Paganism, which is also referred to as contemporary Paganism, Neo-Paganism and Neopaganism, is an umbrella term used to identify a wide variety of modern religious movements, particularly those influenced by or claiming to be derived from the various pagan beliefs of pre-modern Europe. Contemporary Pagan religious movements are extremely diverse, and there is no set of beliefs shared by all of them, although there are commonalities shared by most of them. These include an approach to theology that embraces such beliefs as polytheism, animism, and pantheism. Many Pagans practise a spirituality that is entirely modern in origin, while others attempt accurately to reconstruct or revive indigenous, ethnic religions as found in historical and folkloric sources.
Contemporary Paganism is a development in the industrialized countries, found in particular strength in the United States and Britain, but also in Continental Europe (German-speaking Europe, Scandinavia, Slavic Europe, Latin Europe and elsewhere) and Canada. The largest Contemporary Pagan religion is Wicca, though other significantly sized Pagan faiths include Neo-druidism, Germanic Neopaganism, and Slavic Neopaganism. The modern popularisation of the terms "Pagan" and "Neopagan", as they are currently understood, is largely traced to Oberon Zell-Ravenheart, co-founder of "the 1st Neo-Pagan Church of All Worlds" who, beginning in 1967 with the early issues of Green Egg, used both terms for the growing movement.
Adherents.com estimates that there are roughly 1 milion Pagans worldwide (as of 2000), including "Wicca, Magick, Druidism, Asatru, neo-Native American religion and others". High estimates by Pagan authors may reach several times that number. A precise number is impossible to establish, because of the largely uninstitutionalised nature of the religion and the secrecy observed by some traditions, – sometimes explained by fear of religious discrimination.
BeliefsBeliefs and practices vary widely amongst different Pagan groups, however there are a series of core principles common to most, if not all, forms of contemporary Paganism.
Sociologist Margot Adler noted that one of the "most important principles" of the Pagan movement was polytheism, the belief in, and veneration of, more than one god and/or goddess. For many in the Pagan community, these polytheistic deities are however not viewed as literal entities, but as Jungian archetypes that exist in the human psyche. Many Pagans adopt attitudes similar to that of American theologian David Miller, the professor of religion at Syracuse University who argued, in his book The New Polytheism, that the adoption of a polytheistic worldview would be beneficial for western society, replacing the dominant monotheism that both Miller and many Pagans believe is by its very nature politically and socially repressive. Adler remarked that many Pagans informed her of how they had adopted polytheism because it allowed a greater freedom, diversity and tolerance of worship amongst the community than that permitted in monotheistic religions. In Wicca, (especially Dianic Wicca) the concept of an Earth or Mother Goddess similar to the Greek Gaia is emphasized. Male counterparts are usually also evoked, such as the Green Man and the Horned God (who is loosely based on the Celtic Cernunnos.) These Duotheistic philosophies tend to emphasize the God and Goddess' (or Lord and Lady's) genders as being complementary opposites analogous to that of yin and yang in ancient Chinese philosophy. Many Oriental philosophies equate weakness with femininity and strength with masculinity; this is not the prevailing attitude in Paganism and Wicca. Among many Pagans, there is a strong desire to incorporate the female aspects of the divine in their worship and within their lives, which can partially explain the attitude which sometimes manifests as the veneration of women. Other Neopagans reject the concept of binary gender roles.
Another pivotal belief in the contemporary Pagan movement is that of animism. For modern Pagans, this "is used to imply a reality in which all things are imbued with vitality."Animism was also a concept to common to many pre-Christian European religions, and in adopting it, contemporary Pagans are attempting to "allow their participants to reenter the primeval worldview, to participate in nature in a way that is not possible for most Westerners after childhood."
A third pivotal belief in the Pagan community is that of pantheism, the belief that divinity and the material and/or spiritual universe are one and the same. For Pagans, it means that "divinity is inseperable from nature and that deity is immanent in nature."
Worship and ritual
Several Pagan religions incorporate the use of magic into their ritual practices. Among these are Wicca, Shamanism, Druidism, and other Pagan belief systems, the rituals of which were at least initially partially based upon those of ceremonial magic.
Sociologist Margot Adler highlighted how several Pagan groups, like the Reformed Druids of North America and the Erisian movement refuse to take their rituals seriously, instead incorporating into them a great deal of play. She noted that there are those who would argue that "the Pagan community is one of the only spiritual communities that is exploring humor, joy, abandonment, even silliness and outrageousness as valid parts of spiritual experience." Adler also noted how there were many Pagan groups whose practices revolved around the inclusion and celebration of male homosexuality, such as the Minoan Brotherhood, a Wiccan group that combines the iconography from ancient Minoan religion with a Wiccan theology and an emphasis on "men-loving-men", and the eclectic Pagan group known as the Radical Faeries. Similarly, there are also groups for lesbians, like certain forms of Dianic Wicca and the Minoan Sisterhood. When Adler asked one gay Pagan what the Pagan community offered members of the LGBT community, the reply was "A place to belong. Community. Acceptance. And a way to connect with all kinds of people, gay, bi, straight, celibate, transgender, in a way that is hard to do in the greater society".
Most modern Pagan religions celebrate the cycles and seasons of nature through a festival calendar that honours these changes. The timing of festivals, and the rites celebrated, may vary from climate to climate, and will also vary (sometimes widely) depending upon which particular Pagan religion the adherent subscribes to (see Wheel of the Year).