From the Director

Temple Guiding Principles

What Is Religion?

What Is Paganism?

2009 Director’s Message

2009 Spoken Word Goddess Liturgy

Xia’s Journey

About Xia by Pythia








What Is Paganism?


The extent to which Paganism is misunderstood never ceases to amaze and challenge our best attempts at interfaith dialogue.  Most of us outside of mainstream religion have experienced the whiplash of fear that the word Pagan or Paganism incites. The prevalent belief residing in the populace of mainstream religions is that the poor pagans have no spiritual beliefs, no religion whatsoever.  Or worse, they mistakenly believe Pagans are associated with the Christian concept of satan or the devil.  It is no wonder we are met with such incredulity when we relate that Paganism is a religion, the oldest religion in the world.  In fact it is often referred to as "The Old Religion" dating back about 23,000 years (late Paleolithic Era) with the discovery in Willendorf, Austria of the female figurine known as the “Venus of Willendorf.”  This earliest date is now being questioned by the recent appearance of the “Acheulian Goddess” (Hebrew University of Jerusalem’s Institute of Archeology) carbon dated between 232,000 and 800,000 years ago.  This chipped-stone goddess figurine, which according to the Journal of the Israel Prehistoric Society, “might be considered the earliest manifestation of a work of art,” gives new meaning to the word antiquity.



The term “The Old Religion” describes the pre-Christian religion of much of western and northern Europe which was based on the agricultural cycles and the rhythms of the Earth.  In The Spiral Dance feminist writer Starhawk says, "when the temperature of Europe began to drop and the great sheets of ice crept slowly south in their last advance...and across the rich tundra, teeming with animal life, small groups of hunters followed the free-running reindeer and the thundering bison.  They were armed with only the most primitive of weapons, but some among the clans were gifted, could “call” the herds to a cliffside or a pit, where a few beasts, in willing sacrifice, would let themselves be trapped.  These gifted shamans could attune themselves to the spirits of the herds, and in so doing they became aware of the pulsating rhythm that infuses all life.  They did not phrase this insight intellectually, but in images: the Mother Goddess, the birthgiver, who brings into existence all life; and the Horned God, hunter and hunted, who eternally passes through the gates of death that new life may go on."


Through countless images sketched on cave walls, we look at the past with eyes that see partnerships between men and women.  We see the hunt and the honoring of the herds.  We also see male shamans dressed in skins and horns in identification with the God and the herds, as well as the female priestesses embodying the fertility of the Goddess.


That's where we began and here we are now–Pagan, defined by Webster as “a heathen (contrasted with Christian or Jew), a person who has no religion.”  However, the etymology of Pagan is Latin pagani meaning country-dwellers, the rural people whose religious conservatism caused them to be faithful to the "old gods and goddesses" of Europe (Barbara Walker).  Heathen came from the Germanic heiden, that which is hidden, because these same rural people were officially forbidden the rites of the old deities, yet clinging to their beliefs, the Pagan people continued their rites in secret.


Paganism refers to any earth-centered, earth-based religion. This includes the spirituality of most indigenous people around the world whose knowledge has been passed down—mother to daughter and father to son.  Studies of various spiritual traditions of the Americas show many similarities with the indigenous spiritual tradition of old Europe known as Paganism.  Vice President Al Gore in Earth in the Balance:  Ecology and the Human Spirit says, “The spiritual sense of our place in nature predate Native American cultures; increasingly it can be traced to the origins of human civilization.  A growing number of anthropologists and archaeo-mythologists, such as Marija Gimbutas and Riane Eisler, argue that the prevailing ideology of belief in prehistoric Europe and much of the world was based on the worship of a single earth goddess, who was assumed to be the fount of all life and who radiated harmony among all living things.”


In recent decades much has been written about Goddess and Paganism.  But we have no Bible, no Torah or Bhagavad Gita to claim as a central truth.  More profound, truthful, and constant than any religious tome, Pagans observe the Earth, Nature, and the Cosmos for our spiritual teachings and guidance. We put our faith in the never-ending cycles of birth-life-death-rebirth. Truth, ephemeral as it is, is revealed from within.  Most that has been written in the last 2,000 - 3,000 years has been destroyed.  This destruction culminated with the deaths of an estimated one million people (mostly women) now referred to as "the burning times."  This mostly-female holocaust began around 1126 C. E. (Current Era) and went on throughout Europe for nearly five centuries and included the elimination of what the church labeled heretics and witches.  Only recently with the deciphering of cuneiform have we reclaimed the more ancient mythology of Sumer which dates back about 3,500 B. C. E. (Before Current Era).  These early Pagans "were an enterprising and cooperative folk that had a complex religious ideology" (Whence The Goddesses by Miriam Dexter) teaching us a lot about our own spiritual evolution.


Most of the teachings of Paganism have been passed down–mother to daughter and father to son.  Probably the single most important tenet is the philosophy of immanence which is the belief that the world and everything in it is alive; that the Creative Life Force that courses through us also exists in everyone and everything.  The Earth is a living being, an organism made of an intricate "WebWork" comprising oceans, air, animals, rocks, and plants all dependent on one another.  This too is true of the Moon, whose lunar pull controls the ebb and flow of the tides on Earth.  It applies as well to the Sun, Stars, and Planets informing us of the interconnectedness of the entire Universe.


As Anne Baring and Jules Cashford point out in The Myth Of The Goddess,"the discoveries of the "new sciences" have emerged to validate this vision of life as a sacred whole in which all life participates in mutual relationship, and where all participants are dynamically alive.  Beginning with Heisenberg and Einstein, physicists are asserting that in subatomic physics the universe can only be understood as a unity."  By creating this picture of unity, we understand that each of us is a strand on the great "Web of Life" and that everything that we think, say, and do vibrates along the Web affecting strands far, far away - much like " . . . the Butterfly Effect, the notion that a butterfly stirring the air today in Peking can transform storm systems next month in New York" (Chaos: Making a New Science by James Gleick).


