What is paganism?
Paganism is an umbrella term used today by numerous faiths and individuals to describe their spiritual path. Pagan was once a derogatory term meaning "uneducated country dweller" used by Christians to refer to rural folk who had not yet converted to Christianity. The essence of paganism is in honouring the earth, animals and nature as sacred and deserving equal respect from us as humans.
Who practises it?
I've met pagans who are teachers, professors, doctors, police officers, politicians, lawyers, military, investment bankers ....
Paganism as religion:
Paganism itself is not an organized religion, but many of the spiritual paths under its umbrella are recognized as religions such as Druidism, heathenism and Wicca.
Paganism and Halloween:
Halloween has its origins in the fire festivals of the pre-Christian faiths of Europe and the British Isles. In Ireland and Scotland this festival was known as Samhain and great bonfires were built at sunset and kept fed through the night to scare away evil spirits. The Celts, Gaels and heathens shared the belief in an underworld as the land of the dead and at the end of October they believed the separation between our world and the land of the dead was at it's thinnest and the dead were able to roam freely among us.
A pagan service:
A pagan ceremony is generally performed in nature. Pagans do not have churches or specified places of worship. Most pagans would share the sentiment "nature is my church." Ceremonies take place on the full moons and also celebrate the changing of the seasons. A typical ceremony involves everyone standing in a circle around an altar with the priest and/or priestess in the centre. Offerings are given, prayers made and a sacred communion is performed.
THE MORAL QUESTION
The biggest pagan celebration of the year is Oct. 31. Most people know it as Halloween.
"This is the one time of year when magic is acceptable. It's okay to be a pagan," says Sarah Lawless, 28, a Maple Ridge native who got into paganism 10 years ago as a way of celebrating the natural world.
She says it's fun being scared, but most of the time there's no reason to be.
Pagans say Halloween is a festival of the dead. It is known by its Irish name, Samhain.
It's believed that spirits of the dead come out during this time, which marks the beginning of the darkest part of the year, a time when green plants are dying and living animals are going to ground, leaving space for the other side to surface.
"Dead things rule. They can come out," says Lawless.
There are two kinds of spirits: good ones and bad ones.
Good ghosts are the spirits which come from positive energy like deceased family members.
"People invite good spirits into their homes. They welcome back their grandparents and want to nourish them and say they remember them. It's said as long as living people remember you, you are not really dead."
The bad ones are a bit trickier. She says they could be a bit of bad energy left over from someone who died in an unhappy state.
She has known people to look for ghosts in graveyards and come back frightened by something they have experienced.
"They don't want to talk about it," she says. In Metro Vancouver there are spooky crows and hooting owls in forests. City-dwelling coyotes come pretty close to howling wolves.
Masks are put on to frighten away evil spirits. Images are carved on pumpkins to shoo intruders away.
"A lot of pagans believe the spirits are real. I believe in ghosts. Jack o'lanterns keep away evil spirits from the house," she says.
Halloween is the one pagan festival which resonates with others.
"People get dressed up and have fun decorating their houses. The celebration brings people together," she says.
Paganism is similar in some respects to native North American spirituality.
The sun and moon are celebrated, as well as everything in the universe (even rocks). The universe is thought to be one great being.
"We all come from the same matter. No new matter is being created," says Lawless.
She says pagans got a bad name because the church used the word pagan as a name for people who had not converted to the Christian faith.
"Paganism for me is about respect and honour and love.
"We're really quite normal, everyday people, with ethics and morals and values."
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