can discern how some traditions have come into play in
today"s world.
It is severely apparent that there are many erroneous rumors related to
pagans and their rituals. Pagans have many rituals, but not one of these
relates to Christianity or the belief of the devil deity (Art N. p.).
Some of the more common rituals are initiation into a coven and
handfasting, or marriage. The ritual of initiation is a sacred ceremony
to bring in a new member of the coven (Hicks N. p.). The individual must
be highly acquainted with all of the members of the coven for over one
year before initiation is possible (Hicks N. p.). Another commonplace
ritual is handfasting. Handfasting is a highly sacred rite that binds two
very close people together, similar husband and wife; the ritual is
symbolic of the union of the god and goddess (Hunter N. p.). All other
pagan rituals are impartially as sacred and highly valued, as well as
enjoyed. Despite all of the misleading rumors, there are no rituals
depicting evil or anything to go against goodness belief that is practiced
by wiccans or related pagan groups.
Wicca and other similar pagan religions all reflect the mutual belief of
doing good and harming none. This, however, has been overlooked by others
for many centuries which has lead to inaccurate rumors. Aside from that
however, pagans still enjoy a rich and culturally satisfying life that
keeps in touch with their ancient beliefs. Along with this is their
passionate practice of the many rituals, including the 8 seasonal sabbats,
that help characterize the pagan doctrine. All of this and even more
truth can be found about these lesser known and often misconceived
religions classified as paganism.

Works Cited

Bonewits, P. E. I. The Laws of Magic. Online. Necronami Net. Available
HTTP:
http://www.necronami.com/d/paganism-celtic/magic.laws.txt, 30 Nov. 1996.

General Beliefs. Online. Necronami Net. Available HTTP:
http://www.necronami.com/d/paganism-celtic/wicca.gen_beliefs.txt, 15 Dec.
1996.

Hicks, J. Brad. Ceremony of Initiation. Online. Necronami Net.
Available HTTP:
http://www.necronami.com/d/paganism-celtic/initiation.ritual.txt, 15 Dec.
1996.

Hunter, Ryan. Handfasting Ceremony. Online. Necronami Net. Available
HTTP:
http://www.necronami.com/d/paganism-celtic/handfasting1.ritual.txt, 15
Dec. 1996.

Roy, R. Thirteen Questions. Online. Necromnami Net. Available HTTP:
http://www.necronami.com/d/paganism-celtic/13Questions.txt, 30 Nov. 1996.

The Ancient Art. Online. Necronami Net. Available HTTP:
http://www.necronami.com/d/paganism-celtic/craft.intro.txt, 30 Nov. 1996.

The Sabbats. Online, Teleplex Communications, Inc. Available HTTP:
http://www.teleplex.net/SCNPA/sabbat.html, 8 Dec. 1996.
 

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