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Paganism Introduction: Symbols, Traditions, Psychedelics

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I believe in God, only I spell it Nature.

—Frank Lloyd Wright

What is Paganism?

Paganism is a non-dogmatic religious lifestyle. In the pursuit of paganism, an individual has many contemporary traditions on which to base his or her practice. The keyword here is “individual.” Unlike major religions of the world, paganism is unique to each person who journeys down such a path. Paganism has existed since the concept of time, and has developed many traditions and iterations. In addition, all such traditions have roots in the divine worship of nature and the interconnectedness of all things. However, these roots are not something that can be taught through scripture. No, they can only be taught through direct experience with your own unique experience with the divine.

The Origin of “Pagan”

The word pagan derives from the Latin word pagus, meaning “rustic, or hick.” During the medieval centuries, elite urban folk, who most likely could afford to practice Christianity, used this term. They referred to a “rustic” person, who could not afford such indoctrination, as a paganus. In reality, such a “rustic” just had a deep understanding and harmony with the land he inhabited, finding God and church in rituals and routines with the land and the present moment.

Some Pagan Symbols and Their Meaning

Symbols are an important aspect of pagan traditions. Accordingly, individuals use them in magic rituals to connect more deeply into their unique practices. Some symbols represent elements, while others may represent concepts. Below are some of the most popular pagan symbols and their meanings.

Air Symbol

“Air is one of the five elements that appear in most pagan traditions. It is one of the four classical elements, often invoked in Wiccan ritual. Air is the element of the East, connected to the soul and the breath of life. Air is associated with the colors yellow and white. Pagan symbolism also uses the other elements: fire, earth, and water.
Seax Wicca

Seax Wicca is a tradition, or denomination, of the neopagan religion of Wicca, mostly inspired by the iconography of the historical Anglo-Saxon paganism … unlike Theodism, it is not a reconstruction of the early medieval religion itself. Seax Wicca is a tradition founded in the 1970s by author Raymond Buckland. It is inspired by the Saxon religion of old but is specifically not a reconstructionist tradition. The symbol of the tradition represents the moon, the sun, and the eight Wiccan Sabbats.”
Pentacle

“The pentacle is a five-pointed star, or pentagram, contained within a circle. Its five points represent the four classical elements, along with a fifth element, which is typically either Spirit or Self, depending on your tradition. Probably the best-known symbol of Wicca today, the pentacle is often used in jewelry and other designs. Typically, a pentacle is traced in the air during Wiccan rituals, and in some traditions, it is used as a designation of degree. It is also considered a symbol of protection and is used in warding in some pagan rituals. It is a standard symbol for witches, Freemasons, and many other pagan or occult groups.”
Horned God

“The Horned God is one of the two primary deities found in the pagan religion of Wicca. He is often given various names and epithets and represents the male part of the religion’s duotheistic theological system, the other part being the female Triple Goddess. Common Wiccan belief associates the Horned God with nature, wilderness, sexuality, hunting, and the life cycle.”
Hecate`s Wheel

“This labyrinth-like symbol has origins in Greek legend, in which Hecate was a guardian of the crossroads before she evolved into a goddess of magic and sorcery. Hecate’s Wheel is a symbol used by some traditions of Wicca. It seems to be most popular among feminist traditions and represents the three aspects of the Goddess Maiden, Mother, and Crone.”
Elven Star

The Elven Star, or seven-pointed star, is found in some branches of the Faerie tradition of Wicca. However, it has different names and can be associated with many other magical traditions. It is also a reminder that seven is a sacred number in many magical traditions. It has connections with the seven days of the week, the seven pillars of wisdom, and many other magical theories. In Kabbalah, seven is connected to the sphere of victory.
Triple Moon Symbol

This symbol is found in many neopagan and Wiccan traditions as a symbol of the Goddess. The first crescent represents the waxing phase of the moon, meaning new beginnings, new life, and rejuvenation. The center circle is symbolic of the full moon, the time when magic is at its most potent and powerful. Finally, the last crescent represents the waning moon, meaning a time to do banishing magic and to send things away.
Triquetra

“In some modern traditions, it represents the connection of mind, body, and soul, and in Celtic-based pagan groups, it is symbolic of the three realms of earth, sea, and sky.”
Chalice

The Chalice or Cup is a pagan ritual tool. It represents water, considered a feminine element, symbolizing subconscious, psychic ability, intuition, emotions, and gestation. It is also associated with fertility and is representative of the Goddess’ womb or the feminine generative organs. As a symbol of the female energy in the universe, the Chalice is the opposite of Athame, which symbolizes the male energy. Christianity has also adopted the Chalice as a ritual tool, but in that case it symbolizes the cup used by Jesus Christ at the last supper, and the libation it holds represents the blood of Jesus.”
Descriptions above come largely verbatim from AncientSymbols.com.

