So, you have a Pagan in your class room...

This short essay is designed to provide a brief introduction to Paganism and is primarily aimed at teachers who may find themselves with children with Pagan backgrounds and are looking for more information. What is Paganism? Paganism is a non-creedal, non-dogmatic spirituality and there are as many variants between Pagan religious beliefs as there are between denominations of Christianity. It is not possible to cover all the variations in this short essay, but broadly a Pagan will celebrate a naturebased, polytheistic religion which honours the ancestors. • A Pagan student will honour Divinity as both God and Goddess, sometimes with a greater emphasis on the Goddess. • A Pagan student will celebrate religious ceremonies with small groups on full moons and at the seasonal celebrations which mark the turning of the seasonal year. Older students may perform these celebrations in solitary settings, especially in cases where Paganism is not the overall religion of their household • A Pagan student may believe in reincarnation. However, they are unlikely to believe in a Christian “Heaven and Hell” and are more likely to view the afterlife as a place of rest between one life and the next. One common name given to this is “the Summerland” as referred to in Celtic Mythology. • A Pagan student will view Divinity as immanent in Nature and humanity, and view all things as interconnected. This often leads to a concern with ecology and the environment, and a fascination with the cycle of life. • A Pagan student will have a belief in magic, sometimes spelt m-a-g-ic-k in an effort to differentiate it from stage illusions.

Pagan Ethics
Pagan ethics strong emphasis Personal Freedom vs Personal Responsibility and a Pagan student will have been raised to understand that their actions have a cause and effect on those around them. This is born out of the Pagan belief that all life is interconnected and does not exist in isolation. As a result Pagans do not have a concept of forgiveness for sin, because they accept that they must take responsibility for the effects that their actions have.

The most common forms of expressing these ethics come in the form of the Wiccan Rede “an’ if it harm none, do as ye will” and the Threefold Law as appears in the Wiccan Rede “mind the threefold law ye should, three times bad and three times good.”

Duality in Religion
Paganism is a polytheistic religion, meaning that they worship more than one deity figure. The most common expression is the worship of both male and female deities in the form of the God and the Goddess. Whilst there is sometimes an emphasis placed on the feminine aspect Paganism promotes gender equality along with religious tolerance and acceptance of different lifestyles. Many Pagan students may make the assumption that gender equality is a given fact in society. Most Pagan students will be raised in an environment where individualism, self-discovery and independent thought is openly encouraged tempered with the understanding that their religious system is simply one of many and that there is no right or wrong way to worship. They will be raised to have respect for other religions and their sacred texts, even encouraged to read them, but they are unlikely to believe them literally where they conflict with scientific knowledge or proclaim themselves to be “the One Truth”

Pagans and Gods
A Pagan student has, by definition, been brought up in a polytheistic environment. The major divisions are: "pantheistic polytheism", "duotheistic polytheism", and "hard polytheism". Pantheists believe that all of the gods and goddesses are simply aspects or facets of one force or divine being. This single force or divine being is without gender and is considered to be a universal force. Duotheists believe that this force or ultimate divine being is divided along gender-lines, often using terms like "Lord and Lady" and claiming that all goddesses are THE Goddess and all gods THE God. Duotheism represents the most common form of Pagan belief regarding Gods and Deities. Hard polytheists believe that the gods are exactly what they seem to be: diverse beings with diverse natures who establish personal relationships with people.

The Pagan Year
The general Pagan community divides the year in to eight religious festivals or Sabbats. Whilst many Pagans also observe the Full and Dark of the moon, the eight seasonal festivals are common to all branches of the Pagan Community. Often referred to as the Wheel of the Year the celebrations recognise the predominant seasonal characterises of that time and links it in with the birth, life, death and rebirth of the God, representing the Sun, as well as the life cycle of the Goddess, represented by the Earth in this case.

