In this first installment of our Ask A Witch blog series, I’ll give a brief introduction to the basics of what being a witch or a pagan means.
What Does ‘Pagan’ Mean?
The word ‘Pagan’ comes to us from the Latin ‘Paganus’, which means ‘country dweller’, or a person who lives in the country. The country dwellers generally paid homage to the old gods or spirits of the ‘pagus’ (meaning ‘locality’). Since being a country dweller meant you were dependant on the land for your very survival, things like watching for the changing seasons and being in tune with nature meant a great deal.
Initially, there were no negative connotations attached to the word, nor even to the word ‘heathen’ (which was derived from the Old English word ‘heath’ meaning ‘uncultivated land’ so quite literally just meant ‘one who dwells in the heath or country’). A pagan or heathen was a person who lived in the country, worked the land, and communed with the spirit of the land.
What Does ‘Witch’ Mean?
The word ‘witch’ has a far more complex etymology, and rather unfortunate strong negative connotations still today. At a brief glance, The Old English ‘wita’ means ‘counsellor’, and ‘wis’ means ‘wise’. A witch was considered to be a wise counsellor who, before the interjection of Christianity, was an important community spiritual guide and healer, with a rich knowledge of plant medicine. ‘Wicca’ and ‘wicce’ are themselves Old English words for ‘witch’, masculine and feminine respectively. During medieval times these became ‘wicche’, both masculine and feminine, denoting both a witch and a wizard.
“A Witch is a weaver of the worlds – this physical one and the ‘other’.
A Witch is a catalyst for change. A Witch draws upon ancient knowledge and techniques that date back to pre-history. A Witch is deeply connected to the natural cycles and can control energy… I don’t shy away from the word ‘witch’. Witch meant ‘wise one’, it meant ‘weaver’. We have just had a couple of thousand years worth of bad PR is all.”
What Is Paganism?
Paganism is a very broad umbrella term that encompasses many different belief systems – much in the same way that Christianity has Catholics, Anglicans, Protestants, Orthodox, etc. Paganism includes such belief systems as Shamanism, Druidism, Wicca (including various traditions itself such as Alexandrian, Garnerian, Dianic and Correllian), Goddess Spirituality, Odinism (the Norse traditions) and Eclectic Paganism (which, as the name implies, is a ‘bit of this and a bit of that’), among many others.
While each of these branches of paganism have their own unique beliefs and ‘language’ in terms of how they describe and connect with their spirituality, most share some or all of the characteristics discussed below.
What Is The Basis Of Paganism?
Paganism is commonly considered to be a nature based spirituality. Pagans in general strive to attune themselves to the natural cycles of the earth, and recognise the earth as a living being with spirit and consciousness. Many pagans are concerned with, and very active in, environmental matters. Many celebrate or acknowledge the changing of the seasons, the lunar cycles and the natural cycles of life, death and rebirth.
Many Pagans also believe in Animism. Animism, from Latin ‘anima’, meaning ‘breath, spirit, life’, is a belief that all plants, objects, places and creatures have a distinct spiritual essence.
What Happens When You Die?
The majority of pagans believe in an afterlife, or in reincarnation. A place of punishment, similar to Hell, is quite uncommon. A fairly common belief is that we are here on earth to learn soul lessons, in doing so we raise our consciousness and energetic vibration. Each time that we come to earth, we have specific lessons we have set out to learn, and once we have achieved those lessons we move on.
What Happens To Bad People?
Well, most belief systems trust in a karmic implication to actions, similar to the Hindu principle of karma and the concept of ‘what you reap is what you sow’. The Wiccans follow the ‘Law of Three’, which means whatever you put out, good or bad, returns to you threefold. In essence, there is no-one punishing you for bad deeds. Instead, most views revolve around the concept of universal law that if you do bad things, bad things will happen to you. The karmic wheel will turn, in this life or the next.
Why Aren’t There Any Pagan Churches?
The practice of Paganism is usually solitary, or in small groups. When they do gather, it’s more often than not held out in the open, to be in nature and feel connected to the natural world.
Pagans in general don’t evangelise, preach or recruit in any way. They mostly hold the belief that those who are drawn to the path will find it.
The majority of pagans don’t believe there is only one, single defined way or path to connect with Divine. All spiritual paths lead to the same place, it is just about finding a set of tools that work for you.
Here in SA, we have the Pagan Council of South Africa and the annual Pagan Freedom Day event around the country.
Do Pagans Pray?
Prayer is one of many terms we can give to the concept of using energy to attempt to manifest a desired outcome or change. In Paganism, strong emphasis is usually placed on the intuitive mind, and the belief that the physical and non-physical worlds are equally real, and are interconnected.
This means that spiritual work, whether called meditation, prayer or magick, and whether done as ritual, ceremony, worship or celebration, is believed to be effective in resulting in tangible changes in the physical world. A pagan may, for example, burn herbs believed to be associated with healing, while visualising a sick person encased in white light. This could be called a healing spell, or simply a different way of praying to the divine for healing.
Who Do Pagans Pray To?
Some Pagans are Polytheistic, which means believing in more than one deity. They may believe in and worship a whole host of deities, such as the ancient Greek or Roman pantheon, or the Hindu pantheon. They may believe in a dual Creator part God and part Goddess or two separate deities, a God and a Goddess (often considered to be the spirit of the earth aka Mother Earth).
Yet others are Pantheistic, which means that they believe in a Greater Spirit or Creator, and that everything and everyone is Creator, and Creator is in everything and every-one. There is no separation.
If they are Polytheistic and believe in in two deities, whether dual or separate, or they are Pantheistic, they may additionally call on various Gods and Goddesses from a chosen pantheon or a mix of pantheons at different times, believing that all Gods and Goddesses in different pantheons represent or reflect different aspects of Creator, like the facets of a diamond.
Important Disclaimer: All information herein is my own opinion, and should not be considered definitive truth. Paganism is an extremely broad term and a very personal, individually defined spiritual practice. I encourage you to do your own research, and to trust what resonates with you.
ASK A WITCH
I’m an eclectic pagan, specifically a (currently) solitary shamanistic witch. I’ve been initiated through all three Wiccan degrees to High Priestess, and have also studied under a Native American Shaman. In this series I’ll chat about what it means to be a modern witch or pagan, and share information & common practises. If you’re interested in or drawn to the idea of magick, energy work, healing & more – or if you’d like to gain a better understanding of what it’s all about – read on!