Paganism is a religion of celebration, not redemption.  These celebrations take place within "the Wheel of the Year," an ancient and sacred ritual calendar marking the Earth's changing seasons and the Sun's never-ending journey across the sky, as well as the Moon's waxing and waning cycles.  Each holiday, or Sabbat, brings joy and good times along with deeply felt spiritual, cultural, and ecological meaning.  The Wheel represents the life cycle of continual birth, death, and renewal as expressed in the changing seasons.  These changing seasons also represent a psychological "map of consciousness" facilitating human growth.  They contain the framework for personal transformation, rites of passage, healing, empowerment, and manifestation.


In addition to the Wheel of the Year, Pagans use spiritual techniques such as Shamanism and Magic.  Shamanism is a technique used for healing and acquiring knowledge through forays into "non-ordinary reality" and is being used fairly extensively by therapists and counselors. These forays known as "journeying" are usually aided by repetitive drumming, and often involves interaction with "power animals" (The Way of the Shaman by Michael Harner).  The technique of Magic or "the art of changing consciousness at will" involves prayer, rituals, and affirmations in combination with the Wheel of the Year.  Author Dion Fortune describes Magic as "a change of consciousness brought about through a deliberate act of will."  This creates self-empowerment or as writer Starhawk describes it in Dreaming The Dark, "power-within rather than power-over."


There are no commandments, but two creeds have been passed down that most Pagans acknowledge and adhere to.  They are (1) “And doing what you will, harm none.”, and (2) “All that you say and do will come back to you three times three.”  Pagans ascribe "evil" to individual intent, i.e., a knife in the hands of a surgeon becomes an instrument for healing, the same knife in the hands of a murderer is an instrument for killing.  It's the ethics of the individual who wields the knife that creates the evil.


Paganism is a religion of polytheism and recognizes that there are many paths to the Divine, symbolized by the many “goddesses” and “gods” of all cultures and all lands.  Pagans try to respect that every person is their own spiritual authority and no one can define the Sacred and Divine for any one else, believing that the Divine manifests in different aspects to different people.


In addition to the important mandate of environmental activism as a religious responsibility, the manifestation of Divinity in female form carries the most potential for impact upon our society today.  Our western paradigm is inherited from Babylonian mythology which places strong emphasis on the opposition between spirit and nature (implying explicitly that nature is not alive and contains no spirit) and left us with a heritage of thinking in duality and oppositions.  As Cashford and Baring state in Myth of the Goddess, "We find this, for instance, in the common assumption that the spiritual and the physical worlds are different in kind, an assumption that, unreflectively held separates mind from matter, soul from body, thinking from feeling, intellect from intuition and reason from instinct . . . in addition, the ‘spiritual’ pole of these dualisms is valued as ‘higher than the ‘physical’ pole.


These polarities have, inevitably, resulted in an imbalance of the masculine and feminine principles which has fundamental implications for how we create our world and live in it.  Since our myths implicitly govern our culture, it is no coincidence that our western paradigm, with the looming chasm of the lost feminine, has desacralized Nature.


In 1912, Abdul Baha said, “The world of humanity is possessed of two wings:  the male and the female.  So long as these two wings are not equivalent in strength, the bird will not fly.”  Today the wisdom of these words ring with a deeper profundity in a global community where the atrocities and violence taking place around the world are announced daily in our homes on the evening news.  The events surrounding September 11th brought to light the cycle of violence perpetuated not only against Afghanistan women but against women worldwide.  Equality and respect for women is the single most essential key to ending the cycle of violence humanity is trapped in.  The feminine principle, as an aspect of human consciousness, must be retrieved, integrated and brought back into "full complementarity with the masculine principle if we are ever to achieve a harmonious balance between these two basic and essential ways of experiencing life." (Cashford and Baring)


Archeologists' discoveries in the last three decades have unearthed Neolithic cultures that included both female and male co-existing images of the Divine (usually the Goddess and Her son or consort).  These cultures offer historical examples of partnership societies as an alternative to the dominator paradigm we have "evolved" into today (Riane Eisler's The Chalice and the Blade).


Frances Hodgson Burnett's The Secret Garden is a brilliant tale depicting the deep healing that can take place with the retrieval of the lost feminine.  When Mary explores the grounds near the manor, she meets her first friend, the Robin.  "The robin, like a power animal, leads our young, wounded healer and future Shaman to an enclosed garden.  On an inner level, the wounded feminine ego, represented by Mary, can be seen as beginning to connect to nature and her instincts, which connecting process can bring about a restored connection to the Self"  (Dr. Gloria Avrech, Psychological Perspectives, 1994).  Mary, as Shaman and healer, goes on to bring the same kind of wholeness to Colin and Lord Craven through restoration of the lost feminine.


The image of an enclosed secret garden is a compelling archetypal image.  It can be found in most religious and spiritual traditions, as well as alchemical texts, fairy tales and myths from many cultures.  A dormant garden, waiting for springtime renewal, as seen initially in the 1993 film version, can be a beautiful image for the potential life-giving, protective, containing, nurturing qualities of the positive aspects of the Great Mother archetype (Carl Jung).


Like all fairy tales, this story has a happy ending.  Lord Craven, comforting Mary, who is now crying, exclaims, "you brought us back to life, Mary.  You did something no one thought anyone could do."


The lost feminine restored, the garden is now open, alive and awake.  Mary poignantly sums up her journey with, "If you look the right way, you can see that the whole world is a garden.”



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