But because nature is seen as female the Goddess has a wider meaning. Often called Mother Earth or Gaia she is seen as the creatrix and sustainer of life, the mother of us all which makes all the creatures on the planet our siblings.
There are sub-groups of named Gods and Goddesses called Pantheons, drawn from the distant past, for example Isis and Osiris from Egypt or Thor, Odin, Freya et al from Norse religion and mythology. Ancient Pagans would have worshipped one or a small number of Gods and Goddesses, whilst often recognizing the validity of other people’s deities. The concept of an overall, un-named Goddess and God, the sum totals of all the others, appears to be a recent one but individual named deities represent particular human qualities or archetypes and are often used as a focus for celebrations and spiritual rites.
Paganism has developed alongside mankind for thousands of years; as cultures have changed so has Paganism, yet it is grounded in deep rooted genetic memories that go back to neolithic times and before. Thus Paganism is not just a nature religion but a natural religion.
Paganism in the west takes a number of forms including Wicca, Druidism, and Shamanism.
To Pagans the four ancient elements, Earth, Air, Fire and Water have special significance. The importance of these is hard to define because they have so many correspondences, for example they are associated with the four directions, North, East, South and West. Each element is a kind of spiritual substance from which all things are made especially ourselves and at the same time are Guardians both of ourselves and of the Goddess and God, and guarding the gateways between this world and the other world.
Many Pagans believe in reincarnation in some form. It gives Pagans a substantially different view of life. Early Christians saw Karma as a kind of treadmill, trapping people in endless reincarnations, never free. But Pagans see reincarnation as, at best, a chance to improve or to continue unfinished work, and at worst just a simple recycling of souls.
Different types of Paganism
Paleo-paganism: the standard of paganism, a pagan culture which has not been disrupted by “civilization” by another culture – Australian Bushmen modern (who are probably becoming meso-pagans), ancient Celtic religion (Druidism), the religions of the pre-patriarchal cultures of Old Europe, Norse religion, pre-Columbian Native American religions, etc.
Civilo-paganism: the religions of “civilized” communities which evolved in paleo-pagan cultures — Classical Greco-Roman religion, Egyptian religion, Middle-Eastern paganism, Aztec religion, etc.
Meso-paganism: a group, which may or may not still constitute a separate culture, which has been influenced by a conquering culture, but has been able to maintain an independence of religious practice — many Native American nations, etc.
Syncreto-paganism: similar to meso-pagan, but having had to submerge itself into the dominant culture, and adopt the external practices and symbols of the other religion — the various Afro-diasporic traditions (Voudoun, Santeria, etc.), Culdee Christianity, etc.
Neopaganism: attempts of modern people to reconnect with nature, using imagery and forms from other types of pagans, but adjusting them to the needs of modern people. Since this category is the focus of alt.pagan, the listing here is more comprehensive (though no listing could be completely comprehensive):
The Wheel of the Year
This wheel is sometimes called the Gardnerian Wheel because it is a combination of two ancient wheels (acknowledgements to Kenny Klein). The hunting wheel, the oldest, has two God births: The Oak King is born at midsummer and rules through to Yule when he dies and the Holly King is born. The agricultural wheel has the young God born at Ostara, symbolic of the sun/son rising in the East. He dies in the second harvest, Mabon, which means ‘the young Lord’.
In the different traditions these holidays (holy days) may have different names, for example Imbolc is called the festival of light in the northern tradition.
Western Pagans have no fixed temples in which to worship but instead (usually) make a circle around all the celebrants (or the celebrants themselves form a circle) in a room or in a clearing or on a beach or find a naturally ocurring circle such as a grove or use one of the ancient stone circles. Pagans have no hierarchy like the established religions so Pagans are free to follow whatever spiritual path they choose.