Pagan Traditions

Pagan traditions, although unique to each individual, all strongly focus on the art of ritual. Such ritualistic arts include varied lineages, paths, and methods. Again, due to the non-dogmatic nature of paganism, the individual’s practice is a synthesis of traditional understandings along with his or her own unique explorations.

  • Wicca: Energy of the Divine exists in all things, and creation is believed to manifest by the elements of earth, air, fire, and water.
  • Druidry: Druids hold nature to be sacred.
  • Asatru: Belief in the Norse pantheon, and following a set of rules known as the Nine Noble Virtues. These virtues include courage, truth, honor, fidelity, discipline, hospitality, industriousness, self-reliance, and perseverance. 

Paganism and Witchcraft 

The best-known denomination in the pagan religion is Wicca. Wiccans often refer to themselves as witches. This has led those unfamiliar with paganism to equate witchcraft with Wicca, although many other pagan traditions practice the same rituals.

Witchcraft has its roots in the rise of Christianity. Accordingly, witches were mostly “rustic” folk, aka pagans, who exhibited remarkable knowledge of healing and alchemical arts. Mostly middle-aged women, these remarkable individuals possessed an understanding of our natural allies, and how they can play a role in our healing and evolution.

Witchcraft Accusations

Why did society make middle-aged women a target of accusations of witchcraft? Some theories strongly suggest that patriarchal institutions historically try to establish dominance over matriarchal ones. Due to the soft and surrounding nature of the matriarch, there is a societal pattern in which patriarchal institutions have consistently gained dominance. Thus, to be a peasant, pagan, healer, witch, or simply a nonconforming woman became a damned struggle within the rise of the Christian patriarchy. For this reason, if accused of a combination of these labels, you might suffer a violent fate.

Wheel of the Year

The Wheel of the Year represents seasonal cycles that many pagans observe.

Common Cycles

  • Lunar Phases
  • Planetary Movements
  • Plant and Harvesting Days
  • Solstices
  • Equinoxes

Pagan Festivals

Many pagan traditions celebrate these cycles through the gathering of festivals. You will most commonly see festivals on an equinox or solstice.

Today some modern pagans still carry out the traditions of the historical festival of the Eleusinian Mysteries. These were the secret rituals of the mystery school of Eleusis, whose adherents observed them consistently from c. 1600 BCE–392 CE. The ritual is based on the story of Demeter and Persephone—the myth in which Hades kidnaps the Goddess of Nature’s daughter and makes her Queen of the Underworld. The Eleusinian Mysteries are also a metaphor for the change of the seasons, and the eternal cycle of nature’s death and rebirth. In addition, the Eleusinian Mysteries could reputedly free participants from a fear of death through the recognition that they were immortal souls, temporarily in mortal bodies.

What exactly was happening during these festivals that resulted in a shift of consciousness?

Psychedelics and The Eleusinian Mysteries

The Eleusinian Mysteries were a mesmerizing initiation ritual, lasting nine days and taking place in a small town near Athens. On the eighth night, the participants would undergo their initiation, gathering inside the main temple and performing a ceremony that remained secret to all who were not present. The mysteries of this transformational night have been the subject of many researchers. Albert Hofmann, the discoverer of LSD, has even hypothesized the presence of an LSD-like substance in the elixir drunk upon the initiate’s entry into the temple.

Using sacred and psychoactive herbs in ritual is historically present in many other stories, in addition to the Eleusian Mysteries. As a powerful acceptance of death arose among the participants of the Eleusian Mysteries, so did their understanding of rebirth. This perspective of natural death and rebirth cycles is integral to paganism. Using psychoactive plants and technologies in ritual to access this wisdom is an important lesson to take from our Eleusian ancestors.

The Ecological Connection

Paganism may as well simply be a way of getting back to our roots with nature. For instance, psychedelic substances can allow us a path to regain our instinctual ecological connection to our planet. In other words, this can help strip away the layers of indoctrination that coat your unconscious, and reveal the primitive kinship we have with nature. Since we have been barely surviving this most recent patriarchal dominance over nature and the feminine, it’s time for pagans—and those with similar perspectives—to utilize psychoactive plant allies to help dissolve the boundaries of nature and humanity.

Psychedelics are ‘’boundary dissolving’’substances.

—Terence McKenna

RS CONTRIBUTING AUTHOR: NIKI PERLBERG

Niki is a social and arts entrepreneur who specializes in project and creative production development. With her passion for social structures and the arts, she has been involved in the architecture of performance and festival culture around the country. In rapidly changing times she is now taking her passion for these sub-cultures and sharing them with us in our digital atmosphere through her writing and content development. Some of her favorite parts of life are coffee, campfires, and contemplating the mysteries of existence. Feel free to follow her on Insta @itsnikiperl

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