The Eight Sabbats are further divided into the Greater and Lesser Sabbats and are names as follows: Greater Sabbats Imbolc – 2nd February Beltane – 1st May Lughnasadh (also known as Lammas) – 1st August Samhain – 31st October Lesser Sabbats Spring Equinox – Ostara – March 21st Summer Solstice – Litha – June 21st Autumn Equinox – Marbon – September 21st Winter Solstice – Yule – December 21st You will notice the dates of these events, Ostara and Yule specifically, directly correlate with Easter and Christmas. The origins of these festivals can be found in Celtic/Anglo-Saxon and even pre-Christian Roman festivals. In British Law the eight pagan festivals are now recognised as holy days and it is possible for students to have these days off school, within the schools requirements for pre-arranged leave.

Common Misnomers Surrounding Witches and Paganism
Samhain / Halloween Samhain coincides with Halloween and is often mistaken to have the same values as the commercial event that exists today, an association with evil spirits walking the earth bringing terror to the living. Representing an older celebration in which the final harvest of the year is gathered and the symbolic death of the Sun God ahead of his rebirth at Yule is celebrated, Samhain can be found as a celebration in the archaeological record as far back as the Neolithic. Such evidence is linked with monuments to the ancestors such as henges and burial monuments.

Whilst it is true that ancestor worship is the main theme of the celebration, remembering departed loved ones, there is no pagan association with the living dead, monsters and boogy men. Such associations began during the early Christian calendar when a distinction was being made between the pagan past and Christian present.

Whilst many modern Pagans will use Samhain as an excuse to get flamboyantly dressed up and have a good time there is no “fear” associated with the festival. The spirits that are called upon are loved ones, remembered and honoured for their lives and influences, and represent no “danger”. A common method of celebration is that of a Dumb Supper, where an extra place is set for the ancestor but no words are exchanged during the eating of the meal other than any ritual words. The Pentacle The Pentacle is a five pointed star within a circle and is the most common symbol associated with Witches and Paganism. It is often associated with Devil worship and Satanic worship based on its inverted use by these groups, in the same way that these groups also invert the Christian Cross. For most Pagans, especially Witches, the meaning of the Pentacle is rooted in the beliefs of the Greek Pythagoras, for whom the pentagram embodied perfect balance and wisdom; and inserting the star in the circle adds the symbol of eternity and unity. The Pentacle is also used to represent the five magickal elements of Earth, Air, Fire, Water and Spirit. The Witch The most common image of a Witch is that of the warty, possibly green skinned, old woman who is accompanied by a black cat/bat/dog as she stirs a cauldron containing various bits of guts and gore whilst muttering dark and devilish incantations. There are a couple of things to address here. Firstly the Crone is an aspect of the Goddess usually venerated by Pagans. She represents women in later life, after they have passed through the life stages of Maiden and Mother, and represents great wisdom gained through life. Whilst she is often depicted as an older woman of faded beauty there is no reason that she cannot be presented as someone who is less than beautiful. The negative connotations have been developed over history, usually during the medieval period as a method to identify a witch. In more recent history this image has been popularised in Halloween paraphernalia and Hollywood. The other aspects of the image such as the animal familiar, the cauldron, magical ingredients are all things that appear in fact however, given that Paganism is nature oriented many Witches will avoid harming animals, other people and themselves in the pursuit of their religion. In the main Pagans do not believe in, or worship, the Christian Devil/Satan. Satanic Witchcraft is a complex topic within itself and it is not possible to cover it in sufficient detail in this essay. What’s in a name? Many people will refer to a male Pagan as being a Warlock. This is not an accurate however, being a Scottish word meaning „oathbreaker‟. A male Pagan, unless they identify themselves as being of a specific tradition, is still a Witch. Though there is a small movement within the

pagan community to claim the word Warlock as a descriptor for the male witch it is not accepted by the wider community. What is Magick? Magick is many things but it is important to reference what it is not. Pagan children are not taught that they can wriggle their nose and alter the laws of nature according to their whim. They are similarly not taught to summon spirits, the dead, the devil or how to hex and curse others as these are contrary to Pagan ethics. A belief in magick may include belief in personal energy fields like the Chinese concept of chi, and the use of rituals and tools to dramatise and focus positive thinking and visualisation of desired goals. References Credit is given to the authors of these articles and their associated references.

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