What is a Pagan?

by by Chandra Glick
This was first published in the Newton Kansan daily newspaper in November of 2002.
The cliche among Pagans is – if you ask that question of twelve of us and you will get at least thirteen answers. Paganism is a non-dogmatic approach to spirituality. Paganism is recognizing that we are a part of nature rather than above and apart from nature. Paganism is basically monotheistic in that many of us recognize a single transcendent divine entity and our gods and goddesses are like Christian angels and saints. Paganism is any non-Abrahamic religion, ie: not Christian, Jewish or Islam. Paganism is essentially private spirituality – not to say that it cannot be practiced with a group. It is having a one to one relationship with your creator without anyone else’s structures or controls placed on it. These are answers that I have gotten from Pagans I know who are living in and around Newton.

As you can tell there is no simple answer. There may not even be a single complex answer. One of the features of Paganism is the tolerance of differing ideas. Some traditions (like Christian denominations) may have certain dogmas, but they will not impose their ideas on anyone outside their group. The ethical codes followed by most Pagans are some variation or other of the Golden Rule.

The Pagans of my acquaintance are generally very well educated, highly literate and intelligent individuals. We are also, with but a single exception, well aware of Christian teachings. Most of us were raised Christian and for one reason or other found that it did not meet our spiritual needs. Many of us believe that Jesus existed and we admire his teachings. Our disagreements with Christianity are not with the founder, but rather the direction which churches have taken. As one individual stated, “I studied myself right out of the church.”

Paganism is not a single path. It is not a single religion. It encompasses a wide range of beliefs and practices. Most people who identify themselves as Pagans are in actual fact Neopagans, as opposed to say Buddhist, Hindu or Taoist. Neopaganism is a modern attempt to return to ancient pre-Christian generally European forms of worship. Some Neopagans are very scholarly in their approach and go to a particular culture and research literature and archaeology in an attempt to accurately recreate the way the religion of that culture was practiced. Others are more eclectic in their approach. They take the general structure of an ancient religion and adapt it to fit their modern lives, often fitting disparate pieces into what becomes, for them, a cohesive whole.

Despite the variety, there are a few generalizations that can be made, bearing in mind however that no generalization will apply to every Pagan you encounter. There is a recognition of a divine entity or entities. Divinity is seen as immanent in all things. Freedom to follow the path which works for the individual is highly encouraged. Causing unnecessary harm to anyone or anything is frowned upon. The attitude reflected in Jesus statement, “love your neighbor as yourself” is preferred in ourselves and in those we choose to associate with. While sharing ones beliefs with interested people is acceptable, proselytizing is frowned upon.

We respect a Christian’s right to follow her or his religion freely. However, most of us have made a conscious decision to follow another path. We ask only that you respect our right to follow our own religion as freely.

If you fear for my soul because that is what your religion teaches, fine. You may pray for me, but do not try to reconvert me. If you must try, the please follow the example of one Fundamentalist Christian of my acquaintance whom I highly respect; live as a shining example of the best your religion has to offer.

Copyright 2003 by Chandra Glick. Permission is granted to freely distribute this article so long as credit is given to the author and this notice is attached.