Pagans, witches, Wiccans - what does it mean, and what's the difference?
The term "pagan" was coined by the Christian church to describe religions different from their own. Traditionally, paganism was practiced by a collection of pre- and non-Christian cultures in the classical world including Greco-Roman, Germanic, Celtic, and Slavic tribes.
Modern pagan religions such as Wicca and Neo-Druidism built on these ancient practices, mixing the old world with the new to create earth-based religions that, in some cases, also perform ritual magic - that is, witchcraft. So some pagans are Wiccans, but all Wiccans are pagans, and only some pagans are witches. Got it?
This list should help clear up some facts about a fascinating and often misunderstood collection of practices and beliefs.
Contrary to what some people believe, pagans do not worship Satan - in fact, most pagans don’t even believe he exists. Satan and the hell he reigns over are both Christian concepts, and while some pagans do acknowledge the existence of an underworld, it isn’t the same as the hell of Christianity.
In some branches of paganism, sacred sex is practiced. Originally, Wicca was envisioned as a fertility religion. There are rituals involving literal sex and metaphorical sex, or simply the merging of two things into one. For example, the joining of an athame (a ceremonial dagger) with a chalice would be symbolic of sex.
Sexual release and masturbation can be used in rituals to raise magical energy, create a spiritual connection with a partner, or to serve as a sacramental act of love. The most common act of ritual sex is the Great Rite, which is the representation of the merging of the god and goddess. More than just a sexual union, the Great Rite is the enactment of the creation of the universe. This rite is usually performed in private, however, between an established couple.
In addition, some Wiccans and other pagans use masturbation as a way to release magical energy.
For the most part, pagans have a very positive and liberal approach to gender equality and sexuality in general. Feminists flourish in pagan groups and there is a widespread belief that men and women are equals. Many pagans recognize the differences between the sexes, and choose to view them as complementary strengths. In addition, most pagans are not restrictive about sexual practices as long as they are between consenting adults.
Typically, pagans are polytheistic, which means they believe in multiple gods and goddesses, as opposed to Christianity, Judaism, Islam, and other monotheistic faiths that look to one supreme god only. Pagans may choose a single god or goddess to specially honor based on the traditions of their personal spiritual practice, but almost all pagans acknowledge and respect the existence of many deities.
Wicca is often considered duo- or bitheistic (worshipping two deities), since Wiccans worship the male Great Horned God and the female Moon Goddesss. However, many Wiccans consider these two gods are being comprised of many component spirits.
In addition, some pagans are pantheist or animist - that is, they believe that all natural things have their own spirits or essences, from animals to rocks and trees, and even weather phenomena like thunder or rain.