What is Wicca and Paganism and what do Wiccans and Pagans believe in?
Paganism is an ancient religion that existed in England and Celtic areas way before Christianity was introduced by the Romans, and much of Paganism today is derived from the beliefs, myths, gods and goddesses of the Celts. Paganism is an umbrella term for all the various nature based paths such as Wicca or Witchcraft, Druidry, Shamanism (although there are many Shamans in the world who probably wouldn’t see themselves as Pagan such as those in Mongolia and South America) and Celtic Paganism.
Wicca is to Paganism as Catholic is to Christianity in the sense that it is a part of it. Howver comparing Paganism to Christianity may be a sensitive subject for many Pagans, and this is due to the history of persecution by Christians, much of which still has influence today in the fact that people think Pagans and Witches worship the devil – as all Pagans know, Pagans don’t actually believe that such a creature exists, he is a Christian construct.
However many people imagine that Paganism was swiftly stamped out in favour of Christianity, but in fact it was a gradual process, for it is not so easy to change people’s relgion overnight. This is why festivals such as Christmas and Halloween actually take their dates from Pagan festivals – the Winter Solstice and Samhain, because it made much more sense for people to continue celebrating on the days they had always celebrated on, especially as Europe was an agricultural society at that time, and these festivals were very much in tune with the changing of the seasons and different important points in the agricultural calendar. However in later history witchcraft was banned, and those suspected of practicing it were persecuted and often drowned or burnt.
Paganism including Wicca, Druidry and Shamanism is very much about celebrating nature, and worships both Gods and Goddesses, but often focuses very much on the Goddess in her triple aspect, as Maiden, Mother, and Crone. Druidry is probably the least structured of any Pagan religion and this is in part due to the fact that very little is actually known about the Druids other than their ancient runic alphabet Ogham, and even this remains mysterious. Wicca is probably the most structured, but as with all Pagan traditions, there is really no right or wrong way of doing things as long as your aim is to be a good person, and this is helped by the fact that there is no Bible or Koran, no written tradition to tie people down, only the Wiccan Rede and Rule of three which are about being good to others and getting back what you do to others threefold ( a bit like the concept of karma). I think the reason there has been a resurgance of Pagan religions is that the increasing amount of city and urban dwellers and even countryside people seek to return to nature and that sense of wholesomeness that many, especially in the west feel we have lost.
Because there is no real fixed systems of belief, the particular gods and goddesses worshipped is up to the individual, although as I said most Pagans do tend to worship a mother goddess figure. However this freedom allows Pagans to take deities from the Celts, the Ancient Egyptians, the Norse, The Sumerians and Babylonians, Ancient Greeks and Romans and really whomever else they like!
Wicca is both a religion and a magic system. Some say that Wiccans have a defined system of initiation and are part of covens (or groups) led by a high Priestess and Priest, and progress through different levels of knowledge. This is certainly true for some Witches (most Pagans use the terms Wiccan and Witch interchangeably), but many are solitary but can still perform rituals and spells alone. There are various Wiccan Supplies they may use, and most Wiccans have an altar which allows them to show their devotion to the goddess, and may even build extra altars to celebrate a particular deity like Hekate – an ancient Greek goddess, or a particular festival such as Imobolc). You would expect to see candles and incense on an altar, as well as a statue to the deity, and tools such as a chalice, wand, herbs, something from nature, also witches may keep their divination tools on their altar, crystals and any other special supplies that they have. These supplies are also used to give power to spells and rituals. However as mentioned, none of this is compulsary as this is the freedom of Paganism.
Pagans never proselytise as they don’t feel its necessary to convert people (unlike certain other religions we could mention!) For most people (including myself) you find Paganism, not the other way round!.